What do we do now, in this bleak autumn of 2017?

Autumn in New England is a beautiful season, when the trees delight us by transforming into brilliant torches of color—gold, red, orange, each tree seeming to compete with her sisters to be the most beautiful and eye-catching of all.

Not this year.

It seems fitting, symbolically speaking, that in 2017 the leaves are simply browning off: shriveling up and falling to the ground in the tree version of heat exhaustion as we plod through a September oppressed by record-breaking high temperatures. In the photos below, the colors on the left belong to October 2016; the almost-bare maple on the right was photographed in mid-September, 2017.

We can no longer talk about climate change as though it were a concern for the future, something our grandchildren will have to contend with.

It’s here.

The monster hurricanes hurtling up out of the super-heated ocean; the millions of acres of dead trees in the West, victims of heat-loving pine bark beetles; the dangerous wildfires consuming all that dead timber; the heat surges in places that used to be reliably cool, like the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic…the only natural disasters we can’t blame on climate change are the earthquakes, and those just seem like angry shrugs from Gaia, the earth goddess, ready to dislodge the invasive hordes of humans that have so disrupted her smooth, harmonious ecological systems.

If, as I’ve perceived for some time now, the personal, the political and the planetary are interlocking systems, overlapping rings in a Venn diagram of human existence, then of course it’s to be expected that the imbalances in the natural world are being mirrored and echoed in disruptions in the political landscape and in our personal lives and awareness.

You feel it, don’t you? To tune into the news is to receive a jolt of anguish, like a powerful electrical charge running through a downed wire—dangerous, unpredictable, out of control.

So a lot of us are tuning out, in self-protection. There is just too much bad news to absorb, and all the disasters are blurring together—the terrorist attacks, the natural disasters, the political horrors that daily revive prejudices and hatreds we hoped were long dead.

Those of us who still have the privilege and luxury of sitting on the sidelines—in safe, intact homes, with enough food and clean water, electricity tamely offering itself in sockets and gas at the ready on our stoves—we watch the bedlam going on elsewhere with dread, knowing that any day it could be our turn.

We’re frozen in the headlights of an inexorable future, just waiting and watching those brown leaves fall.

There have been other times in history when it was possible to see the storm clouds brewing, and people had the time and the choice to act. Germany in the 1930s, for example. With Nazism on the rise, some Jews and other targeted people saw the swastikas on the wall and made the decision to get the hell out while they could, even if it meant leaving behind all their worldly possessions. They chose life, and their descendants thank them for it.

There are eerie parallels with pre-war Germany in the United States today. Zombie haters rise again, and don’t even bother to hide their faces—why should they, with one of their own squatting brazenly in the White House itself?

But now not only is the political landscape roiling, but also the natural landscape. It’s a double whammy, the political and the planetary way off balance, and sucking all of us into a vortex of hurricane strength.

What should we be doing now? I think you know the answers.

Get to higher ground, literally and symbolically. Try to get yourself and your loved ones out of harm’s way, even as you acknowledge that in 2017 nowhere on Earth is truly safe.

In the dystopic futures that so many of our writers are imagining for us lately, it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, or how big or well-furnished your house is. It doesn’t matter how successful you are in your career or where you went to college.

What matters, ultimately, is what has always mattered: the quality of our relationships. Our love for each other, and the way we express that love and caring. We don’t need electricity for that, or credit cards.

This is what John Steinbeck was showing us in the heart-wrenching final scene of Grapes of Wrath, when a young woman whose baby has just died offers her streaming breast to a starving old man.

Grapes of Wrath wasn’t science fiction. Steinbeck was describing the world as he observed it, to an audience that hadn’t yet felt that kind of dire need.

There is not much we as individuals can do to alter the future. The hurricane of climate change is already on its way; the political tornadoes spawned by the Republicans are already wreaking havoc.

Of course, we can stay engaged politically and work for a change of leadership in 2018. But we have to be clear-eyed about the fact that even under Democratic leadership, the U.S. has drifted into ever-more-dangerous waters.

Maybe it’s time to lower the lifeboats and try to get away from the mother ship while that’s still possible. By which I mean, lesson our dependence on nation and build up independence and resiliency on the local level, for ourselves and our communities.

If that sounds like libertarianism, well, we live in strange times.

We humans are located in the sweet spot in the middle of the Venn diagram of personal, political and planetary. What we do in our personal lives radiates outward, with real, palpable effects.

The message in the sad brown leaves of autumn 2017 is this: now is the time to cultivate love at home, build up your resiliency and make friends with your neighbors. What else are we alive for, in these turbulent, discomfiting transition times?

 

 

 

 

“Houston, we have a problem.” Heeding Harvey’s Message for Humanity

Water is Life.

Unless it’s coming at you by the trillions of gallons, blown on hurricane-force winds. Then water can be death. And death also lurks in the water that lingers after the storm, contaminated with chemicals, fossil fuels, sewage and decomposing bodies.

Although evangelical preachers may be tempted to blame the storm on the sins of individual Texans, the blame must be spread much more widely, and it has nothing to do with conventional Christian understandings of sin.

We have brought this destruction down on ourselves by our actions and inactions—that much is true. And we have the power to right the wrongs and avoid or at least lessen the catastrophes still to come.

I don’t know if anyone has done a “budget analysis” of which country, on a per capita basis, bears the most responsibility for climate change, but I bet America is right up there at the top.

On a deeper level, Americans have been the great influencers of the 20th century, especially the post-World War II era when the fossil and chemical industries really took off. In trying to keep up with the Americans, the rest of the world followed suit, and everything seemed almost too good to be true, for a while.

What gave us the arrogant notion that Mother Earth would endlessly tolerate the warming of the oceans, logging of the forests, chemical dousing of the prairies, wholesale destruction of millions of species and industrial-scale torture of domesticated animals? Did we really expect to be able to mine and drill and burn and drain and pave without any consequences?

I don’t believe in “Mother Earth” as a Kali-like goddess bent on vengeance; but as Gaia, a living system striving to stay balanced and flourish through every living particle of her being, our planet will naturally seek to return to the steady state that humans have destroyed in the past fifty or so years.

Gaia has her own ways of curbing an invasive species. Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts, earthquakes, epidemics…these are not acts of a vengeful God but the natural biofeedback methods of our planet, seeking stasis and harmony.

This is no comfort to Texans going back to destroyed homes and neighborhoods this weekend. It’s no comfort to the rest of us on the East Coast, keeping a wary eye on the next hurricane churning in our direction across the Atlantic, Category 3 Hurricane Irma.

 

In the old days, a preacher could look out at a grieving, distressed congregation and offer the solace that death and disaster were part of God’s plan. The message was to bow our heads and humbly accept the suffering as part of the human experience.

But these early 21st century “natural” disasters are neither divine retribution nor a cross we must bear as the price of being human.

The mind-blowing tragedy of Houston and the surrounding area is the simple result of human arrogance, shortsightedness, greed and stupidity.

  • Build petro-chemical plants on salt-water marshes along the ocean and see what happens.
  • Build housing developments on low-lying land along rivers and bayous and watch them flood.
  • Burn fossil fuels as fast and hard as you can, even when you know the consequences of over-heating the atmosphere—can you really feign surprise when storms come up out of the hot oceans?

Harvey was preceded by Sandy and Irene and Katrina…it will be followed by more and more staggering storms, until we finally get the message: we cannot continue to live as though the world were our sewer.

We cannot continue to focus our intelligence on developing ever-more-destructive weapons and toxic chemicals, on engineering feats that ride roughshod over natural habitats and drive other members of the Earth community over the cliff of extinction.

Our intelligence is desperately needed now, but in the service of Life, not Death.

Water is Life. Air is Life. Earth is Life. The good Fire of our Sun is Life.

But only when these elements are balanced and respected. Out of balance, rendered toxic, they spell our doom.

It is late, but not too late, to pull our planet back from the brink of the major reset she’s tracking towards.

If the preachers want to send a useful message, how about reminding people of our responsibility to steward the Earth? When the floods came in Biblical times, Noah built an Ark, not just for himself and his family, but for all the creatures on Earth.

We must recognize our entire planet, our Gaia, as a precious, sacred Ark of Life, for which we are the pilots and tenders.

She is sending us wake-up call after wake-up call. Are we awake yet?

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Hurricane Harvey from the International Space Station, 8/25/17. Credit: NASA European Pressphoto Agency

Apres le deluge comes the fire: it’s time for another big march in America!

It is so sunny and peaceful here in Massachusetts, it’s hard to believe that Texas is in the middle of a hurricane with high winds and epic downpours that are expected to go on for days.

How convenient for the president and his henchmen, a natural disaster to distract everyone while a racist bigot sheriff is pardoned (Arpaio), a white nationalist fascist advisor is sent back into the shadows (Gorka) and the systematic work of undoing environmental protections goes full steam ahead (Bears Ears).

The circular motion of the hurricane seems an appropriate weather metaphor for America this August, whirling around the black eye of the solar eclipse. But this political hurricane has no end in sight. It just keeps getting stronger and stronger, worse and worse.

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Hurricane Harvey hits Texas, August 25, 2017

There is no fighting against a hurricane. You can only try to flee out of the storm’s path, or if that is impossible, do your best to hunker down and survive.

Like the Texas palm trees, we bend and bow under the fierce winds that Trump and his gang have unleashed upon the land. The pace of un-American proclamations and acts is so rapid and intense, we are under constant siege. How long before we snap?

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Winds of 130 mph as Harvey hit the coast

But the metaphor only goes so far. In today’s political hurricane, we do not have to flee or hide in our homes. Here in sunny New England, we are free to come and go as we please.

It’s time for another big march, people. Things have gone from bad to worse since the Women’s March on Washington in January. We are all under constant assault from this White House and Republican Congress, and the Democrats are sitting on their hands. It’s time for the people to rise up and defy the battering winds of the Trump machine.

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Women’s March on Washington, January 2017

How about on Labor Day? An uprising in every city and town across America, a show of force and unity in the shared vision of the peaceful, just, harmonious country we want to live in and create together.

But we could take the next step and make this an actual March for Impeachment, a march to show the president and his cronies that we see what they’re up to and we won’t stand for it.

We know they got where they are by trickery and manipulation (gerrymandering, hacking, corruption of all kinds). They were not elected by a majority of this country and it’s time for that majority to come out and let them know it.

If the Democrats won’t lead the charge, we need to do it for them.

Fired up? Ready to go!

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Still more work to do.

 

 

In the Shadow of an Uncertain Future

On the homestretch to the 2017 solar eclipse over America, it seems that the shadow is already falling on this beleaguered country.

Tear gas and violence in Charlottesville over the decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, racist hero of the Confederates. A president who tries to appease both sides, refusing to condemn racism and white supremacy as a failed and destructive ideology that has no place in 21st century America—no surprise, as he is busy enacting his racist anti-immigration policies and looking the other way on gender- and race-based violence.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, a trigger-happy, unstable and belligerent boy king is daring to challenge the trigger-happy, unstable and belligerent American president. The whole world watches, aghast, knowing that these two boy-men have the power to drag us all into war, and deadly nuclear war at that.

Wildfires burn in the West, floods wash out parts of New Orleans, and overhead the Perseid meteors sizzle and flash.

I can’t help but feel the portent in all of this, and to wonder why it is that most people seem oblivious.

KeyArt_LowRes_copyThe chatter in the audience this evening before Al Gore’s new film began was all about cultural doings, restaurants and vacations. Needless to say, people were more subdued after watching 100 minutes of Gore turning gray in his indefatigable efforts to wake people up to climate change and get us to fight for our future.

The movie tried to end on a hopeful note, and yet we can’t avoid the dire fact that our climate gets further out of balance year by year. This summer there are unprecedented wildfires in the previously frozen peat bogs of Greenland, releasing tons of methane, a greenhouse gas way more potent than carbon dioxide.

The writing on the bog is clear: in a relentlessly warmer world, we’d better start adapting.

51yaY7uJ07L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_In the same week as seeing Gore’s film, I also read James Lovelock’s latest book, A Rough Ride to the Future, as well as his student Stephan Harding’s marvelous book Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia.

Lovelock—the pathbreaking scientist who, with Lynn Margulis, was the first to understand the Earth as Gaia, a vast interconnected biological system—is now 98, and he’s still way out in front of the pack in terms of visionary, unconventional thinking.

His book envisions the possibility of humans taking an evolutionary leap hand in hand with our computers and robots, founding a new civilization of cyborgs that no longer rely on what he calls “wet carbon life forms,” which will not be able to withstand the hotter world we are creating. He advises that we build new, sustainable cities in areas of the world likely to remain arable, and let Gaia take care of regulating the rest of the planet, as she has always done through many great climate changes in history.

Although Lovelock calls himself an optimist, the book ends on a sober note.

“I do not envision the death of Gaia, the Earth system, in the immediate future, either through human folly or otherwise. It can sustain human life for a good while yet, and human life can be the catalyst for Gaian survival in the much longer term. But there is one snag. The system cannot sustain the present level of human population for very much longer. The future world may be a better place, but getting to it from here will not be easy, and we will not all make the journey.”

Watching Gore’s movie, with its dramatic footage of floods, fires and melting glaciers, as well as his reminders that the terrible violence in Syria started with a drought that destroyed more than 60% of the country’s farmland, while an increase in pandemics is inescapable on a warmer planet….well, you’d have to be pretty obtuse not to see that there are many paths to human population crash, and we’re rapidly swarming down all of them.

We are about to be the victims of our own success as a species, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot any of us can do about it. Even Al Gore seems pretty stumped by the end of the movie, after Trump’s decision to scuttle U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord.

I may not be much of an optimist, but I won’t allow myself the luxury of despair, either. I agree with Gore and Stephan Harding that we must use our power as consumers and taxpayers to push for climate-friendly changes at the local, national and international levels, including electing politicians who will represent the best interests of people and the planet.

But before that can happen, we need to wake people up to the necessity of profound, rapid, systemic change that goes beyond individual choices to the realm of national policy.

Harding’s vision is very much aligned with my own belief in the importance of starting from personal experience. The way to get people to care about the Earth is to help them remember moments when they were able to perceive the beauty and awe of our planet. This is the aim of my forthcoming online course in purposeful memoir, “Becoming Gaia,” and Harding puts it very lyrically in his conclusion to Animate Earth:

51w61ADyV4L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_“To act well, we need to experience the Earth not as “nature” out there, nor as an “environment” that is distinct from us, but as a mysterious extension of our very own sensing bodies that nourishes us with an astonishing variety of intellectual and aesthetic experiences—with the roar of the sea and with the wonderful sight of the night moon reflected in a calm lake. Right action requires us to live into the body of the Earth, so that we feel just as comfortable with the air, water, rocks and living beings that are the life of that wider body as we do in our human-made environments. If we could only do this, our focus would shift from the endless fascination with human affairs to a wider, more fulfilling perception of the animate Earth in which these affairs take place. We would then encounter a broader, Earth-centered view in which every breath we take and every decision we make is a pledge of service and allegiance to the greater personhood of our planet.”

Truly, a pledge of allegiance to the planet is called for today.

To those who have been tasked with carrying out the ecocidal will of the fossil fuel cabal now in political power in the United States, I say: you have a choice.

  • If the mad president tells you to pull the trigger on a nuclear weapon that will incinerate a nation, you can say no.
  • If the energy transfer company wants you to put a gas pipeline under a river or over an aquifer, you can say no.
  • Even if you are offered a lot of money for staying silent, you always have the choice to say no.

“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” Your resistance may be vilified in the short term, but it will eventually be understood as heroic whistleblowing that saved millions of lives, in service to our shared sustainable future.

Gore compares the fight to head off climate destruction to other morally based American movements: abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay rights. The climate justice fight is bigger than any of these—it’s global, and it goes way beyond humanity. We are fighting for all the beautiful members of our Earth community who came up with us through the eons, the plants, animals, birds, insects and marine life that evolved together into the complex, perfectly balanced system of water, oxygen, carbon and sunlight that makes our planet such a living wonder.

An Inconvenient Sequel ends on a defiant note. “Fight like your world depends on it,” Gore says.

Because, of course, it does.

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Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!

We live in a time when depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels—the so-called “opioid crisis” is really just a symptom of a deeper sickness eating away at the heart of our society. It’s especially disturbing—but understandable—to find high levels of anxiety and despair among the young.

This has been going on for a long time in certain communities—among the urban poor or on Native reservations, using drugs and alcohol to fight the despair is nothing new.

Now it’s spilling into the mainstream—white suburban kids are dying from overdoses, along with their fathers and mothers. This recent report from my home state of Massachusetts presents a chilling portrait of the scale of the problem.

AverageAnnualOpioidRelatedDeathRateper100,000People

While better treatment for addicts is certainly necessary, it’s crucial to address the the deeper roots of the problem: the physical and emotional pain that drives kids, men and women to seek out opioids, legal or illegal.

This is a much more complicated knot to try to untangle, but the basic outlines of the problem are clear.

  • We need a more vibrant, creative, exciting educational system, where kids look forward to going to school each day because it’s a chance to interact collaboratively with interesting people—teachers, other students, and community members of all ages—and learn life skills that can be immediately put into practice. Humans learn best by doing, not by rote memorization and regurgitation of abstract knowledge.
  • We need better nutrition: getting chemicals and excessive sugar out of our diet and returning to the whole, unprocessed foods that contribute naturally to our physical and mental health. We need to get connected with how our food is produced, and return to gardening and animal husbandry ourselves when possible. We need more time for eating and socializing around the table.
  • We need a basic social safety net for all, so that no one has to worry about becoming homeless if they get sick, or when they get old. Everyone has something to contribute to society, and people should always be able to find rewarding work in their communities that will allow them to live decently and with respect.
  • We need to create more time and space for fun, especially in outdoor activities, or in creative, collaborative culture-making. Despite all the social media, people are feeling isolated and alienated and even the comfort of talk therapy has been taken away by the insurance companies, which would much rather push those pills on us.

To those who would tell me we can’t afford it, I reply: what would happen if we stopped spending more than $600 billion a year (15% of 2016 GDP) on the military, while giving only 3% of GDP to education? What if those proportions were reversed, as they are in many other Western countries?

And yet even as I type these words, I know the politicians won’t be listening. They are too focused on treating the symptoms to pay attention to the causes.

This is as true for dealing with climate change as it is for dealing with the opioid crisis. Everyone is looking for quick fixes that will allow us to continue with business as usual, no matter how many casualties that business generates.

When confronted with an intractable problem, my mom used to say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!”

Lately the feeling of just being along for the ride—and a hurtling, scary, out-of-control ride at that—grows stronger day by day.

And of course, we can’t get off, not alive, anyway.

So how do we deal with having to sit in the back seat while the drivers take us down bumpy roads in the wrong direction at dangerous speeds?

My own response is to focus on what I do have control over.

  • I can weed my garden, spend more time outside.
  • I can eat healthy foods and cultivate mental clarity by cutting back on the distractions of social media and television.
  • I can try to contribute positively to my community—family, friends, the larger circles of positive creative people I care about.
  • I can review my life goals, and set some intentions for the coming years that, with focus and effort, I may be able to achieve.

Most of all, I can set my internal compass to LOVE and try to hold it steady there, no matter the jerks and lurches along the road.

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My new online course, The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir, will be launching this fall. Through catalyzing writing prompts, I invite you to consider how you got where you are today, and to envision the future you want to create and live into. Join me!

A Paean for Interdependence

It’s so clear, by the sea, how interdependent every living thing on our planet is. It’s clear in the mountains and forests too, but somehow everything is stripped down to its essentials by the ocean and you can see the remarkably calibrated food chain in all its exquisitely complicated simplicity.

AIR, WATER, EARTH, FIRE. Take oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, drench with sunlight, and watch life pour forth.

Death too is a necessary part of the cycle. But not the death of innocent babies caught in the crossfire; not the death of majestic animals shot for greed or sick pleasure; not the cataclysmic death of the Sixth Great Extinction, with billions of life forms, some not even known to humans yet, all being choked out at once.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say that, because these great extinction events are also part of the natural cycles of this planet. We are moving rapidly into the sixth such event, after all. If you take a longer view, as the Mayans did in predicting that 2012 would be a historic end of one cycle, beginning of another, you can see once again the elegance of the great pulses of life and death on Earth.

Although I have written before about how I believe that “Independence Day” should be converted to “Interdependence Day,” in 2017 this shift seems particularly urgent.

Not just because we need to become more aware of our ecological interdependence with all other life on the planet, from the bacteria and worms to the fish, vultures and wolves, but also because the whole idea of celebrating a colony’s independence from a colonizer seems quaint and outdated today, when the colonization process actually runs so much deeper and is so much more intense.

Nation-states as markers of identity are fading, which may be why we’re seeing a paroxysm of violence from those who want to preserve this failing political form at all costs.

Now people are being organized into two main groups—those who are connected to the World Wide Web, and those who are not. The connected ones belong to a kind of virtual nation, and we are controlled not by physical borders, but by information (aka propaganda).

The current American president got where he is because he understood the power of media to manipulate people. He is doing his best to confuse and discredit the whole idea of a news media dedicated to reporting “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” because he knows that if people can’t tell truth from falsehood, they are all the easier to manipulate. Colonization goes internal, we police ourselves and each other, and the warlords make out like bandits.

This is the sad state of affairs on the Fourth of July, 2017. Ordinary American politics is so diseased that celebration is impossible.

So perhaps it’s time to embrace a bigger vision, going beyond the fiercely contested territories of the nation-state and the Internet to think creatively and positively about our presence on the planet.

This Fourth of July, I celebrate Gaian life in all its diversity and glory. I resist separatism and meaningless violence incited by arbitrary boundaries and manipulative colonizers, whether of the corporate or nation-state variety.

Human beings are just another animal in the vast ecological web of life on the planet—a very successful and destructive invasive species, to be precise.

Because of our ability to remember the past, forecast the future, and use technology to chart and change our environment, our natural role as a species is to tend, steward and manage our planet, for the benefit of all. Not just all humans, but all life, because we cannot thrive unless the entire ecological web is healthy.

This is how it works:

Take a deep breath. You are breathing in the trees, the flowers, the cool seaweed in the ocean and the pale lichens on the rock. Exhale and know that you are sending sweet nourishment to all life on the planet, in a perfectly balanced symbiosis.

Interdependence. So simple, so complex, so profound. There’s nothing better to celebrate today, is there?

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Solstice Dreaming: Detaching from the Nightmare to Feed the Spirit of a Better World

Right now my homeland, the United States, is a very sick place.

It’s a sickness that expresses itself inwardly through epic rates of depression, anxiety, addictions, self-harm and suicide. Outwardly we see it in the constant assault of violence: civilian shootings and trucks driven into crowds; endless wars; and the relentless violence against the natural world, driven by greed and indifference to suffering.

Watching what is happening in American politics is like watching a 21st century version of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Or we could compare it to the French monarchy just before the Revolution: let them eat cake!

It is not clear yet whether the pendulum will swing back towards the center again; whether the electorate–mangled, abused, furious and ill as it is–will summon moderates back to the halls of power in D.C.

With a good half of the electorate tuned out to the political process and millions of trigger-happy armed civilians; with an ever-more-militarized police force, a punitive criminal justice system and the biggest prison system in the world…it’s easy to imagine the U.S. descending into dystopian nightmare in the next decade.

And that’s even without factoring in the wild card of climate change, predicted to disrupt food supplies, cause massive storms and unbearable heat waves, and flood the coastal cities.

The U.S. is like a sick, wounded, colossal monster, thrashing out dangerously in its agony, whipping its barbed tail around in ways that are wrecking everything in its reach—and its reach is vast, encompassing practically the whole world.

Collectively, human civilization is approaching a breaking point on the planet. The scientists warn us blandly that we will exhaust the resources of our Earth in August, living the rest of the year on credit that we can never repay.

It’s easy to feel despairing.

And yet.

Sitting here, on the peaceful windy shores of Nova Scotia, the warmth of the people and the steady rhythms of the elements remind me that the nightmare of the U.S. is not all-encompassing. As Arundhati Roy put it long ago, there is another world…and if we’re quiet, we can hear her calm breathing.

Mother Earth has survived cataclysms before. She will survive humans—even dangerous Americans. She has eons to regenerate, reset and create anew. She’s already doing it, everywhere we look.

We who are alive to bear witness to this extraordinary transition time on Earth must resist the dark pull of despair, with its madness of violence and lethargy of indifference.

Remembering to think in the long term, the way Gaia does, can help us focus on what is beautiful and creative in our world. It’s our task to do what we can, wherever we are, to add to the beauty and to help others to do so too.

This is what I call doing hope together. We resist the dark magnetism of the constant parade of horrors that passes for “news” these days. We turn our attention elsewhere:

  • to the small radiance of a wildflower, lifting its head to the sun for the sheer joy of living;
  • to the delighted laugh of a baby sitting in a strawberry field tasting sunwarmed berries for the first time;
  • to the sweet trill of a bird sitting by its nest, teaching its fledglings to sing.

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Yes, there is darkness, cruelty and suffering in our world, which can’t be ignored and must be addressed. But the danger in our times is that we become so overwhelmed by the darkness that we can no longer summon the light in ourselves. The flames of our own spirits start to gutter.

It is not selfish or uncaring to feed our spirits by focusing on beauty. Just as nursing mothers must remember to eat and drink so that they can better feed their babies, we who are acting as doulas—helping our dying civilization let go so that a better world can be born—must also remember to nourish ourselves, so that we can continue to serve as beacons of hope and positivity for others.

My advice to you on these sunny Solstice days? Turn off your screen, leave your phone behind, and get outside to enjoy the bounty of our Mother Earth. Take some time alone in nature, quieting the blare of the headlines in your mind, and tuning in to the music of the birds and the bees. Find some water to sit beside, and let your mind wander as you stare at the sun glinting on the surface.

We plugged-in humans are in danger of forgetting how very important daydreaming in nature is to our personal, political and planetary well-being. Now is a wonderful time to slow down and remind ourselves to let the dreams back in to our waking lives.

We can’t fix everything that’s wrong with our society if we can’t imagine a better world. And for that, we need to detach ourselves from the nightmare, and create a better dream to live into.

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What is being asked of us now? Gaian death doulas for a world in transition

Memorial Day, by design, is focused on death. This year, it seems like the tide of death has become a roaring tsunami. You know what I mean; I don’t have to list it.

As I try to cope with my grief and anger over the state of our world today, it’s becoming clear to me that those of us who are aware are being called to become death doulas for our dying world: Gaian death doulas.

It’s an odd juxtaposition: death doula. Doulas are usually all about birth: they assist midwives, mothers and families to warmly usher babies into life.

Death doulas are more like hospice workers, trying to help smooth the passage for those who are dying, and their families. Amid a growing awareness of the lack of graciousness in the medicalization of death, the idea of death doulas is catching on.

As I look for ways that the personal, political and planetary align, I see that just as personal death doulas can help dying individuals with their transition, and ease the grief of those who love them, Gaian death doulas can bring a political and planetary perspective to help communities in transition, helping us balance our grief over what is being lost with a quickening awareness of the potential of the new era now emerging.

Western civilization understands life and death in too linear and finite a way. Death and life are part of a great spiral dance, as Starhawk put it long ago; a dance in which each living being has a role to play, from the tiniest insect or plankton to the human, the whale and the great baobab tree.

In beginning to understand my own role as that of a Gaian death doula, I am indebted not only to Starhawk but also to Joanna Macy, both of whom have long been leading the way.

The work begins with looking back to understand the great dying we humans have presided over and contributed to over the past 5,000 years, since Gilgamesh so symbolically killed the guardian of the forest and starting cutting trees to build his city.

We have to look unflinchingly at the steady increase in destruction caused by industrial capitalism, in order to understand our personal and political role in the system we were born into.

How have we been socialized into a callous acceptance of constant unnecessary death and destruction? How have we acquiesced and contributed to this? Have we ever tried to imagine a better, more life-affirming relationship to our planet?

These are the kinds of questions I raise in my memoir, and in my purposeful memoir workshops, where we consciously consider how the personal, political and planetary have aligned in our lives.

But it’s not all about sadness and guilt. Even as we bear witness to “the sixth great extinction” that is unfolding in our time, we can also celebrate our planet’s endless potential for regeneration and rebirth.

Yes, we may lose many of the iconic species we love, our dear elephants and sweet polar bears.

But let’s remember that other wonderful species have been lost before, on the road to our present moment, and not all of them due to human aggression: from the dinosaurs to the saber-toothed tiger or the mammoth, many species have had their heyday and spiraled back into the birth-death-rebirth dance of Gaian evolutionary history.

We can learn from Mother Earth’s endlessly creative and abundant example. She doesn’t waste time mourning; she immediately gets to work regenerating, using the building blocks available—we can see this plainly in the way green grass shoots right up to take the place of trees that are cut down.

Gaian death doulas can help us understand the transition process we’re in now, so that we can support Mother Earth in her important work of regeneration. Yes, we can and must grieve those lost, but we must also cultivate and support the new life rising.

For me this is as much about standing up for a nurturing Gaian education for our young humans as it as about insisting on humane treatment of farm animals and properly regenerative agricultural and logging practices.

This Memorial Day, I grieve the tremendous dying-off of our time. And through my tears, I smile and extend a hand to those grieving with me, and to the young ones who are just coming in to this story.

The next chapters are ours to imagine, ours to dream and to manifest. What role will you create for yourself? Let’s work together to craft a story we can live into with joy.

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Time to “Pray with our Feet” at the Climate Marches for the Planet We Love

This morning I heard that the Sandisfield pipeline is set to go right by a beaver pond that hosts a Great Blue Heron rookery, full of heron mothers sitting on nests right now.

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When a pipeline like that goes through, we can see the disruption to big species like trees and herons, beavers and frogs. We can’t even fathom the disruption that happens at the root level. And should there be a rupture, the entire ecosystem would be blown away.

And yet Nature is so resilient. I often remind myself, when I get upset about tree cutting, that every beautiful meadow in my surroundings was once a rocky forest. Change is not always bad, and meadows are as valuable as woods—just ask any owl.

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But building pipelines in 2017…that is just stupid. I can’t say I’m happy to see forests cleared for solar fields either, but at least this is relatively clean energy that doesn’t endanger the earth and water with the potential for dirty oil or gas spills.

Investing in fossil fuel infrastructure at this late date in human history makes no sense. Despite the Heartland Institute’s efforts to sow lies about climate change, it’s real, and it’s already, as Bill McKibben warned us years ago, changing our planet from the one we were born on to.

The planet has seen such shifts before. Iconic species that once called this place home have vanished into extinction. Life on the planet has continued.

What has never happened before, as far as I am aware, is that a super-intelligent species like humans, knowing full well the causes and effects of our actions, willfully triggered climate change so dramatic that it brought about mass extinctions—and not just of companion species, but of we humans ourselves.

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Alberta CA tar sands

That is what we are doing when we continue to allow fossil fuel extraction, with all the fossil fuel burning necessary to get it to market and more burning. We are committing planetary murder-suicide, ecocide on a vast scale.

If we must go down into the night of extinction, I pray we do not so thoroughly contaminate the planet that regeneration will be impossible.

Are we capable of that? Could our nuclear weapons and reactors, our chemical poisons and our plastics render this planet inhospitable to life?

I don’t want our descendants to find out the answer to this the hard way. It’s a simulation worth casting, just so those in power have their eyes fully opened to the future that could be.

1200px-The_Last_of_the_Spirits-John_Leech,_1843When Scrooge was visited by the Ghosts of Past and Present, he was able to laugh off the sad visions they showed him, albeit uneasily. It was the nightmare scenarios presented by the Ghost of the Future that got him to change his ways, in a hurry.

I know that as a sad Cassandra my visions don’t carry much weight. But when our scientists show us, over and over again, the absolute necessity of shifting to renewable energy quickly—QUICKLY—or resigning ourselves to going down in the general ecocide of the planet, how can the lords of industrial capitalism continue to play dumb? How can they continue to build those pipelines, extract those tar sands, drill in our precious oceans?

How can we, who are aware, continue to let them have their way with us and the Earth we love?

See you at the Climate Marches tomorrow, people.

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For the Earth!

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Science geeks and nature buffs: joining forces to protect the Earth and ensure our future

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This Earth Day I met with a small but fierce group of women writers determined to use our words to defend and protect our Mother Earth.

The grief and love that poured from us was as palpable as the tears and laughter we inspired in each other.

I read some of the scenes from the Childhood section of my memoir, revealing how I was “a strange child,” who was much more comfortable out in the forests and fields than with other human beings. Together we wrote about the natural places or non-human friends who inspired us and kept us company in childhood.

One woman wrote about a beloved cat companion, who, she found out later in life, had been taken from her by her parents and dumped out of a car miles from home. The grief and love that came welling up out of her, decades after this loss and betrayal, had all of us in tears.

Others wrote about remarkable trees who stood sentinel over their childhood homes, and how, all these years later, they can still tap into the solid power and majesty of those childhood tree friends.

Later, led by my friend Jana Laiz, we wrote letters to Mother Earth. This was mine (unedited, just as it came flowing out of my pen into my workshop notebook):

“Mother, I am so sorry that we have been so destructive to you. I am so sorry that we are such a cruel, savage and thoughtless species. I often wonder how a species that can build soaring temples, write magnificent symphonies and fantastically sophisticated computer code—a species that can love with such devotion—can also be capable of such wanton, cruel torture and devastation of the natural world and our fellow species, the plants, animals, insects, birds and fish.

“We could be so much finer than we are. That old story of the Garden of Eden got it right. We were fallen and unworthy—but not because Eve desired a bite of apple, but because we did not know how to live peacefully there with the trees and the snakes and all.

“I wish the Judeo-Christian myth included better instructions on what to do once we were out on our own in the so-called wilderness. The Native Americans got good instructions. The Buddhists understood. But the Europeans, my tribe—we were told “be fruitful and multiply and subdue the Earth and her creatures.” That is what we have done, and as a result we are now 9 billion humans on this planet, close to wiping out the other species and undoing the ecological life support on which all of us depend.

“I know you wished us to prosper, Mother, as you do all your children. But I wouldn’t hold it against you now if you decided that you’d had enough of us humans. I think we’ve had our chance; we’ve blown it; and it’s time for some tough love.

“Time for us to own up to the consequences of our actions. Time for you to push the reset button, perhaps, and start the process of creation anew.”

Viewed soberly, it’s hard to deny that we may very well be living in the end times for the human civilizations that began some 5,000 years ago when Gilgamesh killed Humbaba, the guardian of the forest, and cut down the cedar forest to make his city.

It’s also hard to argue that the end of our destructive era is a bad thing.

On an Earth Day that also featured the biggest Marches for Science ever assembled on the planet, it behooves us to acknowledge that Science has been a mixed blessing for the Earth community.

17991179_10212501290152317_3238751945848981883_nOf course, in so many ways, science, technology and engineering have been amazing boons for humanity. Who wouldn’t be grateful for medical advances that enable us to live longer and better? Who wouldn’t admire the technological prowess that enables us to communicate instantaneously with people on the other side of the world, and to fly there and talk in person if we so desire? Of course, we all love the conveniences of modern engineering: water systems, cars and roads, houses that can be heated with a flick of switch in the winter, and cooled just as easily in the summer.

The benefits of science are too numerous to list. And yet, I have to ask: what price have we paid for all these modern conveniences? What price will our children and grandchildren still be paying, far into the future?

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Robin Wall Kimmerer

I was really grateful to see the wonderful statement by indigenous scientists, including the ever-inspiring Robin Wall Kimmerer, pushing us to remember that “Indigenous science provides a wealth of knowledge and a powerful alternative paradigm by which we understand the natural world and our relation to it. Embedded in cultural frameworks of respect, reciprocity, responsibility and reverence for the earth, Indigenous science lies within a worldview where knowledge is coupled to responsibility and human activity is aligned with ecological principles and natural law, rather than against them.

“We need both ways of knowing,” the statement proclaims—indigenous and western—“if we are to advance knowledge and sustainability.”

This is truly the challenge of our time. Can we wed the simple and uncomplicated love for the natural world that we experienced as children with the ecological sophistication of indigenous science and the technological brilliance of western science?

Can we ensure that new generations of children will get their heads of out of their screens long enough to experience the wonder and magic of face time with the natural world?

Will we all—old and young, indigenous and settler, science geeks and nature buffs—join forces in the common goal of protecting and nurturing our common home, our Mother Earth?

We can—we must—and we will!

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