Gilgamesh vs. Noah: The Epic Battle for the Future

We are living in epic times. Mighty planetary changes are underway, and perhaps our pop culture is so obsessed with superheroes because only legendary heroes could successfully battle the dragons we face today.

I have been writing Transition Times for seven years now. When I started this blog, I was following the lead of environmental activist writers like Bill McKibben, Mark Hertsgaard, Elizabeth Kolbert and Derrick Jensen, who were sounding the alarm about climate change and biodiversity loss, translating the sober measurements of science into terms a lay audience could understand.

In the climate change movement then, the watchwords were “mitigate” and “adapt.” We could mitigate the damage that climate change would cause by reducing carbon emissions, trying to keep things more or less under control while we busied ourselves with adapting, by, for example, shifting to renewable energy sources and hybridizing flood- and drought-resistant grains.

Meanwhile, wildlife biologists were keeping track of the grim march of the Sixth Great Extinction, already well underway—not only for animals but also for marine life and plants on land and sea.

Seven years on, the scenarios I was absorbing with shock, outrage and fear at the beginning of Transition Times have come true, and then some. Monster storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, melting glaciers and tundra at the poles, staggering biodiversity loss, climate refugees (both human and non-human)—all of this has moved out of the realm of science fiction into the daily headlines.

Hence our desperate casting about for superhero help.

In the United States, the Gilgamesh crowd is in power—you remember Gilgamesh: the brawny young king who murdered the guardian of the cedar forest and cut it all down to build his grand city. Later in his epic he wanders around the world searching unsuccessfully for a route to immortality, strangely symbolizing the downfall of all humans who think only of short-term gain: you can’t take it with you.

Those at the helm of the U.S. economy today are willing to cut it all down. Who cares about helping endangered species? Who cares about national parks or ocean sanctuaries—drill, baby, drill! Who cares about the national debt? Print some more paper, acquire some more debt, let the suckers who come after us figure out how to pay.

And pay we will. The entire Earth community will pay for the savage destruction of climate and environment underway now. It’s not just the Sixth Great Extinction, it’s also a planetary reset we’re witnessing in these early years of the 21stcentury, on the scale of the shift from the Mesozoic to the Cenozoic eras, when the dinosaurs went extinct.

But this time, it’s not a meteor shaking things up on Earth. It’s the planet’s most successful species, homo sapiens—the smart apes—ruining things for everyone.

I am not proud to be a human being these days. I am not proud to be an American.

But I do cling to a tattered shred of hope in remembering the much-vaunted ethical, moral compass of humans, and the legendary innovative ingenuity of Americans.

If climate change, habitat and species loss continue unabated, we will be the first species on the planet to knowingly bring about our own destruction. For make no mistake, humans will go down with everything else on the planet. A few may survive—but civilization as we have created it, a la Gilgamesh, will go down.

Is this something we are really willing to have on our collective conscience?

Especially when we could have prevented it?

I take hope from the fierce rhetoric of Pope Francis, and other activists who are firing up environmental protection with religious fervor: Dr. Katharine Hayhoe is a great example of a scientist who is appealing to the faithful, and also using pop cultureto reach the masses.

What’s needed now is a dramatic shift in cultural worldview: from Gilgamesh to Noah, from swash-buckling drill-slash-burn to the moral and technological leadership that gets an Ark built before the floods come.

Because the floods, they are a’comin’. They’re already here, along with the wildfires and droughts and heat domes and all the rest of it. The wild animals are feeling the stresses as much or more than humans…there’s no AC or helicopters coming for them.

Meanwhile our politicians are still busying themselves with archaic ideas like national borders and tariff tit-for-tats. Climate change knows no borders. Noah didn’t ask to see passports as he loaded the climate refugees, human and non-human, into his ship.

We are all Earthlings now. If there’s any upside to climate change, it may be that the fact of our global, interspecies interdependence is now blazingly clear and undeniable.

In the epic of the 21stcentury, we’re at a crossroads. Who will we follow, Gilgamesh or Noah? If we want to save ourselves and as many other beloved Earthlings as possible (plants, insects, birds, animals, marine life), there is no time to waste.

Noah is in all of us, and we’re all in this together. If we have the will, we can find ways to mitigate and adapt and survive what’s coming.

Can we find the will?

Every day is a cliffhanger lately…tune in next time for the next chapter of “Gilgamesh vs. Noah: The Epic Battle for the Future, No. 2018.”

Mother Earth and the Art of the Deal: Doing Hope in Dark Times

On trade, as with immigration, the 45thAmerican president is not only an embarrassment, but a danger to world peace and prosperity. But we must take into account the deeper layers to both issues, which he understands only in the most superficial, self-serving way.

On the G7 and free trade: let’s admit candidly that globalized free trade of the NAFTA and TPP variety have been boons for corporations and Wall Street financiers, but disasters for most workers. The policy of freeing corporations to seek the lowest possible taxes and the cheapest, most compliant workers has resulted in unemployed, impoverished, unionless American workers and exploited, slave-like workers in places like Indonesia, China and India. The depression and rage of these screwed-over American workers is what propelled Trump into office, and he knows they will crow in glee as he shafts the ministers of free trade in the G7.

But of course they don’t realize, or refuse to see, that Trump is a wolf in sheep’s clothing (a corporate magnate in worker’s garb) when it comes to trade. All this talk of tariffs or no tariffs is just a smokescreen to throw his trading partners off guard and negotiate better deals for American corporations.

Trump is not interested in the welfare of American workers. If he were, he wouldn’t be protesting so loudly about the Canadian dairy industry, which is a good case in point as to the value of socialized industry. The Canadian government protects its dairy farmers from competition with the American dairy farmers who have been gutted by the free market and have been going out of business and committing suicide in record numbers as a result. Canadians wisely realize the value of nurturing their farmers, and so far Justin Trudeau is refusing to cave to Trump’s bullying, though it’s worrisome that a Trump-lite politician just won high office in Ontario, Canada’s most populous state.

Canadians look south of the border and see a nightmare: civilians waving guns in the streets and at schools, politicians regularly going out in handcuffs, an addicted, depressed, unhealthy, scared-as-shit population too ignorant and distracted to understand when it’s being shafted.

Perhaps the G7 should become the G6 unless and until the United States pulls itself out of its current morass. Thanks to Trump and the Republicans America has become a rogue nation, led by a corrupt strongman who seems to have his opponents, including the Justice Department, by the balls.

Meanwhile, along the southern border with Mexico, Trump has also taken a wrecking ball to a long-established relationship. Free trade was also a terrible deal for ordinary Mexicans—to take one example, thanks to NAFTA their corn industry was totally swamped by dumped cheap corn from American farmers, a lose-lose for all the workers involved.

But of course, the welfare of ordinary people is not Trump’s motivation. If it were, instead of talking about building the next Great Wall (a boon for the construction industry) to keep desperate Mexican and Central American families out of the United States, we’d be talking about investigating and improving the conditions that are forcing families to leave their homes and make the dangerous trip up north. The U.S. destroyed the economies and societies of Central America during the 1970s Communist scare, NAFTA and CAFTA splayed them open to American exploitation, and ordinary people are still paying the price.

This is a “workers of the world, unite” kind of moment, particularly in the face of climate change, which can only be tackled by a unified global effort–but instead the Trumpites are sowing distrust and discord everywhere they go. Fox News and the rest of the rightwing media, not to mention Trump’s own Twitter feed, feeds his followers a steady diet of carefully calibrated misinformation designed to brainwash them into cheering for their own evisceration.

With Bolton at his side, Trump is on the road to undoing the post-World War II world order that has maintained peace and prosperity for the elitessince 1945. If Trump & Co. were of the Chairman Mao variety, we might be looking at a new kind of Cultural Revolution. But no—these men want their elite status to last and grow. They don’t care about the costs—to the planet, to people, to the future.

Instead, we are seeing the rise of a new oligarchy, with Putin its shadow leader and Pompeo its enforcer. The generals go along–war and terror are their stock in trade after all–and business follows the generals with their lucrative military contracts. Next we’ll see Dick Cheney raising his ugly pate out of the swamp looking to rebuild Syria and modernize North Korea.

The truth is that for most of the planet–from marine life to forests to insects, and including poor people everywhere—this is nothing new. Most of the world has been living through a nonstop crisis all during these so-called “boom years” after 1945. Ask an indigenous person in the Amazon rainforest how the past 70+ years have been. Ask the butterflies and bees how they’ve enjoyed the rise of Monsanto.

It’s just that the carrying capacity of the planet is now maxxed out, so in order to preserve and increase the wealth of the elites, they must find new people and places to exploit. The ruthlessness of those in power, which has always been used to bludgeon the rest of the world, is now being turned on our trading partners, as well as on ordinary Americans, who are nearly as weak and easy to screw over as the Central Americans. Witness the fracking rigs in school yards and neighborhoods; the gutting of fragile health care protections for the poor and the sick; the adunctification of the higher education industry; the undermining of unions of every stripe.

The constant stream of unbelievably bad news coming down the transom is like one of those overwritten movie thrillers where you leave the theater shaking your head, wondering why the writers felt they had to cram every single violent act they could think of into a shortest possible time. But something’s wrong with this picture.  Where is the resistance? Where are the plucky Luke Skywalker types who can take on the Dark Lord and his henchmen?

Although rarely visible in the mainstream media, it turns out that the indigenous people of the Americas, for whom this crisis is nothing new at all, are leading the way—slowly, painfully and without great success, but with absolutely rock-solid determination. Everyone who cares about this planet should be standing with them; we need a Standing Rock movement in every state and town, to demand the health and welfare of all living beings on the planet and to insist that protecting the web of life is our most sacred duty as humans on Earth.

Trade and immigration are important issues, but they’re not as important as preparing to deal with the ravages of climate change. The worst thing Trump has done was to thumb his nose at the Paris climate accord, and then to put another wolf in charge of deregulating industry via the so-called Environmental Protection Agency.

Pope Francis gets it; bless him for calling the big oil chiefs to the Vatican for a lecturing on the importance of transitioning to clean energy, and fast. We need more independent, clear-sighted leaders like the Pope to focus our collective attention on what’s really important, and everything that’s at stake in our actions now.

It would sure help if the super-rich like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg would decide, like Tom Steyer, to throw some of their billions into climate change solutions—and I don’t mean inventing rockets to allow the elites to escape to Mars. They should be standing with First Nations leaders like Winona LaDuke, who has already successfully defeated one Midwestern oil pipeline, and is working to make her own reservation energy-independent and self-sufficient.

Despite the shitstorm that surrounds Trump (he reminds me of the Peanuts character Pigpen, perpetually surrounded by his own filthy stench), there is still hope to be found. Do yourself, and our world, a favor: seek out, focus on and amplify every small ray of hope you can find.

It only feeds the dark side to constantly marinate yourself in bad news and share your outrage with others. Feed the light with all the hope, good will and visionary creativity you can muster, and seek out others who are doing this too. Do hope together, and watch it grow.

It may help to remember: Mother Earth is on our side, if by “our side” we mean the side of life, abundance and well-being. If we’re as smart as we like to believe we are, humans, we’ll work with her, not against her. For in the end, she won’t be trumped. She will win this deal, with us or without us.

Purposeful Memoir as a Tool for Earth Activists

Recently I presented a slide lecture called “Navigating Climate Change in Uncertain Times: Cultivating Personal and Political Resilience for a Thriving Future.” But as often happens, I had to come up with the title months before I actually sat down to write the lecture, and in the interim my understanding of what I wanted to say shifted.

If I had to write the title now, it would be more like this: “Aligning the Personal, Political and Planetary Through Purposeful Memoir: Exploring the Past to Understand the Present and Envision the Thriving Future We Yearn For.”

It’s too wordy, but so far I have been unable to simplify these big ideas into a more succinct wording.

Truly, what I’m after is something big here, something potentially transformative on a grand scale.

And yet it starts very simply, very close to home: sitting down, preferably with others, to explore one’s own life experience and how it has been shaped and impacted, whether we’ve realized it along the way or not, by the political and planetary landscape of our time and place.

In the lecture, I used my own life experience as an example, exploring the years between 1962, my birth year, and 2011, the year I woke up to climate change and the Sixth Great Extinction—which, not coincidentally, was also the year that I started writing Transition Times.

The political events of those 50 years in America include several wars, from Vietnam to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan; the Civil Rights and feminist movements; the stealing of the election by Bush Jr. in 2000; and the complicated ups and downs of Congressional politics in relation to the environment.

The planetary events are perhaps less familiar, especially to those who, like me before 2011, were not paying much attention to the planetary backdrop against which we foregrounded our lives.

But put together, decade by decade, that “backdrop” loomed large. Each decade since the 1960s, the population of the Earth’s most successful invasive species, Homo sapiens, has increased by one billion people. We went from 3 billion or so when I was born, to 7 billion in the early 21stcentury, and we’re on track to reach 8 billion by 2020.

Data from the EPA and NASA show the steady rise in global atmospheric carbon over these decades, accompanied by rising air and sea temperatures and melting polar ice.

And in these decades since the first American endangered species list was created in 1967, hundreds of species have been added to the list of those threatened by extinction. It turns out that 1994, the year I earned my Ph.D., was the worst single year on the list, with 129 species added. Of course, I wasn’t paying attention at the time.

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Source: World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/08/endangered-species-wait-an-average-of-12-years-to-get-on-the-list

The power of aligning the personal, political and planetary through purposeful memoir is precisely that it focuses our attention in a new way.

It’s not just for those who want to write a full-fledged memoir. It’s also a valuable tool for anyone who is ready to understand their lives as part of the broader story of the relationship between human society and our planet.

It’s a way of understanding more deeply how we got to our present crisis moment on the planet, individually and as a society; a way of taking stock of the past and present in order to gird ourselves for the challenging work ahead.

Too often, people take up activism only in the political realm. They go out to fight politically for the planet without having done the deep inner work of understanding who they are, where they come from and how they were socialized and educated by their family and culture.

This inner work of purposeful memoir can be difficult because almost everyone alive today will have to confront their own complicity in the steady destruction of the global ecosystem—the swift and inexorable erosion, over the past 50-plus years, of the health and wellbeing of all life on the planet, including of course ourselves, human beings.

What-I-Forgot-Cover-draft-NEW-smAs I worked on my own memoir, What I Forgot…And Why I Remembered, I went through all the classic stages of grief as I realized the full extent of the loss that has unfolded during my lifetime.

Allowing ourselves to feel the grief is important, as Joanna Macy has been telling us for a long time; and we can channel the anger that arises from the tragic, relentless loss of life into a powerful force for Earth activism.

When we gather together to write and share how our personal stories have intertwined with the political and planetary happenings of our time and place, we are strengthening ourselves as a collective force for positive transformation of self, society and world.

We are, as I put it in my memoir, “doing hope together.”

Emily Dickinson famously described hope as:

“the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul –
and sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”

As we navigate through our perilous moment of climate change, political disruption and environmental destruction, we can use purposeful memoir as a way of tuning into to our own inner resilience while listening for the never-ending song of hope that pulses through all life on Earth.

It’s easy to hear it on these beautiful days of spring renewal. It’s what sets the leaves unfurling and the flowers turning their faces to the sun. It’s what animates the birds to build their nests and the bees to gather pollen to make their honey season after season.

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Photo J. Browdy 2018

As we work through purposeful memoir to align the personal, political and planetary, we can clearly see the preciousness and the fragility of life on Earth, and we come to understand our own potential to be stewards for the planet, and active guardians of other species.

We tap into the strong current of hope and life that constantly encircles this planet and begin to cultivate the deep awareness and resilience to become a beacon for others, each of us a little light in the vast global shift towards, as Charles Eisenstein puts it, “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”

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Terry Tempest Williams

At a recent climate change panel discussion in Albany NY, purposeful memoirist Terry Tempest Williams talked poetically about our responsibility to the generations still to come.

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us, praying we will see beyond our own time and act accordingly,” she said.

Purposeful memoir can help us locate ourselves as a strong link in the chain between past and future, understanding our individual lives as part of the broader political and planetary landscape of our time and place.

Doing hope together, we can engage in the joyful, sacred task of building bridges, plank by plank, into the thriving future we yearn for—not just for ourselves and other human beings, but for all life on Earth.

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Photo J. Browdy 2017

Stop the world, I want to get off! Reflections from the runaway train of 2017

The train wreck in Washington state this week gave visual reality to the feeling I’ve had lately of being a passenger on a runaway train, bound for disaster. I’m in that eerie slo-mo stage where everyone is screaming, we know we’re screwed, but there is nothing anyone can do to change the inevitable horrific outcome.

I’m talking about the Great Tax Scam of 2017, in which ultra-wealthy individuals and mega-corporations played a nasty shell game with everyone else–now you see it, now you don’t!—throwing some crumbs to the masses, while slashing funding for public education, health care, infrastructure and the social safety net for the most vulnerable, including the elderly and children.

I’m also talking about the environment: even as the pace of mining, logging, fracking and drilling continues to increase, the Arctic is melting, the forests and coral reefs are dying, and every day brings new tidings of floods, fires, droughts, famines.

To use another disaster metaphor, the US government and the corporations continue to party while the great Titantic of human civilization maintains a collision course for those now-melting ice bergs.

I can foresee the wreck, but I seem to be frozen and helpless to act to avert it.

Part of my inertia comes from the fact that I, like all of us living in the heart of the Empire, benefit from what the corporations offer. I’m complicit: I drive with gas, I heat with oil, I use banks and computers, I eat industrially produced food and expect drugs to be there when I need them. I pay my taxes.

While I don’t want to make excuses or let myself off the hook for my complicity, I also recognize the way my choices have been warped and limited by the same forces that are now ramming “tax reform” through Congress.

Because my funds are limited, it is difficult for me to buck the pressures of industrial capitalism—the policies that make gas cars cheaper than hybrids, oil burners cheaper than solar panels, and industrial food cheaper than organic.

For the most part, I have allowed myself to be shaped (maybe contorted would be a better word) into another of the obedient, ever-desiring consumers required by the corporate finance titans—a capitalist automaton who will shop till they drop on plastic fumes and go into debt bondage to keep up with the American dream.

But even as I reach for my plastic and do my holiday shopping, I am aware that I am not as helpless as the corporations and government want me to believe. I do have choices, even on this crazy runaway train that’s taking us all for a terrifying ride in these early years of the 21st century.

In a long-ago dispute over taxes, Henry Thoreau went to debtors’ jail to protest how taxpayer money was being spent on war. He wrote his famous letter on civil disobedience from prison, with the line that always echoes in my ears: “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

If I were to stop “lending myself to the wrong which I condemn,” I would have to stop contributing my tax dollars to the maw of U.S. corporate capitalism. I would have to get rid of my credit card and start working individually and in my community to become more independent and resilient: investing in local agriculture, decentralized energy, local credit unions and currencies, building up community networks to ensure a social safety net on the local level.

One way federal/corporate interests keep us in line is by mesmerizing us with global news. We know more about the latest disaster on the other side of the country or the world than we know about how our neighbors are living down the street.

We can’t stop climate change, but we can begin to work in our own communities to prepare for it. We may not be able to overcome the stranglehold of corporate capitalism on our economy and our government, but we can do things differently on the local level.

It’s time to walk the talk of living as awake, aware, socially and environmentally responsible human beings. I can’t do it alone, but I can reach out to you, and together we can begin to bring our personal, political and planetary values into alignment. It’s never too late to start, and it’s certainly not too soon.

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Time for the biggest march on Washington DC EVER!

The bombardment of bad news is relentless. For an empath like me, it’s literally painful, even self-destructive to open myself up to it. Today they are permitting the shooting of hibernating bears in their dens. Yesterday they threw out the rules against trophy imports of elephant and lion parts.

Tomorrow they’ll vote on a tax bill will savage students, the elderly and the working class, while sending the rich laughing to the bank. Word is that the senator from Alaska has decided to vote for it, despite misgivings, because she can’t resist the pork thrown her way: carte blanche to drill in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. And then there’s the possibility of war with North Korea, which has Hawaii resurrecting World War II era missile warning systems.

Meanwhile, the insane man who stole our White House is busy inflaming old hatreds, undermining confidence in our most respected news organizations, and getting away with crimes that other men are now being fired for daily (Garrison Keillor, the latest head to roll for sexual misconduct).

How should we conduct ourselves in the face of such overwhelmingly bad news?

Like most people I know, I’m just continuing to go through the motions of my life. As a teacher, I go in to teach my classes, and most of the time current events doesn’t come up, even in my media studies classes. The students don’t want to discuss politics or current events. They don’t want to get into arguments or risk offending each other. They just want to do their work, get good grades, and move on with their lives.

I can’t blame them as I’m following the same playbook. We all are. Yes, there’s some outrage expressed on social media, but if we really allowed ourselves to wake up and feel the full measure of the slow-motion disaster that is our present moment, we’d be doing more than posting angry faces and sharing editorials.

Graduate students, who are among the biggest targets of the disgusting Republican tax bill being rushed through Congress, are taking to the streets to protest. As usual, the young lead the way. We should all be out in the streets protesting!

I am surprised that no national organization is calling for the mass protests that should be occurring in Washington DC this holiday season. Last January women turned out en masse not only in Washington but all over the country to protest the ascension of “grab’em by the pussy Donald” to the highest office in the land. Where are they now, when all our worst fears for the Trump era have come true, and then some?

Protesting to your social media friends in virtual reality is ineffective because you’re not reaching your “enemies,” the people in power you’re protesting against. The Republican-controlled government is in its own echo chamber—45’s 43 million Twitter followers are cheering him on, giving him the illusion of invincibility.

Trump and his Republican toadies need a wake-up call, and it needs to be delivered with boots on the ground, not easily ignored virtual reality.

Today I’m calling on the leaders of every progressive organization in America to get off their butts and start organizing the biggest march on Washington our country has ever known.

We are in the midst of a crisis of epic proportions, affecting every sector of society (save the 1% and the big corporations). The health of our society and environment has never been more threatened.

It’s a storm-the-Bastille moment, and yet here we are, all mesmerized and immobilized by our screens.

Let’s use virtual reality to organize: who’s ordering up a bus for my town? What about yours? It’s time to go to Washington to remind the politicos who they work for, and what the democratic creed of America stands for.

We need to do it now, before they lock in legislation that will cripple our economy and bankrupt our future for generations to come.

Fired up? Ready to go!

***

While you’re waiting for the bus, you can call these senators who are said to be open to rational appeal on the tax bill:

Collins (ME) 202-224-2523
Corker (TN) 202-224-3344
Daines (MT) 202-224-2651
Flake (AZ) 202-224-4521
Johnson (WI) 202-224-5323
Lankford (OK) 202-224-5754
McCain (AZ) 202-224-2235
Murkowski (AK) 202-224-6665

And consider submitting your writing, photography or art to the new online magazine I’ve just founded, Fired Up! Creative Expression for Challenging Times.  It’s true that online activism can only take us so far. But it’s a good way to let off some steam and inspire ourselves and others in the process!

This Thanksgiving, Let’s Do More Than Just Give Thanks

Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful word, and a noble intention:

Let us sit down together with family and friends at the culmination of the harvest season, enjoy a bounteous meal and give thanks for our good fortune.

But with each passing year I have more trouble composing myself to write about Thanksgiving.

My early Transition Times Thanksgiving posts focused on the Native American dimension to the holiday—reminding myself that the original Massachusetts celebration was actually the beginning of the end for the pilgrims’ generous Native American hosts, whose suffering at the hands of the rapacious Christian-capitalist overlords of this continent still continues, along with their fiery and stubborn resistance.

Last year at this time, we were sending supplies to Standing Rock and I was giving thanks for the brave water defenders who were standing up for all of us as they built their camp on the banks of the river.

This year, having witnessed the brutal repression of the water protectors at Standing Rock, we are preparing for more fights over the zombie Keystone XL pipeline and watching in disbelieving fury as the Trump administration undoes regulatory protections for wilderness and national parks and actively promotes logging, mining, fracking and drilling as well as hunting endangered species at home and abroad (oh, my beloved elephants!).

It’s been quite a year, and it’s not over yet. How should I give thanks, and for what?

It feels self-centered and callous to give thanks for not being in the line of fire—this time. Should I give thanks that I wasn’t born as an elephant or lion? That at least this year my home isn’t in the path of a pipeline or a hurricane, that the water coming out of my tap is still clean?

Of course, in my typical egocentric human way, I am grateful to have a warm, safe home, good food and loving family and friends to share it with.

Of course.

But it’s hard to relax and enjoy that good fortune when so many others are suffering.

We know now that our world is profoundly interconnected: when we hurt and despoil one species in an ecosystem, the reverberations spread out to all. Because humans are the most empathetic of species, it’s hard for those of us who are aware of the deep suffering and sickness of so many on our planet to simply ignore it and continue with business as usual.

On a spiritual level, we suffer too—and I believe that even those who profess to be entirely uncaring of others’ pain—Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Ryan Zinke, I’m looking at you—are harmed by it on a subtle level, growing more zombified day by day.

We who are aware have an essential role to play in awakening others. It’s sort of an anti-zombie effect, our touch having the potential to draw the psychically dead back into the realm of the living.

To live is to suffer. But to live is also to “take arms against a sea of troubles,” in the cause of Life. To live is to offer our lives to the future, to work on behalf of future generations to leave our world better than we found it at our birth.

Those of us lucky enough to be counting our blessings this Thanksgiving must use our good fortune to step up our activism for a better world for all. And I don’t mean merely all humans.

Here’s something you can do to support a very important giver of life this Thanksgiving season. Please contribute to the Indiegogo campaign to underwrite Mary Lyons’ book of ancestral Wisdom Lessons.

Mary Lyons is an Ojibwe elder who, despite a long life filled with all kinds of challenges, continues to travel, teach and inspire others with the wisdom of her ancestors—wisdom we all need today.

Please contribute, in the spirit of giving thanks at Thanksgiving-time. Only two weeks left in the campaign and a long way to go to the goal.

Today I give thanks for the many shining lights who are out in the forefront leading the way to the more beautiful world we know is possible. I have written about many of them in Transition Times over the years, and I continue to honor them as my inspirations, every day.

Here’s a partial list of my guiding lights (among those still alive today). What names would you add?

Charles M. Blow

Stella Bowes

Clare Dubois

Charles Eisenstein

Eve Ensler

Dallas Goldtooth

Amy Goodman

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Naomi Klein

Elizabeth Kolbert

Nicholas Kristof

Winona LaDuke

Mary Lyons

Joanna Macy

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Bill McKibben

Kandi Mossett

Kumi Naidoo

Nancy Roof

Nina Simons

Starhawk

Sandra Steingraber

Terry Tempest Williams

Andreas Weber

Celebrating Balance on Indigenous People’s Day: Ancient Wisdom the World Needs Now!

Fact: men commit most of the violence in the world, whether domestic violence, military violence, murders or mass shootings. By far, these acts of violence—along with the violence of logging, mining, drilling, hunting animals, industrial fishing, developing and spreading chemicals in the environment—all committed at a higher rate and under the leadership of men.

This is not a diatribe against men, but against violence. Patriarchal human cultures, which are ascendant in the world today, glorify violence and teach boys that to become men, they have to at the very least acquiesce to it, if not to practice it themselves.

“Real men” join the military, keep their families in line with the threat of violence, harden their hearts against the suffering of animals and nature. Emotions are for sissies.

Violent hyper-masculinity is leading us straight over the cliff, and yet like lemmings we seem to be compelled to follow, to stick with the herd.

The unprecedented wildfires, floods, storms and temperatures of 2017 have everyone’s attention. Yes, Virginia, climate change is real and it is here now. Every day that we continue with business as usual is a day that brings us closer to that abyss: the day the sea comes crashing in to our city, the floods or droughts wipe out our crops, the temperature rises and the power grid fails.

We have known for a long time that the poorer, weaker parts of the world would suffer first and hardest. Ask any Puerto Rican about that.

Would Donald Trump, the sissy man who tries so hard to act tough, have dared to hurl his puerile insults a male Puerto Rican mayor?

Trump epitomizes violent masculinity gone amok: the bully who sprays tweets like machine gun fire. That the overwhelmingly male Republican Congress does not throw him and his henchmen out is testament to the fact that our country is dominated by toxic masculinity.

Just look at the legislation the Republicans have been trying to pass lately. Overwhelmingly, it benefits the few rich white males already at the pinnacle of power in our society, at the great expense of everyone else.

Thank heaven for a handful of strong women Republican leaders like Susan Collins of Maine, holding a finger in the dyke and standing up for their constituents—the ordinary ones, the ones who would be the victims if the Repugs had their way—even at the risk of incurring the bullying wrath of the Tweeter in Chief.

I am spelling this out not to wring my hands and beat my chest in grief, but to lead the way to a pivot point.

It does not have to be this way.

It should not be this way.

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Now, of all times, with the abyss of the end of human civilization in sight—no exaggeration—all men and women of good conscience and clear thought must stop and acknowledge that it is time to resist toxic masculinity and the violence it spreads. It is time to strengthen and bring forward the creative feminine principle, cultivating harmony as we work rapidly to restore the ecological balance of the planet and to create peaceful, productive cultures that work for the well-being of all.

It can be done, and women can and should take a leadership role in this crucial work of the 21st century.

I have been saying for a while now that the 21st century must become not the bleak, dead-zone Anthropocene envisioned by the techno-futurists, but a verdant, harmoniously balanced Androgynocene, where the masculine qualities of the warrior are combined with the feminine qualities of the nurturer in every human being; where each of us steps up in our own sphere to become fierce, tender stewards of the planet and of each other, learning to work together for the good of all.

“I know you’ll say I’m a dreamer…but I’m not the only one” (Lennon). Many good people are coming forward now to reject toxic masculinity in all its forms; to insist that another way is possible; and to lead the way out of the current violent, apocalyptic landscape into a promised land in which we and all life on Earth can thrive.

It is no accident that many of the leaders who have already been doing this balancing work for many years were born female, or are men who honor the feminine in themselves, or are queer—that is, open to the fluidity of their gender identity.

Over the years, Transition Times has celebrated many of these leaders, including Mary Daly, Gloria Anzaldua, Bill McKibben, Barack Obama, Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee, Starhawk, Terry Tempest Williams, Thich Nhat Hanh, and so many more.

22171565_1136051956528488_82733588_oThis year I am focusing on the work of Ojibwe Great-Grandmother Mary Lyons, a leader who has dedicated her life to nourishing and strengthening her family, her community, and the Earth community as a whole.

Today is Indigenous People’s Day 2017 and in partnership with Grace Rossman I am launching an Indiegogo campaign to fund the publication of The Wisdom Lessons of Mary Lyons, a rich compilation of spiritual insights and offerings that Mary has been writing down throughout her long, sometimes difficult, and always inspiring life.

Mary is one of those leaders who works to balance the hearts and minds of all individuals she comes into contact with, as well as to offer an example of what it’s like to live in integrity, dedicated to the well-being of the entire community.

It is a profoundly feminine vision, and yet the masculine warrior’s protective spirit is also undeniably present in Mary.

Mary Lyons coverI hope you’ll pitch in to support the work of bringing Mary’s thoughtful, fierce and yet also gentle and playful spirit out into the world in the beautiful volume of her Wisdom Lessons that Green Fire Press aims to produce. Although an amazingly spry and energetic elder, she is slowing down a bit and hopes the book can circulate further out in the world than she is able to go in person.

In these transition times, as the old familiar environment and civilization shakes and crumbles, and we look ahead desperately seeking solid ground, Mary’s wisdom provides a bridge to the stable, harmonious future we must co-create together.

In Mary’s words:

The only war that goes on is the one inside you, when you are off-balance;

Your body will argue with your spirit about what is right or wrong.

The greatest war of all will be when your body overcomes your spirit and you join in

on the dark path here on Mother Earth.

In these man-made wars, your spirit will be put to sleep and the balance of life will

falter as you fall prey to the trickster that lurks in dark places with enticing

temptations..

When you realize the loneliness within you,

You will remember that the gateway to balance is through awakening your spirit.

Then the light of goodness will come on.

Beauty will appear everywhere when balance is restored.

–from The Wisdom Lessons of Mary Lyons

Please help us bring these wisdom lessons to the world in book form! Contribute here.

Radical Hope in Tragic Times

I am trying to absorb the horrible news of the worst American mass shooting in recent history; and at the same time not lose the elated feeling I had after the successful October 1 launch of the Berkshire Grove of the organization Treesisters, dedicated to reforesting the tropics and rebalancing the planet’s climate, while also encouraging women to step into leadership roles in environmental issues.

22154421_620982604884_4669767767180484296_nIt was so beautiful to see people streaming on to the lawn next to Edith Wharton’s mansion The Mount in Lenox MA, where a small group of dedicated dancers and singers led by choreographer and creative designer Anni Crofut Maliki had prepared a beautiful, heartfelt introduction to the Treesisters philosophy, weaving powerful words from founder Clare Dubois together with original song and dance, in a soulful old grove of pines and maples, on a radiant fall afternoon.

22089816_10213164101109781_8490839444826224249_nIt was truly uplifting to stand together in circle, invoking the five points of the Treesisters star of change, envisioning the better world that could be if feminine energy—productive, creative, fertile, nourishing—were to come into balance with healthy masculine energy channeled into positive action and stewardship of the planet.

Yes, we can do it, we all felt, standing together. We CAN make this shift and save our planet from destruction. Oh happy day!

And then in the middle of the night I was woken from a dream by the flashing white light of my cell phone, notifying me of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I didn’t look at it then, but was greeted by the news first thing in the morning.

Another man gone berserk. More handwringing and horror on the news, the president mouthing simpering teleprompted sympathy messages, all those media personalities milking tragedy for ratings, and watching the stock market spike—perhaps in anticipation of yet more gun sales?

I’m sick of it all. I’m sick of the shock, the numbness, the carrying on. Sick of how violence has become normalized in this country. No matter how high the numbers climb, we seem to absorb the news and move on like automatons. 49 dead? 59 dead? As some commentators are reminding us today, more people than that die every day in America from gun violence.

And then there are the opioid deaths, the car accidents, the homicides, the suicides, the police brutality, domestic violence, the rapes, the self-destructiveness of eating disorders and self-harm.

Yes, we are proud to be Americans, aren’t we? We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, the best country on Earth.

I used to believe that. I have not believed it in a long time, and each day brings new sadness and outrage to further puncture whatever remnants of the American dream might remain to me.

Since there seems to be no hope of legislative solutions to the multifarious problem of gun violence in America, I choose to shift my focus elsewhere, on change I can control.

I can support the work of Treesisters and other organizations working for environmental sanity and the empowerment of women’s leadership. I can support and cultivate creative people whose vision points us towards a better world.

Through writing, my own creative outlet, I can try to alchemize my shock and sickness into something more productive, something—if only words—that I can offer the planet in these desperately difficult times.

We have to beware of being sucked into the negative whirlpools that inevitably swirl up like black-water vortexes in the wake of mass tragedies like this one.

Yes, we must pay homage to the victims and berate the negligent legislators and courts that have turned our country into an armed camp of vigilantes.

But don’t let all that negative energy pull you down. Keep your spirit burning bright and focus your energy not on what has been, but on what could be. Gather with others and share your dreams and visions for a better world.

This is what I call “doing hope together.” Nothing and no one will stop me from stoking the fires of my radical hope, with other like-minded people and with the planet herself.

And you? Will you come with me?

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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?

 

 

 

 

Coping with Non-stop Catastrophe

I can’t help feeling a bizarre sense of surreality as I enjoy a lovely, peaceful, golden September afternoon here in New England while at the same time being deeply plunged into virtual reality, watching the slow but inexorable progress of Hurricane Irma across the Caribbean and up the Florida peninsula.

It’s like living life in a constant state of split-screen.

On the left, there’s my ordinary life, which (thankfully) is at the moment moving forward without much drama.

On the right, there are the dark clouds, howling winds and rising seas of the storms—literal and metaphorical—that are sweeping over other parts of the USA and the world.

The hurricane is an apt weather-metaphor for the tumultuous weeks since the American solar eclipse on August 21. We’ve had more intense news packed into these few weeks than seems possible.

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How are we to maintain our balance, focus and peace of mind when we’re being whipsawed from a Nazi/KKK riot in Charlottesville to an insane dictator in North Korea playing with nuclear missiles to an epic flood in Texas to the racist anti-immigrant president pardoning a known criminal (Sheriff Arpaio) and preparing to deport nearly a million hard-working Dreamers to record-breaking wildfires on the West Coast to the biggest, meanest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic to a once-in-a-century earthquake in Mexico…and it just goes on and on and on.

Compared with figuring out how to survive a hurricane, or how to clean up a city devastated by one, my split-screen dilemma is trivial. But it is a strange polarity that I must navigate every day: staying aware of all the dire circumstances people are living through, while not getting so caught up in that virtual reality—other people’s lives—that I neglect my own, or become immobilized by anxiety and depression.

41DVsVYbnRL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_I wonder if this will be a new diagnosis for the psychiatrists to label and record in their DSM? They could call it virtual reality anxiety syndrome, with complications of depression and insomnia.

Part of the anxiety comes from the awareness that it’s only a matter of time before the camera comes swinging around to me and my part of the world. Right now all is peaceful…but the big one will be heading my way soon too, whether it’s an unprecedented snowstorm or a New York City bombing or car attack or water poisoned by chemicals or a crazy man going amuck with a semi-automatic rifle. All of this has happened already, and will continue to happen…there is no escaping the rapid and deadly beat of life in the 21st century.

So the question becomes how to live with this knowledge while remaining open, empathetic, curious, upbeat—how to live each day as a marvelous gift to be unpacked with delight, while sending love and concern to the other half of the screen—the people who have the misfortune to be dealing with the storm systems now.

How do we keep enjoying life without being overcome with guilt, sorrow and rage at the way others are, at the same exact minute, being forced to suffer?

I am doing the best I can. How about you? I’d be very grateful for any suggestions you may have about how to manage “virtual reality anxiety syndrome” better.

And now, back to you, Irma.

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