Saving the World: It Starts with You

Every week seems to come with news of more trouble in the natural world. This week it was the report of dozens of emaciated gray whale mothers washing up dead on the U.S. Pacific coast, starved to death. Scientists say that only 10% of dead whales generally end up on the beaches, so this could be the remnants of a much larger die-off of yet another species succumbing to the drastic changes roiling our oceans.

If the oceans are in trouble, our entire planet is in trouble, as the oceans are our great climate stabilizer. It’s hard to imagine a warm, acidified ocean empty of most life besides, perhaps, jellyfish and creatures of the deep dark canyons. Yet this is where we’re going, and fast. It’s not clear whether anything we do now can reverse the huge planetary climate changes that have been set in motion by human population growth and industry.

So where does that leave us, as people who are aware of the unfolding catastrophe of climate disruption? Do we curl up and hide under the covers until the waters rise and sweep us away? Do we hedonistically make hay while the sun shines, telling ourselves that we all have to die anyway? Or do we roll up our sleeves and do what we can to adapt to our rapidly changing world, and mitigate the impact on ourselves, our children and all the other innocent species now in the crosshairs?

I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t believe that what we do now, as individuals and as societies, matters. In fact, a large part of our so-called environmental problems are really social and psychological problems.

In the last century, as the fossil-fuel and chemical industries have exploded, we humans have lost touch with our ancient connection to the natural world of which we are a part. Our leaders, in their climate-controlled towers, have forgotten that we are entirely dependent on plants and bacteria for our air and food—the forests and grasses of the land, as well as the plankton and plants of the sea. Perhaps they imagine an artificial world, like the Dome experiments, where the entire biosphere is created by humans. But what kind of existence would that be?

The great task of our time is to reconnect humanity with our planet, rekindling our awareness of our role as stewards of the great oceans and landscapes of our beautiful home. C.G. Jung, writing in the wake of the horrors of World War II, was prescient in his diagnosis of the problem of humanity as being a disconnect from our ancient reverence for the Earth. To heal our relationship with the planet, he said, we must first heal ourselves:

“The tempo of the development of consciousness through science and technology was too rapid and left the unconscious, which could no longer keep up with it, far behind, thereby forcing it into a defensive position which expresses itself in a universal will to destruction….This problem cannot be solved collectively, because the masses are not changed unless the individual changes. At the same time, even the best-looking solution cannot be forced upon him, since it is a good solution only when it is combined with a natural process of development. It is therefore a hopeless undertaking to stake everything on collective recipes and procedures.

The bettering of a general ill begins with the individual, and then only when he makes himself and not others responsible. This is naturally only possible in freedom, but not under a rule of force, whether this be exercised by a self-elected tyrant or by one thrown up by the mob” (C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 349; emphasis mine).

It appears that the best thing each of us can do for the health of our planet is to stay awake to what is happening, as painful as it may be to witness; to grieve the irrevocable losses of this great transition time; and to share our new awareness honestly and openly with those around us.

This is the work Joanna Macy pioneered with her Work That Reconnects, which invites us to deep empathy with the more-than-human world: grieving over the dying whale mothers and their doomed calves as we stare wide-eyed into a starkly changed future, remembering that such changes have happened before in geological time. Inevitably, the planet will restore herself and begin creating anew, in the fierce will to life that  philosopher Andreas Weber calls “enlivenment.”

Margaret Mead said long ago, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

More recently, political analysts like Erica Chenoweth have demonstrated that big societal changes can come from the concerted efforts of a relatively small percentage of the population: if just 3.5% of the population work hard for change, it can happen, and often does.

So if you care about the well-being of oceans, fresh water, forests and prairies and mountains…if you care about the well-being of every denizen of our beautiful planet… know that the best thing you can do is to stand up and be counted.

Share your feelings with friends and neighbors. Show up for meetings and rallies to protect the lands and waters in your backyard. Take the children in your life out into nature and open their eyes to the beauty and grace of our common home, Earth.

These times are filled with grief and upheaval, yes. But there are also so many opportunities, every day, to work for the thriving future we wish for our descendants and all the bright creatures of the planet. Now is our time. Let’s make good use of it.

Join me for a deeper dive into the inner work necessary for effective earth activism: “Purposeful Memoir as a Path to a Thriving Future,” September 22 at the summit of Mount Greylock, MA; September 26 at the Transformational Language Arts conference in Scottsdale AZ; and October 20 at the Bioneers conference, San Rafael CA. More information here. 

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An All-Hands-On-Deck Moment

In reading the recent back and forth between Jeremy Lent and Jem Bendell, I have the feeling I’m watching two great intellectual stags locking horns, jockeying with each other for dominance. These two climate philosophers are quite polite as they tear into each other’s work, and I think they both mean well. But do we have time, really, for this kind of academic jousting?

Does it really matter whether we counsel “transformative hope” (Lent) or “positive deep adaptation” (Bendell)? Does it matter whether we say social/environmental collapse is “likely” (Lent) or “inevitable” (Bendell)?

Both thinkers are really going for the same outcome, which is a cultural shift into confronting the seriousness of our current predicament (as a species, but also in terms of the stability of our planetary ecosystems). Both acknowledge that we may have to take some time to work through our despair and grief over the inevitability of change; and that ultimately we will need to turn to our neighbors and do our best to salvage what we can as we power down the old western civilization and power up, hopefully, the “ecological civilization” Lent has been calling for.

I am grateful to both of these guys, along with George Monbiot and Greta Thunberg, for getting climate breakdown and social collapse out of the realm of dystopian cli-fi and into the mainstream media.

Yes, what they are saying is scary. We are living through scary times—not just because of the current occupants of the White House, but because of the increasing chaos in our planetary life support systems. The Holocene is coming to an end, the Anthropocene is beginning, and it’s going to be a hard time for most species on Earth—human beings very much included.

We have to talk about this, and we can’t sugar-coat it. We humans need a wake-up call in the strongest terms, and sometimes a little fearmongering is necessary. It’s all very well for Charles Eistenstein to say that we need to come at the climate issue from a place of love rather than fear, but let’s be real. How many of the 7.6 billion people on the planet are in a strong enough relationship with Gaia to be motivated, purely out of love, to work hard to resuscitate and stabilize her?

But if you show people pictures of wildfires, flooding, hurricanes and droughts; if you tell them that agricultural systems are threatened, that climate refugees are already on the move, and that the entire natural food chain is collapsing both on land and sea…well, you might just be able to get their attention.

Right now we’re in a kind of agonizing slo-mo catastrophe. Sometimes it’s so slow that you can fool yourself into thinking everything’s fine. That’s why the work that Lent, Bendell, Monbiot, Thunberg and other activists are doing is essential—saying loud and clear, in no-nonsense terms, that THINGS ARE NOT FINE.

Although the Gaian indicators have never been worse, I find myself more hopeful now that I was a few years ago, when even a “good guy” like President Obama was posing with fossil fuel pipes behind him and refusing to kill the Keystone XL. At least we don’t have that kind of liberal hypocrisy running the show anymore.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal make me hopeful.

The Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion make me hopeful.

Student climate strikes make me hopeful.

The worldwide interest in the Findhorn Climate Change & Consciousness conference makes me hopeful.

I find hope in my own small contributions towards waking people up and helping them find their way to what Joanna Macy calls “active hope.” For example, in the workshop I’ll be giving here in the Berkshires on April 27, “Aligning the Personal, Political and Planetary for a Thriving Future.”

I would like to see Jem Bendell and Jeremy Lent go out for a beer and work out their ego-driven differences with some good old-fashioned humor and humility. We need all hands on deck now, pulling together into the thriving future we yearn for.

We are the World: A Rededication of Transition Times

It’s been a long time since I’ve written regularly in Transition Times. There’s a reason for it: the calamity of Trump stealing the 2016 election. After that, the bad news began to come so fast and furious that a) it was impossible to keep returning the volley, so to speak, with sufficient intensity; and b) life became exhausting, demoralizing and depressing. It was hard enough to live through each day, let alone write about it with the depth and clear thought that I have come to expect from myself in Transition Times.

So I shifted my outrage to social media, where I could share a multitude of other people’s thoughtful writing about resistance on many fronts. I shifted my writing practice to work on a novel that allowed me to lighten up a little and play with satire, even as I also made environmental resistance the engine of the plot. I’ve continued to teach leadership for social and environmental justice at the college, focusing especially on strategic communication: learning from those I call Worldwrights on how writing can right the world. And I’ve deepened my commitment to offering purposeful memoir as a technique not just for exploring the past, but also for understanding our difficult present, and envisioning a better future.

And now I find myself here, in the early days of another spring. There are still peepers trilling in the wet woods of my home in western Massachusetts. The birds are busy with mating and nesting. These deep terrestrial cycles soothe me, even as I know how endangered these bright creatures are in the face of climate disruption and environmental destruction. Of course, they don’t know or care about the future. Their blessing is to be entirely focused on the present.

Is it our curse then, as humans, that we alone of all the other animals possess the magic of prophecy? I have written of myself, here at Transition Times,as a kind of Cassandra. Back when I started this blog, in 2011, very few people were paying attention to the threat of climate change. Bill McKibben and Al Gore were outliers, preaching to a fringe that was perceived, even in smart precincts like The New York Times, to be standing in the way of progress.

Now things have changed. Suddenly The Times has a Climate beat. It’s not only Elizabeth Kolbert sounding the alarm on species extinction over at The New Yorker. And New York Magazine, previously mostly a style rag, broke a blunt and influential story by David Wallace-Wells about the social chaos that climate disruption will bring, if not addressed immediately.

Although the news is still depressing as hell, I’m reassured that the major news media are now paying attention. I don’t feel like such a mad, lonely voice crying in the wilderness over here at Transition Times. Somehow, because there are more reporters on the beat, it feels like a good time to rededicate myself in this blog, and think about how I can best be of service in my mission of “writing to right the world.”

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I am co-hosting a local “hub” of the Findhorn Climate Change & Consciousness Conference happening this month in Findhorn, Scotland; we’ll be presenting some of the keynotes from the conference, along with related pre-recorded interviews, and leading discussions afterwards. My co-host, Rosa Zubizarreta, led an initial circle recently, gathering some friends to simply speak what is in their hearts and minds as they have become aware of climate disruption. It was a moving, disturbing session, as people voiced their fears and their stubborn hope that a path to a viable future can still be found.

Several women (the gathering was mostly women) spoke of their terrible grief, as they understood the realities of ecological systems collapse. I remember feeling that way and I realized that while I still grieve every day for the losses we are facing, I am now more focused on what Jem Bendell calls “deep adaptation”: preparing myself–emotionally, spiritually and in practical terms–to live on into this very uncertain transition time.

I have always hoped that Transition Times would be a place where people could come for inspiration, and I see that we need inspiration now more than ever. My plan going forward is not to respond to the day’s outrages; not to keen and wail in grief at all the destruction (of forests, of reefs, of all the beautiful creatures who have been our companions throughout the Holocene, but are now fading away as we advance into the Anthropocene). Or at least, to tell these tales of woe only insofar as they help to ignite the passion of resistance, so that we can, like modern-day Noahs, conserve what we can as the flood waters rise.

It is not that I’m going to be Prozac-cheery and pretend everything is just fine. Far from it. I am going to engage in dialogue with the Worldwrights I respect and admire—activists of social and environmental justice, Gaian warriors as I call them, after Joanna Macy’s more Buddhist idea of Shambhala warriors. I am going to look for hope where it is to be found, while at the same time being honest—sometimes bluntly so—about where we are headed as a civilization.

CoverIn Margaret Wheatley’s latest book, which I shared with my leadership students this spring, she uses John Glubb’s model of cyclical civilizational collapse to show how western society is in the classic end stages, headed for a big fall. And yet, she says, we have to do the work that is ours to do, moving beyond fear and beyond the false promises of savior-style hope.

At the end of my memoir, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered, I said that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in circles of kindred spirits, “doing hope together.” I still feel that way, even though my understanding of “hope” has changed. I no longer hope that we can sustain this present civilization. I see now that what western society has created is totally unsustainable and so destructive, not only for the natural world but also for the vast majority of human beings.

Along with other transition thinkers, I have shifted away from the idea of “sustainability,” towards the promise of “regeneration.”

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From the ashes of western civilization something new will rise. There will be some humans left to greet the new day and start the task of creating the next version of life on Earth. Those who make it through what Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning will probably be the people who have remained indigenous through all the upheavals and torments of the past 500 years of European colonization; those who live in places not swept away by climate havoc, and who still remember how to subsist in harmony on the land.

Here in Transition Times, I will share what I am learning about deep adaptation, regeneration and how to prepare oneself, spiritually, emotionally and practically, to live through the times that are coming. I will share my own journey honestly, and hope that others will be inspired to share their thoughts too.

This is what “doing hope together” looks like to me now, here on the edge of what some are calling planetary systems collapse. To look out into the world with love and with courage; to say resolutely that we stand for the best values humanity has developed over these past few millennia of recorded history; and that we stand against the greed, shortsightedness, aggression and hatred that has been ascendant too long in western civilization.

As Arundhati Roy put it, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Stop. Listen. Can you hear the better world that is laboring to be born now? Send her strength with every breath you take, knowing that the world breathes you as you breathe her. There is no separation. It’s become a cliché but it’s true: We are the world. And in the cycles of deep time, we will rise again.

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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.”

From Selfies to Withies with Eli Pariser: Who’s In the Frame?

UnknownTis the season of Commencement speeches, and I read one this week with particular attention, because it was by an illustrious alum from Bard College at Simon’s Rock—Eli Pariser, the founder of Moveon.org and Upworthy, two awesome organizations dedicated to using social media technology to shift culture for the better.

There’s a lot to love in Eli’s speech. He tells the graduates that having a sense of self-worth is the foundation of empathy, which is the social glue that holds communities together. He enjoins the young people before him to remember that they matter, citing studies showing “the powerful effect that believing we matter has on the way we behave, especially toward those who are different from us.”

He continues: “When we’re affirmed in who we are, when we believe that we matter, we relax. We’re more open to new ideas, other ways of seeing things. We’re more accepting of each other. We feel safe. Our subconscious bias goes down. Our empathy goes up. Instead of seeing stereotypes, we can see and accept people as individual human beings.”

This leads him to the important question of how we should value ourselves, or what in ourselves we should value. After all, a bigot might look in the mirror and value hir hatred, right?

Eli is clear on this question: “Here’s what I believe: You matter because you contain within you a great capacity to do good. To act with love.”

He concludes his speech by asking the students in front of him to take out their cameras and instead of taking selfies, take “withies”:

“I want you to capture yourself in the context of everyone around, everyone who has travelled this journey with you. Instead of a selfie, let’s call it a “withie.” With your friends. With your classmates. With your professors. With your family. With as many people as you can fit into the frame. The whole context….As you move out into your next chapter, this wild and weird future, remember this. You’re not alone in your frame. You do matter. You have this great power within you to do good and to remind people that they matter too.”

Totally awesome message! There’s just one thing missing here, and that is an acknowledgment that there is much more in the frame of our “withies” than people.

2016 is a year when we desperately need to bring the great green and blue pulse of planetary life into our frames, and remember that our love and empathy must be extended to all living beings, from the plants that produce the oxygen we breathe to the plankton, coral and mangroves that support the ocean food chains, to the bacteria that give us rich earth and the insects that pollinate our crops.

Interestingly, Eli mentions non-human life just once in his speech, a reference to penguins that apparently occurred to him only because the penguin is the mascot of the institution he was addressing. He uses the communitarian nature of penguins to illustrate his idea of “withies”:

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“As any student of “March of the Penguins” knows, penguins are awesome. They can swim faster than a human can run. They can drink ocean water and sneeze out the salt. And when it gets really, really Antarctic cold, they huddle close to one another. They put the kids on the inside. They rotate turns on the outside, absorbing the chill. They come together. And that’s how they make it through the winter.”

“March of the Penguins” came out in 2005, bringing us up close and personal for the first time to the dramatic lives of Antarctic penguins, nesting and raising their young in the harshest environment on Earth. A decade later, a film like that would never be made without acknowledging that penguins are among the many iconic species now being threatened with extinction by the manmade global heating that is causing their ice shelf home to melt into the sea.

The fact that someone as smart and savvy as Eli Pariser could write a Commencement speech in 2016 making no mention of the environmental crisis at all is deeply sobering to me.

It reminds me of the humans in the 2008 movie WALL-E, who have computer screens perpetually fixed right in front of their faces. We have become so entranced by our own reflections in our screens that even our “withies” are all about us.

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Let’s go back to the conclusion of Eli’s speech for a moment. He says:

“As you move out into your next chapter, this wild and weird future, remember this.You’re not alone in your frame. You do matter. You have this great power within you to do good and to remind people that they matter too. If you do that, then truly there’s nothing to be afraid of. Class of 2016, you’re going to do just fine.”

Yes, I totally agree, with this essential caveat: the Class of 2016, and all of us who are in the service of love on this planet, must become aware of the gravest challenge of our “wild and weird future”—climate change and environmental destruction—and begin to direct our energies towards creating a livable future, not just for us but for life as we know it on this planet.

That means coming out from behind our screens and reconnecting with the elemental life on this planet—earth and water, fire and air. We need to feel the wind on our faces, to smell the fresh scent of damp earth, to remember what it’s like to swim in a clean river and sit around a fire on a starry night, telling stories.

Penguins are not just mascots. They are living beings with every right to continue their march into the future. Let’s put them, and the polar bears, elephants, whales and all other life on Earth, into our “withies” too.

Dangerous Times: Looking for Hope in the Ashes of the Tar Sands and the Train Wreck of the Trump/Clinton Candidacies

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It’s hard not to think about divine justice when looking at the photos of Fort McMurray, the Alberta tar sands’ boomtown, going up in flames. And not just any flames—gigantic, towering, white hot flames, the kind you’d expect from exploding oil depots and gas tanks. The entire city of 80,000 people is being evacuated, as firefighters have largely given up on being able to save it from destruction.

What happens next will be something to watch. Will the Canadian government continue with business as usual at the oil sands, rebuilding Fort McMurray and carrying on its dirty trade? Or will it seize this moment to set off on a new path towards a livable future?

Buried in the Globe and Mail article about the evacuation is some telling information about the cause of the wildfires: “Much of Alberta has been under extreme or very high wildfire warnings over the past month. After 2015 was marked by the worst drought in a half-century, the province experienced a mild winter that left little snow. A heat wave across the province this week, as well as strong winds, turned the vast forests around Fort McMurray into an inferno.”

Did someone say CLIMATE CHANGE?

Erratic weather is the new normal, to which we are going to have to adapt the best we can. It’s not just the pesky environmentalists who are sounding the warnings these days; even staid, business-as-usual mainstream media outlets like The New York Times now regularly note the relentless advance of climate change.

For example, it was a historic moment for The Times last week when this headline appeared on the front page: ”Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees.’”

It turns out that those first American climate refugees are also First Americans—native peoples, who are on the frontlines of the battle to save the planet throughout North America and beyond.

I have been heartened to see the newly vitalized union of environmentalists and indigenous peoples, coming together to protest the fossil-fuel nightmare and envision a renewable energy economy that works for all, including the millions of non-human species who seldom have a voice at the tables that decide their future.

In Canada, the Leap Manifesto has been gaining steam. Co-authored by Naomi Klein and other environmentalists and First Nations activists, it calls on Canadians to lead the way (or leap their way) into a sustainable future. Co-author Crystal Lameman, an Alberta First Nations leader, insists that “The time for a just transition beyond fossil fuels is now: Alberta holds incredible untapped potential for renewables, the best in Canada. The transition in Germany, where they have created 400,000 clean-energy jobs, is waiting to be emulated here.”

Lameman, Klein and other climate justice advocates know that scare tactics alone won’t build a movement for change. Apocalyptic photos of wildfires, droughts, floods and storms are as likely to produce despair and resignation as they are to galvanize action.

As activists like Frances Moore Lappe and Sarah Van Gelder have been telling us, the public must be informed about the dangers of the fossil fuel juggernaut while simultaneously being presented with viable alternatives. So it’s not just that the Alberta tar sands operation should be shut down, it’s also that the shift to solar and wind power in Alberta will generate hundreds of thousands of new, clean, good-paying jobs.

In the U.S., it’s not just that we must oppose new pipelines, fracking wells and oil trains, it’s that we must build an entirely new infrastructure of solar fields, wind farms and high-speed public transit. We must re-localize agriculture and re-learn how to farm in ways that enhance the biological richness of the soil, rather than depleting and exhausting it.

Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; clear-cutting forests; deep-sea trawling; hydro-fracking; disposable plastic bags, bottles and caps—all these must fall into the dustbin of sad 20th century history.

It’s truly humbling—and horrifying—to realize how quickly the human industrial revolution has brought our ancient planet to the brink of another global re-set, a “sixth great extinction” and a re-entry into an open-ended period of unstable climate.

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Our beautiful old planet will survive, and life will persist. But humans? Will we be able to make the leap into a global civilization that values life and works to protect and steward our Earth? Or will we too be swept into that dustbin, a failed experiment of monstrous proportions?

It is quite a responsibility to be part of the transitional generation. The choices and decisions of those of us alive today will have an impact far beyond our own brief lives. Even short-term political decisions matter, since the speed with which the climate is spinning out of control makes every day of action—or inaction—count.

We know that Hilary Clinton is in bed with the fossil fuel industry and their financiers. She is the candidate of the status quo and the leader of the heads-in-the-sand folks who refuse to look at the inconvenient truth that if we maintain the status quo, we’ll all be engulfed by the wildfires, floods or famines of climate change before long.

Bernie Sanders, pied piper of the young, acknowledges that climate change must be dealt with, and he’s laid out a plan to “make sure our planet is habitable and safe for our kids and grandkids.” As President, he will have the power to convene the brightest minds on the planet to engineer a transition to a renewable-energy economy.

The popularity of Trump is truly frightening, as his followers are clearly the least informed about what our future holds in store. As a country, we must take responsibility for those folks too. As an educator, I feel especially responsible—it should be impossible for a young person to graduate high school, much less college, without the ability to discern truth from lie, to recognize the difference between strength of character and empty sloganeering.

We are living through dangerous times. We will need the wisdom of every old story even as we must boldly and thoughtfully work together to write a new story we can live into, our visions of a just and sustainable future like rope bridges we must build in front of us as we advance across the chasm of time.

Voting for Sanders: Because a Little Birdie Said So!

What an amazing moment, when a little bird landed on Bernie Sanders’ podium in Portland OR and looked him right in the eye!

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She was probably just giving him grief for making so much noise in the arena where she had been peacefully sitting on her nest. But like everyone else, I can’t help but make a symbolic leap, seeing in the bright eye of the bird a bit of cheerful encouragement, a “right on!” from the natural world that was immediately echoed by the throngs in the stadium who cheered Sanders for pausing in his speech to acknowledge his smallest supporter.

The good news this week is that Sanders’ campaign steadily gained momentum, chalking up big wins in Utah, Idaho, Washington and Alaska.

That was pretty much the only good news this week. Between an incredibly gloomy new climate change report, the terrorist bombings in Belgium, and the dispiriting chest-beating of the two Republican front-runners over the relative merits—physical merits, that is—of their wives, it was a pretty depressing week.

Here in my corner of western Massachusetts, this week has seen an uptick in action on two major local environmental issues: General Electric threatening to make toxic PCB dumps right alongside the Housatonic River, adjacent to bucolic little towns like Great Barrington and Lenox; and Kinder Morgan threatening to cut down a huge swath of pristine state forest to put in a 36-inch gas pipeline that won’t have any benefit at all for Massachusetts.

This is just the kind of corporate impunity that Bernie Sanders has been inveighing against his whole life, and never more than now, during his incredible Presidential campaign.

No, it is not OK for corporations to use public lands to build more fossil-fuel infrastructure. No, it is not OK for corporations to “clean up” the mess they left in the river by dumping it into mounds near villages. It wasn’t right when GE dumped PCBS in a huge hill next to an elementary school in Pittsfield MA back in the 1970s, and it still isn’t right today.

Yes, I understand that when we ship toxic waste out of state we are shipping it into someone else’s backyard. But at least it is a licensed toxic waste disposal area, built and maintained for hazardous waste. Not a few acres hastily purchased by GE, right between the town and the river, to haphazardly store dredged PCB-laden sediments.

Meanwhile, as we fight over tree-cutting and river clean-up, this week’s climate change report warned that the polar ice is melting much faster than predicted, with the result that sea rise and coastal flooding is going to happen much faster than anyone expected–within decades. That means some of the younger folk among us may be around to witness the flooding of the major coastal cities of the world, and the climate refugee crisis that will result.

It’s hard to avoid the feeling that we are all dancing in the ballroom of the Titanic, while the iceberg looms ever closer. Will we snap out of our pleasant trance and pay attention to what really matters, before it’s too late?

This year’s contest for U.S. President matters as never before. The Republicans are all “full steam ahead” and damn the consequences. Clinton is not much better. Bernie Sanders is the only one who knows—because a little birdie told him so—that our current course will lead us to unmitigated disaster. He’s the only one who consistently acknowledges the importance of dealing head-on and immediately with climate change; and stands up without fear or kowtowing to the corporate giants who have been driving the ship up until now.

It’s no surprise that young people have been gravitating to Sanders. Young people can gauge authenticity a mile away. Sanders has it; Clinton does not. Trump has it, but he is authentically disgusting. The rest of the Republican candidates are obnoxious, dangerous phonies.

Today’s young voters will be the ones who have to deal with the consequences of the decisions our politicians make today. They should and they must turn out in force to guide this year’s crucial Presidential elections, as Matt Taibbi argues eloquently in a recent Rolling Stone Magazine article.

Truly, we stand at a crossroads. Me, I’m following that little bird.

 

DIY Media: Reading the Oil Glut and Stock Slide Against the Backdrop of Climate Change

I have been puzzling over the lack of media coverage, let alone analysis, of the huge stock market slide this past week, coupled with the oil glut and consequent low gas prices for consumers. What does this mean?

I went on a hunt through the media for explanation, or at least discussion, and turned up precious little—not in the mainstream media, not in the progressive media, not even in the business media. The facts were being reported, but no one, not even the pundit/oracles, were trying to tease out the deeper meanings of the current scenario.

For example, take this article in business section of The New York Times. It reports the story of oil as though climate change and alternative energy were non-existent. It’s all about production, investment and returns—not only financial returns, but pipe-dream returns to the naiveté of the 20th century, when the ability of the planet to support endless growth of human activity seemed limitless.

When we bring alternative energy into the picture, the analysis gets a bit more complicated.

It seems that the oil glut is good news for the planet (less exploration, less extraction), good news for the consumer (lower prices at the pump) but bad news for investors who had been banking on fossil fuels to be a never-ending gold mine.

More importantly, it’s also bad news for alternative energy developers and producers, because low gas and oil prices diminish consumer demand—we’re less incentivized to make the investment in a home solar array or make sure our next car is a hybrid or electric vehicle when oil and gas prices are so low.

In my search through the media for more explanation of the oil glut, I found some suggestions (by commenters, not by journalists) that the low oil prices might be a Saudi manipulation precisely to dampen enthusiasm for shifting to alternative energy, in order to slow down the transition away from oil.

If that were the case, the Saudis would be digging their own graves and bringing the rest of the planet down with them.

Given the bigger picture of undeniable, stark and looming climate change, governments, investors and consumers must use their purchasing power to drive the market towards clean energy. We should not be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of low oil prices, or intimidated by the stock market jitters into backing into the traditional “safe” investments of fossil fuels.

That way does not lie safety—it lies collapse.

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It would be nice if the pundits of the mainstream media (The New York Times, for example) would focus more attention on the biggest story of our time: the race to adapt to and mitigate climate change. It would be nice if instead of just blandly reporting the news, journalists would reach out to scientific, political and economic experts for deeper analysis.

But thanks to the Internet, we can do that work of reporting for ourselves now. We can read publications from all over the world, of all political stripes, in any discipline, any time. If we care about what’s happening to our planet, we need to become more alert, placing the superficial narratives reported in the media against the backdrop of the bigger and deeper realities that often cast quite a different slant on the news.

We live in a time when anyone with an Internet connection can become an engaged citizen of the world, able to exchange ideas, influence others, and galvanize social movements. The American rightwing, with their crude emotional ploys, seems to be doing a much better job of activating their base lately than the progressives, Bernie Sanders a lone and very active exception!

We can do better, and we must. It sounds weighty but it’s true: the future of the planet depends on the choices each of us makes now.

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Transition Times: Personal, Political, Planetary

The Solstice is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the moment we hit the very darkest point of the year is also the transition into the next phase, the return of the light; every end point is also a new beginning.

The recent decision of The Berkshire Edge to end my EdgeWise column gives me time to return here, to Transition Times, with renewed energy and commitment. Transition Times began in 2011 as a space where I could write about human rights, social justice, issues of higher education and pedagogy, and my overriding concerns about the environment and climate change. It’s been a liberating and often exhilarating experience to write in my own personal/political voice, without having to meet any particular deadlines or answer to an editor or publisher. And I love that my readership is truly global.

I wish I could say that many of the issues that preoccupied me in the first several years of Transition Times have now been resolved. Sadly, violence—against people, against the natural world—is still a problem of epic proportions, worldwide. Climate change, chemical contamination, animal extinction deforestation and acidification of the oceans have all been accelerating. Our political establishment continues to be dominated by elites who seem to care only about maintaining their own wealth and power, not about preserving a livable world for the rest of us.

While all that is true, there is still cause for hope. When I first began writing about climate change, I felt like other than Bill McKibben and a handful of environmentalists, no one was paying attention to this looming issue. Now it’s common to see climate change on the front page of mainstream media. The Pope has written a whole Encyclical about it. World leaders converged in Paris to talk seriously about what can be done, including key players like the U.S., Russia, China and India, countries that must cooperate for real change to happen.

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I feel less optimistic about progress on the peace-building front. Gun violence in the U.S. continues to skyrocket, as do sales of assault weapons to civilians. Let’s face it, here in the U.S. we live in an armed and dangerous camp. Terrorism continues to rise with the spread of the violent, sexist, medieval principles and tactics of the Islamic State and Boko Haram. Civilians are also being constantly threatened by state-sponsored terrorism, otherwise known as warfare—especially in places where civil society has broken down or become dominated by corruption (think Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, the list goes on).

Against this backdrop of global-scale violence, I see young Americans, who in earlier generations would have been our revolutionaries, struggling with up-close-and-personal issues that make it hard for them to focus on the bigger picture. Poverty, debt, lack of opportunity, institutional racism and sexism, anxiety, depression and addictions (including media addiction)—these immediate concerns are front and center for many young people I know. Mention climate change and they just flinch and turn away, unable to cope with one more problem, especially one so immense and seemingly intractable.

Butterfly-Effect-Logo-WEB-2015In my work—teaching, writing, organizing the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and the new Butterfly Leadership Program, and running Green Fire Press—I am always seeking to empower others to recognize their own potential to become the leaders we are all waiting for. The old saying “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” is so true, and we must wait no longer—there simply isn’t time.

What is needed now is a deep, grounded movement for peace, based on empathy, collaboration and alliances across superficial differences. We must recognize our kinship, not only with other human beings but with all life on Earth. We must re-learn to rightly value the “natural resources” without which none of us could survive a moment: clean air, clean water, fertile soil, a vibrant healthy planetary ecosystem.

We must re-learn and teach our children appreciation and even reverence for this beautiful battered planet of ours. We must institute social priorities based on peace and collective well-being, not violence and competitive profiteering.

UnknownWe have a candidate for the American Presidency now who is not afraid to take up these values and call them by their old, 20th century name: socialism.

While I have no problem with the moniker socialism, I wonder if it might be time for a new, 21st century political movement, with a new name that doesn’t come with all the blood-soaked baggage of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Your ideas of possible new names, emphasizing collective well-being and reverence for life, would be most welcome. Here’s one idea to get us started. How about Gaiaism?

Happy Solstice to all, and may this new year be a transition time to a new and better world for all of us Gaians.

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As above so below. Photo by J. Browdy c. 2015

 

 

Why Paris? The Questions No One Is Asking About the Post-9/11, Post-11/13 World

cropped-1604741_560811498264_7010113564277153021_n.jpgOn the morning of the Paris terrorist strike, 11/13/15, I was trying to write and, uncharacteristically for me, I was totally blocked. I seemed to be wading through a thick mental fog, and nothing I could do would clear it. I gave up, went about my day, and it wasn’t until that night, when the first reports of the bombings came in, that I understood: my inner turmoil was what we used to call a “sixth sense,” picking up on the fog of fear and distress that was about to descend not just on Paris, but on the entire West that evening.

For me, this post-11/13 period has been a time of swirling, insistent questions and concerns, which I share in the hopes of promoting some productive discussion.

One: Did the timing of the Paris strikes have anything to do with the imminent global climate talks scheduled to begin there this month? Is it possible that the global oil lobby could have somehow instigated at least the time & place of the strike as a way of destabilizing the climate talks that should be leading us away from a reliance on fossil fuels?

Two: Could the military-industrial complex of the United States, Russia, and European powers like Germany, France and England, be subtly promoting war in the Middle East by their “containment” policy, which includes keeping demand for weapons high? Every bomb dropped is an order placed, after all. We saw this strategy revealed in all its grotesquerie in the Halliburton/U.S. government policy in Iraq—first manufacture a war, blow everything up and destabilize society, then rake in millions in “reconstruction” contracts. Is this happening again in Syria?

Three: Why are so few commentators talking about the role of Saudi Arabia in supporting the Islamic State? After 9/11, when all other commercial air traffic in the U.S. was grounded, there were the reports of the sketchy Saudi Arabian flights allowed to travel around the country picking up Saudi nationals and transporting them back home. We know that Osama bin Laden was a Saudi and was supported by Saudi funds. Then as now, ancient Sunni/Shia rivalries are coinciding with contemporary geopolitics to fuel proxy wars in the Middle East. Is the situation in Syria really all about the rivalry between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, with the lives of millions of people caught in the crossfire of these warring ideologies? Why is American policy aligning with the Sunnis when they have been shown to be promulgating the most violent, extremist religious intolerance and hatred?

In this last question, we circle back around, perhaps to oil and the climate. If the world really got behind the shift to renewable energy that we MUST accomplish if we are to keep human civilization stable, the oil wealth of the sheikdoms would become much less important. Could it be that behind the world events currently playing out lie some desperate fossil fuel barons, willing to risk the collapse of the world order as we know it in order to keep the black gold flowing from the ground into their pockets? Is the Islamic State really some kind of bizarre mercenary army, paid to destabilize the region, no questions asked about tactics?

I know this sounds like the scenario of a wonderfully gripping international thriller, which we would enjoy in the movie theater precisely because we know it’s just fiction. But what if it’s not fiction? What if this time it’s all too terribly real—and the fate of the planet, at least the planet as we know and love her, really does hang in the balance?

My sixth sense is telling me now that we ordinary people are just pawns in a high-stakes game played by the super-elite, the rulers of the military-industrial complex, the fossil fuel industry and their political henchmen. The final question becomes: what do we do about it?

Related:

After Paris, Searching Upstream for the Source of Terrorism

Thanksgiving Refugees, Past and Present

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