World on Fire: Rebuilding Notre Dame is Only the Beginning

We don’t know, today, how and why Notre Dame’s roof caught fire on April 15. What we do know is that it happened on the very same day that the Extinction Rebellion protests also caught fire, especially in London but also sending sparks all over the world.

These direct action protests are reminiscent of the old Occupy movement, but with added urgency, as now we are concerned not just about income inequality, but about the much broader, more looming collapse of our planetary ecosystems and the very survival of life on Earth as we know it.

Various voices on social media have been pointing out that the roof of Notre Dame was made of some 1,500 giant, ancient oak trees, harvested from more than 50 acres of old-growth forest near Paris. Some accounts put the age of these trees at 400 years, meaning that they were seedlings in the 800s AD. They gave their lives to build that majestic cathedral, and now they have returned to the carbon cycle as ashes and dust.

The cathedral will be rebuilt. But what about the trees?

It is now rare to find a 50-acre stand of old-growth trees anywhere on the planet. The Amazon, under Brazil’s Trump-like new president, is being cut down at alarming, ever-accelerating rates. The boreal forest in the Arctic Circle is also being razed for oil extraction, timber and mining, as well as under siege from climate change. The great tropical forests of Indonesia and Africa are being harvested for lumber to build houses and furniture.

It’s one thing to harvest ancient trees reverently and use them to construct a sacred place of worship, as the medieval builders of Notre Dame did.

It’s another thing to clear-cut forests with giant machines and use them to build deck chairs.

Today we know how dependent we are on our planet’s forests and other plant life. The great Amazon rainforest is the primary generator of the weather patterns that enable us to grow food in the northern hemisphere. Tree roots support the mycorrhizal networks that nourish healthy soil. With every breath, we sustain ourselves on the oxygen they produce.

For me, trees have a value that goes beyond the essential “ecosystem services” they provide.

I am not a person who worships the divine in a church. When I want to connect with the sacred, I go to the forest.

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There is something in the way trees send their roots deep into the Earth and their branches way up to the sky that symbolizes for me the role of all life on Earth—rooted here, and yet connected and energized by our Sun and the entire Cosmos, which we still barely comprehend. I go to the forest to try to understand more deeply who I am and what I am here to do.

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral reminds me of the task before me; before us as a human species. Yes, we have to rebuild Notre Dame. But even more importantly, we have to rebuild the health of our planet.

We have to mobilize to push world leaders—political, business, financial, industrial—to take immediate, effective action to reverse the existential threat of climate disruption and environmental destruction in order to avoid planetary and civilizational collapse.

We don’t have to stretch very far to imagine our world on fire.

IT IS ON FIRE.

It’s not hard to imagine the collapsing spire of Notre Dame representing the extinction of yet another species on Earth.

For now, the stone structure still survives. The rose windows are still intact. It’s still possible to rebuild.

But we will not be able to rebuild the Amazon rainforest or the boreal forest in Alaska, Canada, China and Russia. If the forests go, the climate will be disrupted beyond the point of repair. The Holocene will be over, and the Anthropocene, the brief period of human ascendancy, will also come crashing down.

Life will persist on Earth. Gaia will regenerate. But it will be the end of civilization as we have known it.

There is still time to put out those fires. This is, as I wrote last week, an all-hands-on-deck moment. Whatever your gifts and abilities, now is the time to put them at the service of Life, of Beauty, of the Sacred understood as inextricably in relationship with the Earth and the Cosmos.

Rebuild Notre Dame, yes. But that is only the beginning.

 

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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In a violent time, we need a revolution of love

Here’s the thing. Violence exists on a continuum. You can’t live in a militarized society where the sale of weapons is a major source of social wealth and expect that violence won’t come back to haunt you. You can’t live in a society that tolerates the killing of wild animals for sport, the torture of animals for food, and chemical assaults on insects, birds and marine life, and expect that you can somehow remain safe yourself.

What we put into the world comes back to us. We humans are not separate from the rest of life on this planet. We have to give up the delusion of our own exceptionalism and power. No living being on this Earth is immune to the violence humans are wreaking—not even us.

Violence begets more violence. When we look at a grown man filled with such hatred that he’s willing to send pipe bombs or murder people in their houses of worship, we have to peer more deeply into him and ask: what created this monster? What traumas did he survive, that warped him from the instinctively loving infants we all are (with the possible exception of those traumatized already in the womb or through epigenetics)? How was he damaged by the brutality of American culture?

I am not by any means implying that the crimes of these men should be excused. I am suggesting that their hatred must be seen in light of the broader cultural environment of violence and abuse that we are all swimming in, and that we all co-create if only by our tacit acceptance, our allowing it to go on.

Americans, our country was founded on revolution: on people saying ENOUGH: we will not be intimated and forced into compliance by a distant colonial master.

It is time, as Charles Eisenstein says in his brave new book Climate: A New Story, for another revolution, this time against our own homegrown masters: against the self-interested greed of the men who run the military-industrial-weapons-petrochemical-pharmaceutical-insurance-finance-agricultural-engineering-electronic sectors of our society.

It is time to understand that there is no such thing as “trickle-down wealth” in a society that creates wealth by killing life, because in such a society the violence eventually comes back around to attack its creators.

The climate crisis and ecological collapse are the signs of the limit of this ecocidal/suicidal worldview. The billionaires who have laughed all the way to the bank as they have devoured the planet cannot survive on a dead planet. And the dream of a rocket to a distant planetary colony is just science fiction.

If these masters of the planet will not understand that humans are here to serve Life, not death, and if we the people truly value Life (not just our own little lives, but all Life on the planet) then it is time for a revolution.

I do not say this lightly. Revolutions are going to be met with violence, and hence will increase violence for a time. I fear and detest violence. But I don’t see another way, other than going quietly into the night of death along with the greater part of the current inhabitants on Earth, human and non-human alike.

We can’t just reel from one disaster and tragedy to the next indefinitely, without fighting back.

If our warrior energy comes from love, it will unleash a different kind of battle. Acting out of love for Life, we can begin to reorient the way we live. Because money and wealth are so important to humans, a big aspect of the revolution can come through a shift in how we direct our wealth. Are we supporting the weapons industry with our investments? The fossil fuel industry? Big pharma, big agriculture, and the financial sector that supports them?

Ultimately, we have to not only put our finances, but also our bodies on the line. We have to turn out in protest, and not just on sunny Saturday afternoons.

We have to resist the cultural conditioning that says nothing an individual does matters. We have to get back in touch with our childlike instinct for love—and not just love of other humans, but love of the whole beautiful world that gives us life.

I am sick to death of living with so much mind-numbing violence and destruction. We are all sick of it—as in, it is making us all sick.

To heal, to feel well again, we have to heal our society and our world, because we are all interconnected. Nothing happens in isolation on this planet. We can’t ignore starving children in one part of the world and expect that the violence being visited on them won’t come boomeranging back to us in our supposedly secure gated communities. We can’t watch passively as the insect kingdom collapses worldwide and imagine that this won’t affect humans, perched smugly at the top of the food chain.

The climate crisis and Sixth Great Extinction drive home this message of interconnection globally. Gun violence is a symptom of the much bigger violence going down in myriad ways every day.

If you want peace and harmony, you have to live it and support it everywhere, in every human interaction, and not just with other humans, but with all living beings.

That is the meaning of a revolution of love. Step into it now. We have work to do.

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.

Imagine 2018: Dreaming a Better Future

Although there have been countless other dark periods in human history, the particular darkness of our moment is unique in its alignment of the political and planetary.

Politically, human societies around the world are under pressure—religious, economic, social—and are more easily manipulated by dark forces than ever before, thanks to our networked global Hive Mind.

On a planetary level, all life forms, including humans, are under unprecedented pressure due to the human destruction of healthy ecosystems by over-population, climate change, chemical assault and the deadly practices of mining, fracking, logging, agriculture, fishing, etc.

Even while on a personal level many of us here in the heart of Empire are still relatively comfortable, we feel these political and planetary pressures deeply. Each day’s bad news can feel like an assault, and after a year like 2017, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty bruised and aching.

These dark solstice days, as the earth begins to swing back towards the sun, are a good time to go deep and try to fortify ourselves, intellectually and spiritually, for the new year ahead. Given a personal awareness of the frighteningly out-of-control political and planetary dimensions of our time, how can we keep ourselves centered and steady, awake and aware yet not depressed, despairing or panicked?

In terms of negotiating the Hive Mind, I try to share as much good news as I can find, and bad news only sparingly. I’ve noticed that whatever we share on social media comes back to us amplified, so if I share bad news—the Arctic is melting! the polar bears are going extinct!—the negative emotions of fear, anger and grief that come back to me simply get me more upset, without offering any constructive approach to solving the original problem.

If I share good news, even if it only offers a ray of hope, that ray is brightened by all the “likes” that others add, and our collective mood may be lightened just a little bit.

And brightness this is what the world needs from us now. Those of us who are aware and awake to the slow-motion disaster we’re living through are being called to be the beacons and the anchors for others—and not just for humans, but for all the beautiful life on earth that is under constant assault these days.

It won’t help the polar bears on their melting ice floes or the hordes of animals fleeing the wildfires to have us humans staring at screens expressing our outrage with finger taps. It may make us feel a little better in the moment to virtually scream our anguish, but it’s a howl in the wind that will do no one any good.

Instead of getting lost in the dystopian present, with which the media keeps battering our psyches day after day, the trick to staying centered and spirited in these dark times is to keep burnishing our dreams of a better future.

This requires resisting the prevailing tendency today for dreaming to be dismissed as an unproductive waste of time; for visionaries to be mocked as escapist fantasizers.

I fear that what may doom us in the end is the loss of our capacity for creative daydreaming.

We are all so accustomed to constant media stimulation that it takes real effort to simply quiet our minds and become open to whatever creative thoughts may come. I’m not talking about meditation, which aims to “think nothing.” I’m talking about creative imagination, flashes of insight, lucid dreaming, the kind of thinking that has propelled human ingenuity all through the ages.

We can’t allow our imaginations to be dominated by the “masters of the universe” who control our media. This is a particular challenge with children and young people, the smartphone generations who have grown up as consumers of other people’s fantasies and representations, rather than practicing our human birthright of creative imagination.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” sang John Lennon.

We who are aware of what’s happening around us have to allow ourselves the creative pleasure of dreaming our own utopian dreams, and sharing these visions of a better future with others, so that together we add detail and strength to the positive dream of what could be.

Instead of reacting negatively to the day’s news, amplifying the outrage and discord, we can share our proactive dreams of what could and should be.

My mantra word for 2018 is: Imagine.

Imagine what could be if your dream of how you want to live, personally, were extended into a collective dream of well-being for all life on Earth, and for the planet herself?

Imagine if the “world could be as one”—and imagine yourself doing one small thing each day to extend your dream of personal well-being out further to touch others in the world. Even small acts like filling a bird feeder, donating to a food pantry or smiling at a neighbor will ripple goodness out into a world starving for kindness.

The media hurls countless “micro-aggressions” at us every day. In your own personal sphere, imagine 2018 as a year of micro-kindnesses, and try to consciously make kindness, warmth and goodness a habit.

The more of us practice this kind of radical kindness, the more it will come back to warm and encourage us, in a positive feedback loop that really can change the world.

Imagine.

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Solstice 2017: Visions Bright and Dark, and a Solstice Prayer

Here in the northeast US, Solstice 2017 has arrived with dark, gloomy, damp weather that matches the moods of many people I know.

It’s been a tough year.

When Trump & Co. stole the 2016 election, we knew we’d be in for a difficult stretch.

But who could have predicted the assault on civil liberties, the shredding of the already-meager American social safety net, the rigging of the economy for the super-elite, the blatant racism, sexism and callous indifference to the more vulnerable among us?

On a planetary scale, who could have imagined this year’s battering hurricane season, the raging wildfires, the inexorable melting of the polar ice caps, the steady loss of forests and species, even as the rape of the natural world by the fossil fuel and chemical industries continues unabated?

Here on Transition Times, I’ve been writing about politics and climate change since 2011, but never has the situation seemed more dire. We are all perpetrators, accomplices and frozen bystanders to the rapidly accelerating intertwined disasters of politics and climate change, gathering strength day by day.

25591989_625386244954_8388774816549944067_nAnd yet we continue to go through the motions of our normal routines. We buy gifts; we decorate our homes; we put out seeds for the birds and dream of flying south for warm-weather vacations. Like all animals, we are creatures of habit and it’s healthy for us to live blessedly in the present moment.

I don’t know if I will live to see another Solstice. I don’t know what “normal” will look or feel like a year from now. What I do know is that despite the harshness of 2017, I have so much to be thankful for right now, today.

This Solstice, I give thanks for the abundance I continue to enjoy: loving friends and family, good food and good cheer, health and the freedom to savor the sweetness of each day to the fullest.

I am grateful for the opportunity to write and share these reflections widely (via the World Wide Web, another institution under attack in 2017). I am grateful to everyone who has taken a moment to write back to me with a line of encouragement, a pingback that reassures me that I am not alone, that others are ruminating over similar issues, and what I’ve expressed has struck a chord that continues to resonate out through others into the world.

In 2011, those of us who were awake to the slow-motion disaster of climate change seemed like far-flung outliers, and it was partly to find kindred spirits that I was moved to start Transition Times. In these last days of 2017, I feel the presence of you kindred spirits keenly. It’s important for us to reach out to each other now, shining our lights brightly in the gathering darkness.

The wise ones remind us how important it is to not succumb to fear. As we wake up to the sobering reality of the vast planetary and political changes now in motion, we have to steady our spirits. Amidst all the turbulence it’s our task to stay centered and hold our own little lights aloft so others can see us, and see the way ahead too.

I used to write about keeping hope alive. Now that idea rings hollow; it’s no more than a child’s wish for comfort. What would I be hoping for? A return to the world I was born into, with its familiar abundance and stability? The realist in me knows that world is already gone.

Meg Wheatley counsels that we leave hope behind, not in Dante’s sense of “abandon all hope” as you enter Hell, but in the sense of entering into a more realistic and mature relationship with the reality of our time and place. Instead of hope, we must have faith, she says, that we will be up to whatever is asked of us.

We who are alive for these transition times find ourselves at the threshold of a historical moment unlike any humans have faced before. We must walk clear-eyed into an uncertain tomorrow, giving ourselves permission to feel deeply both the sorrow and the joy of each passing day.

My Solstice prayer:

May I have strength to keep the light of my spirit shining brightly, no matter how daunting the siege of the forces of darkness stalking our planet each day.

May I kindle your light with mine, and together may we illuminate a shared vision of a better world that we can help dream into being, not for ourselves but for our children and future generations.

May we work together for a loving, abundant, beneficent future for all life on our always-generous Mother Earth.

In gratitude, forever….to life!

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