In the Shadow of an Uncertain Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because, of course, it does.

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