Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Musings: Face the Day

Lying in bed on this Scorpio full moon morning, reading about "unstoppable" ice melts, NASA's dire warnings about the climate-change-driven collapse of industrial society, ocean acidification already killing off marine life, made it kind of hard to want to get up.

But then the birds started singing and the day began anew and what choice do we ever have but to get up and face it? Or not. Which is the choice of many, with nearly half of Americans still in denial about climate change.

Walking the dogs, making coffee, tidying the kitchen, I reflected again on an email conversation I'd had with a young friend on Monday. He'd written:

I still think that all of us (if I can include myself in the mix) are failing at providing any real solution. What can we do and who can we support? But, is systemic change possible within our current system? Or is piecemeal resistance the answer? Or is the conclusion inevitably withdrawal (as Paul Kingsnorth so eloquently puts it?)

And he provided a link to an article Kingsnorth had published in Orion, on Dark Ecology. I was introduced to Kingsnorth last month, when a longtime friend and environmental activist sent me a link to a New York Times article with the misleading headline, “It's the end of the world as we know it...and he feels fine.”

Kingsnorth most definitely does not feel fine about our ecological woes. In fact, he urges folks to get real about what's going down:

We are living, he says, through the “age of ecocide,” and like a long-dazed widower, we are finally becoming sensible to the magnitude of our loss, which it is our duty to face.

I particularly resonated with Kingsnorth because we've both lost faith in political solutions and environmental activism, something I've been involved with for nearly 40 years:

I had a lot of friends who were writing about climate change and doing a lot of good work on it,” he told me during a break from his festival duties. “I was just listening and looking at the facts and thinking: Wow, we are really screwed here. We are not going to stop this from happening.”

You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years, and every single thing had gotten worse. And I thought: I can’t do this anymore. I can’t sit here saying: ‘Yes, comrades, we must act! We only need one more push, and we’ll save the world!’ I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it! So what do I do?”

Much of his recent writing has been devoted to fulminating against how environmentalism, in its crisis phase, draws adherents. Movements like Bill McKibben’s, for instance, might engage people, Kingsnorth told me, but they have no chance of stopping climate change. “I just wish there was a way to be more honest about that,” he went on, “because actually what McKibben’s doing, and what all these movements are doing, is selling people a false premise. They’re saying, ‘If we take these actions, we will be able to achieve this goal.’ And if you can’t, and you know that, then you’re lying to people. And those people . . . they’re going to feel despair.”

That sentiment was similarly well-expressed in an Adbuster's article that my email correspondent had also quoted:

Big green NGOs present an ‘exciting’ semblance of resistance — a vapid shell that allows people who are grasping for meaning to sustain the illusion that they can really make a difference.  All they have to do is click here, sign there, watch a flashy video about an adventurous ‘direct action’ that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to stage, make bi-annual trips to the White House to really give that damn President a piece of their mind and pay their monthly tithes to their NGO of choice.  These NGOs market themselves as catalysts for what they love to refer to as ‘movements.’  By proposing simple and false solutions inside a framework of what’s been cleverly branded as ‘Peaceful Resistance,’ potential disruptors of the capitalist system are pacified, placated and rendered ineffective while simultaneously being led to believe that they are engaged in meaningful resistance to ‘save’ the planet.”

That's exactly the scenario that I've been watching play out here on Kauai over GMOs, replete with de rigueur direct actions, click and sign email campaigns, flashy videos and the despair that's lurking right around the corner when the reality comes home to roost: You cannot expect real change from corrupt people — and by this I don't just mean politicians, but ideologues and egoists — working within a corrupt system.

So no, I don't believe meaningful systemic change is possible within the current system. It's like trying to rehab a termite-infested house. But the system is built on beliefs, and beliefs can change, sometimes very rapidly. Most often, we see these changes occurring through the manipulation served up by advertising and increasingly, social media, and also by calamities, like natural disasters, war and epidemics.

They can also change — and to me, this is the preferable method — through an awakening, an “ah ha” shift in consciousness that broadens the view, changes the perspective, lifts the veil of illusion. That's my only "hope" for humanity changing course.

That, and people who understand natural systems, who know how to heal, produce, fix and make things, like the small-kine farmers and ranchers who have been so vilified of late by the aforementioned ideologues. People who care, like Sy Shim, who stopped by the other day to share ideas for a sports-related incentive program to help get people off drugs, an adopt-a-family approach to address homelessness. And communities. Not government, or agencies or politicians but every day people working together to directly resolve the issues in their neighborhoods.

As Kingsnorth wrote:

I’m not sure I know the answer. But I know there is no going back to anything. And I know that we are not headed, now, toward convivial tools. We are not headed toward human-scale development. This culture is about superstores, not little shops; synthetic biology, not intentional community; brushcutters, not scythes. This is a culture that develops new life forms first and asks questions later; a species that is in the process of, in the words of the poet Robinson Jeffers, “break[ing] its legs on its own cleverness.”

But there has to be something beyond despair too; or rather, something that accompanies it, like a companion on the road.

And so you get up, like the birds, and face the day, singing. Or not.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps......politics has always been the way it is now. There are no solutions, just Hope that "they" will see the "light". Perhaps it would be easier to win a $1,000,000 lottery.

But when focus is only on "me" and "mine", politicians cannot see the bigger AHAs nor would want to.

What movements in the past have made a difference? How did they do it? e.g. civil rights, Vietnam war.....?

We have politicians but no Leaders. Like an opium dream, they give the community Hope with their rhetoric. Perhaps this is good enough....since they keep winning elections. A hope of a false future.

What does it take to have the community ..."take action" in harmony?

Leadership? A Catastrophe? The second coming of Jesus?

Living Aloha.

Zero Seven

Anonymous said...

The full moon link was lovely, thank you.

"I see so much effort put into answering the unanswerable. The Universe is fine with or without us, you know?

It is time to move beyond the human-centric. Learn to think of other life forms first. The questions are easier to answer when we look to the experience of us other life forms are having."

mrB said...

It will probably take "all of the above" to bring about the worthy and worthwhile changes proposed, rather than to rely on the political and/or bureaucratic strangleholds which allow the status-quo to continue to flourish. It's like what goes on at the casino----some win big, many get an occasional nudge of "good luck, and most keep betting (big or small),either out of habit or hoping to hit the "big one"! So, when it comes to "getting things done" efficiently and effectively with clarity, transparency, and accountability intertwined with integrity emanating from those in charge, change requires the persistent, collaborative efforts of a constituency willing to become focused, committed, and dedicated to be involved and engaged in the actualization process to bring about the changes desired.

Anonymous said...

The white moon shines silver on the sea of Wailua

Red Surinam cherries ripen in the sun.

White Pikake flowers share their fragrance with the Spring.

Joan Conrow said...

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

We were given a gift and instead of having gratitude we ruined it. Why do we deserve a clean, healthy environment?

Anonymous said...

confusion, dilusion, exclusion. hows that for a chant?
I majored in Environmental studies/premed in college. volunteered, activated, jumped onboard. i feel i have as deep of a conviction as you and others no matter the individual stance. i adhered to Think locally/act globally. that hasn't changed today. We all must be engaged in this dialogue of hope no matter the pessimistic rebel rousers saying other wise that its a waste, bleak inevitability is the conclusion. so easy to write it down. i like the get dirty crowd. there are many viable ways to achieve. choose and get busy while avoiding the constant shibai

Luke Kambic said...

"You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years, and every single thing had gotten worse."

During that 50 years, air quality improved dramatically throughout the developed world. Paint and gasoline no longer contain lead. The harshest pesticides have been phased out of wide use, and farmers put a lot more effort into maintaining soil health than they used to. Large-scale development faces more scrutiny than at any time in history. Global population growth is slowing down, slowly but surely.

Is there such a thing as an environmentalist who isn't an idealist?

Anonymous said...

I live mauka of the highway. In a few centuries, my family will have oceanfront property. Who said sea level rise is all bad?

Anonymous said...

"The machine appeared
In the distance, singing to itself
Of money. Its song was the web
They were caught in, men and women
Together. The villages were as flies
To be sucked empty.
God secreted
A tear. Enough, enough,
He commanded, but the machine
Looked at him and went on singing."

Anonymous said...

was R>S> Thomas referring to DuPont, Syngenta, Dow and Monsanto? Sure sounds like their machines marching on!!!!!