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 350.org, 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.