Monthly Archives: April 2019

Happy Belated Earth Day!

This is a special Earth Day post in the ongoing Deepening Resilience project organized by Syren Nagakyrie.

“We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars – Adam Frank

Happy (Belated) Earth Day everyone!

For this post, I wanted to explore something that has been on my mind for some time. We live increasingly in uncertain times, with the climate crisis on our doorstep, and whether we succeed or fail as a species is in the balance. That to me, gives Earth Day a whole different kind of meaning. A kind of urgency, to do all we can to make the future at least a little bit better.

It brings with it a deeper kind of spirituality. For me, animism and ecology are the two sides of the same coin. There’s a reason I started this post with a quote from Carl Sagan. I tend to be more naturalistic in my animism, as I don’t like to default to ‘occult’, ‘supernatural’, or ‘paranormal’ explanations in my understanding of the world. How I understand spirits, spirituality, and my place in the whole is just that, natural. No “outside” gods or spirits needed.

But what exactly does that mean? For starters, I have defined my version of animism many times before. I use Graham Harvey’s definition; that animism is view that the world is full of persons (most of which are non-human), and life is lived in relation to others. Animism as I understand it is worldview, a way of relating and connecting to the world.

Compare this to the definition of ecology; ecology is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms that include biotic and abiotic components of their environment. – Wikipedia

In broad strokes, both animism and ecology are talking about the same thing from different perspectives; our relationship to the environment and the world around us. This is the delicate dance of science and spirituality. Physics, astronomy, biology, art, writing, stories, civilization, the Earth… All of it becomes an experience of the spiritual.

“Thus, strange and trite as it may seem, the survival of civilisation itself could in part depend on a fusion of science with animism.” – Stephan Harding

It should come as no surprise then that Earth Day in particular holds a special place for me in the procession of the year. I think it should be nothing short of a Global Holiday. This year especially, as we get report after report of the pressing problems of climate change. Earth Day is a day about Earth-Centric spirituality; animism and ecology. It asks us to question our relationships with the world, and our place upon it.

At the end of the day, we are the Earth. As Carl Sagan was so apt to point out, we are all stardust. We are the current result of billions of years of the life and death of stars, of billions of years of biological evolution on a single Pale Blue dot in the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy. We are all travelers on the only known Class 4* world, the only planet we know of that is home to life. We are all the children of the Earth and the land of waters of this world. That is true in the very real iron in our blood, the soil in our food, and the air in our lungs. We are the planet, and that makes the current crises all the bigger, and Earth Day all that more important.

To truly come into a cooperative coevolution with a biosphere, a technological civilization must make technology – the fruit of its collective mind – serve as a web of awareness for the flourishing of both itself and the planet as a whole.” – Adam Frank

This comes with important implications of our relationship to the natural world around us. We are not separate from the planet, nor is our civilization from us. We are an extension of nature, and all our creations are an extension of ourselves. Planet’s are the engines of turning starlight into something interesting, and that makes our planet one of a kind. We are the children of starlight, and we are the Earth building amazing and wonderful things for itself.

The science is settled, that the climate is rapidly changing and this is mostly entirely the fault of us, the consequences of our actions and our relationships to the Earth. This is at the heart of both ecology and animism, our relationship to the land, the spirits, and the world around us. It asks us to live responsibly in a way that is sustainable, not only for ourselves, but for all of nature and the Earth.

Sustainable Civilizations don’t “rise above” the biosphere, but must, in some way, enter into a long, cooperative relationship with their coupled planetary systems… “ – Adam Frank

The climate crises is all our unhealthy relationships with the planet coming back home to roost. We can no longer continue to burn fossil fuels, or continue to pursue economics that rely on growth for the sake of growth. That is not a healthy relationship, and it will be our downfall if we don’t correct the path we are on. We need to walk more softly, and be more aware of our actions and the consequences of our relationships. This is where animism and ecology both have lessons to teach. Indigenous people across the world form deep reciprocal relationships with their ecosystems, and those ecosystems build relationships with them too.

That is something that we lack in the West. For all our ‘progress’, for all of our science, we are broken and uprooted from our ancestral lands and cultures. In many ways, the world has moved on. Those cultures may not even exist anymore, and for those of you like me, ‘returning’ to ancestral cultures is not an option. Aside from financial limitations, and the time pressures of modern life, I no longer feel as I am ‘part’ of any of the cultures that I can claim ancestry to. I don’t speak the language, and I have never lived in the lands those cultures are rooted in. My ability to ever travel to them may well be a pipe dream.

Which means that animism and ecology ask me to engage where I am right now. In Michigan, in the lands of the Great Lakes. With the forest and wetlands ecologies around me, and those roots might start to form once more. I can start shaping new relationships, ones that live in mutually beneficial ways with my environment. Ways that help both my environment as well as myself to flourish. That work goes well beyond me, Earth Day, and even beyond my local ecosystems. This work is daily, weekly, yearly, season after season. This kind of work is a way of relating to and viewing the world, a lifetime of relationship tending. It includes me, the air, the water, plants, animals, humans, cities, civilizations, and eventually the Earth and the stars.

We as humans don’t get a pass, and neither do our civilizations. In a way, as an extension of ourselves, civilization is our process of bringing our intelligence to the planet, and the planet becoming ‘intelligent’ in the process. We need a plan, a blueprint for the next thousand years. Not only for ourselves, but for the planet too. Animism and ecology are at the heart of that too. Building relationships where all can not only survive, but flourish.

Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….“ Adam Frank

The climate crises to me presents a unique opportunity, I think, to get our shit together as a species. To understand ourselves deeply as a part of the Earth, not as in anyway separate from it. The planet is us, and we are the Earth. The climate crises represents not only the consequences of our action, but also a sobering view of our own power. Humanity has reached a point where we have the power to shape and change a planet, and not always for the best. With that kind of power, comes a great responsibility. A responsibility for the survival and flourishing of the entire planet. We have grown as children of the Earth, but now we are starting to mature. As we come of age, the health of our planet is starting to fail.

Will we be responsible children, and care for an ailing parent? The answer to that question stands firmly in the intersection of science and spirituality. In the understanding that we are the result of billions of years of emergent physics and biology. Once we start to understand that the earth is our flesh and bone, the waters our blood and sweat, and the airs the breath in our lungs… Then we start to realize that our relationship with the Earth is in need of a desperate rethinking.

I am grateful for the new animism, because it counts for something. Its importance cannot be overstated. It is a beginning, even without the history and aboriginal connection to this land. It says the human is searching and with a need to be in touch with this land, or other lands of origins in a time when the world is so achingly distressed.” – Linda Hogan

Happy Earth Day!

 

Notes:

* Class 4 is a category created by Adam Frank. Earth is the only known class 4 planet, which is basically a planet with a robust biosphere. Technically in Frank’s classification, the Earth is between a Class 4 and a Class 5 planet, which is a robust biosphere with a growing planetary civilization and intelligent species. That is, you and me.

Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank. 2018.

Harding, Stephan http://wildethics.org/essay/towards-an-animistic-science-of-the-earth/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecology

Hogan, Linda; quoted from her article in the The Handbook of Contemporary Animism edited by Graham Harvey


Community Resilience (Week 7)

Hello again everyone!

This is another post in the ongoing Deepening Resilience project, so be sure to check out the link and consider contributing to the conversation! Today I am going to to tackle the next question in the prompts. Here is the question for this week.

What does your community need to do to prepare for climate change? How could your community ensure all people (especially the poor, elderly, disabled, and other marginalized people) are taken care of?

I have a lot of thoughts on this one, but I will try to keep this post as short as possible. First, I need to start with a little explanation of what I think of when I think of “my community”. I’ve been very honest about the fact that I am an animist, which means I believe the world is full of people. Many of these people are non-human, so community to me becomes not only the humans around me, but the non-humans as well.

“Community” becomes community as expressed within an ecological perspective: the relationships of all biotic and abiotic elements within a given area. Community implies the plants and animals in my yard, and also the rivers, lakes, and soils of my home locality. More than that, it also includes the more human aspects, such as cities and (human) people. Thus community for me is wide eco-social concept that spans the ecological and the cultural.

With that explanation out of the way, I can frame a better response to the question. One that I am passionate about, and that strikes close to home for me. In order to address what I think my local community needs to do to prepare for climate, I first want to briefly outline what climate change actually means for my community.

Threats

What kind of threats face my local community? By looking at the recent National Climate Assessment, we can see many of threats that my area will face. I live in the Great Lakes region, so one of the most prominent aspects of our climate is water.

The Great Lakes that surround me are crucial defining factors for this environment. Fluctuations in lake temperature can alter both wind and precipitation patterns. A warming world will bring warming Great Lakes, and with that comes stronger storms, shorter winters, and more precipitation. Floods and crop failures will be real risks.

With rising temperatures heat waves and droughts may become more common in our scorching summer sun. If you’ve ever lived in the Great Lakes region, you know exactly what I am talking about. Our climate comes with humidity, which can brutal when combined with high temperatures. High temperatures put elderly and other vulnerable people at risk, and also put strains on our energy systems (air conditioning.) Longer summers bring with them the risk of drought, which along with flooding, bring greater odds of crop failure.

Water quality in general could be degraded, as higher temperatures will also bring increased evaporation and the growth of toxic diseases and algal blooms. This could affect up to 1/5 of the world’s fresh water supply that is housed in the Great Lakes region. Warmer temperatures too could bring more disease carrying insects such as mosquitoes as well. Our long winters help to keep such insects away, but a warming world changes that dynamic.

In addition to these environmental threats, there are also more social consequences. Michigan could become a prime destination for climate refugees that leave sinking cities on the coasts. The Great Lakes region is often called the US “third coast”, because our expansive lake shores. People looking for higher ground may well come here, and so communities can and should prepare for that possibility. Especially since the Great Lakes is high enough above sea level that we are at minimal risk from rising oceans.

With all these pressures on my local communities and systems, things like social breakdown also becomes a possibility. With failing crops, flood waters, droughts, climate refugees… It is an open question of whether or not local and state governments and communities could bring the resources needed to handle all these problems. Governments and cities could go under, unemployment could go through the roof… There are dozens of factors that could put our social systems into breakdown or worse.

The threats that climate change brings to my communities and regions is immense, and with all that outlined the question becomes how to prepare for what the climate crisis may bring?

Maslow’s Hierarchy

You might be wondering why I posted Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs at the start of this section. There is a lot to be criticized about Maslow’s work, that much has to be admitted. However, I think it is a useful guide for being able to talk about community resilience.

With all the pressures and threats facing us that I outlined above, it is now possible to circle back to the original question that appeared at the beginning of this post? How can we prepare our communities for climate change, especially for those people that are most vulnerable? I will use Maslow’s Hierarchy as a guideline, especially the first two steps on the pyramid.

How could our communities meet the basic needs of our people? Thing such as food, water, shelter, as well as financial, emotional, and overall health and well being? In addition, and looking at the whole process through an animistic lens, other aspects of contemporary life can be added as well. Energy is one, and environmental well being is another. As I have already pointed out, in an animism worldview, social and environmental health are deeply interconnected. One is related to the other, and I don’t think we can have a healthy, resilient, society without a health environment. Community includes everyone, human and non-human.

As such, I want to take a little bit of space talking about each of these things briefly;

Energy, and especially electricity, is one of those basic needs of contemporary life. Whether heating is electric or natural gas, this is essential to keep people alive, especially in winter. As such, community resilience implies a reliable and resilient energy system. Distributed systems of renewable, clean energy and heating would be my recommendation here. Especially with programs and sliding pricing involves that can help vulnerable people keep service on. Municipal and/or community ownership would be nice too, so that the people that use the service are managing it. Not some far away for-profit operation.

At the most basic levels, all humans need food and water. Any kind of resilience must account for this fact. Again, much of this can be handled at the local scale; through things like food cooperatives, farmer markets, urban farms, and conservation oriented water polices. Local programs could also be further supplemented by regional networks, that build additional contingencies into the system. Such contingency could protect against local crop failures, or other crises. Healthy food and clean water should be something no person goes without.

In addition to energy and food/water, shelter and warmth come in next. Any person, especially the most vulnerable, shouldn’t ever go without a warm place to sleep and adequate clothing. Homelessness under our capitalist system is a crime against humanity in my opinion, especially when we have the means and resources to make sure no person goes without. This could range from anything from basic income (more in a moment), tiny houses, or any kind of community shelters. Homelessness and poverty should not be things that are criminalized or marginalized, and I think both our communities and our cities can do a lot more to provide this basic need.

Health and well being across all facets is deeply important. Healthy food and water, physical health, but also emotional, mental, and even spiritual health too. This one is a bit trickier, and it goes without saying that the US health system is a disaster. There is so much more we could improve, especially by following the examples of most other Western nations that already have socialized health care systems. We can do more here on the local and regional level too; such as community and municipal funded/owned clinics and hospitals. Local systems could be integrated at the regional level too, to offer more resources and specific specialized care. Also, universal health care is a must. Something like Medicare for All would be indispensable to community resilience. Of course, this includes mental, dental, and emotional health as well.

Financial stability is another aspect that I think falls within basic needs. If people have to purchase food at a market, finances come into play. Let’s be honest, there are always bills coming in from somewhere. Something like Universal Basic Income of some form could be directly connected to the facets above; food, water, shelter, and energy. It would guarantee a basic level of living for every human without condition. Regardless of employment, race, gender, age or anything else, a person would be guaranteed a basic level of existence. That could provide financial stability for communities, especially those that will be hit hardest by the climate crisis. This again, is something communities could do through a form of mutual aid, or at larger levels of scale for greater effect (such as state or national programs.)

Something else that I think falls into basic needs of contemporary society is education, and the need for meaningful work. There is so much work we need to do to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis, and that will require a skilled and educated populace and labor. Like health care and basic income, education and vocational are things I think should be available to everyone. In the same way many European countries do, education and work training should be something everyone can pursue. Universal Education would go a long way towards community resilience, and also well beyond just labor needs. Education I think is one of that many paths towards the “Self Actualization” part of the pyramid above. Education, like health care, is a public good, and something we all benefit from. That should not be denied to anyone.*

As we move up the pyramid from basic needs, we start to run into things like love, belonging, and esteem needs. These to me are the essence of community, of being part of a social species. Once we meet our basic needs, that is where we really start building communities and resilience. Not that this doesn’t happen at the lowers levels, but it becomes more possible once we move beyond individual scarcity. Once all our needs can be met, we have more time and freedom to build meaningful and sustaining relationships beyond ourselves. Community, real community, becomes possible.

Which plays directly into the needs of the environment. We cannot thrive without a thriving environment, and all I have said about basic needs applies to our natural communities as well. Health and well being extends to the non-human aspects of our communities. Resilience to me implies UBI as much as it implies conservation, restoration, and ‘rewilding’ our cities and communities. Clean air, food, and water means nature is healthy too. Trees in cities help to reduce heat, and also the needs for energy. Forests and green spaces help to clean the air too. Healthy wetlands can help to remove pollution, as well as provide resistance to flooding. Renewable energy and electric transportation (especially public), helps to reduce our impact on the environment overall. Environmental health is as essential as social and community health.

All the ideas I have mentioned here can help to increase community resilience, especially for the most vulnerable. Also, none of these ideas exist in isolation; they are all parts of a great interrelated whole. These ideas are holistic and systemic, and they help to create feedback loops that build on one another. Healthier and local food options reduce needs for fuel, transportation, and health care costs. Renewable energy reduces CO2, creates cleaner air, and reduces our impact on the planet. All of these things feed back into one another, and make the whole more resilient.

Thanks for reading!


Grieving the World to Come (Week 5)

(All I got are quotes this time…)

This is another post in the ongoing Deepening Resilience project I have been taking part in. Every two weeks, we are given a new writing prompt that focus on climate change and community resilience in the wake of a rapidly changing planet. This week, I am exploring this question;

How do you experience ecological grief? How can communities respond to environmental trauma?

As I said in my week 3 post, it would be a drastic understatement to say I have a lot of complex emotions when it comes to facing climate change. Sadness, grief, anger, more anger, depression, and a whole host of others across the human spectrum of emotions.

It’s hard to state cleanly how much climate change is already changing our world. The last year alone brought a whole plethora of wild fires, hurricanes, flooding, cold snaps, and on and on… Yes, we can admit that these are common annual natural disasters, but it is the scale of these disasters that is accelerating. They are getting more powerful, more devastating, and more destructive. That has real impacts for not only human communities, but non-human ones as well. Especially those that are not adapted or use to these kinds of disasters.

The truth is, the temperature is still rising, and so are the sea levels. A whole lot of cities are at risk, and are already working to mitigate what they can. But it doesn’t change the fact that it might not be enough, and that millions of people could become climate refugees…. It scares me as much as it makes me grieve. Entire cities; people and ecosystems are at risk here.

To put this into perspective, because of Cyclone Idai, the city of Dondo has been called “The First City Completely Devastated by Climate Change”;

The city of Dondo, about 30 kilometres from Beira, central Mozambique, didn’t escape the strong winds of Cyclone Idai. It is estimated that more than 17,000 families were displaced and more than a dozen schools were destroyed in the city.”

17,000 families, and the natural environment around them. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s also important to keep in mind that this is a clear sign of what is to come. It may be the “first” city, but it likely won’t be the last. We are already seeing record flooding in the Midwest, which is predicted to get worst by reports such as the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment.

It is hard for me to put into words the kind of grief that makes me feel. It’s sad, it’s devastating… It’s the all encompassing feeling of despair and hopelessness when faced with something like the climate crisis. It’s large, global, and complex beyond our abilities to comprehend that kind of immensity. It makes me feel a powerlessness that borders on paralyzing sometimes. Is there anything that can be done when facing such a force?

While wildly misinterpreted, there has been a huge loss of animals, and insects and… and… and. The list goes on, and there is no lack of bad news. It’s too much sometimes, at least for me. The scale, and the real risk of watching social systems and ecosystems break down and collapse in real time… That’s a kind of both existential dread, and of existential grief. Crippling, debilitating grief.

But, perhaps that kind of grief is useful. The anger, the despair, the desperation… That can come with drive. A drive to change, and impetus to action. In the words of Greta Thunberg;

We have to understand the emergency of the situation. Our leadership has failed us. Young people must hold older generations accountable for the mess they have created. We need to get angry, and transform that anger into action.”

I think that idea can be applied to grief as well. We need to grieve, and from there move into action. That leads into the second question for this week. The trauma is not something that is “coming”, it is already here. People are already being displaced, cities and lands are already underwater. We are teetering at the top of an existential precipice, a place where all our actions matter. Shall we fail, and face extinction of ourselves and our environments; or will we rise to meet the challenge of our times. Of our lives, of our existence?

That is part of grief, and many other emotions. Anger, despair, grief…. All of these have within them an impetus, an unspoken power. It is not healthy to avoid these emotions, no, and we have to face them head on. We have to cope, and I know I have my own ways. I write, I walk outside, I play games that let me imagine possible futures. But we can’t lay down, we cannot give up.

We can grieve, and we should. We should cry, and wail, and channel all our grief and anger into songs and poems. We should express that, and let that raw emotion overflow. And then, direct that towards the changes that need to happen.

It is not enough, to be overwhelmed by grief. It is insufficient that we should pull the covers over our head (or stick it in the sand), and wait for the world to end. Now is the time for loud anger, and for louder grief. The unmistakable voice of the displaced, the refugees, and the dead. The world is in crisis, and that grieving should be heard to all corners of the planet.

That we hear the grief of the planet, and that we share in that grief. That we suffer as the planet suffers, and that is an ecological truth. If the world overheats, if the extinctions continue, if our ecosystems collapse… Humanity will not be far behind. All of our cities and technology, all of our achievements over 6+ million years of our species will not matter at all. We will follow the same fate as the dinosaurs, but not at the hands of some cosmic asteroid. It will be by our own hands, our actions that have brought us to this point, and those that follow from here.

So how can our communities face the coming crisis and the traumas that will come? Certainly, there are people that understand that work a heck of lot better than I do. Trauma resilience is something I know only a little about, and there are those far more versed in those issues.

But I can offer a few suggestions from what I do know. Mitigation is the first; doing every thing we can to lessen the impacts of the climate crisis, and that includes emotional/traumatic impacts. That might be reducing emissions, or building seas walls, creating rebust community ritual or mental health… Or countless other valuable works. Any mitigation effort is worth it, because in the long run mitigation is about harm reduction. We can do work today that will lessen loss, grief, and trauma in the long run. Prevention I think is a viable strategy.

Adaptation is the next. We must be forthcoming in the fact that we cannot avert everything the climate crisis threatens. This is a long process, and in some cases in may already be too late. For those situations, adaption is the key. It has been the key of survival of our species in the past, and all all species on the Earth to date. Those that could not adapt to changing conditions went extinct. I do not desire that fate, and believe firmly that we are one of the most adaptable species on the planet. We have a whole host of methods, technologies, and techniques at our disposal. Some of these are deeply rooted in ecosystems regeneration and restoration. Again, adaption is the acknowledgment that we cannot fix everything, but we can reduce the impact. It is another method of harm and trauma reduction.

That, I think, gets at the heart of what I am trying to say. Grief is going to be a fact that comes with the climate crisis. We shouldn’t, and probably can’t, avoid that. It is healthy to grieve loss, and some measure of loss is certainly on the horizon. We will have to learn to cope with that, not just as individuals, but as communities, as a planet. There is immense amounts of work to be done there, and we need that now.

Thank you for reading!