Monthly Archives: May 2019

Built Resilience (Week 11)

(Image from Here)

This is my last post in the Deepening Resilience Project organized by Syren Nagakyrie, at least for the time being.

Today I want to jump right into it, and explore the question posed for this week’s (okay, I’m several weeks behind) prompt;

How do we engage with the built and cultivated environments (e.g., urban areas, domesticated plants, gardens) as we address climate change and build resilience?

Like so many of the questions in this project, this one is a big one that requires a great deal of nuance to tease out. As an individual, I won’t be able to cover everything, as there have been volumes written about this very topic. Even the briefest summary of the body of work would be well outside of this one blog post.

At the core of this question is the question of civilization. Ten thousand years ago humans started to build the first cities, as agriculture allow the creation of permanent settlements. This was a big change from the hunter-gatherer existence that preceded it. Agriculture and civilization brought about changes in diet, in culture, and even in the human physique. Some of those cities succeeded, such as Athens and Damascus, which have been continually occupied for thousands of years, even to the current day. Others failed, overtaxing their environments and eventually turning to dust.

This gets to the heart of the fact that our built environments, our cities, are complex creations. The ability of people to congregate into urban environments brought with it an increase in complexity, for good and for ill. Complexity allowed for more human energy to be channeled into the creation of great monumental works, and also allowed for specialization. As not every person had to be directly involved in food production, it opened up tasks like priest work, astronomy, and the invention of writing. It also allowed for a class of crafters and artisans as well as merchants. People that could focus full time on creating art, as long as they were able to trade their own goods for food from farmers.

But this specialization came with a dark side, in the form of stratification. Some specializations were considered to be ‘better’ that others, and so the creation of civilization also brought with it hierarchy, stratification, and inequality. In many ways, civilization brought with it the creation of a cultural elite, an entire class of people that set themselves apart from the rest and considered themselves ‘better’ than the average folk. Sedentary existence, in a way that hadn’t existed before, also allowed these elites to hoard huge surpluses of food and wealth. Inequality was almost a feature of civilization, not a side effect.

More than this, even in modern times, cities are huge pits for resources and energy. Almost half of the world population now lives in cities, and this requires importations of material as well as energy. Urban centers often are far away from required minerals and ores, and often don’t have the land space to create their own food, which urban areas then have to rely on rural areas for.

This has lead some thinkers to suggest that civilization is by it’s nature inherently unsustainable. If a city has to rely on the import of outside materials, it cannot be sustained, at least that is how the argument goes. But I don’t think that is true. If cities like Athens and Damascus have been around for thousands of years, through wars, famines, the rise and fall of empires, then I have to question what such arguments mean by ‘sustainable’. If thousands of years worth of continuous existence through the worst calamities nature and humanity has to offer isn’t sustainable, then I want to know what the hell is?

But this is not to deny the fact that urban living has a large environmental impact and ecological footprint. As much as we have examples such as Athens and Damascus, we also have examples such as Sumer and Easter Island. Civilizations that exceeding the carrying capacity of their environments.

What makes the difference? Why does one civilization manage to survive thousands of years, while another collapses into dust? That is another big question, which probably doesn’t have an easy answer. Still, it goes without saying that I think some measure of resilience is at the heart of it. Cities that have the ability to weather and adapt to rapidly changing conditions, such as war, drought, or famine, are probably off to a good start.

In many ways, I think cities are at the heart for the mitigating the climate crisis. Unlike Nations, which can frequently get paralyzed on climate issues (looking at you, United States), cities can respond on the ground with ideas and projects that directly affect the resilience of the communities around them.

(Image from Here)

For example, cities can pursue renewable energy and community microgrids. This can eliminate to constant need to import coal, natural gas, or uranium for power plants. Cities can also create policies that encourage energy conservation and efficiency. Also, cities can pursue methods for self reliance, such as building with renewable materials such as wood, bamboo, or even hemp. Cities by their nature can effect everything from transportation to energy.

In addition, with the introduction of urban agriculture, and massive green spaces cities can start to produce more of what they need locally. Add in things like walkable cities, public transportation, and many other things cities can directly effect; and it is clear cities can be at the heart of the creation of an ecological and sustainable existence for our species.

I just recently joined my local city’s environmental commission, which is tasked with making policy recommendations to the city council. We have already started to work on reviewing other townships and cities environmental plans, in order to find models that could possibly work for our own city and community. There are countless examples of what sustainability and resilience could look like in cities, and all of this creates feedbacks. In the ‘social laboratory’, if one community has a good idea that works well, other communities can copy it and make it their own. One sustainable city can snowball into thousands. Individually, one city can’t mitigate the worst of the climate crises. But as one part in a network of thousands, the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts.

There is no shortage of thing we can do in our built environments to improve resilience and sustainability. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, the ideas well exceed this one single post. There are ideas at the global level, national ideas, and especially local/municipal ideas. Just look at some examples such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Singapore.

Everything we do, from living to building cities has an impact on the environment. There is no such thing as a free lunch. That said, we can select for policies in our cities and communities that have the lowest impact we can come up with. We can select for materials that are less carbon-intensive, and the same is true for energy, resource, and even food systems. We can start to bring nature and the ‘rural’ back into our cities. Our cities should look at act more like natural ecosystems, powered by the sun, wind, and water, and producing and consuming materials in a circle with as little waste as possible. In other words, we need to realize that human cities are ecosystems in their own right, and are not removed from the greater biosphere of the planet. We, as humans and as a civilization building species, are part of the planet, not separate from it.

This is not a pie-in-the-sky dream or a flight of fantasy, but something that is happening right now. Another world is possible, and I think we have the means and ability to make that ecological and sustainable world a reality. A built environment that is almost indistinguishable from its natural environment, and a world created to last the next thousand years.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Spiritual Community, Ecologic Community (Week 9)

(Image by Jessica Perlstein, as concept art for Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing, curiosly a widely cited book in both paganism and solarpunk 🙂 )

Hello again folks!

This post is another prompt by the ongoing Deepening Resilience Project organized by Syren Nagakyrie. I’m a little bit behind, so I hope you will forgive me on the delay for this one. Some genius around here decided to take on a solarpunk novella project that is due June 1st. Yes, that ‘genius’ is me, and yes that was sarcasm. It would seem I am glutton for writing-based punishment.

All the same, I think the question today is an important one, and I certainly have a lot to say on this topic!

How can we work with the spirits of land, deities, and ancestors as we address climate change and build resilience?

I would like to jump right into the deep end with this one, so first I want to start with a basic understanding of how I relate to the concepts of spirits, deities, and ancestors. For starters, I would probably best describe my spirituality as a kind of naturalistic animism; the intersection of science, spirituality, and big ‘s’ Story. It is a path grounded firmly in physical reality, but with plenty of room for awe, inspiration, and reverence. It is a relational path that asks us to consider ourselves as agents in a much bigger, much more complex, cosmic system.

I don’t default to supernatural explanations for my spiritual understanding of that complexity. There is no ‘Otherworld’, or ‘outside’ beings in my cosmology. There is the here and now, the physical beneath our feet, and the wonderful, complex, and marvelous universe we happen to inhabit. Spirits, ancestors and deities are here for me, not beyond some mysterious spiritual veil, nor residing in some spirit-only “spiritual plane”. There is no Veil, except maybe the one we pulled over our own eyes. If the spirits are hidden from us, it’s because we’ve become infected by self-inflected blindness. We have simply refused to see them, and that is our own fault, and perhaps of the very monotheistic worldview we have been raised in.

That means that how I relate to spirits is very much grounded in practical knowledge and experience. I am a hunter, a hiker, and all around person of the outdoors. I like to swim, to walk, and to kayak. I love archery, as well as anthropology and archaeology. I have one foot in the past, one in the present, and an unaccounted for third foot in the future.

I see the world as something intrinsically filled with creativity, with life, and with agency. The basic drive of the universe is to create, to make new and mysterious forms with basic parts formed in the hearts of long dead stars. To take those parts, and to create planets which like the Earth, eventually have life emerge from them. This is not a linear process, nor one dictated by some almighty outside god. It has starts and stops, failures, and restarts. I have no idea if it has any kind of ultimate goal, but that doesn’t take away from the deeply spiritual nature of that experience. To be the result of billions of years of creativity is a hell of a spiritual experience. I’m scavenged parts from a dead star, a bit of the cosmos, having a very Earthly and human experience. That’s wild and wonderful.

Earth is a planet that was born in fires of Sol, our local star. A planet of countless cultural names, orbiting of star with just as many names. My cosmology is rooted in complexity, and complex systems. Systems like forests that have a life and spirit all their own. Rivers, who are far more than just fish poo and water. Entire complex networks of deer, dirt, and other denizens that in totality starts to look a lot like a living, breathing, being. This extends to me for to the whole Earth, the only planet we know of with a robust biosphere, and an intelligent civilization building species.

Ancestors are still with me, deep in my own DNA, and buried into the collective memory the Earth as a living being. A living planet, the child of the Sun, which is another link in the ancestral tree that goes back to beginning of Creation, of our Universe, as a whole. Even grounded solidly in nature, my spiritual path is full of ancestors, forest and river gods, and spirits from the Whitetail Deer to Hydrogen Atoms, and everything within and beyond that.

As such, working with spirits, deities, and ancestors is as much a practice of science and ecology as it is practice of spirituality. With my gods existing in forests and rivers, my ancestors in my blood and bones, as well the earth around me, and the spirits I work with being in part, the totality of a living biosphere; climate change is a crisis for all of them. For all of us, as it is for the whole living, breathing being of the planet. Gods, ancestors, and spirits; are all part of this process. The climate crisis threatens millions of species of organisms, as well as ourselves.

The Climate Crisis is a Global Crises, and no one, not even our spirits and ancestors, get a pass on this one.

A loss of a habit is the loss of innumerable spirits; the death of forest and river gods. Logging, industrial waste, plastics in our oceans, that is Threat to them as much as it is to me. For me, that has resulted in deeply painful experiences that run the gamut of human emotions, and non-human emotions that I can translate. The gods of the forest are just as angry as we are, just as scared. Others are angry, and blame us for where we are now. I don’t blame them for that, as we fuel up the bulldozers for another oil pipeline.

One of the big problems associated with the climate crisis are climate refugees. People displaced by raging fires and rising seas. But most of rhetoric on the crisis only includes human refugees. From an animistic perspective, is has been happening for a longtime. How many non-human persons have been displaced? How many fish, how many birds, how many trees? How many megatons of earth have we scrapped clean of deep buried memories? How many ancestors have been dug up and taken away into colonial museums?

Human and non-human communities are already being displaced, already being forced into extinction by human-driven climate change. Habitat loss is spiritual loss, and that breaks down communities and the relationships that joins them together. There is deep trauma there, and deep grief. Not only for ourselves, but for the planet as well. I don’t think any of us get out of this clean, without scarring.

But climate refugees, broken habitats, and broken communities is not where this ends. As a bit of an optimist to a fault, being aware of the problem is only the first step. Looking with eyes unclouded at all we have done and articulating the raw scale and scope of the problem is only the first step. Once we’ve framed the problem, and gods is it planetary, then we can start to see what needs to be done. That is the Work that we all have to do.

From an animistic perspective, we start to realize that the scope of this problem is big, really big. It is a crisis of communities, in the widest and broadest sense of the word. The destruction of non-human communities, ecological communities, to fulfill our own needs is what brought us here. The Work that needs to be done is taking a step back away from that precipice.

(Artist credit, AJ-Illustrated)

We can start by epicly scaling up the rebuilding of communities. Not only for human communities but for non-human ones as well. Maybe by making half the planet into a nature preserve. That would certainly go a long way towards giving non-human communities the space they need to rebuild as they see fit. Ecosystems are amazing like that. If we give them the space, the forests and rivers will come back. Maybe not the same as they were before, but they will rebuild.

Yet, the crisis is also a lot bigger than that. The scale of transformations we need to make cut across our own communities as well. The science is clear at this point, and we need to change our political, economic, and social systems to have a chance at navigating our way through the climate hell storm. There are countless numbers of technical, economic, and social ideas on the table. Wind turbines, carbon pricing, ‘rights of nature’, hydrogen fuel cells… There is no silver bullet, but a lot that can and needs to be done.

In addition to giving space for natural communities to do their own thing, we can also embark on large public works project; such as habitat restoration. Creating new forests and wetlands, rehabilitation of old mining sites, and wide reaching preservation of the biomes across the planet. More than this, we can also embark on the great Work of building a truly ecological and sustainable civilization.

Our cities and communities are spirits in their own right, the gods inhabit our cities if you prefer. They are also huge systems of matter and energy, human-created ecosystems. Cities especially really start to look a lot like living beings from an animistic perspective. Adaptation is part of evolution, and it is time for our cities to evolve. A big first step would be inviting non-humans back into our cities. Urban gardens, green roofs, urban agroforestry, and expansive green infrastructure in place of the gray of parking lots.

By producing more of what we need within our cities, as well as using natural solutions to clean air and water, we can reduce the impact of our own communities. Growing food within cities means less in fuel and pollution to import food. Growing materials such as wood, hemp, and bamboo, we have to produce and import less concrete and steel. By creating decentralized and localized systems of renewable energy, we can create more resilient cities in a less certain future. Wide scale grid failures would become a thing of the past with networks of decentralized and distributed community scale microgrids.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say there is a lot that can and should be done. Spirits are in our ecosystems and in our communities. Gods can be found in our cities and forests. Ancestors are within ourselves as well as part of the deep memory of the Earth. The Work that must be done includes everyone. A large part of that of that work is rebuilding relationships with each other, and rebuilding communities whether they are human, animal, or plant. In short, working with the spirits, deities, and ancestors, is the act of creating a sustainable planetary community for everyone.

Thanks for reading!