Category Archives: Culture

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

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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!


What are we Afraid of? (Week 3)

Hello again everyone!

First thing, I want to to give a solidarity shout out to the growing Global Climate Strike (and Fridays for Future)  that is protesting across the world on Friday. All the youth, adults, and everyone else that is striking and protesting tomorrow, you have my full support! Give them hell, and move us towards action to tackle climate change!

With that said, today it is time to explore the next question posed by the Deepening Resilience project.

What are your fears about climate change? What barriers to preparedness do you face?

I have been writing about climate change and environmentalism for a long time, and it is never far from my mind. I’ve been in the thick of the the most recent reports, and so many doom and gloom inspired hit pieces and media commentary. To say that I have not been affected by that would be a bold faced lie. I have, and my emotional and mental reactions to the ongoing (and accelerating) environmental news has spanned the full spectrum.

I have felt grief and sadness at the growing loss of biodiversity, anger and betrayal at the inaction of governments and the greed of corporations, and definitely a fair amount of fear about the future. Because, let’s put this in context for a moment. I’m a millennial, and I’m 32 years old at the moment. The years of 2030 and 2050 are at least within my possible lifetime.*

2030 is the 12 year date of the IPCC report, where the window for mitigation starts rapidly closing. 2050 is the make or break moment, and all of our projections circle around this date. The date fossil fuel use needs to be zero, and renewable energy needs to be expanded to a large scale. If I am alive, I will be in my mid sixties come 2050. That means, I will see this process play out in real time. I will be witness to the the changes in our climate, and all the social, economic, and political dramas that play out as a result.

I will have a front row seat to a world in rapid transition, and perhaps even, to the end of the world.** I’m terrified of that. I’m scared that all our best efforts (if they happen) might be in vain. I’m afraid that there is no other future than an incinerated world. I’m afraid, for all the lives (human and non), including my own, that may well be lost as the world climate crises advances.

I’ve written about this before, and I think it is worth sharing again. The below chart is part of astrophysicist Adam Frank’s work, and I think it clearly lays out what possible futures we may be looking at.

(From Adam Frank’s, The Light of the Stars)

I don’t want either of the extinction futures (C, D), and I’d really rather not have scenario A, where estimates range as high as a 70% die off of the human population. Seven out of ten people you know, dead, gone. That could be me, or my wife, or many of my close friends.

That fucking terrifies me.

And suffice to say, that’s not the future I want. Scenario B would be my ideal, but we all know that reality isn’t ideal. It may well be somewhere between A and B. That is another part of my fear, that creeping existential dread. Because, not only could we possibly be facing the extinction of our species, but we are also facing an unknown future. That uncertainty, that unknown, that scares me too. I write a lot about a sustainable future, and the huge we would have to make even in a best case scenario (such as B). The status quo isn’t an option, nor is ‘business as usual.’ We are in a time of transition, but the truth is that I don’t know what the end result will be. Given the nature of the process, it’s likely I won’t see the end of it, even if I get a long relatively healthy life. (Which is not guaranteed,)

All my hope towards a sustainable future, that could be misplaced. I could be wrong, in all I think and believe. We could be on a one way trip to hell, and there is nothing we can do about it. I don’t believe that is the case, but I could be wrong. I’m human, I make mistakes, I’m fallible, and the future will not be the work of one blogger. That blogger could be mistaken.

And that fucking terrifies me.

More than that, my wife and I have recently been talking about children. To say that this terrifies me would be an understatement. This is because ultimately it is not just about me, but future generations (human and non-human). What will future will they have? Will they look back on my generation, and place the blame for failure on our heads? It brings with it all kinds of thoughts about ethics and morals. What kind of future will my child have? Is it morally acceptable to even bring a child into this kind of world? What if that too, is a mistake?

That’s coupled with fears about long term stable employment, and the ability to provide food and shelter for my family. What if climate change displaces my day job? What if I can’t pay my mortgage? What if I can’t put food on the table? There is a huge amount of fear that goes with that, and that unknown sense of stability.

Which brings us to the second part of the prompt, what barriers stand in the way of preparing for that kind of uncertainty in a changing world? To be honest, I could probably write a book or two on this question. Because the barriers we face are immense, and systemic in a way that I individually have no control over them.

At the largest scales, some barriers to preparing for climate change are baked into the political reality. Not having to worry about food, shelter, or health care would be a great start. The idea of basic income, health care for all, child care and education; these would all go a long way towards sustainability. It at least means that some future family wouldn’t go without if their day job goes under from labor or resource shortages.

That same idea comes down to smaller scales too. I’d love to be able to build a more resilient household for myself, for my neighbors, and for my local community. But there are huge financial, resource, and time constrains on all of that. There are barriers imposed by the lack of distributed renewable energy, the lack of common land for gardens and food, and the constraints on my time and energy from having to work forty plus hours a week just to survive.

Honestly, something that would go a long way would be a foundation of some kind of solidarity/mutual aid networks, where most of our local (and regional) needs can be met if things should really go pear-shaped. I’m not sure governments in their current form are going to be effective in meeting the challenges of climate change. How do we survive if that is the case? Mutual aid networks within our local communities would be a good start.

A network of cooperatives would be another, especially at the local and municipal level. That way, we can organize our work democratically, and make sure basic needs such as parts, tools, and food are met in efficient ways. Food cooperatives, and tool and equipment sharing would be nice. This could also extend to housing, medicine, health care, energy, and manufacturing. That way we could cover the basics; keep people alive and keep the lights on.

I think that would be a good start, at least.

Thanks for reading!

Notes:

*That is exempting terrible accidents, famine, war, plague, lack of health care, and many other terrible things that are associated with human actively, and the growing threats of climate change.

** It goes without saying that a dystopian apocalypse is not the future I want.


A Green New Deal

(From Wikipedia)

Hello again folks,

If the title wasn’t a dead give away, today I want to talk about the prospect of a Green New Deal. I have made no secret on this blog that climate change, renewable energy, and various forms of democratic eco-socialism are kind of my bag. I spend a ridiculous amount of time writing and researching these topics, and am an unashamed solarpunk, and animist. I believe firmly that a kind of sustainable civilization is possible, and is something we should actively work towards.

As such, now a Green New Deal is a mainstream topic. I’m excited to see this, and I am curious to see how this might pan out. I have my reservations as well of course, as I worry that some things might not make it into the Democratic version that should really be there. There has already been a fair bit of criticism not only what made it in, but what has been left out as well.

Yet, if the 2018 IPCC report is clear about anything, it is clear about the fact that we have to work hard and move fast to have a chance to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We have a window, but a small one that is closing fast. Add in the fact that the changes we have to make are unprecedented, and this can seem like an impossible task. But I haven’t given up, and neither should you. We are going to need people willing to roll up their sleeves, and do the hard and messy work. Even if we fail in the end, I’d rather shoot for the stars and miss.

The IPCC report is clear also that we have to reduce emissions by half by 2030 (12 years), and drastically decommission fossils fuels, such as coal and oil. We have have to drastically build up renewable energy, and other solutions to lower our carbon impact. That is where any kind of Green New Deal comes in, as a set of policy goals to help steer the US down the path laid out by the IPCC , and the Paris Accords.

There was an article by The Intercept recently that I absolutely love, because it starts out with a story that seems like it might be science fiction. But that’s the point science fiction, to imagine the future, and the Intercept’s article paints a vision of the future inspired by a Green New Deal. Go read it, if you have the time.

Me, I will only highlight one small section;

On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”

I like that these ideas are being discussed in public, and there are a lot of ways this could pan out. The point I think is that we have to think BIG to tackle this crisis, and we have to be able imagine what the next world looks like, so that we can make goals and plans, and get to work meeting those goals. That is what Kim Stanley Robinson points out in his article here

“Imagine a remade world founded upon health and prosperity. Imagine transportation of every kind propelled by clean energy—electric cars and scooters, for sure, but also container ships pulled by kite sails, then battery powered when navigating close to port. Imagine every lightbulb and internet download powered by the sun and the wind. Imagine engineers and technicians and heavy-equipment operators finding meaningful work building out a global clean energy infrastructure. All these technologies are off-the-shelf and shovel-ready; the only thing we haven’t invented yet is the economics to pay for them.” – KSR

But any kind of Green New Deal has to be more encompassing than just the technological, as tackling climate change effectively will involve making large scale changes to our cultural, social, and economic systems. I have been very clear about my support for the 100 Drawdown solutions. Any kind of Green New Deal would range from job guarantees, to universal healthcare and education, to dismantling fossil fuels, building renewable energy and low carbon infrastructure, and also finding a workable alternative to capitalism.

Because, in order to tackle climate change, we have to tackle our underlying cultural beliefs and social systems. Several papers such as the Hothouse Paper , and a report to the UN make very clear that the US economic system, that is capitalism, has to change. We cannot continue focus on infinite growth on a finite planet. It is quite literally killing our planet as well as ourselves.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and people should come before profits.

A Green New Deal

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Green New Deal, what they are proposing, and what they are not. It’s true that there are all kinds of things I would love to see in a Green New Deal. Universal education and healthcare, less working hours, livable wages, renewable energy, the end of fossils fuels, greater distribution of wealth… I could go on and on, and I’ll admit, the story The Intercept spins is not a bad one. Hurray for cooperative economics!

Yet, we have to be pragmatic here, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In order to meet any of the benchmarks laid out by the IPCC, we need resources, and a lot of them. While the Green New Deal won’t be an end all be all, it could be an important first step to unlocking much needed financial and material resources. We also need to keep in mind this in only an outline, not any kind of final draft legislation. As such, here is what NPR states is in the Green New Deal, with a link to the full document;

“Among the most prominent, the deal calls for “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” The ultimate goal is to stop using fossil fuels entirely…. as well as to transition away from nuclear energy.”

Yes! Renewable energy is high on my priority list, so that is a good proposal. If 100% renewable is technical feasible, we should do that. That means huge investment in time and labor into building that infrastructure, and supporting grid and energy storage systems. Federal legislation will certainly help that cause. It’s very clear from the IPCC report and others that ending fossil fuels and developing renewable energy are important steps forward.

Yet, there is also the fossil fuel and nuclear questions that linger here. I don’t know at the current time that 100% percent renewable energy is possible. It’s a lofty goal, and it’s a world I’d love to see. That said, I would like more details on how fast fossil fuels are phased out, and what, if any, role nuclear should play. Nuclear has a lot of baggage, and most functioning reactors today are from the 70’s and 80’s. We should be cautious there.

* “upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency;

Alright, that’s necessary and good. Reduction of energy demand will go a long ways towards reducing our footprint. Buildings will also need retrofitting for both mitigation and adaption to changing conditions. No problems there.

* working with farmers “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as is technologically feasible” (while supporting family farms and promoting “universal access to healthy food”);

Another set of good points. In order to mitigate the worst of climate change, our food systems are in for a full overhaul. Localization, permaculture and organic farming, regenerative agriculture… There is a long list of ideas here, and many will have to be adopted. I can’t give space to them all, but it’s a good start.

“Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary”;

Transportation accounts for over half of our oil usage across the world. As such, investment in clean and electric transportation is also a must. Electric personal cars, sure, but also public buses and high speed rail. The US lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to high speed rail, and this too is an important part of the puzzle.

A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American;

The amount of work we are talking about is immense, and there will be plenty of opportunities for laborers to roll up their sleeves and get the work done. Living wages, and benefits need to go along with that. I for one think that we should create a system of support more like that in Europe and especially the Nordic countries. The US is poor at providing proper welfare, healthcare, and parental and child care to it’s citizens. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement here.

What is Left Out?

It’s true that a Green New Deal is not a new idea. The NPR article above has plenty of links to the history of the concept. Another big advocate of a Green New Deal is the US Green Party. I am sympathetic to many of their views, so I want to give them some space as a point of comparison.

The Green Party  New Deal is quite a bit more ambitious with their goals, and spells them out more plainly then the Democratic Party proposal. They are much more upfront about ending fossil fuels and making the energy transition as aggressive as possible.

They also give space to the same economic promises, such as the creations of new jobs and the scale of the work that needs to be done. That is all well and good, and as long as there are workers I will support their rights for a livable wage, and equitable working conditions. Yet, there are aspects to the GP platform that just don’t show up much in the Democratic Green New Deal proposal.

Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right….

The Green New Deal is not only a major step towards ending unemployment for good, but also a tool to fight the corporate takeover of our democracy and exploitation of the poor and people of color. Our transition to 100% clean energy will be based on community, worker and public ownership and democratic control of our energy system, rather than maximizing profits for energy corporations, banks and hedge funds.“ – Green Party

Those ideas tend to circle around the problems of capitalism, and cooperative/democratic economic structures. I’ve made it quite clear throughout this piece, and throughout my own work, that I believe fully that capitalism is in fact part of the problem. The Greens address this problem a bit, whereas the Democratic proposal leaves this entirely by the wayside.

The assumption made is that the basis of our economic system need not be challenged, and that if we just we ‘develop’ more stuff, all will be well, and we can even have that golden ‘economic growth’ thing. This is part of the problem, and is where I diverge from otherwise good ideas such as the Green New Deal, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and yes, even Drawdown. (Paul Hawken is a well known eco-capitalist.)

We cannot build a truly sustainable civilization by just giving a capitalism a green coat of paint. That’s stopping short in my opinion, even if the other ideas are good ones. A train headed towards a cliff will still careen off the edge whether it is Red, Blue, or even Green. That’s why climate change is a lot bigger than technical solutions, and needs scalable support and resources to mitigate it. Capitalism has to be tackled as part of those solutions.

It’s also fair to ask if that is even possible, just like it is fair to question whether something like a Green New Deal will ever be a political reality. I wish I could say for certain the answer is “yes” in both cases. But I can’t, not for certain anyways.

But I can tell you I think it is possible. The changes that need to be made are monumental, and there is a definitely a chance that we could fail. Yet, the window of opportunity is still open, though it is closing fast. We still have time to act, and we need to go big or put our home planet at serious risk. I think we can do it, and we have a moral obligation to try. A Green New Deal could be a part of that, even if it not the ideal destination. At very least, it’s a start.

I firmly believe it is time we get building Another World. It is Possible, if we want it.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://www.drawdown.org

https://theintercept.com/2018/12/05/green-new-deal-proposal-impacts/

https://bios.fi/bios-governance_of_economic_transition.pdf

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/43pek3/scientists-warn-the-un-of-capitalisms-imminent-demise

https://www.ipcc.ch/

https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252

https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/

https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/691997301/rep-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-releases-green-new-deal-outline

https://www.gp.org/green_new_deal

https://abeautifulresistance.org/site/2019/2/9/new-deal-who-dis

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-1-january-february/feature/there-no-planet-b-kim-stanley-robinson


Deepening Resilience; Week 1

Hello everyone!

As of today I am happy to announce my participation in a new project. Deepening Resilience, Earth-Based Responses to Climate Change. It is a community blog project, initiated by Syren Nagakyrie and a platform for conversations on climate change in the weeks leading up to Earth Day. Every other week will be the focus of a different question and topic, and I will be typing out my responses to those topics here. Definitely check it out, and consider contributing to the conversation!

So let’s begin!

(A conceptual drawing of my own local city, from here)

Question 1, What does ecological resilience look or feel like?

Resilience; “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks” – Wikipedia “Ecological Resilience”

I approach animism and ecology through a systemic point of view. I like to look at the emergent, complex whole, at the big picture. As such, when I think of resilience, I think of the capacity of a given system to withstand and adapt to change, while still remaining functional.

This is true whether I am talking about ecological systems or social systems, and honestly there is a great deal of overlap between the two. Our cities and communities are not somehow apart from nature, but a part of the ecosystems in which they are grounded. The growth of our cities has certainly had a impact on those very same ecosystems, this is true, and not always for the better.

Still, when I think about ecological resilience, humanity is included in that discussion, as part of the entire planetary biosphere, as an extension of the planet and nature. This is important when we talk about climate change, because it affects way more than just humanity, it affects our planet’s ecosystems too. The other-than-human world.

To me, that is at the heart of ecological resilience. The changing climate affects the whole of the planet, human and non-human alike. So when we are talking about resilience, we are talking about everyone, because we are all part of the same planetary system. As such, the question becomes what can we do to help build that kind of systemic resilience in a changing world?

There have been a lot of reports lately, many of which I have discussed on this blog, that are starting to model what a climate changed world looks like. Fires, floods, and crop failures, but also melting ice caps and a growing number of extinctions. This is a whole lot bigger than just the impact on human communities, but also on non-human ones too.

The development of our human civilization has done a fair bit of damage to the ecosystems of our planet, from deforestation, to the decrease of wetlands, and to unsustainable forms of industrialized farming. And these aren’t just far away problems, issues that are “out there”. These affect my own local environment too, from PFAs contamination to toxic algal blooms.

So I think the first part of ecological resilience is doing what we can to restore our relationship as part of nature to some kind of balance. The truth is, ecosystems are self organizing, and really don’t need us to help them build resilience, as forests and wetlands kind of do that on their own. That is, if they have the space they need to do that. Building subdivisions on former wetlands is not the kind of space they need.

This covers a whole host of ecological restoration ideas. From hands off approaches like letting fallow fields go through the succession process, to more active approaches such as building new forests, restoring current forests, and protecting wetlands. It can also look like aiding communities on the frontlines of climate change, such as indigenous people

(From Wikipedia)

There is a whole host of conservation and restoration oriented projects, many at the local level, that are in need of resources and volunteers. That is something we can all help with, if we have the means and will to do so. We know that forests can help sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and that wetlands are the front line when it comes to managing floods and excess water runoff.

But the story of climate change also impacts human communities, and the resilience of our ecosystems is also tied intimately to the resilience of our cities and communities. Community in this way takes on a much broader context, that includes both human and nature. That is animism in a nutshell, and it means we must work with natural ecosystems, and learn from them, because they are active partners in our approach to climate change.

Take for example the relationship between urban design and wetlands. Wetlands are vitally important for a whole host of reasons, from filtering out some toxins and pollutants, to managing flooding and drainage. Climate change is going to bring more frequent and heavier precipitation to my region, and that water has to go somewhere. Floods are devastating natural disasters, and climate change is going to bring larger floods, more frequently. How do we build resilient communities to that kind of damage? Wetland restoration could be one answer;

Wetlands may not be as obvious a solution to managing flood risk as engineered investments such as dams, levees, floodwalls and drainage systems. But experiences from around the world — recently, but also dating back a century — show that wetlands should be part of the mix of solutions as cities confront this challenge. Within cities, urban wetlands are part of a mix of investments — including rooftop gardens and permeable pavements — that can intercept and absorb rainfall, so that more water sinks slowly into soils and groundwater and less becomes rapid runoff that submerges streets and
overwhelms storm drainage systems. “

In my local area, we had another great example of room for resilience planning. In recent months, we had a polar vortex move through Michigan, and temperatures plummeted as a result. It go cold, really, really cold. We were colder than Mars in some parts, and broke several cold weather records. This strained our natural gas (for heating) infrastructure, which resulted in a fire and a subsequent natural gas shortage and rationing. It was a bit of crisis, in the midst of the coldest weather my home region has to offer.

While the crisis was handled well on many levels, it is notable that it only took the failure of a single compressor facility to put millions of people at risk from the cold. That is a critical weak point in our infrastructure, and redundancy and contingency planning could go a long way towards making that entire system more resilient.

In short, that is exactly the kind of thing we need to be thinking about, regardless of the scale. Whether it is our households, our communities, our regions, or the whole damn planet; climate change brings with it the threat that fires, floods, and weather will get quite a bit worse. How to we prepare for that? How do we keep the lights on? The water flowing and clean? How do we feed ourselves? Our most vulnerable out of the cold, or the heat?

These are questions that have to be addressed, and that we have plenty of ideas and tools to tackle them. I cannot detail all those here, (but this is a great start) but the point is that technical prowess or scientific knowledge is not the problem. It’s a question of willpower, of political and social will. It involves big changes, in our thinking, as well as our approach. A resilience oriented mindset will take us at least part of the way towards a better future.

If we start say, thinking like a forest, or the planet, we can see the networks of systems that are all around us. We can see more clearly how wetlands adapt to flooding, or how forests connect with one another to increase the odds of survival through fungal networks. When we start thinking in a more systemic, holistic, and networked ways, we can build more resilient and adaptable systems. By learning from nature, we can build resilience in a changing and uncertain world.

Because, at the end of the day, the Earth, our home, is one damn big system. And it’s changing, and so we need to learn how to adapt and mitigate those changes. That process, that’s what building resilience looks like to me. Personally, I think pagans were tailor made for this kind of work.

Thanks for reading!


Climate Change & Animism

“There should be no shortage of motivation. Solving climate change presents humanity with the opportunity to save civilization from collapse and create aspects of what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.” The work would endow our lives with some of the oldest and most numinous aspirations of humankind: leading a good life; treating our neighbors well; imbuing our short existence with timeless ideas like grace, dignity, respect, tolerance and love. The climate struggle embodies the essence of what it means to be human, which is that we strive for the divine.” – From Here

(Artist Nick Pederson)

Hello again folks!

I have a lot of projects in the pipeline for this coming winter. I’m going to be switching gears soon and going to start writing fiction again. No long novels or anything, but short stories. There are some things I want to flesh out in my Liminal Worlds universe, but they aren’t suitable for novel length stories. So there will be lots of little ones, and I may well share some of them here. I’m also going to be doing some spiritual writings, mythos and folklore type stuff, and I may share some of that here too. So there are some much less serious writings coming your way!

But all that aside for now, I want to talk a bit about that big IPCC report that came out a couple of weeks ago. As I am sure all of you are aware, environmental issues are high on my radar. So is doing everything we can to create a more sustainable world, for both humans and non-humans.

In fact, human rights and ecological issues are central my understanding of animism. In short, both humans and non-human (which is, nature) have the right to exist with dignity and respect. Which means, if we are going to build a better future, then all the peoples of the planet need to be included in that future.

The original report is here.

I’ve read the report all the way through now (it’s like 700 pages), and so the fatalism and nihilism in the headlines was a bit unnerving. The Guardian was fairly benign by saying We Have 12 Years to Limit Climate Catastrophe.  Others, were way more problematic, as NPR said Climate Report Warns of Extreme Weather, Displacement of Millions without Action. 

But, having read the report, I can say that the news is a little more optimistic than problematic headlines let on. Even digging into the articles themselves, we find some reasons for optimism.

First off, we have twelve years, until 2040, to mitigate the worst climate change has to offer. I have said before we probably have a decade or two, and that is pretty consistent with the scientific literature (of which the IPCC scientists reviewed some 6,000 articles.) In short, we’re not done yet. But it is also noteworthy, that I said mitigate. The climate is changing, that cannot be denied. We cannot stop that process, but we can cushion the landing. And we still have time to do that. That’s important.

In fact, in many ways, the next twelve years or so, will determine “how bad” climate change is going to be. How bad will storms, droughts, and fires be? How high will the sea rise? How many will be displaced; thousands, million, billions? We are making those choices right now. If you want a great illustration of what that looks like, may I recommend this articleIt has a great visualization of the differences between 1.5 degree Celsius and two degrees. (Which is central to the IPCC report, that 1.5 degrees helps to mitigate a lot of the bad things.)

We have twelve years, but what do we need to do? Well basically, we need to reduce emissions by 40-50% by 2030, and be near net zero by 2050. Sounds easy right?

Well, it won’t be. It will be an unprecedented challenge, and there is no guarantee we are going to pull this off. It is an existential crisis, of the kind we are deciding if we have a future on this planet at all. We are literally making the choices between sustainability, slow die offs, and extinction.

What Can We Do?

In short, we need to decarbonize, and fast. There are a lot of solutions, many of which can be found in Drawdown and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The report itself highlight four major areas; cities, energy, industry, and land use. The image below lays out each of the pathways, and some major factors on what we have to do for each.

(From the IPCC report.)

As I hope you can see, each of the pathways involves major decarbonization, but also major expansions in renewable energy (70 – 80% total primary energy), and zeroing out fossil fuels. So what can you do? One of our most impactful scenarios is in renewable energy, but also land us and our food system.

Find ways to organize, first and foremost. There may well be already be groups in your area doing the work. Maybe they are installing solar panels, investing in windfarms, or crowdsourcing urban gardens. Every little bit helps. Find a way to make your own life more energy efficient, that will help too.

Maybe you don’t have a group near you. Do you have 20 friends? Make your own group! Figure out what your own sphere of influence needs, and find a way to make it happen. Maybe that means helping a friend put a garden in, or fundraising to invest in a renewable energy project. We have a lot of options, and there is a lot we can do in groups.

But we also have to admit that individual actions will not be enough. They are good, but not enough. We need collective action, so the more work we do as communities, networks, cities, and nations, the better. But, I think that the bulk of this work needs to come from the bottom up, grass roots style.  If you are like me, and live in the US, there are serious doubts in the Federal government will help in this work at all… And that is going to have an effect, definitely.

Still, it is also important to remember that almost 90 cities in the US have already committed to 100% renewable energy, as well as the states of California and Hawaii. This is something we can do at the local and regional level, with great global impacts. It would be super great to have the Fed onboard too, but most of this work we have to do ourselves.

Our communities, and our cities, and states can take the lead on this. We need all the resources and help we can get. As Gandalf said, it is the everyday deeds of everyday folks that keep the darkness at bay. Those every day people are you and me.

Thanks for reading!

  • If you want more information, my recent post exploring more aspects of this is here.

Towards an Animistic World

Hello again folks!

This is going to be the last post in my most recent series. We have come to the end, at least for the time being. It is time for me to move on to other projects, which you will certainly get to read about here!

This has been a big project, but the question becomes what does it leave us with? In no small words, we are definiately now in a time of transition, where all of our choices matter. We are up against the existential challenge of climate change, and up against a system that seems hell bent on making things so much worse for the sake of a buck. Not only do things need to change, but they have to. We have a few choices open to us, but it is vital we make the right ones, right now.

I have heard some call this a bottleneck, a transition, even an evolutionary precipice. The planet is warming, and a big part of that is our creation of a global energy intensive civilization. That part wasn’t entirely our fault, and might be a bottleneck any energy intensive civilization has to go through. However, doing nothing about it is our choice, and that choice may well be between decline, sustainability, and extinction. Without serious work on our part right now, we could go the way of the Dodo. That is truly an evolutionary precipice, and we are now finding out if we, as Homo sapiens, have what it takes to navigate this crucial time.

But that’s been the point of this whole series. What tools do we have at our disposal? What would it take to create a more sustainable, networked, democraticand planetary civilization?

Well, after all my explorations throughout this series, I can start to shape for you a vision of what that future might look like. The work I have done here is a synthesis of a lot of different sources, in order to create a vision, a speculation, of what our future could be. I can create a time line now, as a kind of road map. I probably will get it wrong in the long run, but it’s a start. After all, civilization is hardly the work of one man.

Near Future; 2020-2030’s

I think that the next couple of decades are going to be vital to mitigation. We have a lot of work to do across the board. This includes heavy deployment of renewable energy, creating sustainable cities, and creating democratic networks to share resources and work together. We also need to work towards the elimination of fossil fuels in our transportation and energy mix.

One of the big tools at our disposal are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are expansive goals that allow us to reduce global carbon emissions, as well as create a more just and sustainable world. They cover everything from universal contraception coverage to universal healthcare, to renewable energy, and conservation of land and water resources.

But in a way, the SDGs are not enough, and do not go far enough. Those targets should definitely be met by the 2030s, but there is an aspect of the SDGs that is very “business as usual”. In that the SDGs do not tackle one of the biggest obstacles to creating a sustainable world; capitalism.

We will have to undermine and rebuild our current way of doing business. I don’t think this means we have to get rid of markets, trade, or industry. However, we definitely need to redistribute resources and wealth, and move towards more democratic and cooperative forms of economics. The Nordic Model of social democracy would be a good start for sure, but that’s still capitalism. We can go even further, and build networks of worker and community owned cooperatives. Over a billion people already belong to at least one co-op, so we are off to good start.

Our future could look more like this

The fact is, we are going to have to work together to face the challenges ahead. Competition might have some perks, sure, but if we have to build wind turbines, community resilience, and shelter climate refugees… It is better that we do these things together.

Mid Century; 2030-2050’s

While the SDGs have the 2030’s as their timeline, Drawdown bases it predictions on mid century. Drawdown gives us 100 solutions to combat climate change. Those solutions are everything from renewable energy, to forest conservation, to food systems, to women’s and indigenous peoples rights. We should deploy them to the greatest extent we can by 2050. Drawdown gives us three major trajectories;

Plausible Scenario: the case in which solutions on the Drawdown list are adopted at a realistically vigorous rate over the time period under investigation, adjusting for estimated economic and population growth.

Drawdown Scenario: the case in which the adoption of solutions is optimized to achieve drawdown by 2050.

Optimum Scenario: the case in which solutions achieve their maximum potential, fully replacing conventional technologies and practices within a limited, competitive market.

Drawdown is the point where our carbon emissions actually start to decrease. Being the optimist, I say shoot for the Optimum scenario. But even if we don’t make that, plausible solutions are better than none at all.

Aside from Drawdown, we also need to recreate our political, social, and economic systems. Technology alone will never be enough without other changes. Also, individual actions are necessary, but not sufficient without systemic and cultural change as well. A change in spirit, of who we are as a species.

Because the truth of the matter is, that our current systems cannot do what we need them to do. There is a good possibility that Nations will become less relevant. Our system of Nations is likely one of the least efficient ways to manage a planet, and that networks of cities, regions, and other organizations might be able to do this better.

The US system especially is ungovernable, and hierarchy overall is likely to breakdown and give rise to more networked and distributed means of governance. Ideally, these are cooperative and democratic networks, that give us the flexibility we need to adapt to a changing climate and world.

Renewable energy, Drawdown, SDGs, all give us means to create a less hierarchical, distributed and cooperative world. Local and regional powers can take the lead, and eventually build a new global system and planetary civilization.

Late Century; 2050’s – 2100

Alright, at this point I have to state that I will be in my mid 60’s by 2050, so anything too much beyond that is in all likelihood beyond my lifetime. But it will be in the lifetime of the next generation, and the one after that. It is definitely important to think beyond ourselves, and at least a couple of generations down the road.

Provided we have done what we must, and lain the foundations for a sustainable future, mitigated climate change as best we are able, and not blown ourselves up, the coming century could be really exciting for the future of our species.

It bears repeating that we are in a very crucial time right now. How that future looks depends on what we do right now. We don’t know the future. Whether we succeed or fail through the coming transition all hinges on what we do (and don’t do) in the next decade or two. But provided we manage to get through all that, we could be looking at a fully networked, democratic, and planetary civilization.

A world where there is fusion power, space elevators, and our growth as a space faring civilization. I find that really exciting, even if I won’t see it. To me, that is the foundation of a a truly animistic world.

An Animistic Vision

Because in all honesty, that is what we are facing right now. Not only an ecological crisis, but a spiritual one as well. My vision, my ideas for the future, are animistic at the core. As I’ve said so many times, my animism is a worldview as much a spiritual practice. It is how I relate to the world, to other humans, to nature, to civilization, and the planet.

The world I envision takes on the aspects of mutually beneficial relationships, of sharing, cooperation, and reciprocity. Democratic and cooperative economics are the outflow of this, as well as renewable energy and sustainability. We need to do the best we can for all peoples on Earth, human or non-human.

My vision is a world powered by wind turbines and solar panels; with little shrines to the Sun and winds at their base. Tiny little spirit houses at the entrances to great forests and mighty trees. Cities that look and function more like real jungles, not concrete ones. A world where worker-owned shops build our star ships. Small little altars could sit on those control panels, while astronauts pray that the Void doesn’t eat them.

The interaction of Science and Story, Matter and Meaning. That is my animistic world.

Thanks for reading!