Category Archives: Religion/Spirituality

Towards a Planetary Civilization

“The culmination of all these upheavals is the formation of planetary civilization, what physicists call a Type I civilization. This transition is perhaps the greatest transition in history, marking a sharp departure from all civilizations of the past…

Every headline that dominates the news reflects, in some way, the birth pangs of the planetary civilization” – Michio Kaku

 

Recently, I have been rereading (my first time was in community college) Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future, and I have to say that I have been getting a lot more out of it this time around than I did the first time.

You see, I have been giving a great deal of thought lately about what kind of world would I create. If I had the power to imagine what the future would look like, what would it be? It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I have a fairly optimistic attitude towards the future. Or at least, a kind of pragmatic optimism. In short, I don’t think we will likely ever see a perfect utopia, but I don’t think there is anything that stops us from trying.

Our culture, as it is, is chock full of dystopian stories and grim predictions. There is not shortage of pagans and thinkers that think there is a storm coming, whether this is due to climate change, peak oil, late stage capitalism, or what have you. The end is nigh! Or at least, that is what they keep saying.

This is not to say there is no truth in these claims, in fact I think there is a fair bit of truth in some of them. We live in troubled times, especially if you are like me and live in the United States of America. There is a certain darkness that hangs over all that we do.

Yet, at the same time I think there are reasons to hope. I think there are reasons that this darkness will pass, and that there is a more optimistic dawn on the other side. The reasons for that, if the quote at the top of this article is any indication, is because I think we are moving into the transition, and towards a Type 1 civilization. Which is where Kaku’s book comes in.

A Type I civilization, as Kaku describes it, has access to all the energy that reaches the planet from the local star. In our case, that would be the sun, or about 10^17 watts. On a sliding scale of Type 0 to Type 1, we are estimated to be a type 0.7. Kaku predicts, that we will reach that status in the next century or two.

But the transition from our current state of civilization, to a Type 1 civilization will not necessarily be an easy process. If we extend the metaphor of birthing a new world, there are also reasons to suspect it may well be a messy process. We could in fact even fail, and fade as a civilization entirely.

As such, over the course of the next few blog posts, my intent is to lay out some of my ideas on what that transition and the next world might look like. After a certain point, this will be speculative. It is, at best, what I hope the future might look like. But what kind of sci-fi author would I be if I didn’t imagine what our future might look like?

Besides, there is a great deal to be said about imagining future worlds. Our stories can serve as guides, and help us figure out what kind of future we would like to live in. If all our stories are doom and gloom, blood and fire, then there is good reasons to suspect our future won’t be all that great. We should take great care to ensure our dytopian fictions don’t become self-fulfilling prophecies. I think dytopian fiction best serves as a warning, of futures best avoided. No good will come of us if the world looks like Fallout, Mad Max, or even The Long Descent.

As such, let’s look a little deeper into what vision Kaku lays out for us on our path towards the future.

Planetary Civilization

“The transition between our current Type 0 civilization and a future Type 1 is perhaps the greatest transition in history. It will determine whether we will continue to thrive and flourish, or perish due to our own folly.” Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future.

Kaku lays out a Type 1 civilization as a truly global and planetary civilization; one that is scientific, pluralistic, multicultural and tolerant. I would go on to add it would also have to be more democratic (in the ideal sense), more autonomous, and more networked. I will explore these ideas more deeply in the next part of this series.

There are lots of aspects of that already taking shape. The internet is what Kaku considers to be a Type 1 kind of communication system, allowing people across the globe to communicate in real time. He also suspects that a single language will become the common global language, and the top contenders right now are English or Mandarin. I guess that all depends on the how the geopolitical landscape plays out.

He also points out that a common language will not be the death of all others. In fact, tools such as the internet may provide a means for a kind of linguistic renaissance. In my imagined future world, English/Mandarin is only a common language, and does not dominate the others. The vast majority of people would be bilingual, or even multilingual, allowing for a diverse interplay between local and global cultures. It could actually, if played right, result in the resurgence of indigenous, minority, and even new local cultures.

Kaku also thinks that a planetary civilization will lean towards greater political and economic integration. The EU may be the blueprint for this, and may represent one version of a post-national planetary civilization. He also points out that certain cultural aspects have become quite global, such as the Olympic Games and musical trends such as hip-hop and rock & roll. Environmental problems such as Climate Change are also being addressed on a global scale.

None of this necessarily means there will be a One World Government, but that the shape of a future planetary civilization will depend on a lot of factors. These trends may be historical, cultural, and/or national. In many ways, the shape of the future is still being determined and is very difficult to predict.

However, Kaku does claim that Nation-States will become less relevant and central to political power in the long run. They will likely still exists, albeit in diminished form. As economies further integrate, and scale up, more power will likely fall on larger regional and more local forms of governance. For now, suffice to say this is the “upshift” model of State decline. Collapse, on the other hand, is a “downshift” model. I do not see this as necessarily a bad thing, and my own thoughts will appear in a later parts of this series.

No Guarantees

All throughout the book, Kaku is careful to point out that there is no guarantees that we will ever reach a Type 1 Civilization. We could fail, and our civilization (and maybe well our species), could go extinct and crumble into dust.

The point is, we are facing one of the greatest transitions in our history. Our decisions, right now, as a species will determine what that future looks like. Will we trudge our way through, and see the dawn of a planetary civilization, or will we fail, and fall into some long (or catastrophic) descent into irrelevance. There are factors both for and against both scenarios, and ultimately it is here that speculation fails. We don’t know how exactly how the future will play out, and honestly, I think it will be a little bit of both. But more on that in a later part.

There are a lot of factors working against a multicultural, tolerant, and democratic society. Because the sad truth is, not every one wants that kind of world. Some people want a “simpler” life in some form of primitivism, some want the world of 1000 AD. In addition, many of the factors pointing towards a planetary civilization run into the dialectic of reactionaries.

Just for example, we can see the rise of thing like “Incel” as a reaction against growing trends towards women’s equality and feminism. We can also see Straight White Males (TM) openly reacting against LGBTQ rights, and against gender equality more generally. White Supremacy is in open revolt against diversity and multiculturalism, and we can see that in the current immigration crises. Christian Fundamentalists are reacting against a world full of “sin”. Hell, the rise of Trump combines all of these reactionaries in a disturbing and obscene way.

But those like Trump and others, are only a symptom a lot bigger than any individual. They are reactions, rebellions against the inertia of world history. More than this, they also are symptoms of toxic systems struggling to stay relevant, such as capitalism and White Supremacy. It would take a much longer to tease out all the interrelations between many of these topics, so let’s move on.

Wisdom

At the conclusion of the book, Kaku says it is wisdom that can help us navigate the coming decades, and only with wisdom can we possibly find our way to a planetary civilization. This wisdom could take a lot of forms, but I think one way is to take a longer view, and to shape new cultural narratives. In short, and in no uncertain terms, I think animism is one of many things that will help us find our way through uncertain weather.

Here, Stephan Harding lays out it so wonderfully;

Clearly, modern science and technology have brought us many benefits and are without doubt among humanity’s greatest intellectual achievements, but they have also unwittingly contributed to the massive global crisis we are now facing. In essence, science has made us clever, but it has not made us wise. If we are to have any chance of surviving the looming catastrophe that science and technology have inadvertently helped to create we will need more wisdom, not more analytically capacity, of which there is a plentiful supply…

…And so, along with a growing number of fellow scientists, philosophers and activists, I believe that we now urgently need to develop a new approach in science that integrates analysis with wisdom, fact with value and nature with culture. We think this can be done by replacing our demonstrably unwise (and until recently, unconscious) assumption that the world is an inert machine with the arguable wiser and more accurate metaphor of the world as a vast animate (and hence “sentient”) being. Thus, strange and trite as it may seem, the survival of civilization itself could in part depend on a fusion of science and animism.”

This is where we must end off for the time being, but I am not willing to let this stop here. In the next part of this project, I will run with a lot of what I raised here. I will talk more about the (speculative) future of our civilizations, and I will also talk more about the Earth as an entire planetary system, as an organism in a wide sense, and the animistic implications that emerge from that.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

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

Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future. 2011

Harding, Stephan. Towards an animistic science of the Earth. Within, “The Handbook of Contemporary Animism” Edited by Graham Harvey.

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Complex Gods & Spirits

Gods are not separate disembodied ideals, but are instead the emergent agencies from the vast networks of ancient entanglements within which we are embedded…” – Mathieu Thiem, from “Interanimism”

(Image from Here)

Hello again folks!

I am working on a lot of different facets of a deeper dive into my animism right now. I apologize if it seems like I am all over the place, but I swear there will be a cohesion to all of this when I am done. My recent manuscript on animism has really got me thinking, and I want to dive deeper into all of complexity and nuance of how I understand animism. Who knows, it all may be the foundation of another book. *shifty eyes*

So, let’s jump right in it today. Some time ago, I wrote about all the various social and scientific theories I bring into my animism. Systems theory, complex systems, cybernetics, actor-network theory, and agential realism. There is a lot there if you care to (re)visit it.

But today, I want to dive a little deeper into how all that informs my animistic views of the world, and especially gods and spirits. My animism is built on relationships among persons. This can be be human persons, as well as non-human persons. My worldview is more than big enough for the beings we call spirits as well as gods.

You see, my animism is a complex one that allows me to look at ecological systems in the same way I look at civilizations and technological systems. It allows for a nuanced, systemic, and holistic view that covers ever aspect of the human and non-human beings on this planet, and off into the great Cosmos. Yes, it even allows me to contemplate those beings we might call gods.

It starts with the idea that the world is made up of complex systems. These systems make up our own bodies, with atoms in molecules, molecules in cells, cells in organs, and eventually the emergence that is ourselves. Emergence is a real foundation to my understanding of gods and spirits. The idea being that once you get enough “parts” in a network, new properties and characteristics emerge. We are more than the sum of our cells, more than our DNA, and the gods are more than just stories on a page.

They are emergent agencies that result from complex systems. Now, those systems can take a variety of forms, ecological as well as cultural. I will be exploring that all more in a moment, but for now there is a few other things I want to set up before we dive deeper.

There are complex systems around us all the time, from cities, to the human brain, and to the universe as a whole. Our cells are nested within our bodies, and we as human beings emerge from the relationships of trillions of cells. In the same way, are we the “cells” of the gods and spirits. To put this another way, we are the “components” that make up their complex systems. We are the cells in their collective agencies.

Now agency is a pretty simple concept, as it is the capacity of an actor to to act in a given environment. Atoms are agents, cells are agents, we are agents, and the gods are transpersonal agents. We are the cells in their multicellular being.

On top of this, complex systems (such as planets, cities, gods), have a form of what we might call a memory. Like an archaeologist digging into the layers of the Earth, the history of past civilizations are recorded in the memory of the planet. Layer by layer, we can see the story of what is remembered. The same is true in our own bodies, as our DNA contains layers and layers, some from our deep mammalian past, and deeper into the origin of life on this planet. If you dig even deeper, the elements in our DNA connects us to the very beginnings of the universe. That is what a complex memory looks like. Just as importantly, it gives us a sense of time. Systems can contain the history of past arrangements, a past, a present, and eventually a future.

If it is not clearly spelled out, this can happen at a variety of levels, and scales of being. That is why I think the basic concept behind orders of magnitude is a useful way to organize my thoughts on this.

Orders of Magnitude

(Order of Magnitude Image from here. It’s a huge and oblong image, please click on it.)

The image above is a big one, with a lot going on. This is a scale that considers the Order of Magnitude of the whole universe. In short, it is looking at reality from different levels of scale, grouped in powers of ten based on size. At the 1 meter scale we find a human being, in this case a small one. That is because this is the “center point” for this scale, one meter, or about 3 1/3 feet.

In orders of magnitude above and below humanity, we increase or decrease in scale. If we jump up a power of ten, we get to the 10 meter scale, which here is represented by a dinosaur. If we jump down by a power of ten, we arrive at the 10mm scale, or about the size of a human fingerprint.

This scale is useful because it allows us to consider the entire cosmos at a variety of different scales, from the quantum to the cosmic. I just finished reading a book called The Zoomable Universe, that explores everything we know through different orders of magnitude. It has been fascinating to think about this through an animistic lens, and how I understand where I stand in relation to everything else.

For example, we can consider gods on a very similar type of scale. I think of gods as emergences, arising out of complex systems of relationships. Some of these are solidly grounded in ecological (non-human) systems, and some are grounded in cultural (human) systems. It is useful to think of the ecological and the cultural as two points on a spectrum, and not as a dichotomy. Here, we can set up a whole range of god-like beings, from mountains to those like Odin, and anything in between. There is plenty of room for overlap here, or human – non-human combined systems. Gods in this way, can fall anywhere on the spectrum. More “wild” cultural gods like Skadi might fall somewhere in the middle or towards the ecological ends, where gods of civilization would be skewed more cultural. In this case, let’s use a god like Odin, who as chief of the Norse gods, is a pretty fair canidate for a “cultural” god. He embodies many aspects of Old Norse culture.

Why is this useful? Because on the whole it is all about the scale of a given system of relationship. Gods are generally considered as beings that are “greater” than ourselves, greater in scale and scope. That is where Orders of Magnitude become useful. Gods exist on “higher” scale than humanity, just like we as humans exist on a greater scale then the cells in our body. That is the principle of emergence, in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

So, if we jump up from humanity to the 10 meter scale, do we find gods here? This is the dinosaur level, and it might certainly be fair to consider dinosaurs as a type of gods. They are very dragon-esque, yes? That kind of scale comes with a certain kind of power.

At the same time, in a 10 meter space you can only fit a handful of (adult) humans. Maybe five to ten at the most, if they get cozy. Assuming around two meters of space per human, +/-. Yet, what might those ten humans do now that they have gotten cozy? Might they develop shared ideas and beliefs, common stories, and maybe even some sense of a small community? This is what a lot of pagans might consider a group spirit, which is fair to call a culture, even if a small one.

But what emerges from that tiny culture? Is the agential emergence of networked relationships of ten humans enough to make a god? Maybe, in the sense of egregores, a tiny one. The god of ten people in a complex system. A god at the scale of ten meters. Perhaps here, we can see the beginnings of what we would call apotheosis, in which a god is born. Obviously there is more complicated facets here, but let’s keep thing simple for now.

Cultural Gods & Spirits

(Social Network, from Wikipedia. Maybe our hypothetical village?)

Let’s go even bigger than that though. Let’s jump up another level, to the 1 kilometer level. How many humans can we fit in this kind of space? Well, if we figure two meters per adult human, we could probably fit up to five hundred people in this space. On the scale, this appears as the size of a meteor crater. Now, let’s assume a little bit less than five hundred people, so they have some space for things like houses and that kind of thing. So let’s halve the amount, and run with about 250 human people. A tribe shall we say?

Part of the reason I am using 250 is because this is the upper limit of Dunbar’s Number, which is the suggested cognitive limit of the number of stable relations a given human can maintain. In our little tribe, we are going to assume everyone knows everyone, and they get along reasonably well without being to factioned, and share a common set of beliefs and cultural ideas. They are, for our purposes, a fairly unified whole. Might be unrealistic, but stay with me.

Alright, so these people share a common culture; they have songs, stories, and dances. Shared works of art, and a common and language. They are also a pretty tight-knit community, and so they share meals together and sit around the fire at night weaving stories together. They also share rituals and ceremonies, and through all this they weave together the spirit of the village.

Or, shall we say a communal god at the scale of a kilometer? The god thus is the emergence of a complex series of networked relationships among the people of the village. Over time, this god changes and grows, and develops a history and set of stories associated with the people and their ancestors.

In even more time, those people continue to multiply and go on adventures to conquer new lands, or maybe even to convert people to the worship (and relational maintenance) of their god. In this way, we can scale this idea even further, to kingdoms, empires, and even nation-states. Yeah, I would suggest that things like cities as well as nations have collective spirits we might call gods.

Things like capitalism and socialism have communal god-spirits* of relationship too. The complex concepts might be considered incorporeal spirit-gods in their own right, as such ideas certainly have influence in our times.

Christianity for instance, has a billion people within it’s sphere. What kind of scale does God the Father, and Christ the son exist at in this context? It’s something certainly worth considering, and translates into a real social and cultural force. But that is well beyond the scope of this post. Let’s move on shall we?

Ecological Gods & Spirits

 

(Eco-cultural Island, my own design. Gods may be represented by the large colored circles. The small colored circles represent smaller scale beings in a network. Individual groves, water spirits, villages, that kind of thing.)

(Green = forest, Red = village, Blue = Water, Brown = Mountain. Notice the overlaps.)

As we jump up in scale, we come to the size of about 100km, or if we are following the scale about the size of a decent island. It is at this point that we have to consider all I have said in a wider animistic context. In previous sections, I talked about small groups of people, as well as a small village, but I confined myself to just human relationships.

As such, in an animistic worldview, I have left out a very important facet of the world; namely non-human persons. In the context of our small village, I have neglected the fact that these people are also in constant relationships with their environment; with the non-human and other-than-human world. They need food from the fields, timber from the forests, and waters from the river.

This expands greatly their web of relationships, and with the non-human persons of nature; plants, animals, rocks, waters, and air. These too, must be considered in an animistic context, because they are beings, spirits, and agencies in their own right. These persons, are also part of the same complex system and relational networks as the humans.

So while the god of the village is firmly planted in the cultural realm of the humans, the shaman of the village knows that other gods dwell just beyond the village as well. The shaman takes a deep trek into the woods, and here he finds the forest god. It emerges, just as the village god, from the complex networks of the forest. But this time, these are not human networks, but the complex ecosystem of fungi, bacteria, sun, air, water, trees, plants, and animals. This forest god, the shaman knows, is the god of an ecology.

Now, that may be an oversimplification on my part, but it sets up an example of the idea I have already discussed. That is, that some gods and spirits are the agencies of complex ecological systems and may well be distinct from cultural gods. Of course, there can be huge amounts of overlap. The idea of complex systems and animism more generally, is that we are connected to everything. At no point are ecological and cultural systems fully separated.

The reason I mention this is because it goes a long way towards explaining what in common parlance is often called Genius loci, or a spirit of place. Spirits are not necessarily dependent on the presence of humans to exist. They can be firmly grounded in ecosystems, whether or not humans are even in the area. Here we could further our distinction (as well as overlap) between ecological, and cultural god-spirits.

The collective, communal spirit of the tribe that lives on The Island is primarily a cultural god. It is the complex of human story telling, and human history. However, such a cultural god with also have strong overlaps with the ecology of The Island, and that too would become part of the spirit-system. Thereby we can see an enmeshed system at different scales, of human, ecological, and finally Island. At the scale of the Island, the Island spirit would thus include both the ecological as well as the cultural god-spirits at smaller scales. The whole, simply, is greater than the sum of the parts.

Global Gods & Spirits

Which means we can jump up another level, to the scale of 10,000 KM, which encompasses the scale of much of the planet. Here we are at the scale where all the ecological and cultural god-spirits start to blur together. While we can clearly see these beings at the scale of the village and even a bit at The Island, at the Planetary scale all ecological and cultural systems become part of the same whole. Which makes the Spirit of the Earth** something quite different in scale and scope.

It is fair I think to consider most pagan gods as cultural beings, and ones relatively small in scope. For example, when you consider that there are maybe a million or so pagans on the planet, and the Christian and Islamic gods alone can count a billion each towards their practice. Well, there is a noticeable difference in scale between Allah and Odin, if we consider worshippers as part of a given gods being/body/system. In this way, we are all part of the body of a god. We are all part of the complex community and system of worshippers that help to define those beings.

This is not to say that gods are “just” their worshippers, as they are greater than the sum of the parts. But just like in our own bodies, the parts matter, and contribute to the whole. That means, for say Odin, the complex mass of humans are part of that relationship. All the history, lore, UPG, SPG, and modern practices go into the “body” of Odin. The same is true of Christ and his Father.

In fact, with all the various traditions histories and (sometimes) conflicting narratives, we could ask the honest question of whether all Christs or Odins are the same, or if they are different beings with divergent systems? I mean, I have said before that I don’t think Comic Book Loki, MCU Hiddleston Loki, and Norse God Loki aren’t the same being, even if they share parts of a history and a name. Could there be a Baptist Christ, a Methodist Christ, and a Catholic Christ?

I don’t know, and that is well outside the scope of this piece. Less I get off on a tangent, I intend to stay on point. That point is, that Christ is probably bigger than Odin, as a measure of relative complexity and scale. At least when considered on human components of their being. Ecological non-human components would take a whole other essay.

But, in terms of collective complexity, the Planet exceeds them all, and indeed also contains them all within the complexity of the whole. Earth, as a god-spirit, is in this way “bigger” than all of our human gods, and bigger too than the forests, rivers, and oceans, that make it up. It is, in no small way, a whole organism.

Cosmic Gods & Spirits

But the scalability of complex systems does not end here. We can take it all the way up to the Cosmos as a whole. Such a being, made up of all cultures, all planets, all stars, and perhaps more than one universe, is similar in many ways to Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker. Such a being would be so far beyond my comprehension, I don’t even care to speculate. Perhaps a Cosmic Spirit, Great Spirit, Star Maker, might warrant the label of capital “G” God, and certainly there are those that would argue that point. Me, I don’t know.

Because after a certain level of complexity, it is beyond our cognitive capacities as individual humans to comprehend. I cannot fully understand the complex system that is my local city, much less that of the entire planet, and certainly not that of the entire cosmos. As much as I might try (and I will), I don’t have the faculties. It would take a being far greater than myself to be able to understand that kind of Cosmic Complexity. Maybe nothing short of a Cosmic spirit can understand such a thing.

I know this was a long one, and I applaud you for grinding through it. As I said at the beginning, this is part of a larger somewhat related series of posts, that is going to range from future worlds, to animism, to left-of-center politics. I’m working towards a synthesis of my animistic beliefs, and the future I would like to live in.

Thanks for reading!

Notes:

*I have used god and spirit somewhat interchangeably through this whole piece. That is because I view gods as basically “big spirits”, or spiritual beings at a higher level of complexity than humanity. Spirits, when I use the term, tends to refer to those at an approximately equal or “lower” scale of complexity. Gods are “greater”, spirits and ancestors are “equal to/less than”. It’s a matter of relative scale for me. IE, the spirit of an island I will probably call “god”. An individual oak tree, probably “spirit.”

** I personally prefer not to gender the planet, though it is often common for pagans and others to refer to the planet as “Mother Earth” “Gaia” or “Terra”. Even the name of Earth is actually a Anglo-germanic name for a goddess. I have trouble relating these concepts to the planet as a whole, because it is bigger and more complex than human genders, and includes countless species that don’t confine to these norms. Where I do use pronouns for the planet, I tend towards “they/them” because it is a complex pronoun that can speak of the planet in a singular way, a plural way, and a neutral way.

Sources/References;

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/a-cybernetic-animism/

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor%E2%80%93network_theory

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

https://wovensong.com/2017/05/23/interanimism-on-the-mutual-inspiration-of-a-dreaming-earth/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence-part-2/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence-part-3/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_(philosophy)

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

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


A Solarpunk Paganism?

(Image Source: Zearz on Deviantart)

Hello folks!

This is an update blog and a bit of stream of conciousness, so bear with me if this doesn’t seem fully fleshed out. I am really just checking in and telling you I have not forgotten about you, but that I have been really, really busy.

Right now, I am working away on an animism manuscript, which is my first real foyer into non-fiction writing. There has been at least one other attempt as a manuscript, but we don’t talk about that project anymore. It has really been a fun ride so far, and a very spiritual exercise. Some of the topics I am writing about have left me light headed and inspired. I am hoping the book when it is finished does the same for my readers.

I am also working my latest project towards publication, and am in the artwork stage right now; getting cover art (and hopefully more) done to really bring the project to life. I am really excited about this project, as it combines element of animism, shamanism, cyberpunk, and solarpunk.

Which brings us to what I really want to talk about it today. What is that whole solarpunk thing? If you know me at all, you know I have been kind of obsessing over it lately. It is a relatively new literary genre. It got it’s start on Tumblr in 2014, and has really took off in 2017. The moment I started to read about it my eyes went wide, and I knew I had found something amazing.

I’ve made no secret on this blog about where I stand on environment issues as well as humanitarian ones. As an animist, environmentalism and humanitarianism are part and parcel of my spiritual belief. I have written a fair bit about renewable energy and sustainable cities.

So the moment I heard about solarpunk, I had to know more.

I have written recently over at Pagan Bloggers a little about this already, but I wanted to expand on it more. As I said, maybe, sorta, mostly, kinda obsessed at this point.

What is Solarpunk?

I recently finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 novel, and have just now started on the Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) Some have called New York 2140 solarpunk, with it’s renewable energy, airships, sky villages, even within a world that has been flooded by climate change.

One source describes solarpunk as;

Solarpunk is the first creative movement consciously and positively responding to the Anthropocene. When no place on Earth is free from humanity’s hedonism, Solarpunk proposes that humans can learn to live in harmony with the planet once again.

Solarpunk is a literary movement, a hashtag, a flag, and a statement of intent about the future we hope to create. It is an imagining wherein all humans live in balance with our finite environment, where local communities thrive, diversity is embraced, and the world is a beautiful green utopia.”

It is so much more than this too. It is an optimistic look at the future that doesn’t fall into our current cultural obsession with apocalypse and dystopia. More than this, I think it might contain ideas that a lot of pagans like me might embrace. As Adam Flynn points out here

In short, solarpunk is a reaction to climate change, inequality, and our cultural obsession with dystopian futures. Its followers… want a world where people thrive through energy independence, local resilience, and sound infrastructure.

The vision is not about back-to-the-earth survivalism, Flynn says, because solarpunks embrace the responsible use of new technologies like synthetic biology and sensor networks. And it’s not utopian, he says, because the solarpunk future is one that is both high-tech and gritty, and — more importantly — one that we can actually achieve.”

Most of you know me here as a cautiously optimistic sort. I also have a fair bit of pragmatism in my mix. I think we face a lot of challenges in the days ahead, but I think that if we work together we can find a way through. As both an animist and a science fiction writer, I think it is possible for the future to be both sustainable as well as technological. I think we can build a renewable civilization and weave nature and culture back together.

A Pagan Statement on the Environment, A solarpunk paganism?

More than this, I think paganism is tailor-made to be a great fit with solarpunk. Folks, this is what we were made for. Solarpunk is about building a radically new world, from the ground up. This may well be part of our pagan frontier, and with the depth of our creative energies, maybe this is something we should embrace.

When it first came out in 2015, I signed onto A Pagan Statement on the environment, which can be found here. If you want to be specific, I am signee #2148. That’s me, the animist.

Just looking at A Pagan Statement on the Environment, it is solarpunk as hell;

There are certain actions we can take now. It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative.”

We need change, and we need change bad. In order to build a truly sustainable world, it is all hands on deck. We need investment, and we need to be to keep the pressure on our leaders. If they can’t cut it, then we need new ones. This is part and parcel of my spirituality.

Rather, building a truly sustainable culture means transforming the systems of domination and exploitation that threaten our future into systems of symbiotic partnership that support our ecosystem. We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women.”

Local economies, reformed foods systems, equality and sustainability. More than that, is it the idea of local resilience and renewable energy.

Any economic or political system which encourages the exploitation of Earth and people must be dismantled or substantially reformed. This includes any system based on endless growth. We should be operating in a closed loop system, not a linear one. This means moving away from disposable development and culture, and moving toward renewable development and culture wherein all products are intended for longevity, repairability, and easy recycling or composting at the end of their use. The sustainable economy of the future will be one with the shortest distances between production, consumption and recycling of byproducts.”

This is exactly what I think solarpunk is talking about. We need changes, big changes, from the roots up. Radical changes, in infrastructure and in economics. Capitalism is dangerously exploitative to humans as well as the environment, all in the search of greater profit. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not sustainable. We need a better vision and better stories than that.

A Practical, Possible World.

I have written a great deal about Drawdown, renewable energyand sustainable cities.

I want to build a sustainable world in accordance with my spiritual beliefs, and I want to do that in a way that doesn’t involve given up or “running into the forest”. I want to see humanity spread to other planets, and I want to see technology used with wisdom and in a sustainable way.

It should come as know surprise that I may be taking to solarpunk like a fish to water. It combines all these things in a way that is both radical, practical, and future looking.

Three of the top ten solutions to climate change from Drawdown are form of solar or wind power; Onshore Wind TurbinesSolar Farms, and Rooftop Solar.

This isn’t just the realm of fantasy or fiction either. As Drawdown clearly lays out, this is a future we could build. This could be a reality. National Geographic and The Solutions Project also have detailed plans for a renewable, sustainable, and carbon free future.

Solarpunk in this sense is not just speculation, but a possible future we could actually create. We can take solutions from Drawdown and other places, and create a solarpunk world. Building a green infrastructure from the ground up is one of the most radical things we can do. It is also good for both humanity and the environment, and as an animist this pleases me to no end.

As pagans. I think it is well past time we start telling stories about what that future might look like. I am pretty excited that my new novel falls into this genre. I didn’t even do it on purpose, and that’s even more fantastic!

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://ecopagan.com/

http://paganbloggers.com/wolftracks/2018/02/19/what-world-shall-we-create/

http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/sci-fi-doesnt-have-to-be-depressing-welcome-to-solarpunk/82586

http://theconversation.com/explainer-solarpunk-or-how-to-be-an-optimistic-radical-80275

https://solarpunkanarchists.com/2016/05/27/what-is-solarpunk/

http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/city/life/215749-solarpunk

http://www.drawdown.org/

https://grist.org/business-technology/this-sci-fi-enthusiast-wants-to-make-solarpunk-happen/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/shaping-a-living-world-part-11/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/shaping-a-living-world/


2017 In Review and Time for Hiatus

Hello there folks!

2017 has been a pretty insane year, on all kinds of levels. I have been really busy, but it often feels like I am not getting anywhere. Plus the political circus has been a constant source of stress and anxiety for me and my family. I am not going to lie to you, it has been a pretty rough year.

I also have a lot to do in the near future, so with this post this blog is on indefinate hiatus. It will probably be a few months at least. Just as a short list, these are the things I will be working on in the new year (and also why I can’t juggle this blog right now.)

  1. I will be working a new novel towards publication. I am hoping to start up a Gofundme or something in the new year to help cover some of the costs. I want to get cover art done, but also some character and setting art. I really want to round out the world I have created, but that has costs associated with it. I hope some of my readers here might be willing to contribute to that campaign.
  2. I will be writing a full manuscript on animism, using many of my posts here as the raw material. I have been writing on animism and related topics for 6 years now, and there is plenty of material I have compiled. Plus there is a lot of new stuff I am working on, so I will need time to compile and create new material.
  3. I will still be posted over at Pagan Bloggers in case you miss me that much
  4. I will also be cross-posting material from here to Pagan Bloggers, and vis versa. There will be a swapping of material to help fill the gaps while I am away.

There is a lot of blogs I want to work on here too, as I continue to develop my own work. I want to add to my “Shaping a Living World” project, as there is a more I want to write about there. I also want to continue to work on my “Walking with the Ancestors/Spirits” projects, as those unexpectedly moved to the back burner over the last year. I want to come back to those. There is a lot more ground to cover there.

With all that in mind, let’s see how what I did manage to get done this year. I have been doing classwork in shamanism with a mentor, and that is a 2 year commitment. That said, a lot of great material has come out of that. It has led to shifts in my cosmology, which I talked about here.

The shifts in cosmology have led me to explore questions on ethics,  and our relationships with our ancestors, and the natural world

It also culminated in a great experience with a Forest Spirit.

I’ve done a lot of work here too, in the process of my ever changing and deepening understanding of animism. My animism asks me to be engaged in the world, and question how and why I relate to other beings. It asks me to search for meaning, and build connections. It asks me about how I relate to the world, and my place in it.

It asks me about to wonder if Nations are the best way to run a planet facing global problems such as rising inequality and ecological crises.

Animism makes me look at the world and question the effects of our relationships to the environment.

But it also lets me explore how I relate to myself.

Afterall, animism is a worldview, and affects how I look at the world and my place in it. Animism makes me wonder about the nature of the “soul” and the relationships of animism and science.

I have explored some basic theoretical lenses in which to view animism as well as science, and have found the two to be very complimentary.

There has been a lot of new material I have been exposed to as well, such as Interanimism and Tracking as a way of knowing. It has opened me up to all kinds of new thinking on animism, and it has been great to ponder. Plus it has helped me to understand that animism is a worldview as well as a way of knowing the world. Just like science is a system of knowing, so too is animism.

By far my biggest projects this year has been my Shaping a Living World project. It has taken up a great deal of my time and energy, and alas has been met with mixed reviews. As a whole, it draws inspiration from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, social democracy, and Project Drawdown.

I think that a lot got lost in translation with that project. Several readers got caught up in the fact that it was based on UN ideology, which is apparently very “globalist” and “bad” somehow. I will be the first to admit that the UN is far from perfect, but I think what gets ignored is the fact that environmental and humanitarian issues are global issues.

These are things that need to be addressed at all level, local, national, and global. I think the UN has set out a good set of goals to address that; in both the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Paris Climate Accords (which the US has announced it planned to pull out of, much to my dismay.) Over 190 countries signed on to the SDG’s and the Climate Accords, and that gives me hope. The fact is that to address the problems that face us, we need everyone to do their part. Whether that is individuals, cities, private entities, nations, or entities like the UN; we need everybody. I don’t see any way around that, and thus we need practical and workable solutions. The UN has set out a decent roadmap, as have the Nordic countries, and Project Drawdown is one of the most comprehensive plans I have seen to fight climate change. We need more ideas like that.

I’m always open to other alternatives.

At the widest possible scale, that series is about how my animism relates to the world. Animism is the idea that the world is full of persons (some of which are not human) and that life is lived in relation to others.

As such, my animism intersects strongly with humanitarian as well as environmental rights. It says that people matter, that humans matter, that environments matter, that life matters, and that this spinning blue ball in space is our home and it all MATTERS.

I have come to the conclusion that an animistic worldview (however you frame that) has the power to change the world, and it is important that we consider that. Our current worldview could certainly use a change.

My animism asks me to do what I can for humanitarian issues, whether that is fighting poverty, combating hunger, or fighting bigotry and racismThese are all important components of my animism, as well as my personal code of values and morality. I think it is an insult to our dignity and common humanity that we fail to do more on these issues.

I believe in a world where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (thanks Spock), and that it is a tragedy that people go without decent healthcare (Looking at you United States), and a quality education. More than this, we need to be doing better in the realm of civil rights, especially in regards to gender equality for women as well as LGBT+ people.

On top of being humanistic, my animism comes with a concern for all life on this planet. It informs my environmentalism and my passion for conservation. The lives of non-human persons (plants, animals… ect) matter too, and humans are hardly the only species on this planet. We depend on healthy ecosystems for our very survival, and so we must do everything we can to create a sustainable and environmental world. That means increasing our investments and development of renewable energy, and creating sustainable cities that have less of an impact on the environment. There will certainly be a lot more to write about this in the new year.

These are all things we can do, and there is certainly much more work to be done. It starts with us as individuals, but individual actions alone are not enough. We will need every level of society involved, and with that I do think it is possible to see a better world. It may even be possible to see it in my lifetime.

I will return when I have gotten some of my projects off the table. Until then, you all behave yourselves alright?

Thanks for reading.


Shaping a Living World: Part 11

Half of humanity—3.5 billion people—live in cities today, and this number will continue to grow. Because the future will be urban for a majority of people, the solutions to some of the greatest issues facing humans— poverty, climate change, healthcare, education— must be found in city life. “

(UN SDG 11

Hello again folks!

Today I want to talk about the UN Sustainable goal number 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. In many ways, cities are the real heart of our civilizations. Over half of all people live in cities, but cities are also responsible for a huge amount of energy, resource, and carbon emissions. As the facts and figures of this SDG point out;

The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions” (UN SDG 11

More than this, the percentage of people living is cities is estimated to increase over the course of the century. This poses significant challenges to building a sustainable and renewable world. Thankfully, there is a quite a bit that can be done to improve and retrofit our cities and create a civilization that is truly sustainable in the long run.

There are a lot of specific solutions that we will get into, but first I would like for you to use your imagination for a bit. I want you to picture a city with green roofs on every building, from the smallest structures up to massive skyscrapers. Imagine that some of these skyscrapers are not offices or hotels, but vertical food farms or urban forestry towers. These structures along with food forests and urban gardens throughout the city provide large amounts of fresh produce for local markets and restaurants. In addition, the greenery absorbs and sequesters carbon dioxide, and overall improves air and water quality.

Imagine too that these buildings have been built or retrofitted with sustainable materials, such as wood and alternative concretes. In addition, each building could have a net zero carbon impact, our could be a “living building” that creates more energy then it produces. Rooftops and carports could be lined with solar panels, or windows might actually create solar power.

The entire city would be powered by renewable energy. 

From high atop one of these towers, you see an endless sea of greenery, from trees to plenty of accessible parks. More than this, the vehicles on the streets are fully electric, powered by a complex sustainable grid system. Far off in the distance you can see wind turbines that help to power the city.

The entire project has been a reintergration of humanity and nature, in which the forests and the wilds have returned to the city. Moreso, the city has become an integral part of the landscape, a part of nature and not separate from it.

Does this sound like pie in the sky, something form science fiction? What if I told you this isn’t some pipe dream? What if I told you that truly sustainable cities was possible, and with the technology of today.

It is possible, but it will also take a lot of collective work by everyone. Individual actions are great, but they are not enough. It will take a change in spirit, in culture, in policy, and in the direction of our planet as a whole.

And it starts with you and your city. Each and every one

How you ask?

Let’s explore that a little deeper.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

It should be stated right off that there is no such thing as a perfect solution. Every single idea we propose is going to have flaws, or is going to be outside of the realm of the possible. That being said, 193 countries have agreed upon the SDG’s, and I think it represents some of the more realistic options available to humanity.

These goal represent a collective agreement to give it our best shot, and I believe we can do this.

By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”

Affordable housing is a big deal, especially with the rising costs of living in many cities. These kinds of costs displace people, or price people out of a given city. It also can increase homelessness, and contribute to the many problems associated with segregation. In my personal opinion, everyone should have the ability to have shelter. Now, there are a lot of different ways to do that, from low income housing options through ideas like Universal Basic Income. What each city will need to implement is the policies and practices best fit for their situation.

By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”

I think that this one speaks for itself. We need to be building more sustainable infrastructure for transportation; especially in the realm of public and mass transport. These solutions not only are necessary for sustainable communities, but also for the most vulnerable and marginalized. New electric vehicles do nothing for people who cannot afford them, but electric buses and trains might.

By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.”

To me, this one speaks for the need for democratic methods of government and planning. The ability for the people of each city to decide what is best practice for their communities, and for the plans for each community to be sustainable as possible. Sustainable urban planning needs to account for disaster resiliency, the needs of the masses, and the needs of the environment. Urban planning that ignores flood plains or wild fires is not sustainable.

By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.”

This is a big one, as we all need to be doing the best we can to lower our environmental impact per person. Air quality is very poor in many cities, and there is more we can do individually as well as collectively that can make our air cleaner and more breathable. Waste Engagement is also a big issue, as the growing number of plastics in our landfills and in our oceans is a serious concern. Recycling and circular economic production standards should be the rule, not the exception.

By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”

We need more parks, more urban forests, more community gardens, all of it. Public parks and forests are vital to reintegrating ecosystems into our city systems, and it is an important step in transition from “grey” to “green” cities. The impact of more trees alone would be substantial in creating healthier and cleaner environments.

By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels.”

As this target mostly speaks for itself, I am going to let it stand as is.

This gives us at least some ideas on how we may be able to push policies and implementation of crucial sustainability solutions. It is important to note that quite a bit of work towards sustainable cities is already being done.

As such, let’s look at a few examples from northern Europe.

Social Democracy

Take a look at the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index and notice that two Nordic cities, Stockholm and Copenhagen appear in the top twenty. There is a lot of data in that index, spread across three major pillars; People, Environmental, and Economic. I invite you to browse that information more thoroughly.

In addition, the Sieman’s Green City Index has Copenhagen at #1, Stockholm as #2, Oslo at #3 and Helsinki at #7 on it’s overall ranking of green cities. It should however be noted that this index is from 2009, so represents dated information.

I feel it is safe to conclude then that these cities are on the right track, and can serve as models for cities across the globe. So the question then becomes; what are they doing that justifies such a high ranking? There is a lot of information in the Green City Index, so just like the previous link, please look it over for yourself. But let’s look at a few points covered in the Green City Index, and then more specifically at the four Nordic cities at the top of the list.

– There is a strong correlation between cities and the wealth they have at hand. This should come as no surprise, as wealth translates to the ability to invest in expertise and sustainable infrastructure. It is true that many of the cities in the index have quite the GDP at their disposal. But it is also notable that cities like those in the North have strong redistribution and taxation programs instead of the US’s obsession with “trickle down”.

There is little correlation between city size and how well it does on the index. Though it is important to note that physically smaller cities make it easier for things such as biking or walking.

Cities with an active civil society tended to perform well. There is a strong connection between the voluntary participation of citizens in organizations and how well that city performed in the index.

Stemming from the last point, there is a decent correlation between citizen engagement and environmental performance. This is at the democratic governance level, as well as the local level. Sustainability is the result of collective action.

Cities can approach sustainable development through a diverse range of options, ranging from policy and environmental governance, to volunteering and other organizations.

Technology will be a factor in creating sustainable cities, implemented through all levels of government as well as individual actions of residents.

Education and public awareness are very important to the development of sustainable cities. When people are given the necessary information, they can make greener choices. This cascades through all levels of society.

With all that in mind, let’s look the top Nordic performers; Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen achieves the highest ranking in the European Green City Index, with a score of 87.31 out of 100. The city performs well in all eight categories of the index, and is ranked joint first in the environmental governance subcategory. Successive governments at both national and municipal level have strongly supported the promotion of sustainable development.

Copenhagen is at the top of the list as far as this index is concerned. Not only does support for sustainable development come from both national and local governments, Copenhagen also ranks real high for low C02 emissions, energy efficient buildings, and renewable energy.

This city also has an ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2025, and part of this initiative is carbon-neutral neighborhoods; a partnership between public as well as private agencies.

 

Stockholm

Stockholm is ranked second in the European Green City Index, with a score of 86.65 out of 100. The city does particularly well in the areas of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, buildings, transport, air quality and environmental governance. It shares a number of characteristics with its Nordic neighbours, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki (all of which rank highly in the index); these include a plentiful supply of water, a lack of heavy industry and a long tradition of policies aimed at protecting the environment.”

Stockholm is second only to Copenhagen as far as the index is concerned. As the quote above points out, this city does quote well for low CO2, and transportation. In fact 75% of the city’s public transport runs on renewable energy. Some of the buildings in Stockholm are some of the most energy efficient in the world.

Oslo

Oslo is ranked third overall in the European Green City Index, with a score of 83.98 out of 100. It is also the best-performing city in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, largely because of the use of hydroelectricity to power rail-based public transport.”

Olso takes the cake for having low CO2 emissions, in addition to the city getting nearly 70% if it’s energy from renewable sources. Strong environmental policies from the city council have noticeable affects on sustainability.

Helsinki

Helsinki ranks in seventh place in the European Green City Index, with a score of 79.29 out of 100. Helsinki is ranked fourth among the Nordic cities, largely because of its relatively high carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and energy consumption, even though the city is a leader in energy efficiency. “

Helsinki, while scoring lower than other Nordic cities, still rounds out the top ten. While it puts out more CO2 than the others and has more work to do in terms of energy, Helinski ranks real high in energy efficient as well as environmental governance.

As always, there is a lot more information to be found out there, but for now I want to move to the Drawdown section of this piece. I have talked a lot about renewables energy, and energy efficiency, and clean transportation. You might be wondering what exactly those kind of ideas look like.

Well, let’s explore that too.

Drawdown

Now comes the part where we get into the real nitty gritty of how to create sustainable cities. There are countless numbers of interconnected solutions presented by Drawdown, and as per usual I encourage you to visit the site yourself because there is no way I am going to be able to cover them all.

This is because cities are really complex, and the specifics on the ground will vary from city to city; based on needs and on environment. We also need to be honest about cities, in that in many ways they are resource pits. As was pointed out earlier in this article, cities use the bulk of energy on the planet. They also require constant supplies from concrete, to metals, to food, and countless others resources besides. Over half of our population lives in cities, and that requires constant inputs.

That means there are countless of different ways to create sustainable cities, and that this can and needs to happen on every scale of society. From individuals up to the international level, our cities are deeply interconnected with each other and with their environment. The only way to truly create sustainable cities is in a holistic and systemic fashion.

Materials

As has already been pointed out, cities are resource pits. You need wood, steel, glass, concrete, and other materials for building. You need (currently) fossil fuels to power transportation and industries, as well as to just keep the lights on. Plastics, electronics, and on and on and on. The resource requires are immense, and so sustainable cities starts with using sustainable materials.

Alternative Cement and Bioplastics  would be a great start. The current processes we use for both requires huge amounts of energy during processing as well as fossil fuels as raw materials. Long string polymers for biodegradable plastics are found in natures, such as cellulose and chitins. More than that, we should design productions for a circular lifecycle, instead of for the dump. If we build our products and buildings to last, and then to be recycled or bidegraded at the end of life, we would be off to a good start.

Recycling is an obvious step as well. At the individual , industrial, as well as materials such as paper, recycling is a vital part of the process. Comprehensive municipal recycling programs are an integral part of the sustainability equation, as well as designing products to be recycled in the first place.

One of the large factors in energy use and emission is heating and cooling, and the includes refrigerant management. In fact, managing refrigerants it the number one solution according to Drawdown, and will help to keep almost 90 gigatons of CO2 out of the air.

Buildings and Cities

Building scale solutions are vitally important to creating sustainable cities, and there is plenty of diverse ways to retrofit and redesign cities of the future. Some of the more impactful solutions include energy efficiency and heat management. This includes solutions such as insulation and LED lightings for both households and commercialentities.

Other solutions will go a long way including green roofs (which can grow food too), and solar water systems, and building automation too.

Much of the green construction applies to new buildings, but cities are not made of just new buildings. Many cities have been around for hundreds of years, and have many old buildings and historic districts. That is which retrofitting is so important for old buildings.

That said, imagine new construction being a mosaic of many of the different solutions present here. New buildings could be net-zero buildings, buildings that create as much energy as they use. An entire city could be constructed of buildings like this, and combined with urban farming and forestry, it is possible to envision a city that meets most of its energy and food requirements in a self-sufficient manner.

Some solutions are bigger than any one building, and need to be implemented across several buildings, communities and neighborhoods. These include things such as water and heating infrastructure, as well as transportation.

One of most impactful solutions is district heatingseveral buildings have their heating and cooling needs met by a central facility, cutting down on the need for distributed heating systems and the energy inefficiencies that result. Copenhagen is a global model for DHC’s sytems, as it now meets 98% of its heating requirements with the world’s largest system.

Water distribution is very energy intensive, and efficiency here can reduce not only the monetary costs, but the energy costs as well. Huge amounts of electricity are wasted pumping water through leaking systems or outdated infrastructure.

Our current economic system is incredibly wasteful, so inevitably a lot of what we use ends up in landfills. A sustainable city will have to get rid, to the best of its ability, such waste. A lot of reductions can be found in designing products to be durable, reusable, and easily recyclable at the end of life. Following all the solutions of Drawdown, landfill waste should reduce from the change in diets, waste reduction, and comprehensive recycling and composting programs. Some more waste can turned into energy from waste-to-energy plants (rememeber, this is a regrets solution), but some will still reach the landfill. Landfill methane extraction can help to recapture some lost energy, and turn it into energy for limited use.

Transportation

Cities require the movement of people and materials in an out of the city, and as such transportation is an important aspect to creating a sustainable city.

The most obvious solutions are those that reduce the demand for inner-city transportation in the first place, such as walkable and bikable infrastructure. It can help too if some of those bikes are electric, as it is one of the most environmental forms of motorized transport on the planet.

Yet, it has to be said that biking or walking isn’t always the ideal form of transporation. If greater distances are involved, sometimes cars and trains are a better option. If a lot of cargo is involved, trucks, trains and ships come into play. This implies a radical need to redesign our transportation systems. Shorter distances between extraction and production can go a long way, as can localizing everything we can, be it food or manufacturing. But not every city is built on a iron mine, or near a stone quarry, so sometimes that transportation has to happen.

Therefore, the most impact we can have is by implementing forms of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles now means I am mostly talking about passenger cars, but in the future it will need to include all vehicles from cars to ships, and charged on a renewable grid. All of these options are being developed.

Other important solutions for cities includes the electrification and expansion of mass transit, as this keeps unneeded vehicles off the road. This solutions includes both buses as well as subways and passenger trains.

For connecting cities together, especially in the US, one of our best options is high speed rail, as it is fully electric and can help connect cities together across long distances.

Most of our heavy shipping relies on trucks, trains, and ships. In the short term, we need to be doing everything we can to increase efficient fuel use on these vehicles, from greater fuel efficiency, to aerodynamics, to hybrid fuel systems. In the long term these methods would be fully electric as well, in some form or another. A lot of work is being done here, and several companies have already ordered Tesla electric trucks for their fleets. It’s a step in the right direction.

For long distance travel, planes obviously come into play. There are savings and efficiencies to be gained here, and in the long term we can only imagine what the next generation aircraft may well look like. It is possible that future aircraft may be fully electric as well.

Future Solutions

It would not be fair to end this post without some consideration of what is on the horizon. I want you to imagine, just for a second, a city created from living buildingsPicture a city build of buildings that create their own energy, their own food, and are built from sustainable materials such as wood. These are fully self-sufficient buildings that recycle water, collect rain water, create their own solar and renewable energy, and grow their own food. What would a city built of these kind of structures look like?

We don’t have to imagine, because some examples are already being built.

More than that, we could have cities built of sustainable materials, powered by renewable energy, and driven by electrified transportation. Our electric grid is considered to be one of the most complex and intergrated machine on the planet. Imagine for a second if it were a smart gridthat could help manage and balance demand and energy use across the network. Aside from the grid, electric (autonomous) transporation could also be running on smart highways.

Think about it.

Thanks for reading!

(From Plug In Magazine)

Sources/References;

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/transport

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/materials

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/cities/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/these-are-the-world-s-most-sustainable-cities/

https://www.arcadis.com/media/0/6/6/%7B06687980-3179-47AD-89FD-F6AFA76EBB73%7DSustainable%20Cities%20Index%202016%20Global%20Web.pdf

https://www.arcadis.com/en/global/our-perspectives/sustainable-cities-index-2016/

https://www.hel.fi/static/ymk/esitteet/nordic-catalogue-060612.pdf

https://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/report_en.pdf

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/shaping-a-living-world-part-7/

https://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/gci_report_summary.pdf


Shaping a Living World: Part 7

It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative. “ A Pagan Statement on the Environment

Hello again folks!

I have been very busy with the holidays, but I am trying my best to keep up regular blog posts. However, with other projects waiting in the wings I have had to prioritize the writing I am going to get done this year. Frankly, I’m just not going to be able to get to everything I want to before I go into “manuscript mode” towards the end of the year. There is a much larger project fighting me for mental space.

As such, I have decided that my next two posts will be about Renewable Energy and Sustainable Cities; which are UN Sustainable Development Goals number 7 and 11 respectively. These two goals are really close to my heart, and I want to get them out as soon as I can. I want to, and plan to, write about all the other SDG’s as well, but they will have to go onto the back burner around the end of the year. I will have to come back to them in the new year.

So let’s jump right in. Today I want to talk about renewable energy, and the role it will need to play in creating a sustainable world. The fact of the matter is that most of our energy generation technologies are dirty, and rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, as NASA points out, are one of the largest contributors to atmospheric carbon dioxide:

On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.” (NASA

The above quote highlights some of the many human causes of climate change, and yes climate change is the result of human activitiesAt this point, we don’t have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand (or up some unspecified orifice).

Fossil fuels are used in everything from our power systems to our transportation systems, to our materials such as plastics. Fossil fuels are ubiqitous throughout our entire society, and for the the sake of the planet as well as the future of our civilizations we need to be transitioning away from a fossil fuel economy. And we need to be doing it now.

More than that, it is is possible. We have the means and technology to make this transition today. What we lack is resources (public, private, and otherwise) and political will. These changes are waiting for us to embrace them, and time is of the essence.

In fact, as the World Economic Forum points out, world wide fossil fuel use could end as early as 2050. Not only could we end fossil fuel use, but we could transform the vast majority of our energy systems to renewable and sustainable sources.

As the WEF points out;

The study, by the Solutions Project, aims to completely remove reliance on fossil fuels by switching all energy use to renewable sources.

It claims doing so would deliver the Paris Climate Change Agreement target of keeping global warming to below 1.5C.

It could also help avert the 4.6 million deaths that are connected to air pollution each year.”

(Image from The Solutions Project)

2050 is 33 years away. At most a generation or two. I could live to see that world, and it will be the world our children and grandchildren will inherit. We must do our best to make sure that world is the best for them. Greener, cleaner, renewable, and more sustainable.

If you have the time, be sure to also check this video where Mark Jacobson explains how that transition could happen.

Now, I think the scale and benefits of the task ahead of us is pretty clear, so I don’t feel any need to harp on that further. As such, let’s turn to the see what the SDG’s point to as targets for this goal.

Sustainable Development Goals 

By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services”

This one is pretty straight forward, and basically involves further developing our energy infrastructure, especially in areas of the Global South that are often undeserved or don’t have access to reliable energy sources at all.

By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.”

I honestly wish this target had stronger verbiage. While I think it is important to ratchet up our efforts, it is pretty clear in many cases that we can and need to be doing a lot more. We need a better vision, more investment, and more boots on the ground doing the actual work. It is not enough to “increase substantially” the share of renewables, no. We need to be pushing for a full transition.

By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology

This target speaks most strongly to my last point about the need for increased investment. At every level we can, from the individual to the international, we need to be freeing up the resources to make the transition to renewables possible. That is everything from research and development of new technologies, as well as greater efficiency, and infrastructure. Science and engineering requires funding, labor and materials. We need to make that more available than we do now.

By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support”

If you build it, sustainability will come. This is pretty straight forward and blends nicely into the previous points I have already made.

All told, on top of investment and resources, we need to be creating a policy environment that allows renewables to thrive. As the quote at the beginning of this piece points out, all the technology in the world isn’t any use if we don’t have the policies to enable it. Rooftop solar and micro-wind doesn’t help us at all if cities don’t allow residents to put them up. The most efficient wind turbines and solar farms can never be built if we keep subsidizing fossil fuels and continue to make it difficult to invest in those projects.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the policies of social democracy that help to create a fertile culture for renewable energy.

Social Democracy

As Wikipedia points out, there are a lot of things that could impede our transition to renewable energy systems;

  • Climate change denial
  • Efforts to impede renewable energy by the fossil fuel industry
  • Political paralysis
  • Unsustainable consumption of energy and resources
  • Path dependencies and outdated infrastructure
  • Financial and governance constraints

This should sound real familiar to those of use living in the US. As such, we have to wonder what we can do better. As is the regular habit of this series, we look to Northern Europe for some guidance.

First off, let’s just take a peek at what the World Economic Forum had to say about the countries that are closest to 100% renewable energy:

“According to the Solutions Project study, published in the journal Joule, the countries closest to 100% renewable energy are: Tajikistan (76%), Paraguay (58.9%), Norway (35.8%), Sweden (20.7%), Costa Rica (19.1%), Switzerland (19%), Georgia (18.7%), Montenegro (18.4%), and Iceland (17.3%).” (WEF

I want you to notice that of nine countries listed, three of them are Nordic. Norway is by far the closest, but at under 40% still has a long way to go. The WEF also put Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the top ten (behind on Switzerland) on their Worlds Top Energy Peformer’s List.

The US by contrast was given a score of 52 out of the 127 countries surveyed. There is plenty of room for improvement there.

So what are some of the things the Nordic countries are doing right? For that we are going to look at the Nordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities;

You might be wondering why a focus on cities instead of the countries as a whole? First, because the cities represented are primarily capital cities, and so are quite representative of the countries as a whole. Second, because by focusing on specific cities, we can talk about specific solutions as opposed to generalities. These will become more important as we get to the Drawdown section of this article. Third, cities can serve as models to other cities across the globe. While policies and cultures vary quite a bit between nations and boundaries, most cities have the capacity to implement these solutions in their own way. More than nations, cities are the real heart of civilization. This will also serve as a good transition into my future piece on Sustainable Cities.

Some of the details here presented represent 8 different Nordic cities; Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, Manehamm, Nuuk, Torsavn, and Reykjavik. I will only be detailing small excerpts here, so I encourage you to look at the source yourself for more details.

I will be focusing my attention on just four of the cities, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Helsinki.

(From Nordic Solutions)

Copenhagen, Denmark

540,000 population. Targeting being carbon neutral by 2025.

Stockholm, Sweden

861,000 population. Targeting being fossil fuel free by 2050.

Olso, Norway

615,000 population. 50% reduction in C02 by 2030.

Helsinki, Finland

588,000 population. 20% carbon reduction by 2020.

But as the source points out; there are some very specific things each of these cities are doing, often in cooperation with one another and other levels of government.

Traditional, centralised generation of energy is often inefficient, wasting 60% or more of fuel – in particular, the generation of electrical power using fossil fuels or nuclear simultaneously produces large quantities of heat energy that, with nowhere to go, is discarded. “

How have the Nordic cities tackled this problem?

In response, over the last 100 years, the Nordic cities have championed decentralised, district energy networks; systems that can generate energy at fairly large scales, but close to where the demand is…”

There are so many different things that each of the cities are doing, so please I encourage you to peruse the source cited. It is full of case studies on many of the cities, and these are important models that US cities can certainly be replicating. But it goes well beyond technological solutions and even political well. As the Nordic Solutions points out;

City governments and technology are important when it comes to addressing the challenges facing cities in the 21st century. However, ultimately it is the way that individual people and companies act that dictates resource demands, consumption patterns and our impact on the natural surroundings. To truly address the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and population growth, human behaviour must change. Acting sustainably must become ‘normal’.”

But, don’t despair for the US. There are ideas out there on how to fully convert our power grid to a renewables. Be sure to check out the great infographics from National Geographic for the US here and even for the whole world here

I don’t want to belabor this point any more than I have too, because there is quite a bit more to say on specific solutions as presented by Drawdown, many of which are in place or in development in many in the Nordic cities.

So let’s explore those in more depth, shall we?

Drawdown

(Image From Drawdown)

Now, there is quite a bit in this section from Drawdown, so I absolutely encourage you to check out the website, or better yet buy the book. The image above does a great job showing how these solutions are all integrated, and how they interact with many other areas including city infrastructure and with the environment.

As a whole, the implementation costs for these solutions is $5 trillion dollars. That kind of price tag exceeds the capacities of any one city or even any one nation. It is only through cooperation and collaboration at all levels that we can hope to implement these solutions.

If we do so, Drawdown estimates that these solutions will remove 246 gigatons from the atmosphere, and we will save almost $21 trillion in operating costs in the long run. The point is, we need investment and political will. These solutions will help protect the environment, build a sustainable, as well as benefit the economy by more then paying for themselves in the long run.

Due to the fact that there are so many different ways we can build a sustainable and renewable energy future, I am going to be limiting myself the best I can. Mostly because of space reasons, but also because the website already exists for all of this, and it is easier for me to point you there.

Seriously, check out Drawdown’s Energy Solutions if you have not already!

Without further ado;

Electrical Generation

Wind Energy – I’m going to be talking about most of the solutions as blocs, for space reasons. This bloc is scalable; ranging from Micro-wind at the individual level to large scale facilities both Onshore and Offshore. 

Heck, it can even includes floating wind farms like those that just came online in Scotland. With all the open ocean and even lake space (looking at you Michigan), floating wind and solar projects could certainly open up many possibilities for a renewable future.

Onshore wind turbines alone have a huge mitigation impact, as they come in at the #2 solution for climate change according to Drawdown. For the energy sector as as while, onshore turbines will help avoid 35% of C02 emissions from 2020 – 2050.

Wind by far has the largest impact as a bloc of the energy sector, and it needs support, investment, and elbow grease from everyone.

Solar Energy

Solar energy is also a really diverse bloc of solutions that are immediately scaleable. On the individual level there is Rooftop Solar, which can be installed everywhere from households, to skyscrapers, to parking lot covers. At larger scales there is great potential with PV Solar Farms as well as Concentrated Solar Plants 

While not as impactful as wind energy, Solar Farms can help mitigate up to 15% of C02 emissions and also are the #8 solution according to Drawdown. Rooftop Solar adds another 10%, with Concentrated Solar adding another 5% mitigation to the mix.


Geothermal Energy

Geothermal is admittedly a small part of this mix, but for a truly renewable and sustainable future we will have to implement a diverse plurality of sources. Most certainly wind and solar, but also techniques such as geothermal as well. Drawdown ranks this as #18 out of 100 solutions, and Iceland can certainly be a model for how to do geothermal.

Water Energy

Nearly 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, and the energy available from this resource is immense, if we can learn to tap it in a way that is sustainable and economical. Obviously, water power brings to mind the big hydropower plants, which have certainly been a mixed blessing from an environmental standpoint. But it can also include much smaller scale operations such as In-Stream Hydropower as well as Wave and Tidal Energy.

Like geothermal these solutions will make up a smaller percentage of the mix. But they cannot be discounted, and Drawdown ranks Wave and Tidal as the #29 solution, and In Stream Hydro as #48.

Transitional Technologies

All of these solutions take time and resources to implement. Construction takes time, as does convincing politicians it is a good idea. As such, it is practical impossible to whole stop our fossil-fuel based energy system overnight and wake up in a renewable future tomorrow. That means we will need to transition away from fossil fuels by decommissioning older fossil fuel sources and building new renewable infrastructure simultaneously. The sooner and more aggressively we can do this the better in my opinion, and the better for a future as well.

That being said, there will be many “transition” solutions that we will need to bridge that gap without catastrophically interrupting energy systems. Some of these solutions include things like ethanol and other biofuels, as well as hybrid vehicles. However, it also includes things like Nuclear, Biomass Energy, and Waste To Energy Waste To Energy.

Many people push nuclear as the “best” method for the future, but that kind of reasoning has a lot of flaws. While nuclear fission plants can create a lot of energy, they are also very expensive and can create toxic wastes. While Drawdown ranks nuclear as the #20 solution, it also predicts its use will decline over time and considers nuclear to be a “regrets” solution. The more we rely on nuclear, the more we will come to regret doing so.

The same is true of waste to energy. In an ideal sustainable world, less waste would be produced to being with, and the rest would be recycled, composted or reused somehow. However, that is not our reality at the moment, and waste to energy is one way that is being utilized. It is a dirty process that relies on incineration, and Drawdown also considers this one a “regrets” solution. The less we use Waste-to-energy, the better.

Enabling Technologies

Now, electrical sources such as wind and solar are rightly criticized for their intermittent nature. This can certainly be partially mitigated by more localized construction, as well as a diversity of sources. However, those ideas can only go so far, and in order to truly implement renewable energy we will also have to reshape and rethink how we handle energy storage and transmission.

Part of this will involve decentralizing many energy storages system, not only on the individual or local level but also at utility scale. This will involve the creation of advanced battery storage systems at many different levels. That will allow us to mitigate the sometimes volatile nature of wind and solar sources.

It will also involve making our energy grid for more flexible, as our current grid is designed for utility scale centralized energy production. Renewables such as solar and wind have specific siting requirements (sunny or windy areas), and also benefit from being as local as possible to where the energy produced is consumed. More than this, our grids will need to be further localized and decentralized, such as is the case with Microgrids

Future Technologies

We have the technology we need to create a sustainable future right now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to research and develop new energy solutions. As Drawdown points out, there are some potentials on the horizon that may be worth our time exploring.

The first in regards to Drawdown is nuclear fusionwhich uses the same process as the sun to make energy out of light atoms. Unlike modern nuclear fission, which relies on breaking down of heavy elements (such as uranium) to create energy, fusion combines light elements such as hydrogen in order to create energy. However, it must be said that this has been an expensive technology to develop, and so far remains unproven. If humanity does figure out a process for fusion, it could revolutionize our energy future with abundant clean energy. Though for the time being, collecting the energy of the sun is probably more economical.

Another really promising technology is Solid State Wave EnergyOne of the big problems in utilizing wave and tidal energy has been cost efficiency and the fact that like wind turbines, water based systems require moving parts and need to be able to handle ocean and water stresses. This has proven to be very cost prohibitive in tapping the some 80,000 terawatt hours of energy that might be available to us in the ocean.

To get around the problem of moving parts, a company in Seattle is trying to develop Solid State Wave Energy, which does not rely on moving parts. Given the raw amount of energy capacity available, Solid State is may well help us unlock the untapped energy potential of the ocean.

Even without future prospects on the table, the fact of the matter is that we have the capacity and the technology to build a renewable and sustainable infrastructure for the planet TODAY. What we need is political will and financial resources made available. This has to be a collective effort, from individuals, to nations, to international partnerships.

I will be about 65 years old in 2050, and a great gift to the future would be a renewable powered world. I could see this world even…

The question is not CAN we, but WILL we?

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/energy/

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/electricity-generation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100%25_renewable_energy#Places_with_around_100.25_renewable_electricity

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/09/countries-100-renewable-energy-by-2050/

https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/renewables/100-percent-renewable-energy-for-139-countries-by-2050

https://www.hel.fi/static/ymk/esitteet/nordic-catalogue-060612.pdf

https://www.sierraclub.org/ready-for-100/commitments

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/03/these-are-the-worlds-top-10-energy-performers/

http://www.cell.com/joule/pdf/S2542-4351(17)30012-0.pdf

http://ecopagan.com/

https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

http://fortune.com/2017/07/10/climate-change-green-house-gases/

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10072017/fossil-fuel-companies-responsible-global-emissions-cdp-report

https://youtu.be/UiBMklgawDA

http://thesolutionsproject.org/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kUE0BZtTRc

https://www.iea.org/etp2017/summary/

https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/carbon-free-power-grid/index.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/carbon-free-world/index.html


Shaping a Living World: Part 5

We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women.A Pagan Statement on the Environment (Italics Mine)

Hello again folks!

I’m going to say right off the bat that this is going to be a long one. But there is a lot to say on such an important issue.

Today, if you haven’t guessed, we are going to be talking about gender equality. This is a huge topic, and it includes both Women’s Rights as well as LGTB+ Rights. So before we jump right in to the deep end, let’s get a little bit of a handle on what we are talking about here. When I talk about equality, I am talking about basic human rights, as the UN site for Goal 5 points out;

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

Providing women and girls (all people) with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.” (Italics added are mine) (UN SDG Goal 5)

Now, this runs us straight into our first problem. While we cannot diminish the fact that goal 05 is primarily focused on women and girls, it also leaves out specific mention of LGBT+ people. This is a big problem, and it has been pointed out in several sources;

“….heads of state gathered at the U.N. this weekend to adopt this ambitious roadmap for achieving sustainable development on our planet over the next 15 years. Yet throughout the 35-page draft document there is no mention of the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” or of LGBT people.“ (HRC.org)

While the article points out that there are several of the SDG’s that could cover LGBT+ rights. Some of the examples covered include parts of Goal 10 such as;

“- By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status

– Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard”

The article also points out that increased equality for women and could also benefit lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender women. However, the fact that the language that the LGBT+ community is not specifically mentioned all throughout the goals is more concerning. If we are talking about Gender Equality as the goal, then it makes sense that it should include ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lupa, a bisexual woman, drives the point home when she says;

I do wish there was more explicitly said about including QUILTBAG (queer, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, gay) people in the sustainability goals. They’re already trying to show gender equality through improving the status of women, but they ignore how the oppression of QUILTBAG people (whether female or not) can scupper sustainability efforts in the same way that the oppression of women does. Not only are you keeping a big group of people out of play in finding the solutions for the problems we face and implementing them, but oppressing them also means they’re less likely to find help for other sustainability issues, such as poverty and disability. “ 

Let’s explore the specific targets in this goal in more depth shall we?

Sustainable Development Goals

Women and girls make up about half of the population, and we as a species are never going to make it if we continue to treat half of the population as an after thought. This goes well beyond just women as mothers and daughters, but gets to the heart of the fact that women are people too, and should be involved in the process of building a better world. As such, for this section I am going to comment on a selection of goals one by one to drive the point home.

End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere – SDG Goal 5 

This is such a huge topic that I am struggling on where to begin with this one. Women face discrimination in all parts of life; at home, on the job, and in the classroom. There is not a single sphere of social life in which women are not discriminated against, whether directly or indirectly, and with varying degrees of severity. It can range from microaggressions, to sexist jokes, to full on misogyny.

Discrimination can be legal or informal, and includes gender wage-gaps, social and economic opportunities, cultural biases, and dozens of areas at home and in public. It can be present in assumed gendered stereotypes (ie. the woman’s place is in the home/not in this place), or just straight up regressive or repressive policies. Some of these are discriminatory, some border on violence. Which leads us to our next point;

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation…

I want you to take a good look at the fact sheets from the World Health Organization here

I want you to notice that around 1/3 of all women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

I want you to notice that most (30%) of that violence is committed by an intimate partner.

I also want you to notice that up to 38% of all murders of women are at the hands of a male intimate partner.

It should be obvious that we can do so much better than that, no matter where we fall on the gender spectrum. I am especially talking to the men here, because we have to do better than this. How is it even okay that most women will be murdered by male intimate partners?

My friend Kathleen O’sullivan-Cook had this to say;

This goal should seem obvious, and yet still continues, and in many places in America people seem to encourage it, or at least do very little to stop it. Even here in Michigan which has one of the highest trafficking rates in the country, little seems to be done to combat it. As for violence, particularly private “domestic” violence, there is despicably little done to punish those who perpetrate the violence. Even our own police forces find it difficult to sympathize with women and girls when violence occurs. And yet, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and hundreds of women die every day at the hands of their significant other.” 

The point goes without saying; that there is a great deal more work to do here. We must work to change our cultural attitudes, as well as our policies that allow such deplorable conditions for women.

Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life

This one should be another obvious point, but it is not always the case. In fact, women are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to positions of leadership; whether corporate, educational, or government. This is especially true in the US, and you can see that from some of the information from Time. Of course, that comes with the caveat that this information was from the election last year. That said, I doubt things have shifted too much in the course of a single election. Women are still vastly underrepresented considering they are approximately 50% of the population.

As Kathleen points out;

The goals need to include making sure all women are no longer excluded from key influential systems that help raise them to positions of power, such as higher education “fraternities” that give shoe ins to members. They also need to be included in influential public roles, such as more governorships, religious figureheads, and other authoritative roles…

…This includes, employers, public spaces, educational institutions, and in the home. Without addressing the social psychological triggers that continue the current culture of “women domesticity” we can not move toward a more balanced system.” 

Let’s move on to the next point.

Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

This target directly ties in with a similar target for Goal 3;By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

This goal in particular is really important for the health of women as well as keeping the total population of humanity at a sustainable level. There are so many different facets to this issue; body autonomy, sexual autonomy, as well as reproductive, health, well being, and environmental facets. It is going to be impossible for me to cover all of this in any real depth.

With that in mind, Lupa has this to add to the conversation;

I would love to see all of their Goal 5 objectives met in my lifetime, but I’d be content just seeing “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” come to fruition by 2030.

See, the thing is, no one wants to talk about the impact that having children has on women. It is absolutely your right to reproduce if that’s what you want, but it’s also your right to say no to reproduction, even if you want to keep having sex. There are women out there who had more children than they would have preferred to because they didn’t have access to birth control and/or because they were victims of reproductive coercion. The same goes for some women who really didn’t want children at all, but who ended up with them for similar reasons…”

One of the most sustainable things we can do is to give women control over both their health, reproduction, and their sexuality. There is huge amounts of data that show the strong correlation between universal contraception and much more sustainable birthrates. In addition, there is increased control over family planning, and a lower incident rate of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Lupa goes on to drive this point home;

The goal, of course, is to raise the standard of living for everyone, and a great way to do that is to have fewer people to divide resources among. Yes, we need to focus on using fewer resources per person and using what we do have more reasonably and efficiently, but even when you’re living in really sustainable circumstances every additional person increases the demand for basic things like food, water and space to live. It’s just a matter of math. In areas where people live on pretty meager rations you still get deforestation and other habitat loss as the population grows. Studies show that when women have universal access to birth control, the birth rate drops dramatically. That’s good for the planet as well as people. “

As Lupa points out, the two big factors of sustainability are resources use per person, and the number of persons overall. Even assuming a much more equitable distribution of resources, the number of humans on the planet is still something we must address. As with so many other things, you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.

There is a great article on Vox that really details the population and affluence problem in greater detail. I highly recommend you check it out. The article gives a short formula to measure human impact on the environment;

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Which means that we need to look at all these aspects of our species, as all of them have been going up, as has our environmental impact. Over the next century, population might reach as high as 11.2 billion, with continuing increases in inequality of both affluence and technology. But as the article points out, we know how to tackle these issues;

Luckily, we know the answer. It is family planning that enables women to have only children they want and choose, and education of girls, giving them access to income opportunities outside the home. We know that women, given the resources and the choice, will opt for smaller families.

Those are the two most powerful levers to bend the population curve. They are also, in and of themselves, an enormously powerful climate policy. When Paul Hawken and his team investigated and ranked carbon-reduction solutions for their Drawdown project, they found that the combination of the two (call it the female-empowerment package) carried the most potential to reduce greenhouse gases later this century, out of any solution.” – Vox

We will get to the Drawdown numbers later, but the fact remains that the best way we can make the world more sustainable for everyone is education, universal contraception, and family planning resources.

All of these goals hit on the need to change our mindset as well as our sociopolitical reality. We need to look at Women’s Rights far more holistically, and implement and fund strategic changes in order to create a more sustainable world. More than that, we need going to need everyone at the table to figure out the best way forward, and that is women as much as it is LGTQ+ folks.

There are countries in the world that can serve as models of how to do that.

Social Democracy

Women’s Rights in the Nordic Countries

It should come as no shock that the Nordic countries are some of the most equal countries in the world when it comes to gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report for 2016, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are the top four countries when it comes to gender equality, as it is measured by the report. The report considers many criteria to assign a value between 0 (inequality) and 1 (equality). Some of these factors include the number of women in government positions, women’s educational achievement, women’s health, and the wage gender gap. Those four countries come in at .874, .845, .842 and .815 respectively.

Denmark is the outlier, which comes in at 19th with a score of .75.

The United States by contrast comes in at 45th, with a score of .722.

The stats for all these countries obviously show that there is more work to be done, and I don’t think there is any kind of “utopia” world that would allow any country to get a perfect score.

The Nordic countries are notable for a lot of gains in Women’s Rights, but there are some drawbacks too. To highlight just a few of the positives; we turn to the Huffington Post;

– 99% – 100% literacy across genders

– A huge amount of women in tertiary (university/college) level education

Women as a majority in the high-skilled work force

Mandatory parental leave, included paid time off and quite generous leave benefits

– All Nordic countries are in the top ten for percentage of women in parliament (44.7% in Sweden)

Yet, as the Washington Post points out, the Nordic countries also have a higher than EU average rate of intimate partner violence for countries so high on the gender gap report. A few factors of why this might are considered in the article; a higher reporting rate of domestic violence, or possibly a back-lash against the position of women in society.

While I won’t go into any more depth on that topic, it is clear we all have more work to do.

LGBT+ Rights in the Nordic Countries

It is no secret that the Nordic countries are some of the most progressive in the world when it comes to LGBT+ rights. Here is just a selection from various Wikipedia articles for the various countries;

Denmark 

“The rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Denmark are some of the most extensive in the world and a high priority.

Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1933… Denmark was the first country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions, in the form of “registered partnerships”… Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was entirely prohibited in 2004. Same-sex couples are allowed to jointly adopt since 2010,…Gays and lesbians are also allowed to serve openly in the military.”

Norway 

“Norway, like most of Scandinavia, is very liberal in regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights and Norway became the first country in the world to enact an anti-discrimination law that explicitly included sexual orientation within employment since 1981. Same-sex marriage, adoption, and IVF/assisted insemination treatments for lesbian couples have been legal since 2009. In 2016, Norway became the fourth country in Europe that passed a law allowing the change of legal gender solely based on self-determination.”

Finland 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Finland are some of the most progressive in the world. According to an annual ILGA report the Finnish LGBT legislation is among the most extensive and developed LGBT legislations in Europe.

Compared to fellow Nordic countries it ranks at the top outranked only by neighbouring Norway. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Finland since 1971 with “promotion” thereof decriminalized in 1999 and was declassified as an illness in 1981. Discrimination based on sexual orientation… was criminalized in 1995 and discrimination based on gender identity in 2005.”

Sweden 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Sweden have been regarded as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944… Homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1979. Sweden also became the first country in the world to allow transgender persons to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery in 1972 whilst transvestism was declassified as an illness. Transgenderism was declassified as a mental illness in 2008 and legislation allowing gender change legally without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013. After allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership benefits in 1995, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage countrywide in 2009. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned since 1987. Also, since 2003, gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and lesbian couples have had equal access to IVF and assisted insemination since 2005.”

I don’t see much reason to go into any more depth at this point, though there is plenty more nuance that could be explored here. For now, I would like to look at how my home country of the USA compares to some of the Nordic countries.

How the US stacks up;

I live in the US, and frankly writing this article shows in stark relief how far we as a country still have to go when compared to many other countries. We have fallen behind on many significant measures, and nothing about the current political or administrative client gives me a lot of hope that will change any time soon. All along the way we are up against cultural, social, economic, and political obstacles.

I am not going to lie to you. If we want to change the direction this country is going, we are going to have to fight for every inch. We are going to have to fight embedded systems of repression and oppression on every conceivable level. Many of the powers that be are going to resist every inch, and we have to be prepared for that.

So let’s take a closer look at where we need to make changes.

Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

From Wikipedia on Gender Inequality in the US;

Gender inequality in the United States has been diminishing throughout its history and significant advancements towards equality have been made beginning mostly in the early 1900s. However, despite this progress, gender inequality in the United States continues to persist in many forms, including the disparity in women’s political representation and participation, occupational segregation, the gender pay gap, and the unequal distribution of household labor. In the past 20 years there have been emerging issues for boys/men, an achievement and attainment gap in education is a discussed subject. The alleviation of gender inequality has been the goal of several major pieces of legislation since 1920 and continuing to the present day. As of 2012, the World Economic Forum ranks the United States 22nd best in terms of gender equality out of 135 countries” (Wikipedia Gender Inequality in the US)

There is a lot to say here, so it difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that Wikipedia cites the 2012 Gender Gap Report. Above we talked about the 2016 report, which shows that the US has dropped significantly. While the Nordic countries occupy the top spots on the report, the US has fallen over twenty spots from 2012 to 2016; now ranked #45 out of 144 countries. This not only shows that our progress on general equality has stalled, but has actually fallen a great deal.

We still have significant problems in, as is pointed out; in political representation, gender pay gap, and the fact that women often still perform the majority of household labor.

This has only been exacerbated since the 2016 election, when we have seen nothing but constant attacks on women’s health and sexual autonomy. Add in that unlike most major industrial countries, the US lacks a universal healthcare system, as well as no guarantees of decent contraception or family planning services. These too have been undermined repeatedly by primarily Republicans and religious organizations.

To make matters even worse, the US does not have any federal standards for paid parental leave. As the Business Insider points out;

Out of the world’s 196 countries, the US is one of only four that has no federally mandated policy to give new parents paid time off. That burden is placed on individual states and employers.” Business Insider

One of four countries. Really let that sink in. Also let it sink it that the health and well being of women is in the hands of individuals states and employers. Some of these entities have a long track record of not caring about women or their rights.

While there are some laws that protect time off for new mothers, that time is often UNPAID, which forces women to return to work due to financial stress. While many of the European countries, and especially the Nordic countries, have extensive and comprehensive parental leave programs… This is one area in which the US falls quite flat, as it leaves the decisions in the hands of states and employers which often results in a patchwork of substandard policies.

If the position of women in the US needs a lot of work, this applies more so to LGTQ+ rights; as is pointed out by Wikipedia;

In addition to the inequality faced by transgender women, inequality, prejudice, and violence against transgender men and women, as well as gender nonconforming individuals and individuals who identify with genders outside the gender binary, are also prevalent in the United States.” (Wikipedia Inequality in the US)

The fact is, that just like many other issues in the US, there is no federal law that outlaws LGTQ+ discrimination. Once again, this results in a patchwork of laws that vary greatly on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. These laws runs the gamut from LGBT protections, to basically encouraging open discrimination. As the Wikipedia article on LGTQ+ rights in the US points out;

…the United States has no federal law outlawing discrimination nationwide, leaving residents in some states without protection from discrimination, other than from federal executive orders which have a more limited scope than from protections through federal legislation. Thus, LGBT persons in the United States may face challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.“ (Wikipedia LGBT Rights in the US)

The data on this does not paint a pretty picture, and that is when there is data available. It is clear that we have a huge amount of work ahead of us. This will include changes in spirit, changes in culture, and changes in policy. This is the kind of work that can take decades, and it is important that we keep pushing for more progression in these issues. We more than have our work cut out for us, but the impacts cannot be understated.

I would like to turn to Drawdown now to drive this point home.

Drawdown

It cannot be understated how much of an impact it will have when we empowered half of the population. While there are only three solutions in the Drawdown section on Women and Girls, combined these solutions represents the #1 way to combat climate change, and could help remove more than 120 gigatons of C02 from the atmosphere.

That is more than onshore and offshore wind combined.

So let’s look a little bit closer.

Educating Girls 

As a stand alone solution, this one ranks as #6 out of 100, and has the potential to remove almost 60 gigtons of C02 from the atmosphere by 2050. As Drawdown points out, the two factors that influence family size and environmental impact the most are education and family planning. By opening up more educational opportunities to women and girls, we can also help combat climate change and build a more sustainable world. This would have to happen at all levels, from preschool up through university level. We could certainly roll in universal education here, as many European countries do.

The fact is that the education of women and girls not only reduces the number of children in later life, but also creates skilled, resilent, and well educated people to handle the problems of the future.

Family Planning 

Right behind the education of women and girls, is family planning. This solution comes in at #7, and can help remove an additional 60 gigatons of C02 from the atmosphere by 2050.

As Drawdown points out, high quality family planning services has benefits for womens health, welfare, and overall quality of life. It also will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The numbers are staggering. 225 million women in lower income countries want more control over their sexual autonomy, and want a say in whether or not they become pregnant. Even in higher income countries such as the US, some 45% of pregnancies are unintended. This is not helped at all by the constant effort by those in power to remove access from abortion, contraception, and family planning service to women across the country.

Health, welfare, and reducing our carbon footprint are all wins in my book.

Women Smallholders

I have already mentioned this solution before, but it needs to be mentioned again. Overall, this solution ranks as #62 overall, with a 2 gigaton reduction in C02 by 2050.

The fact is that women average about 43% of the agricultural workforce, especially in lower income countries. These women are often underpaid or unpaid, and lack the access to necessary resources to ensure productive yields as well as sustainable land management.

With better access to those resources, women throughout the world could help feed more people as well as reduce the need for further deforestation and reduce emissions.

I want to thank you for sticking with me through this article. I know it is a long one, but there is a lot to be said about Gender Equality, and much more to be done. I’ll give Lupa the last word here;

When we are all allowed to work together, instead of fighting with each other, we are more effective as communities and as a species. It’s really one of the most remarkable things about Homo sapiens sapiens, in just how intricate our social networks can be, and how deep our empathy may be rooted. By breaking down divisions and celebrating diversity, we are encouraged to cooperate and find joy in each other. We have more time and energy to put toward things that matter, instead of wasting it on hate. And isn’t that pretty damned sustainable?”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

http://ecopagan.com/

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions

http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/rankings/

https://www.thelocal.no/20161028/norway-classifies-third-on-gender-gap-report-2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/06/10/the-best-countries-for-gender-equality-may-also-have-a-domestic-violence-problem/?utm_term=.f1001922abb3

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/saadia-zahidi/what-makes-the-nordic-cou_b_4159555.html

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

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

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

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

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/shaping-a-living-world-part-10/

http://www.passblue.com/2015/05/17/no-room-for-lgbt-rights-in-the-new-un-development-goals/

https://www.hrc.org/blog/op-ed-what-does-the-uns-agenda-2030-mean-for-lgbt-people

http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-best-parental-leave-2016-8/

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

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

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/9/26/16356524/the-population-question

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/shaping-a-living-world-part-5-b/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/shaping-a-living-world-part-5-a/