Tag Archives: ecology

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

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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/


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/

 


Tracking as a Way of Knowing: A Commentary

Tracking as a way of Knowing: A Commentary

There has been quite the flood of great material coming out lately, and to be frank I am having a hard time keeping up. Maybe I shouldn’t put the expectation upon myself that I will ever keep up, but at the same time it doesn’t really stress me out all that much. It is more exciting for me than stressful, knowing other people are exploring things along similar lines that I am.

Or at least, I am becoming more aware of that fact.

In addition, it doesn’t help when I feel like I have been dog piled with my own writing projects. As an advanced warning, this blog may go on (semi) hiatus in the near future. There is a longer project starting to poke on prod at me. I may decide to give that project my full attention, but that is up in the air at the moment.

Things have been pretty chaotic in my own life, and I don’t feel like I have had much time to breathe. In addition, the world on the whole has seemed pretty chaotic too. It has all left me feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I’m dealing with that the best I can, and life goes on.

As such, I bring my commentary on a piece I came across lately, called “Tracking as a Way of Knowing” by Sophia Sinopoulous-Lloyd. This particular piece really spoke to both my spirituality, and my practical on the ground skills as a hunter. This is kind of a long commentary, which isn’t usually my habit. Some people just won’t read longer pieces, or don’t have the time to do so. For that, I apologize, but I didn’t want to break this up either.

As such, we start here with this quote from the author;

“One of the central themes in permaculture (as in ecology) is that living beings—both plant and animal—build alliances with each other and form natural communities characterized by certain highly efficient cycles of energy. Part of this efficiency owes to the fact that the structure of ecosystems is the opposite of mechanistic. Everything has multiple functions, and there is no such thing as waste. Naturalist knowledge not predicated on a neoclassical production-oriented view of the environment is critical to the skillful practice of permaculture farming. To this end, tracking seemed to promise a way of beginning to build relationships that lead beyond the boundaries of the homestead and private property, into the wild…”

There are several aspects of this quote that also apply to an animistic worldview. The most obvious of which is that living beings build alliances with each other and form natural communities. This is a foundational part of my own animism; being primarily concerned with people living in relationship with each other. In addition, I love the parallels between my spiritual practice and the patterns of natural ecosystems.

That is part of the reason I am animist to begin with. It runs parallel in many ways to many scientific disciplines, not least among them ecology. To me at least, the natural environment is a social environment, in which many non-human agents are in constant connection with each other, and forming self-organized networks and systems. These systems, whether they are deciduous forests, or wetlands, or watersheds, they tend to be self-organizing, self-regulating, and self-governing. I think there is a great deal to learn about society by studying natural systems.

More than that, as opposed to many mechanical production methods, as the author points out, almost nothing is wasted in an integrated natural ecosystem. Unlike many of our human productions methods, that run linearly from extraction —> production —> consumption —-> waste, natural systems tend to have a higher degree of multilinear networks that continuously cycle material as well as energy.

Lastly in the above quote, the author introduces the practice of tracking as a way to build relationships with the natural world. I cannot agree more, and my own experience tracking has highlighted a lot of the points the author makes. There will be more on that in a moment, but first we have to ask what is tracking? Here the author picks up the thread;

“Tracking is an umbrella term for discerning an animal’s endeavors from the marks it has left on the landscape. Its subdivisions include things like clear print identification, gait and track pattern analysis, trailing (where you follow a particular animal’s tracks to find out other things about it), and identifying other signs of behavior, like feeding or territorial marking. Tracking is not limited to uncovering the past of animals though. We can use the rings on an old tree stump to diagnose an ancient forest fire or a particularly hard winter, and we can examine the topography of the forest floor to discern the effects of a century-old ice storm. Such things leave their own sorts of tracks. Our ancestors didn’t only track things on the earth—they tracked the skies too, charting movement of constellations, the paths of planets, and the phases of the moon, giving us the basis for our understanding of time. “

There is so much more to tracking that simply following animals. There is a lot of knowledge and practical experience that goes into being able to do it well. It is so much bigger than the individual tracks themselves.

I was learning forestry from a very young age, rather or not I realized it at the time. My childhood home was heated with firewood in the winter. This means that I spent a lot of time learning from my dad not only how to cut and move wood, but also basic understandings of forests. How to identify trees, as yes how to read their rings. I have seen first hand evidence of burns, rot, disease, seasons that were wet, seasons that were dry and so on. You began to realize on a holistic scale, that you are part of an unfolding story. The trees, the animals, the plants, all it is part of a story that you are smack in the middle of.

You also realize, as the author points out, that your ancestors understood this too. When I hunt, when I track, when I spend time in the woods it brings me a little closer to their stories. I become entangled in the webs around me, in the unfolding story of the land, sea and sky.

As the author points out, this also included the stars and planets, the Cosmos on a much wider level. Tracking in this way becomes a means of connecting with the past, being in the present, and looking to the future.

That is what my animism is all about, building those connections across time and space. It is learning the stories that bind us to the past, telling the stories in the present, and wondering about the stories of the future. The telling of these stories shapes reality around us, and shapes our position in those stories. Tracking is just another way of learning a story, of what has gone before.

“Hunting especially in a survival situation requires a basic familiarity with tracking. Since then though I’ve put in dirt-time in service of a less particular goal: a glimpse of the unique and specific creatures that live around me. Getting familiar with my non-human neighbors is driven by an open-ended desire for relationship. My wish to track now doesn’t feel so different from my impulse to connect with the spirit-world. After all, the all-but-forgotten root of religion is in part the multifaceted need to relate to something both deeply “Other” and also deeply, invisibly, woven into our lives. The necessity of securing food and resources and the communion with the invisible and holy are not by definition distinct endeavors. In much of human history they have been complementary— they’ve even required each other. The first spirituality had to have been practical.”

As I have mentioned before on this blog, hunting is not something I just do as a practical endeavor. It is deeply interwoven with my spiritual practice, and I love that the author brings up this point; that the first spirituality had to have been practical. It had to work, and there was not a clear seperation between the mundane and the sacred.

Hunting is so much more than wanting to fill the freezer. It is how I connect with the spirits of nature around me, it is how I connect with my ancestors and the Huntress I work with. Hunting and tracking is kind of like following in the footsteps of the sacred, that also has the very practical aspect of putting food on the table (on occasion). It is a deeply connective and affirming practice that weaves me into the Greater around me.

It is, as the author states, a communion between past, present, and future.

It is more than that as well, because it also connects you with the greater cycles of life and death, of nature itself around you. I have followed the game trails, tracked my prey through the great mixed-Oak forests of my homeland, and I learned their habits, learned their stories, and in some cases even gave them names. After all this, after taking part as two dancers in the story of life, that is when I had to decide whether or not to take a life I had come to love.

This is something deeply spiritual, and hard for me to put into words. It is one of those deeper Mysteries of my practice that has to be experienced to really understand. In addition, the moment you decide to release that arrow (I’m a bowhunter), that is when the real work begins.

Suddenly, you are connected to the realms of the Dead. With your ancestors, who stand behind you, and with the ancestors of the prey, who stand before you. All will hold you accountable for what you have done, and that in my experience is where the real work begins. I am accountable for what I have done, and obliged to do everything I can to smooth the transition of Dead to the keeping of their ancestors, which return them into the cycle of life and death. I have to calm the confused spirits, and treat the remains with respect. I have to answer to Ancestors of the slain, and return their fallen kin to their keeping.

These webs go deep, and suffice to say that I am still trying to navigate my way through those entanglements.

To take a brief tangent, it is a common perception among non-hunters that hunters are just barbaric ruthless killers. I’m sympathetic enough to agree with that perception in some cases. By my own standards, and the deep animistic way I approach hunting, some hunters do qualify as barbaric under my view. When you frame hunting as a sport, as a game, as a means to rack up points in the “top predator game”, in my opinion you have missed the point.

Life and death is not a sport. Treating it that way has a noted lack of respect, and denies the deep spiritual practice that our ancestors knew some well. In some way, I think all hunters experience a little bit of that, but the degrees of difference between spirituality and sport are wide enough to float an armada through.

That break, that sundering is an important point in and of itself.

Which brings us back to the article;

“For some, following the tracks left behind by a game animal and courting the divine by following a trail of psycho-spiritual signs exist along the same spectrum of activity, both characterized by a sort of sympathetic allurement. Keeney comments later on how this practical spirituality has been largely lost on the modern world: “As we broke the bonds of relationship and interdependency with one another and disrupted our ecological matrix, our link to the divine mysteries became all but lost.” “

From the first time the “animism” as a concept entered our lexicon, it has been littered with this kind of ideology. Animism as a form of indigenous spirituality was immediately categorized as something “primitive” people did, and not something that had any place in “civilized” society. The entire concept is littered with the relics of imperialism, colonialism, and Eurocentrism.

But the ideology goes back even farther than that, at least as far back as biblical times if not further. The idea that mankind, and our “civilization” is somehow separate and dominant to all others. We have tried our best to sever our connection to nature, as “moderns”, and in the process we have sundered away connections that once defined us.

It is so important we rebuild those bridges, and see ourselves once again as part of nature, as part of a wider natural community. It is imperative think, if we are every going to heal those disrupted matrixes that were once so essential to our lives.

Returning again to the article;

“Tracks glow darkly in the snow like icons, triggering some ancient seeker in us, an invisible string pulling us forward. I often hear an astonished “I could do this for hours!” exclaimed by folks from a wide range of backgrounds who are just learning basic wildlife tracking techniques—confirming that it is far more than just the master trackers among us who are tugged by such strings. The metaphor of the invisible string is well known in some old tracking traditions. Keeney quotes a Bushman hunter explaining the metaphysics of spiritual ropes or strings in the context of tracking:

The ancestors and God can attach a rope to you. When that happens, they are able to pull you to where you need to go; that’s the secret behind our ability to track. A Bushman hunter feels something tapping on his arm when it is time to hunt. It is the ancestors pulling a rope that is attached to our arms. The other end is attached to the animal. We simply follow the pulling of the rope, and it takes us to a kudu, giraffe, eland, warthog, or gemsbok.”

There is an important metaphor here that made me want to jump out of my seat and go “yes!”. The metaphysics that I have talked about so many times here, the ideas of strings or “filaments” that connected everything in the Cosmos.

It is not unusual for me to call up my gods, ancestors and spirits when I hunt. It is really strange to think about how deep of a connection I am building in that moment, when I am tracking. I am creating bridges with the ancestors, the gods, and with the animal I am tracking. I am building relationships and connecting with the past in a deep and profound way, a spiritual way that is like going headfirst underwater. The world changes, and your perception shifts. It’s trance work, in a way, reading the trails and learning their stories…

As the article points out, tracking is way more than just following the physical prints;

“Tracking, it turns out, is nothing less than an epistemology: an ecological way of knowing, a green hermeneutics. It is not just a way of seeing “how things are connected,” it is a discipline that redefines and expands what connection and relationship even is. As such it seems to have something to add to nearly every realm of experience and knowledge—an interdisciplinary skill to the core. It blurs modern distinctions between art and science, because it is at once a contemplative practice and also an empirical and quantitative study. It blurs our distinctions between fact and myth because though it is a deterministic study in physical cause and effect, it inevitably lends itself to forming personal relationships with spectral creatures, telling stories about them, and dreaming dreams about them. Eventually, beings are “known” through their tracks, and archetypes emerge. These archetypes have great value to an ecosystem as ways of mapping the world so that a near infinite number of facts can be codified and passed on to future generations. Tracking is unequivocally poetry and it is also unequivocally ecology—at least as long as we humans are involved—and both dimensions are necessary, two halves of a whole. Tracking always leaves room for Mystery with a capital M—it’s impossible for it not to. Whereas in their most dogmatic guises religion protects Mystery sometimes too fiercely, and science perhaps does not defer to it enough, tracking stands innocuously in the middle as the symbiosis of mystery and knowledge.”

Tracking, as with hunting more generally, is a kind of Mystery that is hard to clearly articulate. It is a liminal practice, where art & science, the mythic & the mundane start to mix and swirl in a many unexpected ways. It is a space where stories are told, and where stories are heard. It is in that un-time, in that un-space that the forest and the world around you becomes alive. You are part of that story, apart of that liminal unfolding as you follow the paths that have been led for you.

Hunting in general has greatly influenced my spiritual practice for this very reason. Being in the woods has, being in that liminal place, that is where the real work can happen. We have tried too hard as “modern” people to seperate our “society” from the “natural”. We cut ourselves off from the sacred when we did that, and we lost a whole part of ourselves in the process. We failed to understand that we are part of that great natural community, and the moment we started to separate ourselves from that, it was like cutting away our senses and our limbs.

We are blind and floating in an empty world.

Returning to the article now;

“Ecologist Dennis Martinez points out that unlike the “biocentric” Euro-American model of conservation and land management, a model that can be drawn from Indigenous methods of land management is what he calls “kincentric”; it neither idolizes nor alienates humans, but cherishes and enshrines the alliances among and between humans, animals, plants, and the earth.”

This is both timely and curious that this idea would resurface here. I am working my way through a shamanic intensive, and I am currently in the classwork on Totemism. Now, as I have said before “totem” isn’t a concept I use much at all in my own practice, partly because it doesn’t feel relevant, and partly because I am wary of cultural appropriation. “Totem” is a corrupted version of an Ojibwa word, and I am frankly just not comfortable using it.

That said, in a grand sense the idea behind Totemism is of one’s “kinship group,” that is the close community of human and non-human nature with which we are surrounded. That is what we are talking about here, the realization that nature is part of ourselves, part of our community, and even part of our “kinship group.”

As I have said on this blog many times, we are related to every thing on this planet in some measure. As such building those relationships and alliances is vitally important not only to our spiritual lives, but also to the future of this planet. Reintegrating ourselves within and as part of nature is a vital change in spirit that is required to fully build a sustainable civilization.

If you want to think of it in a very wide sense, the Cosmos is our distant ancestor, the planet Earth is too. My home state of Michigan is an ancestor too in a very real sense. I was born here, the minerals and soil are in my bones. The plants and animals are part of my flesh, and the Great Waters that surround this state are part of my greater community, they are part of my spirit too.

We need to be giving back and being good members of that community.

I’m going to give the last words to the article;

“The words conservation and ecology, as we use them in the Western sense, don’t exactly fit what Indian people did or do with the land. It was their livelihood, which depended on reciprocity. Thus, the trees were not seen just as trees, they were also seen as relatives. The trees are relatives and other species are relatives and they watched you all the time.

In this view, feelings of solidarity, love, and belonging that traverse the boundaries of species and beyond are not luxuries or overly sentimentalized notions; they are functions of ecological interdependency and are integral to survival. Seeing as the majority of beings on our planet (as well as the rest of the universe) are non-human, we can expect a limited view of reality if we aren’t welcoming efforts to soulfully relate to them. Let us see beyond the jaded (and polarizing) caricature of the nature-hippie who escapes from civilization to the forest. If the intention is not to leave but to enter, not to hide but to belong, relationship with the non-human brings back deep value to human community and enriches culture. This is loud and clear in nature-based spiritualities, but it is also buried in our most dearly held stories…”

It is time to tell those stories once more.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://writtenriver.com/tracking-as-a-way-of-knowing/


Finnish Folk Belief and Shinto

As I was writing some of my thoughts down on my previous post here, I was struck with some more thoughts when I started writing this section;

“Yet, the gods as a kind of ancestral guardian invested in humans. The gods as a “guardian of humanity that has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered humans back to life on earth” and “the eldest of the species or the first representative of humanity.”

There is something there that resonates with me.” – Me

Something has been playing on my mind since I wrote that down, and that was the curious parallels between what I was writing, and my love of Hayao Miyazaki movies.

As I said, this has resonated with me, and in this post I am hoping to explore a little more of the reasons why. As I wrote the above quote, I kept thinking about characters from Princess Mononoke. As I wrote about haltias as “guardians” and “eldest of the species”, I kept thinking about Moro, the wolf god, and Nago the boar god, and others as well. In the movie, Moro is referred to both as a wolf god, and a member of the Wolf Clan/Tribe. There are also references to the Boar Clan, and the Ape Tribe/Clan.

And my mind kept turning and turning. In many of Miyazaki’s movies, you see forest gods, forests, spirits, and little stone altars, structures and statues. All of this kept running through my mind as I wrote about hiisi woods and stone altars and cups, and ancestral woods. Bridge lead to another bridge, as the connections fired across my mind.

I cannot help feeling there is something a lot more to this. I also realized that I don’t really know much about Shinto, which inspired Miyazaki to put many of those ideas in his movies. But at least superficially, I am starting to see a lot of parallels between Finnish folk belief, and some of the ideas of Shinto, which is often described as an animistic/polytheistic system.

Which makes the timing of this article even more convenient. The article is titled Pagan Temples and Shinto Shrines, by Megan Manson. Here I am going to quote from the beginning of the article;

… But there are differing opinions within the Pagan community when it comes to the idea of building temples. On the one hand, some love the idea of having a building where Pagans can all go to honour the deities safely and comfortably. On the other hand, there are Pagans who see their “temple” as being all around them – in the form of the forests, rivers, mountains and oceans – and so a man-made temple is not necessary.”

I have struggled with this question for some time, and I don’t think it is really an either/or question. For those that want to build temples, build temples. For those that want to be outside, go outside. There is not any superior position between these two things, but there are questions of upkeep to be sure. Can the community support a temple, or a smaller shrine? Obviously “natural temples” pretty much take care of upkeep on their own, but then it is on the human to make sure the place is properly respected.

But I digress a little bit, as it is a later statement in the article that really struck home for me;

When I read these debates, I think that Shinto has a good solution. Shinto does have shrines and other man-made constructions that serve as places of worship. But compared with churches, mosques, gurdwaras and the places of worship of many other religions, Shinto shrines are for the most part quite small and low-key. Some are tiny hokora, “spirit houses” that range from the size of a bird house to the size of a small shed and are often found tucked away at the wayside or deep in forests. Then there are larger ones, jinja”.

As I mentioned Miyazaki movies earlier, when I think of the hokora, I think of My Neighbor Totoro. There are several hokora pictured throughout the movie. More importantly to the overall story, there is a giant tree that is pictured as surrounded by hokora, as well as what may be part of a larger structure. Notably, this tree is also the home of Totoro, who is a spirit of the forest and of nature.

Finnish folklore and folk beliefs are embedded with very similar objects, which I have talked about in other posts. The Finnish Folklore Atlas is full of maps that show the sites of hundreds if not thousands of stone altars, stone cups, and hiisi trees.

At the end of the Manson article; there is something that kind of stuck with me;

But even within the forest, there are continual small reminders that you are in a sacred place – stone altars, shimenawa ropes tied around trees or by waterfalls, the tunnels of red torii gates, and of course, thousands of fox statues, the guardians of Inari. But these objects never overwhelm their natural surroundings – instead, they are designed to be harmonious with the environment.

This is what I think Pagan places of worship could be like. Rather than being enormous, grand monuments of human architecture in which dozens, if not hundreds, of Pagans can gather under a roof and away from nature, I believe they could be small and understated, serving merely as an indicator and reminder of the sacred significance of a particular place without seeking to dominate it.”

This is not to say, as Manson points out, that things like the Valheim Hof are not truly amazing and wonderful. Nor it is to say that they are wrong, or that we should avoid doing things like that. What I am saying is things like Shinto and Finnish folk belief gives us models that we can use as inspiration, without excluding things like the Hof of course.

There is more I would like to say here, because recently John Halstead brought up an idea that has been incorporated into my own practice, and serves as a great compliment and supplement to the idea of haltia shrines.

Recently, Halstead published the article here, and I wanted to spend a little bit of time with it because the idea of eco/spirit shrines is an important one. I am not going to go into all the details here, so you should give the article itself a read.

As I already said I have already incorporated this idea into my own practice. I cannot remember where I was first exposed to the idea, only that I thought it was a good one. I now regularly leave eco-shrines behind when I hike and explore new grounds and get to know my natural neighbors there. In addition, I have also taught this idea to my small working group, and it is something we have done together as a group activity.

Halstead adds this to the conversation;

At first, at least, we would have to expect that these shrines would be removed by landscaping or maintenance staff or desecrated by ne’er-do-wells or iconoclasts. But one of the advantages of the eco-shrine is that it is relatively easy to rebuild. Some people are bound to be creeped out by public shrines. But I imagine that, if we kept returning to the same spot, rebuilding our natural shrines, that one day we would find that someone else had followed suit and built an eco-shrine before us. And after years, the place might indeed become a holy place in the mind of the non-Pagan public as well.” – Halstead

There is something very important here too. While most eco-shrines are natural and biodegradable (as they should be), there is something to the idea of semi-permanent or otherwise “marked” locations. I have my own habit of mapping where I leave my shrines, because they are often places that “call” to me, and place I might return to. Arrangements of stones, a particular tree, a body of water, that kind of thing. The point being that the trees, stones, and lakes are not going anywhere (generally). They are much more permanent sites. And maybe after years as Halstead points out, these might be regular pagan shrine locations, something like we see in Shinto or the FFA.

I think there is plenty more here to consider, and I might come back to this in future pieces.

But as always; thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Manson “Pagan Temples and Shinto Shrines”

My recent FFA Reflections

Halstead “Eco Shrines”


Animism and Capitalism Part 5

“Ultimately we must face the need for radical change. The ecological crisis is more than question of environmental destruction and human misery, for it is at root a spiritual crisis. Genuine alternatives, revolutionary alternatives, require remarkable imaginative leaps… We must think beyond ourselves. Not simply beyond the conceptions, categories and habits which tie our minds to established ideological models. We must go beyond, to imagine what has never been conceived of, to dare to demand what contemporary thought considers impossible.” – Adrian Harris

The ability and vision to build a better town, a better future for everyone. That is what we have to imagine. This is an immense work of such grandness and scale, that it will bring with it a whole new world, and a new way of thinking. It will take time, it will take resources, and it will take us to take a good, long hard look at ourselves, and change what needs to be changed.

And it will not be easy.

In Part 1 of this series, I analyzed Princess Mononoke and explored some of the animistic and environmental themes present throughout the movie. That is what began this series, and the realization that we have to find a new way for the forest and the humans to live in peace, a way to (re)integrate humanity and nature. I have written a fair deal about hunter-gatherers on this blog, and have explored how some of them didn’t see a real divide between nature and society. This is a big part of animism as I understand it, and the wall we have built between ourselves and nature has been to our detriment. Some hunter-gatherers saw nature as part of the social world. We have lost that understanding, and replaced it with the idea that we are superior to nature, and that it exists to meet our needs. We often look upon nature as a source of resources. We need to work to knock that wall down, and (re)balance nature and humanity.

In Part 2 of this series, I explored the ideas of science, technology and industry. I think these things will all have a part to play in the future, but that we seriously need to rethink how we do things. Many industries are culpable to the growing pollution and environmental decay on the planet. So is technology, though not wholesale. We will have to take a long, hard look at how we do all these things. Things like cars, factories and coal power plants are polluting the planet, by means of mechanical necromancy. We are quite literally burning the remains of the long dead to drive our civilization. We have the means and the ability to change that.

In Part 3; I explored a little bit of corporate and capitalist ideology. It is not just the technology and industry of our culture that has to change, but much of the thinking behind it. Corporate methods of management seem to have pervaded nearly every part of our society. From government to university. The problem itself is complex, and any possible solutions are far from simple. We are not simply talking a technological revolution, but a cultural, social and political one as well.

In Part 4; I talked more about the Nordic Model. To me, this is part of that social and cultural shift that desperately needs to happen. A social and economic system that acknowledges wholesale that needs of the many are more important than the needs of the few. In America, what we have is nearly the polar opposite of this. Our version of Robin Hood is backwards, and our many of our cultural values seem to want Spock to burn a terrible death. As I pointed out, a Princeton study recently came to the conclusion that America is in fact an oligarchy, not a democracy (or republic).

There is no way to deny that some very real challenges face us as a species, and a planet full of species. It is enough for anyone to succumb to despair. Still, I look at the trends and see them as encouraging. The amount of renewable electricity may not yet meet demand, but it has grown year after year, and is expected to continue to grow. The same is true of hybrid, electric and alternative fuel vehicles; also with expected continued growth. This is no way minimizes the very serious challenges ahead. Oil is still cheap and profitable, and none of these technologies will really become dominant if that remains the case. But we know that won’t always be the case, and even some of the oil companies are starting to hedge their bets with alternatives.

On top of that, I see subtle signs that our culture and social climate may be changing as well. Bernie Sanders is a proponent of the Nordic Model, and might actually have a chance at becoming the Democratic nominee. Also, I find that the UN Sustainable Development Goals also mesh well with very same model. Is it a long shot? Maybe. The point is that the signs are encouraging, even if they are moving forward at a “two steps forward one step back” pace.

As I practice animism, the foundations of this worldview is the the world is full of people, only some of which are human. In addition, relationships and reciprocity are also basic components to my animism. In a very real and literal sense we are connected to either other person on this planet, ecologically, biologically as well as spiritually. The consequences of our actions have very real repercussions across the whole of these connections.

We are in this together. That is the conclusion of my worldview. And by “we” I do not mean simply humans, but all of the environment and nature that surrounds these things. So too are the big machines, the cars and energy infrastructure that is simultaneously heating and lighting our homes, and at the same time polluting the planet. The machines (as they are people too) have to change their relationship with the Earth, as much as we have to change our relationship with the machines.

It is up to us to facilitate this process. There is not one of us that is not implicated in these problems.

Between climate change and the reality of peak oil, we have some very hard challenges ahead of us. Climate change may well be beyond our control, though we can limit our influence and contributions to the process. Peak oil is another matter, and I think we have the means to endure beyond the very real limits it will place on our civilization. In addition, not only to we as a species have the means to endure, we have the means and capacity to build a better future civilization in the process. That process is already in motion.

That is what my animism teaches me. Long gone are the days where we can only think about ourselves. Long gone too are the days of the rugged individualist, and the society that only cares about itself.

That is why I like the Nordic model. A social, political, economic and cultural system that acknowledges this conclusion; that we are in this together. Our technological reality needs to reflect that too, that more than just ourselves are at stake. Long gone too are the days where we run our machines on the long decayed bodies of the dead. Our common kin in all life deserve better than that.

Culturally we need change. Politically we need change. Technologically we need change. Environmentally we need change. This is not to say that any of these changes are small tasks. These are bigger tasks than any one person, as big as the whole of the planet in fact. That in and of itself makes this all seem damn near impossible.

But it is not impossible, but nor is it easy. All the same it has to be done, for the present and for the future. If it is true that we reap what we sow, than we are reaping what our predecessors have sown.

At the same time, we are planting the seeds for the future. Shall we continue to plant the same seeds of destruction that have been left to us, or shall we plant the seeds of tomorrow?

So I ask, what shall we grow?

“This is your world. These are your people. You can live for yourself today, or you can help build tomorrow; for everyone” – VNV Nation “Foreword”

References/source;

Adrian Harris, as quoted in Global Implications of Animism from a Thea/ological Perspective. In “Engaging the Spirits”, edited by Lupa.

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=23692

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=24792

http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-02-18/swedens-capital-its-way-becoming-fossil-fuel-free-2040