Before the Flood - Slow Down / by Megan Hollingsworth

This post is a near aside to Bioneers 2016 Highlights. I traveled by air to Bioneers because relations with my son meant I did not have time for ground travel. This experience reminds a series of questions long pressing me, "Is there time for air travel when there are alternatives? Is it that there is just enough time yet to ground this Dream before 'regenerative impetus' itself is lost? What does it mean to 'accept the limits of the present'?

Slow Down to Drawdown

A highlight of Bioneers 2016 was a free screening of Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio's latest attempt to convince others that global climate change is real, really influenced by human activity, and now is the time to act should there be action to avoid greater tragedy than witnessed and experienced today. The entirety of Before the Flood's urgent call can be summed up in Glaciologist Eric Rignot's 2014 response to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s rapid irreversible decline: There’s still a chance to slow down the decline and “a different level of communication” is required to translate the gravity of what he and his peers see.

"It is a vision of a future so apocalyptic that it is hard to even imagine." - Game Over

What IS HELPFUL?  There are many differing opinions. 

In 'War Not Optional', I suggest that WWII-scale climate mobilization is in no one's interest if the effort emphasizes 20th century manic business as usual. Helpful is swift and broad-sweeping action with a primary emphasis on slowing down or, rather, grounding the American Dream within the physical limits of each body and, thus, the whole community.

I point to the exhaustion of laborers who easily push 14-hour work days while children suffer the cost. As Lynn Parramore points to in 'Before Capitalism' at Evonomics, overwork has not always been the case for laborers who once enjoyed great leisure time throughout each day and the year.

Replacing humans with machines to carry on the 24/7 production represents a narrow focus on the human species when other species suffer the greatest cost of human over-activity and excessive consumption inherent to the war economy. Orangutans are a fine example, though it's important to understand, as noted by Janine Benyus of Biomimicry during Bioneers conference, that 99% of all species are smaller than the bumblebee.

Members of this 99% are the small mighty who hold everything together. They are disappearing rapidly. And action on the part of humanity's 100% or One Team is required to turn the trend of rapid decline for the smallest of the largest community group.

"But I would like to have seen more of his inner conflicts.  It would have transformed this film’s narrative, impact and credibility.  

Yes, he drives electric cars, and has solar panels on his house, but nothing in this film, including his reaction during that interview in Delhi, mentions ‘sacrifice’. 

And ultimately, if we are to get through this, wealthier nations, and wealthier people, need to make sacrifices. We know from Oxfam that the world’s wealthiest 10% generate half of global carbon emissions.

There is huge leadership to be shown here. "

- Rob Hopkins, 'Before The Flood' Review

The delusion of the American Dream is independence or isolation. I was raised on this Dream. I know it by heart and ads would like to sell it to me everyday. The delusion is that somehow I can have anything I desire at anytime. I will be praised and sought after, perhaps dangerously, for accomplishing this feat. Even if I must lie, cheat, steal, rape and murder to do so. When, in reality, with the exception of an ideal infancy, nobody gets what they need and desire at anytime all the time because everyone gets what they need and desire at some point.

What's worse, my son is being reared in this Dream. I steadily battle his desire for more Lego and Pokemon. In 2008, one year before my son was born, there were an estimated 62 Lego bricks for each 6.7 billion humans. That's more than 415.4 billion Lego bricks.

Both human and Lego populations have increased since, with nearly a billion humans added, while populations of other species have rapidly declined. The world human count is now at nearly 7.5 billion, an increase of 55% in the past 40 years. While, with the exception of others domesticated, the count of organisms at large dwindled by 50% in the same time period.

Isolated dreamers are now literally shocked awake to a lonely, silent world.

Entomologist, designer, and model Summer Rayne Oaks offers a brilliant reflection of this shock in her short, eXtinction film (2011). I'm unable to share Summer's work with my son because she produced the film for mature audiences as necessary. So, during the peacemaking moment of our most recent battle over stuff, I shared with him Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff (2007). As he watched the destruction of black trees and figures on a black and white circle depicting Earth and listened to Annie describe material extraction, he turned to me and said, "But that's not toys." And, to be honest, I had to say, "Yes, that is toys. That's toys too." He turned again to gaze at the screen.

Too f^(k]n sad for pleasant words.

"Success is a party to which they were not invited."

- Naomi Klein, 'Democrats' embrace of neoliberalism won it for Trump' / The Guardian

Perhaps the nastiest aspect of the American Dream are the lies and manipulations that keep the Dream going. Lies told because the game requires that there be far far more losers than winners and is perpetuated by ensuring that losers remain split apart and rise enraged, when necessary, against one another. 

The rage is what it is not just because the game is unjust, but because the losers are stressed at the basic survival level, regularly choosing between whether they will feed and clothe themselves and their children or maintain their homes. If this seems an extreme assessment consider that in 2009, 41% of United States' homeless population were families with children (National Coalition for the Homeless) and though recent years have seen a decrease in homeless families, the child's nightmare that is insecurity at this basic level persists in the American Dream. 

At large, people of Commonwealth nations and states are exhausted. Here, people refers to not solely humans, but to members of each and every species - all sovereign entities. The nightmare of the American Dream is in full form when other species are considered, as they truly are the biggest losers in the game.

On the whole, humanity has overdrawn what the larger community, also known as the common wealth, has to offer. And, as Rob Hopkins points out in his review of Before the Flood, a small portion of the human population, the small portion of which my son and I are part, is responsible for the overdraw.

Earth Overshoot Day, August 8th, arrived earlier in 2016 than in 2015, as the day arrived earlier in 2015 than it did in 2014. The date for Earth Overshoot shifts because the timing is determined by the point at which humanity has violently consumed more from Earth's global community than the community can provide in a year. In 'War Not Optional', I suggest it's wise to assess Earth Overshoot on a daily rather than annual basis. 

The first responder's CONUNDRUM

Since I traveled by air to Bioneers as consequence of time restraints on me and the release of Before the Flood has spurred a resurgence of judgment regarding Leonardo's travel behavior, I want to address this contradiction in behavior and mission that can offend and divide where there is otherwise solidarity. There is long-lived tension among environmental advocates regarding air travel - a most costly and extravagant use of fossil fuels and materials.

At 36:05 Leonardo says "We have to practice what we preach." For speaking truth, Leonardo has received judgment of his chosen lifestyle, one applauded and aspired to by those raised on the American Dream. Leonardo is a shining example of one who lives the peak of this Dream while no doubt desiring most for the associated nightmare to end. But the associated nightmare is part and parcel of the Dream and the associated ego traps. In the case of community advocates, a hero's trap.

Many community advocates fly in one year what others will not in their entire lifetime. And they are paid to do so in the name of green business, health business, and community service. I believe the long-lived tension and any confusion can be resolved when the abstraction 'environment' is clearly portrayed as community, grounding empathy in the stories of those exploited, displaced, and murdered in the process of material and fuels extraction. The real concern, the concern that my heart comprehends, is not CO2 level. Rather, the real concern is whether offspring of all walks are safe as can be, whether they can access healthy water and basic physical/emotional sustenance.

I don't know the answer to this conundrum, though I have learned from experience that rigidity leads to a quick death. So within the overarching bend of frugality, I recommend fluidity and spontaneity even when that means flying to a conference. I have my opinions on what is helpful communication and what is not. And, I don't know what will ultimately tip the scales. Part of me believes the scales are already tipped in a very generous and harmonious direction. We are, in this moment, simply experiencing the fallout of an era that was not so generous.

I am as uninterested in telling others what they should do as I am in judging what they are or are not doing. For my own part, I want to lead, if I do, by example. I want my words to have meaning. I desire integrity. I desire integrity while existing within what is now a global market place that, so far, lacks integrity. The way I know to do my part in bringing this market place to integrity is to do my very best to maintain my own.

One finger pointing out

is three fingers pointing back

with one on the trigger.

Universal care born in all children is, I believe, generally at the core of any person's drive to protect community health and to speak for members of the community who are utterly vulnerable to exploitation. There is an ultimate failure in fingers pointed at certain culprits deemed responsible for perpetuating the mess of inherited insecurity. Narrow compassion proves to keep individuals and corporations competing for pay to serve in battle while failing the whole community by perpetuating battle. Naming an other is itself violent.

My own patience with the confusion, competition, deceit, and waffling at this juncture is measured in the eyes of my son with whom I am unable to express the fullness of my grief for the absurd violence spoon fed in every Star Wars Lego set and animated movie. Even The Little Engine that Could has been made into a horror flick. Star Wars is a heroic violence he pretends that is all too real in the reality of the world from which his mind's eye is sheltered, of which his favorite task, building with Lego, is born. My son is an American child surrounded by shiny surfaces with rotten crud underneath - crud that shatters the surface as it sinks civilization.

"Officials reasoned there was no real need for lifeboats. No one could imagine any set of circumstances that would sink the Titanic."

- Stephanie Sammartino McPherson, ICEBERG RIGHT AHEAD! The TRAGEDY of the TITANIC, p.19, Twenty-First Century Books / Lerner Publishing Group

I want to say that Leonardo does see through the delusion of independent dreaming so far as in the film he looks out from a hillside and says, "All of this...needs to change". His statement echoes the overwhelm handed in textbooks to students of environmental studies like myself who dwell in "a world of wounds" that can feel very much like a cage, disenfranchised as empathic grief is today. And, I am challenged to comprehend Leonardo's lifestyle choices given his role in the film Titanic. This goes to show that actors aren't in real life the characters they portray on screen. Actors are, like the rest, but part of the real play on the live set regularly depicted in two dimensional objects.

Let's pretend the ship Titanic, as often portrayed, is civilization itself. And the ship has already struck the iceberg. The ship is sinking. But only one chamber on the lowest level has begun filling with water. Let's assume the time is before the flood in first-class quarters. There are not near enough lifeboats for everyone, but there is the opportunity to fit as many people in the boats as possible. I tell you this, I would rather be a body floating dead in frigid waters after the great ship sinks, than one who gazes back at the cost from a lifeboat with plenty of empty seats.


Grieving as First Response

To me, a different level of communication looks like actively grieving that daily children are raped and murdered and vast acres of forest cut whilst behaving as if I know what I say I know. Yet, it's incredibly challenging to participate, indeed to exist, in the world today without using materials and fuels brought by destroying families and whole communities of all walks around the globe.

This need to participate in something so destructive is as great and chronic a grief as the destruction itself. Once the mind grasps the grave health costs of fuel and other mineral extraction to individuals and communities, whether these individuals be industry workers or the communities within which the extraction occurs, the pain requires medicine and typically drives some form of addiction. My medication for chronic grief is writing poetry and dancing - praying. My addiction is spending my days at the computer in an effort to communicate care and concern. The best I've done so far is to medicate the addiction.

My understanding is that grief looks different for everyone. Grief studies show that the masculine tendency is immediate action to resolve harm and improve a situation, while the feminine tendency is to experience and express the pain of the loss. Both males and females typically display some degree of both feminine and masculine aspects.

Yet, given that the masculine in both men and women of the war economy has been in the driver's seat for generations now, response to knowledge of the humanitarian, ecological crisis resulting from human insecurity has long been action and more action without pause to effectively mourn and reflect, as if it is possible to keep racing toward a finish line while the engine is on fire. 

Action and more action can be increased participation in harmful consumption and activity in attempt to inform others. I am guilty of this, pushing my body's limits and producing according to often self-imposed deadlines rather than heeding my body's rhythms and, thus, "going with the flow".

The absurdity is not only real. Chronic action is harmful to the responder and dangerously confusing to observers in that it promotes extremely excessive use of finite materials extracted by the often forced labor and immediate cost of humans and other species who would otherwise enjoy the benefits of intact community. 

The grief response is different for everyone. However, I do believe everyone will benefit from allowing some degree of the feminine aspect of grief into their lived experience. Engaged grieving in response to past, present, and anticipated loss is a very human and healing process. Not only is it alright to wail at the body of a murdered child and spoiled river, it's deadly to suppress such grief. 

And I believe it possible that honorable frugality - conservatism - may be restored in speech and action across political party lines. So many lives can be spared and so much misery avoided by slowing down - reducing energy consumption and food waste, restoring backyard gardens, homemade businesses, and neighborly barter.

In the formalized movement of Transition Streets, the necessary slow down has begun and only requires scaling up. Effective climate mobilization isn't solely, if at all, about manufacturing millions of electric cars - more of the war economy fueling demise.

Effective climate mobilization is restoring healthy habits in homes, neighborhoods, and cities. Effective climate mobilization looks like establishing and improving public transit, walk and bike-friendly communities, and ensuring healthy food, shelter, and vocation for everyone.

Force is not power

Sometimes we fail others when we ourselves have been failed. When we take more than a healthy share we do so because the memory of being exploited lives in our bones. We force ourselves and others, when we do, because force is what we know. 

I am as tired of seeing people overworked and underpaid as Earth is exhausted of the war economy. Until the fear-based extravagant desire is resolved, let there be a limit on what one can earn and keep for oneself. Common wealth does not afford dredging the Bering Sea and tearing Emigrant Gulch for gold, so let no single entity afford to do so for profit.

Let women be aware of the poisoned blood on our hands and around our necks when we adorn our bodies with gold. Better that weapons be re-purposed and worn as peaceful reminders of why we refuse to fight.

Let there be generous sharing of what is nobody's property and everybody's wealth. Let everyone be free of the thought that there is anything of one's own to protect and from this clarity protect others from exploitation. Let there be forgiveness and kindness

I bear witness to the shaming, exclusion, suicide, and murder of those who attempt to live mindfully while inviting others to join them. 

Extinction Symbol made with my son's Lego, November 2015, for International Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th. Image links to The Trading Post poem voiced at SOUNDCLOUD.

Extinction Symbol made with my son's Lego, November 2015, for International Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th. Image links to The Trading Post poem voiced at SOUNDCLOUD.

Please consider the non-specific and non-binding Vow 2 Act at Extinction Witness.

See Also:

Rob Hopkins, Flying to the US: was it worth it?

CEN Oct 20/16 Linda Buzzell & Carol Koziol - Air Travel & Climate Change

and Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble