"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking
we used when we created them."
- Albert Einstein
Among many, including conservation biologists and artists, popular dialogue is thankfully shifting from global climate change to ensuring healthy habitat, aka community, and protecting and healing individuals. This shift is in recognition that healthy individuals cultivate healthy proximate communities, which in turn temper global climate change and allay mass species extinction. However, there is increasing militarization of species conservation efforts, ongoing illegal and legal sport killing, and many innocents dying at the borders of grace designed to refuse human child refugees. And, having read 'A World at War', 350.org founder Bill McKibben's glorification of the military industrial complex's birth during WWII, my heart is sinking at the same rate it wants to leap from my chest screaming, NO.
Please know, there is a tension and all due respect in the writing of what follows. And I do not generally respond so directly to another's opinion. Yet, climate change is Earth signaling an imbalance initiated by violent human intraspecies and interspecies competition. So I find intolerable Bill McKibben's suggestion that the U.S. should battle against Earth's warning that the era of violent human competition and the excessive consumption of materials and fuels has reached the end of the course. Humans will surrender soon, whether by natural force or the human will to refrain. A WWII-scale extraction and production pulse plays the part of natural force, not the will to refrain. I'm rather stunned by Bill's narrow and incomplete focus on manufacturing and disseminating improved technologies in this particular contribution.
I do not follow war rhetoric as I do not walk the warring path. War has not yet brought lasting peace and will not unless the result is rather total annihilation that destroys the possibility of battle. At least for awhile. Until the fighting survivors gain their strength back and begin battling again. This is so clear to me it's as if I've lived the course a thousand times. As if I have all along been the one responsible for both commanding the attack and carrying dead bodies from the field. I am finished calling the attack. And want nothing more than to let trees, flowers, and grains grow in the blood-rich soil, perhaps seeding a proper monument to the monumental loss we've endured collectively.
"These and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself,
may be suggested as the only way to the road
we wish to travel. But each proposal must be weighed
in the light of a broader consideration.
The need to maintain balance between the private and the public economy...
balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable..."
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address / 'Military Industrial Complex' Warning
Bill McKibben's efforts are more than devotional. What follows is without criticism of Bill's character, and without doubt of his commitment to the perpetuation of life, and the prospect of everyone living well. This is also offered in full agreement with Bill and others who grasp that immediate, wholesale action is required. Indeed, ex·tinc·tion wit·ness is but for the passion-fueled urgency I know.
The underlying tone and intent of wholesale action determines the process, which determines the outcome. Mine is to question not the messenger or those who profit, but the profiteering of war logic itself without knowing what is actually required on the ground in and for any given community's thriving, by way of togetherness, in light of the present planetary transition. Such is the proximal knowledge of community members, should even they have a guess at this point. So many for so long have been and ever more now become uprooted in place.
My concern is war logic that justifies using, raping, and killing children while spoiling ground and waters in the name of survival. Warring is the logic of enemies and numbers applied to the incalculable value of innocence and life itself. It is a logic grounded in insecurity and beastly in consequence. A last resort because battle is the deadly option when it's an option.
My concern is with the origin, implication, and power of the word. In keeping with most of the climate dialogue long going, dialogue that generally includes 'fight' and 'battle', Bill writes that climate change is an enemy to be defeated. Bill is very far from alone in the war cry. Still, there are equally well and broadly-informed others, including Brendan Kelly, author of The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis, who recognize that violence seen in extreme weather events is fundamentally without malice toward humans or any other species. Global climate change is Earth's systemic response to overheating and acidification, as is seen in persons, only on the grand, planetary scale. These others think differently and so speak a different tongue of deep healing, regeneration, or curing the disease, or resolving the energy imbalance depending on who is talking.
Competitive force - war - over non-essentials and essentials, and excessive use and misuse of substances, materials and fuels, brings Earth to the present state of extreme imbalance and continues to exacerbate imbalance. Activity produces heat. Over-activity lends to overheating. Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence. Right rapid response to global climate change and mass species extinction is not more of what initiated and continues to aggravate the condition.
If humanity's intent is to thrive and prosper - to live well - within the present or any near generation, WWIII is not an option whether that war be human to human combat over what are common - provided for all species equally - waters and soils, or a unified war on global climate change. 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 consumed more from Earth's global community than the community can provide in a year. The misfortune in calculating Earth overshoot annually rather than daily is that essentials are dispersed and consumed daily, not annually.
If August 8th was Earth Overshoot for 2016, then that's about 60% of the year past, which in a day is about 14.5 hours past midnight. Thus, by 2:30 PM every day, in every time zone, Earth's community is done producing for that day.
But what does production mean?
Who is doing the work?
What's being produced?
My simple answers in order of the questions are:
Any activity that produces something.
Largely a fraction of humanity, some favored pets, and livestock.
And, all of this production is now happening 24 hours a day with thanks to harnessed electricity.
The sense and forgetting of seasons and killing oneself in pursuit of excess material wealth is running its harsh course. As Bill notes in his article, after WWII much business shifted from military production to industrial food production, machines to make the cooking and household chores faster and easier, decorations, toys, and other stuff. Lots and lots of stuff that a wise and quite talented Dr. once called 'thneeds'. Yep, those boomer babies, Bill McKibben and my parents among them, were born to parents who worked their days away to build their own compounds, small and large. Many only to have the bulk of their reward stripped in 2008. Like me, I imagine the boomer babies grew up imagining they needed those 'thneeds' to be attractive - to be loved. The glamour game had been going for centuries before but not within reach of so many and with such force as the technological revolution allowed.
When Bill writes, “But instead of paying heed and taking obvious precautions, we chose to strengthen the enemy with our endless combustion; a billion explosions of a billion pistons inside a billion cylinders have fueled a global threat as lethal as the mushroom-shaped nuclear explosions we long feared.”, there is part of me that wants to look at the informed boomers with a straight-up, WTF? You knew. And you kept driving full speed ahead.
This judgment coming from me, a Gen-X kid who has suffered material delusion, is why I am now showing my son that I know what I say I know regardless of immediate personal cost to both of us.
Humans are no more "a plague on Earth" (David Attenborough) than is climate change an evil force to be defeated. Some white people are still throwing people of color and some other white people under the bus in the name of species conservation and saving the planet. What underlies such cruelty is a desire to preserve themselves and a standard of living at least somewhere near to as close as what they've enjoyed during the 20th century. They're scared. They're scared of the desperation they see in the world. They'll do anything to avoid that, including killing or denying other human begins their rightful prey. This is the way it's been and largely why we've arrived to the refugee crisis we're in. To blame this crisis on climate change is to avoid acknowledging one's own fear of losing a very comfortable, though often lonely, survival. Water at the tap is pretty sweet, after all. Add to that a fast car and, wow, there's an addiction.
What some call thriving is to others starving. And it's all suffering because no one thrives when any one starves.
And so long as there is fear for one's own life and liberty, so long as self is one's primary concern, this suffering of loneliness will be.
Still, there are very few humans who have ever truly desired that others should suffer and die. And those who express such malice are truly lost to themselves by way of enduring trauma, including disenfranchisement. Humans are big-brained highly sensitive mammals with hands that enable us to manipulate materials. Humans are, as some other primates, curious, capable of becoming addicted to substances, and, during scarce seasons, prone to defending our immediate family's survival even if that means denying or killing someone else's child. But the tendency to defend has grown too dangerous given the 20th century's exponential human population growth and technological developments. One desperate human with a gun is one too many. And I do not dare estimate what that number is right now. It's at least one more than one.
I know Bill McKibben is well aware of the need for a comprehensive response to systemic planetary imbalance. So, I'm not clear as to why his latest, 'A World at War', is a narrow focus on the fast and mass production of wind power, solar power, and improved cars without emphasizing that reduced material consumption, energy conservation, and energy efficiency are among relatively simple most helpful and least expensive responses.
CONSERVING ENERGY EXPENDITURE, IN EVERY WAY, IS SOMETHING EVERYONE CAN AFFORD TO DO.
In 'Pandora's Terrifying Promise: Can Nuclear Power Save the Planet', a dialogue between Mark Herstgaard and Terry Tempest Williams, Mark notes that "the work of Amory Lovins and his colleagues at the Rocky Mountain Institute has demonstrated [energy efficiency] is by far the quickest, safest and most cost-effective route to reducing consumption of fossil fuels." (see Pandora's Terrifying Promise / The Nation July 8-15, 2013 Issue)
One untold potential catastrophe of the climate war cry, particularly when offered narrowly in the scheme of alternative fuels and improved technology, is an immediate and great increase in consumption of materials and fossil fuels in the process of "mobilization". Risking this potential is hardly wise when what is most urgently needed is a reduction in consumption of fossil fuels, trees, minerals, water, and others commonly lumped into the abstraction "natural resources".
To accomplish reduced consumption soon enough and on a grand enough scale, the narrative must change.
Open-mindedness, curiosity, and creativity, sharing, and rooted, or original, imagination deserve employment. We've seen enough muscle. And there's plenty of muscle work to be done in repairing and improving what's already been built, while ensuring everyone is well sheltered and fed. In 2013 37% of 610,042 documented persons experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States were in family groups, and unaccompanied children and youth made up 8% of overall homeless persons on any given night.
Getting families and children off the street is not just a matter of getting them jobs. Some of them have jobs. What's required is restoring community, connection to their lives and to every life. Extreme weather events have a knack for doing this in the short term. When this connection is harnessed and maintained at a viable pace, the momentum of the first response to loss leads the way out of what gives rise to crisis - disconnection, abandonment.
There have long, if not always, been fires, famine, and floods in the human story. These events in themselves simply represent great change, which is experienced more readily as crisis when one feels alone in it. Feeling alone in change, especially within a culture that celebrates independence may well be the case, until one encounters others who have known or at least have empathy for such crisis and offer help in any way they can.
Water, food, and shelter, not energy and glamour, are top priorities. Always. Frugality, the non-violent aspect of WWII's mobilization that my Grandmother Miriam lived to her dying day, will carry us further and faster toward the goal of decreased fossil fuel extraction and combustion, avoiding a pulse of increased consumption "to build a hell of a lot of factories to turn out thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind turbines the length of football fields, and millions and millions of electric cars and buses".
In light of Earth Overshoot and the total cost of raw material extraction, it's incomplete logic to suggest, as Bill does, that there are enough raw materials for a WWII-scale production without any mention of the communities those raw materials are stripped from, the immediate and long-term adverse health effects community members endure, and the matter that raw material extraction requires stripping soil and plants - sustenance for all animals - from Earth's surface while leaving toxic messes that have, thus far, proven hard, if not impossible, to clean-up. When I searched 'neodymium mining', this, posted January 2013 by Mike Ives at Yale Environment 360, appeared at the top of the list, "Boom in Mining Rare Earths Poses Mounting Toxic Risks: The mining of rare earth metals, used in everything from smart phones to wind turbines, has long been dominated by China. But as mining of these key elements spreads to countries like Malaysia and Brazil, scientists warn of the dangers of the toxic and radioactive waste generated by the mines and processing plants...Contrary to their name, the 17 rare earth elements are relatively common — their rarity comes from the labor involved in separating them from surrounding rock. The process requires a cocktail of chemical compounds and produces a “tremendous amount” of solid waste, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. China’s rare earths mines have used only a fraction of the world’s total supply, and substantial untapped reserves are found in Australia, the United States, parts of the former Soviet Union, and other countries...Market pressures for cheap rare earths may lead managers to skimp on environmental protections." Even if we're talking humane factories and 100% recycled post-consumer waste in these new products, there is a certain negligence in a focus on producing more as communities are in health crisis, suffering floods, droughts, and fires, and existing infrastructure fails.
The key to drawdown or "bringing carbon home" (Paul Hawken) is an immediate slow down. And taking a rest isn't so bad is it? Maybe even that's what most people enjoy, some leisure each and every day. Yes?
Imagine this. Working again by daylight. And by evening, or through mid-day on the long summer days or where the days are balanced in the high heat or steady rain, winding down yet with enough energy to prepare a fine treat for sharing with family members and friends. Imagine enjoying each day rather than anticipating the weekend only to find that you're exhausted from pulling the week and the house is a mess, so you wind up sleeping one day and cleaning the next. Imagine turning the lights out after the dishes are washed each evening or not ever turning the lights on because dinner was late afternoon and you've already been in bed awhile making love and drifting off to wake just in time for the most spectacular sunset you've ever seen, just the same as it was yesterday. And as the last bit of light slips from the horizon, you roll over to make love again before sleeping through the night.
Pleasure is the freedom that's been lost through the course of war, a freedom stolen yet today moment by moment, singularly and wholly in each man, woman, and child, denied, raped, and murdered in the course of maintaining something that has not ever worked in everyone's interest and threatens to destroy all possibility unless the dream changes. Pleasure is the freedom that the American Dream does not fulfill, but rather strips away.
Frugality may not have sex appeal or it may. Surely though, there's no one to appeal to when you are the last one standing because you said push the button.
"But the child IS being tortured, Lynda.
What are you doing about it?"
- Stewart Resnick to Lynda Resnick
Meet the California Couple Who Uses More Water Than Every Home in Los Angeles Combined
Far too often, laborers are swindled into believing they're getting a fair wage when the bulk of the profit goes to corporate heads and investors. Just as most everyone is faked into believing that they too can win what the American Dream does provide if they only work hard enough. Donald Trump is one of the masters in this game. As are the Resnicks. And to no fault of their own. The game has been going so long and cost everyone so much that even those who are managing winning teams would like to see the game stop, or at least level the playing field. Unfortunately for everyone, the game is now wound so tight that even the managers are uncertain as to how the rules can change without force or all-out failure, which is not in anyone's interest. Anyone's interest, in this case, includes that of other species who are totally innocent and caught in the crossfire aside human children who, when asked, report that they would very much like to see bees, butterflies, whales, elephants, hawks, owls, and the whole lot, thrive.
Stewart Resnick's comment, "But the child is being tortured, Lynda. What are you doing about it?", to his wife Lynda is in response to a story the couple was told at a dinner party. The account as offered in 'Meet the California couple..' goes like this:
"Harvard professor Michael Sandel, the ethicist known for his provocative questions, asked the assembled guests if they would be happy living in a town that was perfect in every possible way except for one terrible secret: 'Everyone in the town knew that somewhere in that village, in a dank basement, there was a small six-year-old child who was being tortured,' he said, as Resnick later recalled. 'And you couldn't say anything about the torture because if you did you had to leave the town.' "
The Resnicks have since significantly increased their philanthropic practice. And, they are receiving judgment at least from those who think they are not giving enough, or not giving in the right way, or giving too late in the game.
Consider this scenario for a moment. One day, someone tells you a story that helps you see through a blindspot as if you've stepped into a valley you've walked your entire life and you thought you knew the valley, but now you see the valley as if from a mountain peak and that vision is utterly overwhelming because most of the valley is dried up and most of the men are so numb from the drugs they use to quench the thirst and hunger of indecency that breaks pride, they're molesting their own children and then selling them off in a sex trade. You are overwhelmed not only by the horror but because you control the means for accessing water and everything that is necessary and desirable to these men and their families. You want to help somehow and feel clueless as to how is best to begin. So, you begin helping where you are most connected in a way that you can. You're still in the game, yet you've begun to play differently. And only to find that those who've been asking you to see the valley, among them survivors of the child sex trade, are so burned out by the overwhelm and their own disenfranchisement, that they are, toward you, the most unwelcoming people you've ever encountered. They're too smartened by way of hunger to accept a slice of the pie. They demand the makings. That's where it's at.
This is Hell's Valley. Both the winners and losers in this game are victims of insecurity. Human beings are highly social animals with fundamental need for intimacy and healthy bonds with others. Fear of losing relationships that form the identity and provide security can keep human beings subconsciously engaged in toxic relationships and in practice of harmful actions, toward themselves and others, that contradict their highest morals. Likewise, when human beings feel abandoned and/or are outcast, they will gravitate to anyone who welcomes them even when they are asked to do things that contradict their morals. I nearly fell prey to this temptation myself when feeling abandoned during the completion process of healing from early childhood incest and neglect in fall 2014.
What should be understood, though, is that the ones who've been asking for generosity are among the most generous persons alive. When they are given makings, they are inclined to use smart recipes that provide enough to water, feed, and shelter everyone. Hell becomes heaven as soon as such sharing begins by the bond of friendship.
And, it's not as easy as it might seem to commit oneself in service to the child being tortured. I can testify from experience to Lynda's account of the story Michael Sandel told. This story has played out uniquely in my own life over the course of initiating and carrying on with this witness. I write by night and day not with my thoughts on future generations, but with those who today are raped, shamed for raping, killed senselessly, shamed for killing senselessly, abused by narcissists, and shamed for their narcissism.
In every sick behavior and judgment thereof, I see sickness shrouding truth. I speak for the 6 year old narcissist, not the 6 year old saint child someone may imagine being tortured in the basement. I speak for the 6 year old who, born as close to saintliness as any, was tortured into narcissism by parents who could not see the holy child in their own because they could not see the holy child in themselves - the child who had been tortured out by their own parents who had also been tortured until blind to themselves. The legacy is long.
To arrive here to this place of overwhelming appreciation for myself and all others with devotion to the narcissist, I had to become the 6 year old narcissist again. The child in me who did not get what she actually needed when she needed it, and, so, grew up without growing up, fundamentally starved and misplacing divine appreciation for her outside herself to other people and material objects.
The dark side of human nature is simply one of our highest traits - loyalty - turned against our highest capacity - universal love. And this is the greatest danger in Bill McKibben's war cry as it would be if any President called for military mobilization on par with WWII, namely WWIII. Environmental advocates and disenfranchised communities they serve, of which some claim membership to, have long been and continue to be disenfranchised. Just as human as everyone else, environmental advocates flock to charismatic leaders even when those leaders are violating moral bounds behind the scenes and supporting actions that are far from ideal.
Both leaders and participants in the environmental movement are also susceptible to ego's role in ensuring one's survival. Often programs and projects that begin on high ground gravitate to the trenches because that is where the money can be gathered from. By trenches, I refer to financial wealth earned by employing laborers at less-than-livable wages and stealing from those who know nothing but the value of community - contained in land and water - the pricelessness of which everyone is well aware. So long as human beings prioritize their own survival over their neighbors' during scarce times, there will be violent competition.
Much of California, as most are well aware, is yet in the midst of long-standing severe drought. And the same narrow logic that installed dams to divert water for irrigation and produce electricity because water flowing to the ocean "has no purpose", is alive well today in the voice of someone who suggested that I should use as much water as I want from a spring in northern California because "otherwise the water just goes back to the ground". This person does not realize how much he depends on water going back to the ground because he buys his food and vital materials at the store. He does not need to think about the needs of trees, other plants and animals in his immediate community other than to provide water for the ones that please him. So, for the brilliance of his brain's evolution, he thinks about what he needs to think about. Which is mostly how to earn enough money to buy what he needs at the store and pay the rent. He's lived by the fruit of that spring for 7 years but has no sense of how deep and wide is the watershed.
What is it that innocent human children and other species are being invited to endure and what is risked of that innocence by calling for battle at this hour? There is something essential in friendship and fidelity. What does the call to action look like when every aspect of one's life, personal and professional, is rooted in trust rather than insecurity? Following that question leads one to models readied to scale. Unified benevolence is happening.
Let not the words, but the underlying assumptions be understood. The necessary mobilization is one of power, not force. The action is of the heart, not the mind, which can be as dangerous a tool as any bomb ever imagined, built, and dropped.
When one fights change, change surely wins. Cancer in the human body can be cleared through a radical change in thinking, diet, and activity without the assault of chemical weapons that further compromise the entire system. So too, climate change, the equivalent in planetary imbalance, can be more effectively and efficiently addressed by a radical change in human diet, material consumption, and activity. Alternate energy sources represent a small fraction and the greatest ecological-economic expense of this radical change in diet and activity, which, as for the individual body, is a deep healing - a cure for disease rather than treatment of the symptom.
Rather than purchase a more fuel-efficient vehicle, a capable feeling person may very well choose to drive less, improving their health and saving on fuel, while offering to help their neighbor with a mortgage payment, medical bill, trashed roof, or total rebuild after a flood or fire. Just as diagnosis and dietary prescription vary by body type and systemic state, so too there is no cookie-cutter option for community resilience. There is an intelligence to intra and interspecies dynamics that human beings largely do not know and may not ever grasp in total even when humans are rooted in the community. With political, economic, and ecological climates all in transition, past experience does not serve decision making and clinging to false securities as others starve is not only cruel, but dangerous.
Might as well rest a bit and return to the origins of human kindness and compassion.
At least then, we do our best in the eyes of the child.