Consensus is growing. Civilization as we know it is on a death watch. Like so many who stand at the bedside of ones we love, I feel helpless and heartbroken.
With all the information we’ve had for decades –
- all the books/ papers/ websites with ever more dire warnings, with
- all of the scientist ever more courageously speaking out, with
- all of the IPCC reports, with
- all of Bill McKibben’s indefatigable reporting and
- all of James Hansen’s courageous truth telling and
- all of the knowledge oil producers have had for decades of the inevitable impact of transferring oil from ground to atmosphere,
– why the F*CK are we here on the brink of climate disaster?
With all of the finger pointing and name calling from all of the sides – you sound angry/ intellectual/ chicken sh*t/ stupid/ hippie-dippy/ carnivore/ willfully ignorant/ too Pollyanna/ too bleak – why can’t we pause to realize that blame is a delay tactic when action is needed?
With all of the changing lightbulbs and bicycle riding and veganism and driving Priuses, why the inexorable march to civilizational self-destruction?
I’m the type that takes all the warnings seriously and have for 30 years. Your Money or Your Life was written to address overconsumption, the biggest driver of climate chaos. Blessing the Hands that Feed Us was written to explore, extol and encourage a shift to eating more locally, since industrial agriculture is measurably one of the main drivers of carbon pollution. Social scientist Everett Rogers claimed that innovations spread when just 20% the population takes on a new belief or behavior. After that, it becomes what everyone knows and does. My partner, Joe Dominguez, and I took the bait. Convince enough people to prefer “enough” over “more” and the overconsumption problem is solved. Tens of millions read about, heard and saw us, but let’s be honest, another team called capitalism/ or money/ or advertising outspent us in promoting “more”. We helped many people but we did not change the system. One iota.
We were certainly not alone in this effort. In the 1990s studies confirmed that 25% of the US Population embodied at least some of the beliefs and behaviors of Voluntary Simplicity, thanks to Dave Wampler, Carol Holst, Cecile Andrews, Duane Elgin, Wanda Urbanska, John DeGraaf, Jerome Segel and so many more. Even getting to the magic number for rapid adoption to happen, nothing happened at the necessary scale.
It’s a Humpty Dumpty moment. We’ve called out the horses. We’ve called out the men (and women). We are failing and we don’t know how to do the hardest thing ever for any self-destructive being:
We need to stop. Not give up, but stop.
Do nothing, if only for enough minutes to feel the enormity of our situation, the brevity of our lives and how lost we really are.
Resistance hasn’t made a dent – yet. Calls to morality can polarize as easily as mobilize. Yet we need to keep asking, “By what lights do I guide my life? Is my path honest? Humble? In service to all and resistance to none?” By the way, there are no good answers to these questions. They are not designed to be answered. Our children, by their very vulnerability to a future they didn’t create, are asking us to look. By their very existence, they press the issue. It’s never too late for anything when your children are at risk.
Much of what we love will perish – people, ideas, forests, sweet little towns like the one I live in – and there is nothing we can do to stop it. We don’t know how the unraveling will sequence.
Let’s at least talk about this.
What needs to stop? What needs to never stop?
We need to accept our condition. To accept it means we cease, if only for an hour or an afternoon, analyzing and strategizing. It means a pause in contradicting the bad news with recitation of the good. It means really sitting with the reality, if only for a little while, that we can’t stop this unraveling.
Acceptance doesn’t mean slowing down so you can see more clearly the next step. It is acceptance. It is not hunkering down until it is safe and then getting back to life as we have known it. It’s actually being here now in a gut-wrenching way.
Acceptance is seeing what is right in front of you and not trying to make it any different than it is. How do we stop thinking about means and ends, about “If I do this, that will happen”?
Activism is my drug of choice in denying the grief that is present when I drop my efforts to change things. To that degree, I render myself noble but ineffective.
This is what makes our moment in time holy. To be able to read or see the news without flinching but also without a sense of failure or dread. To be able to get good news without assuming the war is over and peace has returned to the land. To see how we have participated in the chain of consequences that have brought us to the hard times we are in – climate disruptions, rising authoritarianism – and not feel like a failure or a criminal or a patsy. Reality is not proof that you are good or bad.
This is a good moment for the Serenity Prayer: God give me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can’t and the wisdom to know the difference.
Can you do this? Can I? Accept without trying to change, act without attachment to results?
Accept… without stopping the commitment to be the most courageous human you can be, whatever that means to you. Accept… while fighting for our humanity, our ability to stay awake and do what the situation requires. Accept… while knowing that conditions beyond our control – floods, wars, plagues, droughts – may arrive on our shores and swallow all we’ve built. Accept that each of us is merely and glorious one human being among over 100 billion who have ever walked this earth.
You are a sentence in a paragraph of the book of all humanity. Or a word. Or letter. Or comma. That fate is sealed. You are a human. No one, ever, has ever known what the future will bring.
We know that our kin through time have faced Ice Ages and desertification. We know our adaptability is one of our strongest suits – as well as our hubris. We are not talking about our species winking out entirely (though it is possible). We are talking about decimations at the scale of the Incas and Mayas and Romans and countless others. Only the most humble and close to good land and strong communities are suited to live without the features of civilization. We cannot imagine how helpless we are.
Yet we must imagine this unraveling. By giving up fixing we can see the true awe-fullness of what we have wrought.
Now is also a good time to think of what Krishna said to Arjuna, the reluctant warrior unwilling to enter the battle because his allies and enemies were both his kin. In this exquisite part of the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says:
“Considering also your duty as a warrior you should not waver. Because there is nothing more auspicious for a warrior than a righteous war. Only the fortunate warriors, O Arjuna, get such an opportunity for an unsought war that is like an open door to heaven.”
This is echoed in Christopher Fry’s sentences in A Sleep of Prisoners:
Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to face us everywhere, never to leave us till we take the longest stride of soul we ever took. Affairs are now soul size. The enterprise Is exploration into God.
Our task is not to fight them or it, but to fight the many ways we don’t want to do this hard thing: to face where we are. To feel the burn. And then do what your heart, not your mind, shows you.
Is there one something, right now, however small, that you can practice accepting without changing, as an expression of your humble openness to what is?