Editor’s Note: Technology has created a virtual lifespace for all: a lifespace that gives us calculated doses of dopamine and gets us addicted to it. The following piece urges us to remove ourselves from the technological world that we have unwittingly been entangled into and to place ourselves within the natural, real world.
Praise the Technology!
89% of Americans say they check their phones within the first 10 minutes of waking up.
75% of Americans feel uneasy leaving their phone at home.
75% use their phone on the toilet.
69% have texted someone in the same room as them before.
60% sleep with their phone at night
57% consider themselves “addicted” to their phones
55% say that they have never gone longer than 24 hours without their cell phone.
47% of people say they feel a sense of panic or anxiety when their cell phone battery goes below 20%.
After a Hewlett-Packard BIOS update fried my computer’s motherboard I had four-and-a-half days without a computer while the part was in transit to the neighborhood repair guy I found because of guidance in a dream from a Carolina Wren reminding me to look local; then Internet via cell phone helped find the repair guy.
The night before I had decided to go to Best Buy’s Geek Squad, and later on learned that they typically don’t replace motherboards.
I am not much adept with cell phone internet usage so without the habitual computer checking of email and news-hounding web-searching, I wondered: What is that habit, that urge, that compulsion that has so many people hooked to their gadgets?…hooked as if the gadget is the Oracle of Delphi and everyone doesn’t have a clue what’s going on or what the future will bring UNTIL they beseech the high priestess of technology.
Various online stats indicate that people check their phones anywhere from every three to twelve minutes! Without doing that, what else is there to check, to tune-in to?
How about: the natural world, meaningful symbols, mental exercises, deep listening, dreams, to name but a few.
Perhaps people too-often feel something lacking or the need to feel complete by having interacted with someone, or a message, news article, video, or game. Normal urges yet when obsessively habitual, I venture to say that there is the searching for such a tech moment so as to save one’s self.
But save one’s self from what? Boredom?
Or to riff the old saying attributed to Socrates, the examined life which makes life worth living?
In that case, the gadget becomes a lazy savior, but not an individual savior rather a conveyor of little techno savior moments which while temporarily satisfying, the feeling doesn’t last long so one must check the gadget again for another little savior moment, and again.
Some of the hooks of this religion of technology are: the promises put forth by the advertising merchants of veneer from their pixel pulpits; keeping up with the corporate news sports-style coverage of “perpetual war for perpetual peace,” as historian Charles A. Beard phrased it; an incessant need to be in communication with human beings, at the neglect of the non-human beings.
Little techno savior moments also lean toward mechanical, robotic and unemotional forms of communication, well, except for emojis and exclamation points!!!!!
(wow! he-she-they must really omg like me!!!!!)
Yet here I am scribbling with pen and paper looking forward to my computer’s born-again status so that I may type and share this missive with whomever may happen to read it.
Ay, there’s the rub, the to tech or not to tech rub . . . or how much to tech.
I can’t begin to address the big picture of technology usage as it is the backbone of global and local business transactions, plus personal interfacing, whether you can touch the face or not. So I simply address the consciousness of the usage as I see it playing out in society at large.
Little techno savior seekers move in lockstep with their electronic marching orders of selected, scripted, distorted or outright lies news-feeds; shop till you reach the top of social status clicks; assuage deep-rooted personal insecurities by amassing more ‘likes.’
Yet in the AI world, even the concept of a savior has been depersonalized and reduced to a drive-thru fast-food fleeting moment.
I propose that how we use the gadgets is one starting point for re-evaluation, the how being the consciousness with which we use them and a weighing of what we are not using enough: our feet, our hearts, our minds, dreams, intuitions, hunches, meditations, messages from our so-called neighbor the natural world and how those messages intertwine with the dreaming time that is beyond time, beyond rational thought, beyond click and ye shall find.
The good news is that all that good stuff is readily available inside you and outside your window if you’re willing to work for it, work as hard as a child working in an underground mine in the Congo for cobalt so you can have the facility to send an emoji that a new day is dawning.
And by “work” I don’t mean job for money rather the discipline and receptivity to serving something bigger than your ego, something bigger than appeasing your momentary fancy of a feel-good hook.
Bob Dylan sings in “My Back Pages”:
“In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach…
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.”
And so I must dismiss any notion that this scribbling will save anyone, though I would like to think that it may tilt the scale of consciousness so that more people will be able to save themselves.
After four-and-a-half days with minimal gadget use, I am reminded that it is a tool and the manner in which humanity produces and uses such tools will determine their functionality or lack there of, with ever the questions: At what cost to habitats where massive mining occurs; at what cost to the well-being of the workers, too-often slave laborers; at what cost to one’s self and the natural world for the lack of selfless service to that very world?
In his book The Religion of Technology, David F. Noble cites technology as often spurred by a “masculine millenarian mentality,” often exhibited with the military and science frame of mind, along with a sense of religious redemption. Yet this sense of redemption is deceptively foolhardy.
According to J. D. Bernal, quoted in the book:
“The cardinal tendency of progress is the replacement of an indifferent chance environment by a deliberately created one. As time goes on, the acceptance, the appreciation, even the understanding of nature, will be less and less needed. In its place will come the need to determine the desirable form of the humanly controlled universe.” (p. 175)
What this boils down to is if we as a species go the route of playing materialistic God . . . or are willing to play along with and be played by the Earth and the spiritual energies above and within Her.
While perhaps too cute or quaint or unbelievable to some human beings, the likes of little Carolina Wrens can show the way. But such guidance can not be bought rather is the fruit of relationship, as for many years I have put and let stay up undecorated holiday wreaths on my patio, keep them up even when they have dried from scented fresh woods green to brown.
Why? Because the wrens often sleep and, while I can’t scientifically prove it, dream in them.
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a verbiage experiencer, in other words, he’s into etymology, writes about his experiences and to encourage people to learn from direct experiences, not just head knowledge.
He writes, small press publishes, and is the author of 17 books. Mankh travels a holistic mystic Kaballah-rooted pathway staying in touch with Turtle Island and the cycles of the Seasons. His works can be found here.
Editor’s note: If you search the keywords renewable energyproblems you’ll be snowed under with deceptive synonyms like challenges, opportunities or even solutions. Most articles don’t go into the depth of why “renewable” energy is continuing the ongoing environmental atrocities.
In Germany the buzz word is energy shift (Energiewende), which means we allegedly shift from a “bad energy” to a “good one”. But in reality it’s just a shift of our addiction from one “drug” to another, that is similarly contaminating. As Boris highlights in his article, only through a transition to a de-industrialized society will we live in a truly sustainable relationship with Mother Earth.
The word for world is forest. Long before humans existed, in the geological eras we now refer to as the Carboniferous and Permian, vast, dense swamp forests of ancient ferns, calamites, and the now extinct species of Sigillariaceae, Diaphorodendraceae, and Lepidodendraceae dominated the landmass of our planet. The high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere provided ideal growing conditions for plants and led to an overproduction of biomass that accumulated in the swampy soils of the primeval forests.
Over millions of years, parts of these swamps were regularly flooded by rivers and thus covered by sediments of clay and sand. These cyclical sedimentation conditions compressed and drained the swamp soils. Particularly in the Upper Carboniferous period, the organic source material was air sealed and compacted under high pressure and heat and thus finally converted into hard coal.
The other word for world is water. Alongside the primeval forests, nutrient-rich shelf and inland seas shaped the primeval landscape. Water is literally the source of all life, and even those of us who eventually left the seas in the course of evolution and learned to live on land still carry it in our blood. Our blood plasma contains salt and ions in a ratio remarkably similar to that of the oceans.
Our sacred Mother Earth, in her infinite love for all life, gave birth to an almost infinite variety of it. The primeval shelf seas were rich in life, with marine microorganisms such as algae forming by far the largest proportion of marine biomass. In the deeper zones, the dead algae were deposited on the sea floor together with clay particles. The low-oxygen conditions prevented the complete decomposition of the algal biomass and led to the formation of fouling sludge (Sapropel). The formations of thick sediment sequences with a high proportion of organic material, slowly accumulating and concentrating over millions of years, eventually became the energy source that made the industrialization of civilization possible: crude oil.
Ultimately, our planet has only one source of energy, namely the sun. All fossil fuels consist of millions of years of solar energy stored in fossil biomass. In the meantime, our holy Mother Earth, in her infinite love, created a further, almost infinite variety of life. The dinosaurs were followed by birds, mammals and finally the species that today quite immodestly calls itself Homo sapiens sapiens, the wisest of the wise. How wise it is to destroy the planet on which we live, however, must be questioned.
For the longest time of their existence, Stone Age people, who were primitive only in the imagination of the civilized, lived in harmony with ecological principles, until some cultures made a functional mistake: They cultivated annual grasses with nutritious seeds in large-scale monocultures. The surplus of easily storable and tradeable carbohydrates from grain monocultures led to unprecedented population growth, the construction of city-states with standing armies, patriarchal ruling cults, monotheistic religions, slavery and an endless wave of violence, war, colonialism and environmental destruction, in short, the form of culture we call civilization. Climate change is not a recent phenomenon.
The deforestation of primeval forests, the draining of swamps etc. for agriculture, mining, the construction of warships and other war machinery already had measurable effects on the global climate in ancient times, as we know from atmospheric data from gases stored in the no longer perpetual ice of Antarctica and Greenland.
In essence – and the essence is our relationship with the planet and our fellow creatures – there were and are only two human cultures: indigenous and civilized. While indigenous peoples live in harmony with biological principles, endless expansion, colonialism and overexploitation are the hallmarks of any civilization that eventually lead to its collapse. Civilizations have always displaced or destroyed indigenous peoples.
After the dominant Western civilization expanded throughout Europe and, after 1492, continued expanding to the Americas where it committed the greatest genocide on indigenous peoples in human history, in its endless hunger for resources it made a second, functional and fundamental mistake: it began to make use of the fossil fuels coal and oil, thereby increasing its destructive power to the extreme. Industrial civilization is civilization on steroids, and its steroids are fossil fuels.
Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. While indigenous peoples had always fought for the preservation of nature and thus their livelihoods, people in the Western world were now also beginning to gather and try to protect wild places and wild creatures from destruction by our civilization. Climate change only came to public attention in the 1990s, as scientists like James Hansen only began to understand in the late 1980s that the burning of millions of years of stored fossil solar energy within a single century, and the release of the carbon dioxide trapped in it, would wreak havoc on our planet’s climate.
Due to the unprecedented overuse of our planet on an industrial scale, we Westerners today have more resources and energy at our disposal than any previous human generation. Western affluence and the arrogance that comes with it have seduced the environmental movement into a very narrow public discourse that focuses solely on global warming and unrealistic technocratic utopias, and in which the most extensive, dramatic and rapid extinction of species of all time, which we are currently witnessing, no longer plays a role.
Global warming is only just beginning to have a serious impact on us. The destruction of the environment, the extinction of all non-human life, in short the fact that civilizations, and especially industrial civilization, are inherently destructive and overexploiting their resources. This by definition can never be sustainable and will inevitably collapse. Although the resulting fact that we should actually radically change our way of life, are a taboo subject in public discourse.
The functional error in the belief system surrounding so-called renewable energy is that the fossil fuels coal and oil are literally storage devices for millions of years of fossil solar energy. These “natural batteries” have a higher energy density than any energy storage system developed by humans. Diesel stores 46 times more energy per kilogram than the most modern lithium-ion battery. Fossil fuels are therefore incredibly practical because they are easy to transport, can be stored indefinitely and can be burned whenever needed.
The entire electricity grid infrastructure is built on these characteristics, although the term “grid” is inaccurate in more ways than one. Firstly, it is more of a network than a grid. Second, it is not a single grid, but hundreds of grids around the world, each supplying power to a specific region. The entire network essentially works like one big circuit that starts and ends at the power plants. Sub-circuits lead to individual households, companies, factories, server farms, hospitals, etc. Electricity still flows between the regions, but it is carefully regulated.
The wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric power plants that we summarize under the vague term “renewable energies” are not energies or energy sources in the true sense of the word, but technologies that can convert sunlight or the kinetic energy of wind and water into electricity. The terms used in public discourse, such as “energy transition”, “renewable energy” or “green energy”, suggest that we want to switch from one form of energy to another. This is where the error in thinking lies, because what we are actually trying to do is to replace fossil energy storage with modern technologies for generating electricity.
One of the many problems with this is that this additionally generated electrical energy fluctuates greatly, depending on the sunlight, the prevailing wind or the current. According to estimates, the modern electricity grid can only cope with up to 35% electricity from wind power and 12% electricity from photovoltaic, i.e. a total of around 47%, or just under half of so-called renewable energy, as these fluctuations can still be balanced out by conventional coal and gas-fired power plants.
High power fluctuations are not compatible with a functioning industrial power grid. Most household appliances can cope well with a voltage fluctuation of 5 to 10 percent, but modern factories, server farms and hospitals with their highly complex equipment and machines require precise, stable currents.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to combine the intermittent, highly fluctuating power flows from thousands of wind turbines and solar power plants into a reliable grid voltage because there is no buffer storage on a grid scale (currently, conventional coal and gas-fired power plants serve as a kind of buffer, as power generation can be ramped up or down quickly depending on demand). The fact remains that the grid was not built for so-called renewable energies, but for fossil fuels.
But quite apart from that, even if ingenious scientists and engineers managed to convert the electricity grid completely to solar, wind and hydroelectric power, there is still the small problem that our civilization is destroying the planet. The hope of saving our civilization through modern technologies, which in reality do not help the planet but are themselves destructive in many ways, is just a Bright Green Lie. We cannot live on a destroyed planet, and it is long past time for a serious and radical discourse that addresses in necessary depth the highly dysfunctional relationship between our culture and our sacred Mother Earth, who brought us all forth in her infinite love, and who is our only home.
Boris Wu is a father of two, a Permaculture farmer, radical environmental activist and cadre for Deep Green Resistance
Photo: Stone Age dwelling at Kierikki Stone Age Centre Oulo Finland, Ninaras/CCBY 4.0
Editor’s Note: The following piece is an argument for deep green environmentalism and attempts to answer the questions: What is deep green environmentalism? How have other forms of environmentalism (particularly bright green and technological) failed to save nature? Why do we need deep green environmentalism?
In recent years the media has noticed that the incessant calls of “climate emergency” followed by no action that is making any material difference to the climate change crisis has lead to people feeling depressed about the future. Of course, being the media, they report on this as if it’s a simple story of a world split into three categories of people: climate activists, climate deniers, and climate doomers. But this is too simple a story, as we will see.
This essay was prompted by a March 24, 2023 Washington Post article about “climate doomers”. The article describes these doomers as a group of people who “believe that the climate problem cannot, or will not, be solved in time to prevent all-out societal collapse.”
This article comes shortly after the IPCC’s AR6 Synthesis report Summary for Policymakers was published mid-March. The report states that global warming has reached 1.1C above the 1850–1900 baseline, that greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase despite thirty-plus years of warnings about climate change and global conferences to address the issue, and that global warming has contributed to “widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people.” It goes on to say that despite these thirty years of meetings and reports and hand-wringing, it is “likely that warming will exceed 1.5C” and that “every increment of global warming will intensify multiple and concurrent hazards.”
Is it any wonder that many reading this report and the news stories about it might believe climate change will not be solved? We can see with our own eyes that at 1.1C warming, already extreme weather events linked to climate change are connected with conflict, food and water shortages, natural disasters, and even war. Is it any wonder that we might think “likely” warming of 1.5C — 2.0C might cause societal collapse? Especially when one looks at the graph of primary energy consumption, which shows a relentless upward climb of the world’s consumption of coal, oil, and gas (with recent minor dips correlating only with the massive recession in 2008 and with a global shutdown for Covid in 2020).
It is obvious to anyone who has eyes that energy use increases with economic growth. It is obvious to anyone who understands the rudimentary basics of how the global economy works that the only time energy use dips is when recession or pandemics hit and cause a whole lot of economic pain for people without sustained government bailouts. While the energy share of so-called renewables increases in minuscule amounts each year, its share is tiny in comparison to that of fossil fuels, and with the timelines outlined in recent IPCC reports, it’s obvious to most observers that, even if renewables worked as promised, there is no way fossil fuels will be replaced anytime soon. Thus, the conclusion that “the climate problem cannot, or will not, be solved in time to prevent all-out societal collapse” starts to look a bit like a realistic outlook. Do these realists deserve to be called “doomers”?
The Washington Post article goes on to talk about the worry that “doom” can cause paralysis, and admonishes us that we must maintain hope if we are to be effective climate change activists. The main protagonist of the story is a young activist worried about human extinction. The story ends on a hopeful note with the same young activist focused instead on engaging in his community by “showing there is support for the solutions.” Unfortunately, the article doesn’t discuss what those solutions are.
The world the mainstream media seems to see when it’s reporting on climate change is one focused almost entirely on carbon: burning too much of it, the people who deny that burning it is bad, the people who are trying to get the world to burn less of it, and the people who are categorized as doomers because they realistically assess the situation and begin to lose hope.
However, this perspective is missing the bigger picture. Occasionally, the media will report on other crises — the pollution crisis (plastic pollution is popular in the media, and “forever chemicals” have recently made the news a few times) and the biodiversity crisis (although the UN meetings about biodiversity bring far fewer participants, and far less press coverage) have made the mainstream news a few times in the past year.
How often do you hear about “ecological overshoot” in the mainstream media? If you say “never” then you’d be right. How often do you see any mainstream media articles about a serious plan for reducing human consumption, for changing the global economic system, or (shudder) addressing overpopulation? If you think that any journalist attempting to write about these topics might be fired, I’d agree.
Most people have never heard of “The Great Acceleration” or the “Planetary Boundaries Project” outside certain activist circles. These projects aim to show how human impact is increasing exponentially across many domains, and that the planet has thresholds beyond which the Earth systems that support us begin to fail.
Fewer still have engaged with the idea of “ecological overshoot”, a concept familiar to ecologists studying species, but not so to the general public. One of my favorite resources for understanding ecological overshoot is a 1977 video of Donnella Meadows explaining overshoot and collapse at Dartmouth College. Meadows is one of the authors of the 1972 report Limits to Growth, which used a computer simulation to illustrate the consequences of unchecked human growth (population, consumption, pollution) on the ecosystems that support us, and the loss of carrying capacity that overshoot creates. Another excellent resource about ecological overshoot is William Catton’s 1980 book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Needless to say, if the world had more seriously contemplated the concept of ecological overshoot back when Meadow’s Limits to Growth and Catton’s Overshoot were published, we might not be in the predicament we find ourselves in today.
The 80’s almost entirely erased whatever concern these books might have created. The decade of “greed is good” accelerated economic growth around the world, and cemented society’s trajectory of hyper consumption and its attendant destruction of the natural world.
Just because most people ignored ecological overshoot doesn’t mean it went away; in fact the overshoot worsened considerably and exponentially in the subsequent decades, and continues to do so today. Indeed, due to 3% average growth (as measured by GWP, gross world product), we’ve burned half of all the fossil fuels ever burned by humans and used as many extracted materials in the past 35 years as we did in the prior 10,000 years. This is the power of exponential growth. Along with exponential growth and destruction comes accelerating loss of carrying capacity, as outlined by Limits to Growth in 1972.
“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” — Albert Bartlett.
Ecological overshoot of the carrying capacity of one’s environment can have many causes. In her 1977 video, Donnella Meadows describes how removing the predators of a deer population causes a huge spike in deer numbers, which causes the larger numbers of deer to eat all the food available to them, which creates a loss of carrying capacity as the ecosystem is over-grazed and degraded, which then causes a collapse in the deer population below its original level. This is standard behavior for a species in ecological overshoot.
We humans are a species in ecological overshoot. That means we are currently consuming more than the ecosystems we rely on for life can support, and polluting our environment with more waste and toxics than it can absorb. Why hasn’t human population collapsed yet? Because we are still on the upside of the spike.
This spike can’t last for long; as with all species in overshoot, our population will collapse too. Just as the deer ate too much food and lowered the carrying capacity of their environment, we are consuming too much and polluting too much, and as a result we too are lowering the carrying capacity of our environment — which in our case, is most of the planet.
The big picture that mainstream media, like the Washington Post, is missing is that climate change is just one of many symptoms of our species in ecological overshoot. When you step back and look at the big picture, what you see is this:
As a species, we rely on flourishing ecosystems all over the globe to support us and provide the basics for human life on planet Earth: food, water, shelter, and community.
If the ice melts in the Arctic, that affects weather systems the world over. If the Amazon rainforest is cut down, that, too, affects weather systems the world over. More extreme weather impacts our ability to grow food; it causes floods in some areas and droughts in others, affects the availability of clean water, and damages ecosystems.
If we degrade the soil with industrial agriculture, we cause top soil loss, which means we can grow less food, and we have to use a lot more fertilizer (which is made from fossil fuels and causes pollution) to get the same food output.
If we pollute the land with toxic chemicals, we pollute our own food, either directly by polluting crops, or by polluting the animals we eat for food.
If we pollute the fresh water, we reduce the availability of water to drink and contaminate and harm the other species we depend on for life. If we pollute the oceans, we contaminate and harm marine life, contaminate and harm ourselves when eat marine animals, and degrade the carrying capacity of the oceans.
Like the deer in Donnella Meadows’ lecture, our numbers have grown too large; we are consuming too much of everything in our ecosystems (food, trees, soil, wildlife, metals, minerals, fossil fuels, etc.) and degrading the carrying capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems to support us. Our population will crash, and badly. Whatever number of humans was sustainable before the invention of agriculture, before the industrial revolution — before we began degrading topsoils, before we began using fossil fuels to exponentially speed up extraction from and destruction of the natural world — that number will no longer be possible because the carrying capacity of the Earth will be much lower.
This is true not just for humans. Our species’ loss of carrying capacity affects other species too. There are the many species we are driving extinct (at 1000 times the natural extinction rate). We have caused almost total pollution and degradation of natural habitats, meaning far fewer and less healthy and diverse flora and fauna can live in what’s left of these habitats. We are destroying the carrying capacity of the planet for everyone, not just ourselves.
The relentless focus on climate change in the past few years — by governments, by the media, and now by corporations that take advantage of our climate concerns to sell us a whole new assortment of products — has blinded many of us to the bigger picture of ecological overshoot.
Why the focus on climate change, out of all the possible symptoms of ecological overshoot? Because corporations could see how to monetize climate change, and they’ve done so, quite effectively. Of the many symptoms of ecological overshoot, climate change is the only one that can be solved (or so we are told) by new technologies. “Innovations” as corporate PR firms, the World Economic Forum, and government policy makers like to call them. Technologies that will generate “carbon free” electricity (if you ignore all the fossil fuels used to mine the materials to make these technologies, and manufacture the components, and the carbon released from the ground when it’s destroyed to install these technologies); technologies that provide the illusion we can keep living like we’re living, with electric cars, hydrogen fueled planes, and plastic made with carbon from plants instead of carbon from fossil fuels (never mind the thousands of toxic chemicals required to mix with the carbon to actually make the plastic).
For fifty years, corporations have been perfecting their public relations and greenwashing savvy. They’ve stolen from us an environmental movement that cared about life on planet Earth, and replaced it with an environmental movement that cares only about carbon and technology. Young people marching for “climate justice” demand solar panels and wind turbines; calls to protect the rainforest are nowhere to be heard these days.
Mainstream media and certain climate scientists refer to those of us who prefer to see the whole picture of ecological overshoot as “doomers” too. They lump us in with those concerned about climate change who really have given up hope, whether by realistic assessment of the situation we’re in or because they get sucked in by charismatic people who peddle conspiracy theories, as the Washington Post article describes.
Why do we get lumped in with the “climate doomers”? Because we don’t believe that so-called renewable technologies are a solution to climate change, and because we don’t agree with the now-mainstream view that continued extraction of non-renewable materials to keep this hyper consuming, hyper polluting way of life going is a good idea.
If the media was willing to delve deeper, and understand the bigger picture, they might see the climate-centric view of the world is too simplistic a view. There are many of us out here who do not fall into the “climate doomer” category, despite our push back on the relentless drive for renewables in the media. There are many of us out here who are concerned with the health and flourishing of Earth’s ecosystems, who are desperately concerned with all the symptoms of ecological overshoot, who see more extraction in the name of “technology” as worsening the situation, not improving it, and most importantly, who are working hard to protect the natural world.
We are the deep green environmentalists — the ones who understand that the natural world is primary, for without it, human animals will not have food, water, shelter, and community. We are the ones who don’t want to live in a world paved over with concrete and poisoned with chemicals and with no old growth forests left and no tall grass prairies left, with no Northern Right whales in the oceans, and no sage-grouse booming in the sagebrush steppe.
We see climate change as just one of many problems we face, and see solutions in understanding that we are human animals, rather than in more technology. We see ourselves not at the top of some imagined hierarchy but as part of a web of life; not as separate from or more important than the connected natural communities of the world, but completely dependent on these communities and their flourishing.
Remember the title of William Catton’s book? Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. “Revolutionary” means “involving or causing a complete or dramatic change.” We deep greens are the ones who are fighting for revolutionary change. We are fighting to save the planet — really save it, not just pretend we can save it with technology to reduce carbon. Does that sound “doomer” to you? Granted there are some who likely have given up, and I included a circle for them too — the “deep green doomers”. But I’ve never met one. Never. Every deep green environmentalist I know is an activist working for revolutionary change. Every single one.
The mainstream media never talks about us deep green environmentalists. With corporate masters to serve, thousands of young people marching in the streets demanding solar panels and wind turbines is what writes the headlines. Extremes sell, so reporting on “climate doomers” grabs the eyeballs.
What doesn’t work is reporting on the slow, painstaking work of saving a species of tiny frog from a geothermal development, or the tedious late nights it takes to file lawsuits to protect sage-grouse habitat and organize people to prevent timber sales or stand in front of bulldozers. But this is what it takes to actually save the planet. Not greenwash it, not replace overconsumption of one non-renewable material extracted from the Earth with overconsumption of another in a desperate attempt to keep this way of life going when it’s obvious to anyone who is paying attention that’s impossible.
What really doesn’t work is suggesting, even the tiniest little bit, that the dominant paradigm of infinite economic growth on a finite planet is a recipe for failure, as illustrated in the graph of ecological overshoot. The editors at mainstream media outlets in the pockets of corporate masters and government policy makers would never let an article like that get published, would they?
Editor’s Note: This piece was offered by Austin Persons. He wrote this in the last fall, with a sense of grief over what has been lost in the natural world.
By Austin Persons
In this time of transitions deciduous forests glow, rustling softly on the breeze. Leaves, having fed their trees since spring, drift poetically to Earth. They wish to protect the ground which sustains their community, to merge with the infinite in the second half of their lives as leaves.
In the way of November forests, I release ideas that sustain me. They long to be shared, to keep growing, to return to all that made them possible, to take deep purpose in becoming—new forms of action and matter—in the second half of their lives as ideas. From my swaying limbs I shed gratitude and love. Like sunlight and water united, they enlarged my outwardly reaching heart with a new ring of growth. Landing thick now like a blanket over the Earth, love and gratitude embrace the rich humus from which they were born; to protect, to become, and to sustain future generations. And I glow – brilliant red and gold, brown and green against the blue sky. Lines of distinction blur. I am a colorblind rainbow rustling in the soft afternoon breeze, contemplating the coming seasons, imagining new ways of being and becoming.
In the way of November leaves, my thoughts dance through the sky and flutter across the ground searching for purpose, that place where they alone can fit; in the embrace of kin on the slow journey back to the Source. Leaves and thoughts, one and the same, scrape over the homogenous landscape of progress. They mourn. They want nothing more than to cover these forsaken places thickly under a blanket of love, but it is hard to settle on concrete and asphalt. They shudder at the thought of being swept up, bagged and buried in a landfill; discarded, rendered purposeless among countless precious gifts from our Mother. So they keep moving, grieving the loss of timeless living legends, irreplaceable works of art – sacrificed without cause for someone’s short-sighted delusions of wealth.
I wonder what messages these leaves carry, where they will settle, and how they will council once all have arrived. Could the wild leaves understand what they had never seen, could the civilized leaves see beyond what they had always known? My wild and civilized thoughts wrestle when they meet, they hardly speak the same language. Their greatest desire, however, is to find common ground; a place worth settling, a reason to decay into something greater than one among kin of every shape and color. I wonder if it is not so among the falling leaves.
I find myself grieving, searching along with the leaves, wondering whether I will be able to fulfill my duties or be rendered purposeless; buried in a heap of waste that once was wealth.
Like time, leaves and thoughts circle; narrowly, broadly, remembering, forgetting, creating, destroying, uniting darkness and light. White expands across the spectrum of possibility through the prism of thought, I search for answers on the margins of perception.
I ask the wind to carry my love and gratitude to Life, to the Ancestors, along with a plea for help. I tell them of the crusades against their legacy, of violence against present and future generations perpetrated by those who claim to be our leaders. I beg the Ancestors on behalf of Life to intervene. Whisper in our ears, show us visions when we close our eyes, guide us down the faintest of paths in the dimmest of light. Help us remember our place, and to know the way there. For I want to honestly embrace Life—long and warm—look deeply into her eyes and say without speaking: I promise to love you forever.
As a swift gust of wind paints the evening sky, the forest erupts with song and dance.
Editor’s Note: The following is a testimony that Will Falk gave at Truth, Reckoning and Right Relationship with the Great Lakes on October 16 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the shore of Lake Erie, Cleveland. Here, Will relates Robert J. Lifton’s concept of claims to virtue to the destruction of the natural world. No matter how many stories we build to justify our destruction, at the end, the destruction of the natural world is never going to be ethical, and is going to destroy all life on Earth – including humans.
On April 17, 2013, while living in Milwaukee, WI and working as a public defender, I tried to kill myself in my apartment a few blocks from the shore of Lake Michigan. After I was released from the hospital – and while I was recovering, trying to understand what led me to the decision to try to take my own life – I spent every morning that spring and summer on a big red granite boulder listening to and watching Lake Michigan.
I heard her gentle freshwater waves breaking on sand. I heard the cries of sea gulls. I heard soft summer rains fall on the lake with the joyful song of water completing the long journey from the Earth’s surface to the clouds, across oceans and continents, to fall into the welcoming arms of more freshwater. I saw great blue herons stalking bluegill fish in the shallows. I watched bugs, butterflies, and songbirds crisscrossing the breeze, their flight patterns sewing stitches of color in the air. I smiled while children, celebrating their summer freedom, swam, played, and learned what it means to be human in a classroom far older than school.
Listening and watching like this pulled me from the despair that caused me to attempt suicide. Lake Michigan gave me the medicine I needed to recover. Lake Michigan truly saved my life. And, through my memories of that beautiful time, Lake Michigan continues to save my life.
Of course, the natural world also gives us life. All life depends on clean water, healthy soil, a habitable climate, and complex relationships formed by living creatures in natural communities. The Great Lakes are some of these natural communities. Because so much life depends on the Great Lakes, the needs of the Great Lakes are primary. Social morality must emerge from a humble understanding of this reality. Law is integral to any society’s morality, so law must emerge from this understanding, too.
One breezy June day in 2013, filled with gratitude because the natural world saved, gave, and continues to give me my life, I vowed to spend the rest of my life trying to save the natural world’s life. I am a lawyer. Law is one tool we have in the fight to protect the natural world. One of the first problems anyone who tries to use law to protect the natural world encounters is that our legal system is rooted in an assumption that the natural world is mere property for humans to use, exploit, and destroy. This is one of the main reasons we’re living in a time of intensifying ecological collapse – a time when humans may, in fact, be capable of destroying Earth’s life support systems.
I do not believe it is human nature to destroy the natural world. I believe it is human nature to recognize our kinship with the natural world, to recognize that the natural processes giving us life are sacred. I believe that it is human nature to insist that all of our relatives in the natural world, all of the processes giving us life, must be protected. My beliefs are supported by the reality that our ancestors lived for hundreds of thousands of years in traditional cultures that did not push the planet to the brink of total ecological collapse. All of those traditional cultures taught that nature is sacred and that we have a responsibility to protect our other-than-human kin.
So, what happened? If it is human nature to treat the natural world as sacred, why does our legal system currently objectify the natural world?
The simple truth is that people who are willing to exploit the natural world will, in the short term, always have more power than those who respect the boundaries of nature. Human cultures that are willing to take more from the land than the land freely gives eventually exhaust their land. When this happens, these cultures are confronted with a choice: either they look for new lands to take what they need or they collapse. Either they impose boundaries on themselves or they find new boundaries to break. When these exploitative cultures conquer new peoples and lands, their exploitative ideologies replace life-centered, traditional ideologies.
The history of the colonization of this continent is a crystal clear example of how this process has played out in history. Europeans exceeded the carrying capacity of their homelands and began establishing colonies around the world to funnel resources back to Europe. This process, which is ongoing, is genocidal and ecocidal. Traditional communities are massacred for defending the land. Traditional cultures are destroyed or driven underground because their teachings question whether all of this is inevitable. And, all of this is done, ultimately, to control the land and resources.
The psychologist, Robert Jay Lifton, who devoted his career to understanding the psychological justifications that made the Holocaust possible wrote in a 2014 New York Times opinion piece, “Over the course of my work, I have come to the realization that it is very difficult to endanger or kill large numbers of people except with a claim to virtue.” Lifton explained that the Nazis didn’t characterize their actions as mass murder, they were “purifying the Aryan race” and “creating more living space for Germans.” Here, Americans have made and use similar claims to virtue to justify atrocities. As Americans pushed Native peoples onto reservations and stole their land, they weren’t engaged in genocide against Native peoples, they were manifesting their destiny.
We can extend Lifton’s idea to the natural world. It is very difficult to destroy the natural world and kill large numbers of other-than-humans except with a claim to virtue. At the heart of one of the most dominant European mythologies – Judeo-Christianity – are claims to virtues like the one found in the Bible’s Book of Genesis where people were taught that they “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on earth.” Armed with that justification, and the technologies made possible by that justification, Europeans have come to dominate this land and her indigenous peoples.
Western legal systems, heavily influenced by Christianity, provide more of these claims to virtue. Humans are not destroying whole natural communities with mines, pipelines, crops, and clearcuts, they are simply exercising their property rights. Corporations that pump toxins into lakes and rivers are not polluting, they are complying with democratically-enacted regulations. Conversely, humans trying to pass rights of nature laws are not protecting their kin, they are depriving corporations of due process and equal protection.
I hate to reduce the Great Lakes – beings so ancient and so powerful – to an argument based in human self-interest. Regardless, know this: Human bodies are mostly water. If you’re one of the estimated 35 million people in the United States and Canada who depend on Great Lakes watersheds and you’re hydrated right now, the Great Lakes are literally part of you. If carcinogens continue to be pumped into the Great Lakes, if climate change burns more of the Great Lakes away and causes algal blooms to become worse and more frequent, if oceangoing, industrial vessels continue to drag species that push native species to the brink of extinction into the Great Lakes, you will be harmed. No claim to virtue can protect you from that. This is, unfortunately, ecological reality.
If we’re truly going to stop the destruction and return human cultures to right relationship with the natural world, we must change our legal system from one that objectifies nature to one that recognizes that the needs of the natural world are primary, that the health of the Great Lakes is more important than the health of the economy, and that in killing our relatives in the natural world, we are killing ourselves.
We must insist that our legal system becomes biophilic or biocentric as opposed to anthropocentric. Biophilia means the love of life – of all life. Law must protect sea gulls and summer rain; blue herons and bluegill; bugs, butterflies, and songbirds; rivers, forests, grasslands, the Great Lakes, and all the human children who depend on them.
Anything less is simply suicidal.
Will Falk is an attorney, writer, poet, activist, and organizer with Protect Thacker Pass. Protect Thacker Pass is an “independent, grassroots collective of people” protecting the land and all life from a proposed lithium mine in the Central Basin, Nevada. For Thacker Pass Facebook click here.
DGR conducted its annual fundraiser on Ecology of Spirit. If you have missed it, you can view it here. You can also visit our auction for paintings, books, brownies and conversations. The auction will remain open till October 31.
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Wild Yoga by Rebecca Wildbear. It pushes us to connect with the land. The Earth is suffering due to us. The excerpt encourages us to feel her suffering, which is intricately connected to our suffering. Finally, it inspires us to make amends by showing up, by our actions in defense of her.
Nature is an unrelenting symphony. Everywhere there is life, there is song. Flowers bloom. Mountains stand. The moon glows. The planet is always singing. Each note is a unique contribution that tends to the well-being of the whole. Humans are meant to live in sync. For decades, I have asked trees and birds, ocean and sky, canyons and creeks to help me be as authentic and soulful as they are. The world needs the bitter and resonant cry of every creature, even humans, attuning with the song of the world.
We can connect to our bodies, hearts, and souls and bring our presence to the unfolding moment. And remember how to play in the improvisational spontaneity of the universe. Lying under an oak, I am mesmerized by the long, wavy branches that stretch parallel a few feet above the ground. The shape of the oak’s branches reminds me of a song. Music is a human instinct found everywhere. It is a social glue that brings people together and creatively expresses what can’t be put into words. What if we could engage with each other and the world the way jazz musicians make music?
Playing our notes is not only a sound we make with our voices or instruments. It is our soul taking form through the shapes we make with our lives when we embody the truth of our nature, live our purpose, and offer ourselves in relational flow with other humans and the Earth. Those who live their souls are playing their notes, being their melody.
The Earth needs us to become who we are. Perhaps she longs for humans to honor and contribute to her magnificence. Our souls can only be lived in union, playing our notes while attuning to the symphony that connects us to ourselves, others, the land, and those who came before and will go after.
The symphony of the Earth is life-giving. But how can we harmonize with our dominant culture rapidly removing so many wild voices from the orchestra? Some birds — like the once abundant regent honeyeater — are forgetting their song. With hardly any adult birds left, young birds cannot find other honey-eaters to teach them. As we witness species dying and the murder of eco-systems, what difference can our notes make amid this dissonant nightmare?
I have rarely asked mind-altering plant medicines for help. This is because I have already received so much guidance from nature and my dreams. But in my late thirties, I was wrestling with the horrors of ecological devastation and wanted more help. So I asked ayahuasca, an Amazonian brew made from the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub, and I participated in six ceremonies with a curandera who sang sacred prayer songs while playing her guitar. The first two rituals steeped me in the love of my tree mythos. The third forced me to wrestle with the horrors of the world.
After drinking the tea from these plants, the intensity hit me in the belly. I felt panic like I was about to disappear and would no longer feel my arms and legs; I feared I would eventually lose my mind. Trying to remain in my body, I stomped my feet and hit my hands against each other. Everyone else must be fine, I thought, blaming myself for feeling crazy. I went outside and wrapped my body around a juniper. One of the helpers came out.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m having a hard time,” I admitted.
“Surrender,” she said. “It’s our egos that are the problem.”
I went back inside, lay on the ground, and let myself disintegrate. It was peaceful, like going to sleep. But when I got up, waves of horror consumed me. I felt like I was drowning in raw sewage with no way out. After one wave passed, I thought it was over, but there were more. They seemed endless. Some waves were a sludge of overwhelming emotions — confusion, dread, disappointment, devastation. I looked around the room. Everyone was suffering. I realized, This is not a trip; it is life, the state of the world. We are suffering. The Earth is suffering.
The music had stopped. Some people were throwing up. An older man with white hair and blue jeans got up. He held a couple of large hawk feathers and gently waved them over a bowl of water in the center of the room.
“Water,” he said softly, “we’re so sorry.” Gently, he walked around the bowl, humbly speaking to the water. “It’s our fault you suffer. We are suffering with you. Thank you for all you give, for nourishing everything. We don’t deserve your help, but please help us.”
Earlier, I had seen the white-haired man chain-smoking and had judged him. I had not realized that he was so eloquent, more than I could be. I felt ashamed I had not seen his wisdom. He moved around the circle and prayed over each of us, one by one.
The waves of horror were hard to tolerate. My chest was tight. I could barely breathe. My lungs worked hard to expand as I fought for air. I had the visceral sense that this was what forests, oceans, and mountains experience all the time. The impact the Earth feels from our dominant culture. It was not a thought but an overwhelming, full-bodied experience.
“Offer something,” the ayahuasca seemed to say.
“I have nothing valuable to give,” I said.
“All the world is suffering, and you’re just going to sit here!” She seemed incredulous.
“I don’t sing well,” I said.
“You could pray … or something.”
“I can’t come up with anything.”
“You’re a guide,” she pointed out.
“The suffering is too intense,” I responded.
“The world needs you to show up,” she reminded me.
I realized that sometimes I get consumed by suffering and discount what I might have to give. She was imploring me to show up and be available to the song that wanted to come through me. Everyone is suffering, she was showing me, and the symphony is dissonant. Yet the Earth suffers and gives. We can too. It is not a matter of healing first, then acting. It is a matter of connecting with yourself and the Earth and singing.
No one knows what will happen next. Injustice and genocide have been going on for a long while. Land and people have been exploited and destroyed for thousands of years. We need to be with the horror and the beauty. Psychic numbing removes us from the symphony. Compassion means “to suffer with.” Feeling pain may be a sign we are present with what is happening and aware of our connection to it.
Nature and our souls can give us visions so we can face the challenges of our times and engage. I guide others in their deep imagination to see back in time and remember. To return to places on the land where they have a deep connection. To listen to what the land needs. To call forth an image of the myth they were born to live. To move and dance the mysteries of what they came to embody in the world.
Horror is part of the symphony. The world needs our ensouled presence. Listen. Feel. Be present. Offer your note. Our engagement is our love.
Wild Yoga Practices for Playing Your Part in the Symphony
Attune to the world and explore ways to play your part. Trusting what you have to offer or hearing those around you may take time.
Listen to the songs of ancient cultures or your ancestors. What do they evoke in your heart, body, and imagination? Journal about or move to embody what you discover.
Wander in the wilderness. Listen to the sounds you hear from trees, water, wind, insects, and birds and the sounds you experience visually and through your other senses. Notice what or who allures you. Engage by offering sounds or movement in response.
Go out on the land and play. Offer your melody. If you don’t know what that is, explore different sounds or movements. Perhaps create a song for the land and sing it aloud. Notice where you feel drawn to offer your song. Listen for anything you hear back.
Track your dreams. Do any of them carry the theme of ancestral music, playing your note, or hearing the world’s symphony? Speak one of your dreams aloud in nature, using the present tense, and then enact it. Play your part by embodying what the dream asks.
Go to a wild place and witness how the land plays. Notice how each being engages with all the others in an improvisational movement. Try joining in. Let go of expectations and see what co-arises mutually.
Do you feel conflicted about playing your note in a broken world? Or about how to harmonize with the natural world when our dominant culture is killing the other voices? Wander on the land and share your questions and feelings. Ask for help.
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Rebecca Wildbear is the author of Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth. She is also the creator of a yoga practice called Wild Yoga, which empowers individuals to tune in to the mysteries that live within the earth community, dreams, and their own wild nature so they may live a life of creative service. She has been leading Wild Yoga programs since 2007 and also guides other nature and soul programs through Animas Valley Institute. Visit her online at http://www.rebeccawildbear.com.