Towards an Imaginal Ecology

This essay, originally written in May 2013, has now been published in the inaugural issue of Re-Imagining Magazine, a publication created by the Chicago Wisdom Project.

“To speak, to ask to have audience today in the world, requires that we speak to the world, for the world is in the audience; it too is listening to what we say.”[1] With these words James Hillman opens his essay “Anima Mundi” in which he speaks of the return of soul to the world. Such is the task we face as a species, as human beings, as we learn to cultivate a different kind of relationship with our planet, the Earth which supports our very existence. But what eyes can we use to see the soul of the world? What languages can we speak to call out to the anima mundi? With what ears shall we listen to hear the Earth’s voices in reply?

To read the rest of this article please see: “Towards An Imaginal Ecology

Imaginal Ecology

[1] James Hillman, The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc., 2007), 91.

Dreaming the Future Forward: “The Transition Handbook”

Peak oil and climate change: twin crises that our science and calculations point towards, but which must be prepared for well in advance if the truly disastrous effects are not to make a devastating impact. Rob Hopkins’ guidebook, The Transition Handbook, seeks to address these intertwined problems not by painting a grim picture of a ruined future and a civilization in freefall, but by demonstrating an alternative vision of localized, resilient communities planning for a post-oil world. The book is divided into three sections: “The Head: Why Peak Oil and Climate Change Mean That Small Is Inevitable,” “The Heart: Why Having a Positive Vision Is Crucial,” and “The Hands: Exploring the Transition Model For Inspiring Local Resilience-Building.” It so happened that I took one day to read each of these sections, and thus was able to experience them each in a qualitatively different way.

The Transition HandbookEven though much of the material presented in Part 1, “The Head,” was familiar to me, I still found this new presentation of the global ecological crisis and industrial society’s addiction to oil to have a powerful emotional impact. In my own studies I have focused so much more of late on climate change that encountering again the concept of peak oil felt like an echo of the past. And indeed, Hopkins’ book was published in 2008, and many of his predictions for when the harsh impacts of peak oil would hit have already passed—although we have gone through an economic recession in that time and seen oil prices both soar and decline. He drove home well the point that we cannot reenvision a future without taking both peak oil and climate change into account (and I would argue many other inseparable factors such from social justice to the fresh water crisis), but I realized that while it is important to argue from the facts we have they are also not sufficient to make truly accurate, date-specific predictions. For example, the peak oil crisis has not hit within the timeline Hopkins laid out, but the impacts of climate change are being felt far sooner than the most pessimistic climate models predicted. The importance of this is that if we predict the crisis too soon and it does not happen within that timeframe, there is the potential for the public to dismiss the possibility it will happen at all, which can cause mitigation efforts potentially to be abandoned. All that being said, when I finished the first part of The Transition Handbook I found that the content effected me deeply, to the point that I was actually laying awake in the middle of the night worrying about what the world will look like in the very near future.

The most important aspect of the second section, “The Heart,” I felt was when the psychological impacts of receiving such dire information were addressed: Hopkins calls it “post-petroleum stress disorder.” The way in which such information is presented will profoundly effect how and if it is taken in by the recipient, and whether it will be acted upon in a meaningful and transformative way. The concepts of envisioning the future in this section were also important, but at times I did feel the methods of looking back from a post-petroleum future onto the time of transition were somewhat kitsch, especially the fictional newspaper articles. It was strange to read an article dated “Wednesday, April 18, 2015” just weeks after that date had past—especially knowing that April 18 this year had been on a Saturday. We may as well imagine the future accurately.

The most inspiring for me was the last section, Part 3, “The Hands.” Here I could actually learn how to take the steps to transition a community toward a more resilient future. Many of the exercises for community organizing were ones with which I would want to engage. Before long, I found myself looking at the website for Transition Berkeley to see what initiatives are already being taken in my area.

When I was eighteen and nineteen I learned to grow food on a biodynamic farm in Covelo, California and the experience changed my life. It is tremendously empowering to know how to grow one’s own food. And while this knowledge is latent in me at the moment, as I prepare the ground to grow a small garden at my new Berkeley home, I also know that there will very likely come a time in the future—but I would not want to predict when—that this knowledge will probably be applied daily once again. In the meantime, when I bike or walk around my new home streets in Berkeley I am making a mental map of all the fruit-bearing trees in the neighborhood, noting which are coming ripe now and tracking when others will be ready over the summer season. It is empowering to feel engaged by the challenges of one’s world, even when those challenges cannot be undertaken alone. As terrifying as our moment in history is, it is also exciting and inspiring. As Hopkins writes to conclude his book, “May it keep you awake at night, but this time for all the right reasons.”[1]

Work Cited

Hopkins, Rob. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

[1] Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008), 213.

The Individual and the Collective in “Global Environmental Politics”

How does one begin to take action on behalf of the ecological crisis once one has awakened to its existence? This is the question addressed in the eighth section of Global Environmental Politics, titled “Thinking Strategically.” The editors selected essays to illustrate two different approaches, one at the level of individual lifestyle change, the other at the level of large-scale systemic change. The essays argue from different perspectives, some saying that the individual actions of planting a tree or riding a bicycle will not effect the level of change needed to address the problem, while others argue that by relying on the larger political, economic, and social systems to shift without making individual changes is what “helped get us into this mess in the first place,”[1] as Michael Pollan puts it. Yet by putting together both sets of essays and perspectives, this section of the book points to what I also feel is also an optimal approach: individual and systemic changes must be enacted simultaneously.

Global Environmental PoliticsMichael Pollan concludes his short essay entitled “Why Bother?” by encouraging each person reading this to start their own garden or to participate in a community agricultural plot. Knowing how to grow one’s own food is a skill that may indeed prove essential in the future, and the immediate benefits are innumerable, from being able to connect with soil and plants, to using one’s body for meaningful work, to sharing produce and tools with neighbors and friends, thus potentially inspiring others to do the same.

A few months ago I moved to Berkeley where I now live in a little cottage. I have been dreaming of ways to lighten my personal footprint, while at the same time educating myself on how to help instigate systemic change as well. This weekend we will finally be putting in garden beds out behind our cottage, getting fresh compost from the city of Berkeley, and starting our own little garden. Even if individual changes do not have as far-reaching an impact as we might wish, they at least empower individuals to know that there is something we each can do, while at the same time nourishing the community ties needed to make real changes at a higher level.

Work Cited

Nicholson, Simon and Paul Wapner, ed. Global Environmental Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015.

[1] Michael Pollan, “Why Bother?” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 291.

It’s True: “This Changes Everything”

This book made me cry, multiple times. I cried, I was shocked, I was angered and horrified. And I also felt the first real sense of ambitious hope ignited in me since I started reading climate change literature when I was a senior in high school. Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything really does change everything: she has shifted the winds on the climate change debate, addressing head on that the ideology of unregulated free market capitalism is standing directly in the way of any meaningful action that could be taken to keep human beings—and particularly the fossil fuel industry—from making Earth uninhabitable for the human species and most complex forms of life.

This Changes EverythingThe nearly five hundred page book lays out the parallel histories of the climate movement and the globalization of free market capitalism, showing how in the last two decades—in which we knew that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was anthropogenic—we not only failed to address the issue but accelerated the rates of our emissions in the name of profit for multinational corporations. Indeed, I find it particularly significant that the Rio Earth Summit was held in 1992, the same year the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed into law. Again and again, efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change have been directly challenged, and defeated by, the unregulated capitalist model whose agenda is being pushed by the minority corporate-political elites who are concentrating the world’s wealth into their own pockets.

The clarity, precision, and nuance of Klein’s book is staggering, and I feel gives it tremendous credibility. She seems to have left no stone unturned, and addresses the light and shadow of every situation, presenting the moral issues at stake without moralizing. I devoured this book, taking it in over the course of about four days, so the energy and tone completely shaped my waking and breathing mind and body as I read it. Klein brings together a huge range of interconnected issues—from the conservative denialist reaction, to the extractivist mentality that treats Earth as resource without the need to reciprocate, the unholy alliance of Big Green environmental groups and corporate powers, the terrifying hubristic possibility of geoengineering, and the micro-movements she refers to as Blockadia that are fighting extractivism, exploitation, and toxicity in local communities worldwide. I came to understand that the work Indigenous communities are doing to save their lands and ways of life, because they have the rights but not the power to enforce them, are perhaps our last best chance to overthrow the corporate stranglehold on our planet. As Klein writes,

Their heroic battles are not just their people’s best chance of a healthy future . . . they could very well be the best chance for the rest of us to continue enjoying a climate that is hospitable to human life. That is a huge burden to bear and that these communities are bearing it with shockingly little support from the rest of us is an unspeakable social injustice.[1]

Again and again, I felt affirmed that there was something I could do, something we each could do, that would make a tangible difference in whether humanity—and many of our fellow species—will have a future on this beautiful planet. It is simply, or not so simply, a matter of daring to challenge the status quo that has left us a world of inequality, exploitation, and injustice. As Klein writes, “It is slowly dawning on a great many of us that no one is going to step in and fix this crisis; that if change is to take place it will only be because leadership bubbled up from below.”[2]

The next time a major disaster hits, such as Hurricane Katrina, or Superstorm Sandy—as is becoming all the more frequent with climate change—will be the moment to seize when we can indeed change everything:

Because these moments when the impossible seems suddenly possible are excruciatingly rare and precious. That means more must be made of them. The next time one arises, it must be harnessed not only to denounce the world as it is, and build fleeting pockets of liberated space. It must be the catalyst to actually build the world that will keep us all safe.[3]

One criticism I have heard of Klein’s book is that it is too idealistic. In a way, this could be true. But I have come to realize that we do not have the time not to be idealistic. In Klein’s words, “The stakes are simply too high, and time too short, to settle for anything less.”[4]

 

Work Cited

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

 

[1] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 379.

[2] Klein, This Changes Everything, 465.

[3] Ibid, 466.

[4] Ibid.

Engaging with “Reason in a Dark Time”

In the first few pages of his book, Dale Jamieson situates his perspective as coming from a generally Western point of view, saying that although he lived through many of the events he details in the book he was not at the center of the action. I appreciated this nod to recognizing his position in relation to the material he was addressing, although I wished he had continued to do so more throughout the book—and had addressed other influences on perspective such as gender, race, class, and so forth. Jamieson acknowledges at the outset that he is coming from the perspective of an analytical philosopher, but that very position seems to blind him to the multiplicity of perspectives that can be taken in relation to the issue of climate change.

Reason in a Dark TimeReason in a Dark Time, simply put, is a pessimistic book. Jamieson shows his readers how globally we have failed to address climate change. The outlook feels bleak, and his concluding seven priorities for action do not seem to carry much hope considering he has spent the previous 200 hundred pages demonstrating how dysfunctionally the international negotiation system operates. The core of the book focuses on what Jamieson identifies as the most powerful motivators for addressing climate change: economics and ethics—before showing the limits and barriers in each of these arenas. The most telling sentence in the whole book, for me, that reveals Jamieson’s perspective and its influence on his pessimistic view, is when he writes: “We live in a post-Nietschean world in which the gods are not available to give meaning to our lives, nor can nature provide transcendental grounding in a human-dominated world.”[1] For a book that is addressing global climate change and the effects it will have on the world population now and into the future, the unsituated “we” that opens this sentence is particularly revealing. Rather, Jamieson and his colleagues live in this post-Nietschean world and it is from this place that this book on economics and ethics is written. Part of the opportunity with which the global ecological crisis provides us is the potential to forge a way through the dark postmodern underworld where the gods are dead and nature is a backgrounded resource to a new world view that has room for intelligence and meaning to exist beyond the locus of the human being.

Where is the room in Jamieson’s approach to climate change for emotion, feeling, a sense of interconnection and, perhaps most importantly, grief at the loss and destruction? Ethics cannot be broken down into a series of equations like economics can—something deeper must be appealed to. At times this depth is almost reached by Jamieson, momentarily making appeals to “love, sympathy, and empathy”[2] and to an understanding of humanity as being a part of the natural world. Indeed, he writes that “we find meaning in our lives in the context of our relationship to humans, other animals, the rest of nature, and the world generally.”[3] However, just a few pages later he once again reduces the value of this relationship into economic terms, writing “The idea of nature as a partner in a valuable relationship makes itself felt in economic language when people talk about ‘natural capital’ or ‘ecosystem services.’ On this view protecting nature returns monetized benefits. Damaging nature damages ourselves.”[4] The appeals to meaning found in relationship feel hollow if they can simply be reduced into monetary terms.

Jamieson concludes his book by saying, “Despite the unprecedented nature of the challenge, human life will have meaning as long as there are people to take up the burden.”[5] Yes, I agree that great meaning can be found in taking on the work of defending the Earth and its countless species, as well as the multitude of human beings whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the rapacious capitalist economy. But the meaning is not made simply by the work of human actions—the work is what reconnects our sense of value to that ground of meaning inherent in every creature, in every corner of the vast cosmos within which we are awakening to our integral part.

Work Cited

Jamieson, Dale. Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—And What It Means for Our Future. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014.

[1] Dale Jamieson, Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—And What It Means for Our Future (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 200.

[2] Jamieson, Reason in a Dark Time, 100.

[3] Ibid, 184.

[4] Jamieson, Reason in a Dark Time, 190.

[5] Ibid, 238.

Further Musings on “Global Environmental Politics”

The discussion in the fifth section of Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner’s book is entirely on the economic system and its impact and influence on the global environment. The section is titled simply “Economy,” but really it should be titled “Capitalism” for that is the only economic system that is actually addressed. The three chapters of the section present gradations from greening the industrial growth economy to addressing the hard truth that capitalism and human greed are the heart of the problem. While reading Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister’s chapter on “The Promise of Corporate Environmentalism” I found myself feeling the hollowness of those promises. Big brand corporations making non-binding commitments of vague outcomes such as “delivering sustainable growth” and “performance without compromising sustainability”[1] in order to preserve their image, while still increasing the total destructive impact upon the planet, actually seems like a greater hindrance to the cause because it obscures where the real problems lie: in a model of trade that depends on exponential growth, exploitation, and limitless greed.

Global Environmental PoliticsPaul Krugman’s chapter, “Environmental Economics 101: Overcoming Market Failures” addresses more realistically the ways in which the free market cannot address global ecological issues such as climate change. Yet ultimately his solutions also return to the altar of capitalism, simply relying on regulations and taxes to mitigate the crisis. An economic solution inherently calculates all loss in terms of monetary value alone, something that cannot account for the great suffering climate change will unleash—indeed, it has already begun—upon humans, animal and plant species, and entire ecosystems.

Finally, Naomi Klein’s piece, “Capitalism vs. Climate” dared to question the ideology of capitalism itself. In reading her portrayal of the climate change deniers of the conservative right in the US—who go to great lengths to prove global warming is a hoax, at times even sending death threats to climate scientists—I could not help but be curious at the psychology behind such actions. Clearly fear is a powerful motivator, but fear of what? Is it really fear of dismantling the capitalist system? Fear of freedoms being taken away? Or is there also a deep-seated existential fear of climate change itself? Allowing oneself to feel the true losses climate change will wreak across the globe—to a greater or lesser extent no matter what action is taken—is not central to the ideologies of right or left. What does fear of these losses blind us to? And what, on the opposite end of the spectrum, do they awaken in us?

Work Cited

Nicholson, Simon and Paul Wapner, ed. Global Environmental Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015.

[1] Peter Dauverge & Jane Lister, “The Promise of Corporate Environmentalism,” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 157.

Continuing Thoughts on “Global Environmental Politics”

The fourth section of Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner’s anthology deals with the international state system, and its ability, or lack thereof, to deal with global ecological issues, particularly climate change and mass species loss. The section opens with the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, drafted in 1992. I was both struck that this document was drafted over twenty years ago, and found myself questioning the validity of many of the principles in face of the reality of the ecological problems before us. For example, the continued emphasis on sustainable development made me question whether sustainability is really the emphasis, or is it rather a mere “green-washing” of development as usual? What would happen if the term were reversed, and instead we created “developmental sustainability,” or some other means of prioritizing resilience over exponential growth? Overall, the declaration does not examine the underlying assumption that the economic growth model is the only way forward, or consider that it may inherently have a dire ecological cost.

Global Environmental PoliticsMoving forward to the next chapter by Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne, entitled “Brief History of International Environmental Cooperation,” I was repeatedly discouraged by the numerous ecologically-oriented political gatherings that have been held over the last fifty or so years that have had relatively minimal impact compared to the scale of the ecological issues we face globally. Why has so much effort been put into agreements if very few of them are legally binding? Why are there seemingly no immediate social consequences when agreed upon goals are not met by various countries? Is there a way to make international state agreements more effective and binding or, like the ecological crises themselves, must they be both borderless and bioregional in order make a real impact?