Imaginal Ecology at the Symbiosis Gathering

In September of this year I will be offering a presentation on Imaginal Ecology at the Symbiosis Gathering held at the Woodward Reservoir, California. For a description of my talk please see the Symbiosis website.

Symbiosis Gathering

Talking Tolkien and Jung on Rune Soup

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Gordon White, host of the London-based podcast Rune Soup. We discussed the synchronicity of the “Red Books” of Jung and Tolkien, as well as the role of the imaginal and the mythic in ecology. The podcast is available for download or can be listened to directly below.

Towards an Imaginal Ecology

This essay, originally written in May 2013, has now been published in the inaugural issue of ReImagining 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.

“The Biology of Story” Now Live!

The interactive web documentary, The Biology of Story, created by Amnon Buchbinder, is now available online! The full website is fascinating to explore and has interviews with over one hundred individuals who speak about the many facets of story and the narrative tradition.

Becca Tarnas IndexMy own clips for the documentary are now accessible as well, exploring topics ranging from the imagination and ecology, to archetypal astrology, and my dissertation work on The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien. The full playlist of my videos is available here.

I encourage you to take the time to explore the many amazing offerings by the vast range of individuals the film makers have brought together!


Archetypal Ecology: Drought in a Rhythmic Cosmos

“In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try anymore. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.

. . . And as the sharp sun struck day after day, the leaves of the young corn became less stiff and erect; they bent in a curve at first, and then, as the central ribs of strength grew weak, each leaf tilted downward. Then it was June and the sun shone more fiercely. The brown lines on the corn leaves widened and moved in on the central ribs.”
– John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath[1]

Dry earth, cloudless skies. Waiting, anticipating, counting days, weeks, months. Perhaps years. When will the rain fall? The moisture slowly leaves the soil, plants begin to die. The emotional atmosphere is defined by denial and groundless hope, anxiety and concern, worry and prayer. Dust builds, crops fail. Water—translucent and fluid, so easy to take for granted when in abundance, all one can think about when it is lacking.

DroughtWhat is a drought? Droughts are evasively difficult to define, even by those who study their patterns extensively. Essentially a drought is constituted by a lack of precipitation in a certain area, extended over a significant period of time.[2] Of course, the precipitation levels and length of time rain is absent will all vary from bioregion to bioregion, which is part of what makes a clear definition of drought so evasive. The human experience of drought is a complex interplay of unusual or unexpected natural events, such a lower precipitation, combined with the demands human beings put on water resources. Due to a variety of complicated interacting factors, droughts can have widespread and devastating consequences.

The words opening this essay are drawn from John Steinbeck’s iconic book The Grapes of Wrath, which narrates the story of migrant farming families who had to abandon their fields and homes on the Great Plains when the 1930s Dust Bowl droughts decimated their crops and whipped up blinding dust storms that choked plants and blackened skies. Many factors went into making this one of the worst 20th century droughts in North America, including a lack understanding of the Great Plains ecology, the widespread introduction of mechanized farming, and the crippling economic crash of the Great Depression that began in 1929. The deep-rooted native grasses of the Great Plains had been ploughed by homesteading settlers and overgrazed by their livestock, leaving the unanchored soil tremendously vulnerable to the wind.[3]

When the Dust Bowl droughts hit the Great Plains in three successive waves, in 1934, 1936, and 1939, vast numbers of farmers migrated across the United States to the fertile crescent of Central California to eke out a living harvesting the fruits and vegetables growing in abundance here. California’s Central Valley is still the breadbasket—or rather “fruit and vegetable basket”— of the United States, growing the vast majority of fresh produce not only for the country but for international export.[4] “No other state, or even combination of states, can match California’s output per acre,” the journalist Brian Palmer writes.[5] Yet it now seems the cornucopia of agriculture in the U.S. may be facing an insurmountable obstacle.

Now in 2015, California is entering its fourth year of drought, eleven trillion gallons of water shy of relief,[6] with only about a year of surface water left stored in the state’s reservoirs.[7] California was able to become the land of plentiful bounty through heavy irrigation, and now as the Sierra Nevada snowpack is a fraction of what it should be, farmers are turning more frequently to pumping groundwater. Groundwater is drawn from underground aquifers, massive geological formations that have held vast amounts of pristine waters for millennia. Some water experts refer to such water as “fossil water” because it will never replenish on any meaningful human timescale. As Christiana Z. Peppard writes in her book Just Water,

Most aquifers take upward of ten thousand years to refill—an extraordinarily long time, considering that just as many years ago, our ancestors were scribbling on cave walls with hard rocks. Many aquifers take much, much longer to refill—on the order of millions of years.[8]

As the drought worsens the state’s nonrenewable water sources are being rapidly drained to maintain maladaptive agricultural practices—namely highly irrigated, industrial agriculture in a semi-arid bioregion. Human actions, including continuously increasing greenhouse gas emissions that are inducing anthropogenic climate change, are exacerbating the consequences of the recent diminishment in rainfall.[9] The lack of precipitation during the Dust Bowl was only part of what made the 1930s droughts so devastating. Another major factor was the methods of mechanized agriculture, which did not take into account the basic ecology of the landscape and stripped the soil of its capability to hold moisture. Today we seem to be having a repetition of history.

Drought is often referred to as “a creeping phenomenon”[10] and “an elusive climate event.”[11] Scientifically predicting the onset of a drought cannot be done more than a month or two in advance, because prediction “depends on the ability to forecast two fundamental meteorological surface parameters, precipitation and temperature,” according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.[12] The historical record indicates the inherent variability of the climate, making long-term forecasts elusive because, as the Drought Center States:

. . . anomalies of precipitation and temperature may last from several months to several decades. How long they last depends on air–sea interactions, soil moisture and land surface processes, topography, internal dynamics, and the accumulated influence of dynamically unstable synoptic weather systems at the global scale.[13]

While different bioregions each have their own rhythms of wet and dry spells that repeat with varying degrees of stability, the capacity to determine the length and impact of any given drought remains evasive. As Ivan Ray Tannehill wrote eloquently back in 1947:

The first rainless day in a spell of fine weather contributes as much to the drought as the last, but no one knows how serious it will be until the last dry day is gone and the rains have come again. . . we are not sure about it until the crops have withered and died.[14]

How any given drought is defined, and its duration and impact on the land and its human inhabitants—both immediate and lasting—all shape how droughts are perceived.

Three North American droughts stand out as the most severe of the 20th century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These are the 1930s Dust Bowl drought, the major 1950s drought in the central United States, and the late 1980s drought covering the West Coast to the Great Plains.[15] Today’s drought in the U.S. West may be joining that list. “In the California and Nevada region,” recently stated the climatologist Kelly Redmond, “this is among the worst we’ve seen it in the last 120 years or so.”[16] Of course, this statement refers particularly to the region being affected by the current drought, but Redmond’s statement is nonetheless significant.

As a life-long California resident I have become increasingly aware of the drought’s impacts on my home state. Discussions of water shortage have become commonplace, ranging from wondering if the state’s mandatory 25% reductions in water usage are enough,[17] to questioning why the cuts do not apply to the agricultural sector that uses 80% of the state’s water,[18] and sitting with the real possibility that this drought may not end and California’s climate has fundamentally changed. Another issue has also come to the foreground of my attention, one that scientists would certainly not be inclined to look at in relation to drought patterns. Like factors such a temperature and precipitation, this is also a naturally recurring cycle grounded in the rhythms of the natural world, but rather than an ecosystem pattern it is a solar system pattern, a much larger scale than meteorologists take into account.

If we turn our eyes to the cosmos, we can see that currently the planet Saturn and the planet Neptune are at a 90° angle to each other, forming what is called a square aspect. The alignment began in January 2014, when the two planets came within 10° of each other, and will end in October 2017 when they pass out of the same 10° range. If one looks back at an ephemeris to see where these same planets were during the three most prominent North American droughts of the 20th century, an interesting pattern appears: in 1934-38 Saturn was in 180° opposition to Neptune in the sky, the same years as the worst of the Dust Bowl droughts; in 1950-56 Saturn was conjoined with Neptune in the same place on the ecliptic, the same years as the 1950s drought; and in 1987-91 Saturn and Neptune were also in a conjunction, encompassing the years of the late 1980s drought.

What is the significance of such planetary alignments and their correlations to these droughts? As has been argued by Richard Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, a significant body of evidence has come forward indicating a profound correlation between the positions of the planets and events unfolding on Earth in human history and world events, individual biography and psychology, and even in natural ecological events. What emerged from this body of evidence was a revival of an ancient practice long-dismissed by the modern paradigm, re-engaged with new rigor and empiricism. As the Jungian psychologist and professor Keiron Le Grice writes,

Archetypal astrology, as this new approach been called, is based on an observed correspondence between the planets in the solar system and specific themes, qualities, and impulses associated with a set of universal principles and thematic categories known as planetary archetypes. Each of the planetary bodies, as well as the Sun and the Moon, is associated with a distinct archetypal principle.[19]

The planetary archetypes associated with each planet are expressed in world events in multivalent and multidimensional ways. As Tarnas writes,

. . . an essential characteristic of this analysis was that it did not predict specific events or personality traits. Rather, it articulated the deeper archetypal dynamics of which events and traits were the concrete expression. This is seemed to do with astonishing precision and subtlety.[20]

While Cosmos and Psyche looks at a vast array of cultural, social, artistic, scientific, psychological, and political events in relation to several planetary alignments, for this study I am focusing on one particular phenomenon—namely droughts—in relation to the corresponding planetary alignments. To begin, I am looking at the relationship between droughts and the Saturn-Neptune cycle of alignments, before looking further at certain apparent anomalies to this pattern and from there exploring the more nuanced dynamics unfolding in relation to specific drought events.

As previously mentioned, the droughts of the mid-1930s, early to mid-1950s, and late 1980s all took place under Saturn-Neptune alignments, as is our current drought in the western U.S. today. Why does Saturn-Neptune archetypally correlate with drought? The archetype of Saturn relates to contraction, negation, restriction, lack, and boundaries; it is the principle of time and structure, decay and death, loss and endings. Any archetype with which Saturn comes into relationship it will problematize, negate, constrain and create obstacles. The archetype of Neptune, on the other hand, is the principle of fluidity, boundlessness, and interconnectivity, that which unifies and merges, dissolves and dilutes; Neptune is the archetype of oceanic oneness, transcendent spirituality, the heavenly cosmos, image and imagination, illusion and mirage—it is the principle of water itself, both as symbol and physical liquid.

One can see how the combination of archetypal qualities associated with Saturn and Neptune manifest as drought: lack of water, low moisture, negation of water’s life-giving properties. To draw some images from the Dust Bowl, Saturn-Neptune came through not only in the absence of precipitation, but in the dry particles of dust that flowed boundless across the land, reducing visibility and even blackening the skies. The Saturnian themes of lack, absence, dryness, reduction, and darkness are present here, combined with the Neptunian qualities of rainwater, boundlessness, clarity of vision and perception, and the image of the celestial sky (all negated, blocked, and obscured by the previously mentioned Saturnian characteristics). Another expression of the Saturn-Neptune alignment that contributed to the Dust Bowl droughts was the lack of understanding of the intricate interconnected dynamics of ecosystem structures that led to the agricultural practice of ploughing the deep-rooted grassed that retained moisture and maintained soil structure. Again, Neptune comes through as the soil moisture and interconnected unity of the ecosystem, while Saturn is present in the structures, retention and maintenance, the anchoring roots, and even the sharp cut of the metal plow. The elusive quality of droughts and the scientific difficulty in defining them also have a Saturn-Neptune quality, as Saturn relates to difficulty and definition, Neptune to the slippery aspects of evasiveness and illusion.

The Saturn-Neptune opposition came into 15° orb (recognized by archetypal astrologers as the general range when archetypally correlated events occur) in 1934, and was in exact alignment in 1936-7 when the drought was at its worst. The third wave of drought that came in during 1939 was after the Saturn-Neptune opposition had moved past operative alignment—a topic we will explore later in this essay.

An opposition between two planets is the same configuration as a Full Moon, when the Moon is on one side of the Earth and the Sun on the other. The completion of that cycle is the New Moon, when the Sun and the Moon are conjoined in the same place in the sky relative to the Earth. After the Saturn-Neptune opposition of the mid-1930s, when they were in the “Full Moon” alignment, these two planets reached the conclusion of their cycle, or the “New Moon” alignment, in the conjunction of the 1950s. Saturn started to come into 15° orb with Neptune in 1950, right as the drought began in the southwestern states, and was having a major impact on Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska by 1953 when the conjunction was exact. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

By 1954, the drought encompassed a ten-state area reaching from the mid-west to the Great Plains, and southward into New Mexico. The area from the Texas panhandle to central and eastern Colorado, western Kansas and central Nebraska experienced severe drought conditions.[21]

While the Saturn-Neptune conjunction went out of orb in 1955, the drought ended when the 1957 spring rains began to pour down on the parched soil. Like in the 1930s, the effects of the drought persisted beyond the Saturn-Neptune transit under which they commenced—again, a topic we will explore later in the essay.

Now to turn to the third of the major 20th century North American droughts, the 1987-89 drought that severely affected the West Coast and the northern Great Plains. Although the late 1980s drought covered just 36% of the United States, compared to the Dust Bowl’s 70%, it was the costliest drought, indeed the costliest natural disaster of any kind to effect the U.S., with damages and losses exceeding approximately $39 billion.[22] As the environmental studies and philosophy professor Dale Jamieson describes,

Much of the United States spent the summer [of 1988] in the grip of extreme heat and serious drought. Fires raged in Yellowstone National Park, agricultural production declined dramatically, and water levels in the Mississippi River system dropped precariously, resulting in channel closings and ship groundings.[23]

Sure enough, beginning in 1987 Saturn had started to conjoin Neptune again, one full cycle after the 1950s conjunction. Once again the themes of Saturnian lack of Neptunian rains can be seen here, as well as the loss (Saturn) of an idealized, pristine (Neptune) national park, and the grounding (Saturn) of water-going vessels (related to both archetypes as Saturn is the container and Neptune the water) in the river systems. This was the first drought of this magnitude in the U.S. since the 1950s and it took the population by surprise, which is partially why the damage was so great.[24] Interestingly, Saturn and Neptune were joined in a rare triple conjunction by the planet Uranus at this time—archetypally Uranus relates to the unexpected, the sudden and the disruptive, which can be seen in the unanticipated severity and consequences of the late 1980s drought.

What about the intervening Saturn-Neptune opposition of 1970-73 and the following opposition of 2004-07? It happens that in 1972-73 the El Niño Southern Oscillation was particularly strong, causing droughts in multiple locations around the globe.[25] As Jamieson remarks:

The El Niño of 1972-73 brought worldwide devastation and was followed by other climate anomalies. Drought-related famine killed hundreds of thousands of people in African Sahel and in India. Drought struck other countries as well, including the United States. Crop failures brought the Soviet Union into the world grain market. . . .[26]

The patterning of strong El Niño and La Niña events (they are ranked weak, moderate, and strong) correlates with surprising consistency to two major outer planetary cycles, which we will explore more closely toward the end of this analysis.

The most recent opposition of Saturn and Neptune in 2004-08 manifested in major climate events that carried the Saturn-Neptune archetypal complex, but in many ways expressed the opposite side of the archetypal spectrum from a drought. The major climate events of the 2004-08 were the Indonesian tsunami of December 2004, and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Each exhibited strong Saturn-Neptune characteristics, as Tarnas describes,

death caused by water, the ocean as source of suffering and loss, contamination of water, water-borne and infectious diseases, numberless haunting images of death and sorrow transmitted throughout the world and permeating collective consciousness.[27]

Like under drought conditions, water is the cause of death, suffering, and loss, but in the case of hurricanes and tsunamis it is the flooding of water, rather than its lack, which brings about the Saturnian devastation. To draw a parallel image, the dust storms of the 1930s Dust Bowl drought looked like a “massive wall of blowing dust that resembled a land-based tsunami.”[28]

Even though this Saturn-Neptune opposition was characterized by such destructive watery events, a major drought was occurring in the Amazon rainforest at the same time, beginning in 2005. The Amazon drought was so severe it lasted until 2010, two years after the Saturn-Neptune transit had ended. Like the major North American droughts of the 1930s and 1950s, the Amazon drought extended beyond the Saturn-Neptune alignment under which it started. They all ended under a different alignment of two outer planets, Saturn and Pluto. While we have been looking closely at the Saturn-Neptune themes associated with drought, Pluto in relationship with Saturn has a significantly different quality.

Pluto is associated with the principle of elemental power, depth, and intensity; with that which compels, empowers, and intensifies whatever it touches, sometimes to overwhelming and catastrophic extremes. . . . It is the dark, mysterious, taboo, and often terrifying reality that lurks beneath the surface of things, beneath the ego, societal conventions, and the veneer of civilization, beneath the surface of the Earth, that is periodically unleashed with destructive and transformative force.[29]

When Saturn and Pluto align, the same Saturnian themes of constraint, obstacles, oppression, suffering, and death are present but instead acting upon the powerful intensity of the Pluto archetype described above. Saturn-Pluto alignments are associated with,

especially challenging historical periods marked by a pervasive quality of intense contraction: eras of international crisis and conflict, empowerment of reactionary forces and totalitarian impulses, organized violence and oppression, all sometimes marked by lasting traumatic effects.[30]

What is the significance of so many of the most devastating droughts of the last century ending during Saturn-Pluto transits? While the drought events themselves reflect the Saturn-Neptune themes of extended periods of time without precipitation, the long-term impacts of such meteorological changes can cause tremendous suffering on a mass scale with conditions of food scarcity leading to famine and potentially death, much more reflective of the qualities of Saturn-Pluto.

This project has been to research which planetary alignments correlated with the most significant droughts of the last century or so, for which we have the most accurate records and dates. The repeated correlation between major droughts and the Saturn-Neptune cycle certainly has compelling evidence, but anomalies to the pattern must exist. After all, because of the multivalence and indeterminacy of archetypal manifestations, the occurrence of a drought under every single Saturn-Neptune alignment would seem to indicate a fixed rigidity to the archetypal expressions that is not supported by the larger astrological evidence. As Tarnas writes, “I gradually came to recognize that, contrary to its traditional reputation and deployment, such an astrology is not concretely predictive but, rather, archetypally predictive.”[31] Noticing how the 1930s, 1950s, and 2000s droughts concluded under Saturn-Pluto alignments, I decided to look at the correlations with the other major droughts my research had turned up.

In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein draws forward evidence that every major volcanic eruption for which we have accurate records has been followed by debilitating drought around the globe. Looking at her research I recognized an additional overlying correlation: each of these events in which there was a sequence of volcanic eruption, drought, and famine, correlated with a Saturn-Pluto or Saturn-Neptune alignment, and almost always both in succession. What is archetypally significant about the relationship of Saturn-Pluto alignments with volcanic eruptions is that Pluto is the principle of volcanic, eruptive power unleashing from the underworld realm, while Saturn is the problematic and often dire consequences caused by such eruptions.

We can begin by looking at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which erupted June 12, 1991 when the Saturn-Neptune conjunction (which correlated with the devastating late 1980s western U.S. drought) was at 20° orb, the outer range of when archetypally relevant correlations have been observed for conjunctions, while the Saturn-Pluto square was entering 12° orb, right at the penumbral phase when correlations begin to be more frequent for squares (conjunctions and oppositions appear to have a wider orb of influence ranging 15°-20°, while squares have a slightly narrower orb of 10°-15°). Large sections of Africa were already suffering from drought, under the Saturn-Neptune conjunction just ending, and by 1992 when the Saturn-Pluto alignment was tightening in orb there was a 20% reduction in precipitation in southern Africa, and a 10-15% reduction in South Asia which had a negative impact on approximately 120 million people.[32]

Cycling back to the previous quadrature alignment of Saturn and Pluto, the conjunction of 1980-84, Mexico’s El Chichón volcano erupted from March to September 1982 as the conjunction was approaching exact alignment. The eruption led to low precipitation and drought, particularly affecting the African continent where 20 nations were already suffering from drought conditions.[33] While there had been a Saturn-Neptune square in from 1978 to late 1980, the African droughts are recorded to have begun in early 1981, right at the tale end of the alignment. The El Chichón eruption seems to have severely exacerbated the drought conditions, giving them a particularly Saturn-Pluto quality.

The three years with the lowest global average precipitation in the last half century were after the eruptions of Pinatubo, Chichón, and the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung in Bali.[34] Agung’s detonation occurred under the Saturn-Neptune square of 1961-64, and also corresponded with low global precipitation and drought. In the U.S. the drought was experienced most strongly in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Great Plains, and this drought too concluded under the Saturn-Pluto opposition of the mid-1960s.[35] It is interesting to note, however, that Agung did not erupt under a Saturn-Pluto alignment but rather a Uranus-Pluto transit. Further research would need to be done to discern the differences in quality and effects of this volcanic eruption compared to those that become active under Saturn-Pluto alignments.

To conclude this particular inquiry we will look at the eruption of two other volcanoes clearly connected with widespread drought: Alaska’s Mount Katmai eruption in 1912, and Iceland’s Laki volcano in 1783. While Katmai did not erupt under Saturn-Pluto, the drought-related famine hit in 1913-14 under a Saturn-Pluto conjunction,[36] killing 125,000 people in western Africa alone.[37] To look further back into history, Laki erupted in Iceland in 1783 under a Saturn-Neptune square, which was followed by famine and plague in Egypt, Japan, India, Western and Central Europe under the Saturn-Pluto conjunction in the following two years.[38] A more in-depth study than this one could explore the nuances of each of these volcanic eruptions and their related droughts and famines, particularly to see what particular differences may exist if an eruption occurred under Saturn-Neptune versus Saturn-Pluto. Each combination, while having the Saturnian elements in common, manifest quite differently in world events. Yet there seems to be a significant relationship between these two planetary alignments and the unfolding impacts of drought-related events.

As mentioned earlier in this essay, the patterning of strong El Niño and La Niña events—according to records kept since the middle of the 20th century—happen to correlate every time with a Saturn-Neptune or Saturn-Pluto quadrature alignment. In 1957-58, 1965-66, and 1982-83 El Niño coincided with a Saturn Pluto transit, while in 1972-73, 1987-88, and 1997-98 El Niño coincided with a Saturn-Neptune transit. Furthermore, the La Niña climate patterns of 1973-74, 1988-89, and 1999-2000 all aligned with Saturn-Neptune quadrature transits, and in 1975-76 and 2010-11 correlated with Saturn-Pluto.[39] The pattern is only present for the strong oscillations, however, because the moderate and weak ones are too frequent to appear to have astrological significance. The effects of each of these La Niña and El Niño events, and whether they had a more Neptunian or Plutonic impact, would be interesting to look into for further research.

I would like to look at one final archetypally correlated pattern before concluding this essay, which relates to why the Dust Bowl droughts in the 1930s were so devastating, not only ecologically but economically. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the Dust Bowl followed directly on the heels of the Great Depression, which greatly exacerbated the impact caused by the droughts. The Depression played out under a rare T-square configuration of Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto that lasted from 1929 to 1933.[40] A configuration of these three planets correlates with the collapse and breakdown of old structures, often unleashing powerful forces of destruction and transformation. As Tarnas writes, “Entrenched assumptions and expectations confront the unpredictable and the disruptive. . . . Such periods have generally been marked by critical events and cultural phenomena that both climax and catalyze longer-term processes.”[41] The instability and social collapse that followed the Depression left farmers far more economically vulnerable when the Dust Bowl struck.

The next time such a T-square alignment of Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto came into the sky was in 2008-11, lining up exactly with the economic collapse of the Great Recession. One can see the clear diachronic patterning in the breakdown of social and institutional structures, unleashing powerful reactionary forces of revolution and rebellion worldwide—from Occupy Wall Street, to the Arab Spring, to the Black Lives Matter movements and many others still playing out on the world stage under the continuing Uranus-Pluto square that will last till the end of this decade.

Not only did the 2008-11 Saturn, Uranus, Pluto T-square line up with the Recession but—to look at another pattern we have been studying—the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland in April and May 2010, sending vast amounts of ash and particulates into the atmosphere and grounding aircraft for days.[42] While Klein did not use Eyjafjallajökull as an example of a volcanic eruption followed by drought, I noticed that major droughts occurred worldwide following the eruption, still under the Saturn-Uranus-Pluto alignment: beginning in 2010-11 droughts began in the U.S., Mexico, China, East Africa, the Sahel, Australia, and the South Pacific island Tuvalu. Indeed, because so many droughts are occurring worldwide, and because of the difficulty in clearly defining drought and predicting its conclusion, greater hindsight may be needed to determine the duration and impact of these droughts that opened the current decade. What I particularly want to draw attention to is the diachronic patterning of the Saturn-Uranus-Pluto T-square followed by a Saturn-Neptune transit correlated with an economic crash and major droughts—which happened both in the 1930s and is unfolding before us today.

To fill in the picture further, I looked back to the T-square of Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto just prior to the 1930s T-square, that occurred in the mid-1870s. In North China the worst drought over the past three hundred years was unfolding beginning in 1876 right as Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto were not only in a T-square configuration, but as Jupiter aligned to form a Grand Cross[43] (Saturn opposite Uranus and Jupiter opposite Pluto, respectively) greatly amplifying and magnifying the energies. The drought led to one of the worst famines in world history, leading to the deaths of between 9 and 14 million people.[44] The haunting depictions of the famine, of adults and children alike trying to survive off grass and tree bark,[45] and allegedly at times resorting to human flesh,[46] express the most shadowy aspects of the Saturn-Uranus-Pluto alignment—societal collapse, mass suffering and death, and even the reversion to the Plutonic barbarity of cannibalism to stay alive.

Today, the drought does not exist in the western U.S. only. Globally we are entering into a fresh water crisis for which we, as of yet, have no viable solutions in place. Peppard gives a concise definition of what the global fresh water crisis is:

Fresh water is essential for every human being, society, and ecosystem. There is no substitute for fresh water. But it represents less than 2.5 percent of all available water on earth. Our current rates and types of fresh water use are unsustainable, even while demand for fresh water continues to rise. The causes of global fresh water scarcity are complex but can be traced to increased demand for fresh water, coupled with unsustainable rates of extraction and consumption of fresh water (especially from nonrenewable groundwater sources such as deep aquifers).[47]

The current Saturn-Neptune square is bringing such issues as the global water crisis and the impacts of sustained drought to the forefront of the collective consciousness. The solutions required to address such issues are complex and diverse. Peppard points out that we do not have a global water crisis, but rather crises plural:

. . . while there is a universal need for fresh water, there is no such thing as a universal solution to fresh water scarcity. The water situation facing the Sahara desert or the Tibetan plateau is simply not the same as that in Brazil or Seattle. The shape of human or ecosystem need depends very much on the particular context, and responses to fresh water scarcity will be appropriate only insofar as they take this into account. Therefore, it is more accurate to speak of fresh water crises in the plural than of a singular fresh water crisis.[48]

Peppard’s book, Just Water, was published in 2014 during the first year of the current Saturn-Neptune square. One can hear the archetypal themes in her language, the Saturnian need, scarcity, problems, and crises in the unifying, universal Neptunian realm of water.

Saturn-Neptune alignments bring such issues as the universal need for water and its impending scarcity to the forefront, yet they are also time periods that offer the opportunity to address such issues in an archetypally relevant way. Major gains were made under previous Saturn-Neptune alignments in the realm of protecting clean air and water sources: the U.S. Clean Air Act was passed 1963 under Saturn-square-Neptune, and the Clean Water Act in 1972 under the following Saturn-Neptune conjunction. Under the same alignment the Marine Mammal Protection Act was also passed in 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974; in Canada the Water Act was passed in 1970 and Clean Air Act in 1971.[49] Measures could be passed today that similarly address the need for universal access to clean fresh water.

The Saturn-Neptune archetypal complex has many gifts as well as challenges, both for those born with the alignment in their natal charts and for the collective when the transit is in the sky as it is today. Saturn-Neptune brings the ability to imagine practical solutions to concrete problems, to build a bridge between one’s spiritual ideals and the real challenges facing the human community, to bring, as Tarnas writes,

. . . spiritual values (Neptune) into practical expression and enduring embodiment (Saturn) both within and against the resistances of concrete social and political structures (also Saturn), through hard work and disciplined pragmatic organization (also Saturn.)[50]

The gifts of Saturn-Neptune can become the medicine to its challenges, providing one with the ability to see through the denial and delusions related to the current ecological crises, and to pragmatically envision a more universally just world. “In its perhaps most admirable form,” Tarnas writes, “the Saturn-Neptune complex appears to be associated with the courage to face a hard and often tragic reality without illusion and still remain true to the ideals and dreams of a better world.”[51] By recognizing both the shadow and gifts of our archetypally patterned past, perhaps now we can learn from the rhythms of the cosmos and change the course of the stream of the future—and making sure there is still water flowing in that stream as well.

Works Cited

Bramall, Chris. Chinese Economic Development. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009.

California Drought. “State Water Board Adopts 25 Percent Mandatory Water Conservation Regulation.” May 5, 2015. Accessed May 13, 2015.

Committee of the China Famine Relief Fund. The Great Famine. Shanghai, China: American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1879.

Cook, Benjamin I., Toby R. Ault and Jason E. Sperdon. “Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains.” Science Advances, February 12, 2015. Accessed May 13, 2015. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1400082.

Famiglietti, James. “California Has About One Year of Water Stored. Will You Ration Now?” Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2015. Accessed March 23, 2015.

Gillette, H.P. “A Creeping Drought Under Way,” Water and Sewage Works, March 1950.

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.

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

Le Grice, Keiron. “The Birth of a New Discipline.” Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology Volume 1 (Summer 2009): 3-29.

Loughlin, Sue. “Eyjafjallajökull Eruption, Iceland.” British Geological Survey. Updated August 9, 2010. Accessed May 13, 2015.

National Drought Mitigation Center. “Predicting Drought.” 2015. Accessed May 11,

National Drought Mitigation Center. “What Is Drought?” 2015. Accessed May 11, 2015.

National Weather Service. “The ‘Black Sunday’ Dust Storm of 14 April 1935.” Updated February 12, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2015.

NOAA Paleoclimatology Program. “20th Century Drought.” November 12, 2003. Accessed May 11, 2015.

NOAA Paleoclimatology Program. “North American Drought: A Paleo Perspective.” November 12, 2003. Accessed May 11, 2015.

NOAA Paleoclimatology Program. “Why Are We Concerned About Drought?” November 12, 2003. Accessed May 11, 2015.

Null, Jan. “El Niño and La Niña Years and Intensities.” Golden Gate Weather Services. Updated May 6, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2015.

Palmer, Brian. “The C-Free Diet: If We Didn’t Have California What Would We Eat?” Slate, July 10, 2013. Accessed May 12, 2015.

Peppard, Christiana Z. Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014.

Phillips, Tony. “Needed: 11 Trillion Gallons to Replenish California Drought.” NASA Science: Science News, December 16, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2015.

Reyes, Emily Alpert. “Brown Defends Not Requiring Water Cuts for California Farmers.” Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2015. Accessed May 13, 2015.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1992.

Tannehill, Ivan Ray. Drought and Its Causes and Effects. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947.

Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Tarnas, Richard. “The Ideal and the Real.” Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology Volume 1 (Summer 2009): 175-99.

Vekshin, Alison. “Drought Transcends State Lines as U.S. West Turns Ever-More Arid.” Bloomberg Politics, May 11, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2015.

Wilhite, Donald A. and Margie Buchanan Smith. “Drought As Hazard: Understanding the Natural and Social Context.” In Drought and Water Crises: Science, Technology, and Management Issues. Edited by Donald A. Wilhite. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2005.

Worster, Donald. Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

[1] John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1992), 3.

[2] Donald A. Wilhite and Margie Buchanan Smith, “Drought As Hazard: Understanding the Natural and Social Context,” in Drought and Water Crises: Science, Technology, and Management Issues, ed. Donald A. Wilhite (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2005), 5.

“What Is Drought?” National Drought Mitigation Center, 2015, accessed May 11, 2015,

[3] Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), 4-5.

[4] Brian Palmer, “The C-Free Diet: If We Didn’t Have California What Would We Eat?” Slate, July 10, 2013, accessed May 12, 2015,

[5] Palmer, “The C-Free Diet.”

[6] Tony Phillips, “Needed: 11 Trillion Gallons to Replenish California Drought,” NASA

Science: Science News, December 16, 2014, accessed February 23, 2015,

[7] Jay Famiglietti, “California Has About One Year of Water Stored. Will You Ration

Now?” Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2015, accessed March 23, 2015,

[8] Christiana Z. Peppard, Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014), 26.

[9] Benjamin I. Cook, et al. “Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains,” Science Advances February 12, 2015, accessed May 13, 2015, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1400082,

[10] H.P. Gillette, “A Creeping Drought Under Way,” Water and Sewage Works, March 1950: 104-5.

[11] “North American Drought: A Paleo Perspective,” NOAA Paleoclimatology Program, November 12, 2003, accessed May 11, 2015,

[12] “Predicting Drought,” National Drought Mitigation Center, 2015, accessed May 11, 2015,

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ivan Ray Tannehill, Drought and Its Causes and Effects (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947), 597.

[15] “20th Century Drought,” NOAA Paleoclimatology Program, November 12, 2003, accessed May 11, 2015,

[16] Kelly Redmond, qtd in Alison Vekshin, “Drought Transcends State Lines as U.S. West Turns Ever-More Arid,” Bloomberg Politics, May 11, 2015, accessed May 11, 2015,

[17] “State Water Board Adopts 25 Percent Mandatory Water Conservation Regulation,” California Drought, May 5, 2015, accessed May 13, 2015,

[18] Emily Alpert Reyes, “Brown Defends Not Requiring Water Cuts for California Farmers,” Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2015, accessed May 13, 2015,

[19] Keiron Le Grice, “The Birth of a New Discipline,” Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology Volume 1 (Summer 2009): 5.

[20] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006), 66.

[21] “20th Century Drought.”

[22] “20th Century Drought.”

[23] 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), 31.

[24] “20th Century Drought.”

[25] Jan Null, “El Niño and La Niña Years and Intensities,” Golden Gate Weather Services, updated May 6, 2015, accessed May 11, 2015,

[26] Jamieson, Reason in a Dark Time, 25.

[27] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 471.

[28] “The ‘Black Sunday’ Dust Storm of 14 April 1935,” National Weather Service, updated February 12, 2015, accessed May 11, 2015,

[29] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 99.

[30] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 209.

[31] Ibid, 67.

[32] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 272.

[33] Klein, This Changes Everything, 274.

[34] Ibid.

[35] “Why Are We Concerned About Drought?” NOAA Paleoclimatology Program, November 12, 2003, accessed May 11, 2015,

[36] This Saturn-Pluto conjunction aligned with the beginning of World War I, just as the Saturn-Pluto square that concluded the 1930s droughts aligned with the beginning of World War II, and the Saturn-Pluto opposition of the mid-1960s that concluded the early 1960s droughts aligned with the Vietnam War.

[37] Klein, This Changes Everything, 274.

[38] Ibid, 273.

[39] Null, “El Niño and La Niña Years and Intensities.”

[40] A T-square consists of a 180° opposition and two 90° squares.

[41] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 479.

[42] Sue Loughlin, “Eyjafjallajökull Eruption, Iceland,” British Geological Survey, updated August 9, 2010, accessed May 13, 2015,

[43] A Grand Cross consists of two 180° oppositions and four 90° squares between them, creating a cross with the Earth in the middle.

[44] Chris Bramall, Chinese Economic Development (New York, NY: Routledge, 2009), 139.

[45] Committee of the China Famine Relief Fund, The Great Famine (Shanghai, China: American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1879), 71.

[46] China Famine Relief Fund, The Great Famine, 66.

[47] Peppard, Just Water, 21.

[48] Peppard, Just Water, 35.

[49] Klein, This Changes Everything, 202.

[50] Richard Tarnas, “The Ideal and the Real,” Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology Volume 1 (Summer 2009): 186.

[51] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 477.

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.

Open Letter to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff Regarding Oakland Wildfire Plan

Dear Mayor Schaaff,

I am writing to you as a concerned Berkeley citizen and a life-long resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. There is much that I love about living in the East Bay, but one that I appreciate most is the easy accessibility of the beautiful forested hills rising above Oakland and Berkeley. To have such a thriving ecosystem right on the doorstep of one’s urban home is truly a gift to the residents of the East Bay, allowing one to easily leave the confines of the city to explore the paths through the woods and have a taste of nature without needing to drive long distances.

Thus I was devastated when the Oakland Wildfire Plan recently came to my attention, with the proposal to clear-cut the forest and spray toxic herbicides on the 150-year-old ecosystem. I recognize that because many of the trees in the forest are eucalyptus—a non-native species—they pose a greater threat of wildfire, however, clear-cutting would not provide a healthy solution because not only would it destroy the ecosystem, making it uninhabitable to the countless animal species that thrive there, but the debris left over from clear-cutting would dry out and pose a greater fire risk than if the trees were left standing. Furthermore, the spraying of herbicides to eradicate the remaining vegetation would not only poison the soil, but also pose risk to the fresh water in the area and make the hills prone to erosion and landslide since no vegetation would be holding the soil in place. Overall the plan to prevent wildfire would be far more destructive in the long-run than an actual wildfire might be.

The Hills Conservation Network has a well-researched plan that would provide alternatives to the Oakland Wildfire Plan, including methods to thin the forest without clear-cutting, and removing much of the debris that has accumulated below the trees, which is what actually poses a greater fire risk than the living trees themselves. This would not only be a less expensive project but would leave a beloved ecosystem intact that has been a part of the Oakland and Berkeley hills for a century and a half.

I urge you strongly to please meet with the Hills Conservation Network so that an alternative wildfire plan based on environmental science and restoration ecology may be formulated to save our urban forest.

With warm regards,
Becca Tarnas

Oakland Hills

The Final Pages of “Global Environmental Politics”

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.”
– Paul Hawken[1]

While the overarching theme of Paul Wapner and Simon Nicholson’s anthology has been the question of how to address the global ecological crisis, the last two sections that I read consecutively—Section 6: “Civil Society” and Section 9: “Political Imagination”—related particularly to the question of how to move forward from here. Now that we have the facts and the stories, what science and local knowledge can each tell us to the best of their abilities, how do we take what we know and truly begin to act upon it?

Global Environmental PoliticsThe relatively short section on Civil Society addresses the roles of non-government organizations (NGOs) and environmental groups, some of which are taking meaningful action and making positive impacts. But too many, as Johann Hari writes in his chapter, “The Wrong Kind of Green,” and as Naomi Klein unpacks in This Changes Everything, have succumbed to the temptation of corporate money and compromise their actions to please their polluting donors. If this is the direction many of the environmental organizations have taken, what hope is there really for making the changes that are required before ecological tipping points are crossed and the damage is essentially irreparable? It is this theme of hope that Paul Hawken addresses in his contribution, originally the commencement address given at University of Portland in 2009. “The most unrealistic person in the world,” Hawken says, “is the cynic, not the dreamer.”[2] The entire book also concludes with a commencement address given at Duke University by the great novelist Barbara Kingsolver. No matter how dire the world situation, a commencement address is always oriented toward hope for the future. For what else can one say to a group of young, newly empowered individuals, ready to contribute their gifts to the world? I sometimes wonder what the impact would be if all ecological literature were written in such a way, addressing it to those who not only have hope for a new future but ultimately whose lives depend on imagining a new course for history.

The power of imagination is the theme that concludes this anthology, with visions of a localized, bioregional economy that respects the unique gifts of each individual landscape as presented by Wendell Berry, to a civilization a millennium in the future constituted by small technological human “islands” surrounded with untouched wilderness described by Roderick Frazier Nash, to a hyper-controlled dystopia told in the fictional, narrative voice of Joanne Harris. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus put forward some well-argued critiques of the “ecotheological elite” and I could certainly recognize myself in some of their criticisms. But their ultimate conclusion that continuing modernized development with more nuclear power, desalinization plants, and genetically modified organisms will provide our “technological salvation” I felt utterly lacked the imaginal leap required. Yes, technology has a role to play in our future—how can it not at this point?—but falling back on those technologies that continue to poison the Earth and exhibit ever more control over other species and ecosystems will not be the ones that will bring about a future in which humans are in a reciprocal, mutually enhancing relationship to the planet. And yes, I recognize my own hypocrisy in writing these words on a computer powered by electricity and made from rare-earth metals, but I also recognize that we are in a time caught between worlds and turning futures, and that every day is a new opportunity to figure out what of the old world we are leaving behind and what of the new world we are creating from what we have been given so far.

Some of the visions presented in this concluding section I felt were hopeful and worth striving for, while some were utterly terrifying, and others a combination of both. What I appreciated was that the authors allowed themselves to dream a radically different world, no matter what it looks liked. As I have said elsewhere, imagination is a great gift to ecology, one whose eternal wellspring we can all draw upon. No single vision will shape the future. Thus we each have the responsibility to drink deeply from the imaginal stream, and live forward those dreams of a thriving future that are bestowed upon us.

Work Cited

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

[1] Paul Hawken, “The Power of Environmental Activism” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 191.

[2] Hawken, “The Power of Environmental Activism,” 191.

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.