Do You Know Where You Are? Wendell Berry’s Sense Of Place

Wendell Berry, the sage of Kentucky and prolific author, laments our general ignorance of where we are living. Most of us really don’t know much about the place in which we find ourselves living.   He says that “. . . if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”  (Northwest Earth Institute, “Enjoying a Sense Of Place,” http://www.nwei.org/enjoying-sense-place/.)  Nor can you properly care for the place where you are.

How does one get to know a place intimately?

In his book, What Matters? Economics For A New Commonwealth (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010, pp. 34-35) Berry provides a set questions each of us must be able to answer in order to live successfully in a particular place.

  1. What has happened here?
  2. What should have happened here?
  3. What is here now? What is left of the original natural endowment?  What has been lost?  What has been added?
  4. What is the nature, or genius, of this place?
  5. What will nature permit us to do here without permanent damage or loss?
  6. What will nature help us to do here?
  7. What can we do to mend the damages we have done?
  8. What are the limits: Of the nature of this place? Of our intelligence and ability?

How many of us can answer these questions about our current home place?

It will be only by re-learning the where of where we are that we can then build up a care for its uniqueness that will power our actions to save it from the mass-uniformity that global industrialization is imposing on the world, and only that will lead us to true happiness.  The wisdom then gained about a place will be passed on to generations down the line.  A sustainable civilization can only be built on a renewed sense of place and that requires getting out of the house, out from behind the LED screens, into the real world, the local biosphere.   Once having learned the natural and cultural history  of our place, and figured out  its “genius,” then with a newly developed sense of wonder and awe, we we will realize that it is sacred and we are privileged to be its guardians and its restorers.

 

 

will realize that it is sacred and we are privileged to be its guardians and its restorers.

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Joy In Desperate Times

While most people do not yet recognize it, we live in desperate times.  I am referring to the global environmental crisis that includes not only a dangerously deteriorating climate, a rate of extinction not seen in 60 million years that is tearing strands out of the web of life that supports civilization, the imminent arrival of another billion people who need will to eat, who will need clean water that is already in short supply, and the seemingly endless warfare we are inflicting on each other.  There.  That enough to convince?  Desperate times.

How then can anyone be joyful and why should we be?  Doesn’t being joyful imply a naive, Pollyanna attitude not worthy of a compassionate, thinking person?

I am in no way suggesting that we ignore the suffering or the evil of those who are causing it, those who are propelling the planet along a fossil fuel death march, who are bombing children in Yemen, who are tearing little ones away from their parents at the border, who are fear-mongering to divide us in order to stay in power.  What I am suggesting is twofold.

One is that we forgive them.  Don’t jump to conclusions here.  By forgiveness I do not mean condoning the evil they do.  No.  Personally I mean to oppose them at every turn with nonviolence, but also with compassion.  That means I can try to understand how they are damaged individuals, or just ignorant of the state of things and of the fundamental truth that we are all brothers and sisters on one small, beautiful planet wending its way through the universe.  Somehow they did not learn that and we can try to be their teachers.  By forgiving I mean letting go my anger at what they do and who they currently are, freeing myself from their power to damage me, for anger is damaging to the spirit and quite clearly to the body (heart disease, stroke, lowered immunity).  A wise man once said that anger is the punishment we give ourselves for somebody else’s mistake. I am going to let that go.  Anger clouds our judgement and deprives us of skillful means to take effective actions.  I am not going to let them have power over me to make me miserable. They are not going to dictate my response to life.  That is going to come out of my own values—my belief in peace, justice and my love for this amazing little planet.

Two, once freed in this way I can then also see the beauty around me—the sunrise, the setting of the moon, the incredible animals who share this planet with us.  Just think about the butterflies, puppies, the beauty of the mountains and the sea, the glories of music and the arts.  Our loved ones. These are still ours to enjoy.  Then, fighting for their preservation becomes in itself a thing of joy.  We can be happy warriors (nonviolent, of course).  There is such a contradiction in the demeanor of the angry peacemaker—it’s an oxymoron isn’t it?

When I wake up in the morning, I say a prayer of thanks for my sight, hearing, mobility, dexterity, such as they still are at seventy-eight years of age.  I look outside and see the frisky little red squirrel enjoying his day, the blue jay at the bird feeder.  They make me glad.  I thank all those predecessors who invented and maintained civilization for me, and I take joy in the coming day’s opportunity to use whatever resources and talents and time I have to work for the common good, to pass on a peaceful, just society on a restored Earth.  Joy in desperate times.  For sure.

 

Ten Reasons To Feel Good About Climate Change

Ten Reasons To Feel Good About Climate Change

Well, pretty good.  So much news we get is dire and I do not want to decrease our sense of urgency that much needs to be done.  But a little good news can stimulate hope-based action.  So here it is.  Wendy Becktold just published an article by this title, beginning with “Humanity’s on the brink, but signs are emerging that we’ll pull back.”  She lists these signs of positive change.

 

  1. The divestment movement is growing, forcing the fossil fuel industry to realize its stocks are stranded assets. Peabody Coal used divestment as a reason to file bankruptcy.  New York City is dumping $189 billion in fuel stocks from its pension fund.
  2. The Paris Agreement holds in spite of Trump’s attacks and at a meeting in Poland the world negotiated a set of rules on how to better measure progress nations are making.
  3. The law still rules: many of Trumps efforts to roll back former limits on greenhouse gas emissions are being challenged in the courts.
  4. Renewable energy is on the rise: now so cost effective it will replace fossil fuels in 20 years.
  5. Coal is going, going. . . . During Trump’s first two years, 20 gigawatts of coal fired plants were retired (8 times what happened in Obama’s 4 years), and Sierra Club predicts that by 2035 there will be no coal plants in the U.S.
  6. Technology is advancing including better wind generators, reforestation, no till agriculture and the possibility of carbon capture from the air by 2029.
  7. Transportation is headed in the right direction. Several U.S. regions are planning comprehensive transportation strategies to reduce emissions, electric vehicles are on the rise including school busses.  California is fighting the Trump administration to hold on to their strict tail pipe standards.
  8. The scales of justice are tipping. About 90 big companies are responsible for nearly 2/3 of rising surface temperatures and they are being sued by municipalities, unions, and environmental groups.
  9. The political winds are shifting including the 2018 Congressional elections which put many new representatives in the U.S. house who oppose Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental legislation, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who’s Green New Deal will be taken up at least in part by the new House.
  10. Youth are on the march, including the Sunrise Movement kids who did a sit in in Nancy Pelosi’s office, 15,000 high school students in Australia, and Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school girl who drew world-wide attention to government inaction. She skips school every Friday and sits on the steps of the Swedish Parliament.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the end of climate deterioration, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.  So let’s all get to work.

 

A GREEN NEW DEAL: OUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT

The crisis we Earth dwellers are now entering is the NEWS OF THE CENTURY. All the rest is just glitter and litter. Too much non-critical information.
We need to admit that we made a mistake in building a civilization on fossil fuels. We didn’t know back then. We do now. And we have a remedy at hand.
Newly elected representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has proposed that the House create a powerful “Select Committee” to create a Manhattan Project style plan for a comprehensive Green New Deal aimed at transitioning us to 100 percent carbon neutral economy by 2030, and laid out the means including renewable energy, retrofitting all buildings with high R value insulation, and other practical strategies. What did the House leadership do? It created a weak committee to study the problem.
Here’s Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal.
“The select committee shall have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality.” The Plan will be driven primarily by the federal government but in cooperation non-government organizations. The Committee will complete its plan by January 1, 2020.
Specifically: it will include:
The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall be developed in order to achieve the following goals, in each case in no longer than 10 years from the start of execution of the Plan:
i. 100% of national power generation from renewable sources;
ii. building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;
iii. upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
iv. decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries;
v. decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure;
vi. funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases;
vii. making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.

The House failed to give their study committee power to subpoena and depose, a mandate to create a plan for 100 percent carbon neutral economy, or the authority to create legislation and send it directly to the House floor for a vote, or to require that members who receive money from coal and oil industry be banned from the Select Committee. Too little, too late.

If we are going to avoid a potential collapse of civilization due to climate deterioration and a skyrocketing rate of extinction, we will need a powerful grass roots campaign to buck up the House leadership, demanding that their existing Select Committee gets the powers and the charge that Ocasio-Cortez has proposed.

Biodiversity Loss–Threat To Civilization

Scientists are warning us of a hidden threat to civilization, the loss of biodiversity.  This threat is as big a climate deterioration.

The staggering loss of biodiversity in the last 4 decades is an equal threat to our survival. Since 1970, we have wiped out 60 percent of animal populations on the planet. Insect populations in German nature preserves have declined by 75 percent since 1970. The UN biodiversity office predicts that “By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse.”

These losses are caused by primarily by habitat destruction (for example: clearing biodiverse forests for palm oil plantations), chemical pollution, infrastructure that injures and kills wildlife (glass skyscrapers, electric fences), and invasive species.  We are bleeding life from the planet and it is going unnoticed.  We are in the midst of the biggest extinction crisis since the disappearance of the dinosaurs millions of years ago.

Well, so what?  What’s the loss of some insect species to me, or some rare bird I will never see anyway?

Here’s what.  The web of life that supports us provides us food, oxygen, drinkable water, fiber for clothing, medicines, and building materials.  It is like a string hammock in which we lie.  We are rapidly cutting the strings. Beneath that hammock lies chaos and anarchy.  Stable social systems require stable ecosystems. Ecosystem stability comes from many species interacting, but ecosystems are collapsing all over the world.  Most of us live in cities and don’t see it, and the media and governments don’t have a clue either.  The UN points out that “The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.”

World leadership must very quickly act to establish goals for habitat protection, reducing chemical pollution and preventing the spread of invasive species before it is too late, because once gone is gone forever.

While we should be alarmed, we should not be paralyzed.  “The UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends – will meet in Egypt this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife.  This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations which must culminate in an ambitious new global deal, comparable to the Paris Climate Agreement, at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.

The U.S. is the only nation that has refused to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity.  We need to lobby the federal government to join the rest of the world.  And there is also much we can do at our homes and local community level to preserve and create habitat where we live.  Every little bit of pollinator habitat helps, every little bit of forest or wild grassland saved makes a difference.  Without biodiversity, civilization is imperiled.