Creating a New Cultural Awakening Out of Chaos
The election should not distract us from the bigger picture we all need to paint of a greener planet
Red, White, Blue, and Green?
The New York Times, today, is splashing red, white, and blue all over the front page as we desperately doom scroll to keep up with the vote count.
Just when you think you can’t handle another barrage of numbers and to-close-for-comfort calls from — possibly from the highest number of pundits ever recorded — you might scroll down to the non-election news for comfort. Guidance even.
Here is an article, for example, telling readers all the nice nations they can move to, in order to find a soothing beachside villa and escape the madness. The trouble is, you will likely need to be able to afford it, and oops! almost everybody is unemployed.
Some of us are tempted, greatly, by this news. Yet, wait a minute, aren’t the oceans rising?
Another trouble is, you will likely need to be able to afford to upend and relocate your life, or have all the network systems in place to sway said nation you are one of the “good” Americans.
There’s more non-political news.
For example, what’s this piece about landslides in Guatemala due to heavy rains? People died. Oh, and unrest continues about social justice movements for equality and equity.
A very inconvenient truth about a “prosperity gospel”
The truth is, there is no escape from either COVID-19, the Climate Crisis, social justice upheaval, and our current election insanity. There is no escape, because they all come from the same source.
That source, is our relationship to the planet, once extractive and exploitative, that needs to become protective and prosperous for a greater population. A nicer truth is that people are beginning to believe it.
Our world, like it or not, still runs on fossil fuels, and the fight for the soul of America, is largely about old fashioned values to hold onto to cherished, but now tarnished, oil extraction, production, distribution, and agricultural jobs.
There is a sort of “prosperity gospel” for the times lost to history where the one car household could flourish even if June Cleaver didn’t have to work a gig job, or even get paid for her work, at all.
Nothing like our hard addiction to fossil fuels has ever created such a prosperous, and short-lived, burst of what we called “green revolution” of the last century, and the lifting of people out of severe poverty whose success allowed us to balloon to almost eight billion people competing for resources, in the modern day.
Many people are working hard to persuade a divided America to go for clean jobs and renewable energy, instead. But, the powers that we subsidize, still, with our tax dollars, are fighting just as hard. Right now, they still have a tremendous amount of power and influence.
The Trump election debacle, which almost everyone saw coming — even if not with whole-hearted optimism of a huge “Blue wave,” — is proof that we have far to go.
Where do we go from here?
The divestment movement, which seeks to help people learn to divest from universities, lenders, and powerful lobbyists for oil, is going strong. But it is not enough.
As Bill McKibben, who is largely responsible for putting divestment on the map, has indicated, and is probably correct, that even as the price of oil is going down, the amount of consumption is going up. He also notes that the social solidarity we need is not yet whole. In this sense, we are not building “the wall” of solidarity that we all need to build to combat climate crisis, and its weird, evil twin, social inequality, just yet.
Only our constant, and determined efforts to demand clean energy jobs will ensure that they ever arrive. Each of us can take empowerment in knowing we can individually construct bricks in our necessary solidarity.
Some people have observed that 2020 has seen more protests than any decade in recent memory. Not just in the United States, but around the world. McKibben’s 350.org and allies, such as Varshini Prakash, Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise movement, and Extinction Rebellion, persist. They seek to ally with those disproportionately affected by pollution, lost indigenous wisdom, victims of racism and sexism, and of course, the supportive biosphere which we all must activate to defend.
McKibben, to his credit, stays with the motto that to we “need everybody if we are to change everything.” He, is not blind, however, to those who argue identity politics can damage and divide us.
United we stand, divided we fail
Maybe our take -away should be that fracturing “Fracking” our movements is even more dangerous than fracking our way into a Green New Deal.
Every voice heard is a hard, and tall order. Yet, we cannot ignore the many voices. And, we risk losing far too much if we ignore the voice of the Earth
While we continue to count the votes and count the grievances, it is important to look at fact- based evidence, simple math, and real physical changes now occurring daily in our old, and traumatized year of 2020.
Much research has yielded unpleasant facts about our failure to be prepared for plagues, fires and floods which we have been warned about for many decades now.
The year began, many lifetimes ago, (especially for the sick, dying and grief-stricken) with an impeachment trail for President Donald J. Trump and horrifying images of Australia’s burning hellscape and the death of a billion animals there. Then came the Amazon, a burning Arctic tundra, and the entire west coast suffering.
The little addressed tiny virus emerging in China was more a curiosity than an emergency — at least as it was looked upon from the shining white house on the hill.
This speaks volumes about the disconnect between our knowledge and our will to intervene with strategic policy. While a handful of nations did so much better at intervention than the USA, many around the world suffered unnecessarily as this month’s National Geographic will attest.
For November, Nat Geo devoted their whole issue to how the world is impacted by the pandemic, and how it exposed the very real inequities of healthcare, poverty, race, and gender, in the many ways we should have been prepared for.
Some examples from the issue address how scientists are our new superheroes, (or maybe how they should be) how young activists are shaping the world, how our humanity is tested at neighboring borders, and in neighborhoods, and how our stricken economies can now turn toward renewables, green jobs, and hope.
Finding the US in USA
Although, clearly, we haven’t soothed all the fiery rhetoric, Essayist Robert Kunzig, notes that the pandemic consequences are uneven, but also a “Universal experience.”
There is power in the universal experience, and although no one is praising the tiny virus brought to us most likely by the power of bat and/or pangolin consumption, or maybe, surely given us through capitalistic consumption, air travel, and politics worldwide, certainly, we can learn from it and its spiky, little stabbings.
For a brief time, in short-lived lockdown, the world of nature seemed to rebound.
Kunzig writes of the “emboldened birds” he hears singing in his more deserted Red Mountain neighborhood of Alabama, but it is not lost on him that much of the south and its prosperity came directly from enslavement of some people for the benefit of an elite. He outlines that people long for the “pre-pandemic normal” with “more walls and less air travel, perhaps.” Yet, he understands that it is up to us how the future unfolds.
While nature rebounded and skies cleared for a brief respite in 2020, the carbon still steadily rose. Kunzig, and so very many of us who believe in possibility, do understand that only a cultural change in our relationship to nature will really give rise to a cleaner, healthier world.
That cultural change could go either way, at this point. We may have some of us actively extracting coal, deforesting the Amazon, and buying useless plastic for decades, even while we also have many of us planting trees, defending bats and pangolins, and demanding political representation.
So far, all of these things, and more, continue to happen every day. But we have to have a vision of clearing skies before we can create them.
Tipping points, such as when the ice caps melt, or when monsoons destroy sub continental cities in India and Asia, or the day when methane is exposed to the point of no return, are all resultant from feedback loops.
We will have to work very hard indeed, and push a Green Jobs Deal, not just a Green New Deal, which we have already witnessed is highly controversial to conservatives, who also fight any carbon tax proposals, however modest.
But there are other tipping points too. Such as on which day in 2019 did we reach “peak oil” the moment at which our costs to extract fossil fuels and then deal with the resulting pollution, and climate costs, became less profitable than renewables.
A good hard look at an extraction and exploitation economy will show right away that the externalized costs of oil, are far too high and pay off very disproportionately to supremacists and profiteers. What we need to actually measure — is not GDP-gross domestic product — but human and biosphere flourishing and abundance.
These are measures we are only just beginning to find metrics for, and the good news is that people, making awakened by the fire, floods and fevers of 2020, are listening.
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic has displaced our growing concerns about global heating, according to studies from Yale and George Mason Universities.
We must all look to social solidarity, and fight, ironically for peace. We must all activate peacefully for social justice for the many, and not the few, and for the planet, and not the plundering profits we now can no longer afford.