27 April 2010

Disasters, prophecies, and spring flowers

Since the New Year, how many earthquakes?  Haiti, western China or is that Tibet, Chile, Indonesia, Illinois, Oklahoma...  (There's a good list at earthquake. usgs.gov.)  Storms and floods.  The explosion and sinking of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, now leaking 42,000 gallons a day, spreading over the surface of the ocean.  Mine disaster in West Virginia; 29 dead at the hands of Massey Energy and our collective addiction to coal fired power. Upcoming for this summer; a plague of grasshoppers (per High Country News), plagues of wildfires (per everyone).

I keep thinking about Thomas Banyaca of the Hopi Nation, who used to come around Olympia in the 1980s talking about the Hopi Prophecies.  You can look them up.  Tales of ancient prophecies (of doom, of resurrection, of help from a world beyond, of the chosen people) have been part of American culture for a long time.  We love thinking we are the chosen people, either chosen for a great destiny or chosen for front-row seats at the Apocalypse.  And I've been often fascinated with the stories and prophecies -- which so often feel right and true for the times we're living in -- and also skeptical.  We live in large part in a material and biological world.  I don't think that the space brothers are all that interested in our success or failure.  And while the divine spark of evolutionary fire inhabits every sentient being, our human world is mostly made by us.  I don't think we can expect rescue (by angels or aliens), or rapture, or transcendent breakthrough.

But the earth, Gaia, is screaming louder and louder.  How loud does it have to get before we wake up?  Like junkies in a burning room (this is a scene from Sid and Nancy), we stare at the flames of destruction, mesmerized by the light.  When the president announces that we need more offshore oil wells, and the next week the oil well blows up, killing 11, and sinks, spewing forth oil for days (weeks?  months?) to come, some people might take that for a sign.  A nindicator, as Riddley Walker said.  Or just a simple case of cause and effect, nothing mystical about that.

On the home front, flowers.  Rhododendron, magnolia, lilac, dogwood, plum, apple, ocean spray (I think), wood hyacinth, dandelion, red-flowering currant... there is no end to the fecundidty.  The birds are loving the birdbath/feeder, conveniently located near the apple trees and the pond, and too high for the cats to pose a danger.  We will hang the signs this week: Paradise is all around you.

We can still make this planet a paradise.  or a hell.  The preponderance of our efforts seem to be for the latter, but votes are still coming in.

15 April 2010

Living on Eaarth

Okay, I haven't even seen Bill McKibben's new book Eaarth, but I'm excited about it.  He was on Democracy Now this morning talking about the need we all face to respond to the new conditions on our planet.  This is no longer the Earth I was born on nearly 50 years ago.  It's a changed planet; we changed it.  We are still at it.  And we have to find ways to live here, to adapt our civilization, our culture, our economy, to the new reality. 

I've been depressed and horrified about the state of the environment and living beings since I was, maybe seven years old.  Even then, I worried about pollution, birds and fish and bears being killed.  Today, strangely, I feel excited - in addition to gloomy and terrified.  The situation is dire; we have to respond.  Here on my island, people are talking about the Transition Town movement.  This is a grass-roots effort to create more resiliency in our communities, to become less dependent on global and continental systems of food and energy.   To create more of what we need closer to home, to build up our own resources and capacities.  People are talking about cutting our energy needs and demanding that our state shut down its biggest coal plant.  People are talking about changing our local planning documents to reflect our needs for greater density in town, and less density in the rural areas. We're talking about how to capture more of the rainwater that falls on our island.

Someplace in the nation, people insist that climate change isn't real, or that burning oil and coal didn't cause it, or that we should wait and see before we waste money responding.  To be so alienated from reality seems like a real handicap in terms of survival - it's not very adaptive. 

Our national and state leaders -- at least the ones I helped elect --seem to be trapped in a kind of double consciousness.  One one hand, they can talk about climate change, confirm that it's a serious issue, and promise to address it boldly.  At the same time, they can't begin to acknowledge the scale of social change we face. They are unable to state that our economic fantasies of perpetual growth are incompatible with reality, with chemistry and physics.  They have not begun to talk about, much less act on, the new reality we face.  Surely they're afraid of the political consequences.  I wonder how much these leaders acknowledge in their own hearts the magnitude of the transformation we need.  I hope they do know, and that they are working on ways to help everyone wake up. 

But on this island, adapting to these changes is on our minds and in our daily conversation.  At the Farmer's Market, at the grocery store, at the bakery, on the email, in the meetings, on the ferry.  People are raising chickens and teaching each other what they learned.  Growing gardens, farming on a small scale, talking about the costs of cisterns and harvesting rainwater.  Making goat cheese.  Experimenting with small-scale grain production. Putting solar panels on the roof, or solar hot water.  Planting nut trees.  Restoring the old fruit trees.  Building cider presses. 

"Snows of a thousand winters
Melt in the sun of one summer."

(Kenneth Rexroth, "The Wheel Revolves," the Collected Shorter Poems)