“So they blew it, and wasted the greatest of chances,
Instead they all frolicked in diplomat dances,
And decided decisively, right there and then,
The best way to solve it’s to meet up again.
And decide on a future that’s greener and greater,
Not with action right now, but with something else later”
~ Marcus Brigstocke “Dr. Seuss in Copenhagen” quoted by George Marshall in “Don’t even think about it”
“To ask the ‘right’ question is far more important than to receive the answer. The solution of a problem lies in the understanding of the problem; the answer is not outside the problem, it is in the problem.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Flight of the Eagle
“What can we do?” The question came as a surprise, as all the good questions: simple, concise, challenging…
I was relaxing between finals at the KPU cafeteria (presented and passed Plant Biology today!), checking emails, sipping some coffee and watching through the window: the sun came out in what seemed more as a spring morning (in mid December?) and a squirrel jumped to the grass and ran to the next tree: “What can we do?” Carol said in her comment…
“The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far. Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction? Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?
Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world? Oh, why are people so crazy?”
~ The Diary of Anne Frank
I turned to my book (still reading George Marshall’s “Don’t even think about it”) and read the next five chapters while waiting for my second final exam. He explains how “bright-siding” (the upbeat tone of the “positive” greens) is as unappealing to mainstream people as the apocalyptic view of the “doomers”, I quote Marshall quoting Zachary Karabell:
“Climate change, he says, is not the disaster we fear but instead ‘one more obstacle that humans can
meet, one that may spur innovation and creativity’. This will, he says, ‘make us tough’.
This inspiring vision conveniently ignores the billions of people who find life quite tough enough already
and for whom ‘one more obstacle’ could destroy their lives.”
In the next chapters, Marshall shares why big concerts and continuous negotiations haven’t worked so far: big concerts and similar “big protests” may be full of contradictions (starting with organizers and big celebrities who may fly to the event or plainly ruin the show with their wasteful lifestyles) and allow those who watch or attend to “feel good” about the “momentum” but rarely something tangible is achieved; similar with online petitions, a comfortable way to show off with friends and then do nothing…continuous negotiations such as Kyoto, Copenhagen (and I would add, the current ones in Lima) do nothing but (as my opening quote mentions above): “…decide on a future that’s greener and greater, not with action right now, but with something else later”…the reasons? Naomi Klein may have better answers, but part of it is that those who “try” are only trying old tricks that worked “well” for issues such as the acid rain and the ozone layer but will not work the same for a much more complex “problem” such as climate change…
But it is in chapter 32 (“Wellhead and Tailpipe”) where I start seeing things clearly: until now, negotiators, governments, scientists and even environmentalists have approached the “problem” as a “tailpipe” problem: the sale and combustion that leads to “emissions”. In other words, all the “solutions” have been explored from the “symptoms” point of view and therefore, it is the users (us) and the way the “stuff” is sold, distributed and burned/wasted what they have been trying to “solve”…
“Addiction is finding a quick and dirty solution to the symptom of the problem, which prevents or distracts one from the harder and longer-term task of solving the real problem.”
~ Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer
“What can we do” still moves through my head and touches my heart…there are no easy answers: the answers are collective and individual at the same time. They are local and specific yet universal: the reason why “mainstream” seems not to connect the dots and not to “respond” is because what “we have to do” is seen as terribly difficult, a sacrifice, even unfair…
First, climate change is not “a problem” (see my earlier post about problems and predicaments) , second, we can’t only focus on the “tailpipe” point of view (we also need to see the wellhead, as Marshall puts it, it includes the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels as well as all the systems that create, feed and require these) and third, we can’t forget that the predicament is much more complex, as even if climate change magically disappears, we still have soil and water pollution and depletion, biodiversity loss, huge pollution of seas, depletion of important minerals and other raw materials we use for making “stuff”, ecosystems collapse, species extinctions, social injustice, wars, poverty, hunger, epidemics, torture, unemployment, increase in mental illnesses, etc…
…and for all and every one of these and similar predicaments, we need to see the “wellhead”: where that comes from and why?
Because I myself need to find an answer and move on with “action” (“what can we do?”) I will risk some questions:
- Could “all” the above predicaments be related to our view of humans as something separated from Nature?
- Could be “all” the above predicaments spring from a sense of “entitlement”, that we somewhat “deserve” comfort, treats, be like models, vacations and so on?
- Could be that all of the above is the result of “aiming for the moon” with disregard that is here on this Earth where our home is and where all our needs are met (if we understand what our needs are and stop trying to play god)?
- Could be all of the above be related to the type of systems we have chosen and supported so far (social/hierarchical, economic/capitalist and so on)?
I haven’t found a better “answer” to “what can we do” than David Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand” (which I translated to Spanish a few months ago and can be found here)…I haven’t found a better answer than what Thay says: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh), and I haven’t found a better answer that what Permaculture has been proposing for more than 30 years: be ethical and become self-reliant (Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, originators of the Permaculture concept) or what Transition and other similar models are trying now: re-skilling, re-localising, simplifying and developing an “Energy Descent Action Plan”…
Now, I acknowledge that many of the things proposed by Holmgren, Thay, Mollison and Transition are terribly difficult to accomplish for most people in these times and world: the majority of us lives in cities; many of us have debt; many of us do not have the skills or means to generate income if it is not through being employed by someone else; current legislation and uses do not allow us to do certain things (such as growing food in our own gardens, having chicken or other livestock, digging for a well, collecting rain water, composting our kitchen scraps or using composting toilets) and so on…
There is another (not so evident but probably more troubling) challenge: with the exception of extraordinary visionaries who had both the vision and the means to “go off the grid” or live a completely different lifestyle, most of us “mainstream” have built our lives around other ”mainstream” people: and most of these “other people” (close family, partners, children, friends, colleagues) are not yet where we are in terms of both awareness (of the predicaments) and willingness (of making the necessary changes): I am part of various support groups and there are many who feel completely alone and powerless: “knowing” comes with a price; if you know but your partner, your children, your sister or your best friend don’t want to listen, support or change “with” you it is double painful: because the decisions you have to make go beyond growing food and leaving your job or composting in secret…you find yourself in a place where you are slowly losing friends and relationships, where every day you need to put on an act to continue dealing with the life your heart has already abandoned, where you may need to make difficult decisions you do not want to make…
“What can we do” Resonates in my heart…after a super roller-coaster week (one of the most difficult in terms of my “awareness”) it is a sobering and caring question.
I was waiting for it. I needed it. Thank you Carol. And thank you to all of you who read and comment or read and do not comment but may still be trying to answer the same question
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring