Nature Teaches Community

The other day, I turned on the TV to a relatively slow-moving documentary in hopes of a few minutes of spacing out or relaxing without thinking too much.  Flipping through the channels, I chose a nature documentary, as I love nature and relax when I can spend time with it.  Then, I got drawn into the program, and emerged sometime later impressed by how in nature, with the exception of a few lone creatures such as some predators, life grows in community, in flocks, hives, herds, packs and, even in the plant kingdom, groves of trees and other plant species.  Cooperation and community seem to be one of nature’s imperatives, structures which ensure that various groups of living species can thrive.  I had been subliminally aware of this before; now, it impressed me.  Perhaps the nature that many of us humans seem intent upon destroying is giving us an insight into how we ourselves may survive.

Much human organization is in large units called countries, states, cities, and the like, but historically and increasingly these huge, organized entities are less and less like a true community, in which the benefit of the smallest member is as important as the benefit of the whole.  For the majority, the true organization seems to be separate.  Once there were extended families and close neighborhoods.  Those morphed into the mobile nuclear family, and then into units of singles or of temporarily allied singles, roommates.  At the same time, relationships became more fluid and of shorter duration.  All that may have benefited the consumer economy, as multiple units of fewer people each required, for example, each its own vacuum cleaner or dishwasher or clothes dryer.  However, it has left the majority of us separated from each other, from nature and from community.

Those of us who will look can see for themselves the effect of the combined lifestyles of the mainstream.  Weather has become more destructive and unpredictable.  Soils are becoming less fertile as our pesticides destroy them.  The rainforest is disappearing.  The extinction rate of species has accelerated exponentially.  The ocean is acidifying, and parts of it are dying.  We ourselves are facing the aesthetic and health impacts of pollution, and – whether we realize it or not – of separation from each other, from nature, and from the creative matrix from which all emerges.  It is not only species of our fellow beings here on Earth who are facing extinction, but also we ourselves.

In our state of separation, we seem to have turned to our science and technology to save us from the truth that we are connected not only to each other, but also to the Earth itself and all the species on it in what is often called a web of life.  For many of us, the belief that we are masters of all other life, and that we do not have to change our ways because our science and technology will absolve us of consequences and will create habitats for us that are safe and nurturing, despite what happens to everything else.  Even though the wisest of scientists understand the connection to nature and that much of scientific progress has been an imitation of nature, many people seem to be unaware that in taking the stance we do, we are destroying ourselves along with the other life that we destroy.

What would it be like if we returned to community and taught ourselves to live sustainably on the Earth?  What would it be like if we were to seek out nature, respect nature, and develop ways which were in harmony with nature?  What would it be like if we had as much access to trees, soil, clean air and water as we currently have to concrete, cars and pollution?  What major changes would we need to make to ourselves to achieve that?

We have models; groups of people have for some time now banded together to create what is called intentional community.  Not all of them are the same; many are quite different.  In nature, a herd is not the same as a hive or as a flock.  Some are urban; many are rural and are learning and practicing sustainable and regenerative agriculture.  There are artists and scientists and craftspeople, farmers and businesspeople and educators, and people of different persuasions.  People of like mind tend to live together, and each group respects the life and orientation of groups which are different.  This is a new system.  It does not rely on a large, overseeing government to regulate and provide for us as if we were children who could not do that for ourselves, as if it were OK for us to not think very deeply.  It does not rely on what is outside of ourselves, the products of corporations or the results of politics to find and implement the ways in which we need to behave to reverse the process of destroying our Earth, its denizens and ourselves.  Community presupposes that we in cooperation with others are responsible for these things.

It is crisis time.  We inch closer and closer to an irreversible tipping point.  It is time to wake up, to save ourselves from collectively hurling ourselves off a cliff.  It is time to transcend our distractions of pandemics, differences (all of us are equally human), wars and internal conflicts that would silence or eliminate whichever group of us “lost” political battles.  It is time that we realized that we are all in essence one, coming from the same source, equally valued and equally responsible.  It is time we work together and form community – learning from those of us who have begun before us and contributing our own perspectives as we grow.  We need the time of cooperation; continued competition and conflict, continued emphasis on “winning over” will succeed only in destroying us all.

Let us all, whatever groups we affiliate with, whatever beliefs we hold, whatever our wounds or state of healing, realize that the other is a sister or brother and come together to create community.   Let us learn to work cooperatively together.  Our well-being and our survival depend upon it.

Peace, Diane

The Elephant in the Room

“People are suffering.  People are dying.  Entire ecosystems are collapsing.  We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.  How dare you…You are not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

The words are passionate, emotional, the words of an adolescent in pain.   They are also an incisive, concise and accurate statement of the ominous crisis in which we find ourselves, like it or not.    Sixteen-year-old climate champion Greta Thunberg spoke them to the United Nations and the world at the Climate Action Summit in September.

A quick search of the Internet will confirm, from various sources, the accuracy of her claims.  Many of us, especially those in power, prefer to not look at these facts.  We may peek at them occasionally; some offer excuses or soothing hopes that technology will take care of everything while our lives continue unchanged.  Then public attention shifts, and discussion continues on issues of economy, politics or gossip about celebrities.  We have yet to create a tipping point which can place the focus on money, convenience and comfort second in importance to the preservation of our planet.  Dangerously, we are not yet willing to look directly at and believe in what is uncomfortable, inconvenient and scary.  Meanwhile, the threat to our ways of life, if not our lives themselves, continues to grow as we hide our heads in the sand.

Climate change has begun.  Doomsayers predict the extinction of mankind and the end of life on Earth.  Sadly, that could happen if we continue to hide from what is happening and do essentially nothing but talk.  It doesn’t, however, have to be that way.  People have choices, and it is time for us to wake up.

Greta’s indictment of adults at the UN focuses on the power structures that bind us to the status quo.  She includes both those in the politics and leadership of the world, and those who make enormous amounts of money from consuming our common home.  Both are motivated by the common addiction to money.    I do not refer to money as a tool for exchange fairly used to reward labor and creativity.  It is the use of money to evaluate a person, and the addiction to amassing fortunes at the expense of others’ unpaid or inadequately paid labor or creativity that leads to blindness to the subsequent devastation.  We as ordinary people must, all of us, unceasingly shine the light of awareness upon that devastation if we are to counter the effects of destructive corporate action and the refusal of governing powers to effectively challenge those actions.  It is said that a lie told often enough becomes truth in the minds of those who hear it.  Truth spoken unerringly and unceasingly has greater power.   If we value our planetary home, we must not be silent.

The very rich and powerful must change the basic premises of their existence or be removed from power.  Certainly, they may not be allowed to continue those actions which increase the warming of our atmosphere, the changes in our climate and the extinction of many of our species.  We do not need more oil and gas, more factory farmed grains to burn and feed large herds of cattle (which emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas), more mines, more bombs and weapons of war, more anything which destroys or fatally alters the systems with which nature balances, protects and nurtures our world.  The excuse that these things maintain the economy and GNP is irrelevant.  That which is inimical to life must cease if we are to survive.  However, it is not only the wealthy and influential that bear the burden of change.

The example of drops of water together creating the powerful ocean or waterfall is not new.  It is, however, an excellent example of how great the power of individuals, united and consistent, can be.   We need such power to mitigate what has begun and adapt to what we cannot stop.  What, then, can each of us do?  After all, each of us is only one person.  Here are a few ideas, in addition to being persistently vocal in whatever ways we can. 

Most of us are familiar with the idea of recycling.  Public emphasis on recycling has been diluted in an attempt to make it convenient to recycle.  We now have single stream recycling in most urban areas, so that people no longer must sort their trash; they have only to separate compostable and non-recyclable garbage from recyclables.  Convenient, yes?  Someone else is doing the sorting.  Sadly, that means that many follow the path of least resistance and throw into the recycling bin things which are not recyclable.  In addition, in some communities, the recycling truck will collect the trash, but will simply dump it in a landfill along with other garbage; people are often unaware of that occurrence.  Here are some things people can do:  people can be aware of what happens to collected recyclables.   People can reduce the use of things that are purportedly recyclable, such as excess packaging, plastics, single use bags, straws and other items.  People can become aware and advocate for markets for recycled items, so that those items can be turned into new items without the use of precious natural resources.  People, especially in rural areas, can compost garbage, turning it into useful enrichment for the soil – as opposed to toxic sewage sludge.

We can learn how to grow urban gardens, from converting empty lots to garden use to doing container gardening to doing rooftop gardening.  This is a step towards eliminating the factory farms which pollute our Earth, destroy the soil for our farms, and create toxic runoff which desecrates our waters.  Small, organic farms can feed us all, and growing some of our own food and eating locally grown food can go a long way towards reducing the carbon we put in the air and also towards pulling some of the carbon out of the atmosphere and locking it in the plants and soil.    We do not need to truck in food from factory farms; this brings us foods which are less fresh and increases the carbon emissions through trucking.

We can learn to create our own electricity from the sun, or, in some cases, from wind.  We can learn passive solar building (using nature for heat) and install solar panels on our roofs.  Energy we create in excess can be sold back to the grid; eventually, there might not be complete reliance on a grid.  It would be wonderful to have energy after a storm, when the grid is down; solar energy can give us this.  Generators emit pollution into the air from burning fossil fuels.  We can also buy sustainable energy when it is available and lobby our utility companies to stop using fossil fuel.

We can push for the creation of reliable public transportation, powered by electricity.  Hopefully, the electricity will come from sustainable sources.  We can be vocal about the need for battery recharging stations for vehicles, as available as pumping stations for fossil fuel, and eventually replacing those pumping stations.  We can by increasing use make it fashionable to use bicycles as often as possible.    We can learn to slow down and walk to nearby places.

We can pay attention to our parks and advocate for their creation and preservation.  We can volunteer to help maintain them.   We can plant trees; trees pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen into it.  They are called the lungs of the world for that.  We can raise our voices against deforestation, decry the removal of any healthy tree, and refuse to buy products which have been made available through deforestation (cattle production and palm oil production are two of these).  In our cities, we can learn to build vertically; we can decrease sprawl into the suburbs and build parks with trees in areas which are freed.   We can stop building proliferating shopping areas; many of these are built when there is not a population to support them.  Many of those businesses fail, but the structures are left, using space which could be forested.

We can paint white every roof which is not taken by solar panels or gardens.  When glaciers and snowpacks melt, their function of reflecting heat away from the earth also disappears, increasing the rate of global warming.  White roofs en masse would shoulder some of that function.  We can also learn to cooperate in community, working with our neighbors.  There are many kinds of community – extended family, neighborhoods, co-housing, ecovillages, intentional communities; there are so many kinds that it is highly unlikely that a given individual would not be able to find one that suits.  However, we need to learn to cooperate with others in order to do this.  We need to act cooperatively in order to create the changes we need to preserve the planet.

These are only a few ways in which we can act.   Each of us has his or her own talents and gifts to offer, and there are many ways to contribute.  The bottom line is that each of us must act.   Relying on the next person to do it will not work.  The confluence of our voices and our actions will create the changes that we need.  In times of crisis, voices are raised to awaken us.  Sometimes those voices are children.  In the case of climate change, Greta Thunberg is one.  It is the function of youth to speak up when they see need or discrepancy.   It is the function of adults to listen and guide.   Greta has found the courage to speak.  Let us each respond by thinking about and acting with the contributions we can make to avert the worst of the impending events which threaten our lives.

Peace, Diane