Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dark Mountain vs. Hearts Possible

I recently read an article about an environmental group in England that embraces despair. After dedicating themselves to decades of work to prevent climate change and to preserve the environment, these environmentalists have made a conscious decision to accept the fact that we have gone past the tipping point for CO2 emissions, that the polar ice caps are melting, that many lovely species of organisms have permanently died out, in short, that many of the things they fought to prevent and warned about and wrote about and spent their lives trying to stop, that these things have come to pass. And they have given themselves permission to mourn the losses and to prepare practically and psychologically for global collapse.

These folks view the future as bleak and they have decided to stop kicking and screaming and to accept this future and to cope. They create spaces and places where they can join with other like-minded, resigned individuals and, as Adrienne Rich once wrote, “sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.” If you want to read more about this group, google Dark Mountain Project. One of these Dark Mountain environmentalists, Paul Kingsnorth, quit his job and moved to rural England with his wife and two young children so that he could raise his children in a manner and location conducive to teaching them how to grow their own food, build shelter, heat with wood, hunt, and, basically, how to survive in the altered world Kingsnorth envisions coming.

I feel in many ways connected to the Dark Mountaineers, who strive to grasp what has been lost and find a way forward through their grief. I am tempted to follow in their footsteps and face the reality of the looming environmental collapse, to prepare for it, to take the time to grieve for what we have lost. The next novel I will write is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi that explores the possibilities of life after a systems collapse. I have started writing that book, but put it on hold to attend to other pressing matters in my life this year. So I have spent a great deal of time pondering this issue and imagining (rehearsing?) this eventuality. I have, at times, fallen into despair and mourned our losses. But that story of despair is not the story I want to put out into the world. I choose to resist that story. No one has a greater belief in the power of the stories we tell to impact real events and the unfolding of our future than I. See my blog post from December 2011 entitled The Stories We Tell. In that blog post I wrote:
In the 1970s, a motivation theorist named David McClelland wrote about his theory that the development of societies, the rise and fall of nations, and the progress of humans on the planet are impacted by the stories that humans tell. Our folktales, children’s stories, myths, legends, and fairytales influence history, culture, and (according to McClelland) economic systems. Our stories create the patterns of our world; not just the stories we tell our children, but all the stories we send forth, create our world.
Thus I ask myself if I want to put the story of global death and human extinction into the world. What if I can change the future with my stories? What if I impact the survival of species and the continuation of forests, the flight of birds and the patterns of evolution, the lives of bees and roses with the stories I believe and tell and promote?

A delightfully optimistic young houseguest who stayed with me last week introduced me to a book with the preposterously zippity-doo-da title of The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein. According to the publicist (who wrote this blurb), this is what the book is about: 
This inspirational and thought-provoking book serves as an empowering antidote to the cynicism, frustration, paralysis, and overwhelm so many of us are feeling, replacing it with a grounding reminder of what’s true:  we are all connected, and our small, personal choices bear unsuspected transformational power. By fully embracing and practicing this principle of interconnectedness—called interbeing—we become more effective agents of change and have a stronger positive influence on the world.
Eisenstein is so eager to share his worldview that he has provided his book in open commons format online for free and here is the link if you are interested in reading it.

I bring up Eisenstein’s book because I have gone back and forth in my mind between the Dark Mountain approach (accept reality, grieve, make a plan to deal with the impending disaster) and the Hearts Possible approach (transform, connect, be positive, create miracles). There is a place in my heart where I will always grieve for the natural beauty and ecosystems that we have lost. But I don’t want to let these losses compromise the possibility of a viable future for my children and grandchildren in spite of the overwhelming extent of the collapse of our world under an avalanche of impossible destructive factors and toxic load. In the event that the stories that I tell and put into the world can impact the very physics of evolution and planetary survival, I want to tell the positive story, the optimistic story, the story of metamorphosis.

Are the Dark Mountain people practical and realistic or has despair drained them of all hope? Are the Hearts Possible people Pollyannas living in a fantasy of denial in the face of scientific fact or are they onto something earth-changing? I have decided that the sign that I will carry to the parade of global upheaval and cataclysmic crash of life-as-we-know-it will say The Beginning Is Near.

This is the Mt. Diablo buckwheat, a pale pink flower that was declared extinct about 70 years ago 
and was subsequently found growing in a little park East of San Francisco a few years ago.

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