There is no doubt that climate change is real and that it is exceeding our expectations; regardless of what the many nations of the world choose to do following COP21, in the near term, legitimate and often dangerous consequences of climate change will continue to materialize for people around the world. Some of these consequences are dramatic and unpredictable, such as major storms and short and long term droughts, and the certain human costs of these hazards demands that we find ways to be more resilient--to endure and bounce back (or, better, perhaps, bounce forward).
My work has been inspired by Daniel Quinn in many ways. Today, I have a new essay at Ensia, in which I argue that it's time for a new story of humanity. This essay is my take on what I think is one of the most important messages in Quinn's various books.
In "The Story of B", the main protagonist, known for much of the novel as only "B", tells an audience to whom he is lecturing that he has good news: "We are not humanity," He says, "Can you feel the liberation in those words? Try them out. Go ahead. Just whisper them to yourselves: We . . . are not . . . humanity."
To me, this is the most powerful message in the book. It is his statement of why recognizing and rejecting the Great Forgetting is so important. B continues,
If we are humanity, then all the terrible things we say about ourselves are true of humanity itself — and that would be very bad news. If we are humanity, then all our destructiveness belongs not to one misguided culture but to humanity itself. And if we are humanity, then the fact that our culture is doomed means that humanity itself is doomed. And if we are humanity, then the fact that our culture is the enemy of life on this planet means that humanity itself is the enemy of life on this planet.
If you want to change what people do, Quinn often opines, you have to change how they think. Hopefully this essay nudges a few minds in a slightly different direction,.
“Remember when your father showed you how to make a blade? He showed you with the soft rock, because it is easier. Only later did you learn to make them with the hard stone from the hills to the north. If you had both to choose from, which would you choose? Surely the latter. But what if you had to walk a day for the harder stone, while the soft rock already lay at your feet?”
“It is this beautiful multiplicity of tellings, this unending continuum of change on which the survival of our story rests, not merely the tellings of one or two or five individuals. I tell the Saguaro Story in the manner I know it best, and though my telling is an important part of the story, it is no more or less important to the survival of our story than the telling of another. Is any one beat of a drum more or less important to a rhythm, or any one note of song more or less important to a melody or harmony? Imagine a chorus of song that never ends but also never repeats in precisely the same way. That is our story. You will always recognize the melody being sung and the rhythm beating behind it, but will never hear the same fleeting verse twice. Do you understand?”
“You are lost,” the speaker repeated, “but not simply because you no longer recognize the signs of the land around you, or the traces of a path you left in coming. You are lost because you have not yet learned how to listen to the story that these signs and traces tell. At your home, you use many signs to orient yourself to your world, to recognize the setting of the story of your life. Yet you are not aware of the story these signs tell. Like a word without a verse, you see the tall saguaro near the favorite spot at home where you often sit and play, wearing its cluster of red flowers atop like a crooked hat, but you do not comprehend it. When you see it from afar, you use it to measure the paces home; it tethers you to the center of your story. But today you have traveled so far that you cannot see that saguaro, or any of the others you have come to know. This is, you think, why you feel lost. But no matter how many tall saguaros with crooked-flower hats you place in your story, you will always be at risk of stumbling beyond their range, and into places where you feel lost.
Wolf culls are also morally unjustifiable. Firstly, we cannot ignore the fact that it is not the wolves' fault that the Selkirk herd is so depleted in the first place. Even the BC government acknowledges that this is the result of extensive human development, which has fragmented caribou habitat in the region. Is it moral to now place the cost of our collective "oops" on the local wolf populations? No doubt if (when?) the Selkirk herd goes extinct it will be a terrible thing, but it is logically fallacious to cast this as some sort of "wicked problem", a lose-lose scenario where the needs of the few (the caribou) outweigh the needs of the many (the wolves).
... This brings us to the philosophical question of whether the ends ever justify the means. Are dramatic losses of life or of quality of life over the last few hundred years among some people justified by modest gains in other parts of the world? To put it another way, is progress something that can be measured "per capita"?Proponents of western society’s recent achievements seem to argue yes. “The past was bad,” they might say, “but we’re gaining ground. We simply need to just keep on doing what we’re doing.” But, much of these modest gains in global equity and massive gains in elite wealth have come at the expense of our planetary life support system. Is anyone really better off if the planet is on the brink of ecological collapse?
Whether there is anything 'good' about the Anthropocene, now or in the future, is a difficult question. A year ago I would have argued an unequivocal no, but six months ago my wife and I had a baby nearly 3 months premature. She's thriving, but without modern medicine she likely wouldn't have made it through the night. I think that's a good thing.
With the launch of my new website I am also launching a new blog, entitled the Fireweed. Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is a pioneer species found across North America and particularly in the boreal forest, that is among the first plants to establish in recently burned areas (hence the name). The plant is an easy symbol of release, rebirth, and potential for something innovative and new. That the herb thrives across the continent, despite the fact that its habitat requires disturbance, and particularly of entrenched, old-growth forest, makes it a particularly appropriate metaphor in my mind for the kind of sustainability transformation that the world requires.