Somewhere within the painful realization that we are indeed in a climate crisis, is the understanding that we can’t ‘will’, ‘pray’ or ‘hope’ ourselves out of it. Like the word love, ‘hope’ means so many different things to different people. Even the dictionary has three meanings, all with a distinctive slant: the expectation of a desired outcome, the possibility of being saved, the belief in a good outcome. I’m not drawn to the word and tend not to use it, in fact, I treat it with suspicion as it’s often deployed precisely to deflect or detract from news that’s less than hopeful.
This September equinox came and went without the usual quarterly blog post from me. Why? Because I felt that I just couldn’t write about the health of our planet yet again, nor could I not. So I dithered between writing and not writing, yet climate is the only conversation that makes sense to me at this time in history. It is the first time ever in our short sojourn on this planet where we humans and the creatures and critters that share this planet are all in the same boat. We may all be in slightly different parts of said boat: bow, stern, deck, cabins, below deck. The ship is going down, or is at least struggling significantly. Some of us may drown before the others, some few may make it onto the life boats available, etc. Many, at least those in first class are still dancing on the deck, while those in steerage are beginning to register in no uncertain terms that the ground is melting or soaking or burning. I can only postulate that where you are in the boat is determined by your socio/economic and geographic position on this planet boat. You get the drift.
When a friend who is one of my personal heroines and an immensely successful environmental activist came to me with an idea and a request for help, I was curious. Why not support those on the front lines, since I am not, but continue to root for, support and admire those who are. The Greta’s of our world, in all their shapes, stripes and colors.
When she told me that the program that she was now dedicating her life’s work to was called ‘Climate Hope’ I cringed quietly and hopefully imperceptibly, not wishing to start the conversation with objection. The premise of this conference/workshop was based on preparedness rather than prevention. What might this mean? Looking at the science of climate change and acknowledging that this IS happening, faster than ever before imagined. Not only in our grandchildren’s lifetime, not only in our children’s lifetimes but also in ours. Now. This is happening. The world of growth economy, our First World expectation of hot/cold running water, blazing lights, supermarkets stocked with food, Amazon delivering our goodies to the door, all the conveniences that we take as our God-given right, may all change and sooner than we previously thought. The planet of droughts, of massive forest fires, of biblical floods, of devastating hurricanes, of tornadoes, of climate refugees, of destablized governments is here, now, and will only get more intense as our CO2 levels continue to rise and our planet continues to heat. Let’s prepare.
Her notion is that preparedness starts with inner resilience. A capacity within ourselves to cultivate an acceptance of what is occurring and all that might yet occur. A willingness to move through the protections of our denial, anger, through our debilitating fears and griefs, so that we are in a position to respond: to heartbreak, to disease, to suffering, to lack and loss at an unimaginable level. Unimaginable because we do not know the form that stresses to our particular human/financial/ecological ecosystem will be subject to. This orientation has some basis in the work of Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptaion. A provocative, worthy albeit difficult read https://www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf.
Of course my first question to her was, tell me about the HOPE part of your work and why you have chosen ‘Climate Hope’ for this new round of climate offerings. She smiled and said, “Oh fair enough! Now I’m not talking about ‘Hopium’, which is the notion that all will be well, because we are thinking good thoughts, or because we want it, and wish that we might continue to live as we have done to date, with all the conveniences and soft privilege we so take as our baseline entitlement. No, I’m talking about a hope in another way. For me,” she said, “hope is the refusal to give up on love”.
That took me by surprise. Hope as ‘the refusal to give up on love’. I said Yes to helping.
The help I provided within the workshop was minimal. The help I received was maximum and surprising in its profound impact. That I came out of an intense 3½ day workshop more open and loving was not that unanticipated. Intense workshop forums often have this effect, especially as we were turning into such painful and vulnerable issues. That I came out of it less fearful about the future and more amazed and grateful for the present in which I actually live, that was the wonder and surprise.
I had been so hungry for a chance to really dive into the climate conversation that wasn’t merely focused on recycling and whether or not to buy a Prius. I found myself deeply relieved to actually be having such conversations finally, with others who were willing to stay on the edge of ‘not knowing’ what the future may hold, but still acknowledge the climate science that tells us that all earth’s systems, oceans, forests, ice fields, Co2 levels, all of it, is at breaking point and is exponentially more and more stressed, beyond the point of return.
In Europe people are having these conversations, in North America, not so much. Here we are still pretending that we can get out of it, it is redeemable, fixable, so why not simply enjoy and hope (there it is again) that technology will come up with the solution since after all, we still have time. In the meantime, we’ll all get paper straws and hope for the best because the alternative is just too awful to think about. So let’s not. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/what-if-we-stopped-pretending.
Then there is Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish girl who is shouting and fearless, who is so informed and dedicated it’s enough to both inspire and put me to shame. So why shouldn’t I write about our climate crisis again. And again. And again. Why not ask you the question I’ve been asking myself for a while now. How are we to live, knowing all that we do about our planet and what is happening and what is not happening. Not on a governmental level, not on the level of oil/gas/coal industries. Here we are, needing things to shift now to give us a chance, a smattering of a chance, yet I still live inside of my comfy life, avidly, enjoying the last dance on the deck of the sinking ship.
Shifting the conversation into preparedness rather than prevention does not feel like giving up, for me, it feels like turning in. Turning into that which is already true and real and happening, even if it hasn’t yet registered in our particular lives. After all, the storm that decimated the Bahamas is long gone and didn’t affect me directly, nor the tornado, or the fires of CA. As long as it’s elsewhere, it’s not yet me, it’s not yet on our community doorstep, until one day it may be. How will we cope? Will we cope? Will I?
While living in suburban foothills outside of Boulder CO, we lived though four evacuations in almost as many years. Each was terrifying, trying to grab bits of news as to the fire’s progress in relation to our hood. The last one stopped about four hundred yards from our home. Many others were not spared. We moved down to town, (which has been the plan anyway) where we experienced what was referred to as the 1,000 year flood, in dry Boulder Co. Our basement was flooded. Several years later we moved across the country (for non climate related reasons) and now we live in a small town in Oregon that is subject to both flooding and fire. There is no place that offers immunity from the wild forces of a stressed and deregulated climate.
So I participated in Climate Hope on a remote island in B.C., at Hollyhock, with a slightly hopeless feeling, an acute sense of dread/fear and great sadness as to all that is unfolding on this glorious planet. I entered with the burning question, what is mine to do? How to be with the grief and helplessness of it all?
Over the course of the gathering, it also occurred to me, or maybe I’d always known, that my real job is simply to keep showing up, day by day, interaction by interaction, task by task, conversation by conversation, heartbreak by heartbreak, kindness by kindness, fear by fear, joy by joy.
There is a new and somewhat tender trust that I may be capable of just that. There is a new and somewhat tender trust that since we are indeed all in this one together, we finally get to stand together, to help each other, to advocate for each other, to fight for each other and our home. That we can simply ‘refuse to give up on love’. That we can be hopeful, even if we do not make it out alive.
I walk out
winter’s white glistens
under heavy gold grey
clouds, who gather
for all their own reasons
those trickster magpies
in their suits
Towhee’s high trill
the deafening honks
of 1,000 geese
flying home again
the merest hint of red
as the hawk circles high
buoyed on warmer currents
over and over
like a dirge the mind spins
grooved and unrelenting
whose words sing: