This is the one year anniversary of the Mindful Ecology blog. To celebrate, today we are having a graduation ceremony for our virtual community. It is a good time to pause a moment and appreciate the journey we have taken together. Not that my writing is all that, but that all those who have found themselves returning to it week after week are without doubt a very unique community of caring and curious individuals.
This site generally receives somewhere between fifteen and twenty thousand visits a month and there are currently over three hundred subscribers. I want to take this chance to thank each and every one of you. People willing to spend time working on their own minds for the sake of the planet’s health and future hold the light of hope in these very dark times. I truly believe that.
Each of you have traveled a unique path to have nurtured an interest in contemplative sciences coupled with concern about the ongoing collapse of our fossils fuel based industrial civilization. Though I have no hot line to Gaia (at least no more so than anyone else) it does seem to me that human consciousness planet-wide is responding to the ecological crisis by here and there nurturing a number of alternative lifestyles. This is most visible in the changing value systems where the rewards a society offers are no longer enticing to an increasing percentage of its members. The fast cars and big houses, not to mention the ‘cocaine off the backs of strippers’ as a friend once described the Wall Street ethos, are being seen by more and more people in a rather pathetic light.
For those who are not blind to the costs for our consumer heaven things look very, very different. If you honestly consider the life of a young girl slaving in a third world factory to make a brand name tennis shoe and the life of the sports star marketing it to the masses to each have the same claim to clean air, water and food, then everything gets a little bit topsy-turvy.
All people are caught up in the maelstrom of changes involved in this long descent into the post-industrial age. However, this audience is self-selected as one that is awake to the bigger picture. The ecological analysis of the human predicament focuses on but one set of the parameters that could be used to track the ongoing story. Geopolitics and economics are equally telling the same tale. The sociological documentation of the breakdown of strong social bonds is another as it finds us bowling alone, isolated in our ear-bud techno self-stimulation. Let us wish all these researchers and concerned fellow passengers on this wild ride all the best. Those fields are closer to the faster cycles of society’s dynamics where fashion, memes, and fads rise and fall more kinetically than do ecological changes.
By being drawn to contemplate ecology our crowd has hit on a more long term fashioner of our fate. The relationship between any civilization and its sources and sinks is one that evolves slowly, yet with a power far and away more pervasive than anything within our popular cultures. Those receptive to the message that there are limits to growth obtain an analytic tool of unprecedented precision. The analysis shows clearly that it is very probable that humanity is in a state of overshoot being temporarily sustained by using phantom acreage, a circumstance destined to lead to a bottleneck event of one degree or another.
This is the important point. Changes will reset the unsustainable. It is an open question how severe the suffering accompanying these changes will need to be. Many of the parameters that will shape this aspect of our long descent are being determined by the choices we are making now. If we assume our species has millions of years still ahead of it, then there is no question but that we will eventually be reshaped into social and cultural forms that embody a more sustainable balance between our lifestyles and the constraints of our environments. The relevant questions are around how long will we continue to countenance the production of useless trinkets destined for our landfills and oceans?
This is where the practice of contemplation and the accompanying lifestyles and value changes it produces gains its gravitas. Each one of us in this community of shared interest has a life that is right now rippling across many others. Just as my words on this site have rippled across a year of time and across the continents, so your words, and more importantly your actions, set off chains of causes and effects. The ecological crisis can seem so big and we so small yet what we are talking about here is something that only individuals can do. It is the creation of alternative spaces in which we can nurture our vision of a world that works for everyone without sacrificing our children’s futures to obtain it. It is the creation of a consciousness in which alternative values are allowed to inspire visions of futures we find worth working for. Working hard for.
This community does not see the existing rewards being offered by the larger society to be worth the high costs involved in their production. There is too much injustice, greed, and selfishness encouraged by the neoliberal hyper-capitalism of the current batch of royalty. The long term detriment to the air, water and soil is too high a price to pay for the tinsel of planned obsolescence and the shoddy workmanship of the lowest bidder.
There is one more reason I wanted to mention that this is the one year anniversary of this blog project. Now I could be all wet here but a year ago it struck me very deeply that it would be about this time that the wheels of the global systems would really start to fall off the bus, as it were. I thought about how it might be possible to make a public statement that such things were predictable, in fact inevitable given the trajectories of the limits to growth studies and the dearth of choices being offered by the powers that be. Starting a blog around the August, September, October period one year previous seemed as good a way as any to register my little insight.
We have been talking about preparing for a social reality in industrial countries that includes a whole lot more suffering in the near future. Those reconfigurations of social relations that bring additional suffering are already well underway; witness the shrinking middle classes or the events in Greece. Still, even though we are involved in a process that may take centuries to complete, it is also true that the collapse of fossils fueled industrial civilization is already well underway and the long descent includes times when wrenching disruptions to business as usual break out. I think we are very close to one of those times.
Now the future does not come with a flashing neon sign indicating ‘Look, this is collapse!’ In fact it comes in on quiet cats paws for most people, most of the time. Or as it was once said, it’s just one damn thing after another. This does not mean we cannot divine anything from the signs of the times, just that all such thoughts are even more provisional than the rest of our conceptual forecasts.
Narrowing our sights to no more than the profits and losses we will see in the next fiscal quarter our societies are being blindsided by a host of issues that require longer term thinking. As the funny money in the global economy strains the trust relationships of finance, the markets become structurally unsound. At the same time they are whiplashed by the new normal of post peak-oil price gyrations, where try as they might they cannot keep the sweet spot between too high and too low to keep business as usual proceeding on track. American politics has become unrecognizable at a time when the experiment of the European Union is being shown as just another empire where the center drains the resources of its peripheral countries. The fundamentalism in the oil producing part of the world is growing daily, seemingly unstoppable in its rush to return to the ways and means of the Middle Ages. Migration is becoming an issue in countries the world over as desperate people seek relief and a chance for more humane prospects. All together these look like rather powerful signals on the sea of worldly news.
Meanwhile, in the background, the ecological consequences of our collective behavior continue to move forward relentlessly. As the summer season wraps up in the northern hemisphere the impacts of global warming have again outpaced our modeling.
We are graduating to the next stage on our journey through the long descent.
I offer a toast to each of you graduates; thank you for the courage to face unpleasant truth and the willingness to do something about it, may your compassion be a light in darkness and your wisdom a refuge from the storm.