Have you ever read a book or seen a film about the ecological crisis and felt overwhelmed by what you had been exposed to? The extent and speed with which our societies are remaking the earth is unprecedented. If even a tenth of the forecasts from ecology’s models come to pass, the day after tomorrow is is almost too terrifying to think about.
Mindful Ecology is a way to think about these things.
This book has been written to serve as an invitation to meditation for those hurt by their awareness of the ecological crisis and not sure how to deal with it so it does not sour the whole of their lives. It is also written for those who have been following a meditative path for years and are looking to include elements of system science and ecology into their contemplations. Most of us are never taught how to go about thinking slowly and carefully about things, nor are we taught to include an awareness of how our bodies are reacting to what we are thinking about. The result is that most of our cognitions remains little more than factoids, toys of the intellect, instead of becoming truths about our world we deeply and immediately understand. Around such truths we can form meaningful lives.
Mindful ecology asks if you are ready to take a radical step, one proportionate to the crisis of unsustainability we find ourselves in. We are in need of courageous people who can take the fight to the monster in our midst: the collapse of fossil fueled industrial civilization. We are in need of people trained to perform open soul surgery under triage conditions to aid those traumatized by the monster. More and more people are waking up to the horror of the ecological crisis unfolding at a rapid pace throughout the earth. When the horror penetrates the heart – the mind is left numb. What, we wonder, are we to do?
Mindful ecology is one way of responding. It involves developing a direct relationship with the deepest issues. It seeks a profound understanding of the planetary sciences through contemplating them, thinking deeply about them, allowing them to make an impact on one’s emotions and values. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the authors who were most influential in educating me, and provoking me to respond. Mindful Ecology is my heart felt thank you for the courage, integrity and honesty I found in their work. I am not sure it can be rightly understood apart from it. I have included a select bibliography but wanted to call out these powerful works for particular attention.
The best minds share seemingly simple models with us and speak only that which is most obvious, once it has been said. It is when we realize they stand alone in their trail-blazing that we recognize the true extent of the genius involved. William Catton’s Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change introduces the key ecological findings pertinent to our actual circumstances in ideas and terms that allow us to think more clearly. Such service is invaluable. Here, in summary, is the story of the ecological message of our time according to Dr. Catton. The oil fueled industrial economy is a detritus feeder, subject to overshoot. The state of overshoot is sustained as long as the phantom acreage on which it relies remains available. In the Age of Oil the detritus feeder found just the food it needed to grow enormous, even giant, life-threateningly giant. Homo Colossus was born, the prosthetic extensions of our human reach through the power of the technology we strapped on our backs. Its giantism does not respect the limits which must be inherent to all things on our finite earth: its need to grow endlessly is destroying the biosphere. The death of Homo Colossus will likely be accompanied by a population die off, as is the way with detritus feeders. For those with ears to hear…
The basic statement on peak oil presented in Richard Hienberg’s The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies remains a solid accounting of an ecologist persuaded by the Hubbert Curve. There remains no rebuttal to the basic argument it presents, which is a nail in the coffin of Homo Colossus.
John Michael Greer corrects the pervasive dismissal of the real future we are making for ourselves in The Long Descent, a Users Guide to the End of Industrialization and The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post Peak World. Together they provide a point of view carefully leavened by historical precedent. It is a corrective to so much that is blindly taken for granted by a society equally smitten by visions of endless technological progress and cosmic sized apocalyptic fears. These books remind us the future we are going to get is the one we are making, which is by the way, much more frightening.
One film makes this short list, Timothy S. Bennett’s What a Way to Go, Life at the End of Empire produced by Sally Erickson. At the heart of this film is a gut-wrenchingly honest soliloquy from an individual which had been deeply touched by the sadness and madness of what industrialized civilization is doing to the earth. It remains the classic rhetorical presentation, pleading with each of us to wake up and change our ways.
Finally, Derek Jensen’s work has had a very powerful effect on me. In A Language Older than Words I heard a full-throated voice, powerful with an honest integrity determined to have its say. The scream, the revulsion, the human refusal to take the bully lying down or cover up their crimes; all these things speak in his work. They are dark works, flint for the soul in a dark night. They challenged me to do the same. For those to whom they resonate they bring the fully embodied human being onto the front lines to confront some hard truths. Homo Colossus abuses the earth. In the final analysis its toxicity was born from us, from our abuses of one another.
This shows us a way forward.