“We are not preparing people for the world we grew up in, nor are we preparing them for today’s world. Instead, we must empower them with the creativity needed to solve problems that we cannot imagine.”
~ Matt Kolan & Walter Poleman, University of Vermont
We live in complex times. The Earth, our common life-support system, is being heavily impacted by human-caused climate change—brought on by deforestation, factory farming, fossil fuel combustion and other destructive, life-negating practices. Cultural perspectives that separate and disconnect humans from nature have enabled the climax of ecological devastation within which we find ourselves today. James Watt, who invented the steam engine in 1781, once said: “Nature can be conquered if we can but find her weak side.” Watt’s sentiment, which typifies the attitude of human domination over nature that is painfully prevalent today, fails to consider that a spear into nature’s “weak side” pierces humanity as well. What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves.
Though human actions have caused (and are causing) the unprecedented atmospheric warming that now places all life at risk, not all human societies are equally culpable. The United States is far and away the greatest historical instigator of this pandemic. China, Russia, Brazil, India and other developed and developing nations have impacted the climate significantly, as well.
These practices have “built” an economic order in the world. Indeed, since the West’s Industrial Revolution, the ecologically destabilizing actions taken by the U.S. and other nations have generated a great deal of economic prosperity—which has in turn exacerbated economic inequality between rich and poor nations.
But even within the U.S. and these other enriched nations, the economic “benefits” accrued by developing fossil fuel reserves, razing old-growth forests, and factory farming livestock haven’t been realized equally by all people—and neither have the detrimental impacts. Economic inequality within the U.S. and other climate destabilizing nations parallels economic inequality across the globe; in other words, much of the world’s wealth is held by a relatively small number of people. Those without systemic access to this wealth—who also tend globally to be people of color—typically suffer a disproportionate degree of harm from these climate-killing practices, in the form of pollution, disease, and displacement.
Some would argue that this order is what makes life on Earth possible; thus, to abandon it would be to destabilize the world, courting full-scale collapse. We contend, however, that the status quo of allegiance to industrial growth societies (and the deep disparities they create) is what actually courts collapse—not only of the planet, but of the human spirit.
This current widespread economic order, manifesting in many places as capitalism, is based on a myth of infinite growth and expansion that is simply at odds with the limited and precious resources our environment offers. Capitalism is not the only culprit—any economic order that is based on the false notion that humans can infinitely extract resources from the planet (trees, oil, coal, human labor, for example) to fuel limitless growth contributes to these patterns. The adherence of some people—particularly those with disproportionate power—to the industrial growth society is driving catastrophic changes to our world.
The changes to our climate are already impacting millions of people in significant ways, exacerbating social, political and economic tensions that have existed for generations and in some cases, millennia. Thus, the ecological challenges we face are intimately intertwined with colonialism, racism, classism, patriarchy, sexism, heterosexism, war, resource scarcity and many other issues. In order to meet well what lies ahead, we, especially those with institutional power and privilege, must become adept at addressing the intersections of the challenges we face—and working together. Within these challenges reside tremendous opportunities for relating to the Earth, each other and ourselves in ways that are far richer—in the truest, uneconomic sense of the word.
There are no panaceas that will in an instant make our communities, countries and our planet more peaceful or more unified. The politics of the moment are exceedingly complex. But there is one thing that will most certainly be involved: relationship.
When it comes to social problems, lack of relationship shows up all over the map as a root cause. Consumerism, which causes vast damage to workers and the environment, is rooted in a lack of relationship between consumers and the source materials of our food, clothing and gadgetry. Racism, sexism, heterosexism and colonialism are rooted in a lack of reciprocal relationship between people who have power and those who are systematically disempowered because of skin color, indigeneity, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion. And in many ways, human-caused climate change is rooted in a lack of relationship to our local ecosystems: the engine of accelerating changes to our planet is what Naomi Klein and others have called “extractivism,” a colonial worldview in which places (and people) are sacrificed to feed the ever-hungry centralized society, crazed by the fable of infinite economic growth. The list goes on.
These examples, though stated separately, are of course inextricably linked. So as the future continues to unfold before us, with all the uncertainty it brings, we say: build relationship. We must develop the eyes to see, in increasingly nuanced ways, how the challenges we face are intertwined. The work of Kimberle Crenshaw and others on intersectionality is a guide. At the personal level, strengthen ties to family and friends. Get involved with local organizing efforts related to food justice, racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice. Learn about and find ways to support the native people who lived on, and may well still be living on, the land you currently inhabit. And don’t forget to build relationship to yourself. Reflect on the arc of your life—where do you come from and how did you get here? What creativity do you hold that the world is waiting for? What passions, brilliant ideas and acts of service reside untapped within you? What brings you fully alive?
These are some of the questions and issues we endeavor to engage in the Weaving Earth Immersion. Join us!
For more from us regarding these threads, check out these links: