16
Sep
2005

Simpler living in tougher times

In a message dated 9/15/05 9:47:14 PM, v.robin writes:

Amidst all the shocking, infuriating, moving emails and news stories since Katrina struck, a few have resonated more deeply with me - and together suggest a place to put our feet as we walk forward from this event.

The first, surprisingly, was at Op-ed by David Brooks on Sept 4 NY Times called The Bursting Point. Brooks is a conservative commentator often dismissive of ideas and actions that make perfect sense to me and mine. He likened this moment to the early 70's when Vietnam, Watergate, and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and MLK woke us from the dream of America as the innocent, optimistic, good guy nation. We lost faith in our institutions and those breakdowns opened political and cultural space for breakthroughs... some to our liking, some not. He suggests to those with a new vision for America that 'now is the hour' - strut your very best stuff.

The second was from Deena Metzger. Katrina, she said, isn't an event that happened to a few of us. It's part of an unfolding reality that's been happening for decades to all us. She suggests the best speed is slow, and the best approach is sobriety and community We need to discover, together, better responses to crisis through sitting in "council" - circles of conversations - that go as long and as deep as necessary. I quote:

How do we proceed? We do not know. When wise people are confronted by situations that are beyond them, they admit their incapacity and they call councils. We must call councils. We must call the elders, wise ones, scientists, et al, the experienced ones of the world community to confer with us and each other. Wise cultures call councils especially when they are, as we are, in grave danger of escalating the damage by taking short-term methods that can produce even greater devastation.

We must ask each other to set aside, entirely, our personal hopes for our future, for our security, for our advancement. Let us all be like those who have lost everything. We are those who have lost everything. We have all lost everything. We have. There is no future unless we understand that we have lost everything and we have to begin again. No one and no system in the living world are safe at this moment.

The third article I will insert below in its entirety. It's from Bill McKibben, a journalist in the Cassandra tradition who for decades has given us well researched, deeply human books and articles to show us where our society's preference for money as the measure of meaning and value was taking us. He locked on to the Global Warming issue long ago and earned his right to use Katrina as a portend of the environmental whirlwind that's coming. His other occupation - a Methodist Sunday School teacher - I believe gives his journalism a prophetic yet protective quality that speaks to me.

Before Bill's article, I want to tell of a few recent experiences of my own. They may seems 'beside the point' (as much of our daily lives do in times of crisis), but make a point eventually.

The weekend before Katrina hit I attended the Fifth Annual Simplicity Forum Congress - a group of educators, activists, authors, academics, and organizers committed to "honoring and achieving simple, just and sustainable ways of life." In the middle of this intense, strategic meeting we took a break to enjoy our beautiful setting in the High Rockies. Half the group hiked down to a river and literally chilled together with their feet in the water. Suddenly a large dead tree toppled right into the middle of the group, injuring several and hitting one woman directly on the head. Quickly, people arrayed themselves according level of injury and according to skills and capacities, forming a spontaneous team of nurses, wilderness medics, transporters, runners, counselors, witnesses and such. The badly injured woman was stabilized and carried up and out, then ambulanced to the hospital. The group processed the shock while continuing to work very effectively as a team on building the Forum. Of course, in the background everyone wondered what it meant that a near tragedy literally descended into our midst. By the end, it was clear. Simple living doesn't mean that nothing bad happens anymore in your life. It's the low-ego, high-equanimity and community way you go through what happens. It allows the best to come from even bad situations. A tree falls in the forest, and people who live more simply seem to respond naturally with directness, resourcefulness and skill.

Two weekends later, I spent 4 days in the hospital for a high-tech surgical repair way beyond woodsy simplicity's capacity to deal. It was revelatory, though, in what hospitals no longer do. It sometimes took an hour for overworked nurses to respond to my call button. After the response, I'd often find the call button, pain med button and/or phone left out of reach. Hygiene was a packet of heavy-duty handy wipes given to me on day two for me to use. No teeth brushing or hair brushing. One procedure was stymied because the right tool wasn't available. My discharge doc had done his internship at a Community Hospital in LA. He said that such conditions were so common there that sadder-but-wiser nurses and aides would buy supplies at Costco - at their own expense - so they'd have what they needed to care for patients. "You're a writer," he said, "write about that. Someone has to tell that story." I realized that America is closer than ever to the conditions in less 'developed' countries where family members must accompany you to the hospital to do your nursing care. Will busy Americans, as the tempo of such breakdowns increases, need to take back their time for basic caring duties of family and community?

Katrina showed us many things. One was that the systems we have empowered to care for us have gotten careless to the point of being cruel and inhuman. Real humans want to take care of their sick and dying, but we've come to believe that someone else, somewhere else, is in charge and knows better. So people died in the streets, in the Stadium, in the hospitals, in their homes and were left for days. There are big changes we should have made decades ago that could prevent what McKibben warns is coming. Now these are dead snags just waiting to fall. Worse, though, is that we seem to lack to political and social will to make the sober, mature changes needed to deal the "trees that fall" with competence and good grace.

Simpler living seems tied to the expectation that oneself is the grown-up in one's own life. That if change is to be, it starts at home and is practical as well as philosophical. That big systems must be understood for what they can and can't do - and never be allowed to leave us more vulnerable, less able to respond intelligently. I've always said that the last place to look for financial independence is in having a pile of money. If you don't accumulate critical thinking, clear communication, loving relationships, an understanding of give-and-take, networks of friends and mutual help groups - all parts of 'resilience' - no amount of money will protect you in a destabilized world.

As David Brooks says, now is the time to face up to the dark side of America and make sober changes - and hope the forces of intelligence and good sense will mobilize more vigorously than the forces of fear and manipulation. As Deena says, in times like these wise people know that none of us knows what's going on but all of us, in deep conversation, will learn together a way through. As McKibben's article below indicates, Katrina might be the recognized surfacing of an era of breakdowns of a magnitude we never thought possible. As my small experiences indicate, if we rely less on ego and more on community, human resilience and good sense, we can mobilize ourselves to achieve small greatnesses right where we are. If we ask large systems to do only what they are best at - complex surgery, for example, or complex policy making for global conditions - and give as much resource as possible to the people on the local front lines of care, we may be able to weather the coming "perfect" storm.

Where each of us acts in this shifting landscape of crisis is really up to each of us. I trust us to know our neighbors better, to develop skills that will be truly useful in the years ahead, to open our homes to what needs our care, to stay calm, to contribute what we know and get out of the way of those who actually know better. Where can we turn in crisis? To one another, actually. Not letting large systems off the hook on their responsibilities and failures, but not forgetting that at least here in America, it's still "the consent of the governed."


Y2K. 911. Katrina. Are we listening? Every free, individual for him or herself is now a loser strategy of enormous magnitude. Simplicity, community, common sense, calm, resilience are really the core curriculum for survival. People in other lands have not had the luxury of forgetting these basics. We have. Katrina was a pop-final. We failed. But we are wired for survival through connection, council, community and what my friend Tom Atlee calls co-intelligence. It may be too late to have predictable future, but we can wise up together. For some great ideas from Alan Atkisson on a community revisioning exercise that's now relevant to rebuilding "the Big Difficult" , go to

//www.worldchanging.com/archives/003425.html


Be well, my friends,

Vicki


and now, Bill...

Not Our America?

by Bill McKibben

September 07, 2005

//www.tompaine.com/

Bill McKibben is the author of many books on the environment and related topics. His first, The End of Nature, was also the first book for a general audience on global warming. His most recent is Wandering Home, A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape.

If the images of skyscrapers collapsed in heaps of ash were the end of one story-the United States safe on its isolated continent from the turmoil of the world-then the picture of the sodden Superdome with its peeling roof marks the beginning of the next story, the one that will dominate our politics in the coming decades of this century: America befuddled about how to cope with a planet suddenly turned unstable and unpredictable.

Over and over last week, people said that the scenes from the convention center, the highway overpasses, and the other suddenly infamous Crescent City venues didn't "look like America," that they seemed instead to be straight from the Third World. That was almost literally accurate, for poor, black New Orleans
(whose life had never previously been of any interest to the larger public) is not so different from other poor and black parts of the world: its infant mortality and life expectancy rates, its educational achievement statistics mirroring scores of African and Latin American enclaves. But it was accurate in another way, too, one full of portent for the future. A decade ago, environmental researcher Norman Myers began trying to add up the number of humans at risk of losing their homes from global warming. He looked at all the obvious places-coastal China, India, Bangladesh, the tiny island states of the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Nile delta, Mozambique, on and on-and predicted that by 2050, it was entirely possible that 150 million people could be "environmental refugees," forced from their homes by rising waters. That's more than the number of political refugees sent scurrying by the bloody century we've just endured. Try to imagine, that is, the chaos that attends busing 15,000 people from one football stadium to another in the richest nation on Earth, and then multiply it by four orders of magnitude and re-situate your thoughts in the poorest nations on earth. And then try to imagine doing it over and over again-probably without the buses.

Because so far, even as blogs and websites all over the Internet fill with accusations about the scandalous lack of planning that led to the collapse of the levees in New Orleans, almost no one is addressing the much larger problems: the scandalous lack of planning that has kept us from even beginning to address climate change, and the sad fact that global warming means the future will be full of just this kind of horror. Consider the first problem for just a minute. No single hurricane is "the result" of global warming. But a month before Katrina hit, MIT hurricane specialist Kerry Emmanuel published a landmark paper in the British science magazine Nature showing that tropical storms were now lasting half again as long and spinning winds 50 percent more powerful than just a few decades before. The only plausible cause: the ever-warmer tropical seas on which these storms thrive. Katrina, a Category 1 storm when it crossed Florida, roared to full life in the abnormally hot water of the Gulf of Mexico. It then punched its way into Louisiana and Mississippi-the latter a state now governed by Haley Barbour, who in an earlier incarnation as a GOP power broker and energy lobbyist helped persuade President Bush to renege on his promise to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

So far, the United States has done exactly nothing even to try to slow the progress of climate change: We're emitting far more carbon than we were in 1988, when scientists issued their first prescient global-warming warnings. Even if, at that moment, we'd started doing all that we could to overhaul our energy economy, we'd probably still be stuck with the one degree Fahrenheit increase in global average temperature that's already driving our current disruptions. Now scientists predict that without truly dramatic change in the very near future, we're likely to see the planet's mercury rise five degrees before this century is out. That is, five times more than we've seen so far. Which leads us to the second problem: For the ten thousand years of human civilization, we've relied on the planet's basic physical stability. Sure, there have been hurricanes and droughts and volcanoes and tsunamis, but averaged out across the Earth, it's been a remarkably stable run. If your grandparents inhabited a particular island, chances were that you could too. If you could grow corn in your field, you could pretty much count on your grandkids being able to do likewise. Those are now sucker's bets-that's what those predictions about environmental refugees really mean.

Here's another way of saying it: In the last century, we've seen change in human societies speed up to an almost unimaginable level, one that has stressed every part of our civilization. In this century, we're going to see the natural world change at the same kind of rate. That's what happens when you increase the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere. That extra energy expresses itself in every way you can imagine: more wind, more evaporation, more rain, more melt, more... more... more. And there is no reason to think we can cope. Take New Orleans as an example. It is currently pro forma for politicians to announce that it will be rebuilt, and doubtless it will be. Once. But if hurricanes like Katrina go from once-in-a-century storms to once-in-a-decade-or-two storms, how many times are you going to rebuild it? Even in America there's not that kind of money-especially if you're also having to cope with, say, the effects on agriculture of more frequent and severe heat waves, and the effects on human health of the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria, and so on ad infinitum. Not to mention the costs of converting our energy system to something less suicidal than fossil fuel, a task that becomes more expensive with every year that passes. Our rulers have insisted by both word and deed that the laws of physics and chemistry do not apply to us. That delusion will now start to vanish. Katrina marks Year One of our new calendar, the start of an age in which the physical world has flipped from sure and secure to volatile and unhinged. New Orleans doesn't look like the America we've lived in. But it very much resembles the planet we will inhabit the rest of our lives.


Vicki Robin
P.O. Box 1501
Langley, WA 98260
(360) 221-2251


"I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man's pride." --- William James


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