A giant moose puppet, lumbers across the Mississippi River over Minneapolis’ Stone Arch Bridge. A serpentine pipeline slithers behind, complete with a black trash-bag oil leak spewing from a gash in its side. A lively jazz combo plays back-up to re-written lyrics of traditional songs. The occasion was “Endbridge Over Troubled Waters,” a creative climate demonstration led Saturday by Minnesota 350, one local expression of a growing popular opposition to the fracking, sand mining and pipelines that are the newest strategies for extending the fossil fuel era past the boundaries of rationality. It isn’t the details of this event that I want to talk about. Nor do I want to catalog the threats posed by the latest brilliant ideas of the “job creators.” I want to talk about fear.
It soon surfaces in discussion with climate activists. “We may be too late.” It is daunting enough to go up against a well-oiled profit and propaganda machine in an era of mass distraction. It is tough to do so in the face of constant reminders of ecological collapse and reckless destruction. Chief Joseph would understand. Turning to face even our worst fear, though, is a precondition for overcoming it. It will show the way.
When facing what frightens me I ask myself what is the worst thing that can happen. This may seem crazy when we’re talking the collapse of the world’s life support system, but bear with me. Thinking concretely about a scenario is more rewarding than succumbing to terror. Let us take the scenario that flows from the scientific consensus. It says that our planet is entering an extended period of climate instability. Melting permafrost will release trapped gasses which will further increase the rate of change. A time of extreme weather fluctuations will bring floods and droughts, food system collapses, ocean acidification and water shortages. Many species will be unable to adjust. Many people will die.
I consider Sitting Bull to be a worthy role model in this scenario. Faced with the collapse of the sacred world of the ancestors he led his people through a decision-making process that would assure the greatest chance for survival for as many as possible: to step into the shrunken world of the reservation. This surrender would lead, improbably, to the re-awakening in future generation of the people’s spirit of resistance.
Let us, like Sitting Bull, consider our responsibility… and our reality. “People will die.” People die all the time. We all die. It seems to me that our job is four-fold. First, we must stop the ongoing damage; next, to see to it that not everyone dies – not in a total collapse; third, help plant the seeds of resilience and impart the practical knowledge to allow for a more rational relationship with nature going forward and; four, set in motion measures that will begin re-stabilizing the climate, knowing that these – like the damaging process itself – will be subject to cycles and lag times before they can take hold.
All of these are already being pursued to one or another degree. All over the world there are initiatives to restore soil, utilize renewable sources of energy and meet human needs for housing, transportation, agriculture, etc. By themselves they mean little. Small, contained, solutions are just another niche market on a large, dysfunctional landscape. When they become viable on a mass scale they become a threat to invested interests. These then try to discredit, ban, de-fund or buy out pathways that could threaten to impinge on profits. The nurturing of alternatives is of great importance. It must be re-connected with political struggle. To expect Monsanto, Exxon Mobile or Goldman Sachs to embrace an ecological view of the world is like trying to convince your cat to stop eating birds. Corporations are what they are. They are capable of re-branding what they are already doing in order to keep doing it. They need be dismantled and replaced with democratic forms of governance that really want the changes to succeed. It has to be done.
There are measures that can be taken now that will have the greatest strategic impact on the future climate. First among these is restoration of the soil. If we break up the toxic mono-cropped industrial farms and replace them with diverse plantings and biology-based practices administered by families with a direct relationship to the land, we will begin to create a vast carbon-trapping surface area also capable of supporting diverse life forms. There are steps that can be taken in every area of life that will likewise help reverse the downward spiral we have been on with an upward one of regeneration. Climate instability is inevitable but we can install the brakes.
Much of the world has been prevented from reaching food self-sufficiency by ongoing colonial relationships. Releasing land and local governments from corporate control will help more people remain in place instead of joining the climate refugee stream. The winds that once powered global trade are still blowing and can be an important ally in the world that is coming. There’s a lot to do.
All this will require careful strategizing, flexible communication networks and the mobilizing of the people most affected at each stage of the struggle. People’s creative imagination has been badly constrained during the colonial/corporate era. It is the untapped resource of our times. It must be tapped.
These are not elective options. These are what we have to do. It is our duty as ancestors. The star I steer by is a recurring vision. It’s a long time in the future. I don’t know how long. There’s a clearing by a river. People are gathered there, singing. They are singing about their ancestors back in the time of darkness and fear and trouble. They’re singing about us. They’re thanking us for what we did.
Originally posted to Opine Season on July 24, 2013