CROSSROADS: ‘Sharpening The Sword’, What Can We Do? – By Rex Weyler (Archive)

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“…You are the sword. You are the tool that you take into battle. Keep that tool sharp. Be prepared. In Buddhism, the sharpening comes from meditation and acts of compassion…When we sharpen the sword, we quiet our own ego so that we become a calming influence rather than a source of anxiety for others”

What can we do? – By Rex Weyler

At the University of Minnesota Dr. Nate Hagens teaches an honours course called “Reality 101: A Survey of the Human Predicament.” Hagens operated his own hedge fund on Wall Street until he glimpsed, “a serious disconnect between capitalism, growth, and the natural world. Money did not appear to bring wealthy clients more well being.” Hagens became editor of The Oil Drum, and now sits on the Board of the Post Carbon Institute and the Institute for Integrated Economic Research.

Reality 101 addresses humanity’s toughest challenges: economic decline, inequality, pollution, biodiversity loss, and war. Students learn about systems ecology, neuroscience, and economics. “We ask hard questions,” says Hagens. “What is wealth? What are the limits to growth? We attempt to face our crises head on.”

Some students feel inspired to action, and some report finding the material “depressing.” One student shared the course material with a family member, who asked, “So what can I do?” The student struggled to answer this question, and the listener chastised her: “why did you explain all this to me, if you can’t tell me what to do?!”

A fair question. One that, as environmentalists, we often get asked. At the request of Dr Hagens, here is my list:

What can we do?

Tapajós River in the Amazon © Todd Southgate / Greenpeace

Rainbow over the Tapajós River in the Amazon © Todd Southgate / Greenpeace

I have been asking this question all of my adult life. As I’ve witnessed the crisis intensify, I’ve experienced feelings of panic, anger, and helplessness. Nevertheless, I also feel at peace. I love my family and friends, I enjoy life in my community, and love my time in the natural world. Here are some of the ways I believe we can deal with anxiety about the world and take action:

  1. Stay active

It can feel good to simply resist the destructive acts of governments and corporations, to stand up for the dispossessed, abused, and for the natural world. Caring about others can be the greatest gift to one’s own soul and peace of mind.

  1. Localize

Even as I engage in global battles, my life revolves around family, neighbours, friends, and finding ways to help strengthen my community. Protect your local habitat; preserve a local river, a lake, or forest. I believe that most genuine “solutions” that matter will appear at a community-in-habitat level. The priorities:

  • Build community cohesion with communication, events, joy, sharing, etc.
  • Preserve and restore local ecosystems; protect wild places
  • Teach, educate, learn, share information
  • Promote local energy systems
  • Plant gardens, grow food
  • Learn localized community health care
  1. Accept complexity

The question, “What can I do?” typically seeks a linear answer to a complex, whole-system challenge. “What can I do?” often wants a “solution” for a “problem.” This sort of linear thinking helped create the predicament we’re in. Changing a complex living system is not a linear, mechanistic “solution.” We have to remain humble in this struggle. We are small. Life is short. Nature is expansive, complex, and long.

  1. Love and trust nature

Spend time in the natural world without trying to “fix” it. Sit with wildness and absorb it, love it, and respect it. Apprentice yourself to nature, and what you learn will help when you engage in the human realm to defend that wildness. Trust nature. She will be fine. Humans will not “destroy the Earth.” We cause harm to the biosphere, drive species to extinction, and alter Earth’s climate, but we cannot touch the regenerative power of wild nature. Earth will be fine.

  1. Sharpen the sword

This is a Buddhist precept. You are the sword. You are the tool that you take into battle. Keep that tool sharp. Be prepared. In Buddhism, the sharpening comes from meditation and acts of compassion. There are other methods, such as yoga, art, and the worship of mystery. We sharpen the sword by working on ourselves, making ourselves better human beings and better agents of change.

In my experience, the weakest link in social movements is the ego: pride, wanting credit, wanting fame, wanting to be admired, wanting power, and so forth. When we sharpen the sword, we quiet our own ego so that we become a calming influence rather than a source of anxiety for others.

These five principles are the bedrock for me. And still, this is just the beginning, because once we unlock the confidence to act, and as we turn out to the world, the more challenging work begins.

How can we change the world?  

People's Climate March in Washington D.C © Amanda J. Mason / Greenpeace

People’s Climate March in Washington D.C © Amanda J. Mason / Greenpeace

We may benefit if we simultaneously hold two extremes of action; both the huge, universal movements for ecology and justice and the daily, personal actions that help slightly and make us better examples to others.

Part I – The big, universal movements

Our priorities of action are unlikely to be the same as the priorities of status quo society. Humanity is in a state of ecological overshoot, and all pathways out of overshoot require contraction. Few institutions like the idea of getting smaller, simplifying, or reversing the scale of human activity. Technology can provide benefits, but there are no technologies that eliminate the ecological requirement of contraction to heal the biological foundation of our civilization.

Here are the areas that need the most attention:

  1. Consumption

Humanity has been hugely successful at consuming Earth’s bounty, but we have already overshot many of her limits. Reducing consumption is imperative, and of course, this has to start with the frivolous, wasteful consumption of the rich world. Some ideas:

  • Start a campaign to reduce extravagant travel.
  • Lobby for heavy tax incentives to slow indulgent, leisure consumption.
  • Transform the idea of “fashion.” Make modesty the new fashion statement.
  • Organize your community to recycle and repair everything.
  • Help popularize modest consumption and a simpler lifestyle.
  • Start a campaign for shoppers to leave all packaging at the stores.
  1. Population

Find ways to help stabilize and reduce human population. Some human rights activists fear that population efforts might violate human rights, but crowding already erodes human rights. Humans and our livestock now comprise 96% of all mammal biomass on Earth. There are limits.

All we need to do is reduce the human growth rate from +1% per year to -1% per year. Reversing human sprawl makes life better for everyone and shows respect for all life. The most graceful and effective strategies to stabilize and reduce the growth rate are simple and have other social benefits:

  • Help establish universal women’s rights, the right to plan pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Campaign for universally available free contraception.
  • Overcome the fear and taboo about discussing the human population growth rate.
  • Help popularize smaller families and family planning.
  1. Energy

Find ways to help reduce energy demand, reduce fossil fuel use, and support renewable energy.

  1. Militarism

Campaign to end militarism and weapons industries in all forms at every level.

The destruction of the palm oil industry in Papua © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace

The destruction of the palm oil industry in Papua © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace

Consumption, population, petroleum fuels, and militarism remain the four major drivers of our ecological crisis. The underlying psychological drivers may be greed, fear and ignorance. Meanwhile, there are hundreds, thousands of interconnected issues that need attention too.

Here are just 19:…(Read Full Article)


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