Tuesday, June 4, 2013



     More than halfway through the second volume of my Infinite Games Series,, the carbon dioxide in the real world hit 400 parts per million. There I was, writing a fantasy novel about human greed despoiling wetlands that had sustained people time out of mind, when the sustainability of our planet went up for grabs.

      Do you remember the monster who crouched under our beds when we were children? We would hide beneath our covers, hoping against hope that he wasn’t real.  Scientists have long agreed that carbon count over 350 ppm is perilous for our climate.  The environmental monster, more frightening than our worst childhood nightmares, has emerged. He is real and, what’s worse, he is us, an embodiment of our monstrous greed for economic growth and consumption.

     As the atmosphere gets warmer and warmer the oceans will heat up, rising higher and higher. More and more powerful storms will fall upon us, with hurricanes inundating our coastland cities and tornados flattening communities all over the country. Perhaps we won't survive as a species.

     The prospect is psychologically devastating. Fortunately, there is help for our feelings of helplessness.  Worrying about the planet one morning, I happened to tune into NPR's On Being, airing a program on "A Shift to Humility: Resilience and Expanding the Edge of Change."  Krista Tippett was interviewing Andrew Zolli, who announced that

"We are not in Kansas.                    
We are not in Oz.
We are in the maelstrom."

     The twentieth century advanced human capacity so far, Zolli said — our life span from 50 to 80, the invention of electricity, the discovery of the atom — that we thought every problem was solvable, and that we were in control. But we are not in control. We are not masters of our destiny. We are undergoing a shift to humility. We thought we could steer around the maelstrom, but we can't. The only thing to do is to invent sails that can get us through it. He calls this "risk adaption."

     We have been talking about sustainability, assuming that human beings could achieve a balance with nature.

      That's over. Nature is out of balance.

        We need to talk about resilience, how to live with the consequences of our action.

    What makes human beings resilient in the face of trauma? Zolli asks us to become “Hardy People,” who

·       Believe that the world is a meaningful place

·       Believe that we have the agency to act in the world

·       Believe that failures will occur but they may be overcome, that change is inevitable, that we will fall short but every attempt is to be valued.

     "The journey toward resilience," Zolli concludes, is the great moral quest of our age." “Every action is still of value.”

      We still have choices, I realized, but where on earth can we find the courage to face so much earthly destruction? “By stating that we cannot change the world,” writes Margaret Wheatley, “I do not intend to bury our motivation in despair. Quite the contrary. My intention is that we do our work with greater resolve and energy, with more delight and confidence, even as we understand that it won’t turn this world around.”  I was also heartened by Carolyn Baker’s writings about developing “Emotional Resilience in Traumatic Times” and Bill McKibben’s book about Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. (see links, below)

           Let’s get to it!
           Make a list of the values we  most cherish.
            How can we enact these principles in environmental actions?

Where can we find allies?

     It has not been enough to cap and trade carbon emissions on a national level, nor has lobbying  congress or marching against the pipeline in Washington done much good.  Think global, but act local: amazing things have worked at the grassroots level.  When plans were afoot to install the Keystone XL Pipeline right on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, a committee of grandmothers constituted themselves the Apple Pie Brigade to visit the Nebraska legislature week after week after week, bearing pies for their representatives and telling them about their fears for their water supply. Local organizations sponsored potlucks, tractor pulls, flashlight rallies, and wildflower drops in Capitol offices. Don’t laugh: the pipeline was moved.*

      We can do this!  We have the brains and the imagination to cook up local actions. Some of us write good letters, others are skilled organizers; some manage fund raising deftly, others can talk over the phone convincingly, while our tireless young can go door to door for hours.

     “On to the Great Mere,” said Joshua. “The stilt walkers are bound to be out there somewhere. You must find them, Clare, and call them to battle. Our boats are fit, and spring is upon us.”

     Clare reviewed her provisions. She had two days worth of fresh food, but her Marshland Company must fish, fowl, or forage, keeping their jerky and hard bread back for emergencies. The terror that had kept her awake all night fell away before these practical considerations.

    “To victory over our enemies and succor to our friends” pledged Hutchin, whose Delta Company must travel far into the perilous southern lands to alert their allies.

     “To friends we leave behind who will dwell in our hearts forever,”added  Clare, “for our fens and our fastness, for our reeds and our sedges,  we pledge ourselves to this battle.”



*from Mary Pipher’s “Lighting a Spark on the High Plains,” at The Keystone Pipeline Fight Is Not Over - NYTimes.com

photo credit, Monster Under the Bed http://i106.photobucket.com/albums/m241/veive257/monster.jpg