By Jeanie Johnson
My submissions to Conscious Community the past few years have been generally based on two themes. One was the telling of stories, many of which were from my own personal experiences and some which came from dreams and visions. All versions were designed to tell the story of our connections to all life on Earth and to encourage others to dream large about our individual stories and how they connect to the grand themes of planet Earth and Her Web of Life. I had hoped that through story, a common element in our long lives as humans for passing on knowledge and wisdom, readers would discover a thread in them that spoke more directly to their hearts. The other theme was specifically directed at passing on information and education around the subjects of peak oil, climate change, and the environment. Either way I was hopeful the stories and/or the recitation of facts and the sharing of information would create a conversation around our shared plight on Planet Earth.
As my last submission to Conscious Community I leave elements of story and factual knowledge with the hope that readers understand that however we each receive the words best the theme is the same. We have arrived in a very short time at a tenuous place on our home planet. It is also a plea for action in whatever way fits for you as an individual.
Four things have recently come to my attention. One was a Netflix documentary titled SoLa. It is a retrospective on the environmental effects of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana as well as the long lasting damages to the close-knit people of the SoLa or Southern Louisiana. The film was profoundly sad. It is also the story of the Macondo well disaster, the explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform that spilled millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf and its estuaries, critical fish breeding grounds whose devastation has severely affected local economies and the health of the people as well as the aquatic life that flourished in the Gulf waters. SoLa is comprised of people’s stories. It speaks to the heart.
The second thing was a glimpse at other lives in a book titled The Race For What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources by Michael T. Klare. In the chapter titled Rare Earths and Other Critical Minerals, Klare tells what is happening in the Congo’s eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. These provinces are close to Burundi and Rwanda borders so the ethnic situation may sound familiar to you: Tutsis and Hutus. It is a long history of conflict but not simply another manifestation of supposed local tribal disagreements. There are resources in that area of Congo, critical minerals to be specific, that the overdeveloped world wants badly. Those minerals are a part of our ever-expanding list of electronic gadgets, TVs and computers, and cell phones, iPads, iPods, and the endless plethora of things we entertain ourselves with constantly.
Klare writes that the groups warring with each other have gotten control of the Kivu areas and are now forcing locals to excavate tantalum, tin, tungsten, gold, and other minerals. They don’t use Mike Mulligan and his old fossil fueled-powered steam shovel however. Nor do they use any other technology. What do they use? Human hands and backs. All this constant digging for critical minerals is done by hand, then the products of all that back-breaking labor are put in sacks and transported out of the mines on the backs of the laborers. They traverse hundreds of miles of jungle to dump their burdens at collection sites. On the way to and from the mine they are subject to “fees” or “taxes”, a continual extortion of the poorest people. Klare quotes a New York Times reporter who described a visit to one of these mines, “columns of men, bent double under 100-pound sacks of tin ore emerging from a pit that had been carved hundreds of feet into the mountain with Iron Age tools powered with human sweat, muscle, and bone.” I closed the book and thought, sweatshops for electronics made with conflict minerals. How is this any different than conflict diamonds or Nike shoes or Nestle dumping infant formula on poor women? I am looking at my pieces of technology with new eyes. The Race For What’s Left is unavoidable fact mixed with stories of real people.
The third thing was an interview with George Marshall, the founder of COIN, the Climate Outreach and Information Network. He spoke with Rob Hopkins, the inspiration and founder of the Transition Town Movement, now global in scope. Marshall’s new book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change (due out this August), “sets out to explore our complex attitudes to climate change and extreme weather events such as why do extreme weather events not necessarily mean that people “get” climate change?” (You can listen to Hopkins’ interview with George Marshall by going to http://www.postcarbon.org and searching the blogposts.)
My own take away from listening to this fascinating interview was the strength of our social ties, how peer issues don’t go away just because we graduate High School. Marshall believes it isn’t just the vast and well-funded denial campaign by the fossil fuel industry, though that is a massive player turning understanding and agreement away from climate science, but also a deep need as social creatures to pay close attention to what our fellows think. The interview helped me to understand why it seems so difficult to talk with others who have differing viewpoints on climate change. This is definitely a story of our own brains, the power of our social connections, and how we might change.
The fourth thing is the Showtime series on climate change titled Years of Living Dangerously and supported, in part, by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The series will be a combination of powerful stories of people living right now in the epicenter of climate change and the factual and irrefutable recitation of the science of climate change. It is further a call to awareness, decision, and action.
When will we wake all the way up? The route I took was long and sometimes tortuous. I remember a Sunday morning conversation with my husband about the process of actually feeling the pain of what is happening. We queried each other about how our heart actually felt when we struggled to imagine the extinction of animals we have known all our lives. We searched for words that adequately expressed our sorrow and guilt over the world we would leave for our beloved great nieces and nephews.
For many of the years, as we studied and read, I would check in with myself to see if I could really feel the losses and pain. Nothing pinged back with the exception of a detached sort of melancholy, an intellectual sadness. It would make a much more interesting story if I could point to a great awakening, a moment when I slammed awake and felt the full force of looking into the chasm. It hasn’t been like that. I’ve come to slowly as in awakening from a dream. The teaching of Mitakuye Oyasin – All My Relations – has sunk deeper and deeper into my heart until I believe I am finally beginning to understand that I am truly related in my fiber to absolutely every single mineral element, every human, every animal, every bird and fish, every plant, every tree, every river, creek, stream and all oceans, every snowpack, each disappearing glacier, every cloud, each insect, all thought, and every cosmic event. There is nothing that separates me from anything else.
That is how I came awake. I challenged myself to go beyond my comfort level with what I thought I knew. I didn’t know I wasn’t fully awake, but I knew I wasn’t fully present. I wished not to fear what I would find out but I didn’t know fear would be a constant companion in the beginning. I wanted to read a few books and nod my head. “Okay, I’m awake. It’s bad and due to become worse. I’ll go to some presentations and a few rallies. That will be my donation. And I’ll contribute some dollars to a couple organizations. I’ll donate some time to fretting over the information. I’m awake.”
But waking up all the way, though experience has taught me I still will wake further as the reality hits harder, is a tough path to walk. So many siren songs weave in and out of our daily slumber. They sing of our desire to consume more, of our varying beliefs that a deity of some sort will not allow us to truly and finally fall from the garden, of our strong belief that technology of any kind will save us from our folly, and of our denial that anything could disrupt our tenure as top-of-the-food-chain species.
Please join me in waking up.
Please hear the siren song for what it is.
Please consider the ones coming after us.
Please feel the loss of so much already.
Please look in a stranger’s eyes and see yourself.
Please suspend dearly held beliefs for just a few moments to peer into the dark.
Please risk changing.
Please risk speaking this truth to others.