“So long Chickadees Hope I Go Before you do”

Identifying as an environmentalist is not the simplest of tasks. In fact, it is at times, an incredibly difficult, overwhelmingly hopeless, and endlessly frustrating life decision. It seems we are in a constant, continuous,  and losing battle against ecological degradation, endless carbon emissions, melting ice, and increasing global toxicity (to name just a few crisis…). This is hard to accept, and I often feel that I would be happier, and much more socially successful, if I never thought about or mentioned the environment. If instead, I focused my obsessive personalty on making money, or just looking good and fitting in. However, I cannot distract myself long enough, or sincerely enough to forget the environment. To forget the work that needs to be done.

As a result, every couple of weeks I find myself in a very dark place. I slide into a pit of environmental and existential anxiety that eventually dissolves into a feeling of complete and utter emptiness. These states of depression are usually inspired by some sort of worrisome event, like the recent American election, or finding my house plants dug up by my cats. I then feel powerless, without motivation, and less then useless. My mantra in these terrible place usually runs something like this,

“Humans are killing the earth. I’m a human, therefore I’m killing the earth. There is no hope. So long Chickadees, hope I die before you go extinct.”

Not fun. It is at these points in my mood cycle that my partner usually finds me staring listlessly at the wall and has to pry me out of bed with a small but effective paint scraper.

So whats the point of this? It is to say that for me the first step to becoming an effective environmentalist, the first step to being part of the healing process, is to address the personal. This doesn’t mean changing my consumption patterns, or driving an electric car, or growing all of my own food. Those are actions. No the first step is to escape the empty place beneath environmental anxiety, because the more time I spend in that place, the less time I can spend connecting with others, pursuing action, and finding solutions.

If you are like me, this first step can be really really difficult. Especially if you are just beginning to engage with environmentalism. So here are four things that I think about when I start to get down. Maybe they will help you too.

The first thing to remember is THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. In an age obsessed with individualism, stardom and guilt, it is easy to feel responsible for the state of everything. Don’t. Not only is this irrational because in the grand scheme of things we are all insignificant, but more importantly it is selfish. We do not need another self-righteous hero, we need another community member. It may sound strange, but take comfort in knowing that the degradation of the rest of the natural world did not start, and it will not end with you. If you can, throw away your guilt.

The second thing to consider is that LIFE WILL GO ON. As a species we are doing an unimaginable amount of damage to the existing ecological balance. Unfortunately, by destroying this balance we are also destroying the systems that have kept our species alive, inspired and healthy but, and there is a but, we are not destroying life itself. It is incredibly arrogant to believe humanity is so powerful that we can destroy life. This type of thinking goes along the same lines as believing all this is your fault. Drop it. Put your energy into caring about the existing balance, or finding creative ways to survive in the new one. Again, throw away your guilt.

Third, IT IS NOT HUMANS VS NATURE. It is humans in nature. The belief that we as a species are superior and have somehow transcended the natural world is once again extremely arrogant (there is a theme emerging). You poop, and breath, and die, and rot away into nothing (or more aptly into something else) just like everything else. The vision of [hu]man as master of the world is fairly recent, and probably the worst idea we’ve ever had. It has allowed humans (not all humans of course) to exploit, dominate, and attempt to control the rest of natural world without a second thought. There are alternatives. This is not the essence of being human. We are creative, tool using, hyper social creatures deeply embedded in Earth’s ecology. These traits don’t make us tyrants, but they do give us all the tools to be wonderful stewards.

Finally, when I have run through the first three and start to feel a little hopeful I can remember that THIS IS A NOVEL PROCESS. There is no on/off switch for environmental issues. Fixing them will take years, most likely generations. So stop looking for immediate answers! Take comfort in, or simply be motivated by, the fact that no other generation in the history of humanity has ever dealt with a problem this large. There is no one solution, and no known solution to the environmental issues we are facing. You can allow this to overwhelm you, or you can allow it to excite you! The old systems are broken, they brought us here. The new systems have not been built. We get to build them. We have to build them, from the ground up, share them with friends, and give them life.

Remember the best thing you can do as an environmentalist is to reconnect with the world. With people, plants, animals, dirt, whatever. Find ways to build relationships, share the experience of living, and allow yourself to be creative!

 

The cover art for this blog post was extracted from https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/a2/3c/43/a23c4304f08eb0dd47380bad9395cfe2.jpg

 

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2 thoughts on ““So long Chickadees Hope I Go Before you do”

  1. As someone who hasn’t spent as much time and energy thinking about the environment I have a deep respect for your thoughts and sincerity. I hope I can challenge your position a little if for nothing else than to strengthen your stance.

    Humanity’s relationship to the environment boils down to an analysis of fundamental values.

    1. We value the environment because it sustains us — we depend on it for our survival.

    2. We value the environment because it is a unique, beautiful, complex process unlike anything else in the universe.

    I think we both agree that the first value proposition is pretty big — without the biosphere we wouldn’t be here at all. Unfortunately if we finish our definition of value here without adding more, we permit ourselves to go on abusing the environment at will to further the needs and aspirations of humanity so long as we do it in a way that sustains its survival just enough to sustain our own. I don’t think this is where anyone who would describe themselves as an environmentalist could stop, though. So let’s look at the second value proposition more closely.

    If we follow the Drake Equation through to its conclusion based on the latest data from astronomy, billions of planets have churned out biospheres throughout the universe. While it’s possible some fraction of those may have birthed intelligent civilizations like our own, that fraction is very small indeed. Stop to consider that millions of biospheres have been and continue to be brought into existence, reach a state of evolutionary equilibrium (environmental utopia), then continue programmatically existing in that state for millions of years before being senselessly snuffed out by their parent star’s inevitable, arbitrarily-timed death or by some other natural disaster before that. This should give pause.

    1. How much “environmental utopia time” is there altogether from billions of planets? A very large number. Millions upon billions of years of utopia playing out programmatically on the surfaces of billions of planets. From this perspective, should one try to optimize for the amount of time a given biosphere will continue existing as an environmental utopia? Should adding more years to that already preposterously large number trump the flourishing of an intelligent civilization? Millions of biospheres have and will continue to suffer massive insults from senseless natural disasters that temporarily take them out of their environmental utopia. If one of those insults would enable the flourishing of an intelligent, space-fairing civilization (that may even carry the seeds of that original biosphere beyond what would otherwise have been possible!), it seems a whole lot of good will have been created at a very limited relative cost.

    2. From the Drake Equation perspective, the incidence of biosphere formation in the universe is rather common-place. The thing that is far less common and more unique, then, is the rise of intelligence from it. Those few biospheres where intelligence emerged by the chance interaction between evolution and unique planetary environments should be valued more highly as a result of its rarity. There are many other phenomena throughout the universe that are unique, beautiful, and complex that we may value in-and-of-themselves, Why place earth-borne life on a pedestal after exposure to this vantage point?

    Your thoughts and discussion are welcomed — I promise I can be open minded!

    – An old friend

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What are great and well thought out response! Thanks a lot for taking the time to share this, and I apologize for not posting a response sooner.
      I don’t have much to argue with your points except to say, yes, this post provides a simplified picture of environmentalism. And, in turn, a simplified version of the relationship between dominant western-capitalist-industrial (and whatever other words you would like to attach via hyphens…) culture and the rest of natural world.
      However, I would argue that not everybody understands the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy humanity, nor do many people (especially many powerful decision makers) really care all that much. Creating a causal link between these two things, while I agree could be viewed as somewhat selfish and most definitely anthropocentric, is the first big ideological step we need to take as a species (by this I mean members of the previously hyphenated culture) if there is any hope of moving from the current environmental predicament towards a state of “environmental utopia”.
      Secondly, yes, there are definitely other ecologies out there in the endless oasis of space. And yes, they are most likely beautiful and intricate, and amazing in every way. But I feel that dreaming about them, and placing faith in the idea that humans will one day get to see them (it won’t be you or me that’s for sure, unless of course you are on the list for the first mission to Mars?). Likewise, if it takes destroying a beautiful and intricate ecology for humans to reach out to other ecologies is it really worth it? If we can’t take care of home, do we have any license to become ecological invaders to other worlds? Is a broken ecological and ideological system centered around human arrogance really worth spreading? This could be broken down to this; I believe humanity doesn’t deserve to spread out across the universe until we can take care of our own home. Bullies shouldn’t be encouraged.
      Finally, I think it is easy make environmentalism really intellectually complicated. Relatedly, I believe it is equally easy to alienate those on the edge of participation, and that is the last thing we need right now. Environmentalism must be made an accessible, and empowering form of action (and thought!) if people are to engage with it! However, that is not meant to discourage philosophizing and deep thought (which is what you are doing)! But instead to ask questions about intellectual arrogance and masturbation, habits I feel are not conducive to community building! There is a time for dreaming deep dreams, and there is a time for dealing with immediate issues. Environmentalists must wear both hats.

      Thank you so much,
      Myvoiceinthenoise

      Like

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