I woke late to the danger posed by global climate change. It was 2014 and news of the first People’s Climate March being organized in NYC hit me with the force of a lightning bolt. At that point, we were already at almost 400ppm carbon in the atmosphere, well over James Hansen’s safe target of 350ppm. This was the beginning of my growing sense of urgency about climate change.
That year, we took a family vacation to Utah and visited Fish Lake, which is home to the largest organism on the planet, called “Pando”. It’s a grove of quaking aspens which is actually a single living organism with a giant root system stretching over 100 acres and containing over 40,000 individual trunks. Pando is estimated to be at least 80,000 years old. I learned from a ranger that Pando is being threatened by climate change, which was causing invasive species of insects to migrate north. I was struck by the frankness with which the ranger spoke about climate change and the fact that something so large and so old could be threatened by something humans were causing.
I noticed that many religious communities were joining the fight against climate change, but the Pagan community, to which I had belonged for more than a decade, had yet to do so in any organized way. So I proceeded to organize some leading Pagans to draft a Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, which was published on Earth Day 2015, just before Pope Francis published his Laudato Si. The Pagan statement received thousands of signatures from people in 100 different countries and has been translated into 16 languages. It has been signed by practically every prominent Pagan organization and many of the most well-known leaders in the Pagan community. It represents the most successful effort to date to harmonize the diverse voices of the Pagan community in defense of the Earth and the web of life and possibly the single largest expression of Pagan voices ever. (You can read more about the statement at ecopagan.com.)
The Pagan statement concludes with a pledge to translate words into action, which I took to heart. My activist life began in earnest in 2016, when I was arrested as part of a protest at the BP oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana. The protest was part of the Break Free campaign which involved 20 coordinated actions on six continents and was hailed as the largest ever act of civil disobedience against the fossil fuel industry.
I organized my first protest outside the courthouse following our sentencing. Together with a few other arrestees, we founded the first chapter of 350.org in Indiana. 350 Indiana-Calumet was only active for a few years, but in that time we did a lot, including two pipeline walks (called “Walk the Line”) in 2017 and 2018, to raise awareness about the presence of tar sands pipelines in our communities. It was exhilarating work. Our last event was an interfaith prayer vigil, which brought together representatives of a dozen different faiths (mostly other-than-Christian) around the issue of environmental responsibility on Earth Day 2018. (It’s probably telling that I went from marching in 2016 to praying in 2018.)
After that, I continued to act in a supportive role for other activists, especially as a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild. But I also became more critical of what I saw as mostly symbolic events with little to no connection to the most impacted communities. I authored an open letter to local activists setting forth my concerns. That was the beginning of my shift away from mainstream activism.
As I realized the depth of the cultural and economic transformation that was needed to avoid environmental catastrophe, I grew increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of any such change happening. In addition to climate change, the concepts of exponential growth, peak oil, energy-return-on-investment (of renewables compared to fossil fuels), and most recently population collapse, were critical to the demise of my former optimism. Paul Kinsgnorth’s collection of essays, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, had a profound influence on the course of my thinking.
In 2018, I published an essay entitled, “What If It’s Already Too Late?: Being An Activist in the Anthropocene“. The article drew the attention of the post-doom/deep adaptation community, which I hadn’t known existed before that. Following the publication of the 2018 IPCC report, I continued to write on the topic, did several interviews, and eventually published a small book titled Another End of the World is Possible, later revised with two new essays and a short story. (Not to be confused with Servigne et al’s book by the same name published a couple of years later.) In my book, I explored what it would mean to really accept that our way of life, and maybe even our species, is in terminal decline.
Over time, I met more people in the post-doom/deep adaptation community, including eco-theologian Michael Dowd, who has been a kind of mentor for me. I started this site to host my own–and hopefully others’–writing on the topic of how to live with the awareness of impending civilizational collapse brought on by climate change and global capitalism. In 2020, I also started a climate/environmental grief support group to help local activists and others process eco-anxiety and grief in community with each other. (Unfortunately, we had to stop meeting in person when COVID arrived in the U.S.)
Now I am focused on a twofold strategy which takes environmental and economic collapse as given. First, on the side of cultural transformation, I continue to work within the Deep Adaptation community to help transform how we think and talk about our relationship with the more-than-human world. My writing and speaking (here and elsewhere) the grief group, and creating rituals for use as tools of transformation, are all part of this.
On the side of material resistance, I am interested in what David Holmgren calls “permaculture activism”, by which I mean creating parallel/alternative economies at the household and small community levels, in order to (1) increase resilience in face of collapse, (2) as a kind of boycott of the dominant system to possibly accelerate that collapse, and (3) ultimately to help shape what follows collapse in an ecologically positive way.
To put it bluntly, I have no hope for either the status quo or for “progress”, no faith in the mainstream environmental and social justice “movements”, and no love for this Behemoth we call civilization. But I do believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to imagine “another end of the world” and to start to build another way of life in the cracks of civilization. I hope you will join me in that sacred work.