We Did Start the Fire: Climate Change & the Curse of Hope

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on

— Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

Prologue

A couple of months ago, I went to see the premiere of the film, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. It’s a visual exploration of the impact of industrial civilization on the earth. The movie opened on a scene of thousands of elephant tusks, recovered from African poachers, being gathered in huge piles. It looked like some kind of avant-garde art installation … or maybe an altar.

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“Al Gore Didn’t Want You to Panic” by Dougald Hine

Editor’s note: This excerpt from Dougald Hine’s recent article describes something new happening under the umbrella of environmental activism recently. It is darker, less hopeful, and more radical than the environmentalism of just a few years ago. I encourage you to go read the whole article here.

“… on a scale not seen before, people are having an encounter with climate change not as a problem that can be solved or managed, made to go away, or reconciled with some existing arc of progress, but as a dark knowledge that calls our path into question, that starts to burn away the stories we were told and the trajectories our lives were meant to follow, the entitlements we were brought up to believe we had, our assumptions about the shape of history, the kind of world we were born into and our place within it.

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“A Guide to the End of Civilization (in 6 simple maxims)” by Christopher Stanley

1. Civilization is not the World.

Civilization is ending, but the World is not.  The World has lived through far greater changes than us.  The World was here for billions of years before we came along, and will be here for billions of years after we’re gone.  We are not so grand that we can kill Life itself.

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“The Children of Compost” (adapted)

This story was first told by Donna Haraway in her book, Staying With the Trouble. You can read the original story here. My revision of the story is shortened and simplified for accessibility. If you’re familiar with Donna Haraway, I think you’ll agree she wouldn’t mind and would probably encourage you to make up your own stories about the Children of Compost.

This story was first read at Beverly Unitarian Church in Illinois as part of a service. The woman I asked to read the story actual brought live examples of Monarch metamorphosis, from caterpillar through chrysalis to adult butterfly. At the end of the service, she helped several children release the butterfly.

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“Mainstream Psychology Can Go Fuck Itself” by Holly Truhlar

I want to share this amazing article by lawyer, grief therapist, ritualist, and community builder (wow, what a resume!), Holly Truhlar, about the complicity of mainstream psychology in the systems which are destroying our society and our planet. You can read the whole article on Holly’s website. And here’s a link to an interview of her on Last Born in the Wilderness.

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The Gospel of Compost

“Give me your moldy, your stale, your sprouting potatoes.  Bring me that wilted, pitiful bag of salad you really meant to eat this time.  Bring me your bananas too brown and mushy even to make bread with.  Bring me your grass clippings and fallen leaves.  Give me the wretched refuse of your teeming refrigerator, yearning to rot free.  Give me these, and we will make life itself.”

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Practicing the Yoga of Despair

The clip below is from the HBO series, The Newsroom. In the scene, a deputy director of the EPA is being interviewed by a news anchor.

I love that video. It’s funny, but it’s also accurate.  Except for the part about permanent darkness, everything the EPA director says in that video is true.

I especially get a kick out of the reaction of the producer, when the EPA director says, “The person has already been born who will die due to catastrophic failure of the planet.” And she says “What did he just say?!”

I had my own “what did he just say?” moment a few years ago. I was participating in a protest at the tar sands refinery in Whiting, Indiana. I was part of the group that was planning an act of civil disobedience and planning on getting arrested. Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org was speaking. At the end of his speech, he said,

“I wish that I could guarantee you that we’re all going to win in the end, the whole thing. And I can’t, because we don’t know. The physics of climate change is pretty daunting at this point. The momentum of it is pretty big. We’re not going to win everything. We’re not going to stop global climate change. It’s too late for that.”

I heard that and thought, “What did he just say?!”

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