A family friend, who I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, stopped by this week bearing gifts of honey from her bee hives and a most beautiful pollinator house she had handcrafted. Such thoughtful gifts, they lifted my heart.
As with most conversations these days, our reunion inevitably drifted into wondering what the future will be like. It’s hard to imagine that humans will be successful in stemming global warming and mass extinction. We can’t even cooperate enough to curb a virus, let alone change the entire world power grid along with its economic and agricultural systems.
Usually, these conversations wander to their inevitable conclusion. It’s too immense. It’s too corrupt. We’re fucked. End of story.
Next comes silence.
It’s the awkward moment in the conversation, when everyone stops talking and just stares at the floor, straining to find a new topic.
How’s the weather? Yikes, don’t say that, or we’ll just keep talking about the climate.
Going anywhere cool this summer? Yeah, but it involves an airplane, and I feel too hypocritical to talk about it.
What do you think the world would be like if we succeeded? Oh yeah. That’s what we’re missing.
Let’s change the subject to that.
Reimagining the Norms
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told us to imagine what it would be like if all of the Supreme Court seats were held by women. I almost can’t imagine that. And because I have a hard time imagining that, it really puts into perspective our centuries of systemic male domination.
The reason it is hard to imagine an all-women Supreme Court (and the world that such a beast-ess might create) is because we are living tightly inside of our patriarchal norm. We’ve never been outside of it.
But if we are to have a bright future, we must do more than just convert the grid and plant pollinator gardens. We must break away from so many of our other ingrained norms — like growth economies, the celebration of consumerism, rugged individualism, and the acceptance of corporate greed and power. We must redefine what we currently see as the pillars of our society.
Initially, it seems like too big of a task. But imagine if all of the patriots waving flags were waving for the future of the whales and the monarch butterflies. Or if they were waving for corporations to cut their stock dividends and use the money to clean up their messes.
Imagine if we put Indigenous leaders in charge, and started to listen to them and get back centuries of fire prevention and land use knowledge.
Imagine cities woven around nature, instead of the seas of pavement that erase it.
Imagine a generation of kids, not too far in the future, who have never seen a smog-laden city. That could actually happen in a few decades, once cars are electric and power plants run off of wind and sun.
We must imagine the future, so we know where we’re trying to go.
There’s a chance we can get there. There’s also a chance we won’t. As individuals, we don’t have control over this. We only have the ability to decide that it’s worth the effort to leave this world a little better for our having been in it.
In the meantime, here are some ideas for dealing with this load of crap we’re up against.
• Stop letting science-denying anger-trolling fools into your head. We don’t have any more time to let them suck up our life forces. We must progress into the future, and then welcome them into the new world once we get there.
• Do something each day, or even each week. Even if it’s just a little bit, make a consistent effort. Right now, with our time-urgency, the most important thing we can do is protest, write letters, make phone calls, educate others, and demand that our leaders and corporations rise to the occasion.
• Be a decent human being. The most important tool in our box might be our ability to spread kindness, be honest, and generally just strive to be someone who deepens everything they touch, instead of the opposite.
• Get out there and appreciate what we still have as much as we possibly can. If we take no joy and wonderment in what still exists, then there is no purpose in trying to save it. Also, appreciate the people you love, and the relative safety we have right now.
• Conversely, we need to also take the time to say goodbye to the outside spaces we love, and come to terms with what is lost. We must try to do this without becoming callous to so many losses.
As we push for change, we must not rise against, but rather move forward, toward the good we want.
This was pointed out by a wise man I know, Dinizulu Gene Tinnie. In one of our correspondences, he wrote, “If our movement is defined by our opponent’s existence, then not only does every mention of the movement empower our opponent, but our actions get defined by the opposition so that we are easily forced to scatter our energies in ‘putting out fires’ here and there, without formulating a larger vision.”
His example was groups seeking to defeat Trump vs. “focusing on creating a more harmonious, sustainable society so future generations will have a birthright to their full humanity and fulfillment.” He continued, “Instead of asking those in power to ‘give’ us what we want, as if we expect those structures to remain in place, that is understandable, but it weakens and distracts from the real need for complete, radical decolonization, of this land and of our minds.”
My friend was speaking of decolonization, but it isn’t much of a step to apply this further to encompass our environmental problems and the systemic societal problems that brought us to today.
Ah, but back to friends. Next time I have a conversation with a friend, we’ll still surely talk about what the future will look like, but maybe we can add some happy visions as well.
In the next issue, I hope to talk about human ingenuity, and the imaginations of scientists. From nitrogen soil sensors to concrete that soaks up carbon, this is such an exciting time to be a scientist.
Sending much love to all of you compassionate souls.
A parting thought…
Horseshoe crabs have been around for 450 million years or so. It was only about 70 years ago that humans started relying on their blood to check the safety of vaccines. In just 0.00000016 of their exsitance, they have saved hundeds of thousands of human lives. In those same 70 years, humans have cut down roughly half of all of the trees on earth, caused the demise of more than half of all coral reefs, and seaside-condoed over an awful lot of horseshoe crab habitat. The good news is that horseshoe crabs have survived at least four, if not all five mass extinctions. They are my new heroes.