It’s All Connected. It’s All Systemic.

How our societal and environmental ills are intertwined

More and more we are connecting the dots on our planetary ills, realizing how racism, wealth inequity, and misogyny are interconnected with global warming, pollution, and our biodiversity crash. For me, grasping this concept has taken a lot of mind grinding. Others, especially Indigenous communities, have understood this for centuries.

One reason it’s hard to see is because it means cracking open and discarding so much of what we think we know. The status quo, the myths we’ve been taught throughout our lives, are hard to see beyond. It’s kind of like knowing if you sail too far you’ll fall off the edge of the world, and then suddenly scientists declare Earth is round and we are all hurtling through space at 67,000 miles an hour. Major mind blower.

But it doesn’t have to be. It’s actually rather simple. Our problems are not separate issues, but symptoms of a larger one — most of those who shape our systems of politics and economics care deeply about wealth and power, and not so much about people, community, and the ecosystems which we are a part of and depend upon in this great circle of life.

Fairy ponds in the great forests of the Northern Cascades, Washington. Just one of countless ecosystems that are way more enjoyable than cash. Photo: Karuna.

Conquer and divide.

A small handful of people are in charge of making the decisions that condemn the whole planet. That is a serious power imbalance, especially since the people calling the shots have used, and continue to use their wealth to shape the political system so they will always be the winners.

Historically these are the people who built their fortunes on the backs of slaves and Chinese railroad workers. On the severed trunks of giant redwoods. On the destroyed cultures of Indigenous Americans. They continue to do it now under the war cry of fossil fuel dominance. They do it in the name of meeting quarterly profit goals, which require unleashing toxins into low-income neighborhoods. Through blocking bans on plastic bags, cruise ships, and glyphosates, because the ocean, bees, and our health are secondary to their portfolios. Portfolios that require building unsustainable growth empires that forever raise human suffering and all but ensure the extinction of Monarch butterflies, sea turtles, elephants, and orangutans.

This must stop. It’s time for wealth to become unfashionable.

Our society touts monetary wealth as the ultimate goal. The supreme god. We are taught to measure our worth and our happiness by our financial prowess. For most, money is the end-all goal, not the wealth of raising a healthy family and having ample time to spend with them. Not the wealth of a river teeming with fish, or a clean breath of air.

Our movies and pop culture celebrate wealth and consumer excess. We buy this and that for perceived happiness, even though these goods are actually the very things that are leading to our destruction. We tree-huggers are laughed at, belittled. This is not an accident, it is by design. Just as the oil companies waged their war on science under the banner of climate change denial, those who stood to profit from environmental destruction also worked to culturally discredit people who fight for clean air, clean water, and endangered species.

Those who spread the notion that there are more important things out there than a growth-economy and maximizing profits are accused of treason. Silly, socialist snowflakes, who care about silly things like old-growth forests, spotted owls, coral reefs, glaciers, and children in poverty.

Yaak Falls on the Yaak River in Montana. How could there be anything more indispensable than water, trees, rocks, and the feeling of cooling off one’s weary feet in the stream after a long hike? Photo: Karuna Eberl.

It is not a sign of weakness to care about our ecosystems and fellow humans.

This pop-icon celebration of excess — and the coinciding push to make intelligent environmentalists seem like fringe alarmists — sprang up in the Regan years, at the same moment when the wealth gap began its rapid expansion. The idea of me first and the glory of Wall Street dominated blockbuster movies and magazine spreads. And so began the era of self-exceptionalism, the celebration of greed, and the disconnection from nature that is mandatory in order to fuel such ideals.

We were taught that private yachts, high-fashion, fast cars, and barely-clothed women were desirable. That it was okay to have few morals if it meant getting ahead. We were not taught this by accident. We were taught it because it helped the system grow. But that system was created and forced upon us by people who were disconnected. Disconnected from the intricate beauty of a grassland. Too busy in their quests to sit quietly on a shaded log, listening to the forest, with a good friend.

And sometimes in those forests, you find the most unexpected of things. Like this snake skeleton in an Everglades cypress dome. Photo: Steve Alberts.

It’s time to change our heroes.

Let’s replace the Kardashians with icons like E.O. Wilson and Mary Heglar. Let’s decry our celebrities, CEOs, and politicians who jet-set to their world-scattered vacation homes. It is not cool. It is so totally not cool, because what they are doing is taking our future away from us, and from all of our descendants. A rich person who evades taxes is not getting away with something, he’s taking money directly from our kids’ educations. From our ability to build the resilient communities that we’ll need to survive a changing planet.

I’m not saying we should become celebrity haters. Not by any means. We all need to work together, and many richies are just following what they were taught was desirable. No, what I’m saying is that we need to replace our status quo with one where we recognize the consequences of our actions, and act accordingly. We need a culture where kindness, sharing, and not taking more than we need are the sacred pillars.

A new status quo

Climate writer and activist Ryan Hagen sums it up best. He says, “We must correct two of society’s foundational beliefs that are at the root of the problem: 1. Instead of prioritizing profit above all else, we must prioritize people and the planet. 2. Instead of the widespread belief that we’re separate from and better than nature, we must see that we are a part of nature and that we rely on it for everything. (More of his writings can be found here.)

So, how is systemic racism, misogyny, and wealth inequity connected to climate change? The people who divide us by race and gender for their own self benefit are the same people who enable polluters. They are the same people who choose to put a chemical plant in an African American neighborhood, instead of their own backyard. The same ones who profit from pandering to oil companies. The same ones who have done whatever it takes to make sure their voices are the loudest. It isn’t too much of a stretch to further say they intentionally divide us by race and class, in order to profit from it.

They are disconnected from the true beauty of humanity and nature. Forever searching for something to satisfy their desires, but which they will never find until they repair their souls. Ironically, a healthy soul is the one thing money cannot buy.

It’s time for our voices.

Now that we recognize these connections, and where we have been manipulated, we can regain power. Those of us who find our wealth in a dark night sky, or watching a bumble bee, can finally have our voices heard. Those of us who volunteer in urban community gardens, bringing nutrition and food security to our neighbors, will finally be valued as much as those with six-figure incomes.

It’s time our knowledge and the greater world good dictate the decisions that affect us all. We will have a say. It is our time to shine. It is our time to lead. It is our time to create a society based on compassion, equity, and nature.

And so, the connection is quite simple. Because it is the same handful of people who perpetuate systemic racism, global warming, misogyny, poverty, and ecocide, it is quite impossible to fix just one of these problems, without inadvertently fixing them all.

And that, I think, is the good news. That is a world we can hope to create.

To illustrate this idea is an amazing piece by climate writer Amy Westervelt, titled:

Pipelines Are Not People.

"Last week Jessica Reznicek, one of the two women who claimed responsibility for tampering with the Dakota Access pipeline in Iowa, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison, plus fines. Other pipeline protestors and valve turners have faced similarly severe consequences. In this case, the addition of ‘terrorism’ to Reznicek’s charges made the sentence much harsher. Her co-conspirator, Ruby Montoya, is still awaiting her sentencing on the same charges.

“It’s as ludicrous as it is terrifying–especially when you consider that a pipeline literally set the ocean on fire LAST WEEK. Over the course of several months, Reznicek and Montoya lit a few machines on fire, and blew out valves across the pipeline. They probably cost Energy Transfer Partners, the owners of the pipeline, about $6 million in damages—a mere rounding error to a multi-billion-dollar company. No one was injured, because the women made sure they never even came close to causing physical harm to a single soul. How the hell is that terrorism, but poisoning the water of thousands of people, exacerbating climate change, leading to the early death of untold millions…that’s just business? Or let's compare apples to apples: How are Montoya and Reznicek being sentenced harshly as terrorists, but the domestic terrorists who attacked the Capitol in military gear, with weapons, on January 6th so far seem to be getting off with fines and minor sentences?”

And a bit of other news: We’ve just returned from a writing assignment in southern Utah. While we were there, we had the good fortune of seeing the totem pole that is en route from Washington State to D.C. It was created by Lummi Nations artists, and is stopping at sacred sites along the way, including Standing Rock and the Black Hills. Some say the 4,900 pound cedar artwork acts as a battery, collecting positive energy from the sacred places it visits.

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I’ll be back in a few days with an update on our abandoned house project. Until then, peace, laughter, and happiness to all. Make your voices heard!