What would it take to reverse humanity’s current catastrophic course? Must we keep growing faster, consuming more, fighting each other for power, and destroying the Earth, our home and source of life?
Indigenous people have pondered these questions for centuries, ever since Industrial Man came from Europe and started killing them. Here’s one of the stories that came to them, from the Achuar people of the Ecuadorian Amazon, as told to Lynne Twist and recounted in her book The Soul of Money.
“In the beginning, all the Earth’s people were one, but long ago they divided into two groups, and each followed a different path. The people of the Eagle were highly scientific and intellectual. The people of the Condor were highly attuned to nature, relationships, and the intuitive realm.”
“At a certain time of Earth’s history, the Eagle people, the people of the intellect and the mind, people with a highly developed sense of the aesthetic and cognitive skills — will have reached a zenith in their amassing of scientific knowledge, technology and tools, high art, and the ability to build and construct. The Eagle people will produce technological marvels of awesome power and breadth. These accomplishments will bring tremendous material wealth to leaders of the Eagle world. At the same time, they will be spiritually impoverished to their peril, and their very existence will be at risk.”
“In this same era, the people of the Condor — people of the heart, the spirit, the senses, and deep connection with the natural world — will be highly developed in their intuitive skills. They (the indigenous peoples) will reach a zenith in their wisdom, their understanding of the great cycles of the earth, their connection with the spirits, the animals and the plant kingdom. At the same time,, they will be disadvantaged in their interactions with the material world of the eagle such that their very existence will be at risk.“
“At the beginning of the fifth Pacha — an Inca calendar cycle of 500 years, the time we are in now — there will be a great upheaval, called a pachakuti. A reunion will come to pass between the long-separated people of the Eagle and people of the Condor. Remembering they are one people, they will reconnect, share their knowledge and wisdom and save each other. The eagle and the condor will fly together, wing to wing, in the same sky and the world will come back into balance after a point of near extinction. Neither eagles nor condors will survive without this collaboration.”
Well, that’s a hopeful story, but really?
According to the web site LivinginPeru.com, the fifth pacha started in 1990, but is there any evidence that this pachakuti, this upheaval leading to reconnection is actually happening?
Indigenous people are certainly trying. Lynne Twist met Achuar leaders and heard this story after receiving a long series of visions of faces in traditional crowns and face painting. When she described the visions to Amazon jungle defender John Perkins, he said they sounded like Achuar headdresses and set up a meeting. In the meeting, the Achuar said they had been sending these visions out, hoping to reach people in the Eagle world who could help.
Now, through their connection with Twist and the Pachamama Alliance they created, the Achuar have their own web pages and a retreat center where they can connect with rich-world people. They can tell their own story.
Others are following this path toward reconciling Eagle and Condor. Robin Wall Kimmerer, PhD, wrote her book Braiding Sweetgrass, subtitled “Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants.” The whole book consciously seeks to braid the Eagle and the Condor paths together, and her book has changed millions of lives. Published in 2013, it didn’t hit the New York Times bestsellers list until 2020. Now it has been there for 115 weeks, has sold well over 500,000 copies, and sales are still rising. People are hungry for this.
Kimmerer is a unique and awesome talent, with European and Indigenous American ancestors and extensive training in both botany and Native ways. But she is not alone. Here are some others to check out, read, and consider joining.
Winona LaDuke, whose father is Ojibwe and mother Jewish from the Bronx, graduated from Harvard and has spent most of the succeeding 45 years organizing. She co-founded the Indigenous Women’s Network, the White Earth Land Recovery Project, and Honor The Earth, which she co-founded with the Indigo Girls band. She ran for Vice-President on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000. She works for land back to rightful Native owners, restoration of forests and wetlands, and much more.
Her many books include Recovering the Sacred and All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life.
Hundreds of other indigenous leaders around the world start movements for better lives for their people (of all species) and for the Earth in countries like Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Canada, and pretty much everywhere. If enough Eagle people follow them and support them, a lot of seemingly impossible changes could happen. And groups are following. Check out
Bioneers, founded in 1990 in New Mexico, their slogan is, “It’s all alive. It’s all connected. It’s all intelligent. It’s all relatives.” They hold conferences and classes with strong indigenous input.
So you see. There are leaders; there are places to connect; the Achuar’s prophecy is coming true. Note that they don’t predict a final struggle, but a coming together of the scientific and the intuitive, the material and spiritual. As Charles Eisenstein wrote in The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, it’s not about good vs. evil. It’s about people waking up to our shared oneness.
And people are waking and sharing the story. But the prophecy only predicts there will be, in this pacha, a potential for transformation. It’s not guaranteed. It’s up to us, the people of this place and time, to make this beautiful, sustainable world a reality.
We are part of something eternal we ignore at our peril
“The source of suffering is separation from God.” Soren Kierkegaard
Substitute “Nature” for “God” and Kierkegaard’s diagnosis reads true today. Nature is our source of life, the one who does everything religious people think of as God’s domain. We and our bodies are intimate parts of Nature. Indigenous people call It the great spirit. Yet we pretend It has no importance.
No wonder individuals and societies tend to craziness. Urban people especially live in artificial worlds. We walk on concrete if we walk at all. We look at videos of animals and plants instead of their living selves. We see buildings instead of hills, streets instead of rivers.
Sitting in front of screens, we come to believe that money is real and the most important thing in our lives. We think the dramas playing out on media are what life is about, not Nature’s tireless provision for our needs and Its own need to be nurtured in return. Our minds stay absorbed in past regrets and future worries or in nonexistent fictional worlds, while here-and-now physical reality goes unnoticed.
This disconnect from Nature may be the #1 cause of our problems: from war to pollution to depression and anxiety, to climate collapse, mental illness, and violence of all kinds. It is so hard to remain sane and happy, so easy to fall into destructive ways when we are alienated from the source. What difference does anything we do make, when what we know as the world is a made-for-TV movie, which we have no say in scripting and in which the characters and plots make little sense?
Our rulers, the people who dump coal mine wastes in rivers and build thousands of bombs and prison cells, or who turn the world’s jungles into cheap furniture, do not live in the natural world. They live in the industrial world that treats Nature as a source of profit, not as their home. They have no home, and they have no meaning to their lives.
We shouldn’t follow them. Aspiring to be like the the Musks or the Kardashians is making us sick. To live in peace, everyone needs to feel part of something larger than themselves, something that will last beyond them. Nature fills that need if we let it.
Some ways to reconnect with Nature
● Farming and gardening — Growing food is not only vital for life; it teaches us how life works and where food comes from. You have to get your hands dirty, use your muscles, breathe in the plants’ expired air, observe how Sun and Earth create life. I think it would be hard to spend the day growing food and then go to work and order a missile strike on some other country.
Not everyone can farm, but almost anyone can garden. If you have no land or community space, you can grow food in pots. The kind of gardening/farming that regenerates soil fulfills our responsibilities to the cycle of life, taking from Nature and giving back at the same time. It’s very different from buying food in Styrofoam packages at a supermarket.
● Trees — Poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.” Forests give life to millions of creatures, create oxygen and absorb carbon, making livable environments for everyone. They bring rain and raise the water table so other plants can grow.
Trees let us know life goes on. Walking among them or sitting in their shade brings a sense of peace. The Buddha found the meaning of life while meditating under a tree.
Forests are terribly endangered now, being cut for timber and burned for crops or grazing. Planting trees and caring for them bring us connection and sanity, especially if we do it right.
● Along with forests and farms, we need healthy oceans, and some people find the sea their greatest sources of peace. The ocean is the original source of life, and poets for centuries have described its healing powers. Now it needs our help, as you can observe here and here.
Organizations like SeaTrees plant mangrove trees and kelp forests, restore coral reefs and support ocean cleanups. If I were younger and more able, I would definitely like to participate in projects like theirs.
In a sustainable society, everyone would have to do or support this kind of work. We have to give, not only take. And if people reconnect with Nature and feel ourselves part of life, there will not be so much damage to repair.
Not all paths to Nature involve so much work. People can go camping, getting out to actual parks and wild lands, making sure to leave them better than they found them. For city people, camping helps us remember that the real world is out there. But there are ways to reconnect within cities also.
Animals R Us
● Animals and plants– Our living cousins are sources of delight and sanity. If you get outside, do you notice the birds and bugs or the occasional non-human mammal? You definitely won’t if you’re in a car, and even on foot you have to pay attention, but there is a world of creatures out there trying to survive.
If you’re not able to see wild living animals, pets and plants are also cousins (sharing a common ancestor if we go back far enough.) If we have animals in our lives, we can be reassured and centered by touching them and visiting with them. Wild or domestic plants are also relatives, breathing out oxygen so we can breathe with them.
● Children give us a lifelong course in how Nature works. We see them grow, mature, learn, delight, get hurt, recover. Younger ones, less corrupted by media and school, can make us feel young, too.
● And then there are our own bodies — Paying attention to the physical things we do, like our movement and our body functions is a way of noticing nature. Urinating and defecating mean returning our food to Nature. Eating and drinking might be our closest interactions with the physical world.
Do you pay attention when you’re eating? Do you even taste anything after the first bite? Most people don’t, and many in mid-meal couldn’t tell you if they are still hungry or filled up. Tasting, appreciating, giving thanks, remaining aware of how our guts are responding make eating a form an enjoyable and powerful form of meditation on life.
In my opinion, that is the deeper meaning of the Christian Eucharist (eating the “Body of Christ” as a wafer). When we eat, something else in Nature has given up its life or part of itself to keep us going. When we drink, the cycle of life in the form of water comes through us, connecting us to the world.
● Sex gives us a unique opportunity to connect with our bodies and with other people. But usually we don’t. People will be thinking about other things, worrying about their performance, or judging their partners instead of fully concentrating on their sensations and on the miracle of life that sexual energy represents.
● Meditate — observe the whole natural world within you. Sense your breathing and circulation. All the spiritual teachers I’ve heard have said that we should go inside ourselves to experience true freedom.
● Gratitude — moving around, give thanks for the trees, plants, birds and all that makes life possible and beautiful. Be specific about their unique gifts. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes up these thanks in a chapter called Allegiance to Gratitude in her book Braiding Sweetgrass.
How Nature connections could heal our sick society
As I and many others have written, our leaders are crazy.. They really believe wealth and power are the goals of life. They can’t admit mistakes or change course. They’re in process of provoking a nuclear war.
Meanwhile, the madness of their disconnection has spread to most of the population, at least in the U.S. As I write this, temperatures in Las Vegas, Nevada, are going over 110 degrees F most days. The level of Lake Mead, the source of water for over two million people in the area, is dropping precipitously.
Yet, people are still moving there in droves. New subdivisions get built every week, spreading farther out into the desert. People come because there are (relatively) good-paying jobs and affordable housing. Those financial considerations somehow outweigh the obvious fact that it’s 110 degrees and there will soon be no water!
How disconnected is that? Maybe not as bad as the coal companies, banks, and governments’ mining coal on the Hopi and Navajo reservations south of Vegas. The mine companies sell coal to power the Vegas Strip and other cities, while the Indians’ land is degraded and their water polluted. The bankers seem to think, ‘The land is just sitting there. It should be making money.’ They don’t get that Nature has value beyond what ‘natural resources’ can bring on the market. It brings life if we allow it to.
How will this end? When one generation of Nature-denying leaders ages out, another equally bad replaces them, and not just in the USA. Russia and China, India and Brazil’s leaders appear at least as divorced from Nature as ours. It might be too late for them. It might require a violent revolution to create a better system, and I don’t know how that could happen.
But there could be a way for future generations What if every child had to do something in Nature a few times a week, meditate every day,, and take a full year every decade to do stuff like land restoration? Would they still spend the rest of their lives in pursuit of profit or power? Would they still feel hurt, isolated, and alienated from the world? I don’t think so; I think Nature would heal them.
Note that indigenous people live in Nature every day. They know they’re part of Nature (or of God if you prefer) and have practices, prayers and rituals to help them remember. Maybe that’s how they stay strong despite their ongoing oppression. We should learn from them and follow them.
“Everything possible has been tried and failed. Now it is time to try the impossible.” Sun Ra
Scrolling through newsfeeds, I often feel anguish, anger, and despair. All these problems and suffering with no apparent solutions! Then stories like this one come and hit me with a gut-punch of hope.
In her book, The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist, co-founder of the Hunger Project “to end world hunger” and the Pachamama Alliance “to save the rainforest” describes her trip into the Sahel, the dry region spreading South from the Sahara and swallowing up thousands of square kilometers of Africa every year. Twist and a group of Hunger Project donors had been invited to see if they could help some Senegalese villages in desperate need of water.
They drove for hours down paved roads, then dirt roads, then across the orange sand of the desert. “There hardly seemed to be anything living there,” she wrote, but then they started to hear drums beating. A few minutes later they were greeted by a large group of exuberant children, dancing women in beautiful dresses, and a whole village who had come out to meet them.
The visitors and the villagers danced until the drumming stopped, then sat in two large circles, men in the inner circle and women and children behind them. Only the men spoke. They said they were strong, resilient people of the desert who had lived well there for generations, but now the wells were running dry. If they couldn’t get water, they would have to move or die.
As they were talking, Twist sensed that the women wanted to say something. She asked the village leader if the female donors and villagers could meet separately, and this request was granted. In the meeting, women told Twist, ‘There is a vast lake far under the desert. We can feel it in our bodies; we have seen it in visions and in dreams. We want to dig deep down to this lake, but the men won’t allow it. They don’t believe the water is there, and digging wells isn’t women’s work.’
“What we need the Hunger Project to do,” one woman said, “is convince the men to let us follow our vision.” Though there was no observable evidence for the lake’s existence, the women convinced Twist, and they negotiated with the men to allow digging to go forward. Women dug almost entirely with hand tools, for a year. They took turns watching each other’s children and cooking. They sang while they shoveled.
And they uncovered the lake. With Hunger Project donations, the men set up a pumping station, and now 17 local villages have been brought back to life. They’re selling local crafts in the city and educating their children as they never could before.
I read this story and literally couldn’t speak for ten minutes. It still brings tears to my eyes. We can draw at least 4 lessons from this story that might turn the seemingly impossible problems we face today into healing opportunities.
Don’t look in the usual places
The Senegalese villagers’ problems seemed insoluble, and from the point of view of their leading men, they were insoluble. There just wasn’t enough water, and they had to deal with it.
The village women saw a solution. But from the men’s objective viewpoint, the women’s idea didn’t make sense, and the men had the power. I imagine 90% of women and 100% of children can remember having their ideas discounted in this way. Most workers and nearly all indigenous and oppressed people probably can too.
I remember organizing a neighborhood treasure hunt with my wife Aisha back in the 90s. We had a bunch of clever clues, and we broke the guests up into teams of three to find little treasures. On one team were an 11-year-old boy, his father and the father’s friend.
Aisha and I walked around the neighborhood spying on the hunters and offering help if needed. The 11 year olds’ team seemed lost. I heard him saying, “It’s over that way, Dad. Look at the map.” The adults were ignoring him until Aisha intervened and said, “He’s right.”
Those used to being in authority don’t easily imagine that they are wrong. Experts don’t admit their limitations. As a nurse, I often heard doctors tell patients, “Nothing more can be done,” when what they meant was, ‘I don’t know anything else to do.’ There’s a difference.
We are beyond the point of listening only to experts who believe that if they don’t know something, it doesn’t exist. Their expertise may have pushed them into mental boxes, but we don’t have to follow. We need to hear everyone’s input and consider them seriously. We don’t know where lifesaving ideas will come from.
Science is not the only path to knowledge
The village leaders in Senegal weren’t scientists, but they were following the scientific method of evaluating observable evidence to form conclusions. How could they believe in their women’s visions of a magical lake they had never seen?
The women had different ways of knowing. They told Lynne Twist, ‘We see this lake in our visions. We can feel its presence.’ And they were right. That doesn’t mean we should ignore scientists or guide our policies with dreams, but it does mean science doesn’t have all the answers. There are forces that cannot yet be measured, or are so complex that we haven’t figured out what they mean. Different ways of knowing should collaborate.
Right now, greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere, causing rising temperatures, which set off positive feedback loops which further increase concentrations of warming gases such as methane. Science, which as usual is under the control of capitalism, has found no solutions, though they’re working on it. But Nature — soils, seas, grasslands, forests, swamps, may have their own solutions, and people may be discovering others each day, if we listen to them.
Sufficiency, not scarcity
Twist says most social problems since the dawn of civilization stem from a mindset of scarcity. “There’s not enough; I have to get mine; more is better.” She says scarcity beliefs lead to waste, war, environmental destruction, and empty lives spent pursuing unnecessary wealth.
She contrasts this with an attitude of sufficiency, in which we understand there is enough, in which we appreciate, care for, and share what we have. She says people living from sufficiency will feel richer and more secure than people who live from scarcity, regardless of how much material wealth they actually have.
Twist prefers “sufficiency” to the New Age term “abundance.” She says the point isn’t that there’s an endless abundance of material things coming to us, so we can be greedy and wasteful with it. There is sufficiency; we have enough, if we care for it and appreciate it.
In the Senegalese Sahel, things were self-evidently scarce. You could go miles without seeing a living thing, with the exception of an occasional lonely baobab tree. Yet the women knew the surface scarcity was a deception. There was enough, if they could get to it.
Notice the difference between “abundance” and “sufficiency” here. I can imagine from an abundance point of view (or from scarcity really; look at Las Vegas), people in the Sahel might start planting lawns or golf courses to become tourist destinations. They might set up factories that pollute the underground lake. They might use it up and be back where they started. But seeing their water as the great gift that it is, they are cherishing it, sharing it, and using it well.
Why solutions remain invisible
Possible solutions to terrible problems go unseen for many reasons. Most of these solutions involve a lot of hard work. For the women to find water took a year of heavy labor, and most of us can’t even imagine such difficult approaches.
Solutions may also remain invisible because they take a long time to show results. 11 months in, the Sahel women had nothing to show for their project but callused hands, aching backs, and annoyed husbands. They kept following their vision until it paid off.
But the biggest barrier by far is that our current leaders don’t want such solutions and will fight any idea that encroaches on their power and profit. Military corporation want wars; financiers want to keep accumulating wealth. The construction industry wants to keep building houses made of wood, the prison industry wants to keep locking people up for slave labor. They are living in scarcity and can’t imagine a way out.
As Derrick Jensen, founder of Deep Green Resistance puts it, “Those in power get too much money and privilege from destroying the planet. We aren’t going to save the planet — or our own future as a species — without a fight.”
I don’t know how to win a fight with heavily armed sociopaths. I think these leaders need to heal, and I’m not sure how to make them do it. But I see the Senegal story as a metaphor for our current world. It feels like a desert out there, but I wonder. Is there a hidden source that we can tap if we look and listen for it and commit to reaching?
Thanks for reading! Please comment, share, or steal. Follow me on Twitter, on Facebook or on Medium. Hire me for freelancing, editing, or tutoring on Linked In
Sanctions Shatter Supply Chains While Millions Starve
The great famine has begun. People are starving in Asia and Africa and going hungry in the Americas. This famine, and the looming Super-Depression of which it is part, are not naturally caused. Yes, there are droughts and floods, but people have found food despite natural disasters before. People are dying from lack of money, not lack of food.
How did we get here? After World War 2, the USA led the way to an economy the world had never seen. Instead of countries meeting their own needs and trading with each other for things they couldn’t produce, the US, UK, and big banks worked toward a global economy. In the new order, there would be no national economies, only one world economy. Countries were encouraged to produce only what they could export and to rely on imports for most of their needs.
Over 75 years, most of the world was forced or lured into an export-import global economy. If leaders resisted, they could be persuaded, replaced, or killed, as well-documented by former persuader John Perkins in Confessions of An Economic Hitman. The Empire set up international lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to help countries “develop” their export capacity and to punish them if they spent too much on social welfare or internal development.
Focus on exports by governments in the global South allowed the imperial countries to exploit colonial labor and resources more efficiently. They enrich local oligarchs and modernize things like roads and cars, but they sink countries in debt and make people dependent on the US-led Empire, which neither knows nor cares anything about them. Under this system, the human economy as a whole grew larger and richer (at Nature’s expense) and came increasingly under US dominance.
Some countries resisted:: Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Serbia, Libya, Iraq, Zimbabwe and a few others. But most of the time, the superior military force and productive powers of global capitalism won the battles.
As the economy grew more global, supply chains grew longer and more complicated. A machine might be made of materials from five or six countries in the global South, be assembled someplace else, transported and sold to a rich country. Globalism was complicated, but telecommunications via the Internet and transportation via trucks, ships, and planes kept it humming.
But now, after forcing the world into this global economy, globalists have decided to tear it apart. I don’t know why — perhaps they value their dominance more than their profit — but they are dismantling global capitalism, leaving billions to scramble for the basic necessities of life.
Sanctions shatter supply chains
The Empire talks about free markets, but now they mostly work to shut markets down. Having provoked Russia into a military incursion in Ukraine, the US, the European Union (EU,) and US-allied countries in the Pacific (Japan, New Zealand, Australia) attacked Russia with the most extreme sanctions regime ever imposed. They shut down completed natural gas pipelines and pulled all their businesses out of Russia. Western shipping companies wouldn’t ship Russian goods. In the White House’s own words, they sought to “turn Russia into a pariah,” to cut them out of the world economy.
Countries around the world suddenly found themselves cut off from Russian exports on which they depended. Senegal was already poor, but now their people go hungry while grain rots because it can’t be sold or shipped.
President Sall said, “The sanctions against Russia have worsened our situation. Now we have no access to grain from Russia. And we have no access to fertilizers, creating a threat to food security in Africa.”
Note that the sanctions on Russia have hurt those who impose them more than they hurt Russia. For lack of energy from Russia, European businesses are cutting way back; energy prices are way up throughout the US-led Empire. But they hurt the poor countries more.
As Sri Lankan pundit Indrajit Samarajiva says “Sanctions are an act of war, and they have turned a local invasion into a global catastrophe.”.
Sanctions on Russia are not a one-off. They have become a way of life for the US Empire, now imposing blockades and trade restrictionson at least 25 countries around the world, according to Investopedia. US sanctions often go beyond trade restrictions to outright theft. They robbed $7 billion Afghan banks held in US-connected banks, for no other offense than successfully resisting US occupation of their country. Now they can’t buy food or medicines and the result is mass starvation. The US and UK confiscated about $2 billion in gold belonging to the Venezuelan government, which also had broken no international laws. Many of their people have now joined the ranks of the starving.
Targeted countries are those politically opposed to the Empire’s domination, but sanctions usually expand to include countries and companies that trade with the original target. Fear of these “secondary sanctions” can shut down wide sections of international trade. They take a wrecking ball to the world economy. But what happens to the people?
Having been forced to rely on exports and imports to live, what happens to people when that trade is cut off? How can anyone trust a US-dominated system that might turn on them and take their savings at any moment? Global capitalism has been history’s greatest bait-and-switch — join our system or else, then watch us shut it down — and people desperately need an alternative.
There is another system
In 2009, leaders of Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa announced the formation of the BRICS alliance to find alternatives to US dominance. Although two of those governments, in Brazil and India, have since been replaced by fascistic leaders, they haven’t completely abandoned BRICS or resigned to US unipolar dominance.
Historian and analyst Vijay Prasad of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research says,“BRICS wants internationalization, to see multinational organizations like the UN strengthened. NATO/US wants world domination.” BRICS is expected to expand soon to include Iran and Argentina. Together, they may have enough clout to create an economy that can survive outside the global economy that is rapidly being dismantled.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in June that BRICS was developing a new international reserve currency to compete with the US dollar, a combination of their national currencies backed by real products and resources. According to Putin, they are also developing an alternative to SWIFT for currency transfers. After decades of US-dominated globalism, the global South seems close to creating a new system that could enable all countries to cooperate and compete equally.
We’ll see if the BRICS plan comes to fruition. I hope that it does, because the Empire’s system is creating starvation. Samarajiva wrote from Sri Lanka, “I’m telling you from a people that have already fallen, famine is spreading like a contagion, and no one will escape unscathed.”
Impact on Earth
One caveat here — we don’t know why our rulers are doing this. Could they have realized that industrial civilization is unsustainable and be tearing it apart to save themselves? Nature would be far better off without the industry, the pollution, the shipping, the wars. Could a BRICS-led world stop the destruction of our living world?
It seems unlikely, doesn’t it?. Brazil’s government is burning down the Amazon as fast as it can. China’s Belt and Road Initiative looks as though it will help the global South develop their economies, but is economic development necessarily a good thing for plants and animals and people who live there, if it means deforesting the jungles and polluting the rivers?
Starting as I do from focus on mother Earth, I know we must transition to small-scale local economies in which communities provide for themselves and take care of each other and of our world. Can a system like China’s, in which capitalists operate under tight control of an authoritarian party, give us prosperity and still help the planet heal?
Maybe, maybe not, but I am absolutely sure the capitalists who globalized the economy and are now tearing it down care nothing about Earth or anyone on it other than themselves. This crisis is an opportunity. Maybe if we work, fight, and speak out with enough intelligence, courage, and love, a new BRICS-led world could undo the damage globalism has wrought.
Technology won’t save us. Nature can, if we help it.
As heat waves kill animals and plants, and wildfires burn whole regions, how can we stop global warming and heal the planet? Technological fixes for climate change, for water shortages and famines aren’t working; indeed they usually seem to make things worse.
But Nature could still save herself if we take our feet off Her neck. Here are four ways creatures of land and sea work to maintain a healthy environment, and how we can help.
Shellfish against rising seas
Rising sea levels from melting glaciers and ice caps cause increased flooding on coast lines. The technological fix is to build concrete walls on the shore, but walls also keep out the organisms and nutrients that come in with each high tide, which shore creatures need. Concrete also does nothing to treat the carbon levels which drive global warming.
But shellfish do. In Bangladesh, the Netherlands, and Louisiana, fishermen and scientists have started reefs made of oysters, which grow, reproduce, protect the coast from flooding and become like coral reefs, providing homes for fish. Fishing has become much easier near the oysters, and land has stopped sinking beneath the waves.
Because they use carbon to make their shells of calcium carbonate, shellfish are among the few creatures actually benefiting from fossil fuel carbon emissions. The shells, sink to the bottom when they die, taking the carbon out of circulation.
The oyster reefs are a collaboration between science, indigenous people, and Nature. A lot has to be studied before devoting scarce resources, and in many cases the scientists ask the local people for answers to questions such as where to place the rocks that become the reefs.
Since the coastline constantly changes, working with shellfish means staying flexible and always willing to change, not trying to dominate. “It’s a dynamic process — not hard concrete,” says Aad Smaal, emeritus professor of sustainable shellfish culture at Wageningen University. “And that’s the new understanding of using natural forces to achieve our goals.”
Mangroves are very special trees, some not much taller than shrubs, which can hold back the sea, desalinate water, and create habitat for plants and animals. They have the remarkable ability to grow in salt water or brackish water where other trees can’t. Even desert countries such as Saudi Arabia are creating mangrove forests on their shores. The forests filter out the salt and transpire the water into the air, which brings rain to the desert, creating farmland.
Mangroves also sequester way more carbon than other tree species. Groups like the surfer environmentalists at Sea-Trees.org and other groups are planting mangroves around the world. It’s the kind of physical work energetic, Earth-loving young people have time to do, older people can support financially, and indigenous people can guide with their knowledge and hire on to help.
Seaweed soaks up carbon and provides habitat
People also plant vast beds of kelp and seaweeds, which can absorb carbon and then take it to the bottom of the sea, out of circulation. According to Sea-Trees, if kelp, mangrove, seaweeds and coral reefs were planted and cared for in all appropriate places, they could soak up 20 times the carbon of land-based forests, enough to significantly reduce global warming.
According to the Sierra Club, seaweed farming could conceivably scale up enough to offset the carbon produced by the aquaculture industry. “In addition to sequestering carbon,” they write, “seaweed can provide habitat for fish and mitigate local effects of ocean acidification. Unlike other forms of aquaculture, it doesn’t depend on inputs like fish feed or antibiotics that can throw local ecosystems out of whack.”
Around the sea, coral reefs are being damaged or dying from water becoming warmer and more acidic. Groups such as Sea-Trees are planting new coral reefs in Bali and other tropical countries. Coral reefs are among the great incubators of life, so restoring coral allows plants to grow and absorb carbon, as well as fish, cephalopods and other animals.
Swamps and marshes
“Wetlands,” the general term for swamps and marshes, also protect against flooding, sequester carbon, and provide homes to millions of creatures. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “Wetlands provide food and habitat for a diverse array of plants and animals, act as buffers to flooding and erosion, and serve as key links in the global water cycle. Because of their sponge-like ability to absorb water, wetlands can slow the momentum of flood waters or of a coastal storm surge.”
For indigenous people, swamps and marshes were rich sources of life that sustained them for millennia. When agriculturalists came from Europe, they saw swamps as wastelands to be cleared away to make room for farms. A lot of people make their living clearing swamps today, an ongoing environmental catastrophe. Robin Wall Kimmerer describes the incredible richness of swamp life in her book Braiding Sweetgrass.
But the swamps are mostly gone now in America. Once done, can swamp clearance be undone? Environmental groups have posted many web sites on creating wetlands. Almost every farm and forest could benefit from wetlands. Cities can , too— in China, these are called “sponge cities,” and bring water to whole areas. Creating wetlands is mainly about creating ponds and low areas that can hold runoff water. Nature will quickly fill it with reeds, trees, birds, bugs, and more.
Animals help too
Beavers create wetlands on their own by damming up streams to create small floods. The water soaks in promoting lush growth of grasses and raising the water table for miles around.
Ranchers used to regard beavers as pests and killed them off, the same approach behind clearing swamps. The result was that their pastures dried out. Now some ranchers are bringing the beavers back and letting them operate, and the ranches have become far more productive.
You see a pattern here? Technological solutions don’t work well, because their goal is to maximize income and their strategy is to kill everything that gets in the way. Natural solutions heal, because everybody’s working together to maximize life. As indigenous ecologist A-dae Romero-Briones said, “Modern agriculture’s approach to healthy food goes like this: kill everything except the food you sell, so that nothing living goes inside your body.” There’s no place for germs, no place for bugs. But without the little ones, soil cannot continue to produce life. It wears out, whereas farmers working with nature in regenerative agriculture, make soil more productive the more it grows.
Can Nature do this on Her own?
Could sea and land practices like these prevent global warming? According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), soil regeneration could absorb up to 4 billion tons of carbon per year. That’s about 14% of the 31.5 billion tons per year emitted by industrial civilization. Seaweed such as kelp could also sequester 173 million metric tons annually, according to the Sierra Club. I suspect the number could be higher; the ocean is a big place. Forests on land can turn billions of tons of CO2 into wood every year as they grow.
Still, the Sierra Club analyzes, that would not be enough to counteract industrial pollution. “The most effective way to sequester carbon,” they write, “is to not release it in the first place. For example, scientists recently calculated that bottom trawling (a fishing method that involves scraping the ocean floor with giant nets) releases as much carbon into the atmosphere as the entire aviation industry does — about a billion metric tons a year. A global ban on trawling could accomplish today what kelp beds could only hope to do in the future.”
Clearly, technology can do good or evil, but in the service of profit, it’s usually evil. A lot of tech went into creating those bottom trawling ships. Now, companies are developing tech to remove carbon from the air, so they can make money coming and going. But according to University of Sidney professor Deanna D’Alessandro, PhD, carbon removal by technology (called Direct Air Capture (DAC) is an expensive dream, capable at most of removing a couple percent of annual emissions of CO2, burning tons of energy and costing lots of money, while doing nothing to maintain healthy environments in other ways.
But science and people working with Nature, creating reefs, wetlands, forests, regenerative farms and gardens could counteract a lot of technological harm. Life spreads; it grows; it recreates itself. Technology is powerful, but much better at destroying things than growing them.
You may have seen videos of people saving animals, like by disentangling them from fishing nets or 6-pack holders. Those videos are metaphors for what people can do. We must start undoing some of the damage industrial civilization has done. If we get to work, perhaps we can save the creatures and save ourselves.
American dystopia is deeper than guns and mental illness
After 18-year-old Salvador Ramos massacred 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and another young man, Payton Gendron, shot to death 10 Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York, the usual arguments began. Liberals blamed the easy availability of guns; conservatives said the killers were mentally ill. Both of those arguments contain some truth, but both ignore the deeper causes, the reasons why these tragedies keep happening.
Yes, the USA has far more guns per capita than any other country, but other heavily armed populations don’t turn the guns on each other. Obviously, a teen who massacres 4th graders is not well, but very few people with mental illness commit acts of violence. There is a profound sickness here, but society has it. Individuals just act it out.
Americans live in a unique dystopia, an empire born in genocide and maintained with violence. Our armies bomb, shoot, and displace millions around the world. Law enforcement officers kill more than three people every day, while beating and imprisoning hundreds of thousands. These are our authority figures doing this, the representatives of our governments, keepers of our highest values. Why wouldn’t young men think killing is a normal thing good people do?
Our culture promotes violence in film, television and video games. Killing makes up a big chunk of the US economy. US corporations like Raytheon and Boeing sold $285 billion of weapons in 2020, about 50% of the world’s total. Private individuals spend about $11 billion on weapons each year. While most US manufacturing has been outsourced overseas, weapons factories are still working overtime.
But why? Other countries don’t fight constant wars and don’t have these mass shootings. What are the sources of this violence, and what can we do about them?
We’re all traumatized
Historically, American violence started in Europe. According to Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized trauma in America, settlers came from England already traumatized. 200 different crimes in 17th Century England were punishable by death, so most people had witnessed more than one hanging, burning, or beheading. Corporal punishments such as whipping were done in public to terrorize people.
In the 15th to 17th centuries, Europeans hunted witches. Thousands of (mostly) women were put to death for practicing healing or for offending some man in power. Can you imagine the trauma of having women you love burned at the stake?
Settlers brought this trauma to America and imposed triple rations of it on the Indigenous Natives and on African slaves. The Pilgrims started killing Indians almost as soon as they arrived in Massachusetts. African-Americans and Indians have suffered centuries of trauma, which for many still goes on.
What does it to people suffer such violence? What does it do to people to perpetrate it? Even seeing violence in person or on media can be traumatic. How many were traumatized by witnessing the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis?
The trauma of inflicting violence, witnessing it or hearing victims talk about it is called “vicarious trauma.” The ongoing depression and anxiety stemming from trauma suffered by our ancestors and passed down is called “historical” or “intergenerational” trauma. The effects of the witch hunts, of wars, slavery and genocide, still live on in most Americans, even if we’re not aware of them. Our history sets us up to become violent, and our culture triggers some of us to act it out.
Culture of violence
As I write this, the blockbuster movie of summer 2022 is Top Gun: Maverick, a celebration of fighter plane pilots. Created in consultation with the US military, Top Gun makes heroes of people who kill for a living.
America’s aggressive wars have been turned into entertainment in movies and television since those media were invented. Older readers might remember Westerns like Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel, set in the American West in the late 19th Century, in which the heroes were the best killers. After some years in which other violent genres like police shows took their place, Westerns are now coming back. Coming attractions at movie theaters often feature military recruiting ads, from which the films themselves cannot be distinguished .
Video games often put their players in the role of killers and award points for killing well. First-person shooters wander through hellscapes, killing monsters and bad guys. When the player gets shot, it doesn’t hurt. They just start another game, and some of those players grow up to steer (by video) armed drones that kill people in places like Pakistan and Ukraine.
US armed forces visit violence on people all over the world and are treated as heroes in the media for doing so. Violent police are credited with defending our safety. How could a young man looking for something to do with their life not consider the path of violence?
Sri Lankan philosopher Indrajit Samarajiva wrote of politicians’ response to the shootings in Texas and New York, “Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, ‘I did not carry an assault weapon around a foreign country so I could come home and see them used to massacre my countrymen.’ They really don’t get it, do they?This is why your countrymen are getting massacred. The American culture and commerce of violence cannot be contained to ‘foreign’ countries.”
Violence takes over our political language. To US leaders, war is the preferred metaphor for all they do, and these metaphorical wars involve real violence. The War on Drugs caused huge increases in violent crime and in police violence. It led to the incarceration of over a million people, disrupting families and communities. The War on Poverty involved police raids on poor households (almost all Black) to ensure nobody was violating welfare rules. This program broke up Black families by excluding fathers from their children’s households.
Alienation and Anger
Even growing up in a violent culture, most people never kill anyone. Even if their leaders commit crimes daily, what drives people like Ramos and Gendron to do monstrous things most of us would never do? After all, they are giving up their own lives to kill people who never did anything to hurt them. We actually know some of these answers.
Psychologists Jillian Peterson and James Densley have studied, interviewed, and written about school shooters and other mass shooters. These men are alienated, meaning they don’t feel connected to their communities or families. Peterson told an interviewer, “There is usually a history of abuse, bullying, maybe sexual abuse, hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, oftentimes rejection from peers.”
Living in a culture that idealizes material wealth above other values, and in a time when wealth is increasingly hard to get, how can young people feel good about themselves? How many will turn against a society with such unfair and hypocritical expectations? People with strong families who treat them well, religious ties, social connection or grounding in nature might not lash out, but those who are abused and isolated might find enemies to attack, usually powerless enemies.
Dr. Peterson says, “They start asking themselves, ‘Whose fault is this?’ Is it a racial group or women or a religious group, or is it my classmates? The hate turns outward. There’s also this quest for fame and notoriety and also despair. Nearly all mass shootings are suicides. When you say, “I want to shoot the school tomorrow,” you are also saying, “I don’t care if I live or die.”
We could call this anger and despair a mental health problem, but when a behavior is common, by definition it’s not a mental illness. It’s a social illness, and the USA calls that illness “freedom.” America idolizes individualism and self-reliance; being alienated from others is called “independence.”
This philosophy is harmful enough in good times, but now people face insecure housing, food, and futures. They doubt they will be able to raise families or succeed at anything. If you’re free and you’re suffering, you must be a failure. Isolation disguised as freedom creates misery and anger.
American “freedom” involves frequent use of guns and cars. In 2017, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, then the highest rated figure on TV, said of the gun massacre of 57 people in Las Vegas, “This is the price of freedom.” O’Reilly may not have considered that price worth paying, but a lot of Americans do. A poll taken after Buffalo and Uvalde found that 40% of Republicans agreed with his statement. What kind of freedom is it when you can’t go to school or to a music festival without fearing for your life?
Alienation from Nature
We can’t really understand the depth of American (and European) violence without considering our alienation from Nature. Millions of people go through life in concrete worlds lacking contact with any nonhuman living thing. They never see things grow or regenerate. They never learn the attitudes of caring and reciprocity that Nature shows us every day. They don’t learn to give and to receive, only to buy and sell.
The attitude of capitalism, science, and consumerism to Nature is, “Kill it, take it, and use it up.” If bugs are bothering us, we kill them, even if other creatures need them to live. If birds or rodents share our crops, we poison them with pesticides, even if we poison ourselves in the process.
With such a hostile attitude toward Nature, there is no sense of belonging or connection with Earth, so we don’t feel supported and loved in the world. Those who don’t get enough love from human sources may lash out at the world in response. This despair affects far more people than most of us realize. Salvador Ramos’ massacre was highly praised on some online forums. The Department of Homeland Security warned that some online were calling for widespread copycat shootings.
Racism and social division
You’ve probably noticed that some of the gun massacres are motivated by racism or misogyny, usually explicitly targeting Black people or women, although sometimes Muslims, or Jews, or gays. Identifying groups as evil or subhuman makes it easier to kill them, but many other shootings do not seem racially motivated. They’re acting out a culture of death, of which racism and woman-hating are part..
How do we stop killing each other?
Obviously, guns ARE a big part of the problem. I believe guns should be regulated like cars (which also kill.) One should need to take a class, pass a test and a background check, and get a license to buy a weapon. Assault weapons should be banned. But gun control will be an extremely difficult project when 40% of the people value gun rights so highly. And gun control won’t stop the stigma and despair that drove Salvador Ramos or the racist ideologies and anger that drove Payton Gendron. It won’t make people get along with or care for each other.
How to prevent shootings in a country and culture that exalts violence, material wealth, and individualism while creating poverty and handing out guns? A country that promotes alienation and calls it freedom? I have heard of some possibilities.
● Keep people connected. Have adolescent boys and young men spend time with children, like volunteering at a school. Get those who seem isolated counseling, mentoring, therapy or a support group.
● Investigate and crack down on people promoting and/or planning violence online, whether incels, white supremacists, or other troubled individuals.
● Put all young people in touch with Nature, maybe starting with a garden. Let them do some physical work and see some results.
● Stop creating role models for violence — disarm the police and make them helpers instead of occupiers. Stop wars and glorification of wars in media.
Planting and protecting forests can slow climate collapse
Nature has tremendous healing power, and if we work with Her, we could still survive climate chaos and perhaps create a more beautiful world. Nature heals through the life force, which takes 1000 forms, but three of them stand out for climate: soil, trees, and water. I wrote about soil and farming here, and I’ll write about water next time. This piece is about our big sisters, the trees.
Our tall relatives can control climate, absorb carbon, bring rain, and create living space for thousands of other species. Although wood is a wonderful resource, trees are not just building materials with roots. They’re alive and active, constantly moving water, gases, and nutrients around to where they’re needed. They can transform environments, especially if we help them.
In The Hidden Life of Trees, German forest scientist Peter Wohlleben explains how forests make soil fertile, maintain the water cycle, and cool the ground with shade. In natural forests, life keeps getting more intricate and beautiful year after year. Their profusion of species and ecological niches keep each other strong and make surrounding land more productive.
Wohlleben says that lumber companies don’t understand what trees really are, a community of living things. They replace natural forests with tree plantations of pines grown in rows. That practice produces much lumber, but doesn’t provide the other benefits trees can bring. Natural forests bring nitrogen into the soil, stimulate the growth of fungi that enrich soil, and hold it from washing away in the rain or blowing away in the wind.
Land dries out and the world heats up when forests are cut down. Dried out soil won’t produce much food, and while enriching soil with regenerative agriculture is vital, you can’t grow much long term without trees. Along with the gradual loss of topsoil, tree loss can cause environmental disasters such as mudslides that wipe out whole villages, as is happening now in the Philippines.
Three ways trees cool the Earth
● Trees bring Water — According to Wohlleben, rain is evaporated sea water, and without trees, wouldn’t fall more than 200 miles from the sea. Trees soak up the rain and transpire it back into the air through their leaves, where it can blow in another 200 miles, and so on. Without forests, the interior of continents would all be savannas, prairies or deserts, as you can see in central Asia, Africa, and North America.
● Trees capture Carbon — Forest sequester huge amount of carbon. They absorb carbon dioxide from the air, combine it with water through photosynthesis, and link the resulting sugars into long chains to make wood. As long as they’re alive, or as long as their wood becomes housing or furniture, that CO2 is out of the atmosphere.
They also enrich soil, another place Nature stores carbon. Scientists estimate that soil could store up to 4 billion tons of carbon a year with best practices, and trees are vital to those processes.
● Trees give Shade — Tree crowns shadow and cool the Earth under them. Animals and other plants can live there when the surrounding land gets uncomfortably hot.
That is how trees help farms and start the reclamation of deserts, such as the Loess Plateau in China. There, over a million Chinese people under government scientists’ direction planted trees and shrubs on the hills, terraced the hillsides to keep soil from sliding, and dug lakes and canals at the bottom to hold water.
If the right trees are planted in the right places, the trees hold the soil and bring rain; their leaves and fallen bark turn dry dirt into living soil (with the help of fungi,) and can make wastelands back into fertile land.
Farmers in Niger have turned near-desert into farmland by caring for trees. Instead of removing saplings to plant crops, they planted around the trees and protected them from animals. The trees create soil and shade the crops from the Sahel sun.
Which trees go where?
Not all trees are the same. Different trees grow well in different elevations, temperatures and rainfall.
Wohlleben writes that some tree species get along together better than others. Some even feed each other, while others compete fiercely and don’t like each other’s company. Left to their own devices, trees will find their niches over 100 years or so, but if people want them to move faster, we have to know what we’re doing.
Most people in populated areas find benefits in fruit trees. “Food forests” have become a topic in urban planning, growing bushels of fruit to feed people. In China, urban forests help create “sponge cities,” which soak up water and enrich surrounding farmland. Skillfully planted mixed forests can provide some timber, some food, habitat for animals, and a healthier climate.
A lot of people have written about planting woodlands or farm trees as part of permaculture. Information on tree-planting and care is all over the Web, easily found on a search engine such as Google. A group called TreeSisters recommends that people “connect with your local Native Plant Society, university, forest service/commission, nursery, arborist, or arboretum and ask for a list of local tree species that are appropriate for your planting purpose.”
One very special kind of tree is the mangrove, which grows near salty and brackish water where other trees can’t. In places as diverse as dry Saudi Arabia and wet Bangla Desh, mangroves create soil by desalinating water through their roots and breathing it into the air, where it comes down as rain. Mangroves apparently sequester a lot more carbon for a longer time than almost any other species. Organizations like Sea-Trees and Blue Planet Ecosystem do large scale mangrove planting which we can support or join.
Ironically, the response of capitalist science to mangrove desalinization has not been “Plant mangroves.” It has been, ‘Figure out how mangroves do it and design machines to do the same thing.’ Head-shaking, but this response could in fact be useful in some places, because mangroves won’t grow everywhere. Perhaps technology can desalinate where mangroves don’t grow.
I have come to believe we can’t be narrow-minded about solutions. Maybe we have to let people be who they are, and figure out how they can serve, as with different species of trees. Science has to work together with traditional wisdom and Nature’s power. Science can hurt or help, and so can rich people.
Nature could not have healed the Loess Plateau without human help. We had damaged it too badly; it needed help from the local goatherds, the Communist Party, the World Bank and a million other people. Capitalist economics has the power to screw up the best natural solutions, but maybe their scientists and engineers, can learn to serve Nature as well as they have served bankers.
Most of us probably aren’t up to starting new forests, but governments can, and many nonprofit organizations are trying. You can find groups like Plant-for-the-Planet, Trees for the Future, and a dozen others on a Web search. Join with one you like (one that works with indigenous people) or support them with donations. Planting one tree at a time and taking care of it helps, too.
Protecting the forests we have
Planting new forests is great, but it’s hard to keep up with the pace of deforestation. According to the United Nations, about 10 million hectares (24 million acres) of forest are cut down or burned in an average year. About half that much gets planted, but the lost old growth is an irreplaceable treasure. Without it, forest will turn to grassland, or at best, not-so-productive farmland. Millions of species will go extinct.
I don’t want to kid anyone. Trees can’t overcome chemical pollution, fossil fuel burning, mining, deforestation, wars, and world-paving by themselves. We can’t water a tree and go on with life as usual. We need a mass movement of people recommitting to the land, learning from indigenous ways of life. We need to force corporations and governments to cooperate or disappear. We need to make Earth the highest priority in all we do. Money could serve Earth by paying people to plant and grow, as they have in Niger, China, Uganda and other places.
All this sounds extraordinarily difficult, but my point is that it is possible. If we value Nature first in all our decisions, trees will grow back and help the rest of us survive. For me, prioritizing Nature and committing to trees, soil, and/or water in our work is the most important thing we can do with our lives. We have to stand up for our tall Sisters. Just being with them will at least make us healthier, so why not join them and fight for them?
In the days of royalty, kings and nobles exploited their subjects by promising to protect them. They built huge castles where peasants could hide if attacked. They hired armored knights with sharp swords to keep enemies away.
In return, the lords owned the people (called “serfs” or “villeins.”) Serfs had no rights and owned nothing. Serfs did all the work, and nobles took most of the products and had sexual rights to all the women. If serfs got out of line, the knights could turn the swords on us, but without their protection, we’d have to face bandits and invading armies alone. Most people chose or were forced into the perceived safety of rulers’ protection.
This was the European system, now known as feudalism, but similar systems arose in much of the world. Centuries later, desire for safety still runs our lives. Cities aren’t walled; we don’t have serfs, but we are “protected” from (nonexistent) outside invaders by our country’s armies, and from nameless bad guys by our armed police. We are constantly warned of external and internal dangers by our media.
Just like in medieval times, the armed forces mainly protect the property of those who have against the have-nots. They use our desire for safety to enrich themselves, spending billions on police, prisons, weapons, and wars. But does any of this protection actually make us safe?
Safety in San Francisco
The fight over safety is happening right now with the recall campaign against district attorney Chesa Boudin in San Francisco. On social media and in the words of recall groups like Safer SF Without Boudin, I read messages like “We just want safe streets. That doesn’t make us right wingers.”
Maybe they’re not, but the recall takes society to the far Right. San Francisco-based journalist Annie Lowrey wrote about the recall in The Atlantic. It’s pretty balanced and reports studies showing that Boudin’s less-punitive policies have not increased crime, while acknowledging that he has made mistakes that have hurt people. Her overall conclusion seems to be that Boudin’s policies are mostly right, but he needs to do them better.
But The Atlantic, an unofficial organ of the US ruling class, titled the story “The People of SF vs. Chesa Boudin,” with a picture of Boudin that looks like a mug shot and with the subtitle, “San Franciscans do not feel safe and secure.” It’s pretty clear what side the media are on. SF residents have been subjected to a long series of stories about a crime wave in San Francisco, while police department statistics show crime rates are roughly unchanged under Boudin.
Nationwide, Lowrey writes that, A “crime wave” wave has overtaken the media. Mentions of the phrase more than doubled from 2019 to 2021 in major U.S. print publications; the number of minutes the big cable-news networks spent on crime increased exponentially.
Crime wave publicity is one reason people feel less safe. Other reasons contribute to feelings of insecurity, and most have nothing to do with crime. They reflect a society that is falling apart. A study in SSM Population Health found that “neighborhood disorder:” such things as broken sidewalks and vandalized buildings, make people feel less safe, just as much as reports of crime or actual crime.
What could more disorder a neighborhood than mass homelessness? Though homeless people rarely commit crimes, maybe beyond shoplifting food, thousands of people sleeping in doorways or in tents make a city seem less livable and less safe. They remind everyone of the precariousness of our lives in American capitalism.
The pandemic made people feel less safe. People were told to stay home; the air itself was unsafe to breathe. Economist Jennifer Doleac of Brookings Institution found in studies that fewer people on the streets mean more actual and felt vulnerability to crime. “Having more eyes on the street, having more people out and about — it genuinely does increase public safety,” she told Lowrey. The insecurity people felt, amplified by media, was attributed to fear of crime, and the crime has been attributed by recall advocates to DA Boudin.
Felt safety or actual safety?
It’s deeply natural to want safety. Safety is one of the primal urges of living things; seeking safety kept our ancestors alive for a million years. But how much will we give up to be safe? A dusk-to-dawn curfew would be safe. Armed officers on every corner stopping and frisking pedestrians for weapons might feel safe (to the people who weren’t being stopped.) Locking up millions of ‘bad’ people might give ‘good’ people a sense of security.
Such measures have all been tried during the last decades. But do they actually make people safer? Studies show the opposite is true. Lowrey writes that, “Lenient tactics like Boudin’s lower recidivism rates and thus crime rates in the longer term, as Jennifer Doleac and others demonstrated in a recent study.” Dr. Doleac said of her own results. “We were surprised. It seemed obvious to me that we would see some increase in criminal behavior, if people are not being prosecuted and punished. That’s not what happened. Crime went down.”
Doleac’s result make perfect sense to me. Sending people to prison is like sending them to crime training school. It also takes away their abilities to make a living when they get out, because of discrimination against convicts. And it disrupts the communities from which they come, creating new generations of criminals
Just letting troubled people go doesn’t work either, IMO. Offenders need counseling; they need to compensate victims; they may need drug treatment or close supervision. SF doesn’t have enough of those programs yet, but as research shows, doing nothing is still better than prison in most cases that don’t involve violence.
“Increased drug arrests, resulting directly from the War on Drugs, consistently increase overall, violent, and property crime.”Jared Grossi PhD
Tough-on-crime DAs have seen increases in crime rates similar or greater than SF’s. All this was observed years ago with the War on Drugs. Making street drugs illegal and harshly punishing their use and sale made everyone less safe. Sociologist Jared Grossi found that, “Increased drug arrests, resulting directly from the War on Drugs, consistently increase overall, violent, and property crime.”
Boudin was elected to stop such failed policies, and he is stopping them. Yes on H (Recall) people want to bring them back.
No safety in a police state
When millions of people are incarcerated, as in the US, oppressed communities struggle to survive and are less able to demand equal rights. Meanwhile, under tough-on-crime prosecutors, upper class criminals like the crooked lawyers and employers whom Boudin’s office investigates can pursue their scams while DAs and police focus on drug dealers and petty thieves.
Corporate media has shown its ability to make Americans fear whomever our rulers want us to fear, foreign or domestic. Historically, Blacks, Latinos, Indigenous, Asians, and Jews (at times) have been targeted. Those seen as threats, like the Black and Brown youth the NY Police Department targeted for Stop and Frisk operations, and those imprisoned in the Drug War, are victims as much as a shop owner hit by shoplifters. But victims of tough-on-crime policies are working class, so their lack of safety doesn’t matter.
This is what is at stake in the SF DA recall. Do we want to feel safe, even if the result is more crime in the future, more police violence, inequality, and suffering for the working class now? Or do we want to address the causes for our fear and create communities where people are housed and, if needed, receive help putting their lives together?
As Boudin himself has said, he can’t create alternatives to incarceration on his own. We need more people and more resources than the DA’s $70 million budget. San Francisco needs to get on justice reform and housing the homeless if we want to really be safe. I recommend we start by voting No on Prop. H. Keep Chesa and help his programs work.
When powerful people are used to being right all the time, they may find it almost impossible to admit they are wrong. In his excellent book Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed gives examples of how unwillingness to admit failure has led to plane crashes, wrongfully convicted innocents, patients dying from malpractice, companies going bankrupt. Syed shows that people’s inability to change course when failing often leads to disaster.
How far does this psychological block go? The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) just told us; it goes all the way to eternity. WSJ headlined a full-page opinion piece on April 27, “The US Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War.” Written by Seth Cropsey, a former undersecretary of the Navy, the piece is an unhinged recitation of lies about Russian “atrocities” and “intentions to dominate.” He acknowledges Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons if NATO continues to arm and support the Ukrainian government, but he sees the answer as increasing US nuclear power to intimidate Putin into backing down. He advocates increasing US military advantage with thousands of new nukes, to the point where Russia would not have the capacity to retaliate if we nuked them first.
This is madness beyond anything I’ve seen in my adult life. The US is so committed to being the sole dominant power in the world that, rather than share power with Russia or China or anyone else, they would blow the whole thing up. For 70 years, the world avoided nuclear war by the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD.) Neither the US nor the USSR could use nuclear weapons without being destroyed in return, so nobody used them. Even non-nuclear combat was avoided, because of the danger of escalation to nuclear war. Now experts like Cropsey are saying we must not only be able to “win” a nuclear war; we have to “show we can win it.”
What does “winning a nuclear war” mean? Cropsey doesn’t say, but it seems to mean having some kind of functional government left while your enemy is wiped off the face of the Earth. It would certainly mean mass suffering and death on a level never seen or imagined before, and that’s the best case scenario. More likely is a nuclear winter and death of most everything on Earth, an outcome no sane person in the US, Russia, Ukraine, or anywhere else would want to risk.
Why do people act this way? Syed’s book attributes most reluctance to change to “cognitive dissonance,” meaning that admitting we have been wrong conflicts with our deepest beliefs about ourselves and the world. This conflict is extremely uncomfortable and explains why powerful people will keep doubling down on failed strategies, long past the point where they are obviously not working.
The entire US power structure appears to be experiencing dissonance as China and Russia develop. US leaders have committed to “full-spectrum dominance” of the world. It’s not enough for them to be #1; they have to be the one and only. They will not allow even a potential rival, an approach clearly stated in the 1997 document Rebuilding America’s Defenses by the Project for The New American Century. After 25 years of this uniquely paranoid and destructive belief, it may be next to impossible for them to change voluntarily.
Vladimir Putin may be having similar cognitive dissonance now, with US and NATO sending massive amounts of weapons and money to Ukraine, making it a far more formidable foe than he had anticipated. He can’t back down, a dynamic that happens frequently in wars, so they don’t end until the enemy marches into your headquarters and kills you. We are now hearing analysts saying “Neither side can afford to lose.” If losing is out of the question, will they negotiate a compromise, or will they double down on winning and gamble away all of our lives?
At this point, Russia is throwing around threats of nuclear attack because, with US and NATO ganging up on them, they feel desperate. That doesn’t make them right, but they have been very clear about it for decades. Maybe they are having a national case of cognitive dissonance, or maybe the US and NATO are having one. Maybe they all are, but we don’t have to join them.
Capitalism’s built-in cognitive dissonance
The need to dominate the world isn’t only psychological; it’s economic. Cognitive dissonance is built into capitalism, when the rich willfully choose to believe their system is sustainable when it clearly isn’t. Then we get wars.
War can never stop for long under capitalism, because of what Karl Marx called its basic contradictions. Capitalism needs to continuously expand, so corporations can maintain profits and pay back the interest they owe. Profits always tend to drop, because competition drives down prices. Meanwhile, wages can only be reduced so much before workers quit or starve to death. So, corporations must keep growing to remain profitable, but other companies are trying to do the same thing. Wars happen because there’s no room left for companies to expand. All the spaces are taken.
This was the cause of World War 1, not all the assassinations and alliances we learn about in school. The imperialist powers of Europe had run out of countries to conquer and had no place to expand except by taking on other imperialists. When the violence of war had destroyed much of Europe’s economies, there was room to expand again as they rebuilt.
Capitalist economics, along with leaders’ inability to admit they were wrong, was the only reason for that war that killed between 15 and 25 million people. After 20 years of rebuilding, European imperialism was back in the bind of no room to grow, hence World War 2 that killed over 70 million people in Europe and Asia. To build support for these wars nobody wanted, civilians on both sides were fed steady diets of propaganda about how evil the other side was. Exactly the same techniques are being used on us today — atrocity porn: civilians (supposedly) massacred, hospitals (supposedly) bombed; fear of invasion (‘Putin wants to take all of Europe!’), glorification of our troops and allies (Zelensky the hero!). The playbook hasn’t changed in 100 years.
The fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s opened up huge space for expansion in Asia, so capitalism hasn’t needed a World War 3, until now. They had a long series of small wars in colonized countries instead, but now China is taking up too much space. We’re back in that primary contradiction of needing room to grow.
To summarize, we now have systems where individual leaders like Putin and collective leaders like tech, finance, and military industry oligarchs are trapped in a psycho-economic maze that leads inevitably to war. The whole capitalist system is running that maze which, since neither side can “afford to lose,” now means nuclear war. They won’t change course of their own accord. They can’t; it would be psychological and financial agony for them. We have to do it for them.
What can we do?
World War 1 killed everything in Europe for four years. It didn’t stop until the socialist revolution in Russia, something that scared the capitalists even more than economic collapse. Socialism doesn’t have the built-in need for growth and the boom-and-bust crises of capitalism. Although people weren’t very prosperous under authoritarian socialism, they could live with it, but the mega-rich couldn’t.
Could we prevent war with such a revolution now? I’ll tell you one thing: our rulers think we can and are doing all they can to stop us. They have their propagandists and their police agents working full time to suppress people’s opposition from the Left or Right to their murderous system. They’re cutting back on free speech with the help of the tech industry. They’re dividing us by color, gender, sexual preference, age, religion, taste in music, and every other way they can think of.
I doubt the rulers’ fear is justified. People are profoundly disorganized; we all think we’re on our own. In 1917 Russia, there were workers’ councils called Soviets that could take over and run things. Here, few workers even have unions, and those unions are far from revolutionary.
But maybe the belief system that can organize us has yet to appear. Look at what’s happening in Sri Lanka, where hundreds of thousands of people are coming out in a militant general strike, occupying town squares against their government’s crimes. People are doing similar things in France right now. They’re finding each other in the streets. They’re doing it because they’re desperate. We may not be desperate enough in the US yet, but we soon will be.
I don’t know what our unifying goal will be. I hope it has something to do with committing to regenerating our planet, living in harmony with Life, not focusing on death. That’s kind of a vague goal, but we need to unify on something, and we need to start now. Our leaders are psychotic; we need to be the sane ones, even if they kill us for it.
Working with Nature heals; working against it brings profitable death
All life and all wealth comes from Earth. Everything we eat and drink, the places we live, the clothes we wear all originate in Nature. If we want Earth to keep giving, we can’t keep raping and taking from It. We must also give back. No matter how damaged it has become, Nature can regenerate itself, but it needs our help.
Indigenous people have been telling us to live in harmony with Nature ever since we colonized them, but colonists set up systems of private land ownership and a capitalist economy based on money instead. Now, sort of at the last moment, it seems people have realized their need to work with Nature instead of ruthlessly exploiting it. Regenerative farmers, foresters, gardeners, and others are taking effective actions to slow climate change, stop the spread of deserts, and return people to healthier, more connected lives, starting with our food.
Food is life
Food is our deepest connection with Earth. It comes from soil, which is the combined remains of living things that have come before, along with living microorganisms, and we return our bodies to the Earth daily through our bowels and our bladders and finally through burial. (At least, we did before modern plumbing and funeral practices.)
Farmers used to care for their soil so it could keep producing. They planted trees to hold the soil and cover crops to enrich and protect it. They kept animals, who aerated it with their hooves and fertilized it with their manure. They gave it seasons to lie fallow and recover from producing.
Those ways enhanced soil for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that money interests conquered farming and demanded maximum productivity at the lowest possible cost. They replaced the huge variety of natural grains with a few hybrids that gave high yields using lots of chemicals. They started planting every available space with salable product, used mechanical tractors that compressed the land, cut down trees, stopped using cover crops, and maximized growth with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
So, more food was grown for more people at lower prices, supporting a larger population with fewer farmers. Sounds good, right? But what about the soil?. The chemicals kill the fungi, insects, bacteria and birds, the web of life that is returned to us as food. Without the trees and cover crops, the soil dries out and blows away in the wind or washes away in heavy rain. Farming without giving back to the soil caused the American Dust Bowl in the 1930s and turns tens of thousands of acres of farmland to desert every year.
Indigenous farmers understood the need to cooperate with Nature. A-dae Romero-Briones, Director of Programs, Agriculture and Food Systems for the First Nations Development Institute says, “When we farm, we’re thinking about natural cycles, and how do we become more embedded into those natural systems. This is very much the opposite of what agricultural systems are today, which try to kill everything except the plant that you want to grow.”
The indigenous way, which many traditional farmers followed, was about maximizing life. Modern agriculture seeks only to maximize production. Farmers are forced by their economies to produce more at lower prices and often go broke.
Today some farmers are returning to ways that collaborate with Nature instead of exploiting it. Farmers are restoring land, growing healthier food, pulling carbon from the air and bringing water to thirsty land. These methods are called regenerative agriculture, farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR), biodynamic farming, or permaculture, and they are spreading around the world through books, teachers, web sites and videos. They borrow heavily from indigenous practices and also from science.
Each practice is a little different, but they share the goal of improving soil and environment, not maximizing yield of a single crop for profit. With these methods, soil gets more productive over time instead of wearing out.
Romero-Briones told Bioneers.org, “Our idea is that you absolutely need to be part of the natural cycles around you. You need to adjust to them in order to create not only a healthy food system, but also healthy people, a healthy environment, and a happy mental state.”
You can view the powerful effects of regenerative farming in a documentary called The Biggest Little Farm. The film follows John and Molly Chester, a young white couple from Santa Monica who set out to grow healthy food on 210 acres in Southern California. The land had been severely depleted by years of industrial agriculture. They knew next to nothing about farming when they started, but with mentoring, some investors, and a tremendous amount of work, they created an Eden amid the dry Southern California hills.
It wasn’t easy. Before they could plant crops, they had to turn the dry dirt back into living soil by planting cover crops and bringing in ducks, chickens, sheep and cows to fertilize the land. The new greenery brought all kinds of pests, but they worked with Nature to control them. No poisons.
Snails were eating their vegetables, while duck poop had caused a toxic algae bloom in their irrigation pond. So, they moved the ducks into the fields, and they ate the snails. Their poop fertilized the field. Pond restored, vegetables saved.
They grew beautiful organic fruit that attracted swarms of starlings, who took bites out of most of the fruit, rendering it unsaleable. John nailed up owl houses on their buildings; dozens of owls came and drove the starlings away. Coyotes were killing their chickens; gophers were eating their crops. They strengthened the chicken coops and brought bird-friendly guard dogs in to protect the chickens. Now the coyotes hunt down the gophers and keep them under control with the help of gopher snakes and birds of prey.
Their farm, called Apricot Lane Farms now produces large amounts of high-quality organic food and enriches the soil at the same time. They are not getting rich, but they are economically viable. They employ dozens of workers, make lots of connections with potential customers. They get additional labor from interns who come from around the world to help and learn.
When I first watched this film, I thought, ‘most people can’t do this, because they don’t have the resources.’ But then I realized, society has lots of money. Every farm in the world could be regenerative, and so could much currently un-farmed land, just using 10% of the resources presently devoted to war.
If you’re interested, a lot of investors are looking for regenerative projects to fund. Being “sustainable” or “regenerative” doesn’t mean withdrawing from society. It means connecting with society in new ways that focus on creating life, reconnecting farms to non-farm dwellers. So, Apricot Lane Farms gives tours to visitors, creates educational programs and children’s books about how to farm with Nature.
Life Vs. Production
How does maximizing life affect business plans? Before they had any crops, Apricot Lanes began with free-range chickens, running around eating bugs and seeds, laying delicious eggs. They sold out dozens of cases in hours at every delivery. Vendors asked if they could get larger quantities.
The Chesters replied, ‘No. The chickens wouldn’t have enough natural food to eat. They’d have to eat grain (like all commercially-raised chickens,) and the eggs wouldn’t be as nutritious or taste as good. More important, the land would be degraded and couldn’t keep producing.’
That’s how food systems should work. What maximizes life, not how can we make the most money. Land needs animals on it to thrive. But too many animals grazing too small of an area turn land to desert. Growing only one variety of plant in a field diminishes the life of the field and the nutritional quality of the crop, though quantity may increase for a while.
Permaculture and biodynamics are being widely used in India, as you can see in these videos. These farmers are preserving Indian varieties of rice and farming practices against agribusiness attempts to force them to use patented hybrid rice and agricultural chemicals.
Farmer-managed natural restoration is taking hold in Africa. Heat, drought and poverty make things much harder there, but it’s really inspiring what these farmers accomplish in Niger, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia,Rwanda, and elsewhere. According to an article by Chris Reij of the World Resource Institute, “Northern Ethiopia is now greener than it has ever been during the last 145 years,” and “Human investments have overridden the impacts of climate change.”
Life vs. greed, not socialism vs. capitalism
The question is not socialism vs. capitalism. Capitalism’s essence is turning Nature into products and selling more and more of it for private profit, so it is inherently anti-Life and unsustainable. But authoritarian socialism can be just as bad. Chairman Mao, one of the greatest of all socialists, said “Man must conquer Nature.” He wanted to help people at the expense of Nature. The result was a series of massive dams that flooded whole districts, drove out indigenous people above the dams and disrupted agriculture below them.
How do we maximize life? Others know far better than I, but I feel we need to connect with Nature as closely as possible. More of us need to farm or garden. People like the Black women in this article are farming places that weren’t growing food before. If you can’t start your own regenerative farm, can you join a group that’s doing it, or invest in such a farm, or buy their produce? We can also plant trees, or support people who do.
Politically, we can stop using chemicals and advocate for keeping chemicals out of food and water. Support indigenous movements fighting for water and against oil pipelines and wells. Support giving land back to indigenous people who know how to live on it. Cut way down on emission of greenhouse gases.
Certainly, none of these changes will help if governments keep fighting wars. If capitalism takes us into a nuclear war, all bets are off. War is hugely destructive of Nature, and even in peacetime, the military is the world’s biggest polluter.
But there is still hope. Though many scientists say the greenhouse effect is too far gone and we are doomed, I remember that Nature, through soil, trees, shellfish and swamps can remove carbon from the air and reduce global warming. It can bring water to the surface and regenerate dead land if people cooperate. We need to use our science, technology, our hearts and and labor to help it. Indigenous people know how to do this and we can follow their leadership. If we commit to working with Nature instead of against it, if we make Earth sacred again, we may still survive current catastrophes.
Five things to say to a loved one who is dying, according to Hospice nurses : I love you. Thank you. I forgive you. Please forgive me. Goodbye. All except the last one you can start telling them now. I would also like to hear: You've done enough. You can rest.