My Poetry Corner July 2021 features the poem “On a Saturday in the Anthropocene” from the anthology HERE: Poems for the Planet (Copper Canyon Press, 2019) edited by Elizabeth J Coleman an American poet, public-interest attorney, environmental activist, and teacher of mindfulness. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Swarthmore College, she practiced law for over thirty years and has served as an executive at several organizations.
In 2012, she received an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She credits Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness for her decision to become a late-career poet. She lives in New York City where she runs Mindful Solutions LLC and is president of the Beatrice R and Joseph A Coleman Foundation.
In the anthology HERE: Poems for the Planet, Coleman brings together her love for poetry, for justice, and for our planet. With a foreword from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, HERE explores our planet’s beauty and plight through the vision of 128 living poets from all over the world.
“When we see photographs of the earth from space, we see no boundaries between us, just this one blue planet, a natural world that supports us all. Therefore, we have to see humanity as one family and the natural world as our home. It’s not necessarily somewhere sacred or holy, but simply where we live—so it’s in our interest to look after it,” writes the Dalai Lama.
The anthology is divided into five sections. In the first section that puts us in touch with the beauty of our planet, Kentuckian farmer and poet Wendell Berry gives us “The Peace of Wild Things” (p.40):
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
On Tuesday, April 20, I was relieved when the jury declared Derek Chauvin guilty on all three counts for the death of George Floyd. Would the Floyd family have obtained justice without national and international outcry? However, there was no justice for George Floyd. Trading with a twenty-dollar counterfeit bill was all it took for his summary execution by a knee chokehold. The CEOs on Wall Street, who took down both the US and global financial systems and destroyed the lives of millions of workers and mortgage holders, were too BIG even for a trial much less the death penalty.
Considering that the police continue to kill blacks without due process, I think it foolhardy to believe that Chauvin’s guilty verdict is any sign of progress towards police reform. While institutionalized systemic racism persists, police killings of black and brown bodies will persist.
How complicit and guilty are we as a nation in the training given to our police force that has no qualms in eliminating black and brown offenders, however trivial their alleged crime?
Our centuries old, racist, social-economic system extends way beyond policing. This entrenched system determines where we live, the schools our children attend, our access to a healthy diet, the health care we receive, our exposure to toxic air and water, and much more. We need to address these inequities in our policies and actions to Restore our Earth, not just for a few but for the 99 Percent.
For how long can we continue to enjoy the benefits of an unjust and inequitable system and not share collective guilt?
It is hot here in California. On August 16th, a heat wave sent temperatures soaring in Death Valley to 130℉ (54.4℃), believed to be the highest temperature recorded on Earth in over a century. With a historic wildfire season threatening life and property, Governor Gavin Newson has declared a state of emergency. On August 24th, as reported by Cal Fire, the state has had 7,002 fires this year, burning over 1.4 million acres…and growing. At the same time last year, 4,292 fires had burned 56,000 acres.
Depending upon where you live, you are probably facing your own extreme weather-related danger. Given our climate crisis, this is our new reality as inhabitants on Earth. Though the COVID-19 global pandemic may have forced our climate activists off the streets worldwide, they continue to press for urgent action.
Based on NOAA’s 140-year climate record, 2019 is the second-hottest year on Earth, after 2016. In their book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis (Knopf 2020), Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, architects of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, remind us that we live in a critical decade. If we the people of Earth fail to attain our goal of halving our carbon emissions by 2030, it would be highly unlikely that we will attain net zero emissions by 2050. They invite us “to take part in creating the future of humanity, confident that despite the seemingly daunting nature of the challenge, collectively we have what it takes to address climate change now” (xxi).
To make clear the choices we face, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac devote two chapters to describe two possible worlds in 2050: the one we’re now creating and the one we must create. If we don’t limit our carbon emissions, extreme summer temperatures in the world we’re creating in 2050 force us to stay indoors. Working outdoors is a death sentence. Wearing a proper face mask is not an option, but a necessity for surviving in the hot, toxic air. Food and water shortages cause riots and wars. No wall is high or strong enough to deter the mass migrations worldwide. Economies are in free fall.
On the other hand, if we act now to reduce our carbon emissions to net zero and have avoided heating up our planet to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the authors note that, in 2050, we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of the record levels of carbon dioxide already in our atmosphere. Glaciers and Arctic ice are still melting. Sea levels are rising. Severe droughts and desertification are still occurring. But we enjoy a stable lifestyle. Our cities are greener and better places to live. Forest cover has expanded 50 percent worldwide. We no longer burn fossil fuels. Our energy now comes from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro. All homes and buildings produce their own electricity. Food production and procurement become a communal effort.
As is already evident, Earth’s regenerative systems can no longer keep up with humanity’s exploitative mindset and consumption levels. To co-create a better world, the authors argue, we need both a systemic transformation and individual behavioral changes. They believe that this can be achieved with three mindsets: stubborn optimism, endless abundance, and radical regeneration. Considering the immensity of the task ahead of us, they admit that success is not guaranteed. But, for the future of humanity’s survival, failure is unthinkable. Stubborn optimism empowers us to create a new reality and energize all those with the same conviction. Creating endless abundance requires focusing on the benefits of limiting our carbon emissions. Radical regeneration bridges the gap between how nature works and how we humans have used extraction to organize our lives.
To achieve a regenerative future, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac set out ten necessary actions:
Action 1: Let Go of the Old World. We cannot go back to the way of life that created the climate emergency in the first place.
Action 2: Face Your Grief but Hold a Vision of the Future. The pain of loss should spur us to greater action rather than sink us into a pit of blame, despair, or hopelessness. Having a vision is essential to inspire the kind of commitment and energy we will need to get through the difficult years ahead.
Action 3: Defend the Truth. We must free our mind to new ways of thinking and learn to distinguish real science from pseudo-science.
Action 4: See Yourself as a Citizen – Not as a Consumer. Letting go means reclaiming our idea of a good life, becoming a better consumer, and dematerializing.
Action 5: Move Beyond Fossil Fuels. We must let go of the conviction that fossil fuels are necessary for humanity to thrive in the future and stand up for 100 percent renewable energy.
Action 6: Reforest the Earth. The future we must choose will require us to pay more attention to our bond with nature. We must plant trees, boycott products contributing to deforestation, and move to a plant-based diet.
Action 7: Invest in a Clean Economy. We will require a clean economy that operates in harmony with nature, repurposes used resources as much as possible, minimizes waste, and actively replenishes depleted resources.
Action 8: Use Technology Responsibly. We will need to be mindful of investments in AI: what it’s being used for and the regulatory systems in place.
Action 9: Build Gender Equality. Women are better at working collaboratively, with a longer-term perspective—traits essential to responding to the climate crisis.
Action 10: Engage in Politics. We must engage at all levels of government and elect only leaders who see far-reaching action on climate change as their absolute priority. At the same time, we can stop buying stocks, products, and services from corporations that fund and engage in political lobbying against citizen action on climate change.
Figueres and Rivett-Carnac conclude that meeting the challenge of climate change must become part of a new story of human striving and renewal. “This is not the quest of one nation. This time it’s up to all of us, to all the nations and peoples of the world. No matter how complex or deep our differences, we fundamentally share everything that is important: the desire to forge a better world for everyone alive today and all the generations to come” (161).
The time for doing what we can has passed. To survive, each one of us must now do everything that is necessary. Inciting hate, violence, and chaos is not the way forward to creating a better America today, in 2050, and beyond.
Christiana Figueres is a Costa Rican citizen and was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 until 2016. During her tenure at the UNFCCC Ms. Figueres brought together national and sub- national governments, corporations and activists, financial institutions and NGOs to jointly deliver the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, in which 195 sovereign nations agreed on a collaborative path forward to limit future global warming to well below 2C.
Tom Rivett-Carnac is a Founding Partner of Global Optimism and works across the portfolio of engagements and initiatives. He has spent 20 years working at the intersections of international diplomacy, energy policy and climate change in business, non-profit, financial services and international institutions. Learn more at https://globaloptimism.com/about-us/
The succulent plants in my garden brighten my life. During humanity’s mad dash towards the abyss, their quiet dynamic presence calm my troubled mind. Under California’s scorching sunshine that set dry brush ablaze, my succulent plants have found a way to survive the extreme heat. Some change color; others become more compact in form.
“Flap Jack” or Paddle Plant – Parent plant under heat stress
“Flap Jack” or Paddle Plant – Area of little direct sunlight
Grown from cuttings from parent plant
Given their amazing ability to propagate from cuttings, I’ve planted succulents in several garden plots of our apartment complex. I marvel at their adaptation to different soil quality and amount of sunlight.
Aeonium “Mint Saucer” – Area with full sunlight
Aeonium “Mint Saucer” – Little sunlight during early morning
The adverse effects of our climate and ecological crises will intensify in the years ahead. It’s already happening here in California. People who have lost their homes in areas ravaged by wildfires must now question the viability of staying and rebuilding. This is also the case for areas facing prolonged drought and frequent flooding.
My birthplace in Georgetown, Guyana, is also under threat. The Guyanese Online Blog recently posted a video (duration 2:04 minutes) demonstrating the gravity of the situation.
A time is coming—perhaps, sooner than we envisage—when people everywhere across our country and planet will be on the move. Pulling up our roots and resettling in different lands is nothing new for our species. But the climate and ecological changes already underway will demand much more of us.
Like the succulents, will our species adapt to surviving on less water, on less food? How will we adapt to living on a hotter planet?
There is no wealth on a dead planet
Global Climate Strike 2019 – New York City – USA
Photo Credit: Common Dreams
On Friday, September 20, 2019, millions of young people and supporting adults in more than 150 countries took part in the Global Climate Strike, calling on decision-makers to take immediate action to address our global climate crisis. I’m heartened that sixteen-year-old, Swedish environmentalist activist, Greta Thunberg, has awakened our youth to the future that awaits them.
“It’s just not the young people’s house,” Thunberg told the thousands of participants gathered in New York City. “We all live here. It affects all of us. Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us? That is being stolen for profit? Some people say we should study to become climate scientists or politicians, so that we can, in the future, solve the climate crisis. But by then, it will be too late. We need to do this now.” (Emphasis mine.)
“The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win. This is not a climate talk summit. We have had enough talk. This is not a climate negotiation summit. You don’t negotiate with nature. This is a climate action summit.” (Emphasis mine.) Continue reading →