0320 – Dedicated to all the weary environmentalists out there

The New York Times had a fascinating piece on the toll of environmental activism on the people in the movement. The title? “It’s the End of the World as We Know It… And He Feels Fine.”

Do take a minute to at least skim it. It really is fascinating, and I know firsthand that it heartrendingly strikes many of our tender and overused chords.

The article follows the life of Paul Kingsnorth, co-founder of a new movement called The Dark Mountain Project. The movement is said to be difficult to define even by its members, so I shall not attempt it. In general terms, the movement is said to be about “mourning, grief and despair.” While this seems just godawful and depressing at first (in fact, the whole article is kinda depressing), there really is a point to all this–an invigorating one for me at least. The main gist:

“On the surface, it can indeed seem as if Kingsnorth is giving up. Last week, he and his wife made a long-planned move to rural Ireland, where they will be growing much of their own food and home schooling their children — a decision, he explained to me, that stemmed in part from a desire to distance himself from technological civilization and in part from wanting to teach his children skills they might need in a hotter future. Yet Kingsnorth has never intended to retreat altogether. For the past three years, he has spent a good portion of his time trying to stop a large supermarket from being built in Ulverston, in northern England. “Why do I do this,” he wrote to me in an email, anticipating my questions, “when I know that in a national context another supermarket will make no difference at all, and when I know that I can’t stop the trend caused by the destruction of the local economy, and when I know we probably won’t win anyway?” He does it, he said, because his sense of what is valuable and good recoils at all that supermarket chains represent. “I’m increasingly attracted by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do.” [emphasis mine]”

Most, if not all, of us environmentalists experience multiple depressive episodes in our lives. Look, knowing what we know from science and seeing firsthand how powerless we can be when fighting big companies or encouraging behavior change, it’s hard for us not to feel hopeless. In fact, I personally have kind of given up. I just don’t care enough, because I feel like I’m not making any impact. My main rewards are mockery and arguments. Because of this, I sometimes feel ashamed to even label myself an environmentalist, but allow me to do so for the purpose of this article.

We care so much, but change so little. The science just sucks. At this point, we arguably are already doomed. And at some point, I think we need to accept this. BUT this doesn’t mean the movement is designed to be nihilistic or depressing. Instead, I found this to be incredibly inspiring:

“They think we’re saying: ‘Screw it. Nothing matters.’ But in fact all we’re saying is: ‘Let’s not pretend we’re not feeling despair. Let’s sit with it for a while. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. And then as our eyes adjust to the darkness, what do we start to notice?’ ”

I have a feeling that I’m not very wrong when I say that environmentalists find a lack of community to grapple the extent of our environmentalism-induced funks. But this piece validates what we have been feeling. This piece makes us believe it’s real–and it’s okay.  We have to be realistic. We have to face the possibilities. We have to deal with the probabilities.

What does this mean for me? Above all else, I hope this helps people to understand. We are misunderstood. We’re not crazy. We’re not just trying to annoy you. We’re not just hippies. We’re just crazy passionate. And also crazy frustrated. I hope this helps people understand that being a part of this movement is very very hard because of our passion. As the list of bad news grow and good news diminish, we will continue to feel more grief. So allow us to acknowledge what we feel. Allow us to grief. Allow us to mourn. Allow us to cry. Allow us to ask “Why, God?” and not get an answer. Give us understanding. Give us your shoulder. Give us your ears. Give us your empathy.

So, to all the environmentalists out there, it’s okay. I hear you. WE hear each other. There’s no need to be ashamed if you’ve stopped caring. Even though we couldn’t save the world no more, we still have a reason to fight. For the joy when we the small pockets of life that we yearn for.

Happy Earth Day!


0303 – My conversation with Dr. Vandana Shiva

I was in New Delhi a couple weeks ago and took the opportunity to meet Dr. Vandana Shiva, truly one of the most inspirational environmental activists in India, if not the world. I first met Dr. Shiva at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in April 2012. She was a speaker in one of the plenary sessions, and I remembered being captivated by her passion and ability to carry the message. You can watch it here.

I really wanted to talk to her because I identify with so many things she said in that session, and also because she’s involved with Bhutan–a country that I just love–in an effort to turn it organic. Sadly, it shouldn’t be just a cool thing that some people do; it should be a common thing. Dr. Shiva also seems to… get it. She seems to have figured it out–what she’s here to do, what her role is, and what life is all about.

After almost an hour of searching and sweating in the 42-degrees heat of India’s capital, I arrived at Dr. Shiva’s humble office in the southern part of Delhi. Dr. Shiva was hard at work when I arrived, gave me a big smile and kindly asked me to wait a few minutes. The 30-minute conversation that transpired afterwards was definitely worth all the wait. She gave me many pointers to ponder. One of the things that stuck with me the most was her take on socialism. I asked her what her thought on socialism is, and here’s what she said (or what I recalled of it):

“If socialism is about equality, then I’m all for equality. If capitalism is all about maximizing our potential, I’m all about capitalism. But if socialism is about more power for fewer people, then I’m against it. Likewise, if capitalism is all about consumerism, I don’t agree with it.”

Dr. Shiva has a way with these things. I was surprised at how at ease she was about our world. She said that her quantum physics background shaped her philosophically as well, which perhaps has helped her to understand uncertainty and the constant flux that we exist in.

But it is her seeming happiness that pleasantly surprised me. Dr. Shiva greeted me with a big, genuine smile. Not one of those ones where you obligatorily force out for guests, but one that made me feel like she’s actually happy to help another soul. It was really nice to see. The world needs more happy people like her.

I kept asking her whether she felt angry or sad or depressed or confused–emotions that I’m feeling–about this whole thing called life. She served as a living example of how one need not feel negative about the mess that we’re in, and small steps can make a difference. With the work that I do, I hope that many generations to come will have a chance to smile, and a chance to be happy–a chance to live.

Soon, I’ll be doing some more soul searching to shift the attitude that has brought me much negativity. Dr. Shiva has shown me that there really is a way to work in a challenging and at times hostile environment and still be truly happy. I encourage you to check out her work. It’s really one of a kind.