Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lessons From a Party of Whales

Here we have some whales, all dressed up and ready to party. They are, from the pages of Vanity Fair in 1861, celebrating that the world is tilting towards running on fossil fuel, rather than whale oil. 

Huzzah! Down with the harpoons and up with the oil derricks! For whales, this is awesome.
For the rest of the world, well, I can only hope that no one knew where fossil fuel extraction and reliance would get us a hundred and fifty odd years later.

We get stuck, too often, in thinking that how things are is how they always have been and how they always must be. The world was once peppered with wooden sailing ships full of barrels of whale oil. At present, we’re thick with oil tankers, trains, and trucks. I believe those infrastructures are phasing out—I throw something like the whale’s party whenever I see solar panels. Mostly, this involves grinning as another piece of grim despair evaporate from my heart. The world can change, will change, is changing.

In all the changes and transmogrifications, I feel we are getting closer to understanding what and who is behind the curtain. The clearer we know this, the less our lives and actions for a better world become random shots of hope in the dark, and the more effective we become at building the world we want to see, that we know in our hearts is possible, is real.

One of my favorite professors in grad school was endearingly fond of explaining the root of a wide variety of world troubles—from migrant children’s health problems to monopolies among food suppliers—was “because Capitalism never sleeps!”

I don’t believe she is wrong, and have certainly taken to brandishing the phrase while I pound my fists on tables and revel in attempts at revolution.

All melodramatically serious joking aside, some corporation making money at the expense of the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness does seem to be at the root of many of the world’s troubles. Why, really, are coal plants shutting down?

Because fracking and natural gas is cheaper than upgrading old infrastructure to new environmental standards.

This is the same switching dinosaurs for whales—trading one destructive form of energy for another—and someone is making money off the killing of the planet. It’s not that I don’t delight in the approaching end of coal, or towns like South Portland, Maine soundly rejecting a tar sands pipeline through their homeplace. I love all of that the same way I do solar panels and CSAs.

But this isn’t against one or another form of dirty energy, or even, really, a fight against corporations that value their bank accounts over all else. It is a fight that is resoundingly for something we don’t quite have the words for yet. Fighting for, pulling together towards the better unknown, this is what we are doing.

I like to think of all the efforts of people trying to and succeeding at doing good in the world as tree roots converging and thickening into a trunk, the little trickles of streams joining into rivers and oceans. The more small battles and old causes are fought and won and put aside, the more ages of whales and fossil fuels can be celebrated as over, the more focus and force comes into the adventure of what comes next.

We are, I believe, too smart and too wearied by the mistakes of history to believe in one single silver bullet solution to anything anymore. What comes next will be strange and diverse and multifaceted—there are so many good things to be done to live into better, cleaner, kinder ways of being. Some might say it will be complex, but I believe that the doing of the many right things to live well among each other on this still beautiful planet has the potential to be the simplest and most joyful acts we've ever undertaken as a species. 

We’ve got that going for us too. I had three high school students talk to me this week about going to the People’s Climate March happening this weekend. I am as delighted that they are going as I am with my own choice to be a witness elsewhere for a branch of the future I want to see—solutions are in everything we do. And, to know that none of us are alone in remaking the world in a kinder and saner fashion is where the trickles seem to come into a wider river, with the delight and relief and celebration of the whales at the dawn of a new era. Along with the growing clarity, we’ve got a marked increase in joyful momentum.

This is our most sustainable fuel source.

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