In last week’s blog entry I gave myself over to whining about the social costs of being a climate activist. Like why don’t my friends want to hear, again and again, that it’s the end of the world as we know it? A lot of climatologists are scratching their heads too, wondering where all their friends went. It takes a huge amount of energy to confront the truth of our situation, and at the same time try to carry on as if nothing has actually changed. That’s a magic trick that many activists, myself included, refuse to give up trying to master. It leads to a lot of friction in the form of anger at self and others. And that leads to a lot of whining, because all that anger has to go somewhere. And its more polite to whine than to scream. It just takes a lot more of it to get the job done. As Al Franken has said, “Whining is anger through a small opening.” The alternative to whining is much harder. Show, don’t tell. And once you’ve made your best effort, accept what comes. Then continue making your best effort anyway, regardless of results. That’s the alternative to whining that makes the most sense to me, but it doesn’t have a lot of proponents, because we want things to go our way. We want reality to conform to our desires, and it just refuses to do so. Climate change is reality saying in REALLY BIG BOLD LETTERS that the game of humans dominating everything is over. So is the illusion that we can get out of this one with just a few minor adjustments to our lifestyle. No wonder climate change gets such a chilly reception at most cocktail parties.
So what if we just changed the nature of our party invitations? I just got wind, through my daughter Kristin, of a movement that has been wafting across the Atlantic from Britain. It’s called the Dark Mountain Project. The basic premise is that when the darkness is deep, we must learn to party in the dark, and quit screaming for a false light to save us. Learning to live in the present darkness means abandoning the false hopes of a technological or political fix, and returning to what is most basic in our human / nature collaboration. The project is the brainchild of fellow Brits Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, who write in their Dark Mountain Manifesto, "For all our doubts and discontents, we are still wired to an idea of history in which the future will be an upgraded version of the present. The assumption remains that things must continue in their current direction: the sense of crisis only smudges the meaning of that ‘must’. No longer a natural inevitability, it becomes an urgent necessity: we must find a way to go on having supermarkets and superhighways. We cannot contemplate the alternative."
The manifesto lays out eight principles that are worth serious consideration:
- We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
- We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of ‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.
- We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
- We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
- Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
- We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.
- We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.
- The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.
The Manifesto also celebrates the famous lines from Robinson Jeffers’ 1937 poem The Answer, that helped launch the environmental movement in the first place:
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.
I agree with George Monbiot’s critique of the Dark Mountain movement, that this impulse toward withdrawal must not be used as a license to abandon our commitment to saving the human future from a wildly unsustainable industrial trance. As he has said, “There are no easy answers to the fix we’re in, but there are no easy non-answers either.”
I doubt that I will ever abandonment my hope for an enduring human future. I am as passionate as ever in my commitment to the possibility that we can meet our challenges without losing our humanity in the process. But I am also drawn, increasingly, to that “hope beyond hope” that is not tied to any specific outcome. Change has always resided at the heart of life. Our own death, and the eventual death of our species, are inseparable from that reality. Our human prospects can never be nailed down in any specific form. Learning to flow with this inevitability of change, even as we seek to bring forward what is most precious about our human experiment – is the good fight, the cause that I will never stop fighting for.