What can nature teach us about responding to two massive crises?
The mycelium is a type of fungi that thrives on decomposition.
Spores germinate and multiply, forming mushrooms that absorb nutrients and swallowing dead plants, devouring toxins and fostering the growth of new life. It's essentially the earth's life support system, the embodiment of regeneration.
What we need now is life support, and a mycelium of relief—a multifaceted plan that understands and utilizes our interconnectedness, which could save us or that could drive us to extinction. But one thing's for certain: Our divisions are killing us. We need to let the systems that no longer serve us decompose so that new realities can come to light.
Today, though, many of us are facing a peculiar polarity. We're isolated because of a pandemic that threatens all of humanity. Yet we have failed to rally together to fight it, and if anything, political divisions have deepened in recent weeks.
We've also failed to rally around another existential threat, a parallel—and far more severe—crisis that's been bubbling under the surface of our reality for decades. The climate crisis will wreak far more havoc than the virus has, costing many more lives and changing our world on a much vaster scale. It's already contributing to rising sea levels that are flooding cities. You can see it manifesting in the wildfires that smeared California and Australia these past few years, in the tsunami that eviscerated Japan in 2011, in the bad air quality that's decimating the lungs of people living in crowded cities, and in the waves of refugees fleeing conflicts sparked by droughts and other disasters. If a climate-related disaster were to hit an area affected by COVID-19 or another pandemic, the results would be apocalyptic beyond measure.
Neither COVID or climate have easy, immediate solutions, which is part of what makes them such vast, slippery issues. Both could, of course, be solved by scientific miracles—a vaccine or a superbly effective fossil-fuel devourer—but since we can't count on those inventions, then we have to rely instead on solutions that are much more difficult to define.
We have to rely on each other, and on policies that support our most vulnerable populations as well as our most powerful. Be it a virus or a wildfire, climate change and coronavirus do far more harm to frontline communities than they affect people who can work from home or who can live off their savings. While half of the population rests on their couches, another half scrounges to eat or pulls themselves off to another brutal shift at a grocery store or in a hospital. The coronavirus crisis has exposed the brutal divisions of American society, which allow some people to safely isolate while others face extreme poverty and instability.
These divisions are largely consequences of neoliberal capitalism, a driving force behind climate change. "Let's not lose sight of the root cause of this crisis: rampant capitalism. Capitalism has steamrolled this planet and its organisms, gouging out mountains, overexploiting fish stocks, and burning fossil fuels to power the maniacal pursuit of growth and enrich a fraction of humanity," writes Matt Simon. "Since 1988, 100 corporations have been responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions."
No wonder the Earth is collapsing under our weight. But the solutions to coronavirus and climate change may just be intertwined, part of the same web of regeneration and redistribution that could lift us up and off of the edge of this cliff.
One such solution is outlined in the People's Bailout, a relief and recovery package designed by over 800 activist groups. The People's Bailout demands that Congress commit to five steps during their efforts to provide COVID-19 relief:
1. Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions
2. Economic relief must be provided directly to the people
3. Rescue workers and communities, not corporate executives
4. Make a downpayment on a regenerative economy while preventing future crises
5. Protect our democratic process while protecting each other
In a world where the actual stimulus package that Congress passed provided $3 trillion of relief to major corporations (a check three times the size of Joe Biden's climate plan), all this seems far away.
But this is America, and this is humanity, and this is life, which should be an impossibility in itself. Despite our many mistakes, we have always built impossible things. We have created glorious temples and magnificent skyscrapers; we criss-crossed the world with roads; we sent men to the moon. We may not always act ethically or responsibly, but we have the power to build and we have the power to grow.
Now we are being forced to change. We have the choice to build a world that can sustain itself—for the good of not only the planet, but for the good of our own world, our own economies, our own selves.
We need plans that erode poverty and pollution and disease and convert them into new, creative solutions. Plans that start from below, from inside, from underground, from the communities that need them most, and that grow up and out towards the light. An alchemy of release and rebirth, starting from the soil and the sadness of isolation, upwards and outwards and eventually back outside, towards a future truly worth fighting for.
We need to have faith, even though it all seems impossible—because what's the alternative?
We can create a future of open fields and breathable air, of wind turbines and monthly checks that land like clockwork in our bank accounts, of fewer private jets and more bullet trains. That future seems further and further away with each devastating headline and each rising degree.
That the Earth exists at all—that we broke through the darkness, that some spore broke into the shape of life—is an impossibility in itself. Within each of us there is a longing to survive, to connect, and to heal.
In her book Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler writes, "God is change." This pandemic has shown us that everything can change on a dime. Now the question is: What kind of change do we want? What are we choosing to worship during this time? And what role can each of us play in creating it?
We're looking at you, ExxonMobil.
Gucci has announced that it wants to go carbon neutral.
The company's CEO, Marco Bizzarri, just confirmed that the company will be purchasing carbon credits that cancel out the emissions of all the people who attend its upcoming Milan fashion show.
The high fashion brand has been working on their eco-friendliness for a while, launching a ten-year sustainability plan in 2018 and swearing off fur products the year prior.
Next up, the 100 fossil fuel companies that are responsible for 71% of the world's global emissions should go carbon neutral, shutting down or changing their product from fossil fuels to reusable energy.
Particularly, the 25 companies that are responsible for half of global emissions in the past three decades should consider offsetting their toxic effects (from selling a deadly substance that will kill us all, slowly and painfully) by paying a few trillion dollars in carbon credits and reparations to the communities they have destroyed.
It's great that eco-friendliness is fashionable now. It's awesome that high fashion companies are trying to go carbon neutral by buying carbon credits, even though carbon offsets are definitely not going to be enough to stop the climate crisis.
It would be even greater if ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, Suncor, Saudi Aramco—and all the other companies bankrolling politicians that deny climate change, obfuscating decades of scientific research, and making it virtually impossible to stop climate change no matter how many models strut around in faux fur—would do the same.
The world is both hotter and more overcrowded than ever before. Naturally, these things are intertwined.
World Population Day was established in 1989 by the United Nations Council in order to draw attention to population issues. Back then, the world's population stood at 5.198 billion. Thirty years later, there are 7.7 billion people in the world, with an estimated 360,000 more being born each day.
It's hard to think about overpopulation without thinking about climate change, which threatens the livelihoods of every single one of these new children.
Climate change's consequences have already begun to emerge, and needless to say, they will worsen exponentially if climate change continues at its current rate. Effects include rising sea levels, tens of thousands of heat-related deaths, polluted air, a spike in chronic illnesses, severe droughts, mass extinctions that ruin ecological systems and destroy agriculture, and many natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires that will devastate infrastructure and generate massive flows of refugees. We've already seen these things, in the devastating 2018 California wildfires, in hurricanes like Sandy and Maria, in the drought that was a root cause of the Syrian refugee crisis, and in so many other instances.
Image via Undark
These events are only the tip of the iceberg. A 2018 UN report announced that we have twelve years to reverse the worst effects of climate change; if we fail to essentially keep temperatures from rising above 1.5C, hundreds of millions of people will suffer the consequences.
Certainly, the vastness of our world's population is a root cause of this deadly warming. According to Business Today, "One of the greatest consequences of growing population, which is perhaps a great threat to our livelihood as well, is the quick depletion of natural resources." More people means more carbon burned, more resources consumed, more people falling through the cracks.
In a merely theoretical sense, it seems logical that humanity's population explosion would happen concurrently with exponential climate change and ecological disaster, because the way our population has grown is anything but natural.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, human society followed a particular law: As populations grow, food supplies decrease, and so the population decreases, and the food supply increases. This is the same rule that keeps animal populations in check. However, since the dawn of industry, human beings have been producing more and more food and resources to support our burgeoning population, effectively placing ourselves at the top of the food chain, subsequently displacing animal populations, and decimating our natural resources.
Now, we are reaching a breaking point.
Image via MarketWatch
However, it's too simplistic to say that the amount of people in the world is directly proportional to the rate of climate change. It's true that the locations where the largest percentages of children are being born are the places that will be most severely damaged by the rising tides and hurricanes that are stemming from warming. According to Time Magazine, rapid population growth will only lock these nations into cycles of poverty, making it extremely difficult for these places to rebound from climate change's effects. However, these places are not the ones producing the majority of carbon emissions: That honor is reserved for developed countries, like the US.
The real cause of climate change is not overpopulation alone. It's the mentality that has allowed oil companies to grow into the massive corporations they are; and that has allowed Americans, who comprise 5% of the global population, to consume 25% of the world's resources, and that has allowed many childless couples in the US to consume far more resources than couples with children. That mentality has led us to accumulate endlessly without paying any heed to natural balances or equity.
Therefore, reducing the population is actually not the most important step that needs to be taken in order to combat climate change. This is because, according to Vox, it's not that the resources we have can't support a larger population: the US could successfully feed 400 million people simply by consuming locally what we are currently exporting. The problem is that we can't maintain the kinds of resource-guzzling, carbon-based lifestyles that we—and particularly, the extremely wealthy—have become accustomed to living. Simply reducing the number of people but not addressing our society's problem with carbon and consumption will have a negligible effect on the climate. In actuality, lower fertility rates can lead to higher GDP, as childless folks can accumulate more resources that they in turn spend on flights and other energy-guzzling activities.
Image via RT.com
Though population control would help, it's far more important that we figure out how to re-distribute resources in a sustainable way, rather than wasting such a vast amount of resources like we do in America. In the end, slashing carbon emissions—and, concurrently, shifting our cultural obsession with accumulation and individualism to an emphasis on egalitarianism—is still by far the most important thing we can do for the climate.
Even so, having fewer children and making education and birth control more widely accessible would be hugely significant overall. Furthermore, deciding not to have a child is totally a viable, impactful way to combat climate change (and it's possibly even the ethical choice, given the ecological mess that new generations will find themselves involuntarily subjected to).
Because if we remain on the path we're on? The population will just continue to expand, hitting a projected 8 billion by 2050. Soon enough, natural disasters will result in the deaths of millions; more people will starve or die in refugee camps; and then, as water becomes undrinkable and the planet becomes too hot for any growing thing, that will be the end of this whole experiment called life.
In 1971, the year "The Lorax" was published, scientists were just beginning to sound the alarm about climate change.
If you've somehow managed to successfully compartmentalize and ignore the fact that the earth is literally dying, perhaps this will jolt you out of your slumber: The tree that is believed to have inspired Dr. Seuss's iconic conservation-themed short story, "The Lorax," has fallen.
Image via ABC13
The tree in question was a Monterey Cypress, which grew without incident for 80 to 100 years in a La Jolla, California park until it keeled over suddenly on June 16. Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, could see the tree from the La Jolla apartment where he lived from 1948 until his death in 1991. It is believed that the cypress, with its curved trunk and abundant leaves, inspired the Truffala Trees that the Lorax in the story dedicates himself to defending—until a greedy factory owner cuts them all down, poisons the rivers, and fills the sky with smog. At the end of the story, the Lorax hangs his head and floats off into a tiny gap in the clouds, lamenting the death of his beloved forest and the creatures that called it home.
The Lorax- trailer www.youtube.com
In 1971, the year "The Lorax" was published, scientists were just beginning to sound the alarm about climate change. That year, a coalition of leading scientists reported significant risks from global climate change caused by human activity; by the end of the decade, scientific consensus identified global warming as the largest risk of the 21st century. Still, largely due to misleading reports from companies like Exxon, right-wing denialist think tanks, multi-million dollar denial campaigns, and bribes given to politicians by oil barons and investors such as the Koch Brothers, climate change was delegitimized, relegated to the back burner of public and political consciousness.
Flash forward to 2019, and the consequences of that corruption and ignorance are coming back to bite all of us. Wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, and droughts—each of which has catalyzed waves of refugees and deepened wounds of already existent economic disparity—are just a few of the visible consequences of climate change; and the worst is yet to come. Roughly 80,000 acres of forest disappear each day, with another 80,000 experiencing significant degradation. Plusm 1 million species are teetering on the brink of extinction.
If the loss of forests and biodiversity is not enough to chill you to the bone, the effects on humanity have been severe and will become unimaginably extreme if we continue at our current pace of unchecked destruction. Climate change threatens coastal cities with flooding, displaces millions, exacerbates health problems like infectious diseases, triggers asthma attacks, and destroys infrastructure and agriculture. It can cause mental illness and it disadvantages the most vulnerable, threatening communities and nations who lack the resources needed to bounce back from ecological disasters.
And even if you really don't give a shit about poor people, you're still not safe—for climate change will pose significant risks to financial markets, with food costs, insurance markets, and the mortgage industry all at risk. (For proof, just look at the millions of dollars in liability costs and subsequent bankruptcy faced by Pacific Gas and Electric after the 2018 California wildfires).
So in the shadow of all this horrifying information, it doesn't seem so far-fetched that the tree that inspired one of the greatest tales of environmental destruction has fallen. Sure, maybe there was something wrong with its roots, or maybe the excess of poison or smoke from the fires or the gas leaks or the plastic particles in the salt-choked rivers did it in. Or maybe the tree just gave up, realizing that the earth was no longer a place for growing things. Its death feels like the real-world embodiment of the Lorax floating away into the murky skies, looking sadly down on the scorched earth that used to hold thousands of trees.
Image via techwithkids.com
Of course, the Seussian tale doesn't end with the Lorax's departure. It begins when the kid in the story gets the Once-ler to tell him what happened to the Lorax, and it ends when the Once-ler drops him a tiny Truffala tree seed. "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not," says the old storyteller, imploring the kid (and by proxy, all readers) to try and do something, even if it starts with one seed.
In a world where Greta Thunberg—a sixteen-year-old playing hooky—is literally the most powerful voice in ecological activism, Dr. Seuss's message doesn't seem too starry-eyed. Small, improbable leaps of faith might be insignificant in themselves, but they can start waves of action that could be our best chance at launching the worldwide action needed to build a viable (and potentially more equitable) society.
image via weheartit
Federal land is diminishing at a frightening pace under Trump.
Much of Alaska has long been protected from oil drilling by laws intended to preserve the natural beauty of one of America's least populous states. But for as long as people have fought to keep parts of Alaska free from human interference, others have fought to profit from the land. Now, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is under threat of oil drilling. Unfortunately for the protected land, a GOP tax law passed by Congress a year ago and introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) requires the Secretary of the Interior "to approve at least two lease sales for drilling — each covering no less than 400,000 acres."
Ryan Zinke, the outgoing interior secretary, has openly lauded the development, saying, "An energy-dominant America starts with an energy-dominant Alaska, and among the scores of accomplishments we have had at Interior under President Donald J. Trump, taking these steps toward opening the 1002 section of Alaska's North Slope stands out among the most impactful toward bolstering America's economic strength and security."
This move is in line with other initiatives by the Trump administration to alter Obama era regulations and expand fossil-fuel acquisition all over the country. According to The Chicago Tribune, the interior is also "trying to scrap wildlife management plans for the Mojave Desert in California and for sagebrush habitat through much of the rest of the western United States."
Mark Salvo, vice president of landscape conservation at the Defenders of Wildlife, emphasized how reckless these decisions are. "These are examples of the Trump administration stealing defeat from the jaws of victory," he said. "These plans took years to produce and tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer resources to arrive at these carefully crafted compromises to conserve public lands."
Trump is far and away the US President who has most significantly shrunk the size of protected land, notably reducing Bear Ears National Monument by 85% — a loss of 1.1 million acres. This was a part of a major push in 2017 by interior secretary Ryan Zinke to shrink the size of 10 different areas of federal land or open them up to things like oil drilling, lumber farming, and commercial fishing.
So just how much protected land have we lost under Trump? According to a study conducted by the Wilderness Society — a not-for-profit organization advocating for the protection of public lands — shared with The Guardian, the tally is as follows:
- "13.6m acres onshore have been made available for leasing by the Trump administration, far more than in any two-year period under the Obama administration."
- "More than 153m acres of ecologically sensitive habitats – from the California desert to the Arctic national wildlife refuge – have seen conservation protections rolled back in some form."
- "More than 280m acres have been made available for offshore leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and along nearly 90% of the US coastline."
Cumulatively, that is approximately 433 million acres of land that is no longer protected under US law. What this will mean for the ecosystems and tourism that exists in these places remains to be seen.
It's much easier to certify the free-range, grass-fed provenance of a hamburger than it is to guarantee that tourmaline gemstone is conflict-free.
"Knowing the lineage of a crystal is somewhat akin to knowing where the meat you're eating came from," LA-based energy healer Colleen McCann told Goop in an article on the eight crystals every follower of the new New Age should know.
But there's a hitch. It's much easier to certify the free-range, grass-fed provenance of a hamburger than it is to guarantee that tourmaline gemstone is conflict-free. Crystals aren't just shrouded in mysticism; often their source is shrouded in straight-up mystery, as the New Republic recently reported.
"Imagine if someone who owned a burger joint had to figure out the entire agriculture meatpacking industry," Julie Abouzelof, owner of Hawaii's Moonrise Crystals, told the magazine. "Except there's 1,000 different meats, and nobody's farm is listed online, and even when you meet the farmer in person, they don't want to talk to you."
Crystals and gemstones are mined on every continent on Earth, and the process isn't universally bad news. In the U.S., you can dig-your-own crystals, just as you can pick-your-own strawberries. There are also small family- and state-owned mines with environmentally friendly operations. Among crystal sellers online, some are transparent about where their rocks are from.
Others just don't know.
"It's not like this is some big conspiracy cover up," Abouzelof told the New Republic. "The sellers just don't always know."
What they don't know could hurt many people. Some crystals come from large-scale industrial gold, copper and cobalt mine; the crystals aren't what miners are after, they're the profitable byproduct on the hunt for gold. In the US, these mines have had a deleterious effect on the environment, including groundwater contamination. In New Mexico, both the State and U.S. Department of Justice have filed natural resource claims against the Tyrone Copper Mine for damages to water and wildlife. It's the same mine that produced this large blue chrysocolla—a "supportive goddess energy stone," reported The New Republic,
And that's in the United States where the industry is regulated. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, children as young as seven work the cobalt and copper mines in the country's Katanga region that contain deposits of minerals like tourmaline, amethyst, citrine, blue and smoky quartz.
At the annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase in Tucson, Arizona, Abouzelof chose not to buy a relatively cheap supply of jade when she learned it had been mined in Myanmar. The New York Times has compared Myanmar jade to blood diamonds; its extraction has "helped finance a bloody ethnic conflict and unleashed an epidemic of heroin use and H.I.V. infection among the Kachin minority who work the mines."
Those are the kind of bad vibes that can't be cleansed from a gemstone bathing in the light of the full moon.
But should the murky provenance of crystals keep you from getting your goddess on with the stones? If it's human rights your worried about, your cell phone is probably a bigger ethical dilemma than your crystal collection, writes crystal healer and seller Hibiscus Moon. The so-called "conflict minerals" in our electronics fund human atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she writes, and "are the ones we need to concern ourselves with." Tony Nikischer, president of Excalibur Mineral Corporation, told Emily Atkin at the New Republic that crystal mining "certainly is not a 'despoiler of the earth' activity as some large scale mining operations in foreign countries may be."
Maybe your rose quartz really will help usher in true love. But if you can't be sure you're not causing suffering of another human spirit to praise something pretty in pink on your altar, it might not be worth it.
"You could give up the habit and leave those pretty rocks where they belong," writes Katie Herzog at The Stranger, "in the earth."