EDITORIAL: Ecological Advocacy Requires Deep Spiritual Work
Matthew Charles Cardinale is the News Editor and Founder of Atlanta Progressive News.
(APN) ATLANTA — Lately I have had to reorganize my life to make room for the ecological advocacy that Mother Earth requires, really that we require as a civilization to survive, in the coming few years.
For me, with a background in law and policy, my way of making a contribution is using all available democratic means of advocacy, especially through law and policy, to protect our environment. But it also means creating spiritual and emotional space in my mind for the deep psychological work that inherently accompanies this physical work.
As a society, we can benefit from further exploring these emotional and spiritual issues that come as a part of the ongoing environmental catastrophe that our society has caused.
In my 2018 book, Tales of Audacity at the Turn of the Millennium, I wrote to an audience of the people of the future, about what it was like to live in this current time period, with the knowledge of pending environmental disaster. In the book, I explain, through story, some the reasons why we allowed it to get this far: that, in order to solve our environmental problems we had to address the problems with our democracy. That the dysfunction of our democracy and our dysfunctional destruction of our environment were one and the same problem,.
As an advocate for the last twenty-five years, I have focused primarily on the issue of democracy itself and on affordable housing. That was another pressing issue: that many of us were walking around impoverished, either homeless or with housing insecurity. In Tales of Audacity, I try to explain to the people of the future about how I got so distracted, even as a progressive advocate; it was really a book of justifications.
But things have started to change and shift so quickly. The impacts of climate change are so apparent, so drastic, so present, that we can sense among us a new readiness to act.
At the beginning of July 2019, I decided to armour up, by enrolling in an Environmental Law LLM program at Vermont Law School.
My first course, an overview of Environmental Law, contains a lot of information. Last week, it was clean air; this week, it’s clean water. Every page I read is stressful.
I mean, I think we all know on a generalized level what is happening with the environment, but having to learn the details? Having to learn about Nitrogen Dioxide, a harmful pollutant? Having to learn about sulfur oxides?
Who wants to learn about these things? It’s a long bombardment of upsetting facts, each as upsetting as the last.
In other words, it’s not like there’s one big psychological reckoning that we have at the beginning regarding the danger we’re in, the vulnerability we actually share, the issues of powerlessness we might feel regarding the scale and nature of this problem.
It’s more like a slow, constant drip: Nitrogen Dioxide evokes all of those feelings of danger, vulnerability, and powerlessness; sulfur oxide does it again; acid rain’s waiting in line; and I now I’m dreading, after grieving for our air, reading about our water from this textbook.
Recently, Extinction Rebellion Atlanta held a gathering to literally grieve for Mother Earth. Gloria Tatum, APN Senior News Writer and Board Member, notes how it was striking that now we have a generation of children and young adults who do not believe they will have a future that’s safe, happy, or livable.
So, first of all, it’s okay; it’s completely appropriate to feel feelings about ecological disaster. The avoidance of these feelings is a cause of avoidance of the advocacy work that we must undertake.
Second, when we take on this work, it’s okay to budget our emotions, and it might mean that we have less capacity for other stressors in our lives, that we have to reduce other causes of stress–as hard that might be!–to make room for the cognitive and spiritual grappling that must occur for us to save our planet.
Third, I believe that when it comes to the environment, we need to take the advice that the great U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California told U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, “Just please, go straight to the answer.”
We live in a highly specialized and complex world – no one could possibly learn everything about everything. We rely on other people to specialize in complex matters – like the environment.
Environmental law and policy has become so specialized. And so many of us have necessarily relied on subject matter experts – the people at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the bureaucrats and the scientists.
People are living their lives. All six billion of us human beings on this Planet do not necessarily need to know all of the exact chemical, biological, and ecological mechanisms by which our beautiful, habitable Earth–that, of all the known Universe, evolved to sustain human life–is being destroyed.
All six billion of us do not even need to know the exact mechanisms for how we use policy and law to save our Planet.
But we do need more subject matter experts who can go into our City Halls, our County Buildings, our State Capitols, our federal buildings, our Halls of Congress, and our Courts, to expand the affirmative laws and policies that will protect Mother Earth.
We need more people who will read and analyze so many thousand page Environmental Impact Statements; and endeavor to understand and influence Ratemaking Proceedings and Integrated Resource Plans before our state Public Service Commissions.
Atlanta Progressive News has covered the impassioned and sometimes-successful activities of environmental advocates in Atlanta and across Georgia for many years. The advocates are growing in number, but more are needed to reach the necessary critical mass to overcome the technocrats who have been held captive by polluters.
We all must look into ourselves to find the ways in which we can contribute to the progressive social change needed to save our Planet; and we must make the necessary time and space–including the spiritual and emotional bandwidth—in our lives to carry out those activities.
And yet, we cannot realistically expect everyone to become a technocratic expert – the details are too emotionally upsetting; it’s not necessary; it’s not realistic. It is so much better that we go “straight to the answer,” so that people can take immediate actions to replace the cycle of despair with a cycle of hope.
This includes changes that people can make in their lives about what they eat, how they travel, what goods they consume, how they recycle.
Powerlessness, mentioned above, is one of the issues with which we may struggle when it comes to our environmental crisis: We trusted people, the people who had the jurisdiction and the alleged expertise to care for our planet, to make the right decisions of law and policy, to set the right limits of pollutants in our air and water and to enforce those limits. And those people, frankly, betrayed us.
And so, there’s anger, there’s rage, that we have to even get involved on this level when we had agencies charged with protecting us.
And yet, we are not without power. The social structures that seem unmovable are still just the sum of our individual actions. It is for us now to collectively manifest that power.
It is so like us to wait until the last minute. Procrastination and other behaviors that seem to be part of human nature have contributed to our arrival at this crisis point.
As someone who survived Hurricane Katrina, I know something about waiting until the last minute to prepare for or deal with something, and then having to finally deal with it when it happens. Essentially, as long as we can put the inevitable out of our minds, it can become later’s problem. Well, it’s “later.”
I hate to say it, but, if humanity survives this crisis, when generations look back, and they ask, what finally changed, for human civilization to undo and reverse all the damage it caused?, the answer will be: they waited until they possibly couldn’t wait no more. I wish we could say it was the result of altruistic discourse and collective healing, but necessity will do.
I was born in the early 1980’s and came of age in the 1990’s. We knew about our environmental crisis; we had Earth Day; we already had federal laws and an EPA. And yet, it seemed like there was still a great deal of time, comprising much of our adult lives, that we had with which to address the crisis.
For today’s youth, for the youth of Extinction Rebellion, they are literally now asking why we would bring them into a world that, if continued on the present course, offers nothing but chaos and catastrophe? That’s the difference between 1989 and 2019. The margin of error is gone. We must acknowledge this perspective.
Many of us hold spiritual beliefs. The majesty of nature never ceases to amaze. Many of our spiritual human experiences are grounded in nature, in the magnificence of Earth, in the incomprehensible life-giving radiance of our Sun.
When Mother Earth speaks to me, it is not so much in words, but through physical chills that I feel, through a heightened sensation of a low hum of nature that was already there within me and without me, connected.
And so, yes, this is spiritual warfare for which we are preparing; and it is our moral imperative to win.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)