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The Mysteries Of Bearing And Understanding

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2017 at 1:32 pm


Oldspeak: “To take bearing seriously entails a shift of perspective, a shift from seeing bearing in personal terms only to contemplating it for what it really is, namely, a permanent and irreducible feature of all existence. This shift is not easily made. It requires a deep empathy with the lot of any and all creatures that share life with oneself…. It is only within meditative thinking that faith, hope and love truly reveal themselves. They consistently elude rational explanation but we do not on that account regard them as illusory…. We can say that while we are bearing our trials in good faith, we are upon the same instant leaping into the only life worth living, the life of peace that passes understanding. This leap is intuitive. It has no causal antecedent nor can it be anticipated as something waited for. It can only be waited on; it will come or not come in its own good time. In the meantime bearing remains. It abides impervious to our manipulations. It does not change…. Since bearing does not change it is given to us in advance. We cannot choose it. Like language, bearing, given to us in advance, is fraught with mystery. We speak of understanding language but we do not understand its origin. We speak of understanding bearing as a personal response to adversity and we think we understand what it is but we do not understand that it remains abidingly the case with every existent from stone to star.”

“Ooof. Good stuff on the seeing the value, wisdom and all-pervading “isness” of bearing a.k.a. “suffering”. And how through letting go of conditioned ways of being, choiceless awareness, detachment to bearing we can glimpse our natural state;” “Our natural state reflects the point of which Ultimate Spirit meets whatever body it energizes and informs. This point of our original innocence has no lust to possess an end in view and no nostalgia for a beginning once enjoyed. Our natural state abides in the time between times which is the timely, the ever present and unprecedented now, obedient to the suasions of Heaven in which is perfect freedom—the freedom from having to choose…. bearing as suffering is a necessary but not sufficient condition for realizing life and that the way to life is a state that results from that condition.”  In this state one can find the truth of one’s nature and way of being. Unconditioned, undistracted, undifferentiated, undefined. Shift your perspective with inner work.” -OSJ


Written By Alan W. Anderson @ Inner Directions:

We have been taught since the beginning of western classical metaphysics that what is is to be understood in terms of itself or as a substance, a constant; its cause is a constant also, whether we term it “God” or “Being” (with a capital B). This reduction of things to their virtual atomic, constant identity was given enormous emphasis in the Middle Ages when the salvation of the individual human soul was the overriding obsession. In our own time this religious perspective has largely given way to an impersonal focus on what we call the phenomenon whether it be observed in language or experimental science. But this change in perspective has not altered our inveterate habit of seeing things as fixed ontological units, limited to and by their own essence.

We pay a severe price for this view of things. We lose the freedom of what Krishnamurti   calls “the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity.”3 We cannot realize and enjoy that freedom while we are busy worrying over how to protect and maintain our fixed identity from colliding with other fixed identities in a world of essential oppositions and estrangement. The psychological ramifications from this self-misunderstanding are not confined to western civilization. The Bhagavad Gita, perhaps the most influential Hindu Scripture, describes the Lord Krishna’s appeal to Prince Arjuna to drop this very same   self-misunderstanding.   That   fully   eighteen   chapters   are   required   to complete this Scripture indicates how grave and all encompassing this self-misunderstanding is.

The prince is willing to listen to the instruction that, if followed, will release him from self-bondage, but he cannot know beforehand all the spaces he must encounter. Each of these spaces if not met openheartedly will become roadblocks to his enlightenment. Each space, chapter by chapter, opens up a new abyss. The prince must walk up to each one without flinching and hold patiently until he grasps the attitude and movement that will carry him safely through one crisis to the next. Each new space affords the prince another context within which to face up to the awful question: what and who are you. Are you constantly, concretely your self-image, your idea of yourself?  How can that be since it is always changing?

Krishna brings Prince Arjuna around again and again to face the same question because of all questions it is the most difficult to stay with and to hold to courageously, patiently, soberly and quietly. Perhaps, impatiently, we will explode with: “Oh, for heaven’s sake, this is ridiculous. If I didn’t know who I was I’d be an amnesiac!” But this won’t do either, since no one is willing to be reduced to one’s name, form and activity. As with Arjuna, so with us. We either stay with the question until breakthrough or we bolt from it hoping that, in our rush to rejoin the crowd, the question will not follow us.

Existence, which has always the first move, lays this question upon us at a very early age. Not that the question is intellectually formulated at that age. Indeed, it might never be so formulated for the term of one’s natural life. However, the normal child between the ages of two and five feels itself subjectively as subject. This felt self-identity is often called “ego-consciousness,” a rather unhappy term since it appears to collapse subjectivity into the function of ego. This verbal collapse is indulged in a great number of writings on spirituality which advise that the destruction of the ego is the means to release from self-bondage. This is a misleading notion since it is not the fault of the ego that self-misunderstanding occurs. Without the function of ego, we should lose personal pronouns whose grammatical uses are spiritually neutral. Self-misunderstanding belongs to the self, not to the ego.

Let us return to our Chinese model in the I Ching. The six lined hexagram is composed of the two trigrams for Heaven and Earth. Human nature is displayed by the two middle lines, the topmost line of the lower trigram for Earth and the lowermost line of the upper trigram for Heaven. As we noted earlier on, these two lines, while representing human nature are not intrinsically our possession. On taking seriously this image, it invites us to step back from the classical western view of ourselves as individual selves, as substances, separate from the interplay of Heaven and Earth, which are respectively primal energy and its embodiment. On accepting the invitation to step back, what comes into view is human nature as pattern, an embodiment of primal energy. As such we are but players in the interplay of the primal powers of Heaven and Earth and subject to their suasion. They are the playwrights of our ways in the play of the one cosmic dance.

Here, there is no ontological estrangement between self and other. Instead of a cosmic arrangement of fixed substances here is a panorama of integral movement bound only by the Unconditioned. Each of us is a way of primal energy patterning itself as the cosmic drama unfolds. The career of this boundless movement is not imposed from without. Rather its activity is intrinsic to itself; it is satisfied by its own exercise. Lao Tzu describes the intrinsic, non-authoritarian hierarchy of this cosmic movement this way:

Man patterns himself on Earth,
Earth upon Heaven,
Heaven upon Tao (the Way of ways)
And Tao accords with itself.

Elsewhere he says: “Tao (the Way) does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.”5 This marvelous vision of the Groundless Ground, this intuition of Tao, the Way of ways overcomes the dualism of the One and the many. It is the One as the many and draws us back to the originary and absolute present. Lao Tzu says that the movement of the Way, the Tao, is a turning back. It is a turning back from the multiplicity of beings to Being and from Being to Non-being from which Being comes. It is precisely this turning back that discloses the role of bearing at its depth.

Before opening out the character of bearing let us note how self- misunderstanding arises. It is much less complex than we might flatter ourselves is the case.  It must not be confused with clinical neurosis with its attendant visceral symptoms, anxieties and phobias. As Kierkegaard noted, “losing the self can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.”6 On the other hand when self-misunderstanding collides with the self’s readiness to become healed from it and accepts the course of healing, symptoms very like those of neurosis often obtain. They are the result of withdrawal from habitual misperceptions of the way things really are. However, one does not become dysfunctional in the ordinary affairs of living during that withdrawal.

The beginning of self-misunderstanding occurs upon the instant reflection seizes upon a memory of the self’s behavior whether of action or reaction. Imagination then fixates that image. When the self identifies with that image or representation it has misunderstood itself. It has reduced itself to a belief in a disembodied consciousness which remains constant. The self invests this fiction with a name and properties. True, it is tinkered with and edited over the years under the duress of changes in body and opinion but the belief in its permanence is held indefinitely. It is now the self’s final arbiter and judge of any and everything.

What is it that draws us toward and into self-inquiry? It is the abiding pressure of bearing. Western culture, with its inveterate alienation from nature, tolerates thinking that bearing as suffering belongs primarily to our human species. It is argued   that   since   animals   do   not   have   verbal   language   with   which   to communicate thoughts and feelings that animals do not think and feel. The seventeenth-century philosopher Descartes believed animals to be nothing but automata, machines.

In a remarkable and scholarly book by J. M. Masson and S. McCarthy, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, the authors quote an unknown contemporary of Descartes:

The [Cartesian] scientists administered beatings to dogs with perfect indifference and made fun of those who pitied the creatures as if they felt pain. They said the animals were clocks; that the cries they emitted when struck were only the noise of a little spring that had been touched, but that the whole body was without feeling. They nailed the poor animals up on boards by their four paws to vivisect them to see the circulation of the blood which was a great subject of controversy.

Not all thinkers were persuaded by Descartes. Voltaire, Newton and Locke took the side of the animals. Lest we think that our alienation from nature affects only species other than our own we should remind ourselves of the atrocities we have wreaked upon our own kind since time out of mind, the Inquisition and the Holocaust are but two instances of our depravity. Human nature continues to display unimaginable extremes from sacrificial love to intense, heartless cruelty toward all forms of life. It is not difficult to agree with the prophet Jeremiah who cried out that the human heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things and who can know it? [Jer 17:9]

Our usual human response to this spectacle is to avert our gaze from it, as long as we can, since to dwell on it leads only to despair and perhaps even to clinical depression.  But this attitude does not take bearing seriously.  It seeks only to escape from it. To take bearing seriously entails a shift of perspective, a shift from seeing bearing in personal terms only to contemplating it for what it really is, namely, a permanent and irreducible feature of all existence. This shift is not easily made. It requires a deep empathy with the lot of any and all creatures that share life with oneself. Linda Hogan, the Native American poet, essayist and novelist has said, “A change is required of us, a healing of the betrayed trust between humans and earth. Caretaking is the utmost spiritual and physical responsibility of our time….”8 She offers a beautiful example of this reciprocity on nothing “how water and earth love each other the way they do, meeting at night, at the shore, being friends together, dissolving in each other, in the give and take that is where grace comes from.”

Let us note now how we as human first encounter bearing. Whether there was or was not a preexistence for us, it is certain that upon the moment of conception we are housed as the sheltered promise of our birth. Earth which is housed in space houses our mother who in the deepest recesses of her person houses the promise of our birth, our arrival into the world, itself a house, a dwelling awaiting us and given to us in advance. This is how Existence conditions us and mothers us into being. Our life career is an embodied one from the start. This principle of embodiment the language of myth calls Earth. The spirit that is embodied is called Heaven. The I Ching calls Heaven the Creative and Earth the Receptive. They are the Father and the Mother of all lives and as primal energies they specify our natures in advance. But the Classic teaches us also that unconditioned spirit is unfathomable, unbound by any determinants and utterly beyond explanation. This is Tao, the Way. As conditioned spirits we must revere it in silence yet it is our true origin and ultimate nature. The relation between it and our conditioned existence provides a way to contemplate and ponder the mystery of bearing.

As human we enter the world unable to stand. For many months we lie most of the time parallel to Earth. As adults we can hardly, if ever, recall how arduous it was for us to raise ourselves from our horizontal posture to the vertical one of standing upright and unaided. On standing upright, on our own, we make our first formal gesture of independence; but it is a conditioned independence. What conditions us lies much deeper than our need for continued parental care and social affirmation.

The depth of our conditionality discloses itself if we suspend our calculative point of view and adopt for the time being the mythical or intuitive perspective. This is the meditative one within which our potential sageliness can flower and poetry sings. For example, it is only within meditative thinking that faith, hope and love truly reveal themselves. They consistently elude rational explanation but we do not on that account regard them as illusory.

How does our human standing upright condition us in depth below the psychological and social spheres of our needs and desires? Mythically speaking, by standing upright, we mediate what is above us to what is below and what is below to what is above. We are the face of that midpoint between Heaven and Earth, the Creative and the Receptive, Spirit and Embodiment; but we do not stand as effortlessly as we recline. Standing tires us, so we sit or lie down where and when we can to compensate for that fatigue. In fact, at least one third of our lives is spent in reclining for the sake of restoring our energy through sleep and rest. It is in standing that we bear our humanness.

This point of view discloses that the moment of the infant child’s first standing unaided is, humanly, the first decisive moment of its life’s passage. In standing alone it declares its individuality and all the inwardness which that entails. Yet, ironically, this very statement of individuality provides our principal occasion for self-misunderstanding. This crucial point will be developed in the next and last section. In standing alone, Existence has called the child to the universal human vocation which the child must bear and carry through in its own way. Human nature’s vocation is to mediate, to bear spirit to body and body to spirit. The intersection of these powers tradition has called the soul which is an unstable equilibrium. It is an unstable equilibrium since every instant is fraught with the unexpected, the unprecedented, whether observed or not. The soul is the intermediary of endless beginnings and it is only through memory and imagination that it can fancy itself to be otherwise. Try as it might the soul cannot in fact, in actuality be elsewhere than upon the threshold of every present instant.

This link between spirit and body which, from the individual standpoint, tradition calls soul is from the cosmic standpoint the intersection between being and becoming, the axis of value and process. Yet, beyond these, there is a deeper intersection, one which today we hear almost nothing about.  It is the point between what Plato called the Good and the whole interplay of Being and Becoming. Here, the Good is beyond the correlation good/evil. Plato tells us in the dialogue, the Republic, that the Good is beyond being, surpassing it in dignity and power. Precisely as one is enabled to pass between being and becoming, one comes upon this deepest of all intersections, that between the Good and the whole manifest world of coming to be and passing away.

Bearing does not disclose itself in its radical character until the intersection between the Unconditioned and conditioned existence is intuited. Since the Good is beyond Being it is beyond conceptualization.  Plato’s calling it the Form of forms does not reduce it to a concept except negatively just as the name Non- being is a negative concept which is simply to say it is beyond what can be conceived. The Good, the Ultimate is not this and not that.

If we can for a moment disengage from our collapse into abstract, disembodied consciousness and ask seriously what is the condition for relating viscerally to Non-being, we should have to say it is bearing, which is to say, plainly, suffering. Precisely here some non-dualists will object by asserting that with self-awakening suffering disappears.  But this is a hasty notion.  Rather, it is suffering over suffering that disappears and not suffering itself. If suffering as such disappeared with enlightenment, how is it that some sages have died so painfully from cancer? To say that they did not suffer their pain is a trifling, semantic quibble. On the contrary, their bearing and their sacrifice provide us a profound lesson. Existence is not meant always to be docile to our arts and sciences, five-year plans and manipulative cleverness.

The intersection of Ultimate Spirit with the flux of existence occasions detachment in us. The occasion for detachment does not actualize it. It only invites our consent to it. Yet without detachment bearing, as suffering, puts us in bad faith with existence. Another mistaken notion is that adversity produces fine character. On the contrary, without detachment adversity alienates and embitters us. However, detachment rescues us from self-pity and returns us to origin, to our natural state in which we do not act for an object but from timeliness, the detached response to necessity.

In the detached response of timeliness we lose the illusion of agency and so act without contrivance.  Complete detachment within the intersection of Ultimate Spirit and the world turns over our view of things 180° and what appeared above is now below and what was below is now above. This is beautifully portrayed in the eleventh hexagram of the I Ching in which Heaven is placed beneath Earth rather than above her. The hexagram is called Peace. Peace is not the cessation of hostilities.  Peace is dwelling in our natural state, our original innocence. Masculine and feminine energies once estranged are now nearer than near.

Our natural state reflects the point of which Ultimate Spirit meets whatever body it energizes and informs. This point of our original innocence has no lust to possess an end in view and no nostalgia for a beginning once enjoyed. Our natural state abides in the time between times which is the timely, the ever present and unprecedented now, obedient to the suasions of Heaven in which is perfect freedom—the freedom from having to choose. Visionary matters are notoriously difficult to communicate and prose is not the happiest medium to convey them. So I shall try a poem and call it: Between.

Who can wander for a lifetime

In the valley, on the hill,
And not see the face of heaven
On the swift and in the still

On the swift and shining waters
In the smooth wet-molded stone Wide,
wide heaven beds among them
Lies where all the leaves are blown

And the wafted leaf in autumn
Comes, like us, to find its ground
Falling where the hand of heaven
Cups the seeker and the found.

If one is not vigilant, the perspective of these lines can encourage a false comfort. It is infinitely more pleasant to imagine the ideal embrace of Heaven and Earth and how they cradle us than it is to remain alert to the inevitable contradictions and collisions of our embodied existence. Abstract contradiction we take easily in stride. It is when contradiction touches our being that we are devastated since it overturns all we have taken for granted. The real tests me through contradiction in being. Without existential contradiction we have no occasion for learning detachment and distance on our surround.10 Only in detachment is the spirit free to discern the false in the false and the true in the false. Spirit is released to its vocation when soul lets spirit be its eyes and ears. Unfortunately, the soul usually prefers to outward eyes and ears of the body and rarely discovers the inward eye and the inward ear. Unless the soul makes the transposition from the outer to the inner it remains turbulent indefinitely, unable to rise above the storms and stress of material flux.

In one of the uncanonical gospels, the Acts of Phillip, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Unless you change your ‘down’ to ‘up’ (and ‘up’ to ‘down’ and ‘right’ to ‘left’ and ‘left’ to ‘right’) you shall not enter my Kingdom (of heaven).” Clearly, this oracular admonition requires us to transpose our levels of being, the horizontal (right, left) and the vertical (up, down). Our transfiguration depends upon it. Naturally, if these relative qualities are exchanged on the same plane, they cannot effect an inner transformation. The depth and character of their transposition appears in St. Matthew’s gospel. This text is usually given a tiresomely moralistic interpretation. But Jesus was not a moralizer (had he been one he might never have been executed). In this text bearing becomes acutely aware of itself. The following is a standard translation of the text [Matt. 7:13-14].

Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

The word ‘hard’ that describes the way or road that leads to life is not, in the Greek text, a simple adjective opposed to the word easy which describes the way leading to destruction. The Greek word translated ‘hard’ is tethlimménē which is a form of the verb, thlibō meaning to press together, to compress, to contract. What is hard about the way that leads to life is its pressure, its compression. The word tethlimménē beckons us to look at it still more deeply. This form of the verb ‘compress,’ means literally ‘in the state that results from the act of compressing.’ Now our text reads more amply and precisely. It tells us not that the way itself is hard but that the way is a result of something else that is hard, namely, a compressing which metaphorically means an oppression, distress, affliction.

Strictly speaking, the one thing said of the way is that it is a result and this result leads to life. Further, the only thing said of the act of compressing is that it has a result. Neither the act of compressing is the way nor is the way called an oppression, an affliction. This distinction is far reaching and a check against hasty conclusions about the spiritual life. Some see the spiritual life as an agony undergone for the sake of a later, a heavenly reward. Others see living spiritually as a blissful deliverance from bearing, from suffering. The text supports neither of these viewpoints. Rather, it implies that bearing as suffering is a necessary but not sufficient condition for realizing life and that the way to life is a state that results from that condition.

Etymologically, result derives from Latin salire, to leap. Result, then means to leap back; to reverberate, to echo. As a leap it is a transition from one level to another, as a reverberation, an echo. Just as an echo is not a repetition of the material conditions that produced it, so the way that leads to life operates in a higher sphere above our personal sufferings; yet, these sufferings abide as that out of which the way is realized. To put the matter simply we can say that while we are bearing our trials in good faith, we are upon the same instant leaping into the only life worth living, the life of peace that passes understanding. This leap is intuitive. It has no causal antecedent nor can it be anticipated as something waited for. It can only be waited on; it will come or not come in its own good time. In the meantime bearing remains. It abides impervious to our manipulations. It does not change.

Since bearing does not change it is given to us in advance. We cannot choose it. Like language, bearing, given to us in advance, is fraught with mystery. We speak of understanding language but we do not understand its origin. We speak of understanding bearing as a personal response to adversity and we think we understand what it is but we do not understand that it remains abidingly the case with every existent from stone to star.

Since these things are so, our understanding does not transcend its primitive meaning in English which is to stand under. Ultimately, what is it that we stand under? It is the obligation to be true to one’s nature, one’s own way of being who and what one is which existence has required from the moment of birth. This requires patience and an undistracted listening to the voice of primal intuition.

– – – – – – –

From an excerpt of the talk titled Inner Transformation and Bearing, presented by Dr. Allan W. Anderson, in November-December 1995 at the International Foundation for New Human Paradigms in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Allan W. Anderson, Ph.D. was born in Hastings, New Zealand but grew up in England. He moved to the United States in 1936 where he remained most of his life.

Dr. Anderson began teaching at San Diego State University 1962 and retired in 1985. He was a founder of the Department of Religious Studies, established in 1969. He taught courses on philosophy of religion, metaphysics, ethics, scripture, and psychology with a focus on Hindu and Chinese canons. Additionally, he received the 1970 California State Distinguished Teaching Award and the Alumni Association Outstanding Faculty Award for 1982 and 1983.

Perhaps his most well-known work is the eighteen one-hour dialogues between Dr. Anderson and J. Krishnamurti entitled A Wholly Different Way of Living. The talks were broadcast every Sunday on KPBS between January and April in 1975, and were later published as a book.

Allan Anderson was a good friend of Inner Directions and played a significant role in the production of the following two DVD titles: Abide as the Self: The Essential Teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Awaken to the Eternal: Nisargadatta Maharaj-A Journey of Self-Discovery.



“The Wondrous Path Of Difficulties”

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2017 at 8:33 pm


Oldspeak: “YAZZZZZ…. this is where the practice meets the road. Seeing the difficult parts of the path as opportunities for practicing choiceless awareness, equanimity, compassion and seeing things as they are, not how our habitual and conditioned narratives say they should go. Not mindlessly reacting to sensations as they arise and pass away. Surely, easier said than done. But that’s where the practice is. The last point was for me the key point. “Not being reactive is not being passive. It’s not a kind of stupidity, holding back or being disinterested, removing oneself from the world. Real equanimity isn’t indifference. It’s the capacity to be present with your whole being and not add fuel to the fire.” Yes. See the value and wisdom in life’s vicissitudes. Smile and make friends with the discomfort, knowing all the while that as with all in this world, it passes away.” –OSJ

Written By Lion’s Roar Staff:

Call it luck, good luck. A sellout crowd of over 3,000 people arrives at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco to listen to a discussion with two of America’s most respected and beloved Buddhist teachers: Pema Chödrön and Jack Kornfield. Then, suddenly, the center’s computer system goes down, causing mass confusion at the ticket counters. But what might have seemed like a big problem on the surface, explain Chödrön and Kornfield, was in fact a great opportunity to practice the Buddhist teachings. Here is a portion of their conversation, moderated by KQED Public Radio host Michael Krasny.

Michael Krasny: We haven’t had an easy time getting this event off the ground. I suppose we could look at all this as a good opportunity to find transformation within.

Pema Chödrön: Yes, I think so. Difficulties are inevitable—and helpful. Once I was teaching a workshop at Omega Institute and everything went wrong. The organizers were tearing their hair out, and, after all was said and done, they couldn’t understand why it turned out to be such a harmonious weekend. Then, one of the main organizers looked at the title of one of my books, When Things Fall Apart, and she realized that the teaching related to our immediate experience. Doesn’t some problem like the one we’ve had tonight happen every day of your life in major and minor ways? Yet, for some reason, we keep thinking something has gone wrong.

The Buddhist teachings are fabulous at simply working with what’s happening as your path of awakening, rather than treating your life experiences as some kind of deviation from what is supposed to be happening. The more difficulties you have, in fact, the greater opportunity there is to let them transform you. The difficult things provoke all your irritations and bring your habitual patterns to the surface. And that becomes the moment of truth. You have the choice to launch into the lousy habitual patterns you already have, or to stay with the rawness and discomfort of the situation and let it transform you, on the spot.

So, whoever had anything to do with whatever went awry tonight, thank you for providing us with this great opportunity to practice before we even started the event itself.

Jack Kornfield: In the monastery where I trained, my teacher would gather us together and then he’d be waylaid for some reason or another. Without fail, disruptions would always occur that we would have to deal with in the interim. I learned later that he was deliberately setting this up. Then he would come in and peer around the room to see how we were doing in working with the disruptions.

Difficulties and frustrations, such as we experienced in getting started tonight, allow you to remember where you really are. You can find a kind of freedom from getting hung up on difficulties that can serve you well in your marriage, your family, and your community, where you will find lots of difficulties and frustrations. It’s the kind of freedom that can serve you better than almost anything else.

Pema Chödrön: We get misled by the ads in magazines where people are looking blissful in their matching outfits, which also match their meditation cushions. We can get to thinking that meditation and the spiritual path is about transcending the difficulties of your life and finding this just-swell place. But that doesn’t help you very much because that sets you up for being constantly disappointed with what happens every day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner—all day long.

Jack Kornfield: Yes, we have these great ideals about how we’re supposed to be. But when we are standing in a long line that isn’t moving and we find ourselves saying, “This place hosts events all the time, how come they can’t get it together?” we don’t have to pretend that our irritability is not there or compare it unfavorably with our ideal version of ourselves. We could simply take a breath and say, “This is how I am—this is anger, this is fear, this is great irritation.”

There’s another kind of gesture that you can also practice, which I think of as a kind of inward bow. You say, “Here’s anger, here’s irritation, here is being really pissed off, and not only that, I had a hard day and I came here and I thought they were going to help me and instead they make it worse!” [Laughter] We bow to that and acknowledge that.

In that regard, I would like to read to you my new favorite little piece: “If you can sit quietly after difficult news, if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm, if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy, if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate and fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill, if you can always find contentment just where you are, you are probably a dog.” [Laughter]

There’s a certain sense of humor that is absolutely necessary for our human condition. When we have that sense of humor, things become workable. It’s the part that we put on top of our ordinary human experience—and we all put something on top of it when we started our spiritual search—that creates the problem. You then not only have your own suffering, you have all these ideals and images that you hold up for yourself. That puts a layer of spiritual suffering on top of the basic suffering.

Michael Krasny: Some of the most joyous people I’ve met have been Buddhist teachers. They laugh and giggle and are filled with a wondrous sort of humor. Yet, it seems that to understand what’s at the heart of the Buddhist teachings, you need to understand suffering. How do the suffering and the joy go together?

Pema Chödrön: You have to know suffering in order to have the joy, and that has to do with not resisting what’s happening to you. It’s true that if you could do all those things on the list that Jack read, you’d be a dog. On the other hand, the teachings point out that you haven’t simply been dealt a bad hand and that’s the end of it.

Instead of being resigned to your fate, you could get curious about what’s going on. You could take an interest in the irritation that’s rising up in you, and you could be curious about how other people are reacting. We tend to be so stupid about what actually makes things worse and what actually makes things better, because we don’t explore our experience carefully enough.

This evening, the computer goes down and suddenly the people behind the ticket windows are under a lot of pressure and freaking out. When everyone is getting mad, and then getting even madder as they all start talking to each other about it, we can look at this and ask, “How is this happening? This simply doesn’t add up to any kind of happiness for anyone. In fact, it adds up to everybody getting ulcers. Why are we doing this?”

One of the main things I work with personally is saying to myself essentially what Jack was saying: “This is how I am right now. I have a very short fuse and I’m losing it.” Then I ask myself, “Do I want to strengthen this habit so that a year from now my fuse is even shorter?” By sticking with and reinforcing our habit, we could get really professional at making our fuse shorter and shorter. Ten years from now we could have the world’s shortest fuse.

As I started to get older, I figured I ought to get smarter. I noticed that I had the habit of easily getting irritated and angry. I asked myself honestly, “Do I want that? Does it feel good?” And the smart answer was, “No, it doesn’t feel so great.” So I was left with a choice: Did I want to strengthen it or find a way to shake it up, weaken it, and infiltrate it in some kind of way?

Michael Krasny: Wisdom is supposed to come with age. Jack, you have talked about how people in other cultures have a veneration for wisdom, in contrast to the love of youth so prevalent in Western culture. Despite what we might think about the wisdom of age, many people’s fuse becomes shorter as they get older. It becomes more difficult for them to do what you’re talking about because of helplessness and atrophy.

Jack Kornfield: That’s one of the reasons it’s recommended to have some form of practice, and to take the opportunity to practice when it presents itself. This enables you to work with whatever circumstances arise. When people come on retreats, their knee is hurting or their whole body is hurting, so, why, they ask, can they not just get up and move and make it easier?

I’ll often say in response, “Well, you could get up and that would be fine, but at some point in your life there’s going to be a time when you are in great pain—or maybe you’ll be sitting at the bedside of someone you love who’s in a lot of pain—and if you haven’t learned to find some graciousness and capacity to be with what’s difficult, things are simply going to get worse and worse. One of the great blessings I see in people who have committed themselves to a Buddhist practice is that their capacity for both joy and for dealing with the sorrows and the pain of life grows. Practice opens the door for both.

Pema Chödrön: When I was in my late thirties, I was reading a book about Confucius and it said something like, “If you have been training up until the age of fifty to not resist what happens in your life, to open to it, then by the time you reach fifty, life will support you and make it easier. Conversely, if you’ve been training to shut down and try to get away from difficulties, then when you reach fifty, you’re going to become more and more cranky.” I remember vowing right then to choose the path of not resisting.

I am a little more optimistic now and think that a person can start at fifty, if that’s when they notice the need to change. As I get close to seventy, I can see the kind of challenges that physical deterioration can bring. I can see how in one’s eighties one could definitely become very irritable and impatient. So, I feel more committed than ever to avoid any kind of cozy nest. I’m anti-nest, because it feeds the propensity to resist being open.

If you live alone—and I am often alone in a retreat cabin or a similar setting—you have everything just the way you want it. So it’s really good to have people come in and mess things up. Otherwise, you think the meaning of life is just to get everything working the way you want it. But lo and behold, life becomes increasingly irritating as soon as you add even one more thing into your life.

Michael Krasny: Let’s take this conversation to a bigger sphere. If you had the most powerful man on the planet, George W. Bush, on a retreat with you, and he was willing not only to listen to what you had to say but also be mindful of what you had to say, what would you say to him about what compassion really means?

Jack Kornfield: First, I would look at him and say, “You know, it must be very difficult feeling that you have so much responsibility for the world.” I would want to start there. If I were to look at him and try to imagine myself in his place, I think I would see that he is just like all of us. He’s trying to do what he thinks is right and to lead his life the way he thinks he should. I would want to respect that and acknowledge how very hard it must be to have the responsibility he has. I would need to be able to really listen to him, and have a dialogue with him, before I could give any advice. Most people, including my teenage daughter, for example, are not so interested in my advice. But maybe they want to be listened to, so that’s where I would start. Maybe out of that conversation, some questions might arise about the effects of his actions on both himself and other people. That would be a good beginning.

Pema Chödrön: In previous years, if I were addressing a large audience like this and made a comment about President Bush, I would simply assume that everyone was of one view. Then I read a letter to the editor in Tricycle where somebody said that they were a practicing Buddhist and supported the government wholeheartedly. They found it painful that people who profess to be Buddhists and completely open-minded assumed that everyone in the audience had the same view. That stopped me in my tracks, and I began to realize that I don’t really want to foster aggression towards anybody by assuming what their correct political stance should be.

So, I agree with Jack’s way of approaching such an encounter. One of the tenets of the Buddhist teachings is that every living being has basic goodness, and we can communicate with each other from that place whether or not it would influence world politics or change someone’s religion. In fact, that can’t be the goal. The goal must be to talk to one another from the point of view of each other’s good heart. Up until this point I’ve never met anybody whose good heart you couldn’t contact. Trungpa Rinpoche once said that everybody knows how to love, even if it’s only tortillas. [Laughter]

Trungpa Rinpoche called that the “soft spot,” and he said that when you’re talking with someone, you want to find that spot. I often say that to people who are having really difficult relationships with their families. When people look for the soft spot, it can break the deadlock and they can begin to talk to each other again. Sure, they avoid the sticky subjects completely, but they find the place where they still love each other, which is always there waiting to be found.

I wouldn’t have any big expectations if I were talking with anyone such as the current president, who has completely different views from me, is archconservative and fundamentalist, and so forth. I wouldn’t hope for changing his religious views or political views, but I would have high hopes for our being able to talk from the heart.

Michael Krasny: Is being in the present with someone, then, the source of all compassion?

Pema Chödrön: What we need to do is drop the fixed ideas about the person we’re talking to. One way to do that is simply to start asking questions, and then we will see that a person’s soft spot is easy to find. I’m sure you find that happens in interviews all the time. You might have someone who’s a real hardass, but if you are able to get them on to certain topics, the mask comes off, and suddenly you’re talking human-to-human. That’s the now we’re talking about. It’s basically a now without preconceptions of who someone is, what they’re like, or what you have to prove to them. Now is dropping the agenda and just being completely curious about someone.

Michael Krasny: It’s what you call heart-to-heart.

Pema Chödrön: Yes.

Michael Krasny: Yet, we all seem to have a need to protect the heart, to keep it from being vulnerable.

Jack Kornfield: Yes, we do. Yet Rilke says, in a most beautiful line, that ultimately it is upon our vulnerability that we depend. That’s the way to the soft spot, to making a human connection. It is what we would want for the Israelis and the Palestinians, or the Northern Irish Catholics and the Protestants. There has to be a willingness to go to the place of vulnerability, and there are a couple of things we can say about how we avoid getting there and what we can do about that.

For one thing, we have difficulty making a human connection because we don’t trust our heart. We don’t trust that our heart has the capacity to open to the sorrows as well as the beauty of the world. We’ve been hurt many times, and along with that we’ve been taught that we can’t tolerate the world. One of the great Buddhist teachings—it’s a type of medicine, you might say—is to remind ourselves, and others, that we all have a great capacity of heart. We have within us buddhanature, the capacity to hold all the sorrows and joys of the world. An aspect of our great openness is our ability to tolerate suffering.

Everybody has their own burden. Everybody has their own measure of sorrow. Relatively speaking, some might carry an enormous burden, but everybody has a fair measure. It’s just part of the human condition. When you speak of the first noble truth, you acknowledge that this is how our human incarnation is. When you sit with someone, you can see that they too have their measure of sorrows, just as you do. If you can share with them how you’ve struggled with your own sorrows, and how you’ve worked with them, it softens the conversation and shares the vulnerability. It makes connection possible. It’s not a matter of being platitudinous or idealistic about this. The heart opens and closes, and there may be times, very sensibly, when you need to back off and protect yourself, as you say. You have to include yourself in compassion, not just everybody else. We get in trouble if the circle of compassion leaves out one person, “Moi!” as Miss Piggy would say. Once having included yourself in the compassion, the fundamental practice is to witness somebody else’s suffering.

Michael Krasny: Pema, you’ve recounted in your books some of the suffering you’ve experienced—a difficult marriage breakup, chronic fatigue syndrome, and so forth. Was compassion toward yourself a key part of transforming those experiences into something you could work with?

Pema Chödrön: Compassion toward yourself is something worth exploring more. In teaching Buddhism in the West, one of the first things that all of us as Western dharma teachers realized very early on was that most people we were teaching were really hard on themselves. Without self-compassion or some kind of loving-kindness toward oneself, nothing is ever going to happen on the spiritual path. It will never get off the ground. You can find that out very fast at the beginning. In my own case, for some reason I seemed to have had a lot of self-compassion from the beginning.

I learned in teaching people that almost anything you say to them can get twisted into something they use against themselves: “Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not good enough to do that.” If you suggest to someone that if they were patient and could do all those wonderful things that Jack read earlier in the “you’d be a dog” story, they will simply feel worse and worse about themselves and stress how inadequate they are. When they look into themselves, they find impatience, bad temper, and lots of right and wrong. Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, the teacher I am studying with right now, says that in order to progress along the spiritual path, you need to be able to self-reflect, to really look at yourself honestly. He says that’s where most Western people get stopped right away. They sit down, they start to meditate, then they begin to self-reflect and to see clearly their habitual patterns, thoughts, and emotions. Then everything is immediately twisted into self-loathing, self-disapproval, or self-denigration. Consequently, he teaches a lot about guiltlessness. He discusses the poison of guilt and how it never lets you grow. When you are guilty, you can never go any further. Somehow, for self-reflection to work, there has to be a lot of emphasis on loving-kindness and friendliness toward yourself. But that doesn’t mean self-indulgence.

Michael Krasny: It doesn’t mean self-pity.

Pema Chödrön: Exactly. The best analogy I’ve heard is to treat yourself as though you’re raising a child. Imagine you are a child that you are raising and that you love very dearly. You know you need to give the child a lot of love and nurturing, but the child also needs some boundaries. You’re not going to let yourself eat all the candy and run out into traffic. In your heart, you know what is going to help you grow. In the beginning, of course, you don’t really know that very well, but you will learn, including what helps you to become more patient, loving, and less aggressive. You find that out through self-reflection, but if it twists, and you use what you see against yourself, you will lose track and get angry at yourself without noticing it anymore: “How could I even consider myself a meditator or a Buddhist? I’ve been meditating now for fifteen years and look at me! I still have this bad temper and all the other stuff!” You need to be kind as you look at yourself and not let it turn into loathing.

Michael Krasny: Wasn’t the Dalai Lama quite interested to learn how much of an obstacle this kind of self-loathing is for Western students?

Jack Kornfield: Yes, Pema and I were at a conference for Western Buddhist teachers with His Holiness in Dharamsala, and Sharon Salzberg started talking about this phenomenon of self-hatred. And he kept asking the translator to clarify. He simply didn’t understand what Sharon was talking about. Then, he asked not only whether we knew what she was talking about but also if we ourselves experienced this self-hatred. And almost all the Buddhist teachers there, representing an entire generation, said yes.

It is definitely something I’ve wrestled with in my spiritual life. It’s so painful, and yet it is a place where a tremendous turning can happen. One of the instructions I’ve loved offering to people over the past decade or two is to suggest that they do a year of loving-kindness for themselves as a practice. All of a sudden, people find out how difficult it is to do that. People feel unworthy and that they shouldn’t be directing such kindness toward themselves. They cannot wish themselves happiness. So, initially, it’s very painful. But after a while it does start to change people, and it also starts to change their relationship to their lovers, their family, and their community. We do have this capacity to care for ourselves and we are worthy of it, and when we discover that, it immediately translates into generosity toward others.

Pema Chödrön: I found it quite interesting that all these teachers said it was the most prevalent thing they encountered teaching in the West, which led the Dalai Lama to conclude that there really is a basic difference between Tibetans and Western people. And now he continually says that there can’t really be compassion for other people without self-compassion.

We might hear that and say, “Great, but I can’t get there from here. How do I do that?” We need teachings on how to develop maitri, loving-kindness for oneself, which is what can bring out our strength and confidence in our wisdom. We need to let go of our story lines. The meditation practices that teach us to notice thoughts, touch them, and let them go, allow us to let go of the story lines. Then we can get in touch with the underlying raw feeling of guilt itself. That’s the nowness we were talking about earlier—being completely present with the discomfort that comes with the guilt and not simply feeding it with thoughts.

Michael Krasny: Isn’t is possible, though, that because you could feel guilty, you might act merciful and kind as a result? For example, someone who is quite wealthy and privileged might give alms to the poor because of guilt or regret.

Jack Kornfield: You can do things out of guilt that are good, but that doesn’t alleviate your own suffering. What we’re really asking ourselves here is how do we act in a way that both brings goodness and benefit to other people, but that also releases all the suffering we carry in our own hearts? To do that, you have to pay some attention to yourself.

Our motivation, I find, is always mixed. When I was young, I used to give a lot of gifts to people, because I wanted them to like me. Then I noticed how egotistical and yucky that was, and I felt I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I stopped giving anything to anyone, and then after a while that felt worse. I finally realized my motivations were going to be mixed. So, I decided to give things but also to pay attention, so that I would not simply be giving because I felt insecure and wanted somebody to like me. I could also become aware of the simple pleasure of giving something to someone else.

Pema Chödrön: And of course, after you apply mindfulness to that act for just a little while, you find out that most of the time the recipients aren’t thankful anyway, and they don’t like you better for it. You never got what you wanted in the first place. So your plan is working. [Laughter]

Jack Kornfield: And then you relax.

Pema Chödrön: You could get very resentful that you gave and gave and gave and then they didn’t thank you, or you could see the humor in the whole thing. That’s your choice.

Michael Krasny: The other day I was driving on the freeway and I cut someone off. He stopped his car, got out, and started coming toward me with a look of anger, like he wanted to hit me. I made a conciliatory gesture and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.” It stopped him in his tracks and he just turned around and drove away. That was strange, because my initial reaction was, if this guy wants to fight me, bring it on! [Laughter]

Pema Chödrön: We are experts at escalation, adding more kerosene to the fire. To de-escalate the cycle of suffering takes courage, because the urge to do what you always do—scream, cry, hit, whatever—is like a magnet. It’s pulling you down like the undertow. To hold your ground and be nonaggressive takes courage. Doing that doesn’t have to be called Buddhism. This is also what Martin Luther King taught. We are talking about the ideal of a beloved community. Nobody is healed until everyone is healed.

Jack Kornfield: Even though we’re talking very personally about what we’re doing when we’re talking to someone in pain, or when we’re driving or standing in line at the ticket counter, there is a very important political dimension to our experience. We need to deal not only with the aggression we see all around us in the world, but also with fear. Particularly since 9/11, we see fear of the other so clearly.

When we see the other person stop the car and come toward us, underneath our aggression, there is a fear about whether we can tolerate their anger. It is necessary to make friends with fear. What is our response going to be to the fact that the world is uncertain, and that sometimes bad and painful things happen? Are we going to be aggressive in a collective way, or is there a kind of wisdom that we can bring to the world?

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about how when the boats carrying Vietnamese refugees encountered storms or pirates, if everybody panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person could stay calm on the boat, that was enough. It showed the way for everybody else.

There’s a tremendous political task, a courage that’s asked of us in these times, like Martin Luther King would ask of us, a courage not to be reactive, both in the political sense and in the personal, although I’m not sure you ever separate them.

Michael Krasny: When King marched through Cicero, Illinois, he said he had never seen such hatred, unmasked and naked. How does one work with compassion and wisdom in the face of hatred like that or the hatred of suicide bombers?

Pema Chödrön: Well, what did Martin Luther King do?

Michael Krasny: Turned the other cheek.

Pema Chödrön: He did more than that. He resisted the hatred, went against it. He wanted everyone to be cured of the disease of hatred—the victims of the disease and those who had the disease. The whole idea was that you were going to get kicked in the head; you were going to be called names. You kept in mind that these things that were usually going to trigger and provoke you were a kind of illness, and the only way to cure the illness was not to retaliate.

Jack Kornfield: And yet it’s not passive. Gandhi said if he had to choose between passivity, which he equated with cowardice, and violence, he would choose violence. What he chose, what King chose—and what we’re called on to choose in this time, personally or collectively—was to be present with a lot of courage. King said to his adversaries, “We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, to face suffering, and still not stop, still march, still tell the truth, still do what’s necessary to make the change.” Not being reactive is not being passive. It’s not a kind of stupidity, holding back or being disinterested, removing oneself from the world. Real equanimity isn’t indifference. It’s the capacity to be present with your whole being and not add fuel to the fire.


Authenticity Is The Path To Freedom

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Oldspeak: “It takes backbone to lead the life you want…” –Richard Yates

Such a beautiful post. Resonates with me very deeply. AY AY AY! Soooo much time and energy spent pleasing and conforming to how others think you should be. So much needless hurt and suffering experienced. When intuitive beings I came into contact with identified and pointed to the inauthentic they perceived in me, I honestly had no clue what they were talking about. I was quite certain I was being “myself”, whatever that was. So many masks and lies created. So much needless fear and misery generated. Sankaras galore manifesting physically… Ooof the inner work done via yoga and meditation has been essential for deprogramming, decolonizing and deconstructing decades of the inauthentic false self I’d carefully crafted. The process of letting go all that I’ve believed to be true has been humbling and enlightening. Grateful for the experience. I encourage you all to get to know your authentic selves and know the freedom of just being You. Sat NAM!”

Zen Warrior

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” –Bruce Lee

young boy chain fenceWe are never truly free until we are fully authentic in our lives. Authentic in who we are and what we stand for indifferent to the judgement and opinions around us. Authentic in our thoughts and our actions. Too often our lives are spent trying to cater to the expectations of another. We make decisions and take action based on the thoughts and opinions of the people in our lives. We are imprisoned in the masks that we wear far away from our authentic self, the inner being within us, our source. Our inner being is free of judgment and fear. Our authentic self is not confined by our sex, status, or race. It is not confined by some defined role, or predestined life. It…

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In Uncategorized on October 2, 2017 at 6:02 pm


Oldspeak: ” I decided to take some time off from this blog in the weeks leading up to a vipassana meditation course. Took every opportunity to cultivate silence and stillness in life the world. The course was transformative. With all the distractions and diversions of everyday life removed, seeing things as they are became possible. Extremely uncomfortable at times. Observing the truth inside, unmediated, unfiltered, is pretty tough, trippy, terrifying  & ego-obliterating work. Through that paradigm shifting inner work, I came to understand that this blog, which I’ve described as “my therapy” was in actuality having no therapeutic effect atal. In fact it was a mechanism by which I’d be wallowing in and multiplying misery and suffering, a self-soothing behavior of a traumatized being. Focusing on what wasn’t here and now. Generating endless anxiety, anger, grief and fear of being unsafe, that was literally manifesting physically in my body in painful and unpleasant ways. Sitting for 100 hours over 10 days with life long accumulations of anger, anxiety, grief & fear, choicelessly observing it, smiling at it, accepting it, loving it unconditionally, put me on the path toward releasing it. Lots of deep, unprocessed reactions to life came up and were let go. I left the course 10 pounds lighter with more awareness, equanimity, strong determination and deeper understanding of the ever changing nature of this world that is wholly and completely outside my “control”. Accepting that the work  I really needed to do is inside and that I’d been wasting energy and time “screaming into the waterfall” that wasn’t even there about shit that’s not here. NO MAS. I’ve decided to stop screaming and start listening to the waterfall. Accepting that I am the waterfall. Realizing that it and all material forms are divine expressions of consciousness.  Coming to a direct experiential understanding of the words of Maharaj:

It is neither necessary, nor possible to change others. But if  you can change yourself you will find that no other change is needed.”

From here out I’m choosing to focus more on changing myself. Focusing less on what isn’t here and now. Being fully present with what is happening in the world, with less and less judgment, condemnation and despair. Practicing releasing unhealthy attachments to people, things, ways of being, thought & habit patterns that are obsolete & untrue. Focusing more on cultivating silence, stillness, awareness, happiness, compassion, compersion, joy, lightness of being, right action, understanding, healing, wisdom, gratitude, humility & equanimity. Smiling in the face of life’s tribulations and vicissitudes, keeping in mind that the laws of nature and reality are not subject to my whims, exhortations or reactions. Realizing that I’m not here to live in a prison of self-generated misery and suffering. Radically accepting that “It Is what It Is”. Resolutely walking the path to liberation & “truth which is beyond mind and matter, beyond time and space, beyond the conditioned field of relativity: the truth of total liberation from all defilements, all impurities, all suffering“. “Peace beyond passion”. I recommend you do the same. If you have the time and volition, please, take a vipassana meditation course, you’ll change your life in the most beauteous ways!

Please understand, the context in which this present moment came to be, could not have come to be without the presence at various points on this path of exceptional and extraordinary Beings. Beings with boundless compassion, wisdom, understanding, unconditional love and strength. I’ve been so grateful for the presence of these wonderous Beings, who’ve nurtured, supported and encouraged me to be me. Healed me, opened me, taught me, held space for me, challenged me & guided me to where I am today. Life has truly been the Guru. I’m grateful for the experience.

Be Well, Be Love.

May All Beings Be Happy!


Cities Are Already Suffering From Summer Heat. Climate Change Will Make It Worse

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2017 at 9:39 am

Air conditioning in Midtown Manhattan keeps buildings cool but releases heat into the surrounding air, which wind pushes north towards underserved communities like Harlem and the South Bronx. Credit: Jeffrey Swanson

Oldspeak: “With two-thirds of humanity forcast to be living in cities in 13 years, expect this suffering to intensify.

Written By Brian Kahn @ Climate Central:

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Tina Johnson has a sense of place. She’s a fourth-generation New Yorker who lives in the same apartment in West Harlem’s Grant housing development that her grandparents lived in. She calls that apartment her anchor and the nine buildings that make up the development towering above 125th Street — home to roughly 4,400 residents spread across nine high rises — a small town.

“I have fond memories (of here) and this sense of belonging I want my children to have,” she said.

To keep that sense of place is going to take some work, though. Changes outside that “small town” nestled in a city of 8 million will only compound the stresses altering West Harlem.

Air conditioning in Midtown Manhattan keeps buildings cool but releases heat into the surrounding air, which wind pushes north towards underserved communities like Harlem and the South Bronx.
Credit: Jeffrey Swanson

A mix of poverty, a lack of services and aging infrastructure already make West Harlem one of the most vulnerable communities in Manhattan.

Climate change is putting further stress on Johnson and the 110,000 people that call the neighborhood home. And the biggest threat is rising temperatures.

As carbon pollution turns up the planetary heat, the impact is clearest on what’s happening to extremely hot days: They’re becoming more common and more intense.

New York has averaged 3 days above 95°F over the past 20 years. If carbon pollution continues on its current trend, by 2075 that number is likely to increase to 31 according to a new Climate Central analysis.

Myriad cities across the country will be far worse off, though. Atlanta is projected to see 69 days above 95°F, Boise could spend 80 days above that threshold while Dallas is on track to have 140 days above 95°F. Then there’s Phoenix, where residents could have to contend with more than half of the year above 95°F (163 days in case you’re wondering).

Many small towns will suffer even more. Alva, Fla., (population 2,182) could see 142 days above 95°F while Salton City, Calif., (population 3,763) could have to cope with a mind-bending 203 days where the mercury tops out at 95°F or higher.

The biggest factor in the number of future hot days is how fast the world reins in carbon pollution today. However, even if emissions are dramatically cut, every place across the U.S. will face more hot weather.

But extreme heat is hardly some far-off problem for 2100. It’s already taking a toll on people and influencing the decisions they make.

For Johnson, living in public housing means paying a surcharge of $18 per month to keep air conditioning in her apartment. Her grandparents didn’t believe in getting an air conditioner both because of the cost and a “tough it out” attitude. Johnson herself used to tease her kids when they complained it was too hot, but she finally relented, especially as warm weather has become more common in New York.

“When I was growing up here, I knew the summer was going to be hot,” she said. “There might be some hot days, but there was a regular pattern of it getting really hot the first weeks of August and then summer would start to peter out. Now it’s harder to predict the weather.”

But because of New York City Housing Authority rules and antiquated wiring, she can only have two air conditioners in her apartment. In hot months, that effectively turns her three-bedroom apartment into a two-room apartment.

Johnson spends her summers sleeping in the living room with her two sons. Her 20-year-old daughter gets a small portable unit to herself and a series of fans to stay cool, but family tensions tend to bubble up more in the summer without enough space for everyone.

Access to adequate air conditioning isn’t just about maintaining family relationships, though. Staying cool can be a matter of life and death. In New York, that heat sends 450 people to the emergency room and kills 121 people directly or indirectly on average each year. A study published last year by Columbia University researchers showed that the city could see 3,331 heat-related deaths by 2080.

It will take more than air conditioning to make West Harlem a safe, habitable neighborhood if carbon pollution continues to rise.

Cutting carbon pollution will help mitigate some of the heat stress, but cities and towns across the country will have to act soon to protect citizens and the infrastructure and services upon which they rely.

New York just unveiled a $100 million plan to kickstart that preparation. It focuses on the most vulnerable areas like Harlem, the South Bronx and other underserved neighborhoods.

“We know we can’t do business as usual dealing with heat impacts,” Kizzy Charles-Guzman, the deputy director of the New York Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said. “We need to prepare now.”

There’s a layer of urgency for cities like New York. Summer days in the city are up to 14°F hotter than rural areas due to the urban heat island effect, a byproduct of all the pavement in cities trapping more heat than the trees and fields. But there are heat islands within heat islands. Where Johnson lives in Harlem is one of them, underscoring that climate adaptation is as much a social justice issue as one of engineering and infrastructure (it’s also a problem playing out throughout the world).

In Midtown Manhattan, air conditioners keep office buildings cool but they release heat into the surrounding air. Breezes from the south whisk that air into Harlem and the South Bronx, intensifying the heat island effect there.


Thermal imagery shows where heat islands exist within the larger heat island of New York. The black box shows where West Harlem is, including the hot spots within the neighborhood shown in red. Credit: The City of New York

For Johnson and thousands of others suffering with limited or no air conditioning, it’s adding injury to insult. A constellation of groups including WNYC public radio and WE ACT, a local environmental justice nonprofit, put together a pioneering study dubbed the Harlem Heat Project last summer. They put thermometers in 30 Harlem residents’ apartments and found that the temperature indoors frequently exceeded the ambient air temperature outdoors, particularly at night.

Building walls throbbed with heat they had absorbed throughout the day, radiating into homes and making sleeping and recovery from the day’s heat near impossible. That puts particular stress on elderly, the young and the infirm. Those conditions are also partly why Johnson, who has lupus and can’t spend much time outdoors, decided to install air conditioning.

“The communities that will be hardest hit by climate change are already the most vulnerable to environmental pollution and inequity,” Peggy Shepard, executive director of WE ACT, said. “Heat exacerbates asthma, other respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease.”

“It puts stress on the family and the house,” Johnson said.

To help ease some of the heat, New York’s $100 million plan will cover a host of initiatives, from planting trees and painting roofs white to cut the heat island effect, to connecting neighbors so that the elderly aren’t forgotten when the mercury skyrockets.

The latter idea holds particular promise as it’s a low-cost program that could achieve major results. Charles-Guzman, the deputy director at the New York Mayor’s Office, said what happened in the wake of Sandy is a textbook example.

“The neighborhoods where everybody knew each other, those neighborhoods did better (with recovery),” she said. “Not everyone wants a city worker knocking on their door. There’s low trust in government. We’re trying to capitalize on social ties people have with their neighbors.”

It’s tempting to peg New York as an outlier. After all, it’s a massive city with a vibrant economy in a deep blue state. But adapting to extreme heat is hardly the purview of rich, liberal cities.

Across the country, cities and towns of all shapes, sizes and political persuasions are reckoning with increasingly hot weather.

In Las Cruces, N.M., a city of 120,000 that sits in the shadows of the Organ Mountains, city planners are preparing residents for the even hotter future that climate change will bring.

At the town’s core is a clutch of low-slung adobe buildings punctuated by acres of parking lots that shimmer in the summer heat. Houses on the fringe of downtown blend with the desert dust and dead lawns that make up their front yards. Beyond that, the city tapers into the desert scattered with ocotillo, yucca and sagebrush.

The harsh landscape is a product of the sweltering, dry conditions that overtake the southern tier of New Mexico each summer. Even though it’s less dense than New York, trees cover just 4.5 percent of Las Cruces. On days when the temperature tops out above 108°F as it did earlier this summer, that translates to an intense heat island and very little shade for those braving the outdoors. The city is projected to see 64 days above 105°F by 2100, up from just a single day in an average year.


Like New York, Las Cruces is considering how to improve neighborhood awareness as a means to battle more extreme heat. But rather than focusing solely on checking in on neighbors when summer temperatures are at their hottest, city planner Lisa LaRocque said she has a vision to get neighbors helping each other with home repairs that can help keep things cool indoors.

“One of our goals is social cohesion and having neighbors help each other and know each other and create that bonding that might not otherwise occur,” she said. “(One idea is) if we are doing some of the low-hanging fruit of improving energy efficiency, we would do it as a neighborhood cooperative situation where I help you with x and someone else helps me with y.”

About 450 miles to the west of Las Cruces, city planners in San Angelo, Texas, have already glimpsed their future and are weighing how to respond. The city of 100,000 had 100 days above 100°F in 2011, an outlandishly hot year for the city. But that outlandishly hot summer could be routine if carbon pollution isn’t curbed. San Angelo is projected to have 110 days above 100°F by 2100. That’s the equivalent of running from the beginning of May through the end of September with daily temperatures near triple digits (to make matters worse, 39 of those days are projected to top out at 110°F or higher).


That makes the job of city planners in cities like San Angelo that much more important. When AJ Fawver, a city planner, convened a series of meetings to discuss how extreme weather affected basic city functions, managers were skeptical about why they were in the room together.

“Initially there was a feeling it only affects certain types of people,” Fawver said. “But really it affects everyone. You could see that as we went around the room” she said, rattling off how firefighters, road crews, utility workers and even the human resources department found they shared more heat-related woes than they first thought.

Weighing the impacts heat is already having on San Angelo makes the climate projections of what comes next all the more sobering. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe made the three-hour trip down from Texas Tech to talk with the group about what the future holds if carbon pollution isn’t curtailed. The findings painted a picture of relentless heat that will change the way the city functions and people live their daily lives.

“That was a reality check,” Fawver said. “People started thinking about their children and grandchildren and remembering how dreadful that summer was. Then it really hit home.”

San Angelo hasn’t yet decided how to tackle the hotter future that awaits it. But in a county where climate change isn’t a front-burner topic like it is in New York, the conversation is a major first step.

“The idea of climate change is still very controversial for some folks,” said Fawver, who is now the planning director in Amarillo, Texas. “There are people that just don’t want to have that discussion, people that question the science, a whole host of reasons why people want to avoid a conversation. But generally when we try to avoid a conversation, it’s a conversation that’s imperative to have.”


Earth Overshoot Day: Mankind Has Already Consumed More Natural Resources Than The Planet Can Renew Throughout 2017

In Uncategorized on August 10, 2017 at 7:12 pm

The equivalent of 1.7 planets would be required to produce enough to meet humanity’s needs at current consumption rates.

Oldspeak: “I, like most humans on Earth, failed to notice this grim, existentially important milestone. In 7 months we consumed more resources than Earth can provide for the year. August 2nd marked the day when we once again have deepened our ecological debt. Once again, the date has fallen earlier in the year than ever before. No civilization wide plans are in place to curb economic  & population growth. No radical interventions in the “business as usual” trajectory of human activity is on the horizon. As human resource consumption and population continue to grow,  It’s a pretty safe bet that we can expect increasing resource scarcity and the complete collapse of biospheric integrity as our planet’s ability to support our existence is eroded. It’s sad, that this life-altering reality garners a lone story in most news outlets. This is literally the only debt that matters and it’s barely noticed by most humans.” -OSJ

Earth Overshoot Day is not a day to be celebrated, but it is a day that deserves to be noticed and acted upon.

It is the day calculated by the Global Footprint Network (GFN) on which the Earth goes into debt, or more specifically we go in debt to the Earth. Every year the Earth is capable of producing a finite amount of natural resources — trees and wetlands to absorb carbon, agricultural lands to raise produce and livestock, trees to make paper, and so on.

When we exceed the naturally replenishable allotment of resources, we are forced to deplete resource stocks that will produce next year’s crops and carbon banks.

It’s pretty easy to figure out the downward spiral here.

The more we tap into those foundational resources, the less we are able to produce the following year. And then add that to steadily increasing consumption in countries like India and China … you get the picture.

Unless we have a radical intervention, we are headed for a collision course of epic proportions that can have only one of two results — the increasing scarcity (and costs) of resources resulting in a breakdown of the economic system and an end to the cycle of ever-expanding consumption. Or worse, the complete collapse of the complex natural systems that (until the 1970s) actually met all of our annual needs.” –Karl Burkart

Written By Phys.org:

Humanity will have used up its allowance of planetary resources such as water, soil, and clean air for all of 2017 by Wednesday, a report said.

Earth Overshoot Day will arrive on August 2 this year, according to environmental groups WWF and Global Footprint Network. This is a day earlier than in 2016.

It means humanity will be living on “credit” for the rest of the year.

“By August 2, 2017, we will have used more from Nature than our planet can renew in the whole year,” the groups said in a statement.

“This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period.”

The equivalent of 1.7 planets would be required to produce enough to meet humanity’s needs at current consumption rates.

Calculated since 1986, the grim milestone has arrived earlier each year.

Description of Earth Overshoot Day, the date at which humanity’s use of natural resources exceeds what the planet can regenerate in that given year. This year it falls on August 2.

In 1993, it fell on October 21, in 2003 on September 22, and in 2015 on August 13.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and gas make up 60 percent of mankind’s ecological “footprint” on the planet, said the groups.

There was some . While coming earlier every year, the advance of Earth Overshoot Day has slowed down, said the statement.

Individuals can contribute to stopping, and eventually reversing, the trend by eating less meat, burning less fuel, and cut back on food waste, said the report.

Abrupt Climate Disruption Intensifies As Planetary Warming Reaches Levels Not Seen For 115,000 Years

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Aerial view of the Amazon, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. (Photo: CGIAR / Flickr)

Oldspeak: “The biological annihilation of life on Earth continues apace. When you add “temperature increases measured over recent decades fail to fully reflect the planetary warming that is already in the pipeline for our planet, and showed that the ultimate heating up of the Earth could be much worse than previously feared.” to “The actions necessary to hold to 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degrees (warming), are simply outside the bounds of conventional politics in most countries…. avoiding dangerous climate change will require an immediate and precipitous decline in global carbon emissions over a decade or two. Given that most present-day economic activity is driven by fossil fuels, it would mean, at least temporarily, a net decline in economic activity. No one wants to discuss this.” that equals “We’re fucked.” Dahr Jamail is back with his latest climate catastrophe dispatch, documenting the ongoing deterioration of global biospheric integrity. As usual, shit is bad and all signs point to shit getting worse, as we hyperconsume and overpopulate ourselves to extinction.” –OSJ


Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

Camp 41, Brazilian Amazon — Less than 30 years ago, the Earth’s tropical rainforests held the carbon equivalent of half of the entire atmosphere. But as atmospheric CO2 has escalated along with the deforestation of so much of the tropics, that is no longer the case. Nevertheless, carbon stored in tropical rainforests is still significant. According to NASA, “In the early 2000s, forests in the 75 tropical countries studied contained 247 billion tons of carbon. For perspective, about 10 billion tons of carbon is released annually to the atmosphere from combined fossil fuel burning and land use changes.” This is one of the countless reasons why losing them would be catastrophic to life on Earth.

I’m writing this dispatch just having emerged from the heart of the Amazon, the most biodiverse place on the planet. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Tom Lovejoy, known as the “Godfather of Biodiversity,” at the famous Camp 41, which is filled with researchers and scientists. Throughout our conversations, Lovejoy emphasized the staggering amount of biological diversity in the Amazon, which has thousands upon thousands of species of trees, fish, birds, plants and astronomical numbers of insect species.

“We’ve only scratched the surface, and are discovering new species of birds all the time,” said Lovejoy, who was the first person to use the term “biological diversity” in 1980 and made the first projection of global extinction rates in the “Global 2000 Report to the President” that same year.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

Lovejoy, who founded the public television series “Nature” and is now a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation and a professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University, views anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) from the perspective of the fact that we are essentially “social primates.”

“We are so stuck on ourselves, we don’t consider the fact that the life sciences are a giant library that is continually acquiring new volumes,” Lovejoy explained. “It’s like we are just a bunch of social primates mutually grooming each other while the environmental lion sneaks up.”

Lovejoy warns that as ACD progresses and temperature limits continue to be exceeded, we are losing parts of the biosphere that we don’t even know exist.

Here in Brazil, I learned of a January 2016 science expedition of 50 scientists who spent 25 days in a remote area of the Amazon and discovered 80 new species.

Lovejoy posed a question for me, that is a warning to us all: “So what does it matter if we go over these limits and lose a few books in the biological library?”

He warned that as we keep removing books from the library — in other words, causing extinctions — we do not know which book(s) could cause a biological death spiral that could bring down the entire system.

An overview of some of the more stunning scientific reports and climate developments underscore this.

For anyone who thinks the biological library analogy might sound extreme, consider the fact that Stanford biologists recently issued something of a prelude to extinction. Having long since warned that the Sixth Mass Extinction event is already well underway, in a study recently published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers said that billions of populations of animals have already disappeared from Earth, amid what they called a “biological annihilation,” and admitted that their findings revealed a situation that was worse than they’d previously thought. The study showed that more than 30 percent of all vertebrates are experiencing declining populations, and the prime drivers of the annihilation are human overpopulation and overconsumption, especially by the rich, as well as habitat destruction, pollution and of course, ACD.

“The resulting biological annihilation obviously will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences,” reads the study. “Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.”

Meanwhile, a study recently published in Nature revealed that ice-free areas in the Antarctic will surge by up to a quarter (17,000 square kilometers) by 2100 if CO2 emissions are left unchecked.

As if to underscore that point, in July one of the most massive icebergs ever recorded broke free of the Larsen C Ice Shelf. The iceberg itself measures 5,800 square kilometers and is estimated to weigh one trillion tons.

And there are no indications that things will slow down. Recent research from Harvard University published in the journal, Science Advances, revealed that temperature increases measured over recent decades fail to fully reflect the planetary warming that is already in the pipeline for our planet, and showed that the ultimate heating up of the Earth could be much worse than previously feared.

“The worrisome part is that all the models show there is an amplification of the amount of warming in the future,” Cristian Proistosescu of Harvard University, who led the new research, told the Guardian. And the situation might be far worse, as his work shows climate sensitivity could be as high as a stunning 6C.

“Some have suggested that we might be lucky and avoid dangerous climate change without taking determined action if the climate is not very sensitive to CO2 emissions. This work provides new evidence that that chance is remote,” Bill Collins of the University of Reading in the UK told the Guardian.

On that note, an in-depth article published in July in New York Magazine, titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” is certainly worth reading. The heavily researched piece, which has generated much controversy, notes: “The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a slate-wiping of the evolutionary record it functioned as a resetting of the planetary clock, and many climate scientists will tell you they are the best analog for the ecological future we are diving headlong into.”

Similarly, recently published research generated at Cornell University revealed that by 2100, a staggering 2 billion people, or one-fifth of the total global human population, could become ACD refugees due to rising seas alone.

“We’re going to have more people on less land and sooner than we think,” lead author Charles Geisler, professor emeritus of development sociology at Cornell, said. “The future rise in global mean sea level probably won’t be gradual. Yet, few policy makers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground.”

The New York Times published an important article highlighting global efforts by scientists to build and protect repositories for things like ice, seeds and mammals’ milk in order to preserve them as evidence of a natural order that is rapidly disappearing. Last October, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault became flooded with rain; thankfully it was saved just in time, because otherwise we could have lost the seed backup plan for thousands upon thousands of species of plants. The San Diego Zoo maintains a frozen zoo of cryogenically preserved living cell cultures, sperm, eggs and embryos for 1,000 species, while the National Ice Core lab in Colorado holds approximately 62,000 feet of rods of ice from rapidly melting glaciers and ice fields in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica for future study.

Incredibly, a recently released report showed that only 100 companies are the source of more than 70 percent of the entire planet’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

Meanwhile, global warm temperature records continue to be set at a staggering pace. Global temperatures for June this year were surpassed only by June in 2015 and 2016. If temperatures continue as expected, 2015, 2016 and 2017 will be the three hottest years ever recorded. Estimates now show that warming has reached levels not seen for 115,000 years.


Profound changes are evident on land this summer. Abrupt ACD is a consistent and primary feature of previous mass extinction events. While a slight extinction rate is natural and normal, what we are witnessing today is extremely accelerated. History shows us that sudden and dramatic change in climate was the catalytic event that drove previous extinctions. (Having just come out of the middle of the Amazon rainforest, it is particularly clear to me right now that we’ve little idea how much we are losing already.)

Things are changing fast enough that a multimillion-dollar ACD study in the Canadian Arctic had to be canceled — because of ACD. The four-year study, launched by the University of Manitoba and several other universities, had to cancel the first leg of their study due to warming Arctic temperatures that were causing hazardous sea ice to travel much further south than usual, causing safety concerns for the scientists.

Meanwhile, as sea-level rise projections continue to increase, it is currently estimated that at least two billion people will be driven out of their homes by 2100 and be forced into the interior of their countries to look for new places to settle.

Things are getting hot and dry enough in Montana that farmers there have to consider new ways to grow wheat, while in Morocco, a 2014 study revealed that in the previous decade, the number of nomads in one particular region of that country had fallen by 63 percent in one decade, again due to hotter and drier conditions that made their way of life impossible.


As usual, there is ample evidence of ACD’s impacts across the watery realms.

In the Eastern Pacific, massive numbers of jelly-like organisms that are native to tropical seas are now invading Pacific coastal waters from Southern California all the way up into the Gulf of Alaska. Pyrosomes, which are colonies of hundreds to thousands of tiny zooids, have become so widespread as a result of warming ocean waters, they are causing big problems for commercial fisherfolk: They clog nets, completely preventing fishing in some areas. In May, one single scoop with a research net brought up 60,000 pyrosomes.

Another major issue plaguing the fishing industry along the West Coast of the US is worsening ocean acidification. The region’s billion-dollar fishing industry, along with the fragile coastal ecosystems, is suffering as the oceans continue absorbing more CO2 from the atmosphere and becoming more acidic. In Washington State, another pronounced example of this is that the Puget Sound area’s signature oysters are struggling to survive: They and other shellfish appear to be on their way out, due to the increasing acidity of their habitat.

A recently published study has confirmed that Earth’s oceanic basins are warming more rapidly than ever before in recorded history.

Thus, not surprisingly, the fourth largest ice shelf in Antarctica is in the process of melting down to its smallest area ever recorded, and another report shows that sea level rise around the world is accelerating due to how quickly the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting: That Ice Sheet alone is now responsible for one-quarter of all global sea level rise.

In other melting ice news, have a look at this fascinating tool to view how major glaciers in the Alps have dramatically melted over the last century.

At the other end of the water spectrum, a drought in Northern China has now become the worst in recorded history for that country, as economic losses to farmers in that region are now approaching $1 billion for this year alone.


Hot temperature records and extreme heat waves continue to be the norm, and they are intensifying. In late June, the southwestern US was wracked by extreme heat, as Phoenix and Las Vegas cooked. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for parts of Southern California and Arizona, cautioning of “a major increase in the potential for heat-related illness and even death.”

Earlier in the summer, Iran saw temperatures reach new heights: The city of Ahvaz experienced one of the hottest temperatures ever recorded on the planet, coming in at 128.66F. Extreme heat also plagued the UK, France, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, forcing some regions to ration water. Belgium also saw its hottest nighttime temperature ever.

Climate Central, in partnership with the World Meteorological Organization, has created a graphic which you can use to check future temperatures for many major global cities. According to the graphic, up to a dozen cities will heat up so much there is currently no analog on Earth to which we can compare them. “Khartoum, Sudan’s average summer temperature is projected to skyrocket to 111.4°F (44.1°C) if carbon pollution continues unchecked,” the press release that accompanied the graphic stated. “That shift underscores that unless carbon pollution is curbed, the planet could be headed toward a state humans have never experienced.”

report in the Hindustan Times revealed that Delhi could become as hot as the United Arab Emirates’ Sharjah by 2100, as the average summer high temperatures in major Indian cities could rise by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius.

As usual in the summers nowadays, there is more bad news on the methane front. Remember, methane is 22 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 100-year timescale.

The Siberian Times reported recently that two fresh craters were found on the Yamal Peninsula. The newspaper stated that “the formation of both craters involved an explosion followed by fire, evidently signs of the eruption of methane gas pockets under the Yamal surface.” The craters, each of which is approximately 25 feet in diameter and roughly 65 feet deep, can be viewed here.

The heat wracking the planet this summer has been accompanied by intense wildfires.

In Siberia, multiple blazes kicked off wildfire season across the tundra and boreal forest. The fires burned at a rate unheard of for at least the last 10,000 years, and released vast stores of carbon stored in the trees and soil, creating yet another positive feedback loop for ACD: More wildfires create more heat in the atmosphere, which creates more wildfires, and on, and on. The NASA satellite photos of the burning area are disturbing.

Closer to home in California, raging wildfires forced roughly 8,000 people to evacuate as out-of-control fires destroyed homes and threatened thousands of other structures.

Along coastal Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territory, large wildfires burned near the shores of the Arctic Ocean — water that was, until recently, frozen. In British Columbia, 14,000 people have fled as more than 1,000 firefighters battle numerous large blazes.

Drier dry spells and higher temperatures mean longer, more intense wildfire seasons, which is precisely what we are seeing. The US this year is on pace to have a record-breaking wildfire year, with at least 3.5 million acres burned already. By April, early on in wildfire season, more than 2 million acres had burned, which is nearly the average consumed in entire fire seasons during the 1980s.

Denial and Reality

There’s never a dull moment in the denial world these days.
In Florida, that state’s extremist ACD-denying Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation making it easier for Florida residents to challenge science that is taught in public schools, so if an ACD-denying parent doesn’t like a science textbook that teaches the basic physics of how greenhouse gases work, the book could end up being banned.

Trump-appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, an ACD denier and pink slipped 38 members of the EPA’s Board of Scientific advisors, which is merely a drop in the bucket compared to dozens of other major environmental roll-backs the Trump administration has pulled off thus far, including forcing NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] to erase human activity references to greenhouse gases in its Annual Greenhouse Gas Index.

Thankfully, reality continues to thrive in other parts of the world: In France, the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned beginning in 2040 — just one of the steps that country is taking to meet its portion of the Paris climate agreement.

Surprisingly, in the US a recent poll by Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication showed that roughly two-fifths of the population believe ACD is likely to kill off all humans.

In other positive news, slowly but surely more reports addressing overpopulation’s critical role in ACD are surfacing. One published in July in the Guardian suggested people who are serious about doing something about ACD should have fewer children. By way of example, a recent study published in Environmental Research Letters calculated that having one less child would bring a reduction of 58 tons of CO2 for each year of a parent’s life.

This suggests, in turn, that countries that are serious about addressing ACD should be developing strong protections for reproductive rights, increasing the availability of birth control and abortion, working toward gender justice and ensuring that comprehensive sex education is provided in all schools.

A mega-dose of reality for all of us here on Earth: Earth’s sixth mass extinction event is already well underway, the aforementioned event researchers are already referring to as causing the “biological annihilation” of wildlife, and that is already far more severe than previously feared.

“It’s as simple as bacteria in a test tube,” was Lovejoy’s response when I asked his take on the overpopulation crisis. “You can only have so many before you run out of nutrients.”

So What If We’re Doomed? Climate Chaos, Mass Extinction, The Collapse Of Civilization: A Guide To Facing The Ecocide

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2017 at 12:27 pm


Oldspeak: Really, really beautiful piece. Poignant writing about people who’ve chosen to see what is. To grieve and feel sad and talk about the “ecocide that nobody seems able to prevent.” Ecocide — the total destruction of our home — seemed inevitable to them, and to me, given the things I’d seen and any number of ongoing catastrophes: mass extinction, climate chaos, flooded coasts, mega-drought; oceans turning to acid, permafrost to muck. We humans are a disastrous species, as bad for the Earth as a meteor strike, and the realization of this had established in me a new kind of sadness, a mixture of guilt and mourning for a loss yet to come.” I really enjoyed how the author got to the root cause of the intractable predicament we find ourselves in.  This globalized inverted corptalitarian kleptocracy, this demented culture of takers. That has no real interest in “sustainability” or living in balance with our Great Mother… For me, he really hit the nail on the head when he said: “What brought you here? This culture, these takers. My life’s history is tied to their system of plunder and its superstructure: a culture of greed and power; locomotives, interstates and Manifest Destiny; pavement and parking lots; extirpation and extinction; genocide, slavery, racism; combustion, warheads, oligarchs. The takers’ mentality runs through the environmental debate, too, and now we face the prospect of their bright-green vision, a dying world where humans have mastered, godlike, the technologies of dominion: massive solar arrays, geo-engineered shade, gleaming hydroponic cities and sweeping fields of mono-cultured soy — the output of a cultural algorithm that has been running thousands of years, a system of consumption and motion that will do anything to keep its wheels turning.” Turning this balance destroying carcinogenic “endless growth” mode of being “green” won’t change things for the better. It’ll make some people wealthier, and others feel better, and destroy more of our environment. We must, as a species, disabuse ourselves of this takers mentality of infinite growth. Find ways to regain balance and live in harmony with our Great Mother.  Degrow. Do less with less. Our acute addiction to “doing something” and “doing more” is quite counterintuitively, sealing our fate faster than expected. But alas, If our sanity is to survive the ecocide, we must address…. two pains in tandem: grief for the loss of things to come and the injustices that surround us.” -OSJ

Written By Brian Calvert @ High Country News:

In the winter of 2013, I drove up California’s Central Valley to Stockton, to interview Cambodian parents who’d lost children in one of the nation’s many mass school shootings. A local man named Patrick Purdy had parked his station wagon behind an elementary school, set it on fire with a Molotov cocktail, and, as curious children ran toward him, shot them with an assault rifle. Purdy killed five children and wounded nearly 30. All of the dead were Cambodian or Vietnamese. The parents had survived war, genocide and refugee camps, only to have their children murdered in America.

The shooting took place in 1989, 24 years before I visited, but one mother wept so hard during her interview, it seemed no time had passed for her. I had spent much of my early career as a foreign correspondent, speaking to men, women and children in places torn up by war or political violence. And though I’d left the last of these assignments, in Afghanistan, more than a year earlier, the stark irony of the Stockton shooting brought back a familiar, low-register pain. I wrapped up the interviews and headed back to Orange County, south of Los Angeles, dragging the day behind me like a chain. I had a small apartment near the coast, and in the mornings I would run along the Bolsa Chica wetlands, where a pumpjack groaned in its lonesome, eternal way and a pair of kestrels hunted the brush from a cluster of palm trees. Some mornings, a pair of Blackhawk helicopters would fly by, thundering over the surf. We’re still at war, they’d whisper. Do not doubt it.

In this state of mind, a few days after the Stockton trip, I came across the work of Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who called himself a “recovering environmentalist.” He was one of the founders of The Dark Mountain Project, a movement of philosophers, writers and artists that had emerged from the 2008 economic crisis, and he believed the planet was experiencing an “ecocide that nobody seems able to prevent.” Ecocide — the total destruction of our home — seemed inevitable to them, and to me, given the things I’d seen and any number of ongoing catastrophes: mass extinction, climate chaos, flooded coasts, mega-drought; oceans turning to acid, permafrost to muck. We humans are a disastrous species, as bad for the Earth as a meteor strike, and the realization of this had established in me a new kind of sadness, a mixture of guilt and mourning for a loss yet to come. Kingsnorth was one of the few people who seemed to voice a similar pain, and I began following his writing. I eventually moved to Colorado, and, not long after, saw that Kingsnorth was hosting a retreat in the Spanish Pyrenees, for “grief in the age of ecocide.” I immediately signed up. Now that my pain had been named, I wanted to understand what to do with it.

SUBLIME: The L.A. River 2, 2015.

Elena Dorfman


THE RETREAT WAS CALLED “SHADOWS IN THE WILD.” The idea behind it was to learn meditation methods, eat healthy food, hike — and discuss the ecocide. A short week of this would conclude with a 24-hour solo in the “wilderness.” There were about a dozen participants, mostly from Europe: journalists, professors, musicians, programmers, civil servants. On the first day, we hiked to an old stone farmhouse in the Alta Garrotxa, a folding, forested range of steep canyons and limestone crags in the eastern Pyrenees. We pitched our tents among the pine trees surrounding the house, then gathered in the main room to join Kingsnorth and our guides for dinner. A fire roared in the hearth, and we sat around two heavy wooden tables, drinking the last wine we’d see for the week.

Kingsnorth, then 44, was tall, with shaggy brown hair, ruddy cheeks and a soft-spoken manner, polished no doubt by the numerous gatherings he’d hosted since the inception of the Dark Mountain Project. Over the next few days, he told us, we would engage in a kind of therapy designed for people who believe the end of civilization is upon us. “Simply by paying attention to the darker things in the world — it gives people permission to have a conversation with people that they’ve been having a hard time having,” he said. “Dark Mountain is a rolling conversation about how to live in the age that we’re living in without falling into the abyss.”

His outlook had not always been so grim. He grew up wandering England’s mountains and moors with his father, “a compulsive long-distance walker.” This led him toward environmental activism, as did a formative trip, at the age of 21, to Borneo’s rainforest, with its moonlit rivers, fruit bats, hornbills and hooting gibbons. Back home, he saw his society as “atomized” and inward-looking, a place of streetlights and asphalt and advertisements, “screaming for my attention, trying to sell me something, tell me who to be, what to desire and to need.” He set out to save “nature from people,” first fighting road development in England, then organizing protests against globalization. Over time, though, he became disillusioned. Environmentalism had left the wild behind in favor of “sustainability,” he thought, “an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for ‘the planet.’ ”

“Something inside me broke somehow,” he said. “I thought, ‘This isn’t working. We’re totally fucked. The machine will go on until it’s killed everything or collapses or both. But the wild world, justice — I still believe in that. What can I do with that?’ ”

And so he had gone looking for another way of being. He started writing and publishing fiction, poetry and essays. Along the way, he came across the work of a forgotten 20th century poet named Robinson Jeffers, and there found an intellectual mooring. Jeffers thought humans unable to understand themselves as a part of nature, and therefore doomed to destroy it. He wrote from the Northern Coast of California, putting landscape and animals above humans and their delusions, through two world wars and the onslaught of the modern industrial age. His writing had a grim resolve to it that matched Kingsnorth’s, a sense of tragedy best captured in the poem from which Dark Mountain draws its name, “Rearmament.” Jeffers wrote the poem in 1935, the year Hitler became führer and a windstorm swept 12 million pounds of dirt from the Great Plains into Chicago. Jeffers describes humanity as a slow-moving glacier “bound to plow down a forest,” headed for a future only fools believe they can change: “The beauty of modern / Man is not in the persons but in the / Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, / the dance of the / Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.”

Kingsnorth felt a kinship with Jeffers, he said, “standing like a hawk on these wild cliffs, watching a process he clearly thinks is doomed, and just watches it, even though it causes him grief.” Relying in part on Jeffers’ work, Kingsnorth built an idea he called “dark ecology.” In the Orion essay where he coined the term, he offered five answers to the ecological crisis, most of them suggestions for reconnecting to the wilder world: preserving nonhuman life; rooting oneself in the work of land or place; insisting that nature has intrinsic value; and “building refuges” where non-human life can flourish. “Withdraw,” Kingsnorth advised, “so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance — refusing to tighten the ratchet further — is a deeply moral position.”

Withdraw? I could almost hear the groans from activists around the world — protesters, lobbyists, lawyers, half of California, every editor at Grist. Indeed, writing for Grist in 2012, Wen Stephenson warned against Kingsnorth’s “defeatist” approach, saying that without serious action to address climate change, “the consequences will be a whole lot more ‘unthinkable’ than darning socks and growing carrots,” especially for “those non-rich, non-Western folks Kingsnorth cares about.” He had a fair point, but not a helpful one. Without concerted action, the world was probably headed for a new Dark Age, one of heat and hurricanes and sun-blasted barbarism. I simply wasn’t convinced humans could prevent it. Spain, then, was a way to examine that belief, to figure out what to do with it.

Later that night, I walked out of the farmhouse and into the darkness, following the beam of my headlamp along a stone wall and down a dirt path to my tent. The air had a spring bite, and my breath came in puffs that drifted through the trees. I paused to watch the stars. Some of what Kingsnorth said made sense, but I found it hard to reconcile the idea of withdrawing with simultaneously seeking justice. His message articulated a kind of common despair, or resignation, as though the human race were a cancer patient given six months to live. But that kind of thinking can only assuage grief, not turn it into something useful.

Perhaps there were more answers in Jeffers’ work, beyond Dark Mountain doom and catharsis. After all, the poet profoundly influenced environmental thought throughout the 20th century. Ansel Adams was a friend, whose famous black-and-white landscapes bear Jeffers’ metaphysical fingerprints. John Steinbeck would pore over his poems alongside his friends, Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, and Ed Ricketts, a marine ecologist. David Brower, the former head of the Sierra Club, called Jeffers’ relationship to the California Coast, “one of the most uncanny and complete relationships between a man and his natural background known in literature.” Edward Abbey has conversations with Jeffers throughout Desert Solitaire, though he never mentions his name. In a poem called “Hurt Hawks,” Jeffers describes a wounded redtail that he must put down. “I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk,” he writes. Abbey’s version: “I’d rather kill a man than a snake.”

These men were drawn to Jeffers’ work in part because of his philosophy of “inhumanism” — a deliberate attack on the human exceptionalism that Kingsnorth so derides. At its center is a perspective of deep time and humanity’s insignificance in the cosmos. And yet Jeffers also saw humans as an integral part of an interconnected whole: “There is not an atom in all the universes / But feels every other atom; gravitation, electromagnetism, light, heat, and the other / Flamings, the nerves in the night’s black flesh, flow them together; the stars, the winds and the people: one energy, One existence, one music, one organism, one life, one God: star-fire and rock-strength, the sea’s cold flow / And man’s dark soul.”

I crawled into my sleeping bag, as an owl hooted somewhere in the woods. There was a clear connection between Jeffers and the environmental movement — a bright shining line of well-meaning white guys that stretches from Abbey to Muir to Thoreau and on back to the Romantics. Their influence runs now through slick REI ads and “cabin porn” websites, and I must admit the fantasy tempts me: drop off the grid, chop wood in warm flannel, ease back each night by the fire with a couple of tuckered dogs, a book and a shimmering tumbler of whiskey. But even if it were realistic, could that actually be a morally defensible position? What about everyone else?

SUBLIME: The L.A. River 3, 2015.

Elena Dorfman

THE NEXT DAY, WE HEADED OUT FOR A HIKE and an exercise in storytelling. The hills behind the farmhouse were steep, like everything in the Alta Garrotxa, which was wilder than I’d expected. We marched single-file up the trail, through holm oak and beech, past vines and brambles and patches of earth churned by wild pigs. I stepped over a salamander, bright yellow and black, as an Australian named John, a professional gambler, hiked ahead of me. John, a lanky, buzz-cut 40-something, had come to see most people around him as wasteful and oblivious. He’d look out from his place in the city and see offices empty, lights on, row after row, and despair. “I’m a person who has lost almost all hope,” he told us. Now, though, John took the lead, his long legs carrying him at a brisk pace. I felt lighter, too, in this strange column of dark-mountaineers. At the end of an arduous section of trail, we stopped to catch our breath. John was smiling now, sweating. “I think we’re doing something right,” he said. “I think so,” I replied.

At a clearing, we separated into smaller groups. Our guide, a bright-smiling German named Korbi, told us to hike into the woods alone, find objects that spoke to us, and assemble them in a way that would answer the question: “What brought you here?” I followed a game trail through a thicket of holly, where an ancient dead pine stood. It was massive and gray and twisted, and reminded me of trees I climbed as a boy. After a sheepish look around, I heaved myself up, settled into its branches, and thought about home.

I grew up in Pinedale, Wyoming, a ranch town divided by Pine Creek, the outlet of Fremont Lake, named for an “explorer” and carved by glaciers. My family’s trailer wasn’t far from the creek, which was flanked on each side by woods — pine, aspen and willow. As children, my sister and I spent most of our time there. Carrie and I were born 13 months apart, “Irish twins” and best friends, and when the creek ran high from snowmelt, we would strip to our underwear and float it through town. The water and woods were our summer home, which we shared with duck and moose, marten and osprey, fox and deer.

One afternoon, I went to the creek alone, exploring the bottomlands until I found a rise of sagebrush and potentilla I’d never noticed. As I started to cross, a killdeer appeared, shrieking and feigning a broken wing. She kept up her dance until I backed away. I chose another angle to walk, noting again when she began to feign injury. We had this conversation until I triangulated where her nest must be. I scanned the ground, inch by inch, until I found it, three speckled eggs in a tight grass bowl. It was a moment of communion: the mountains, ground by glaciers, flowed into the lake, whose water built my bones, and these eggs and the chicks within — all of us connected, the peaks, the lake, the creek, the birds, the boy. A feeling of great responsibility came over me. Their secret uncovered, the fate of the eggs was up to me. I rose and left them safely hidden. This is one of my last good memories of childhood.

Pinedale sits in the basin of the Upper Green River Basin, once rich in beaver and mink. In the late 1800s, it was a gathering place for trappers and bands of Shoshone, who would come out of their mountain hideaways each summer to revel and trade. For many years, Pinedale celebrated this “Rendezvous” with an annual pageant, billing it as “a must-see” reenactment of “the most romantic era of Wyoming history.” It included a fur trader wagon train; a pipe ceremony; a sun priest and pony dancers; the purchase of a Shoshone woman named Sweetgrass; and a horse race for blankets. Rendezvous weekend meant a lot of tourists, and a lot of drinking at the three bars in town, which all drew their names from our more cattled history: the Corral, the Cowboy and Stockman’s.

In the pageant, Carrie and I played Shoshone children, our hair spray-painted black, our skin colored a burnt umber. No one could do anything about our eyes, however, so those stayed bright blue behind the paint. Our job was to play around the teepees, where our mother and other women, similarly costumed, scraped hides in the sun. My mother’s new husband, Dave, played a mountain man. Dave was a short-tempered veteran of the Vietnam War, a chest-poker unamused by stepchildren. He took his trapper role seriously, grew his beard and hair out, wore beaded buckskin and a fur hat, carried a muzzleloader, a hatchet and a jug of whiskey. He rode through town wild-eyed on a dun horse, awesome and frightening, a man stuck in a myth. At the end of one of those drunken Rendezvous nights, Dave came home late to the trailer, stumbled down the hall — and turned into the room where Carrie slept.

SUBLIME: The L.A. River 4, 2015.

Elena Dorfman


I COME FROM A CULTURE OF TAKERS. No white male, certainly not from the American West, can claim otherwise. The takers flowed out of the Bronze Age, from riders of the Carpathian steppes of Eastern Europe, who put together the unbeatable combination of horse and wheel, who buried their warriors with their steeds, their chariots and their javelins. The takers spread as far as India, Europe and Scandinavia, to Vikings and the “Northmen” of what is now France. In 1066, these Normans invaded England and usurped the Anglo-Saxons, raiders named for their swords, who had ousted the Celts.

One sleepless night, I found online an old reference to my family name, from 1203 — a knight of the Norman Conquest. The first Calvert to settle in America sailed from England with two ships full of Catholics to found the state of Maryland, in 1634. He planted a cross and claimed the land in the name of his father, Lord Baltimore. When their descendent, my great-great-grandfather, came to Wyoming as a scout for the Army and the Union Pacific Railroad, he was the sharpened tip of that culture of conquest, the same culture that colonized and subjugated places I found myself in, decades later, as a journalist.

These takers are Marlow’s “conquerors” in Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” Indigenous people of South America call them “termites.” In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates calls them Dreamers: “Once, the Dreamers’ parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion, a plunder with no known precedent.”

Carrie’s abuse lasted years, until she left home, at the age of 14. Our family fell apart, a splintering that took decades to mend. Determined to become a different kind of man, I ran as far away as I could — to Cambodia and wars and sorrow that echoed my own. Carrie eventually made peace with things, but I held onto a deep sense of shame and anger.

What brought you here? This culture, these takers. My life’s history is tied to their system of plunder and its superstructure: a culture of greed and power; locomotives, interstates and Manifest Destiny; pavement and parking lots; extirpation and extinction; genocide, slavery, racism; combustion, warheads, oligarchs. The takers’ mentality runs through the environmental debate, too, and now we face the prospect of their bright-green vision, a dying world where humans have mastered, godlike, the technologies of dominion: massive solar arrays, geo-engineered shade, gleaming hydroponic cities and sweeping fields of mono-cultured soy — the output of a cultural algorithm that has been running thousands of years, a system of consumption and motion that will do anything to keep its wheels turning.

I descended the pine tree, saddened. But then I noticed the fresh green needles of the younger pines, which seemed to be the progeny of the giant. I picked up a dead branch, stripped a living one, bound them together with a sprig of holly, and returned to the group. I’m here, I told them, because I want to find a way to bring all that I’ve seen to bear on the ecological crisis. I just don’t know how.

SUBLIME: The L.A. River 5, 2015.

Elena Dorfman

ON THE THIRD MORNING of the retreat, we gathered on a grassy terrace below the farmhouse for a lesson in qigong. Qigong is a practice of movement and meditation that comes through Taoism and includes ideas of balance for well-being, between opposites, as symbolized by yin and yang, or between five elements: fire, earth, metal, water, wood. I had seen many practitioners of qigong over the years, in Beijing’s parks or along the Phnom Penh riverfront, as I stumbled home from a night of drinking. I had never tried it, the idea of power meridians and chakras being too much for me. Here in the mountains, though, barefoot on the dewy grass, sweeping my arms from side to side, I felt the pain of the previous day dissipate, replaced with calm.

There was something in the way the week was going, with its emphasis on quiet and connection, that I found helpful. But I was still having a hard time squaring my thoughts with Kingsnorth’s message and the Dark Mountain rationale. It wasn’t that I thought they were wrong; it just seemed like they were missing something, especially in Jeffers. A few weeks earlier, I’d called a Jeffers scholar at Minot State in North Dakota, ShaunAnne Tangney, who also studies the American West and apocalyptic literature. “I don’t see a good ‘but’ in the Dark Mountain Project, quite frankly,” she told me. “Jeffers played with the rise and fall of cultures, but there’s always something else that comes after for him. Humanity will fall, but nature is still here. From beginning to end, earliest to last, Jeffers has one constant, and that’s beauty.”

That thought stuck to me like a bur, all the way to Spain. If I was initially intrigued by the darkness in Jeffers’ poetry, I was coming around to his ideas on beauty. Helpful now, following my pine-tree reveries, was the realization that Jeffers’ art was a product of grief.

Jeffers had watched both his newborn daughter and his father die in 1914, the same year the Great War began. Not long after, he and his wife, Una, moved from Los Angeles to Northern California. In 1919, the couple bought land near Carmel, a place of pine and fog north of the roaring coast of Big Sur. They lived first in a drafty cabin, where they cut and burned eucalyptus and oak, redwood and pine, and which they filled with books on flowers, shells, birds and stars. The Jeffers liked their promontory, where cormorants and pelicans kept them company, along with the hawks that would become a central symbol in Jeffers’ work — marsh- and sparrow-, redtail, Cooper’s.

Despite the idyllic setting and the birth of twin boys in 1916, Jeffers remained in a state of despair. His poetry, he thought, was unoriginal, “doomed to go on imitating dead men,” even as a new movement of writers seemed to be “divorcing poetry from reason and ideas.” At the birth of the Modern Age, Jeffers was contemplating suicide.

The couple, meanwhile, had plans for a house made of granite and hired a stonemason to build it. A despairing Jeffers offered to help. Day by day, he hauled stones from the oceanfront and mixed mortar, slowly learning to fit each piece together. He found solace in the stones, in the waves and tides, in the work. At night, he walked to watch the stars. His younger brother, Hamilton, was an astronomer at the nearby Lick Observatory, and Jeffers liked to think about the earth and sea amid the swells of deep time, a universe of moons and planets, galaxies and novas.

By the time the house was done, along with a tower Jeffers built himself, he had transformed into an original artist and thinker. With the California Coast as a backdrop, Jeffers wrote poems that were compared to the works of Walt Whitman and Homer. One critic called his verse “as primitively American as the flintlock and the Maypole.”

By 1932, he was celebrated on the cover of Time, for elegant achievements in verse-craft and honest thought. He was popular for a time, but as his sons reached fighting age, Jeffers spoke out against World War II. His darker views of humanity earned him few fans, given the tide of American jingoism and the threat of Nazi Germany. The publisher of his 1948 collection, The Double Axe, included an objection to its “unpatriotic” content. His work lost favor with academic critics and faded from public view. He was left out of university anthologies. Jeffers died in 1962, aged 75, and somewhat forgotten — though not by everyone.

Jeffers’ works had an impact on Doug Tompkins, the billionaire conservationist and founder of North Face. In the early 1990s, Tompkins left the commercial world behind to live in Chile, at the Southern tip of the world, using his wealth to establish massive conservation programs. Tompkins died in a kayaking accident in December 2015, paddling a section of General Carrera Lake, high in the Andes. At the time of his death, he and his wife, Kris, had managed to preserve 2.2 million acres of land — a sanctuary across coastal fjords and endangered forests, supporting rare deer and wild pigs, pumas and jaguars, anteaters and macaws. His death was a huge loss not only to friends and family but to the wild places of the world. Tompkins had been a reader of Jeffers and was long been inspired by beauty, Jerry Mander, his friend and fellow co-founder of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, told me. “He would talk about beauty all the time.” Tompkins considered beauty itself a natural resource in need of legal protection, and beauty had been a primary force in his life beginning from his teenage years. “A lot of people talk about beauty, but he would talk about it as a cause itself,” Mander said. “That was his primary guiding force, to tell you the truth.”

I’d been thinking a lot about that conversation, and the idea of beauty in general, in Spain. Tompkins, who also knew Kingsnorth, was the epitome of Jeffers’ ethos. But was his work meaningful? And if so, was that only because of its scale? Or was dedication to that kind of beauty merely glorified withdrawal? Where does the establishment of a nature preserve in Patagonia fit with the murder of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, or the drowning of Syrian refugees in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, or the collateral damage of U.S. drone strikes?

At night in Kabul, awakened by nightmares, I’d stand on the roof and smoke, Scorpio shimmering over the dusty city. I’d try to put myself somewhere else in the world in relation to the stars, the mountains of Wyoming maybe. I could never do it. I was always overwhelmed, disoriented. When I’d had enough, I moved to California. I would surf in the mornings, watching the waves come in, undulating, gunmetal-gray, dolphins slipping beneath me like shades. I felt at peace there — and useless. I thought I should try environmental writing and a healthier way of living, but what I found was a new kind of grief. I’d run out of places to go. In taking a step back in Spain, however, I was starting to see a way through. Kingsnorth embraced Jeffers’ inhumanism, and Tompkins his ideas on beauty. But the immensity of the ecocide demands more. Our grief comes from the takers and their modern machine, which is one of violence and injury. If our sanity is to survive the ecocide, we must address these two pains in tandem: grief for the loss of things to come and the injustices that surround us.

We can do this through beauty and justice, which are closer together than they first appear.

Consider the portrait series by photographer Nick Bowers, “Scared Scientists.” In it, Bowers takes portraits of researchers as they are interviewed about their greatest fears. The result is a collection of images that captures the low-grade trauma many of us are experiencing. The greatest fear for Shauna Murray, a biological scientist at the University of Technology Sydney, for example, is “reaching four degrees (Celsius) of warming.” “At the moment, we’ve at least 10,000 different papers, completed over 20 years, each using different data sets, and they are all coming to the same climate change conclusions,” she says. “We’ve a weight of evidence that the average person is simply not aware of — and this frightens me. I’d like to think that we’re not going to reach the projected four degrees of warming this century; because I can’t even imagine what that would look like. Eighty years is not that long, and unless we act soon, my seven-year-old daughter will probably have to live through that.” Her portrait looks like something out of war photography: hair mussed, eyes wide in shock, mouth grimacing — a new class of soldier, one traumatized by computer models and visions of a frontline future unknown to most of us.

Bowers’ work bears witness to injury, not only to the scientists but to future generations. The series is a work of art that bends beauty toward justice, addressing grief with both. Likewise, when Coates establishes a relationship between injustice and exploitation of both people and nature, he is arguing for justice. However, he is also arguing for integrity, which is close to Jeffers’ ideal of beauty: “However ugly the parts appear the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand / Is an ugly thing, and man dissevered from the earth and stars and his history … for contemplation or in fact … / Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is / Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe.”

Perhaps, then, the way through the ecocide is through the pursuit of integrity, a duty toward rebalancing the whole, toward fairness, in both senses of the word. Elaine Scarry, a professor of aesthetics at Harvard University, describes this relationship in her book-length essay, On Beauty and Being Just. The word fair comes to us through Old English, fæger, which meant both pleasing to the sight and morally good. This is because beautiful things serve a specific purpose. They “give rise to the notion of distribution,” Scarry says, “to a lifesaving reciprocity, to fairness not just in the sense of loveliness of aspect but in the sense of ‘a symmetry of everyone’s relationship to one another.’ ” Beautiful things “act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space … letting the ground rotate beneath us several inches, so that when we land, we find we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before.”

The pursuit of beauty can create a form of justice, a healing of injury. When I allow my backyard to grow unchecked, when the un-mown lawn becomes a tangle of blade and seed, the garden a mess of roses, grapes and hollyhocks, I have created a refuge and put something to right, returning wild to the world that has been taken away elsewhere by violence, trespass or dominion. The benefactors are the sparrows and buntings, hummingbirds and butterflies, the praying mantises, hornets and bees, the black widow in the shed, the garter snake in the flowerbed. Conversely, the creation of beauty can come from advocates of justice. A human rights lawyer, a sanctuary church, protesters for women’s rights or science or both, demonstrations against police violence — these heal injury also, rebalance the whole, adding beauty to the world.

I am a decade shy of the age at which my mother died, less than a year after my grandfather’s suicide. One day my ashes will be scattered in the eroding mountains, and our civilization, like that of Ozymandias, crumble, and the Earth be swallowed by our dying red star. This is no cause for despair; it is a reminder to be meaningful, to be makers instead of takers, to be of service to something — beauty, justice, loved ones, strangers, lilacs, worms. This is what Jeffers, the poet laureate of the ecocide, has to teach us. He points the way, but we must go further, and we must do so while keeping a sense of perspective. In Spain I carried with me a handwritten note from James Karman, a Jeffers scholar and author who helped me greatly in my reporting. On it are the final lines of a poem called “Credo” and a favorite Jeffers’ insight: “The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the heartbreaking beauty / Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.”

SUBLIME: The L.A. River 1, 2015.

Elena Dorfman

THE FINAL DAY OF THE RETREAT promised to be dismal. It had rained all night and through the dawn, sagging the tents and soaking the fields. This was our finale, the “wilderness solo,” and it was shaping up to be a sufferfest. In some sunnier moment, I and two other men had decided to range far from the farmhouse to a nearby crag. We slogged down old roads and footpaths, through muddy valleys and drizzling woods, as raindrops pounded our parka hoods. Climbing through brambles and mist, we broke at last from a stand of mountain pine at tree line. Just then the sun came out. Still silent, as instructed, we grinned and laughed and hugged.

My companions found their way to solo sites nearby. I scrambled a bit higher, to a flat section near the crag’s peak, where I found a soft, grassy spot between two boulders. I rigged my tarp, fluffed my bag and removed my wet shoes and socks. I sat back against a rock and stretched my toes and let the sun dry my face. I watched a crow for a while, and two hawks wheeling above a derelict stone keep. I took deep breaths, turned a smooth stone in my hand. From the valley came clamorous birdsong, from the mountains a chilly wind and wisps of fog. I took a swig of water, then closed my eyes and leaned my head back, feeling for the first time in a long time an emotion that might have been joy.

Which is probably why I didn’t notice the storm blow in — not until the first flash-bang of lightning and thunder. I jumped up to see dark clouds sweeping down valley, a thick, determined thunderstorm. From below the cliff rose the panicked bleating of wild goats. I considered going down. But this was the last day, and I wanted to make it count.

Fuck it, I thought at last. I’m doing qigong. I found a flat, smooth spot and stood there with my bare feet apart. I took a soft breath, sweeping my arms over my head and down. Rain lashed the mountaintop and spattered my face and lighting flashed in purple, splintered arcs. Sometimes it sparked sideways, sometimes straight down, flash after flash, followed by thunder. To the east, the moon rose over the wine-dark sea, breaking through the clouds as a giant bolt of lighting flashed below it. I laughed out loud. No one would believe this; no one would care. This moment was mine alone. I stood transfixed in the darkness, watching the storm and grinning like a lunatic, a tiny living part of a beautiful, heartbreaking world.

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News.

This coverage is supported by contributors to the High Country News Enterprise Journalism Fund.

Poems from Robinson Jeffers, The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt, Volume 2, 1928-1938. © 1938, renewed 1966 by Garth and Donnan Jeffers. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Stanford University Press, http://www.sup.org.

Scientist: “This edge between it being linear and becoming exponential is very fine…This is what we call the turning point…in this particular point, each year matters.” – Extremely Nasty Climate Wake-Up

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2017 at 1:36 pm


Oldspeak: So we have reputable and respected scientists talking about the prospect of life on earth being very close to a particularly catastrophic climate turning point, in which impermafrost reaches a thaw point and exponentially increased releases of methane  from ancient subsea areas commence. Observing that only a fraction is sufficient to “alter the climate on our planet drastically“. The author noted that “It fits the prescription for colossal temperature increases of up to 15-18 degrees and massive agricultural burn off within only 10 years as suggested by a group of scientists that think outside the box, non-mainstreamers“. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I’m seeing signs of massive agricultural burn off. Whole forests are being cut down to facilitate ceaseless human activities or incinerated by anthropogenically juiced forrest fires. The planet’s subsea forests, corral reefs, are also being incinerated by extreme heat. Where will all the human generated carbon and heat go, when the seas, trees and soils are continuing to lost their ability to sequester it? What were thought to be stable ice sheets are disintergrating, sea ice cover is shrinking, pingos are proliferating and soils are emitting more and more carbon. These conditions are not a 100 years away.  They exist now and are happening in real time, at an accelerating rate. ”



Written By Robert Hunziker @ Counterpunch:

Now that the Great Acceleration dictates the biosphere with ever more intensity, sudden changes in the ecosystem are causing climate scientists to stop and ponder what’s happening to our planet, like never before… hmm!

The Great Acceleration: “Only after 1945 did human actions become genuine driving forces behind crucial Earth systems,” (J.R.McNeill/Peter Engelke, The Great Acceleration, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London, 2014, pg. 208).

Abrupt changes outside the boundaries of natural variability are signs of climate fatigue, Mother Nature overwhelmed, defeated, breaking down. It’s happening fast and faster yet mostly on the fringes of the ecosystem with fewest people, other than, on occasion, a handful of scientists.

For example, for the first time ever, a team of UK scientists discovered 8,000 blue lakes formed in East Antarctica. The suddenness of so many blue lakes on surface surprised and bewildered scientists. (Source: Emily S. Langley, et al, Seasoned Evolution of Supraglacial Lakes on an East Antarctic Outlet Glacier, Geophysical Research Letters, Aug. 24, 2016)

According to the UK team: “Supraglacial lakes are known to influence ice melt and ice flow on the Greenland ice sheet and potentially cause ice shelf disintegration on the Antarctica Peninsula.” That is likely not good news. Antarctica is a continent covered by 200 feet of sea level contained in ice. Heavens to Betsy, until only recently scientists thought East Antarctica was stable!

Meantime, West Antarctica has blown a gasket three times in a row, big-time fractures within only two decades, most recently July 12th, 2017 when one of the largest icebergs of all time broke off Larsen C Ice Shelf. Previously, Larsen B Ice Shelf collapsed in 2002, and before that Larsen A Ice Shelf collapsed in 1995. Now, the National Geographic Atlas is forced to redraw Antarctica.

Larsen C has a big distinction “measuring about 2,200 square miles, it is among the largest icebergs in history to break off from the continent.” (Source: Hannah Lang, Our Antarctica Maps Show the Larsen Ice Shelf’s Stunning Decades-Long Decline, National Geographic, July 15, 2017).

Furthermore “Sea ice in Antarctica has hit a worrisome milestone, reaching its lowest recorded extent this week according to data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. The daily ice area recorded on Tuesday represents an all-time low: 2.25 million square kilometers (872,204 square miles).” (Source: Christina Nunez, Antarctica’s Sea Ice Shrinks to New Record Low, National Geographic, Feb. 15, 2017). Is that global warming hard at work or is it natural variability?

Throughout millennia ice shelf calving is a recognized part of natural variability but then again, it usually happens in geologic time of hundreds-to-thousands-to-millions of years rather than Great Acceleration time with three massive fractures in only two decades. That’s ice sheets in the Indy 500.

Another nasty big time wake-up call, hidden monster of the depths, is thawing permafrost. Russian scientists have identified 7,000 “alternative pingos” in Siberia (Source: “Russian Scientists Find 7,000 Siberian Hills Possibly Filled with Explosive Gas,” The Washington Post, March 27, 2017). Vladimir E. Romanovsky, geophysicist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks claims: “This is really a new thing to permafrost science. It has not been reported in the literature before,” Romanovsky estimates there could be as many as 100,000 “alternative pingos” across the entire Arctic permafrost.

Additionally, there is new evidence of threat by subsea permafrost, which could set off Runaway Global Warming (“RGW”) recently revealed in an interview with Dr. Natalia Shakhova and Dr. Igor Semiletov (International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Akasofu Building, Fairbanks, Alaska) about their paper published in Nature Communication Journal, Current Rates and Mechanisms of Subsea Permafrost Degradation in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, Article No. 15872 June 22, 2017. This is esoteric research that is not found in typical models of future climate behavior. It is an example of what can go wrong much faster than ever anticipated.

According to Dr. Shakova: “As we showed in our articles, in the ESAS (East Siberian Arctic Shelf), in some places, subsea permafrost is reaching the thaw point. In other areas it could have reached this point already. And what can happen then? The most important consequence could be in terms of growing methane emissions… a linear trend becomes exponential. This edge between it being linear and becoming exponential is very fine and lies between frozen and thawed states of subsea permafrost. This is what we call the turning point…. Following the logic of our investigation and all the evidence that we accumulated so far, it makes me think that we are very near this point. And in this particular point, each year matters. This is the big difference between being on the linear trend where hundreds and thousands of years matter, and being on the exponential where each year matters.”

According to Dr. Shakova, only a fraction of the gas emissions released from subsea permafrost of ESAS is enough to “alter the climate on our planet drastically.” That prognostication is nastier than regular nasty wake-up calls. It fits the prescription for colossal temperature increases of up to 15-18 degrees and massive agricultural burn off within only 10 years as suggested by a group of scientists that think outside the box, non-mainstreamers.

Speaking of various types of permafrost (1) permafrost in ESAS subsea, or (2) permafrost on land in Siberia, or (3) Alaska permafrost there’s a new discovery that is spooky, downright spooky. Aircraft measurements of CO2 and CH4, as well as confirmation of those measurements from scientific measuring devices on towers in Barrow, Alaska show that over the course of two years Alaska emitted the equivalent of 220 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from biological sources alone, not anthropogenic (Source: Elaine Hannah, Alaska’s Thawing Soils Cause Huge Carbon Dioxide Emissions Into The Air, Science World Report, May 12, 2017).

That is equivalent to all the emissions from the U.S. commercial sector per annum. Why is that happening? Alaska is hot, that’s why, and it may be a climate tipping point that self-perpetuates global warming, no human hands needed, or in the nasty colloquial, the start of Runaway Global Warming. That’s as bad as nasty climate wake-up calls get, nature overtaking anthropogenic global warming duties.

What could be worse than incipient Runaway Global Warming?

Answer: Impending Nuclear War.

Schroders Launches Climate Progress Dashboard, Tracks Current Course Of 4°C Planetary Warming

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2017 at 5:32 pm


Oldspeak: “I won’t get into how INSANE their market-based “indicators” are. But pay close attention when the money men talk. They that manage 520 billion in assets don’t fuck about with money. Consider this in the context that at 4c, all we can plan for is extinction…  There is NO ADAPTION to such steep warming in such a short time. ” -OSJ

Written By Joshua S. Hill @ CleanTechnica:

Global asset manager Schroders has launched its own Climate Progress Dashboard which it has designed to provide investors “a unique insight” into the global progress towards limiting global warming to the 2°C target and the overall progress of the transition to a low-carbon global economy.

The Schroders Climate Progress Dashboard, however — based on all of the 12 indicators — currently predicts that we are on path for a temperature rise of 4°C.

Schroders is an international asset manager founded in 1804, currently responsible for £416.3 billion (€486.7 billion, $520.6 billion) of assets, as of 31 March this year. As with many large-scale asset managers these days, Schroders has taken the step to develop its own ability to provide reliable guidance and insight into the global transition to a low-carbon economy, and the need to ensure that investments do not impede the move to restrict global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The Climate Progress Dashboard provides investors with an insight into the current progress of transition and global warming, relying on long-term temperature predictions based on a framework of 12 indicators which span politics, business, technology progress, and energy. They are:

  • Political Ambition
  • Public Concern
  • Political Action
  • Corporate Planning
  • Climate Finance
  • Carbon Prices
  • Electric Vehicles
  • Renewable Capacity
  • Carbon Capture & Storage Capacity
  • Oil & Gas Investment
  • Coal Production
  • Oil & Gas Production

Currently, and somewhat disturbingly, the Dashboard predicts — based on all 12 of the indicators — that Earth is on course to see a temperature rise of 4°C above pre-industrial levels, and double the Paris Climate Agreement. Specifically, according to Schroders, while “global political action points to a 3.6°C temperature rise, current oil and gas production is running at a level consistent with temperature rises twice that level, highlighting the risks that remain inherent in energy companies.”

Unsurprisingly, Schroders also points to the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw his country from the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Climate change is a major challenge for the global economy, industries and financial markets,” said Andy Howard, Head of Sustainable Research, Schroders.

“However, too little attention is paid to developing the tools to manage the risks it presents. Understanding the speed of progress and the implications for investment values is critical.

“We developed the Climate Progress Dashboard to provide a unique perspective into the pace of change. It tracks trends in key progress markers towards decarbonisation. It provides an objective and transparent view of change and should help investors base decisions on the outcomes we are likely to see, rather than those we would like to see.

“An all-round view is important. There is no single measure of progress: reshaping the global economy as a carbon-light version of itself will require a range of markets to expand or contract rapidly in the coming decades.”

The Dashboard will undergo quarterly updates, providing a relatively current update of whether or not and how successfully the world is progressing towards the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement.