What is Nature Telling Us and Hope in Being Human – This Week in Sustainability


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Are you finding it hard to concentrate?

I am, but not just because of a terrible urge to check the news every ten seconds, although that too (we all want some good news to miraculously break from out of nowhere).

But it’s not that.

It’s because I feel guilty. It shot through me yesterday, like an arrow to my heart as I sat in my quiet, safe and secure office planning production content, thinking to myself that this idea or that would be good for after, when we get back to ‘normal.’

Never mind pre-corona virus ‘normal’ was a terrible state if you are all about sustainability, because if you think the curve on coronavirus is steep,  you need to check out the curve on climate and biodiversity loss.

That aside, and like many in our Western material culture, I am hardwired to think ahead, to plan, to progress.  What does this make me, being able to think beyond the mess we are now in, beyond the horrible daily suffering of millions, the incalculable and constant against, with nightmares so real you can actually smell fear?

How can someone think beyond this?

Should I feel guilty? 

I had been planning a production for “after”, because so much of what I can produce now seems inappropriate, pointless, or pandering.  I don’t want to profit from this, I want it to be over and to go back to fighting big companies and bad government again with both hands again.

Alas, that is not going to happen for some time. Even though we are in the “we-pretty-much-know-how-this-is-going-to-play-out-phase”, by any measure, the coronavirus horror has just started – even as the nightmare is already old for many and for many, many more sleep will soon not come easy.

So, I turned on my guilt. Told it to go away, and I prayed for all the medical staff, I prayed for all the good corporate citizens and government employees mobilizing to help,  I prayed for farmers,  community workers, the lonely shut ins and the scared.

But most of all, I prayed for Dr. Fauci, the Director of the  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That is the sane guy in Trump’s daily corona virus “press” conference. He is North America’s first line of defense.

Trump?  Forget him. He probably loves the pandemic attention he gets – it’s the most dramatic (and likely the last) reality show he will ever star in –  as he shamelessly politicizes pain and fear every afternoon.  He is of no help to anyone unless we ignore him.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, president of Mexico? Even slower on the trigger, weirder in response, and facing much greater resource limitations. My hope: the virus doesn’t like hot weather, chili, and the corona we are actually known for.

In Canada, Mr. Trudeau is doing the best he can, and is helped greatly by the overwhelming majority of
Canadians who, political views aside, instinctively know how to follow suggestions for the common good.

We are comong to understand coronavirus risk, its not good but its something…

Still, and impossible as it may have seemed even just two weeks ago, our accumulated coronavirus knowledge, incomplete as it is, is beginning to reveal the risks – health, financial, economic, social – as experts peel back the onionskin of understanding.

Even if only partially recognized, risk parameters are something to work with, to be acted on.  Americans are particularly good at this, risk taking on partial information (which in the current context should be taken as both a complement and a warning).  If I were a cultural psychologist (is that a thing?), I would be quick to note the meaning and possible impact of Id Americana in the time of coronavirus. In an impossible to avoid ‘creepy agree’, Trump said it best, “Americans are not
meant to sit still.”  He is right.  Even the many millions of Americans who don’t practice this form of risk taking believe this to be an insoluble, defining character of America. Millions, as I write, are figuring ways to profit from the coronavirus. As a Canadian, I find this abhorrent, even as I know much good can come of market and policy making, even in times of horror. There are enough clever folks in the US to imagine a segmented and staged economic reengagement in the coming months if a central command system can be established (but that’s a huge “if”).

And while bad news is fast piling up on social media and elsewhere, post-corona virus economy prognostications – volleys of ‘What comes next’ –  are starting to emerge, including, of course, my favorite: hitting the sustainable economy reset button.

Part of me is hopeful. 

#BigOil is crashing and will soon be out of cash, and we will hopefully soon rid of that nasty set of vested interests.  Less of their poison being burned over the course of the last two months, has led to substantial, irrefutable, attributable, and visible reductions to pollution and carbon in the atmosphere.
 Some estimates see carbon emissions dropping by as much as 20% in 2020.

That the skies over Los Angeles are clear is something really. That they are, as my friend reports, clear over Delhi is really fxcking something.

Then there are other signs of hope.

The 27 country European Union economic revitalization plan targets a green future.  Boulder in Colorado indicated this week it would not use insurance companies funding fossil fuels. There is website crashing interest for natural and organic foods as a result of increased sensitivities to health. And there is an equally thirsty interest in Victory Gardens which could rid the America of a $30 B in lawn chemicals and grooming bill every year! The positive psychological impact of gardening alone has me salivating with hope.

I am afraid to say, the greater part of me remains cynical

There are far more vested interests to overcome than just #BigOil.  BigFinance, BigBanks, BigAg, BigPharm, BigTech, #BigTransport/Travel, #BigPlastic are all vested in our own self-induced material consumption led genocide.  The US $2T coronavirus stimulation package has $500 B for corporations comes with zero climate or social equity performance stipulations. Can you imagine why we would want to bail out the ocean pollution cruise industry?

Many – if not almost all — companies will simply return to business as usual post coronavirus. Some have made great philanthropic brand moves (pure and not so pure of motive), but will they pivot on their sentiments to make great sustainability brand moves once corona is over?  Without incentives or
disincentives, probably not, and with the exception of the European Union, the current round of government fiscal stimulus packages is not transformative and will simply dial us back to Dec 29, 2019.

Worse, some governments — surprise, surprise — are using the coronavirus pandemonium to cover some fairly evil deeds. US The Environmental Protection Agency, under the tutelage of Trump toady and ex-coal industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, said they would relax all EPA environmental rules this week. This assumedly includes a plot by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to shoot 72 grizzlies bears in Yellowstone National Park so livestock can graze on public lands.

Coronavirus cover

In Canada, the provincial government of Texas, oh, sorry, Alberta, laid off 25,000 education workers and scrapped funding for disabled students this week: during a friking pandemic no less. That same day, they extended a $1.6 billion loan to Oil & Gas companies and guaranteed another $6 billion in
bank loans the next.  I can only imagine how this B.S. move tests the patience of non-violent environmental protesters.

And we also learned this week, Bayer-Monsanto joined the ranks of all time got caught out corporations – right up there with Exxon, #Tobacco, and Volkswagen — by hiding evidence that their BASF joint venture herbicide product dicamba was nearly certain to cause crop damage via drifting.  They knew in advance (like Exxon did of climate change), and according to the Guardian tells us BASF employees joked about sharing “voodoo science” and that they hoped stay “out of jail.”  If there was ever a test case for Ecocide at the International Criminal Courts, is this it?

What are they thinking at Bayer-Monsantanto

What the hell are executives at Monsanto thinking? Better yet, what the hell were executives at Bayer
thinking when they bought Monsanto? Thousands, not literally, but actually, thousands of folks and farmers are suing them for glyphosate-based weed killers (best known as Roundup) you have to wonder what kind of company it is?  You really don’t have to think too hard about this. I mean, even Trump has only been sued 3,000 times. If your local baker started lacing biscuits with crack cocaine and the packaging with traces of strychnine, that fxcker is going straight to jail. Bayer-Monsanto? So, hats off to the Missouri peach farmers who just won a  $265 million lawsuit against Bayer-Monsanto and BASF for their terrible product. It’s a start.

Let’s not deceive ourselves, it will not be easy to change all the #BigX vested interests. But it is depressing, given the opportunity we now have to transform the world economy, to know it’s likely not going to happen.  Really, it’s depressing and who here doesn’t swing between taking up arms against enormous odds like Cassian and Jyn did in Rouge One, or simply sitting it out on a beach until end, like Jyn and Cassian? 

If you are taking notes – and I am –  some 99% of all post-corona recovery plans and predictions are cast in terms of recovering past levels of material economic growth (and making the ‘will it never ever go away’ GDP indicator of economic health, happy again. My heart is a lonely stone sinking mid-ocean, knowing the chances of more of the ‘same old same old’ is almost certainly inevitable.

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste

I don’t recommend guilt and sinking hearts as primary emotions for riding out this ugly virus, however. And imagining a better future is a responsibility we must take seriously. If for nothing else because it helps make sense of why we were put here in this heart-rending crisis. 

I’m also coming to believe future thinking is a deeply engrained part of our survival mechanism. Someone in the tribe needs to think ahead, others to manage the present, some need to hold dear to hard earned lessons from the past (and then there are the shamans and good witches, whose job is to keep on telling us of unimaginable possible other realities).

I am curious to know what you think, because I’ve really just started wondering about the future and our survival mechanisms. It’s been totally spamming my sustainability sensibilities.

II am embarrassed to admit, I kept thinking that some of the most insanely callous conservative folks were not entirely wrong.  Nature constantly spams us to find our weakness. Coronavirus is just one of her more startling and sudden successes. Climate change, by contrast, is a constant pressure Nature bears down on us, reminding us that man is hardly the measure of all things, even if we think the opposite. As Thomas Friedman recently wrote, “With the Coronavirus, It’s Again Trump vs. Mother Nature.”  Trump, of course, is a perfect allegory for Homo Sapiens doomed war against nature. As Thomas Friedman recently wrote, “With the Coronavirus, It’s Again Trump vs. Mother Nature.”  Trump, of course, is a perfect allegory for Homo Sapiens doomed war against nature.

Nature is agnostic, but that doesnt mean we have to be…

Nature picks on the weakest among us, the poor, the infirm, the ignorant, and could care less about who gets stricken. We, on the other hand do, which pits our moral framework against Nature’s iron laws of physics and biology — an entirely uneven fight. Nature is utterly agnostic to our moral reflex to protect all members of our tribe. Lt General Can Rambo Patrick, of Texas is simply wrong when he asserts that he and his septuagenarian peers would viral coated bullets for the economy. First, he has obviously watched too many B grade action movies and hasn’t the guts, and second, his kids wouldn’t let him. Said five million grandmothers nation-wide “Screw him, I’m not dying for anyone.”

What about Glen Beck? U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (sic) or Rush Limbaugh? Both in quarantined home office radio studios, telling others not a worry, go out and party (meanwhile front-line health workers run towards death). Put mask on Glen and go clean some fxcking bed pans.

We are part of not apart from Nature

They, like others — most of us —  continue to act as if we are above Nature, even as nothing could be further from the truth. If you’ve not read Corporations Be Good by William C Fredrick, you should. I bought the book several years ago when I decided to get back into corporate sustainability, it was one of thirty or so I read.  But it’s the only one I remember. The title sounds trite and belies a great exploration of the neuroscientific and anthropological impulses that causes humans to over consume.  In it, Fredrick tells us companies as a form of cooperative activity have provided individuals a degree of security never before seen in the history of humankind.   

Working together in companies, has allowed humans to marshal resources never before imaginable. But even then, our insecurity — steeped as it is in an unconquerable deep fear of scarcity — can seldom be entirely assuaged, which leads the most clever, lucky, and privileged among us to continue manipulating corporate and government activities to their benefit with three results:

  1. Successfully convincing everyone it’s in their interest to over consume
  2. Reaping the material rewards and concentrating power and wealth in fewer hands
  3. Ruining the environment

In short, says Fredrick, we can’t help but think about ourselves (individually and as a species) and over
consume. This is why, in great part, the coronavirus narrative has largely been anthropocentric, even as Nature is telling us it isn’t, and anti-environment. Some of us know that while we want to save ourselves, friends and family, to do so we must first save the environment.

What is Nature telling us?

Nature is clearly saying, I don’t like the way Homo Sapiens are organized. They have to rethink their
priorities and find balance in my systems.  In Ecologese  —  the language we must learn if we are going to survive – balance is Nature’s ultimate non-negotiable.  And we, Homo Sapiens, are all out of it. The
UN Climate Change Unit’s excellent explainer video tell us why it’s imperative that “We can’t go back to business as usual,” after this virus is vanquished, and that “we must rebuild working with nature, not against it.”

Will Nature’s latest and sternest of warnings work? That’s a story for the next in This Week in Sustainability when we do around up of how governments and visionaries the world round conceive of life, sustainability, and surviviability after corona.

Thanks to you all!

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