I’m sitting outside on the back deck, surrounded by towering basswood trees that have just fully come into their summer leafy glory. Birds are chirping, and I can hear frogs croaking down in the shallows of the lake, and squirrels chattering at each other as they race from tree to tree. Filtered sunlight is streaming down, there’s a gentle breeze keeping any bugs away, the purple flowers of the hillside Sweet William are in full bloom, and all of this combined creates a little oasis of beauty and tranquility. I can also hear the growl of heavy machinery as crews prepare to pave another section of the road and every so often there’s a loud crash as a tree comes down, followed by the buzzing of a chainsaw and the beeping of a large loader backing up. I hear a diesel truck roar by and the dust from the road rises like a massive cloud as it races by the house. There is beauty and there is destruction. This contrast exists everywhere.
The current president of the United States just announced that America will leave the Paris climate agreement. While this is disappointing on many levels, I also can’t help but see it as an opportunity for localized action and ultimately, for forming of a better ‘agreement.’
Susan Matthews writes that, “many people have started to realize that Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement is perhaps the best thing that could happen for the future of the agreement and, by side effect, the planet. After all, the accord is largely a voluntary gentleman’s agreement. Trump’s decision might actually have a positive effect on the future of climate negotiations, freeing world leaders to pull together a stronger agreement that forces greater action.”
On one level, what if the people of the United States went ahead and did what they could to reduce emissions and live more sustainably? A lot of people care about what happens to the earth. Granted, it also seems like a lot of people care more about the short-term economic impacts of changing our ways. But perhaps we don’t actually need the president to tell us that our country has agreed to take steps to address the changing climate. What if this is an opportunity (kind of like health care might be…) for people in decision making roles at a local and state level to step up and act in ways that truly serve their communities well? We don’t have to depend on the government [though it would obviously be ideal if the government was on board with helping in the effort to heal the earth and healthcare] to give us permission to take local action. We don’t need permission to help other people or the environment, and we don’t need to wait for laws to pass that allow us to do so. Perhaps this is yet another opportunity for us to reclaim ownership of our choices, from the choices we make as individuals to the choices we make as community, and work together to be good inhabitants of this planet. Maybe we need to realize America isn’t a ‘world leader’ in a way that is actually helpful to much of life on earth. And maybe we need to start taking cues from those who lead simpler lives that are rooted in reality — lives that are more in tune with what needs to happen for healing to take place.
I won’t claim that if everyone just changes their light bulbs, grows a few tomato plants, drives less, and has once a month community meetings on recycling more plastic that we will see change at a scale that will have a positive impact on the climate. But I do think giving into despair and thinking we have no power – especially those of us who are born into privilige – and even when the folks like presidents [and many others] choose money over quality of life for all creatures over and over again — is not going to do much good.
As Joanna Macy writes, we need active hope.
Active Hope is not wishful thinking.
Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued . . . .
by some savior.
Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life
on whose behalf we can act.
We belong to this world.
The web of life is calling us forth at this time.
We’ve come a long way and are here to play our part.
With Active Hope we realize that there are adventures in store,
strengths to discover, and comrades to link arms with.
Active Hope is a readiness to discover the strengths
in ourselves and in others;
a readiness to discover the reasons for hope
and the occasions for love.
A readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts,
our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose,
our own authority, our love for life,
the liveliness of our curiosity,
the unsuspected deep well of patience and diligence,
the keenness of our senses, and our capacity to lead.
There is beauty and there is destruction, and they are existing side by side. This is not new – it’s been happening since the dawn of time. It will likely keep happening for the rest of our human lifetimes. So take the beauty that you find wherever you are and use it to fuel yourself with active hope. Focus on what you can control, notice the beauty of the earth, and don’t let someone speak for you if you don’t agree with what they are saying. Use the contrast that you see to illuminate the options that are there when you are ready to uncover them. Build your capacity to lead in the quiet or loud ways that suit you. Come to your senses, and let your life be strengthened by the persistent beauty of the world.