I’ve not had much time for writing lately but I’ve been putting a lot of art on my website jngaio.com and making videos such as the one above exploring some of my anxieties surrounding the climate crisis through clowning.
(Cross posted from a post specifically made for my Facebook)
I feel uncomfortable posting as many scary climate crisis stories as I do but recently I went to a talk by a climate psychologist who said that one of the problems with climate activism has been this idea that we shouldn’t scare people. This idea, she said, isn’t a useful one because in times of emergency, we SHOULD be scared. We should be scared and then we should act on that fear. Fear can be a motivating emotion if we are provided with actions to take.
I agree with what she said. We are currently in humanity’s darkest hour, we are currently in the midst of an emergency. The Amazon and Great Barrier Reef are being destroyed for profit by narcissistic billionaires who seem to have a death wish, the Arctic is on Fire, India is running out of water, The Maldives are going underwater, in some parts of the world, fruit is burning in the sun before it can grow while in other places, floods are turning land into toxic swamps. Does this scare you? Good. That means that you are sane. Fear is a rational response to danger and we are in great danger.
I do feel uncomfortable spreading terrifying news when I know so many people are struggling just to get by, I don’t want to make people feel more depressed and anxious when their lives are already so hard… but we are in a climate emergency and we need to be facing it and acting on it. We are all in this together and if things are going to get better, we all need to do our bit.
Talking about the climate emergency is an important start. The more we discuss it, the more we can find ways to take action together. This topic has become a taboo one, it’s a faux-pax to discuss the climate crisis. It doesn’t make me popular to discuss this, I know it doesn’t because my “likes” dwindle, people unfollow me, I feel like a party pooper and I worry that people will get sick of me. (And as someone whose psychologist described as a “binge eater of emotional validation”, the idea of people disliking me is really hard to cope with!) After all, nobody likes to be bombarded with horrible news and I do try to balance the fear out with action and hope. Join Extinction Rebellion! Plant trees! Become an activist! Because fear without action is paralysis. Fear without hope is despair. I have so much hope because I see so much momentum all around. But I also see what grave danger we are in and I can’t just sit down and be quiet about it.
So I’m sorry to bombard you with scary news but, frankly, I’m scared. Some days I wake up from dreams of rising oceans and burning forests and my heart is racing. I’m sorry to bombard you with horrible news but soon I’m going to have a niece and I want to fight for her future. I want to face what terrifies me so that she can live on a planet that is full of life, love and beauty.
I know it’s popular to hate on humanity, to fall into apathy, cynicism and bleak nihilism. But I love humans – I’m surrounded by incredible, good, beautiful, kind people in my life and I know that if I know good people, there must be millions more! And I love the diverse, incredible, awe inspiring natural world that surround us! I don’t want us to drive ourselves off a cliff into misery and possible extinction, I want us to fight for the beauty that surrounds us! I love humanity and I want us to thrive.
So yeah, I feel uncomfortable sharing the articles that I do and I hope you will not resent me for it. But I want us all to face the truth and I want us all to fight for something better.
we’re dropping like flies
everything everywhere eventually
We are just childless women but you like to call us selfish women.
While you preach your gospel of family values and hide away in your homogenous houses.
Hey, now that the Arctic is melting and now that our planet is dying… where are you?
There. We see you.
Expelling your energy policing our wombs. Hoarding and wasting resources while you attempt to resuscitate industries that gurgle death rattles. Desperately clinging to a futile and failing feeling of power and control.
There. We see you.
Standing by while the world burns. Ignoring the cries of your children who are facing a nightmarish future. Do you tell your babies you love them? Do you protect the planet they live on?
You like to call us selfish women. But lately…
Lately I wonder if we care more about your children than you do.
I just read this article: ‘If the land is sick, you are sick’: An Aboriginal approach to mental health in times of drought.
It made me think…
We were camping in outback NSW recently and the signs of drought were everywhere. The last time I’d been there, the land was abundant with strange and fascinating wildlife, lizards, butterflies, birds and plants I’d never seen before. Now it was just dust and underneath the worryingly dried out trees, I found the picked over corpses of baby kangaroos and baby emus.
I felt the reality of the climate crisis, I saw that we are truly losing these incredible treasures to the devastating affects of global warming. I thought about how Aboriginal Australians have been on this land for over 50,000 years, I thought of the book “Dark Emu” which demonstrates overwhelming evidence of how they had sophisticated agricultural practices that once made this land a fertile and abundant place and how in such a devastatingly short place of time, colonialism and Western agriculture devastated the land.
Not only were their people raped and murdered, not only was their culture silenced but the carefully tilled soil on their land was stomped down into compacted clay by the hooves of imported livestock, the grasses they made bread with were devoured… in a horrifically short space of time, colonialism and cultural imperialism transformed their verdant, fertile lands into something that was so much less.
And it keeps happening. They keep losing their lands because of our ancestors and because of us. Because of our mismanagement of the land our ancestors stole.
There has been a national crisis of Aboriginal suicides, over this summer, eight Aboriginal children took their own lives. Eight. Eight children killed themselves. Doesn’t this just make your heart break? Doesn’t this make your want to break down in full body sobbing? What drives children to such hopeless despair that they take an action that ends their own lives?
As I walked around the outback, there was dust, bones and silence. Too much silence. The climate crisis is not only taking it’s toll on the beautiful natural world around us but also the people least responsible for it happening. Taking action, demanding better from our politicians, our business leaders and ourselves… it’s our responsibility not just for the sake our our natural world and ourselves, but something we must admit that is a dark debt we owe as part of our colonial inheritance.
I love this country. I’ve lived here my entire adult life and I feel it in my bloodstream as much as my home of Aotearoa New Zealand, I also acutely feel my privilege and the understanding that for Indigenous and underprivileged people around the world, the affects of climate change are already here and they are utterly devastating.
Positive social change results mostly from connecting more deeply to the people around you than rising above them, from coordinated rather than solo action. Among the virtues that matter are those traditionally considered feminine rather than masculine, more nerd than jock: listening, respect, patience, negotiation, strategic planning, storytelling. But we like our lone and exceptional heroes, and the drama of violence and virtue of muscle, or at least that’s what we get, over and over, and in the course of getting them we don’t get much of a picture of how change happens and what our role in it might be, or how ordinary people matter. “Unhappy the land that needs heroes” is a line of Bertold Brecht’s I’ve gone to dozens of times, but now I’m more inclined to think, pity the land that thinks it needs a hero, or doesn’t know it has lots and what they look like.
Rebecca Solnit is a powerful writer on the environment, feminist, art and politics among other things. Go read this piece she has written, it is so beautiful and important that it brought me to tears.
There once was a time when we thought that nature’s gifts were endless, boundless, for us. The taking and taming of land was our birthright and animals were just things for us to use, consume, abuse. Much of those attitudes remain with us today.
When I say “we” and “us” I refer to the white colonialist history of which I am connected to by blood and by privilege. Lately I’ve been challenging myself to engage in concepts of white supremacy and to understand the intersections between this and the current climate crisis. Though it would be offensive and patronising to idealise indigenous cultures, there certainly is evidence of other people historically having a much more harmonious, sustainable and integrated connection to the land on which they lived off.
In a book I am currently reading, “Dark Emu, Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture” Bruce Pascoe makes a very compelling and well substantiated argument for the fact that indigenous Australians had elaborate and highly successful agricultural practices in precolonial times which used the land much more successfully and effectively than the imported European practices. In fact, when Australia was colonised, the cattle which was brought over quickly wrought havoc on the land and in a very short amount of time, turned fertile soil into the arid, hash stuff that we tend to more associate with much of outback Australia.
Clearly our current agricultural practices are not sustainable, it is well documented and reported that huge changes to farming and to our diets are vital if we are to effectively combat the climate crisis. Books like Dark Emu point to the fact that agriculture doesn’t necessarily have to devastate an environment and in fact should be better customised to fit varying environments. How different the Australia diet would be if we ate murnong, witchetty grubs and kangaroo as primary food sources. How different our suburbia would look if instead of willow trees and roses, we had stuck to the native flora that provide habitat and food for local fauna.
In the book “Active Hope – How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy” the authors speak of “The Great Turning”;
“In the Agricultural Revolution of ten thousand years ago, the domestication of plants and animals led to a radical shift in the way people lived. In the Industrial Revolution that began just a few hundred years ago, a similar dramatic transition took place. These weren’t just changes in the small details of people’s lives. The whole basis of society was transformed, including people’s relationship with one another and with Earth.
Right now a shift of comparable scope and magnitude is occurring. It’s been called the Ecological Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution, even the Necessary Revolution. We call it the Great Turning and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition from a doomed economy of industrial growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. This transition is already well under way.”
I find this concept to be heartening, empowering and hopeful. I believe that it is vital to our survival on the planet and evolution as a species that we are currently questioning dominant structures of patriarchy, capitalism, consumerism, cultural imperialism, white supremacy and so forth. I believe that a shift towards compassion, intersectionality, interconnectedness, environmentalism and an emphasis on listening to previously silenced voices is crucial for us to engage with our planet and each other in ways that are kinder, wiser, better. All these things are vital components towards a much-needed paradigm shift. A Great Turning.
I am relatively new to grappling with these concepts and so am conscious that I may come across as naive, yet something already seems clear to me; As we combat the climate crisis, we must not only acknowledge that the people most affected by it will be those most vulnerable and impoverished but the reasons for the crisis are also deeply entwined with the profoundly unhealthy, inhumane and unsustainable value systems within dominating cultures. To imagine a better world, we must listen to previously silenced voices and rediscover ways in which people previously lived for thousands of years in a significantly more harmonious relationship with the natural world which they inhabited.