“What time is it on the clock of the world?” ~Grace Lee Boggs
I am cleaning out a closet to make more space for kids’ art supplies when I come across a length of thick rope tied at intervals with colorful string.
I recognize it instantly.
Each time I taught the final session of Peace Grows workshops, we talked about how the practice of nonviolence applies on the global scale — between ethnic groups, religions, entire countries. We reviewed the many little-known ways nonviolence has impacted, even turned around national and international problems. No matter how eager participants might have been in earlier sessions as we learned about applying active nonviolence principles in our personal lives, people said they felt hopeless when it came to national and worldwide issues. That’s when I got out this rope.
I would ask for two volunteers to stand on either side of the room, each holding one end of the rope. One side represented the emergence of the first modern humans in Africa, sometime between 280,000 to 200,000 BC. That end of the rope had nothing tied to it until around 62,000 BC when bow and arrow were first used. By 18,000 the beginning of clay pottery was noted. Around 10,000 BC the Neolithic revolution began, when some hunter-gatherers took up agriculture, although it wasn’t until 4,500 BC that people begin to use the plow. At 4,000 BC the wheel was invented. Writing was developed around 2,600 BC. The strings got closer and closer together, entering A.D. centuries, and ever more thickly marked by discovery, scientific progress, and war. Lots of war. The farthest end, less than a hair’s width from the invention of the printing press, represented our current era. (The exact years marked on the rope may not be current with what we now know, but the distance between these advances is likely similar.)
Of course, if we look at earth’s entire timeline, the presence of modern humans is far punier.
Dinosaurs ruled the world for 165 million years. Homo sapiens showed up 200 to 300 thousand years ago. We humans are truly, in Earth time, a newly arrived species. As Tim Urban shows, over at Wait But Why, recorded history itself is a tiny blip of our time here.
By any measure, we are still engaged in the ongoing experiment of living differently than our hunter-gatherer roots. The hunter-gatherer era made up between 90 to 99 percent of our species’ time on earth and continues among some groups today. This way of life was and is much more interdependent, typically shaped as gift economies, and centered around craft, ritual, story, and arts with intimate knowledge of the land and its beings
We lived in small bands of nomadic people until the advent of agriculture, when communities grew to hundreds or thousands of people. Only then did our relationship to place and possessions change to one of ownership, gradually cleaving people into haves and have-nots. Not coincidentally, before this massive change there’s no convincing archeological evidence that we engaged in war.
About five thousand years ago we humans developed written language, currencies, and empires.
Around four to five hundred years ago we began more forcefully shaping our lives thanks to the printing press, industry, and the passionate pursuit of science. Modern capitalism emerged in the early nineteenth century, commodifying time in ways unknown until then.
We are now in the Anthropocene, when human activities are having a massively detrimental impact on Earth’s ecosystems and climate.
Yet biologically and emotionally, we are still hunter-gatherers. We evolved to be a compassionate and collaborative species. We are still learning how to live in populous cities rather than nomadic tribes of around 60 people. Our technological advancements and our weapons have developed more quickly than our ethics around their use. We have yet to grasp just how dangerous rigid economic and political systems can be, particularly when war, crisis, and division benefit the powerful.
The rope timeline I used in nonviolence workshops put our place here in a larger planetary frame of reference. Even from that distance, it seems both astonishing that we’re here at all and obvious we need to get some perspective, but it’s hard to put this into words, especially standing in front of a class. So I read a poem instead, this one by Denise Levertov.
Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla “From too much love of living, Hope and desire set free, Even the weariest river Winds somewhere to the sea—“
But we have only begun To love the earth.
We have only begun To imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope? — so much is in bud.
How can desire fail? — we have only begun
to imagine justice and mercy, only begun to envision
how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower, not as oppressors.
Surely our river cannot already be hastening into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot drag, in the silt, all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet— there is too much broken that must be mended,
too much hurt we have done to each other that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture,
Beady unblinking eyes, some red and some white, stare out from my phone charger, coffee maker, speakers, PC, printer, and elsewhere. The average U.S. home has about 40 electronic devices draining power, accounting for around 10 percent of one’s energy bill. Some call this leaking electricity or vampire energy.
Things I used to get done on a regular basis now seem to take forever. I never used to squeak right up against deadlines, beg out of regular obligations, fail to answer necessary texts, forget things like sympathy cards. Never, ever. But I have the last few years, excoriating myself all the while.
Sometimes I cancel a walk with a friend, a walk I’ve been looking forward to, because I just can’t muster up whatever it takes to get myself out of the house. Then I wonder what the heck is wrong with me when surely both my friend and I need the restorative pleasure of time in nature.
I manage to work, make meals, and sometimes floss my teeth, that’s about it. Books have always been one of my favorite ways to retreat. Thanks to insomnia I’ve gotten a lot of reading in over the years, but I’m reading more now. A lot more. (I try to track titles on Goodreads, because I find myself mistakenly checking out library books I’ve already read.)
Even half-measures political leaders try to put into place are failing, almost entirely thanks to greed. We don’t need to look much farther than Joe Manchin III, of West Virginia, who almost singlehandedly got the proposed U.S. climate agenda pulled from the current budget bill. This jobs-intensive program to replace much of the nation’s dependence on fossil fuel with renewable energy is gutted. I don’t understand why it isn’t against the law for elected officials to take legislative action that blatantly promotes their own or their family’s financial self-interest. Manchin is the top recipient of campaign contributions from coal, gas and oil, utilities, and other dinosaur industries while his family-owned coal brokerage firm Enersystems paid over one million to Manchin and his wife last year alone. Meanwhile people in his state rank dead last or darn close in areas such as economy, infrastructure, health care, education, and overall well-being, Heck, West Virginia comes in last in a “happiest states in America” ranking. It’s almost as if we haven’t noticed the damage done by rapacious partnerships between officials and fossil fuel companies over the last century. This sort of thing has gone on throughout history everywhere people have held power over others, but there’s no longer even an attempt to hide the appalling moral failings of those in charge, failings that will haunt this planet long after they are gone.
I’m a cool weather weirdo. While most people I know exult in summer’s bright heat, it depletes me. Give me a brisk autumn day with a breeze combing bright leaves into the air and I’m in bliss. Give me a sunny winter day with millions of ice crystals gleaming from the snow, bliss again. But summer’s heat and humidity persisted here in Northeastern Ohio through September and well into October. Temperature-sensitive crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and summer squash are still abundant in my gardens when normally we would have long since pulled out those plants. This feels inexpressibly wrong somewhere deep in my cells. I know anomalous weather wreaks havoc on the exquisitely timed needs of birds, pollinators, and other creatures. Only this week, three-quarters of the way through October, are we finally experiencing seasonal weather. Well, except for the two tornadoes in our county this week.
We’ve long been told that we as individual consumers are the world’s energy vampires. If we all stopped using straws and carried groceries home in fabric totes, the threat of climate change would melt into a concern no more worrisome than a few extra sunny days. Fingers of shame have been pointed at those who travel by air or eat meat. Individual action is important, but it also deflects from the world’s worst contributors to climate change. The U.S. is again ramping up the military budget when the U.S. military is already the world’s single largest consumer of oil, a worse polluter than as many as 140 countries. And for half a century, giant corporations have known and concealed the dangerous global effects of extracting, transporting, and burning fossil fuels. In a carefully orchestrated distraction, these companies have engaged in what a new report calls well-funded “cutting-edge propaganda” which cast doubt on climate science and steered media attention toward consumer responsibility. Twenty of these companies are responsible for more than a 35 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, as noted in a Guardian article, where climatologist Dr. Michael Mann is quoted as saying, “The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price — in the form of a degraded planet– so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits.” Climate change, of course, hurts the poorest people the most both in the U.S. and around the world.
Something vital is drained from us when human decency is set afire by those in power. It saps hope and exhausts our strength to make positive change happen. For most of us, deadly racism, viciousness aimed at asylum seekers, the constant and cumulative trauma of far right extremism overlaid by an ongoing pandemic constantly drains our inner resources, depleting our mental and physical energy, making it hard to even get through our daily obligations. This happens even if much of it is below our minute-by-minute awareness. I still want to believe there is a core of true humanity within every person. I still want to do my part for the next seven times seven generations. Thank God our local library system doesn’t impose late fines any more…
I highly recommend what my wise and visionary friend Dr. John C. Robinson has to say about all this in his books and articles. In Climate Change: From Darkness To Hope , he asks us to “notice how your deep self responds to the climate threat” in order to find where we feel called to respond. As he writes, “we must learn to live again on this planet as if everything were new, unfamiliar, and sacred, and reorganize our communities to meet the dramatic needs of a new reality. No one can do this alone but all of us just might be able to do it together. Though still in my own personal alchemical transformation, I feel it happening, I trust it: I am moving from haunted to focused; I am preparing for a greater role in Creation’s evolutionary unfolding, as we all are.”
I clicked on an article titled, “Study finds our galaxy may be full of dead alien civilisations,” thinking, Wow, a career in space archeology would be fascinating.
Researchers used an extended version of the Drake Equation, which determines the odds of extraterrestrial intelligence existing in our galaxy, to consider factors necessary for a habitable environment. They speculated that intelligent life may have emerged in our galaxy about 8 billion years after it was formed. (Here on Earth, humans emerged 13.5 billion years after the Milky Way was formed.)
And then I got to the passage about “the tendency for intelligent life to self-annihilate…”
What? We know about the fall of empires but did we know science says our species’ selfishly destructive ways are likely take us all out? According to the article,
“While no evidence explicitly suggests that intelligent life will eventually annihilate themselves, we cannot a priori preclude the possibility of self-annihilation,” the study reads.
“As early as 1961, Hoerner suggests that the progress of science and technology will inevitably lead to complete destruction and biological degeneration, similar to the proposal by Sagan and Shklovskii (1966).
“This is further supported by many previous studies arguing that self-annihilation of humans is highly possible via various scenarios, including but not limited to war, climate change and the development of biotechnology.”
This is staggering to consider, especially while we are living through (well, hopefully living through) a tangled knot of crises including a pandemic, climate change, widening inequality, and political unrest. I’m pretty sure we don’t want to leave a dead planet relevant only to space archeologists, even if we currently seem to be heading that way.
I take refuge in hope. Here are a few of the many reasons why.
Crisis has saved us in the past. After all, the Renaissance followed the Black Plague. And there’s much earlier evidence that crisis leads humanity forward. It appears a near-cataclysmic moment in the Upper Paleolithic period led to the preeminence of modern humans. Environmental degradation reduced our kind to near-annihilation. We emerged from this crisis only because we developed new collaborative practices such as trading with strangers and loyalty initiation rituals, engendered to create grudging trust. It took a near-extinction level events for humanity to socially evolve in the Paleolithic. Imagine how our response to this pandemic might move us forward.
A recent survey by World Economic Forum indicates an overwhelming desire for change. Out of the more than 21,000 adults from 27 countries who were questioned, 86% would prefer to see the world change significantly – becoming more sustainable and equitable – rather than revert to the status quo. Even on an individual level, 72% say they prefer their life to change significantly rather than go back to how it was before the COVID-19 crisis started. Numbers are somewhat lower for the U.S., but a majority support initiatives to combat climate change.
How to bring about real change? That’s a huge topic, but here are a few hopeful glimpses.
Increasing momentum for positive social change is happening around the world, especially among young people. Otto Scharmer, a senior lecturer at MIT, points out these movements differ from earlier student moments because they emphasize a change in consciousness, collaboration with people of all ages, and using technology in new ways to shift awareness toward solutions. Dr. Scharmer explains that this activates an axial shift in learning and human development, moving away from closed to open presence.
Cooperative behavior is not only natural, it’s contagious. When people benefit from the kindness of others they go on to spread the compassion. The tendency to “pay it forward’ influences dozens more in an enlarging network of kindness. And even more heartening, the effect persists. Kindness begats more kindness, blotting out previously selfish behavior. It doesn’t seem to matter how people are exposed to kindness. They might read about altruistic behavior, see it in a video, or witness it in person. It also doesn’t seem to matter if the person offering kindness was similar to them, or if the help was material (like money) or non-material (like comfort). We are influenced not only by the people around us but also what we’re exposed to online and in the media. Time to pay closer attention to our influences, amplifying the kindness that’s so intrinsic to our human nature.
Social justice makes us happier. Interviews with nearly 170,000 individuals across 28 countries show people whose countries emphasize social justice are happier, more pleased with their lives, and show greater trust in one another. Greater social justice demonstrates that people have value, which is crucial to psychological well-being. It also builds confidence in communities which, in turn, improves our relationships with others. It may help reduce prejudice as well. Social justice is shown to benefit the economy, including its gross national product. Countries with higher social justice showed higher GDP. To build a stronger economy plus a happier, healthier population, countries need to prioritize social justice policies. (Studies in the United States also show people experience greater happiness in states that spend more to promote the public good such as parks, libraries, public safety, and infrastructure.)
Covid-19 as well as climate change brings into sharp focus what we need to do to restore the environment. Emergency physician James Maskalyk and Dave Courchene, founder of the Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness and chair of its National Knowledge Keepers’ Council, explain.
“The answer is already here, and has been known for thousands of years. It is in the wisdom and sacred teachings of Indigenous people across the world. They have the deepest connection to the spirit of the Earth and its history, and from this intimacy, healing can occur.
This is neither speculation nor fantasy. A 2019 study from the University of British Columbia, looking at biodiversity in Canada, Australia and Brazil, found more species of birds, animals and amphibians on land managed by Indigenous people, even greater than in national parks. In the same year, a collaboration involving 50 countries and more than 500 scientists, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), concluded that human activity and the resultant lack of biodiversity allowed for five new diseases to emerge every year with the potential to infect humans. They noticed that Indigenous land, though it faced the same pressures, was eroding less quickly. Capturing their knowledge, and expanding their stewardship, was cited as necessary for a healthier world.
No one created the problems that threaten to overwhelm us from malice. Not the plagues, nor climate change, nor extinctions. They have occurred as side effects of a system whose rapid growth is both encouraged at all costs, and blind to natural limits.”
New and resurgent solutions are democratizing how we produce, consume, govern, and solve social problems. The maker movement, collaborative consumption, the solidarity economy, open source software, transition towns, open government, and social enterprise are just a sample of the movements showing a way forward based on sharing.
The sharing transformation shows that it’s possible to govern ourselves, build a green economy that serves everyone, and create meaningful lives together. It also suggests that we can solve the world’s biggest challenges — like poverty and global warming — by unleashing the power of collaboration. At the core of the sharing transformation is timeless wisdom updated for today — that it’s only through sharing, cooperation, and contribution to the common good that it’s possible to create lives and a world worth having.
And herein lay the engine of the sharing transformation: When individuals embrace sharing as a worldview and practice, they experience a new, enlivening way to be in the world. Sharing heals the painful disconnect we feel within ourselves, with each other, and the places we love. Sharing opens a channel to our creative potential. Sharing is fun, practical, and perhaps most of all, it’s empowering.
You may be activating change right now by the content of your conversations, the ideas you see taking hold around you, the way you stay informed, the way you raise your children and treat other children, how you interact with others, how you choose to spend your money as well as not spend your money, the way you earn money, the causes you advocate and believe in, and how you interact with our living planet. You, like so many change-makers, may already be living through deeply felt, personally lived ethics. That itself causes rippling change. Torchbearers of the last century who brought about so much good could do so because awareness shifted and deepened. A side benefit is depriving alien archeologists of the chance to explore a ruined planet!
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it. ~Arundhati Roy
I also started a tradition of making a donation each time I paid our bills. I figured we weren’t truly in trouble until we couldn’t help someone else. Sometimes it was for a local fund-raiser, but mostly it was one of many carefully vetted charities aligned with our ecological and social concerns. Each donation wasn’t much, but I made them.
I’ve kept up with that tradition and started another a few years ago thanks to a non-profit which offers a way of making the same donation do a world of good, over and over again. It’s based on microlending. Muhammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work, popularized microloans worldwide. These are tiny loans to the very poor, often in combination with other services such as healthcare, savings accounts, networking, and peer support. For decades, such loans have made a difference to people with limited access to financial services, particularly for women. Initially hyped as the solution to severe poverty, research shows the economic effects are more modest — resulting in the start-up or expansion of small businesses, more reliable sources of food and transportation, better educational opportunities, and higher overall wages. The improvement in individual lives is significant when nearly half the world lives on less than $5.50 a day, with a quarter living on less than $3.20 a day.
Anyone can get started making microloans as small as $25 through Kiva, lending money to people a state away or continents away. When they pay the money back, you can loan it over and over again. You might loan based on what means the most to you; perhaps to women in agriculture or refugees establishing businesses or people working in the arts. Each loan request is accompanied by a snapshot and information. For example right now Tuli, from Samoa, makes elei printed materials and needs a loan to buy more supplies. Lidia, from Uganda, runs a restaurant and needs a loan to help her buy more plates, saucepans, and staples like maize flour. Safarahmad, from Tajakistan (who paid back a previous Kiva loan) is applying for support to begin a beekeeping business. Norma, from the U.S., seeks a loan to buy equipment to expand her housecleaning services.
Kiva loans, overall, have a 96.7 percent repayment rate of loans to people in 77 countries. Since 2005, Kiva has crowdfunded more than 1.6 million loans. A billion dollars alone have been loaned to women.
I got started with $25 and, adding what I could over time, I’ve built up my Kiva account to the point where I’ve made 52 loans (and counting). It’s astonishing to be able to offer others a portion the abundance I realize I’ve always truly had.
As each generation does, our children will grow up to shape the world. They need plenty of creativity and enthusiasm for the task ahead. Nurturing them in loving relationships with plenty of freedom to play is wonderful preparation. Here are some other positive ways to foster their confidence as they grow.
1. Encourage make-believe worlds. Give kids plenty of unscheduled time where they’re free to daydream and play. Sometimes their make-believe is constructed of nothing you can see, sometimes with blocks or dress-up clothes, sometimes it’s under a blanket thrown over a table. Make-believe builds a connection from the world that is to the world that can be.
2. Tell family stories. Share funny, silly, and hopeful stories of long-gone relatives. Tell stories of your childhood and young adult years, especially the mistakes and hard lessons kids can identify with. Tell them about their own earliest days including what they were like as babies and toddlers. Kids who know such stories develop a strong sense of belonging, which researchers call “best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
3. Read stories. Through fiction, children imagine themselves living the lives of characters and begin to grasp what it’s like in different places and different circumstances. This practice of recognizing other worldviews helps to develop tolerance and empathy.
4. Point out what people are doing every day to bring about a brighter future, both in good times and times of great difficulty. Note your own positive choices — perhaps contacting your legislators, planting a garden, walking instead of driving. When a sudden crisis arises in your area, a house fire or flood, point out how quickly people work together to care for one another. We humans tend to show the best of ourselves in the worst of times.
5. Let current events become a regular topic. Just as you’d bring up any other subject that interests you, talk about topical issues in front of your kids. This is easy to do informally while driving or sitting around the dinner table. In addition to being more aware of issues, studies show that kids develop better reasoning skills when they grow up in families where social and political issues are common topics.
6. Welcome young people’s opinions without overemphasizing your point of view. Dissent equips kids to think for themselves. As they get older, help them see that using facts and approaching discussions logically can help convince others. (Here are some logic resources.)
7. Hang a laminated world map on the wall. Notice where news happens, where friends travel, where their favorite movies and music comes from. Mark places you’d like to go. Whiteboard markers wipe off this surface, so it’s easy to write directly on oceans and continents. (This is also a subversive way to advance geographical knowledge.)
8. Embrace kids’ interests and let them see you pursue your own. Many of us are raising young people whose passions aren’t remotely similar to our own, yet these very passions help advance the possibilities we bring to the future.
9. Get kids to predict the future. This not only provides insight into their hopes and fears, it’s a way of talking about the kind of future they want to live in and what steps can be taken to make it happen.
10. Stay tuned to what’s positive. Avoid a heavy media diet of news or crime shows. Even as little as a few hours a day can result in drastically increased cynicism, fear, and lack of trust in others — what’s been called mean world syndrome.
12. Think globally. Notice where toys, clothing and other household purchases come from, perhaps locating the place of origin on a map. Focus your attention on a specific area in the world that interests you, paying attention to the news, weather, and celebrations taking place there. If at all possible, host an international visitor.
13. Travel and immerse yourselves in local communities as much as possible. Get off the main roads, eat where the locals eat, walk or bike as much as possible. Skip hotels, instead staying in homes through Airbnb, Home Exchange, or other such programs. According to The New Global Studentby Maya Frost, travel provides extraordinary benefits, especially as preteens and teens are forming their identity and sense of agency in the world.
14. Volunteer. This is a pivotal way to shows kids we can make a better world, right now, directly in our own communities. There are all sorts of ways kids can volunteer, from toddlers to teens.
Pay attention to the news and it’s nearly impossible to be optimistic. Lives shattered by terrorism, poverty, conflict, and prejudice. The Earth herself endangered by greed and ignorance. It’s enough to stomp out hope altogether.
Don’t let it.
There’s no denying we have work to do to heal one another and our lovely planet, but let’s pause to consider where we’re already improving.
We’re overcoming diseases at extraordinary rates.
AIDs related deaths have continued to drop for the last 15 years in a row and new HIV infections among children have dropped by 58% since 2000.
Malaria, one of the world’s top killers, is on the decline. Last year 16 countries reported zero indigenous cases of malaria. Globally, mortality rates from the disease have fallen from an estimated 839 000 in 2000 to 438 000 in 2015. In other words, an estimated6.2 million people have been saved from malaria-related deaths over the last 15 years .
The incidence of polio, which once crippled over a thousand children every day, has now been reduced by 99 percent. Only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, continue to experience wild polio cases.
The painful parasitic disease, Guinea Worm, has effectively been eradicated.
Many more children are surviving childhood.
Mortality rates for children younger than five have been cut in half since 1990 in virtually every country around the world. That’s about 19,000 fewer children dying every day this year compared to 25 years ago.
More people than ever have access to safe water and bathroom facilities.
Over the last 25 years, an average of 47,000 more people per day were able to rely on a source of clean drinking water. Now 91 percent of the world’s population has safe water. This saves countless people from suffering or dying from water-borne illnesses.
Over two billion people have gained access in the last 25 years to what the World Health Organization politely calls “improved sanitation facilities.” In other words, 68% of the global population has access to a toilet — critical for health and improved living standards.
Fewer people are hungry.
The number of chronically undernourished people has dropped by 200 million in the last 25 years. That’s particularly impressive considering the world’s population increased by 1.9 billion people during that time. (The world produces enough food to feed everyone, but poverty, conflict, and harmful economic systems perpetuate hunger.)
Today, four out of five people are able to read. In many regions of the world the majority of children and young adults are more literate than their elders, demonstrating that global literacy is rapidly increasing. At this point, nine out of ten children are learning to read.
Female literacy rates haven’t risen as quickly due to inequality and poverty, but in some areas, particularly East Asia, 90 percent more girls are able to read than 10 years ago. As female literacy goes up, other overall positive indicators tend to follow including decreased domestic violence, improved public health, and greater financial stability.
There’s been an eight fold increase in the number of people with access to the net in the last 15 years. Right now, there are two Internet users in the developing world for every user in the developed world. With this access comes better opportunities to network, build knowledge, create jobs, and stay connected with others.
The average person’s standard of living has gone up.
For example, the Makuna, Tanimuka, Letuama, Barasano, Cabiyari, Yahuna and Yujup-Maku peoples of Columbia have won the right to preserve a million hectares of Amazonian forest where they will continue to act as guardians of the land.
Sustainability is accelerating.
The U.S. and Europe, over the last two years, have added more power capacity from renewables than from gas, coal, and nuclear combined. Renewable energy jobs more than doubled in ten years, from three million jobs in 2004 to 6.5 million in 2013, and continue to grow. Dramatic improvements in renewable energy technology have lowered costs while improving performance for hydropower, geothermal, solar, and onshore wind power.
Wind energy prices in the U.S. have reached an all-time low and there’s enough wind power installed in the U.S. to meet the total electricity demands of Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and Wyoming. Investments in wind power are becoming mainstream, including projects being built for Amazon.com, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart.
Protected areas of land and water have substantially increased in the last 25 years. For example, protected lands in Latin America and the Caribbean have risen from 8.8 percent in 1990 to 23.4 percent in 2014.
In fact, more of the planet found protection in 2015 than ever before. In the U.S., President Obama has designated 260 million acres as protected public lands and waters – more than any previous president.
This year nations are setting aside one million square miles of “highly protected ocean,” more than any prior year. This area is larger than Texas and Alaska combined. These fully protected marine reserves are off-limits to drilling, fishing, and other uses incompatible with preservation.
Much more needs to be done to raise these standards and to deal with the political extremism, economic inequality, and environmental destruction that causes so much suffering. Much, much more. But taking a moment to consider these and other positive changes can empower us to accomplish even more.
“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”—Henry David Thoreau
Imagination springs from nowhere and brings something new to the world—games, art, inventions, stories, solutions. Childhood is particularly identified with this state, perhaps because creativity in adults is considered to be a trait possessed only by the artistic few.
Nurturing creativity in all its forms recognizes that humans are by nature generative beings. We need to create. The best approach may be to get out of one another’s way and welcome creativity as a life force.
If we are familiar with the process that takes us from vision to expression, we have the tools to use creativity throughout our lives. When we welcome the exuberance young children demonstrate as they dance around the room, talk to invisible friends, sing in the bathtub, and play made-up games we validate the importance of imagination.
When we encourage teens to leave room in their schedules for music or game design or skateboarding or whatever calls to them, we honor their need for self-expression. Young people who are comfortable with creativity can apply the same innovative mindset to their adult lives.
Creativity is necessary when dealing with an architectural dilemma, new recipe, marketing campaign, environmental solution, or personal relationship. In fact, it’s essential.
Imagination and inspiration have fueled human progress throughout time. Creative powers have brought us marvels and continue to expand the boundaries. The energy underlying the creative act is life-sustaining and honors the work of others.
But there’s a caveat. Creativity isn’t always positive, visionaries aren’t always compassionate, and progress isn’t always beneficial. After all, a clever mind is required to craft a conspiracy as well as to negotiate a peace accord.
Creativity is a life force when it arises as a healing impulse, as a truth-telling impulse, as an impulse to approach mystery.
I first heard of ANNA-RF when a friend shared “Jump,” a playful video with lyrics that resound in our fractured world.
For all of us love is the flame
The fire that burns the hate
Helps us dream and create.
I can’t see the different between
And I know that the answer’s within.
Humanity is one big tribe
So why can’t we live side by side?
The very next video of theirs I clicked on was a stirringly beautiful rendition of a folk song from Azerbaijan.
Intrigued, I found out all I could about the group.
Musicians Roy Smila and Ofir J.Rock met in the small desert village of Shaharut, Israel back in 2011. They quickly forged a musical connection that evolved into the band ANNA-RF, which they named after an Arabic-Hebrew expression that means both “I know” and “I don’t know.” They play what they call electro-ethnic-reggae, although that term doesn’t stretch as far as their music which is highly versatile, in part thanks to collaboration with musicians from all over the world. Their compositions are original and often spontaneous, mixing new sounds with ancient traditions. Instruments they use include the kamancha, lafta, sazbush, flute, guitar, and didgeridoo.
A little rummaging around YouTube makes it obvious that visual art is an integral part of what they do. They create videos for each song, filming in mountains, deserts, and busy markets. They can be found dancing in desert rain
and playing Celtic reggae with musicians in Switzerland.
Last year the band added a new member, Or Rave. I reached out to them for an interview and they kindly made time to email me back from a concert date in London.
Despite our complicated political times, your lyrics are mostly celebratory. What message does your music convey?
We find no truth in borders or other fictive ideas of separation. We enjoy the beauty of everyone and we find inspiration in every culture and every place. Our music is based on this point of view, therefore it is positive and open.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Our home and studio is in a tiny village in the desert. The emptiness of the desert is what inspires us to fill it with creation.
A song can start from anything. A line on the kamancha (the Persian violin), a riff on the guitar, a sentence someone throws to the air.
We also tour a lot and in our journeys we meet amazing people and artists who we collaborate with. In many cases that connection is an inspiration for a new song.
How does travel influence your music?
When you are traveling your life is highly dynamic and flexible. From that we get a variety of new points of view and inspiration. By traveling we meet a lot of amazing people and artists that influence us and broaden our horizons.
Tell us a little about collaborating with other musicians and who you’ve played with so far.
For us one of the most beautiful proofs of the similarity of mankind can be found in music. When you play with other musicians from around the globe you understand that all over this planet people get the same feeling from music and you can find similarity right in the musical scales.
We’ve played with:
Imamyar Hasanov, the great kamancha master from Azerbaijan
Yair Dalal, the well-known Oud master
The Turbans, the great Gypsy band from England
Farafi, beautiful African music from France and California
Daniel Waples, famous hang player from England
Davide Swarup, the hang and SPB pioneer from Italy
Tom Bertschy and Thom Freiburghaus, the medieval musicians from Switzerland
And many, many more amazing artists from all over this planet.
These videos are mostly filmed in evocative natural settings. What are some complications of filming in the sand, on a mountainside, or roadside?
In most of those beautiful locations there is no water or electricity there so we have to prepare in advance. We have to have food and water supply and to be very precise. We have to carry on our backs all the props and all the equipment.
Any interesting stories about mishaps in filming?
In the “Weeping Eyes” video we had to hike for nine hours to the location in the Himalayas. The energy that we spent there was way too much and we could not stay, so we had to climb down all the way back to our guesthouse. All of us were so worn out.
Can you tell us the story of how one song evolved?
Our last song is a collaboration with a great composer and musician called Eran Zamir. He came for a weekend of creation. A tradition we like to do on the first day—we played together and he played some of his own compositions and after a while we chose a line that all of us especially liked. With this line, Or the beat master added his own rhythm and we wrote the lyrics and created the structure of the song. Roy added a kamancha solo (that we connected to a guitar amp for the special sound of the over-drive) and Ofir recorded the vocals. On the next day we wrote the script and shot the video in the desert. The video is a result of our creative connection.
What are you listening to these days?
We listen to a lot of Azeric, Turkish, and Persian music as well reggae, pop and new electro and dubstep acts. We are inspired by many different styles and find beauty in all of them.
Your videos tend to include repeat props like a stuffed monkey and a variety of hats, and repeat themes like hitchhiking. What’s up with that?
The symbols are there for any person to see them as they will.
There may be no more powerful image in art, no more important message in scripture, than open arms. Welcoming the stranger is a basis of civilization, especially if that stranger is a refugee and always if that stranger is a child.
“You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” Christianity, Deuteronomy 10: 19
“Charity—to be moved at the sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable and to offer relief to them out of pity—is the spring of virtue.” Jainsim/Kundakunda, Pancastikaya 137
“When the Holy One loves a man, He sends him a present in the shape of a poor man, so that he should perform some good deed to him, through the merit of which he may draw a cord of grace.” Judaism. Zohar, Genesis 104a
“One should give even from a scanty store to him who asks.” Buddhism. Dhammapada 224
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Christianity. Hebrews 13.1
“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet) and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.” Islam. Quran 4:36
“A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu.” Nelson Mandela, discussing the southern Africa tradition of Ubuntu
“See to it that whoever enters your house obtains something to eat, however little you may have. Such food will be a source of death to you if you withhold it.” Native American religions. A Winnebago Father’s Precepts
“`0 Ke aloha Ke Kuleana o kahi malihini. Love is the host in strange lands.” Hawaiian saying
Relieve people in distress as speedily as you must release a fish from a dry rill [lest he die]. Deliver people from danger as quickly as you must free a sparrow from a tight noose. Be compassionate to orphans and relieve widows. Respect the old and help the poor. Taoism. Tract of the Quiet Way
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Whether scripture or statue inscription, we all know it’s easier to state our principles than adhere to them. I’m as weak as the next person in actually living up to what I believe.
I’ve vowed to keep politics out of this site, so I won’t be talking about lies fostered by divisive media or shockingly cruel attitudes toward refugees of any age. I’ll only say that it takes an extraordinary act of love to scrape together the coyote fees to send one’s child away in hopes of a safe haven. It takes inestimable courage for that child to walk through deserts, ride the tops of trains, and face down thieves along the way in hopes of real freedom.
My husband and I did some soul-searching. We talked to our kids. And we decided we cannot stand by while refugee children turn themselves in at the border only to be treated like criminals. We have room to host refugee children.
We applied to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. We were told placements might be for a few months or they might be permanent. So we re-imagined our lives. Now that our kids are college students and young adults we thought we were done raising children, but we can go back to homemade popsicles and toys on the floor and books read aloud. We have our own problems with unemployment and a not-remotely-profitable small farm, but what we have can always stretch. There’s a place in our home and our hearts.
That doesn’t mean we have a greeting card view of this. These children will be traumatized, experience culture shock, and face learning a new language. We’ll have plenty of adapting to do as well.
Lately before falling asleep, I look ahead to rows of family pictures stretching into the future. Those pictures seem to hold two dark-haired faces newly dear to me, and eventually, more of their relatives joining them and becoming part of our extended family, on for generations, with babies in arms growing to stand tall, my husband and me fading into old age and beyond. It’s a good vision.
Right now it looks like that vision won’t come true. I just got an email from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It said, in part,
After exploring the nationwide LIRS foster care program network, I am sorry to share with you that LIRS does not have a foster care program in the geographic area that you are located. If at a future time an opportunity arises, we will reach out to you at that time.
I wrote back, asking if there was some way I could help set up a program in our area. Apparently the only option is applying for a grant through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, which I admit is probably past me. So now I’m applying to other agencies.
I only mention our quest in hopes that someone out there may qualify even if we don’t. Here are resources to investigate.
Critical thinking without media overload. It’s possible. (image: Kids in America)
We want to raise kids to be informed and active citizens without subjecting them to an information overload or current events-related despair. Here some activities and resources to make that easier.
1. Let current events become a regular topic. Just as you’d bring up any other subject that interests you, talk about topical issues in front of your kids. This is easy to do informally while driving or sitting around the dinner table.
2. Welcome their interests and opinions without trying to push your point of view. As they get older, help them see that using facts to bolster their talking points helps to convince others.
3. Model civil discourse. When people who disagree can engage in conversations with respect and integrity, they’re on the way to creating solutions. This is true in backyard squabbles, regional disputes, and diplomatic negotiations. A key is finding common ground. That happens after every person involved has access to the same information and feels that their input is understood. This is a critical skill to practice. Make it a part of your daily life for smaller issues so you can more easily use it when harder issues arise. Notice it in use by individuals and groups around the world.
4. Emphasize accurate and varied information sources so kids are equipped to think for themselves rather than led by popular opinion.
6. Make timelines of your lives. Once kids have added details to their timelines such as when they lost the first tooth, got a dog, and moved into a new neighborhood help them go back to add events and discoveries that happened the same time. Continue the timeline on toward the future, speculating where you will live, what you will do, and what will be happening in the world around you. Getting kids to predict the future gives a lot of insight into their worldview. You can also make a timeline for a grandparent, filling in newsworthy events, particularly those impacting the person’s life.
7. Get to know logical fallacies like guilt by association, appeal to fear, or red herring. By avoiding fallacies you can craft well-reasoned opinions while pointing out fallacies to deconstruct faulty arguments. Write some of the most common fallacies on place mats you use everyday or hang a list on the refrigerator to defuse squabbles. Get everyone involved by playing Logic Shrink, an entirely free game you can enjoy as you choose (basically everyone shouts out logical fallacies as they notice them committed by politicians, pundits, and others). Enjoy Ali Almossawi’s wonderful book An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, free online and also available hardcover or audio format.
12. Analyze the news. Check out the same story from different information outlets, maybe a major television station, a major newspaper, an alternative newspaper or site, social media, or blog commentary. Notice what angles are reflected differently and what’s missing from a single news source. Is the media the message? Is there a commercial slant? Find out what’s behind the reporting with Source Watch which tracks the people and organizations shaping our public agenda and PR Watch which exposes public relations spin and propaganda.
13. Open up to reporting and commentary from other countries. PEARL World Youth News is an online international news service managed by students from around the world. OneWorld is a global information network designed to link people who see and share the news. Survival International and Cultural Survival are organizations sharing news about and advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. And check out links to dozens of links to far-flung news sources.
14. Play video games. Socially responsible games combine challenges with real life lessons about current situations. (Some are pretty heavy on the message.) Check out listings at Games for Change.
15. Report your own news. Capture the sights and sounds of your family, neighborhood, or travels in a family newspaper, blog, or video diary.
16. Consider the source. Watch the same topics covered in different news shows, such as conservative Fox and Friends versus liberal Rachel Maddow. Weigh assertions made by leaders in politics or business against historical example. Look up what a politician or pundit said on the topic years ago compared to now.
17. Look at coverage. Why are some stories headliners, others barely covered, and still others never reported? You might consider immediacy, negative impact (“bad” sells better than good), celebrity connection, and surprise factor. What about stories Project Censored claims aren’t covered by mainstream outlets?
19. Connect with people around the world. Talk about issues with people on forums and social media. Pose and answer questions on Dropping Knowledge, an incredible resource where there are dozens of current discussions such as, “Why don’t schools teach us to form our own opinions?” and “Would a universal language help us get along?”
20. Compete. Student Cam is C-SPAN’s annual documentary competition for young people. We The People hosts competitions for middle school and high school students. Do Something honors young volunteers. Academic WorldQuestis a team game testing competitors’ knowledge of international affairs, geography, history, and culture.