Radical Hope: Preface

Background

I want to give some context to a planned series of blog posts about the perilous environmental collapse we are facing and what we might do about it.

Although it took me a while to realize and define it, I’ve been an environmental activist my whole life. More recently a water protector. Being raised on farms in Iowa I grew up immersed in nature. I developed a spiritual bond with the mountains on family camping trips.

Moving to Indianapolis in the early 1970’s when I was 20 years old, to be part of the Friends (Quaker) Volunteer Service Mission (VSM), I was devastated by the smog and poor air quality. A spiritual vision of my beloved Rocky Mountains hidden in clouds of smog shook me as nothing had. That began a lifetime of work to try to help Mother Earth remain healthy and beautiful.

An immediate decision that influenced the rest of my life was to realize I couldn’t own a car and contribute to the smog and greenhouse gas emissions, so I’ve lived without a car of my own since then. The only reason I mention this is one of the first things someone says when I talk about our environment is “well you have a car don’t you?” Studies show that people don’t pay much attention to what you say if you aren’t speaking from your own experience. For example, many question the authenticity of those who fly to attend conferences and meetings about our environment. Greta Thunberg’s zero carbon trip to the U.S. recently is a good example of what I call “environmental integrity”.

Cultural Shift

It has taken me a long time to appreciate the last couple of generations have lived through a cultural shift. I was born in 1951. It was just becoming possible for many people to begin to own automobiles. There was little mechanization of farm work. Many people lived and worked in small towns. There was no Interstate highway system. People rarely flew in airplanes.

I see the cultural shift from those days to today when I talk about moving away from personal automobile use to mass transit systems instead. Almost universally people of a certain age look bewildered or angry at this suggestion (young people today are more aware of our climate emergency and less inclined to use or have personal automobiles). They feel it is both a necessity and their right to have personal automobiles. When I point out that they (older generations) grew up without their own cars, they seem unable to imagine living that way today. It’s like there is a cultural barrier/wall that prevents going back to another time and way of living/thinking/being.

Cultural Collapse

It was reading Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation by Jonathan Lear that has me thinking about culture, and the collapse of our culture today. This is the Preface of a series of blog posts I hope to write about this book and the idea of cultural collapse.

A number of authors have been trying to make sense of the environmental disaster we are moving deeper into and what to do now. In a couple of recent posts I summarize some of those writings which I think will help in the discussion to come.

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