Harp! Sing For Me: Musings on a More Sustainable Future.
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Posted: March 31st. 2013
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Pagans and Wiccan in general want to be in touch with the natural world, or at least claim they want to try to be. So how does a Pagan live in a way that promotes a more nature friendly manner and advocate for others to do the same in a positive manner? My point here is that we need to be talking more about practical issues if we in the Pagan/Heathen community want to truly grasp how to go about having a course of action. As a libertarian on social issues, but a Pagan in spirituality, I have my own spin on things, so bear with me here.
So you want to do something to heal your Mother?
One way is to start with improving your understanding of how three important elements of how we live in the world relate to each other. I call them the holy trinity of technology, economics and culture. Ignore any one of these three elements at your peril.
So let’s deal with the God of technology first. In the Greco-Roman Myths, Vulcan (or Hephaestus) is the God of ingenious creations. Probably not ironically he is a crippled God. His skill is to compensate for his physical infirmities. In his myth cycle, even as clever as he was, he didn’t always consider the implications of his creations. Consider that while petroleum based fuels are not great, the technology and infrastructure in place still make it in the short run for the reality running our world. It takes time to change things.
Right now our world is a macadam road, hydrocarbon fuel based world. So most of us drive cars because in North America we need them to function. We want to do better than just adding to the carbon burden on the climate. So we look for a fix. Hybrid technology is great, but are you really helping the environment with buying vehicles using rare and exotic metals and toxic materials to get 50mpg in ideal situations? Really? My point is that any decision based on technology always has to take into account both the net positive and negative potential consequences and not some current fad.
We need our technology though in a world of earth based religions more than ever. Keep that in mind; so many of us as we advance in years, need all Hephaestus’s skill to make our latter years easier. I for one could not imagine rolling back the clock to the days of horsepower as primary motivator. Anybody who knows anything about the carbon emissions of horses (manure!) will tell you have much pollution they emit. One of the great problems of the 19th century was dealing with the urban waste of horse-based transportation. This was solved when Hephaestus gave us the steam engine and later the internal combustion engine; so what is next?
Why not force change through legislation? Can’t we simply let our elected officials legislate for change? Not really, since that runs afoul of some issues, particularly economics and culture. Excuse a certain amount of cynicism here, but politicians are not known for really making the best choices on our behalf. Politics are a creature of power and influence, and people who get to use other people’s money on our behalf have a lamentable tendency to forget the real price of things. At best political solutions are a workable compromise. At worst, our elected representatives will gladly foist a con game with bad consequences upon you all the while saying that “they’re working on it”. Add to that Americans in particular (including yours truly) are prone to balking at top down solutions.
A few years ago a certain well-known political figure rebuilt his mansion to be “carbon neutral”. He wanted to make a social statement to build his credentials as an environmentally conscious leader. Wow, that’s great except he had millions in income available to do this and make his political statement. It is an inconvenient truth is that very few of us can actually do this. According to a career National Park service friend of mine, an annual Yule log burning was cancelled political reasons to make the park service appear more conscious about carbon issues, even though my friend pointed out that burning a Yule log was at worst carbon neutral. Seriously, these days folks are throwing terms like carbon footprint, carbon credits and carbon taxation about with abandon. Not to sound like biting cynical modern reincarnation of Ambrose Bierce, but it seems all these terms are a political invention to do the following:
Define a political philosophy in a certain brand way that makes it seem like we are doing “something” positive.
Give politicians yet another excuse to add to our tax burden so they can pay for their pet projects and expand their power base at our expense.
Am I sounding more like a tea party member yet? I’m not, but I am fed up with the propaganda. Sustainable policy needs to be made by an alliance of scientists with an unbiased agenda and data, moderate legislators and citizens with their varied perspectives and interests. I am not one of those people who think this is something we can simply mandate into a better world with top down dictates. This is especially true when a fad is substituted for solid science and good technology. Legislating change is a tricky, easily hijacked process more prone to hurting people through unintended consequences. Case in point: CFL light bulbs.
So we legislated more efficient light bulbs, and the consequence is that when one of the new CFL type bulbs breaks you have a Hazmat area due to the spilled mercury from the bulb! So the amount released is minuscule? Yes, but now there will be billions of CFL bulbs in use. Do the math. Hopefully the problems with LED bulbs and the per unit costs will be solved before we have to live in a world lit by CFLs and the consequences of substituting one set of environment problems for another. Sorry for the rant in an article on Pagan/Wiccan sustainability issues, but I had to get that off my chest.
My point and source of passion is: if we in the Pagan community want to change the world, we need to keep ourselves informed and encourage technology to provide us a better, more economic alternative and allow for time to prove that technology before rushing into things that may have a different, but still bad side effect. Sometimes we will need to invoke the executive powers of Zeus to affect change, but those laws need to be implemented with policies to allow for change and a flexibility of approach. No question about it, our current hydrocarbon based society is unsustainable in the long run. Change is coming but just how quickly? If we love our planet we have to find better ways than trying to simply order people to change. We need to find ways to persuade and encourage people to live more lightly and in touch with the natural world without forcing an EarthFirst!-style dictatorship upon them. So how about starting with winning hearts, minds and then asking for people to rise up to do better by making a better set of choices available?
Next point to consider is Economics 101 for the Pagan. First off, somebody always has to pay. If the government is made responsible, the bill is your taxes. Tax the businesses, and your consumer prices go up. There is no free ride. Sadly in the USA the politicians frequently tout saving money by hiding and passing on the real costs to the state, the local community, and individual people. This is not a sustainable notion either. It economically burdens those least able to do anything. Any solution that works has to be a part of a scheme that is based on real economics. Here’s where we need the skill of Mercury to negotiate a best compromise economically and the mind of Athena to implement them. In the practical world however this means what you and I earn, not the very rich or corporate shareholders. So what does this mean about the places where people live and some of the potential it holds? Here are a few thoughts:
Urban life and lifestyle.
Cities can and should plan better. In 2009 National Geographic had an article on the “greening” of cityscapes. Yes, and more of it. We need more Brown Zone redevelopment as well. (That means cleaning up old urban and industrial areas and putting them back into use instead of simply developing other places) . Praise Apollo the Golden God for his civitas have grown great. However cities need nature too. In the Greco-Roman world sacred spaces existed near even the busiest cities. Urban areas are simply not big on being green, but green spaces can be created. Given any chance, in time nature will find its way back.
An example: at Cedarlight Grove in Baltimore, Maryland has its grove right in the backyard of its parsonage. Even though it is surrounded with the sounds of a busy city, a person can step into sacred space and leave the city behind physically and spiritually. Their senior druid told me that fight with the city zoning was terrible, but they got their garden and every year it gets more natural.
While I’m not a fan of urban living, it is a reality for most of the world today. I’d like to see cities with more green spaces, good space planning for where the people live and work, and limited in scope to distinct boundaries. Better, cleaner mass transportation infrastructure would be nice too, but remember the economics part. Mass transit networks tend to be extremely expensive. In the long run maybe we’ll see cities where making efficient choices is a reality. It takes a mindset that I’m not optimistic will ever exist (we are talking works of people here and not the Gods) , but without hope what is life?
Small town and suburban lifestyles.
In future decades maybe we’ll see small towns come back. Thank goodness for modern telecommunications making it at least possible for people to live in small communities and have a job even if far from major metropolitan areas. Small towns declined when the jobs left. They’ll come back again when people find jobs that will let them live there and not just a resting place in between daily commutes. Hestia, the Goddess of the sacred hearth would find small towns a comforting place as towns are built on a sense of community. Suburbs could still exist too, but hopefully those mass developments of hundreds and hundreds of homes with their sterile yards and winding paved lanes to nowhere will fade as the shoddily built McMansions crumble over the next few decades.
Did you know the modern subdivision was actually a creation of an obscure Depression Era home loan financing regulation? Talk about unforeseen consequences! Well I don’t think anybody can do much about the existing subdivisions, but we could try to get the rules changed for lending and zoning regulations changed that govern the creation of such monstrosities. So you live in a suburb or subdivision? Do what you can to make small habitat where you can. The Green Man does not need a large space to make his shy appearance. Many a Grove, Coven and Blot meet in backyards and other semi-private places and a sacred space does not need a lot to be created. For example, instead of a bird feeder, plant some native food providing vegetation. Create a natural garden of low maintenance plants to attract and support animals instead of simply putting out food. Our wildlife needs a habitat, not handouts. The ADF Druid movement does this as a matter of course. However we as a group also need to educate ourselves about what it takes to build new sustainable local communities based on local conditions. Prince Charles has some good ideas there. I won’t go into it, but you can look it up on the Internet under the terms “Built Environment”.
Not everybody wants to or can live in rural areas, but we should encourage those who do. Private landowners are the true keepers of the land and our shared heritage. Have many considered that most of the Gods and Goddesses in the Pagan Pantheons are tied to the land and their devotions based upon them? I won’t say that we need to “tune in and drop out” as the hippie commune movement did in its time, but it had its virtues.
It is not an easy lifestyle. To some extent you end up tied to the land, and this responsibility is day-to-day, year in and year out. The people who live this way do it out of love. How many of our Gods and Goddesses are about revering and using the products of the land? On the secular side, we need to start with acknowledging that at the very least people who elect to make a go of living a rural lifestyle need a few small breaks. Breaking from religion, the secular world intrudes. I’m talking about laws, zoning regulations, land use restrictions and all that goes with it. Our tax codes don’t help either. While the tax codes are designed to support big farms and agri-business, they punish people who want to hobby farm (meaning small farms that don’t generate a profit, but do produce on a small, sustainable scale) . There is also little or no encouragement for property owners to create and support small areas of habitat and/or use the land in sustainable ways. A mindset that to give a tax break automatically means a loss of tax revenue is a false economy.
Live on the land, own animals, grow things, and keep a small place for the truly wild animals that will always exist around you. I will say categorically that we need environmental laws and regulations, but some of the interpretation of those regulations are often just like those darned CFL bulbs. In making sustainable rural lifestyle more practical, they need to be scaled to the size of the user. Regulations designed for big corporations and agri-business make survival difficult indeed for the little guys out there. They can be very toxic to deal with.
For example, I once considered rebuilding a washed out millpond that exists on my land. However between Federal wetlands laws, EPA, the US Army Corp of Engineers, and local Pennsylvania zoning regulations I’d have a better chance surviving a fall from a ten story building than actually getting approval even if I could afford to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for engineering studies, environmental impact studies and paying consultants to write reports all stating how a small pond would be good for the local habitat. Too bad, that pond would have been a wonderful place to create a diverse habitat in an area that is now just tangled secondary growth.
Really living in the land is a culture and lifestyle unto itself. Point in fact: until the post WW2 generation most Americans actually lived fairly close to the land. So many claim that their ancestors were secret Pagans. Perhaps they were or they weren’t. This isn’t the time or place to start that argument. All I know is that maybe our ancestors were ignorant about the finer points of how the environment works, but most of them had a much deeper appreciation of the natural cycles than we do today. Too many today have become disconnected to the real world with our highly technical, consumer based culture and society. To me it would make the world a better place if more people would stay in touch with nature through raising a few vegetables, some livestock, fowl and quietly managing their homes to the benefit of their families, community, and the local wildlife. The rich tapestry of culture that rural living entails is both very Pagan as well as being woven deeply into the fabric of American culture (life, liberty and pursuit of happiness) .
So here’s my radical thought. As Pagans we need to work on affecting the popular culture in little ways. It can be something as simple as a sponsorship of a local spay/neuter drive for the local feral cats, or as comprehensive as a complete lifestyle decision. Our spirituality is supposed to be woven into our worldview. How do we do this to make the world a better place? As I wrote this I read Jared Diamond’s sobering book: Collapse: How societies choose to Fail or Succeed. Time and time again he makes the point that societies (some several thousand years old) succeed even in the face of serious social, economic and environmental challenges if they make good choices. His book is full of examples from a wide range of times and places. What I got from it is that being a successful society doesn’t mean we have to make only perfect choices, just enough good ones overall and our overall changes are best when both top (government) and bottom (the people) share in the overall choices we make in managing their society.
We as a group who want to see a future where our teeming populations live a sustainable way need to be aware that any realistic solution needs to change the economics and lifestyle of people gradually (evolution, not revolution) . In a pluralistic society, compromise and negotiation are the means to make our present and future a better one.
1. There will not be a one-size-fits-all that will work any solutions. Legislation to force change is a heavy mallet that frequently has toxic side effects. We need to promote lifestyles that actually create a better culture and save the heavy hand of legislation for the really big problems that the business community tries to hide behind its lobbyists to avoid dealing with.
2. Pick your allies carefully. Don’t fall for slogans and party tag lines. If you are a part of a group or special interest that has some less attractive elements to its goals, work to change those goals, or take your money and time elsewhere.
3. There are a lot of good choices here. There are many fellow travelers on this path. Many other people from the completely secular to the mainstream monotheist religions share your views. We are all in this together and this is a common goal for many.
4. Take the time to think about how you interact with the nature around you, do some research to find the truth in the mix of facts, opinion, bad information, slanted data, and then plan accordingly.
I don’t pretend to know all the answers. My perspective is limited to my own observations and experiences and constant reading on a wide range of topics. My own take on the ethics of living close to nature have also greatly affected how I interpret what I think we need. I’m sure other voices will add their viewpoints and add to this dialogue. Meanwhile, keep the faith, love your world and blessed be.
National Geographic Magazine., May 2009, Vol. 215, No. 5
Up on the roof: A green thumb turns urban roofs from hellish to heavenly.
By Verlyn Klingenborg
Collapse: How societies choose to Fail or Succeed., Diamond, Jared., Audio Book CD., NY, Penguin 2004.
LED Revolution (8/1/13) http;//news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/9782116
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles, _Prince_of_Wales (as always check the links and other verifiable data when using this source)
Also checking multiple sources is always a good idea. Anybody with a specific agenda tends to spin their data to reflect what they want you to believe. One of the truly great things about the Internet is that you can quickly cross check multiple sources to compare information given to make up your own mind.
Copyright: c. 2013 A. I. Mychalus
Location: New Park, Pennsylvania
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