For the past few nights I have been putting myself to sleep by reading an advance copy of my friend Jan Krause Greene’s new novel, I Call Myself Earth Girl.
It’s not exactly a feel-good bedtime story, dealing as it does with rape, environmental disaster, death and bereavement.
But it’s also about empathy and love, between family members and also on a worldwide scale.
In Greene’s vision, the Earth and its denizens can be saved from catastrophe by mindful attention to what really matters: affirming life, both our own and that of the unborn generations to come.
Not since Starhawk’s 1994 masterpiece The Fifth Sacred Thing have I come across a book that so clearly matches my own waking nightmare of the terrible times that await us in the future, if we do not succeed in changing our ways now.
Let’s face it: it is possible that the kind of violence afflicting resource-starved places like Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia will become the norm in much more of the world, as climate instability creates food shortages and accelerates the pace of natural disasters beyond our capacity to recover.
America is a tinderbox just waiting to go off. Imagine what would happen if suddenly it was not possible to go down to the supermarket and get your week’s worth of groceries?
Such a scenario is more or less unthinkable to people like me, who have grown up cradled by the richest breadbasket in the world.
We are only beginning to realize the costs that have come with our cornucopia: the destruction of the virgin prairies in the Midwest, the poisoning of the earth, water and air with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; the grotesque factory farms of livestock and fish; the genetic alteration of seeds; the destruction of local farming by the huge predatory monster of American-style factory farms.
We have grown fat on these practices. And now it’s time for us to accept responsibility for the outcomes of our heedlessness.
Those of us alive today have the privilege, and the responsibility, of presiding over what could very well be the end times for human civilization.
It’s somewhat analogous to the end times of specific human cultures, like the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Ottomans, the great Chinese dynasties….except that this time, we’re not just talking about the end of a single culture, we’re talking about the demise of humanity as a species.
It is possible to imagine, as Jan Krause Greene did, that our lush green planet could turn brown from environmental disaster, provoking a culture of armed militias surviving by means of ruthless violence—with women, as always, at the bottom of the heap.
It is already happening—just not yet here, in the gated community we call America.
Can we wake up in time to forestall total, worldwide environmental melt-down?
In the past week we had a deadly two-mile-wide tornado in Oklahoma, and the Russian science station in the Arctic Circle had to be evacuated because the ice was melting at an unprecedented rate.
Here in New England we are expecting temperatures in the 30s Farenheit this weekend—way below normal for what should be the start of the growing season.
We don’t know. But I take heart from local initiatives like the rehabilitation of the long-dormant Great Barrington Fairgrounds into a vibrant community-supported agriculture site.
We are going to have to re-localize agriculture if we want to survive the shocks of the 21st century. We need to re-imagine not just agriculture, but community along with it.
As I Call Myself Earth Girl shows well, the antidote to violence and fear is love and empathy.
We still have a choice. Which way will you turn? Which side are you on? How far will you go to protect the planet and the generations to come?