Context is Everything

“We have to stop building vast houses on seashores,” said Rupert Murdoch. Huh? Has the chairman and ceo of News Corporation seen the light? Will Fox News repent its ways? What science fiction world is this? The reality: this taken-out-of-context quote was part of a Murdoch interview in which he gave climate change skepticism his personal stamp of approval.

contextContext is everything when it comes to a serious consideration of the impact of climate chaos on real life. If you have the wherewithal to build a vast house on the seashore, you can easily choose another location for your 3rd or 4th home. But if you are trying to continue life as you’ve known it in the Maldives or Bangladesh, you have a very different kind of problem on your hands. Of course, most of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Even if you get global warming and are willing to talk about it, having a sane conversation with those who are sitting on the fence will remain difficult as long as Big Media keeps trucking in doubt. To call climate change ‘controversial’ is on the subtle end of the scale, relatively speaking, but it does the job nonetheless. For more on the contrarian view, see HuffPo Green.

We’re only human and this is scary s—t! There has been some criticism of The Years of Living Dangerously series for adopting the same fear-based tactics environmentalists have used for decades, with diminishing returns. We’re all looking for little glimmers of hope that someone or something will show up to solve the problem, or that we can tweak this or that and voila! our comfortable lives can proceed apace. We may have grasped the realities of global warming intellectually, but the way we conduct our lives is slow to catch up to it.

Maybe this tiny, also Australia-based media entity — a flea on the butt of an elephant by comparison — can help. The Simplicity Collective offers some well-written challenges to the status quo head on. Like the Transition Movement, the Collective begins with the fact that a world without carbon-derived energy is inevitable, and it also favors ‘disruptive social innovation’ as a way we can live, and even thrive, in such a world. “Let’s be pioneers again,” is its invitation.

In a recent paper, Samuel Alexander*, chief architect and main author of the Collective, recognized the futility of small, incremental steps “to catalyse a transformation to a low-carbon civilisation, at least, not within the ever-tightening time frame urged by the world’s climate scientists.” But you already know that. Or I hope you do. The paper goes on to review what Alexander considers the most promising contenders (Transition among them) for most innovative social movements. Bottom line: we don’t know what will work and what will happen next but doing nothing is not an option.

I encourage you to read the paper and explore the site, even if earth dome building doesn’t turn you on at the moment. After writing extensively about a compost toilet, a fellow Transitioner noted: I’m shocked by what gets me excited nowadays!  Below is a sampling of the contenders with links so you can explore further at your leisure (but not forever). Choose one, see if it makes sense for you.

The Divestment Campaign: Go Fossil Free It began with Bill McKibben’s Do the Math tour and has since reached beyond colleges and universities into the faith community.

The Transition Movement. This will take you to other sites. Transition is becoming a mature movement relatively quickly, with all the usual bumps in the road.

The Sharing or Gift Economy. See Charles Eisenstein, especially Sacred Economics and A More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. Of all, one of the easiest to adopt because everyone knows how to give in some way.

Urban Agriculture, including the CSA and farm-to-table movements. Too many to list as a simple search will reveal.

Voluntary Simplicity Movement. Beside The Simplicity Collective cited here, check out New American Dream and Annie Leonard’s great Story of Stuff.

Occupy (many permutations) and Move to Amend (slightly off topic, but relevant in the broad context of disruption.)

To these, I would add the work of John Michael Greer who writes a fascinating blog under the title The Archdruid Report — far out, provocative.

Context is everything has entered the Lexicon as surely as tipping point, so the source of the quote may surprise you as it did me. And here’s a fun stumbled-upon I plan to explore further: and a quote from Mary Catherine Bateson that’s so going up on my wall: “You are not what you know but what you’re willing to learn.”

*Dr Samuel Alexander is a lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs, University of Melbourne. He is also a research fellow with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) and co-director of the Simplicity Institute.


3 thoughts on “Context is Everything

  1. Thanks for all the great info here, Marika, and I would like to add the Permaculture Research Institute to your list. This organization is truly teaching the skills necessary for each of us to mitigate climate change and live abundantly.

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