Nature cannot be defeated

There is hope. It’s right outside your door.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been impacted by the current, global economic downturn, and the headlines seem to grow more dire every day. People losing their jobs, their homes, their will to survive. People losing hope. People who are facing one hardship after another, who keep trying and keep getting shut down — whether they’re applying for jobs, trying to get health coverage, or trying to forestall foreclosure. People who simply give up.

It’s hard not to feel demoralized and defeated right now. It’s difficult for a lot of people not to just stay in bed each morning. It’s too easy to say, “Today’s no better than yesterday. What’s the point of even trying?”

I was thinking about this earlier this morning, when I happened to glance out my window at the lavender bushes in my garden. About five or six honeybees were busy buzzing from one purple blossom to the next, gathering food and spreading pollen.

Businesses may be closing their doors, but the flowers are still blooming. Banks may be passing their own hurt onto consumers, but the rain continues to fall (at least, it does in Portland). What does nature know of economic collapse?

Watching those bees this morning helped me to breathe more easily. The sun keeps rising every morning. The clouds continue to drift across the sky, and the moon and stars still stand vigil each night. Winds blow, rain falls, flowers grow.

It reminds me of one particular scene from the movie “Excalibur,” where armor-clad knights are riding to the battlefield on strong horses, pushing the blooming branches of cherry blossoms out of the way with their swords. The cherry blossom trees didn’t care about strife within the kingdom. The trees didn’t care about the kingdom at all. It was spring — time for growth and the promise of life — and the trees knew it.

That’s not to say that the environment isn’t hurting right now, too. Unemployment figures may not directly impact air quality, but decades of industrial pollution certainly do. Our waterways are more polluted, there’s litter seemingly everywhere, and our weather systems are reacting — often violently — to climate change.

But I have yet to see nature take a defeatist attitude. I’ve yet to see a tree decide to take a season or even a day off from the work of growing, simply because it’s tired of fighting against smog. I’ve yet to see the dawn drag its heels because it’s depressed or sad.

Last week, I met a survival instructor on Portland’s light rail MAX system. He was talking about efforts to live more in harmony with nature, rather than always setting ourselves up in opposition to it. And right now, the environment can play a very active, partnered role in the healing of our hearts and minds in these troubled times.

The next time I feel myself slipping into frustration or even defeat or despair, I’ll try to remember to look out again at my lavender bushes and the bees going about their daily work. I’ll pause to watch the robin perched on the tree branch and will close my eyes to listen to its song. None of this will instantly fix our current economic mess, of course, but it does provide some much needed perspective.

No matter what happens today, the sun will still rise tomorrow. Breezes will rustle tree branches. Birds will sing. Bees will dance around flowers. Every day is a new opportunity to get on with the business of living and growing, regardless of what happened yesterday or even five minutes ago. The bees don’t care about my checking account balance, nor about how many (or how few) projects I have to work on. They’re focused simply on what’s right in front of them, and on what they can do right now to keep on living and moving forward.


The environment and the Law of Return

I had been thinking of offering a list today of my favorite “green” folks on Twitter, until I got this message from’s GreenScope:

The law of karma gets restated in a hundred different ways. In environmental terms, it’s simple: whatever you do will literally come back to you. So look for cleaning products that can go safely into the water supply system. Baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice work on almost anything and are completely biodegradable.

I’d written previously about green cleaning products — and yes, baking soda, white vinegar and lemon juice make for some excellent “mean green clean.” Apart from the elimination of toxic chemicals from your home environment (commercial cleaners are full of the stuff) and the fact that make-at-home cleaners are also friendlier to your wallet, it’s absolutely true that homemade green cleaning products are easier on our landfills and water treatment centers.

Instant karma’s gonna get you.
—John Lennon

We do reap what we sow. The impact of our chemically-dependent — for lack of a better term — lifestyles is showing up in our waterways and fish populations, in everything from algae blooms to reduced fertility rates. And I don’t have a comprehensive list of all of the chemicals and other materials that waste water treatment facilities are able to filter out, but I don’t imagine they’re able to scrub the water of absolutely everything.

In Wicca and other branches of Neo-Paganism, the Law of Three states that whatever you send out into the world will come back to you three-fold. This admonition is aimed against the practice of questionable spells — usually curses and the like — but can also be effectively applied to day-to-day living.

Do I want to treat the Earth with respect, and then have this same consideration returned to me three-fold? Yes, please. Do I want to trash the planet and then have three times that level of destruction visited upon me? Not so much, no.

There’s a split in the scientific community over whether global warming is a reality — which I don’t understand. There’s also a split amongst those who recognize that climate change is indeed happening, between those who attribute environmental impact to human beings and those who believe it’s a natural, cyclical phenomenon.

I’m in the “yes, climate change is real, and humans have contributed to it,” camp. And I believe we are dealing now with the consequences of the quick rise of industry and technology from generations past (alongside rampant consumption of natural resources) with no heed given to environmental impact — and that future generations will continue to deal with those problems as well as with whatever additional damage we do today. The results of the solutions that we come up with now may not really be felt until after our lifetimes, but that’s the environmental legacy we leave for those who come after us.

Karma can be a bitch, but it can also be a blessing. You get back from it what you put into it. We just have to figure out what kind of environmental return we want to have visited — perhaps even three-fold — upon our descendants.

Passover 5769

Tonight marks the beginning of Passover, or Pesach. At Seder tables across the globe, people are coming together to remember the Hebrews’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. Others use this time to promote freedom from modern oppression, or to celebrate the renewal of springtime. More than a few Seders this Passover season will focus on environmental responsibility.

The traditional Seder dinner symbolizes the meal eaten by Hebrew slaves the night that the Angel of Death took the lives of the Egyptian first-born, while passing over the homes of the faithful, whose doors had been marked with lamb’s blood. This was the final plague visited on Egypt by the God of Moses, and the last straw that convinced the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go.

(Of course, the Pharaoh’s soldiers later chased the Hebrews down in the desert, but that’s another story.)

I doubt there’s literally a Dark Angel of Climate Change, but we are being plagued by increasingly frequent and violent natural disasters, faster melting glaciers and ice caps, growing mounds of garbage and still having to figure out what to do with tons of toxic waste.* And there’s no “green” lamb’s blood with which to mark our doors; climate change is a global phenomenon from which no one is spared.

Some researchers say we’re already past the point of no return, that the worst-case scenarios of worldwide drought, famine, flooding and mass extinctions are now all but a certainty. Others say we’re close to that tipping point but not yet past it.

So what does this have to do with Passover?

Passover is about severing ties with the past. It’s about having the courage to step beyond previous restrictions and limitations to imagine and create a new reality. The effects of climate change are upon us, but we can and must clean up our own planet, essentially working toward liberating ourselves from our own mess.

This can start at the Seder table tonight. You can use only organic ingredients to make your Passover meal, or buy your wine from a sustainable vineyard. You can incorporate climate change solutions into your Passover story and discussion. You can donate funds from your tzedakah box to an eco-friendly charity. Huddler’s Green Home Community gives some great suggestions on how to make your Passover celebration more eco-friendly.

But it has to reach beyond holidays meals and dinner conversation. The Hebrews fled Egypt not only for themselves, but for their children, grandchildren and the generations to come. That’s the focus our environmental policies and green actions need to take now. The impact of what we do today — for good or ill — likely won’t be felt for many years to come. But our actions do still have a very real impact, even if we’ll never see it ourselves.

This Passover — and Pesach celebrations for years to come — can be about liberating ourselves from our own destructive behaviors, and liberating our children’s children from a planet destroyed.

* According to a 1995 report from the Reason Foundation, the United States disposes of 13 million tons of hazardous waste each year.