Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Long-Time Now Is Here

How a Tornado Metaphor Applies
by Sarah Anne Edwards, PhD

A visitor to this blog before it was officially wrote to say that using a metaphor of a tornado is not appropriate when speaking of eco-anxiety. Tornados, he emphasized, come on so quickly that they demand immediate action. Actually, that's exactly why I chose a tornado metaphor. The visitor is right that the environmental changes and the economic crises they herald hasn’t and won’t descend on us as quickly as an tornado would, but we need to take it as seriously and respond as quickly as if it were a tornado.

Why? Because as James Howard Knustler points out in his book The Long Emergency, the effects of the issues we face will be occurring over a long period and responding to personally also takes a long time. We can’t simply run to the basement and let them all pass over. In order to protect ourselves we each will have to undertake significant changes in how we live, the work we’ll need to do, the way we will support ourselves, and possibly even where we live. Few people can make these kinds of changes overnight. I've been working on making such changes for three years now and have barely just begun.

As Stuart Brand suggests in his book The Clock of the Long-Time Now, we need to walk with an eye to the long, long road ahead. On the wheel of the traditional Lakota Tribal Council there was always the Dog Solders lodge. Their role to assume the view of protecting “their children’s children until the moon no longer rises and the sun no longer sets.” This position had the final vote and the only one with veto power over any decision being made. The importance of such a role has long been missing from our public and private lives.

We like to live in the now. Produce short-term profits. Enjoy each moment to its fullest. Seize the iron while it’s hot. That can be fine … unless our actions today put us in a major crisis when we reach a bend in the road some in far off tomorrow. That's exactly where we find ourselves now. Because of our short term view, we now face many, many long term crisis-filled bends in the road and we need to prepare for.

The visitor to our blog also pointed out that there is still controversy about whether humankind has contributed to the environmental changes underway. I think the facts on that are becoming pretty clear (more on that in my next post), but regardless of the cause, we need to work through our feelings about them now and start taking action if we want to protect ourselves from the worst of their economic effects.

He further pointed out that there is no way to avert the environmental changes that are underway now, especially in other countries that are already being particularly hard hit. I agree. We can’t stop tornados and we can’t stop or reverse the existing environmental changes take place now, be they here or elsewhere. But we and those we’re in a daily position help are not elsewhere. We’re here. With aggressive national policy and investment we might, just might, be able to slow some of the effects of these changes, but as individuals we and our clients have only a marginal influence on whether that will happen or not. We certainly can’t rely it. What we can do and must do is act now to protect ourselves as best we can and assist our client’s in preparing to do likewise.

As we do, our anxiety, not necessarily all our discomfort, will wane, because anxiety arises from a build-up of pent up energy we;ve mobilize in response to a threat that remains unaddressed.

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