by Stan Hirst
I admit I first entitled this post “Love in the Time of Covid19”, but then thought better of it. For one thing it lacked a certain impact; secondly, I was secretly afraid of a visitation from the ghost of Gabriel García Márquez. Then I tried “From elders to Elders” but the chintzy version of WordPress we use for this site won’t accept lower case letters in a post title. So, I bow to mediocrity and you see above what I’ve ended up with.
Right now our awareness of a global threat is centered mainly on COVID-19. There aren’t many elders in the developed world right now that are not aware of the virus and its potential threat. Ironically, through our participation in the exploitation and transformation of global ecosystems, we have opened tens of thousands of Pandora’s boxes which pose environmental and social threats way beyond anything created by COVID-19.
On a regular basis, we are reminded that we, both Elders and elders, are running out of time. Year after year, faster and faster consumption outpaces the biological capacity of our planet. Stories of environmental and social catastrophes occupy more and more space in our media. Fears of the breakdown of essentials such as the energy supply or the limits on the availability of non-renewable resources are every bit as menacing as anything COVID-19 has doled out.
Acceleration has been the name of the game in the few decades while Elders and elders have been around. Populations, economic activity, human production, consumption and travel have massively impacted the biotic and abiotic spheres. It has reverberated through natural processes on which we humans depend. Species extinction, deforestation, massive impacts to our water resources, depletion of ozone, ecological degradation of ocean systems and the list goes on. All are accelerating. On a time plot the curve for all these changes looks pretty much rather like the notorious hockey stick – little change over millennia and then a dramatic upswing over the past decades.
We might keep making mistakes. But maybe, just maybe, we will also keep learning from our mistakes. However, the fact that we now perceive our planet as Gaia, as an entity, does not mean that the salvation of Earth will come from one global stroke of genius and technology. It can only come from many small acts. Global warming and environmental degradation are not technological problems. They are political issues that are informed by powerful interests. If history is any guide, we can safely assume that any major transformations will once again be followed by a huge set of unintended consequences.
So what do we do? Clearly we Elders and elders need to find ways that help us flatten the hockey-stick curves that reflect our ever-faster pace of ecological destruction and social acceleration. If we acknowledge that human manipulation of the Earth has been a destructive force that has caused huge converging threats, we can also imagine that human endeavours can help us build a less destructive world in the centuries to come. We might keep making mistakes. But we will also keep learning from our mistakes.
To counter the fears of disaster, we need to identify stories, visions and actions that work quietly towards a more hopeful future. Instead of one big narrative, a story of promised rescue by a bumptious politician, we need multiple stories of environmental concern, of engagement, and of ways of manifesting our concerns in the form of personal efforts.
It is time that we show successes and accelerations in ecological awareness, action and restoration. Let us tell stories of successes and future visions – about urban gardening and renaturalised riverscapes, of successful protests against polluted air and water, of the rise of regional markets and slow food, about planting of trees around, of initiatives and enterprises that work towards ecological restoration of habitats, of the return of orcas to the ocean and of salmon to coastal streams, of small communities that create their own energy, of the rise of ecological thinking and of environmental programmes, of victories for the rights and wellbeing of humans and nature.
Who will tackle all this? We Elders will. Elders are the ones bringing their voices and experiences forward to mentor, motivate and support dialogue and action on environmental issues. Elders are ones educating, communicating, connecting and advocating. We’re a bit thin on top and a bit thin on the ground, but we simply have to do this. After all, we can’t sit around and wait for elders to get involved.