On "Climate: A New Story"

In the past few months I have been trying to ask myself, “what truly motivates you?” and “what cause would you be willing to make major sacrifices for?” Among several answers the most compelling is the beauty of the natural world.

Human activities are overwhelmingly pushing the planet in a direction where that natural beauty is being destroyed. As a human I am participating in that destruction. This does not feel ok to me. I feel truly motivated to take action that makes me healing force for the natural world. I would be willing to make sacrifices for this. 

But how? In such a large, complicated world, how can one orient themselves and their actions in such a way as to know, as best as possible, that what they are doing does in fact have a positive impact? 

In my quest to answer these questions I picked up the book “Climate: A New Story” by Charles Eisenstein, which was recommended to me by a friend. 

Eisenstein’s book offers, as the title suggests, a “new story” on the situation of ecological destruction and climate change. I found his perspective very compelling and motivating, and I’ll spend most of this piece summarizing and reflecting on points he made in the book.

Before I discuss the “new story” however, I’d like to mention the current story. A simplification of the current story is this: Industrial humanity has an addiction to energy. In our quest for energy, we do things (such as burning fossil fuels) that release carbon into the atmosphere. This causes the planet to get hotter, which creates a vicious cycle of increasing heat. At the higher temperatures, forests dry up, sea levels rise, ecosystems fail, and eventually, survival is difficult even for humans. 

The advantage of this story is that it allows all of us on team “save the planet” to row together against a common enemy. It reduces the problem of an unhealthy planet into a single number that allows us to feel like we can quantify, offset, and eventually control the quality of the environment.

While it certainly would be better if we could limit the increasing temperature of Earth, Eisenstein offers a convincing thought experiment to show why optimizing for this metric alone may not be our best foot forward as environmentalists. 

Imagine a future in which technology continues to improve, and as it does, we are able to apply a technology solution to every process that is contributing to climate change. We build solar panels for electricity, embrace lab grown meats, create giant funnels that suck the carbon out of the atmosphere, and huge robots to sweep the oceans for plastic. As a result, we solve the climate crisis, Earth’s temperature normalizes, and we can go on with business as usual. 

The world I described above could be one in which all forests have been replaced with massive arrays of solar powered hyper efficient CO2 to O2 converters. While that is unlikely, I hope that this example demonstrates the point that our current model for trying to save the environment isn’t actually well structured to do that.

So what is the alternative? Eisenstein suggests that to find that answer, we might go back to what originally motivated us to care in the first place. For me, it’s a love of forests. I grew up in the Oakland Hills, surrounded by majestic live oaks and towering pines. Now, 20 years after I first moved to the region, the changes are noticeable. The hills are drier, there are less insects, the salamanders have gone, and many of the live oaks that give the city its name are dead and brown, including two in my backyard.

I loved those trees, I cried when I realized they were dying. I felt an almost irrational zeal when I considered what I’d be willing to do, what I’d be willing to sacrifice, to save those two trees. 

In Eisenstein’s new story, we are invited to partake in ecological healing at the level where it evokes the strongest feelings for us. Rather than looking at the dying oaks behind my house and thinking “the oaks are dying because of global climate change, I’ll make a donation to carbon offsets in their honor” and moving on, I’m asked to actually go into the forest, to look at the dying trees, to feel the earth, to notice the something like the ivy gradually enveloping the nearby pine trees, and to take action to make a positive change.

While these may seem like small actions, they teach a skill that I, and other humans, need to learn if we want to begin to heal the Earth. To understand the land around us, to care for it, and to help it recover on a local level. 

Eisenstein cites impressive examples of regenerative agriculture - farms that have found ways not only to maintain but increase yields per acre while simultaneously restoring the beauty and balance to the local ecosystem and sequestering carbon in rebuilt topsoil deposits. Among these are Brown’s Ranch in North Dakota and Ernst Gotsch’s farm in Brazil. 

It’s possible to work the land in a way that is productive for human consumption needs and healing to the Earth, but there is a caveat: this type of farming requires many more human labor hours than conventional industrial farming. In order for this to work, a much larger segment of the population would need to live and work on the land, or as Eisenstein puts it: “figuratively and literally, we need to go back to the land.” 

This would be a massive restructure of our society. Eisenstein gives examples of changes in policy and our monetary system that could incentivize and enable it, such as negative interest and UBI. Viewing the climate crisis as an inevitable symptom of broken socioeconomic structure, he acknowledges “the necessity of that change reaching to the level of money.” 

Making these changes would allow more humans to assume roles as boots-on-the-ground stewards of Earth’s ecosystems. As challenging as it might seem to achieve, this is a destination for the future role of humans on the Earth that I feel good about orienting myself towards. On a personal level, the next steps towards that destination feel clear. Understanding this perspective allowed me to shift my thinking from “humans are bad: the Earth would be better without us” to “humans can be good:  Earth needs our acts to heal and thrive.”

To summarize, I came away from my reading of Eisenstein’s book feeling newly humbled to the challenges facing our planet, and how inappropriately oriented our society is to address them. I also felt inspired about the possibilities of what we can do and be as Earth-loving humans. It made me feel justified in a desire to address the environmental issues closest to home for me, to the level of simply maintaining my own garden or the woods around my house. If I want to take a step beyond that, I’m excited by the idea of promoting or partaking in practices of regenerative agriculture, with the hope that human by human, acre by acre, we have the potential to heal the Earth from the ground up. 



crowd poems vol 2

these
are the second round
of poems 
inspired by prompts
from friends
on facebook

        my eyes have only seen the surface, jan

knowing life
from outside in
never knowing what’s within
what is within?
peeling back the bark and branches
dissecting the leaves
leaves still
another
deeper
cell
always wrapped by something else
some thing we can see
which is us
the surface even 
is invisible.
i have only ever seen me
peeking under the rock
of my own 
consciousness

        nothing makes sense if we don’t know who we are, don

earlier that night
i stared deep into the eyes
of a man in my dreams
and felt electricity
all around me
he said,
“if you keep coming here,
in ten years, then,
i can tell you who i am”
when i woke up
someone was staring back at me
in the bathroom mirror,
i think he was that
guy from earlier

        deja vu, elijah

the familiarity of this place
is almost nauseating
was i here in a dream?
or is this the dream
where i was here in it?
i guess it is kind of a dive bar
all on it’s own residential
block up north side of town
almost feel stuck
here like some version 
of myself
has just been here all along
and always will be

        what is the future, stephanie

the future
is the seed
at the end of the tunnel
from it, roots sprout backward
into time
becoming every dreamy moment
we currently call now

        staying at too nice of a hotel, and realizing,
        to your dismay, that in fact you DO enjoy nice things, roman

i had to leave the hostel
one day after checking in
i'm not young anymore
i like nice shit
i'm going to be broke
no matter how much money i make

a hostel seemed like a great idea
one night of cacophonous snoring later
i spent the entire day
scouring amsterdam for a private room

        starting a fund, dave

all eggs 
one basket
always felt brittle:
let's crack 
the big yolk
and let 
it trickle 
out through 
the shower head.

        needy kittens, fang

i do not
know
about the needs
of kittens
but i cat sat
momma cat
and boy
could
she
eat

        being in your own bed for the first time after a long trip, lisa

the road has been long
my head slept
on the
side of bus windows
airport benches.
i caught a few hours
at hotels
where i wasn’t sure about 
the sheets.
out of the taxi
and into my bed
i hear the first
raindrops
pattering me
into half sleep
half bliss.

        daydreaming becomes real, lihui

millisecond
head droop
mind image
sensation
waking up
waking
another reality
this one
built up from dream bricks
each a sleepy 
day doze
flash
bricks gel
concrete
crenelated tower

        manatees, zi

plorbous bodies
drifting under mud sea
a mangrove cow
we mourn
a world getting too cruel
and hot 
for such a peaceable
plump
sea grazer as you

        a man’s poetic retelling of the woman’s ovarian cycle, sakura

uncertain dry tentative
a squeeze
comfy understanding
we can but don’t have to

things seem stable
new moon flips to wax
a tingling
a warmth

passionate advances
old wounds 
delicate tantrum
ecstatic release

drawn water pulls red
tension breaks 
into pain and relief
there’s no baby

        letting go but not wanting to, carla

quivering hand hold
wet smile
what we saw was one moon
and its antechambers
the difference
between yours and you’re
love we can look in the eyes
those grinning tears
are the hardest
to wipe away
stay for a couple 
more cry laughs
eat these
cookies with
me

crowd poems vol 1

i asked for prompts
from friends
on facebook
(thank you)
they are
the italics
rest is
the poem

        picture of a temple on a jungle hill, jeremy

looking up through
jungle brush
a temple is painted
on a rock that pierces
bright clouds
    
i carried my orange banner
many miles
to ascend the hill
and place my flag 
among the works of
the great romantics:
blake, nabokov, plath
    
standing at the foot
of god’s pagoda
it feels it may vanish
if i take even one step closer
a mirage
a photograph
a dream

        letter to the weather on a hot day, stephanie

you give a soggy grey glow
and i sit in the greenhouse
you had me sticky in bed this
morning, my feet eager for
the cold shower water 
finally drenching a reluctant spine
you sucked my will to achieve
but neither could i mourn
sunk in the hazy doldrums of your
wet heat

        talking to a stranger outside a restaurant, jenny
 
i was going to
trudge back into drizzly swelter
(the host said “one hour”)
when I saw you.
something about
the angle of your phone said
“available”
you came from the same state as me
our brothers competed in soccer
    
“seven people died climbing everest this year”
you mention.
    
i look down, holding an orange flag
i see the detail of the fabric, not orange at all
but thin red stitches over golden yellow silk.
the table is ready

        feeling of leaving a place you’ll never come back to, tammy
 
wet eyes scan the horizon
a smile on my lips
life isn’t long enough
to rebuild 
your wonders
or short enough for me
to stay here forever
so i fall to my knees
gathering two tight clenched fistfuls
of your dusty soil
letting wind catch the particles
slips from grasp

        recover or reconstruct familiarity, elizabeth
    
a peppery flavor to the 
splash of crimson in your 
gold nasturtium
feels familiar.
given even the purest water
that bouquet will wither.
just down the path there is
an emerald hillside
where spicy flowers grow.
these are new flowers
with the same name.

        growing up, mo

remember when we were kids living on the north side?
things were complicated back then
but now things are simple
but now we’re told they have to be.
i used to wander in the hills of Oakland
listening to deltron
on a panasonic portable CD player
two double A batteries
lost somewhere in the 
electrocrackle of a hot vintage porn
swarming with dream life
spirits and hallucinations.
trees don’t get me as high any more
but i’ll
still go half on sack with you,
dusting off my purple motive.
do we have to settle down?
i want us to settle up.
to put the same orange flowers
on that one ikea table
every day to
make it new.

        shopping at Costco, vikram

is this being grown up?
when i push the cart aisle to aisle
drive it like it's stolen
because we’re gonna expense this:
brownie bites
coconut oil, olive oil,
twenty dozen eggs,
spices, cereals, earplugs,
jam.
there’s a proud
snap-worthy moment
when we pull up to the register,
cart filled past capacity
the man at the door signs off on our load
and we start wheeling it
towards the landfill
a couple of ants.

        a golden retriever named Theo, summer
 
bleached targaryen mane
you were the star at graduation
the falcor in my 
neverending insta story
what made me happy were
your pouty eyes
your triumphant shlump back into the dog
bed home from a walk
for those three days before
my date
you were the perfect digital wingman
if i walked you, you’d be grateful
but if not it would be chill too

stroognoot (strange night)

wibbled we
plump meanders neathwords
sweet squeeze one night 
orbed we oleander
skin grip
wet spot
stucky touch we 
skirfed out nerth words
zung zunging no fooded, needs eat
living behind quince cottage
anta sum grimmudge loose alley
bad slumping dust brick all car theft
risky mistreat solked homes
out back half sunk
haunt mansion
hewmed we
hot sweat sticky bug day night
swat skeeters
strubbling out to see sky flames
star snuffs
big dipper
we can’t find orion cause stars don’t align
for us they do
depending how you define: line
drawn
tea house from bad korean
two brainhearts sqweetched among wobb hovel
viving or loving
sky spike upta ood fern filled farmyard
here, to snive
all along the llamas
out buskirk sweet biggy boot trot we
swat cute bumple bee bum danger
squat, press to get to
that bed clutch hell tight
sweet gribbin
a future gelling
did the flood came then
washing away tissue tissue tissue tissue
in snibbly nose dab
holding tight what’s letting go
your proposal
let’s wake up as ...

we woke up surrounded by chirruping chickens
squak jawed peacock
the inflatable turkey’s rhythmic plompf
levee eyes parting the muddy scuttle
of gradient guinea hens

we wake up smiling on the speckless white
floor rug of your fidi apartment
there’s a backpack
and a lego man
door closes
elevator opens

... frends

setting sail

in the middle of the night sunday
i wake up and turn in
bed to hold you

only
it’s just a pillow
and i am alone

that morning my heart
throbbing
a kissy face emoji goes out
our first red heart

it is the conversation 
we can’t get enough of
sweet eye meets
gizzard grins
the touch

that morning my heart
sent a kissy face emoji
blew our first red heart

monday morning
no work on my mind
and instead i write you a purple poem
slide it in a bottle
and push it down the river Styx
for you to gather on
at the battery docks on
Manna-hata’s tip

you uncork that sunset’s sour vintage
where the taste is not
what the wine is not
what the sweet translucent flesh of grapes
had dripped - stickying our fingers
at day’s demise

for one day you did not reply

in bed i hear the whine of the mosquito
i know it will be a long night
still you have not replied
my phone buzzes
an associate, a friend

she bit me on the shoulder
she bit me on the face

that morning i wake up late
from a bunk bed dream
where the bay waters
had risen
and you can’t see the city from Oakland anymore

the mosquito is trapped:
buzzing around in a cup
with a cloth over it
beside my bed
and a butt full of my blood

i take her outside
on the fire escape
lift the cloth
and watch her 
erratic flight among brick and iron

...


later, you reply
it seems callous to me
three heart emojis
none of them red
and a chesnut

but as my tears clear
I see the fire peach and navy
the purple
and the olive pit

back from the void

we enjoy a purple embrace
sun falls into hoboken
exploding silently
slow oranges
rippling against the hudson
an endless breathing dance
of fire peach and navy
fills our head kiss
summer eyes.
the olive pit you toss in the water
is the sand pattern slipping
through your fingers.
it sinks to
the seafloor
one dark seed under the hudson
joins ten million other human sins.
hellish fractal infinities
once danced on your palm in
these specks of sea-dust
blown from a distant star.
    
I will take you to
the purple planet
whose ocean island
laps at the banks of
your dream beach
where every grain of sand
was born between your hourglass fingers
and lychees dangle 
from the low grove.

hallucination

she texts furiously
curl to the tip of her nose
face in profile
brown straight hair
black romper
seated on a hotel
lobby bench
rolly bag with the handle up
cardigan draped 
around the top
rings, long manicure
she looks
exasperated

perl H buck

(as in jesus H. christ)
straight off a false awakening
in my childhood bedroom
trying to get the lights on
I'm
the lights won't go on
flipping switch
out
want the lights on.

I am in the drop.
the drop happens after
a sinewy Kubrick sequence.
watching the Kubrick sequence
with Perl
one of two women
the other climbs in
nice when it was just perle

it is a person putting on a glove
while sinewy violins almost
nearly unbearable screech
proud: I know who this is
this is Kubrick

when the scene ends
the bottom falls out
falling
dark
falling
until the moment
the ego rea
(is realized)

"oh, I do still exist"

pieces start to
consciousness
a self, a scene
I don't know is Perl still here?
still feel her presence
in the backseat of a taxi
needle and thread
still stitching that glove finger as
silk tailored
pale pink gloss
slips on as
about to "the electric chair"
a criminal
the bottom falls out
the b
                o


      t 


                        t



 
          o 





                                    m




awake full mast sails          needing to write
plump with darkness.        dreading the void.


denver

Denver is haunted there,
thin air thick with spirits
blink of sleep joins
you the dead fiesta,
these horny ghosts
pass one another in 
useless wispy rapture
moaning
in the airport
scampering amid
redeye flier's dreams
passed out back hall
splotchy carpet
under the wild red gaze
of the throbbing blue stallion,
or frozen in the crosswalks
of Aurora they appear
in the weary driver's 
blink of sleep:
a mother and child
stepping out in the street.

Denver is haunted there
ghosts eddying in the
alpine mist.

poems

when i was twenty nine
i learned i could go out at night
and bring home poems
instead of women:
at the street corner
where giggling groups pass,
in the residue between
the bricks,
taxi wheels as
grind to a halt,
weird fizz you can't get 
bottom of a strong porter
glass
stuck to the side,
slouched over a bar
head thump
bench seat
feet hang off the curb
strong porter
when i was twenty nine

and bring home poems