An Ecologist’s Guide to Writing Obituaries

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a young ecologist in the Anthropocene—how my job will be different from ecologists who came before. Perhaps my generation will be defined by our capacity to handle death and dying.

In 2004, I submitted an application that was to be my first step toward being a fourth-generation funeral director. My college sophomore self presented an audacious vision for applying sustainability sciences in an effort to “green” the toxic practices employed by most Catholic-serving funeral homes, including my family’s in Newark, New Jersey. The application statement was inspiring but, admittedly, sloppily compiled. Understandably, the business-mentoring-for-liberal-arts scholars program declined my submission. Then, in that very same week, a very different door opened: Dr. Janet Mann, renowned biologist and dolphin behaviorist, emailed to offer me a semester-long undergraduate position in her lab. The familiar gave way to the exciting, exotic unfamiliar.

If you were an elephant …

That will be too much for most. Indeed, it’s a mistake to assume that in order to have a mind one has to have a mind that is like human minds. So let’s just say that, according to the evidence, it’s not obviously ridiculous to invite you, the human, to imagine yourself as an elephant. There’s some biological justification for what sounds like a whimsical, sentimental literary device. You and the elephant both have minds, wrought from the same stuff. And your minds engage with the world using the same devices. Your neurological hardware differs only in sensitivity: sodium and potassium surge in the same way through the same molecular gates when you and the elephant step on a nail; the same ancient hormones mediate pleasure, anger and stress. “If you prick us,” ask the elephants (using a chromatic orchestra of sounds, and well over 100 distinct body movements), “do we not bleed?” Indeed they do.

We can be cautiously Beatrix-Pottery with elephants. When the temporal glands near their eyes stream in circumstances that, for us, would be emotional, they’re crying. When a bereaved elephant mother carries her dead baby round on her tusks, or trails miserably behind the herd for weeks, her head hanging down, she’s grieving. When other elephants sit for hours around the body of a dead elephant, they’re mourning. When they cover an elephant corpse with soil or vegetation, or move elephant bones, they’re being reverential. When they cover a dead human, or build a protective wall of sticks around a wounded human, they’re showing an empathic acknowledgment of our shared destiny that we’d do well to learn. These, dear reductionists, are, as you would put it, the most parsimonious hypotheses.

Healing Earth: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Ecology and Climate Chage

Healing Earth

Healing Earth Conference: Orthodox Christian Perspectives On Ecology & Climate Change Conference Themes Include:

Discovering God’s presence in all cultures; Discovering God through Beauty; Listening to creation – Christ as revealed through creation.; Discovering the voice of nature; Seeing nature through the timeless wisdom of the elders; Faith and hope in the age of Climate Change; Resource conservation and the Christian faith; Love as the guiding principal for all change and adaptation; Rewilding the heart

October 13 - 15, 2016 Cranbrook, BC. Canada

Andrew Sullivan: My Distraction Sickness — and Yours

Since the invention of the printing press, every new revolution in information technology has prompted apocalyptic fears. From the panic that easy access to the vernacular English Bible would destroy Christian orthodoxy all the way to the revulsion, in the 1950s, at the barbaric young medium of television, cultural critics have moaned and wailed at every turn. Each shift represented a further fracturing of attention — continuing up to the previously unimaginable kaleidoscope of cable TV in the late-20th century and the now infinite, infinitely multiplying spaces of the web. And yet society has always managed to adapt and adjust, without obvious damage, and with some more-than-obvious progress. So it’s perhaps too easy to view this new era of mass distraction as something newly dystopian.

But it sure does represent a huge leap from even the very recent past. The data bewilder. Every single minute on the planet, YouTube users upload 400 hours of video and Tinder users swipe profiles over a million times. Each day, there are literally billions of Facebook “likes.” Online outlets now publish exponentially more material than they once did, churning out articles at a rapid-fire pace, adding new details to the news every few minutes. Blogs, Facebook feeds, Tumblr accounts, tweets, and propaganda outlets repurpose, borrow, and add topspin to the same output.

“IT ALL TURNS ON AFFECTION”

The Pond by Jenny Hainsworth Auld

“I mean, not economics, but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth … This is the economy that the most public and influential economists never talk about, the economy that is the primary vocation and responsibility of every one of us. “Even so, land and people have suffered together, as invariably they must. Under the rule of industrial economics, the land, our country, has been pillaged for the enrichment, supposedly, of those humans who have claimed the right to own or exploit it without limit. Of the land-community much has been consumed, much has been wasted, almost nothing has flourished. But this has not been inevitable. We do not have to live as if we are alone.”

When I Dream of a Planet in Recovery…

When I Dream of a Planet in Recovery…

But in those humans and non-humans who survive, there is another feeling, emerging from below and beyond and around and through this sorrow. In the time after, those still alive begin to feel something almost none have felt before, something that everyone felt long, long ago. What those who come in the time after feel is a sense of realistic optimism, a sense that things will turn out all right, a sense that life, which so desperately wants to continue, will endure, will thrive.

IN THE LIGHT OF HOME

Those eloquent Welsh folks have a word for something we vagabond Americans can’t seem to name: hiraeth. It means something like homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or even a home that never existed at all; an intense longing for one’s motherland; a grief-tinged nostalgia for the lost places in the world where one’s heart once fit.

Dark Ecology

Dark Ecology by Paul Kingsnorth

By Paul Kingsnorth

These are the things that make sense to me right now, when I think about what is coming and what I can do, still, with some joy and determination. If you don’t feel despair, in times like these, you are not fully alive. But there has to be something beyond despair too; or rather, something that accompanies it, like a companion on the road. This is my approach, right now. It is, I suppose, the development of a personal philosophy for a dark time; a dark ecology. None of it is going to save the world – but then there is no saving the world, and the ones who say there is are the ones you need to save it from.

An Altar in the Wilderness – Book Trailer

Kaleeg Hainsworth, drawing upon his experiences in the Canadian wilderness, grounds his book in the literary, philosophical, mystical and historical teachings of the spiritual masters of both East and West, outlining the human experience of the sacred in nature. He offers a vision of life in which a human being stands in the world of nature as at an altar built in the wilderness, a sacred offering in a holy place.

The Prophet Earth, And How to Listen to it

An old professor and mentor during my seminary days used to say, ‘listening is love in action.’ I have returned to this phrase many times over the years, but never more than now. We humans are facing what Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, called ‘multiple global emergencies’ during his speech to the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations. Several decades of successive wars in the Middle East have resulted in a refugee crisis which is unprecedented in history and on a scale which is unimaginable with no end in sight. The world order itself is also unravelling, as was evident to anyone following the UN Assembly this year, and there are massive demographic and economic shifts occurring right now around the world. What is more, Pope Francis claimed recently that we are fully engaged in a ‘piecemeal third world war.’ However, what every country in the world acknowledged, both in the recent UN Assembly, and in their collective commitments to the Paris Climate Summit, our greatest global emergency is that of climate change. If we are to engage properly with these global emergencies, and do so with love, then there has never been a time more important than this one for us to listen.

Faith and Ecology in the Shadow of Climate Chage

Faith and Ecology in the Shadow of Climate Change

Author, speaker, ecologist, outdoorsman, and preacher, Kaleeg Hainsworth draws upon a lifetime of experience in the wilderness, and grounds this lecture in the literary, philosophical, mystical and historical teachings of both East and West, arguing for a human experience of the sacred in nature. In this climate change era, he offers a vision of life in which a human being stands in the world of nature as at an altar built in the wilderness, a sacred offering in a holy place. He also addresses issues of faith and the bible as they relate to what we know about the environment today.

Creation Care Calgary Retreat

Fr. Kaleeg Hainsworth will be coming to Sanctum Retreat Centre to inspire and educate retreat participants in a spiritually grounded ecological world view. The Friday-Saturday (May 8 & 9) retreat will build upon Fr. Hainsworth’s book “An Altar in the Wilderness,” and start to explore material he is preparing for his latest writing project.

Authors for Indies Day

Please join me and the good folks at The People's Co-op Bookstore on Commercial Drive to support them, and all Independent Bookstores. I will be helping out in the bookstore and talking to people about my book and much else. I will be giving a reading at 4pm, followed by questions and answers. Here is a letter from the national Authors for Indies spokesperson:

‘Love that Moves the Sun’ – A Catholic Ecology

Few people over the centuries have had the confidence, or perhaps the chutzpah, to publicly prognosticate on what a papal encyclical would say. But the ascension of Pope Francis has been accompanied by the rise of an entire industry devoted to ripping his words from their contexts, putting words in his mouth, or applying convoluted hermeneutics to tease out what he "really" means. As a result, speculation about his upcoming ecological encyclical has reached fever pitch.