WHAT WOULD LOVE DO?

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

Like many of you, I recently read NY Magazine's doomsday article "The Uninhabitable Earth" by David Wallace-Wells and felt like dissolving. The fear that flooded me was all-consuming and as I do whenever I am paralyzed by fear, I retreated into the sanctuary of my little room. I cried under the covers, struggled to breathe, found some semblance of calm by wasting a few hours on the Internet.

In short, I did nothing to heal the world. Hell, I did nothing to heal my own heart.

Learning to navigate doomsday articles is difficult work. As journalist Victoria Herrmann writes in her nuanced exploration of the danger that doomsday prophecies pose to our collective consciousness:

The narratives we read, hear and see informs how we understand climate change, and that understanding dictates whether we act or don’t.

When we constantly see stories about communities in crisis as sea levels rise and extreme storms become more frequent, we come away with preconceived notions that all communities living on the frontline of climate change are victims in need of saving. On America’s eroding edges, there is no hope – the future is presented as an ominously uncertain but seemingly inevitable defeat.

Feeling hopeless about a situation is cognitively associated with inaction and predicts decreased goal-directed behavior. That means when we present humanity as a hopeless victim of climate change, we are less likely to act because the ending seems inevitable. Climate change adaptation only works when we are hopeful for the future and believe that environmentally vulnerable communities have the agency to act.

Something simple and concrete that each of us can do? Tell different stories.

Hermann's essay is a game changing read and much like this Mashable article, complicates the defeatist narrative that "The Uninhabitable Earth" maps out. Fear is a strong emotion but it isn't the truth. And that's what makes me so angry at journalists like David Wallace-Wells who prey on primal fears without providing meaningful solutions. Sowing a culture of paralyzing paranoia doesn't create the conditions we need for meaningful change. 

Assuming that climate collapse is an inevitability makes it so. Telling stories of infinite crisis only reinforces a sense of helplessness. This isn't conjecture, this is science. If we don't believe our actions make a difference, we don't take action. And so in that sense, the notion that it's too late now isn't only false—it's frankly lazy. It gives us a scapegoat for upholding the status quo. 

It's important to know what's at stake. We are at risk of losing entire worlds and ways of being; in many countries and communities, we already have. It's just as important, however, to honor the multiple realities that make up this world. We can find as many stories of loss and degradation as we can stories of regeneration and resilience. And it's vital that we make sure that no one story should have the power to wipe out the other. 

Whenever I'm faced with doomsday prophecies, I always ask myself "What would love do?" My friend Lynn shared this question with me during our podcast and it's helped me find the motivation to take action and pursue joy even when the future feels frightening.

When I am full of fear, I retreat to the internet or to my bed because it's too damn painful to deeply engage with a world I am so afraid of losing. 

But when I am full of love? That's when I am most moved to action. I do things that feel loving—water my plants, picnic with friends, send notes to my nearest & dearest, hike in the summer evening light—and it gives me the energy I need to do work that makes a difference. 

We can live in fear or we can live in love. We can choose to suffer or to act. No matter how scared I am, I feel firm in my vision of the kind of the world I want to build. And knowing what it takes for me to do just that makes the everyday question What would love do? a truly radical pathway toward regeneration. 

 

 

THE POLITICS OF PROMOTION

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

Several weeks ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who runs her own non-profit. She's an energetic environmental steward whose compassionate approach to sustainable living has made her an inspiration to many. Although she's had tremendous success, she still struggles to ask for help. Folks seem surprised that a strong Instagram following isn't enough to provide her the financial foundation to coordinate her workshops and grow her reach.

As we talked, I realized that I've been struggling with these same issues through my work with Loam. Loam has been my passion project for many years. I love what I do so damn much. I love learning from amazing artists and activists and collaborating with inspiring friends. I love writing stories that give hope, researching articles that provide grounded-in-reality solutions to the climate crisis, and coordinating in-person workshops. It humbles me to hear from people—many of whom don't look like me or live like me—that Loam is a welcoming space for them to explore environmentalism. My hope is for Loam to be as much a playful platform for digging into everything that's juicy and joyous about this world as it is an authentic resource for navigating the embodied trauma of living through climate change. To know that Loam can be that for our growing community is truly the sweetest.

Seeing how Loam resonates with diverse folks has given me the drive to do more with this magazine. I want to grow Loam into a thriving movement. I want to pay myself and my incredible contributors. I want to provide artist-activist workshops at little-to-no cost to the community. And I want to continue to publish our print magazines to share with our blossoming network of movers & makers. 

But all of this requires money. And in asking for money, I've found myself face-to-face with the complicated politics of promotion. It feels weird sometimes. Like I'm asking others to finance the time I spend making art even though I know Loam isn't just for me. Everything I do, I do to build connections, fortify community, and share hope. I not only believe in myself but I also believe in the good work Loam is doing to inspire activism and open up the environmental movement. 

I've sustained Loam through grants, personal investment, and the generosity of our Patreon supporters (I'm grateful to the moon and back to our patrons. You help make Loam a living thing!) In spite of that, I'm still felled by the fear that I'm asking for too much. I worry others will perceive Loam as less "legitimate" because we aren't yet financially viable. I wonder if people expect me to have it down because we've published several magazines. And I fear that in failing to make a hearty profit, I'm failing our contributors who I desperately want to pay in support of their gorgeous art and meaningful activism.

On my better days, I'm able to show compassion for my little ol' self. It takes time to grow a project and this last year I've watched the seeds I planted for Loam germinate and grow. I feel lucky beyond words to have family support and savings and a part-time job and a community of friends who make me believe in my work, encourage me to value my time, and inspire me to nurture Loam in new directions. 

I'm choosing share my discomfort and self-doubt in asking for help because I know it's a struggle I'm not alone in. Throughout my work, I've met many environmentalists, makers, dreamers, and schemers who wrestle with these issues. How can we create financially viable organizations without compromising our integrity? How can we work both within and outside of the capitalist system? How can we support ourselves and others in the pursuit of regenerative work?

I don't have the answers. Only little glimmers! That's why I so want to hear your thoughts on the politics of promotion. What lessons have you learned that have helped you find value in asking for help? What do you do to sustain motivation? Share in the comments, and together, tet's inspire each other to speak our truths and pursue our passions. With love and a willingness to learn. Every. Damn. Day. 

THE POWER OF POROSITY

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

It took just three things to leave me sobbing in bed last night: (1) poring through Janet Mock's Redefining Realness; (2) learning that my friend's cat had died; and (3) reading an article on the worsening toll of heatwaves as climate change intensifies. Even though my day had been mostly good—I went hiking in the foothills by my home with a friend, savored a sumptuous apricot at the farmers' market, and biked in the kind of pinky summer evening light that makes me reflexively smile—I still carried with me some deep sadness. Mock's memoir brought to life just how many people suffer to find their true self. The death of my friend's cat made me sad that someone I loved was sad. And the article on climate change, mapped by heart-stilling statistics, reminded me that every one of our sufferings is transpiring on a planet in peril. 

I am so porous sometimes, so open to soaking up the world's manifold sadnesses, that it makes me feel plain embarrassed. When I woke up and learned from Lily that her spunky gray cat Gracie had died, I felt a lump in my throat. What's wrong with me? I wondered. Gracie wasn't even my cat. And even though she was a sweet creature with electric green eyes and a noisy mew that woke me up whenever she wanted to cuddle on rainy Seattle days, she was still a cat. Cats die. Everything dies. But in that moment, I wanted to desperately skip the sadness that death brings—that hot pain that bubbles up in my belly when I am driving through a forest of dead trees—and reach acceptance. Later in the day, that same desire to press the fast forward button emerged as I read Mock's memoir. It made me so unbearably sad to read about her childhood. The traumatic abuse. The bullying. The struggle for self-love.

I can read "The Untethered Soul" and pore thru Pema Chödrön's "When Things Fall Apart" and still sometimes want with a hungry heart. I want to know that we won't lose winter to the ravages of climate change. I want for my family to never die until I do. I want for no child to feel unloved or lonely. I want for the good things to stay the same and the bad things to get better. Guaranteed. 

I will go weeks without feeling too deeply, and it's mostly lovely, to float in this place of non-attachment, of easy laughter and meandering walks, and then suddenly, some small thing will remind me of the well within me. How sensitive I am to my surroundings. How porous I am to pain. How deeply I experience suffering and joy and love and loss.

It sucks. And it's also my superpower.

This is not to say being porous supersedes nurturing a sense of resiliency. It's important to me to learn how to continue to fight for a better world in the face of tremendous suffering. My mission is to take in the terror of climate change and still carve out a safe space in my soul for freely giving those things—like love, generosity, and goodheartedness—that are climate-change proof. 

For so long, however, I saw my porosity as an impediment to doing just that. I didn't believe that I could create change with so much passion and pain and anger and creativity and curiosity coursing through my veins. I was too fiery, too wracked with fears, too full of wholeheartedness.

And then something shifted. The more I become who I want to be, the more I can see how my porosity has created a life-giving path for me. I am a better friend because I know how it feels to be alone in a new city or sick from heartache. I am a fierce environmental advocate because I know what this world gives to me and am unwavering in my mission to share that same restorative power with others. I am a fearless artist, always seeking opportunities to make and to co-create, because I know what it's like to be bogged by fear and how sweet it feels to do it anyway

In so many ways, yesterday reawakened me to the gift my porosity is. Not because it's super fun to be thrown off balance by a cat's death—it's sure not— but because it was a reminder that I know now how to heal myself. Sitting in bed last night, wiping the tears from my cheeks, I thought: what will make me feel better in this moment? And the only thing was to continue to commit myself to creating the change I want. To embody hope. To cultivate abundance. To give love generously. I scribbled down a game plan for finding meaningful work to mitigate climate crisis and for healing this soft, sweet, sensitive heart of mine. And then I slept deeply that night, trusting that the same porosity that lets pain in will also, always, let it out. 

 

EVERYDAY ACTIVISM

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

Last Friday, I connected with the beautiful Kailea Sonrisa of Harness Your Breath to work out her upcoming Artist-in-Residency with Loam. Kailea is a powerful activist who has worked on the frontlines of the resistance as well as an artist who is passionate about cultivating practices that sustain activism in the face of social, political, and climate crisis. 

Our conversation on sacred—and sustainable—activism stayed with me throughout the weekend as I camped in the woods with a friend. It was chilly in the mountains and we spent much of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning tucked into our hammock reading, listening as the creek burbled past and staring into the luminous grey sky. Although I am lucky to be in nature every day—I take a walk by the water most mornings and a hike in the foothills most evenings—I am always on the move. It was so sweet to take the time to do nothing. 

There is a tremendous pressure within the mainstream climate movement to work yourself to the bone. I've written before about how the pressure to perpetually act conforms to the same capitalist measures of productivity that so many of us are fighting against. But it can be difficult to bring it on home— to believe that that it is not only nourishing but also necessary to provide pauses in our day; to trust that sitting some things out can create the space for beautiful things to bloom; and to know that rethinking our everyday actions can be as healing to the world as advocating for broad policy change.

In that spirit, I'm sharing four everyday activism practices that help me to sustain the hard work of fighting for social and environmental justice. Let me know what you are doing to sustain your activist practice in the comments!

MAKE SOMETHING EVERY DAMN DAY

Making something everyday—even if it's as simple as watercolors to mail to my friends or a big pasta dinner to share with friends— feeds my soul, connects me to others, and inspires me to take myself less seriously. I have found that the more I recklessly create, the more I am able to sustain my work as an activist. As Deb Talan of The Weepies writes in a favorite essay of mine from Darling: "[As an artist] I think it helps if you feel that what you are doing is sexy in some way. By that I mean, the work is delicious to you, it feels life affirming, wild, and vital. If it does, you'll probably keep coming back to it again and again..." Talan's words resonate with me so deeply. If we want to be activists for the long haul, we need to be able to find joy, creativity, spark, and hell, sexiness, in the fight. 

SPEAK YOUR TRUTH

When we swallow our truth everyday—bite our tongue when a coworker is racist, reject our reality because we are afraid of making those around us uncomfortable—the resentment within us brews. You can't sustain activism, can't continue to rage and resist and rally, if you have too much bitterness brewing in your belly. Learning how to speak your truth is something everyone of us is forever figuring out in our own ways and on our own terms. It takes time but it's an important practice if we want to heal the world as we heal ourselves. 

EAT YOUR VALUES

How you eat is a vote for the world you want. Good food is grounded in good soil and good soil is critical to mitigating climate catastrophe. Every meal truly is an opportunity to bring your values into greater alignment with your actions. Dig in!

SAVOR AN EXPERIENCE WITH SOMEONE YOU LOVE

And that can mean just you! Being disciplined about infusing the everyday with a delicious experience—be it a hike with friends or a solitary cuppa tea—helps you cultivate rituals for reconnection that will give you hope even on your hardest days. 

AUTHENTIC & INTENTIONAL SOLIDARITY WITH THE TRIBES

WORDS & IMAGES: KAYLA DEVAULT

Climate activists across the United States—and even the world—swooned at the powerful imagery rising from the #NoDAPL movement.  Native Americans with prayer staffs, camps with tipis, an open invitation to stand in solidarity... it was an environmentalist's dream to learn from the First People, those who have protected this land and their resources since time immemorial.  As the media slowly caught on, even with its inaccuracies and biased coverage, more and more people arrived at Sacred Stone Camp to show their commitment to taking down Big Oil once and for all.

And that is where the problems began.

Just like the fight against KXL years before, #NoDAPL did not begin because tribal people thought the pipeline was a violation of the Paris agreement or of international promises.  That's not to say indigenous people aren't privy to the climate talks or concerned about its effects.  (Tribal villages in Alaska are among the communities suffering the most in these early stages of global warming.)  The difference is that these pipeline fights cross The Great Sioux Nation, a land set aside for the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota peoples per the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.  And treaties are international law.

Diné/Ihanktonwan journalist Jacqueline Keeler highlighted this distinction in Unauthorized Disclosure, stating, “The United States is still a colony. It’s a colony without portfolio. It doesn’t have a homeland. It broke away from Great Britain, its actual homeland, but it doesn’t have a homeland. Its lands are basically made up of other people’s homelands, other nations.”  Sadly, this message of sovereignty has been drowned out by non-indigenous voices.

As more and more non-native people showed up to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, community members found themselves in an increasingly difficult position.  Archambault may be the Chairman of Standing Rock, but behind the scenes there are complicated ceremonial procedures that rely on the knowledge of specific elders.  However, many visitors seemed to be in love with the romanticized stereotypes of Native peoples or in awe of plastic shamanism.  They didn't acknowledge certain community rules, and so the camps struggled with violations of its no-alcohol policies.  Conflict arose between camps who didn't follow the traditional, spiritual leadership of the Standing Rock community.

I joined a number of Arizona natives at the Native Nations Rising in DC this March.  We had to leave the march out of complete discomfort when Archambault was booed off-stage by non-natives.  Why?  Because he followed his responsibilities to his tribe which didn't meet the expectations of the non-Native climate agenda?  That is not solidarity.

But this demonstrates further how non-Native climate activists are profiting off of an indigenous movement.  So many people were drawn to the stereotypes of Native environmentalism and latched onto the climate justice hype without comprehending the movement itself.  These pipelines go through tribal lands without consent.  They threaten water supplies to sovereign nations.  Yes, #NoDAPL feeds into the larger conversation about climate justice—but tribes don't have the privilege to have that conversation if their human rights aren't even upheld.

Authentic and intentional solidarity in #NoDAPL therefore requires uplifting the stories of treaty violations, not using the movements as the face of your non-indigenous organization.

Standing Rocks exist all over this country, from the Shasta Dam in California to the South Mountain Freeway in Arizona.  But not everyone comprehends the sacredness of salmon, of a mountain, or of ancient grave sites as readily as they can join a fight against a pipeline.  So as Native Americans finally got the coverage they needed—and as supporters fell in love with the phrase Mni Wiconi—the limelight was violently jerked away from conversations of indigenous rights.  Instead, large environmental non-profits built their movements off of indigenous hashtags, put the spotlight on themselves, and pushed conversations of sovereignty to the margins where it has struggled to survive.  That is how you appropriate a movement.

The problem is conversations of solidarity do not always support environmental campaigns.  The general populace has little knowledge of indigenous peoples, but most will probably cite social ills like poverty and unemployment.  They don't consider how colonial systems and structural violence, created and perpetuated by Euro-Americans, are the cause for the loss of language, culture, environmental integrity, and overall opportunity on so many Reservations.  Therefore they don't consider the reality that the majority of extractable resources west of the Mississippi lie on tribal lands—and that some tribal nations receive the majority of their revenue and employment from such industries.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs negotiates all energy leases on tribal lands.  The revenue received on behalf of tribes are paltry, environmental standards and reclamation fall behind national standards, and often the extraction process violates cultural beliefs—but, to some, any job may look like a job, and anyone trying to take that opportunity away from you may look like an anti-sovereignty enemy.  Just look at the Crow Agency and how its relationship with coal determines the economic success of tribal members.

Wash away the false imagery of Native people and you'll begin to see the reality, a reality that often has two sides.  Surely no human would opt for the extractive industry if they were promised the same success through a green alternative, but some tribal nations have kept afloat with the "help" of energy dependency.  Conversations about a just transition cannot happen until their sovereign rights have been acknowledged, until they are able to make their own decisions about their land and their resources.

So, for all our climate activists out there: What do you really support?  Are you invested only in your anti-pipeline movements?  Or are you willing to support indigenous rights, however that looks, by practicing authentic and intentional solidarity with tribes?

Kayla DeVault (Shawnee/Anishinaabe) is a resident of Window Rock, Navajo Nation. She is a SustainUS COP22 delegate who works as a research assistant for the Diné Policy Institute while pursuing a Masters in Mechanical Engineering and tribal energy policy. Her passions include sustainability, learning other cultures and languages, and interfacing social and environmental justice. This year, Kayla was appointed to the NEJAC/EPA Youth Perspectives on Climate Working Group where she provides recommendations to national policy. In her spare time, Kayla is a Premiere Scottish Highland dancer who also holds many National Hockey titles, including a Team USA inline hockey gold medal.

A MEDITATION ON THE STRAWBERRY MOON

WORDS: KATE WEINER

IMAGE: ELIJAH STEVENS

The strawberry moon is especially close to my heart. Since I first dreamed up Loam three years ago, the full moon every June has always brought with it a little magic. In so many ways, the strawberry moon embodies what I want Loam to be: luscious, life-giving, poetic, playful. 

Each full moon is an opportunity for reflection. This full moon, I'm hungry to dig into the last two years, to understand where I've been so I can find some guidance on where I want to go. As the lovely Lily writes in The Grace of Slow Change: "We get frustrated with ourselves when it feels like we’re not changing fast enough. But look back to two years ago; five years ago; ten. Weren’t you vastly different then? Haven’t you picked up new habits, new routines, new rhythms since then? Huge change did happen. It just happened so slowly that it was nearly imperceptible. In nature, growth is imperceptible."

So this strawberry moon, I am going back in time to trace my imperceptible growth, to give thanks for who I've been and who I am growing into. I sink into my first summer after graduation. Walk through the door of a little blue house in Portland that I share with a crazy couple who has made every roommate since pure peaches and cream. I don't yet know how to scrape together a sense of home and I spend too many evenings missing family and friends. I love most the cool mornings when I bike to the farm to harvest calendula flowers and scrub breakfast radishes clean. I love the long lunches with Linda, who is starting her life anew at 52. I love the memory of what my heart did when I first saw Will standing on the sidewalk after three weeks apart, of the morning we spent crisscrossing the Northeast by bike, foraging for ripe figs and plums from free fruit trees.

I return to NY; share a hammock with Abby and sip on iced tea. Go to Storm King with my Dad and watch Alex Bleeker and the Freaks play the kind of electric country rock that returns me to summertime swims in cool blue lakes. The days tumble into an eerily warm fall, too hot for my heartbreak, and I spend nearly every lunch break walking through the yellowing woods. Maybe something will happen! I wonder when. And because I'm tired of waiting, I move to San Diego in the heart of winter. That February is the loneliest of my life. There's sand in my sandwich and no light in my sublet. I am still grateful every day for my brother, who made me rice and beans with fried eggs nearly every week during those melancholy months; for sunset walks across Sunset Cliffs; and for the Southern California spring that conjured cacti flowers and purple jacaranda trees. You can't take anything too seriously, can't feel sad for too long, when the world around you is psychedelic purple funk magic mayhem. 

Hunger for new takes me to higher altitudes. I find a house near to the foothills. Get a secondhand salmon pink bike to bring me to ceramic classes where I am so staggeringly bad my teacher has me make pinch pots. That first strawberry moon in Colorado I cut my knee crossing a bridge too fast. I haven't hurt myself in so long that it's almost a relief; to know I can bleed and bruise and be fine. I dream up adventures and follow through. Pickathon in the Oregon woods. Sleeping in a yurt with Mom and Lynn at Dig In Farm. Driving across Iceland in the late summer light.

The harvest moon rises; the wolf moon sings. Time is slow and sweet and fast. In the spring I soak up the Northern California light with friends at the OAEC. Walk from Woodland Keep to Spencer's Spit nearly every day for a week. See a bright blue snake coiled and crushed up. Hike the same wildflower hike so I can read alone at the top. Stumble upon a field of poppies during an evening meander with Yannick and feel certain as I stand in that orange freckled pasture that those carnelian blooms are talking to me. Reminding me to give more, love more, dream more and still wake up yearning for what I already have. (Or maybe I want to remind myself of those things and the poppies are just a bridge). 

When I sift through the last two years, the small and not-so-small sadnesses, the small and not-so-small setbacks, the small and not-so-small successes, I feel like I understand what change truly is. It's the million and one micro movements that bring us from sunny days into starry nights. As a wildly imperfect human bean and perpetually striving environmental activist, I am almost always certain that change isn't happening fast enough. This fear makes me restless and anxious and angry at myself, convinced I'm not growing enough, doing enough, that whoever I am, I might not be enough. 

Tracing the places I have seen and people I have loved these last few years gives me a sense of my imperceptible growth. It helps me to see that the change I have hungered for in myself is happening and that the change I am hungering for in this world is happening too. Soaking in the hot springs with Nicole, trekking through the Gorge with Rebecca, making natural dye baths with Maggie, tarot readings with Lily, farmers' market forays with Alexa, scrambles with Sam, nighttime sketches with Laura, big talks with Kaison—these moments of interconnection and creation nourish the sweet sense of self I am coming into. 

This strawberry moon, I hope you make the space to look ahead by mapping out where you have been. I hope you take a full moon hike and make a full moon feast. I hope you trust that change is happening, in you and in this world. Every day. Always. 

 

 

 

CULTIVATING COMPASSION IN THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

As a passionate environmental activist, it isn't easy for me to admit that mainstream activism leaves me isolated. The jargon-heavy talk, emphasis on philosophy over practice, and struggle to embrace self-care that pervades so many activist spaces is very different from the approach to activism I advocate for through Loam. Sometimes I wonder if there is room for my way of thinking when I am part of strategizing sessions—and sometimes, I wonder if my way of thinking is just wrong. I am easily overwhelmed by big crowds during protests and can't keep up with academic investigations of climate justice. My sanctuary is on the page and in the practice of living lighter. 

Although I'm not alone in this sense of isolation, I have seen firsthand how the fear of judgment (and of jargon) has kept many brilliant folk from deeper engagement with the climate movement. I used to work at an environmental nonprofit that had many younger interns. After attending a gathering for local activist groups, one of the interns confided in me that she was afraid to join our community climate justice club because she didn't think she'd pass their environmental purity test. Sensing there wasn't room for her to be curious, she'd deliberately kept her distance. Much as it pained me to hear her story, I shared her struggle. The infighting that pervades the environmental movement truly is toxic, and it's a legitimate concern for many activists I know and love who are fighting for a just, sustainable, and equitable world within a climate movement that too often prioritizes critique over compassion. 

The more I interact with activist spaces, the more I come to realize how the same capitalist structures that pervade mainstream society and shape our economy are reinforced within the climate movement. Activists might rally against the ravages of capitalism but by refusing to acknowledge the necessity of self-care, running theirselves ragged in the pursuit of sociopolitical change, and withholding compassion from those who don't share their strand of sustainability, many of these activists are replicating the guiding principles of capitalism within their own circles. I don't blame 'em—it's difficult to reimagine new systems of thinking and action when we've grown up in a world profoundly shaped by capitalist markers of productivity. I too fall into the trap of self-sacrifice in service of environmental activism!

But if we want the climate movement to thrive, we need to ground our theories in action. We need more and more activists to bring it on home—by making everyday decisions that embody hope, collaborating with folks who share perspectives different than our own, and exercising compassion even when our wells have run dry. We can't let our pursuit of political gains exculpate us from making personal changes that enrich our life and the lives of others. And we can't let our passion for a thriving future distract us from savoring, celebrating, and giving thanks for our present. 

Building a better world isn't only in the fight. It's in how we relate to our lives and to the land underfoot. It's in the small steps we take everyday to cultivate a life worth living and the love we give—without attachment, without expectation—to the creatures around us. It's embedded in the permaculture principle that the "problem is the solution"—which is to say that if we want to challenge the scarcity mentality that has fed inequity and ecological destruction, we have to challenge the scarcity mentality we are reinforcing in our own lives. We have to begin again, as it were, seeing abundance in our surroundings and potential in our actions. 

 

 

THE EGO AND ENVIRONMENTALISM

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

Several weeks ago, I was visiting with a good friend. Ours is a beautiful friendship but it's not without bumps. We are each becoming ourselves and whenever we catch up, it's heart filling and sometimes heartbreaking to see the ways we intersect and the ways we diverge. 

That first night, I fell asleep in my friend's bed after a giggly night of swapping stories and sharing pizza. When we woke up, my friend shared that she'd had a dream where I was chastising her for making trash. She said it laughingly as she made her morning coffee but her disclosure got at something deeper within me. Did my friend really think I would judge her for creating waste? Was there truth to it? Sometimes dreams are meaningless—I'm still making sense of my platonic slumber party with John Legend that turned into chaos when he got a Pop-Tart—but sometimes dreams give us insight into what we are truly thinking. 

I mulled over these questions throughout the day. I didn't think my friend was any "less" because she made trash—I do too! But I knew that my passion for sustainable living could mix with climate urgency to create a combustive strand of pushiness. And I knew too that my spiraling tendencies were manifest in how I carried myself. I'd open a refrigerator to shelves stacked with plastic packaging and find myself deep in thought on the plastic islands in the heart of the Pacific. I might not say anything to my friend when I came back to the table but my body language always betrays me. 

One of my biggest shortcomings as an environmental activist is that I struggle to extend the same patience and compassion I show to acquaintances with my close family and friends. I am easily frustrated when the people I love most in my life are unwilling or unable to make the kinds of changes—eating less meat, refusing most plastic, investing in renewable energy initiatives—that I consider crucial. I get it into my head that if the people who care about me the most don't want to do those things that I care about the most, then I'm no good at my work. This is a pernicious and pointless cycle. It's unfair and ungenerous to those I love and it's unfair and ungenerous to myself.

The rest of the weekend, I was careful to keep my "environmentalism" under wraps. I was so afraid of being perceived as self-righteous— especially because my friend and I had a fight a few months ago surrounding a sustainability initiative—that I hid the many habits that bring my actions into alignment with my values and strayed from conversations on sustainability. In my day-to-day life, I am surrounded by folks who bring their own stainless steel tiffin for packing up leftovers and ask for their cocktails without a straw. Far from my community, I worried that my friend would think I was an asshole for doing so. 

This is ludicrous, I know. I'm not proud of my (in)actions. I'd made up this complicated story in my head that my friend would think I thought that I was better than her because my vision of sustainable living is different than hers. I didn't embody my whole self out of fear my actions would be misread as a judgment on her. My friend might've cared or she might've not. But I don't know because I didn't ask. Instead of engaging in a compassionate discussion about our own approaches to living a life in alignment with our values, I kept my projections firmly in place. 

I want to share this story because it brings up several struggles that I know many of you share. From feeling self-conscious that our sustainable practices will be perceived as self-righteous to struggling to accept that someone we love might look at the same body of evidence as us and map out a different plan of action, the ego is a perpetual part of environmentalism. When you care as deeply about the earth as any one of us in the Loam community does, it can be difficult to not take perceived affronts to your sense of sustainability so damn personally.

The environmental movement(s) can be clouded by judgement—about what you eat and wear and buy and why. There is so much infighting on what actions to take and how to live that sometimes I want to take temporary leave to a treehouse in the woods. The environmentalism I am working to cultivate at Loam is rooted in the belief that the environmental movement truly is a pluriverse—and that because of that, doing the "right" thing can vary across diverse cultural and climate contexts.

This experience has helped me see that I want to get better at bringing this breed of environmentalism to life everyday by pouring more energy into cultivating love and less into protecting my ego. I don't think that what I am doing is the best or the only way. In spite of that, I've judged others at some point and I've been judged by others at some point. This kind of ego-driven judgment not only shuts down channels for communication but also the potential for transformation. 

If we want our environmental messages to stick, if we want to create change in our communities, we have to learn how to live apart from our egos. This can mean many things (and it sure isn't easy!) but I've found that the following three mantras in particular have guided me toward good intentions since my experience with my friend.

When I am feeling my ego cloud my judgment, I try and remember this:

  1. It's not personal. 
  2. Everyone is doing their best.
  3. Compassion creates conversation and conversation creates change.

I want to build a better world. I want to do whatever it takes. And if that means leaving my ego at the door, I'm all in.