After the COP26 ended in Glasgow, and I couldn’t help feeling like a lemming caught in a mass migration off a towering cliff. It’s difficult to stay grounded and hopeful when faced with the empty actions of our political leaders and the 100+ coal, oil and gas company lobbyists and their associated groups who welded influence during the conference.
Even though the U.S. military pollutes more than 140 countries combined, their emissions are not included in any calculations (due to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol decision to exclude them). And since the 2015 Paris Agreement, 1005 land and environmental defenders have been murdered, with one out of three being an Indigenous person.
According to scientist Ken Anderson, “net zero,” is meaningless rhetoric (or more simply Blah, Blah, Blah) that allows us to move the burden in reducing emissions from today out to future generations. He said, “Net zero is Latin for kicking the can down the road.”
On a personal level, I have struggled with watching in quiet desperation as neighbors cut down their trees for firewood. My nearby neighbors are a farming family, four generations that have lived here for more than a century. They own most of the surrounding land and they do not hesitate to cut down trees and hedges, in order to turn fields into plowable acreage, which they mindlessly kill with fertilizers.
Ognuno a sua casa (Everyone does what they like in their own home.) Fa com’è ti pare (Do as you like so long as you don’t bother me and what I own). These are the common attitudes these farmers take. Basically, they own the land and have a right to do whatever they want with it. And no outsider has the right to bother you with a different opinion.
Fortunately, I and my husband own 700 square meters of land too (about 2/3 an acre) and we too can do as we like. This spring we planted 30 fruit trees, 15 hazelnut trees to act as a long hedge along the border, along with apple, plum, cherry, apricot, olive, medlar, pear, and pomegranate.
We watched half of them die.
Soon after they were planted, there was a unusual drop in temperature and damaging frost. The summer was unbearably hot without rain. For five months, we carried water to the trees that were suffering of heat and thirst. While doing so, I constantly thought of the women and children in Africa, walking for miles in search of water only to find empty riverbeds.
There is a ancient pear tree up the road that no one looks after. Sometimes in summer, its unpruned branches yield the smallest, mealy fruit. Nature’s final fight for life. I asked one day why no one looks after this potentially beautiful and life-giving tree and was told it was neglected because it sits right on the border of two properties. The owners are cousins who have not spoken to each other for years – long held grudges that will never go away. And so they cannot decide to take care of the pear tree, which is slowly dying of neglect.
And then there are the animals. Last winter we watched in horror as a large truck would arrive every other week to transport dead donkey after dead donkey from the nearby farm. The owner was too busy to clean up the stables. This meant that the donkeys were wading in ankle-deep manure mixed in mucky rain waters. He refused to call a veterinarian in fear of being fined by the authorities.
Our neighbor’s dog Rocky is the brother of our dog. His owner just lets Rocky run free and he often shows up at our house for a visit. Last winter, he was limping and in obvious pain. When we mentioned this to his owner, he laughed and said that Rocky was faking it. Finally, after nearly a month of this, we insisted with his owner to take Rocky to the vet. He ended up having arthritis in his upper shoulder.
Now I ask you: How am I supposed to save the animals and trees of the Amazonia when I can’t even stop what’s happening around me?
My answer for the moment is to proactively make choices upon the reality that I can actually control.
Garbage I have collected on walks near my home.
I can plant more trees. Plant more flowering bushes and flowers for the bees. Plant more hedges for the birds. Grow more of my own food. Stop buying exotic fruits and vegetables. Eat less or no meat. Not consume sugary-water drinks. Avoid air travel. Buy only what I actually need. Pray.
I am currently writing a book about Rabindranath Tagore from a psychosynthesis perspective. In 1925 he gave a talk in Milan. His words are eerily resonate for our times today. I quote a long passage from this speech, as it is quite remarkable for its foresight:
Do you realize how the mark of ugliness is everywhere apparent in your cities, in your commerce, the same monotonous dreadful mask, so that nowhere is there a living expression of the spirit of love? When we see how this demon of greed smothered the beauty of our own Ganges, one of the beauty spots of the earth, how this demon of greed has established a stronghold of petrifying death, we realise how all this ugliness comes from a want of love.
Love can be patient. Beauty is matured and moulded by patience. The greedy man can never do this. He has no patience for beauty. Factories are the triumph of ugliness, no one has the patience to try and give them the touch of grace, and so everywhere in God’s world today we are faced with what is called progress, a progress towards ugliness, towards the whirlpool of passion which is greed and never creative of great work.
Can you call to mind any great voice speaking out of the human heart in these modern days? We are proud of science. We offer to it our homage in return for its gifts which are now bequeathed to posterity. In this field of Science you have touched the eternal in the material world, in the world of extension…
Truth when not properly treated comes back to us to destroy us. Your very science is becoming your destroyer. If you have earned a thunderbolt for yourself, you must possess the right arm of a god to be safe. In your mind you have failed to cultivate these qualities which would give full sovereign right over science and there you have no peace.
You cry for peace but you only build another machine, some new combination. Quiet may be imposed from outside for some time, but peace comes from the spirit, it comes from the power of sympathy, the power of self-sacrifice, and not from the power of organization.
I have great faith in humanity. Like the sun it can be clouded but never extinguished. I admit that at this time when the human races have met together as never before, the baser of elements are predominant. The powerful are exulting at the number of their victims. They take the name of science to cultivate the superstition that they have certain physical signs indicating their eternal right to rule, as the explosive power of the earthquake once might have claimed its never-ending sway over the destiny of this earth. But they in their turn will be disappointed. Theirs is the cry of a past that is already doomed, a past that has depended on geographical and racial boundaries, that has thrived upon the exclusive spirit of national individualism, a past that is gone…
Only those races will prosper who are able to realise the soul of man in the heart of all races. For this is the truth of Man, and only truth can save us and give us peace, and nothing else.
We are waiting for a time when the spirit of the age must be translated into human truth and I have come to your door seeking the voice of humanity, which must sound its challenge and overcome the noise of the greedy crowd of slave drivers. Perhaps it is already sounding in whispers behind closed doors, till it burst forth in a thundering cry of judgement and the vulgar shout of brute force is silenced in awe.
Tagore’s description of the world nearly 100 years ago sounds so familiar! Our progress towards ugliness. The demon of greed smothering our sacred rivers, establishing a ‘stronghold of petrifying death’. Our unquestioned idolatry of ‘Science’. Our cry for peace and our only answer being a new machine…
Tagore ends his speech by declaring his great faith in humanity. Despite everything, I too share his faith as I silently witness the human truths full of grace. Emerging from the very same place that holds human weakness, these truths reveal the higher soul “in the heart of all races.”
Although he doesn’t live here anymore, Franco comes to cut the grass around the house his father built, the house he promised his father that he would never sell. The amazing human truth about Franco is, now in his 70s, he is blind and cuts the grass as he always has – with a scythe. And in the summer when his plum tree is full of tangy fruit, he invites us to pick all that we desire.
Claudio and his wife Maria, in their 80s, take care of their vineyard, harvest the grapes, and make wine every year, even though no one in their family drinks alcohol anymore. And once the wine has matured, Claudio arrives at our front door to gift us a 20-liter graft of red vino.
And Teresa, who lives alone and can barely walk, will hobble out to her beloved olive trees in the hot summer mornings to water them. And after the olive harvest, she always bids me inside her home to bestow upon me liters of golden oil.
These are all small human acts that challenge ‘the noise of the greedy crowd of slave drivers’. Small acts of human truth that we all must embody, voice, act upon and believe in to ultimately silence the “vulgar shout of brute force” and sing the praises of Love.