Naresh Giangrande’s keynote address to open the EAUC Global Climate Conference 2020
Roy Scranton Entered Bagdad in 2003 as a private with the US army on the day Bagdad fell
Two years later, he was deployed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the city.
Following those experiences he wrote:
“The reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation, and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.”
The biggest problem we face he suggests is a philosophical one: “understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with humility, to our new reality.”
His framing of hope roughly correspond to mine, something I call radical hope, or transformational adaptation.
What does it mean to hope radically in 2020?
It certainly does not involve as Roy Scranton suggests a wish to return to the past. What we are facing is the urgent need for as many people as possible to be able to live without the old certainties and social political and economic structures that held those certainties in place. Many of us need a practice of letting go, of relinquishment, of love and connection to ourselves and all around us. We need practices of living in the presence moment. For me, This is one of the cornerstones of hope.
In my experience, it demands of us that we face the present whatever and however that looks.
In a state neither of blind optimism or denial, nor hopelessness. In Buddhist terms, being with what is.
The problem with living without hope and living in the present, is that most of us live far, far away from a state of being ‘hope’, rather we live in a story of hope. We are left with living and adjusting our capacity for life and our lived experience from one dream of hope and all the fantasies that go with it to another. As we are slowly but inexorably moving from an extractive civilisation to a regenerative culture , exchanging one dream state for another just will not work for the following reasons.
One reason is that we have no idea of what a regenerative society looks like. How can we? No one has lived through the ending of an industrial, extractive society which transitioned to a regenerative one. And indeed we don’t know if we can make that transition.
A second is that we don’t know what the pathways to a regenerative culture are. It is one thing to declare what that might look like, which are in any case mostly fantasies. It is quite another to be a part of process of living our transformation. And we cannot know if anything is taking us forward or is retrograde. In fact thinking in that way is meaningless.
As Marina Hyde commented recently in the Guardian, “I suppose we have to believe the long arc of history bends towards justice, but it certainly takes some incredible hairpin detours.”
Another problem with living without hope is its a leap too far for many of us, and to abandon our hopefulness without being fully able to live without a story of hope can be frightening. We are addicted to our stories. A transitional strategy might be needed to move to a story-less, hope-less state of being. What this might look like? My limited experience of living without hope is experiencing intense painful feelings that I want to protect myself from, as well as intense feelings of joy and relief that I don’t have to control anyone or anything, and a deep state of not knowing that is both exhilarating and disorienting.
COVID-19 is proving to be a huge stress-test for the globalised economy, but also a stark reminder of what deeply matters in our daily lives and a real-time dress rehearsal of future disasters and psychological unease. And perhaps more unexpectedly, the lockdown of half of the world’s population demonstrated the extraordinary capacity for adaption and regeneration- in both the human and natural world!
For many reasons I see it as a blessing while also acknowledging the hardship it has brought to many.
“Last year in France, a psychologist and a professor of economy, Pierre-Eric SUTTER and Loïc STEFFAN .created the Observatory of Collapse Experiences (OBVECO). Their research concluded that contrary to popular belief, the anguish of finitude is a driving force for action. They also found that “Far from making them pessimistic and passive, after a vacuum caused by the anguish of finitude, what they call the collapsological narrative has made [people] optimistic and active, because through their concrete and organised action they show that it is possible to envisage a life after collapse rather than an apocalypse where only death would be at the rendezvous.”
So if you haven’t felt like crying, you haven’t been paying attention; or perhaps you have been numbed like so many of us by our culture. Our hurt is not something to suppress, or seek a distraction from. Our tears can be a truth that we can integrate into our being. Then we can be honest with each other about the path ahead. Because it is a path of both despair and dedication, and love and radical connection. Paying attention fully to what is around us and in front of us, even though it hurts, is to be fully alive.. There is a calling we are hearing, I believe, to witness the beauty of life on Earth, even as so much is being lost, in the same way we would tend the bedside of a dying loved one. This is what I am calling radical hope.
Once we accept that anxiety and grief will be constant companions in this struggle, we can stay fully present to what is happening and respond accordingly. It means we do not grasp desperately at the latest idea of what might fix the climate and ecological emergency. Instead, we can help each other stay fully present to the difficult mess, so that we can try to reduce harm, save what we can and plant some seeds for what might come next. We have also learned that the greatest personal transformations come from staring into the abyss of loss, whether of one’s own health, the end of a relationship, status, or someone we cherish. Could our collective transformation be born of a willingness to fully face what we have done and what we are losing?
Sitting with that possibility, daunted by the scale and scope of what it means, is to move gracefully in this time; For me that is hope now in this moment, today Nov 16th, 2020.
Naresh Giangrande 16.11.20