How the Wonder of Nature Can Inspire Social Justice Activism
"If we are in rhythm with nature, we are in rhythm with ourselves." — Micah Hobbes Frazier
If we pay close attention, we can experience the wonder that emerges from the beauty, magic, miracles and patterns all around us. Wow! Isn't it amazing? The world is full of emergence—one of the best concepts I have learned for discussing this "wow," this wonder.
Nick Obolensky, author of Complex Adaptive Leadership: Embracing Paradox and Uncertainty, writes emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergent strategy is a way to build complex patterns and systems of justice and liberation through relatively small interactions. I am often wowed when I imagine the scale of transformation that could come from movements intentionally practicing this way of being, on our own and with others.
I have learned emergent strategy in conversations with, and by listening to, a chorus of people who inspire me when they talk about how they have learned and changed in exposure to nature. Here is a small collection of pieces from organizers, facilitators and artists at the precipice of wonder and strategy.
"When I think of the lies around leadership I was taught as a child, I think of Brownian motion. Growing up middle-class and college-tracked, I was fed a heavy diet of 'leadership' rhetoric from a very young age. Everything was about how to be a better leader. It seemed suspect to me. I mainly wanted to read, learn, have fun and fight injustice when necessary, but not in order to run for office or anything.
"In college, when I learned about Brownian motion—the way small particles, suspended in a gas or liquid, appear to dance and zigzag randomly—I thought, yes, this is what happens when everyone is obsessed with being leaders. You got all these fast-moving atoms pushing around the molecules willy-nilly, unable to cooperate and coordinate consensually and intentionally to form larger intentional patterns.
"It's still something I struggle with, the unlearning of patriarchal and corporate leadership forms, while also accepting that Brownian motion is just a part of life. I don't have to feel frustrated with inefficiency or blame it on hyper-individualism all the time. Sometimes it just is what it is."
Cultivating Trust as an Organizing Strategy: Lessons from Mycelium Mushrooms
"Mycelium mushrooms have been one of my greatest teachers of trust. The word mycelium means 'more than one.' The mycelium organism is a dynamic root system of mushrooms that utilizes trust as a mechanism to build and sustain a vast, reciprocal, underground network that connects the roots of trees and plants and skillfully shares nutrients and resources to support the health of the entire ecosystem with which it moves.
"This mycelial network cannot exist without trust. The mycelium communication highway recognizes and believes in the collective ability to channel and receive nutrients where needed, protect against parasites and expand roots into necessary sites of growth. The network process also fosters intergenerational relationships that welcome the myriad of ancient wisdom and connections that reside in older trees to benefit younger trees. These mushrooms affirm a commitment to building relationships of trust that encourage all life to bloom. One that I aspire to embody more and more in my organizing practice."
The Pace of Water
"Glaciers and rivers change my idea about the time span in which change happens. When it seems like nothing is moving, you could be changing the face of the Earth. It makes me more patient. I've gotten a lot better at not getting demoralized when the first effort doesn't work, staying with it."
"I think the most obvious learning that's always in our face, and that we sometimes forget about in this work, is the notion of seasons. And their importance. It impacts your ability to go slow or fast, but also helps you appreciate those qualities more. We have to organize in a way that makes sense for the moment, with a long view for changing conditions, learning to appreciate how those conditions give us the freedom to flex different muscles. But I think more often than not, we are caught unawares by seasonal shifts—'Oh, shit it's winter; I guess I needed that coat.' Even though we know it's coming every single year."
"Loss, even death, isn't failure. It is necessary for that endless child, evolution, to learn. So I take great care to learn from loss, treat it as a planted and nourished seed, and to treat times of cold and dark as rest."
Devastation as a Source of Liberation
"A tornado comes with a vengeance, but its vengeance is not against you; it's against the things that hurt you and keep you disconnected from your purpose. We are the tornado. A tornado creates conditions for the impossible. It doesn't wait for you to recognize your liberation. The aggressive, unyielding love of the tornado doesn't allow you to run away from yourself."
Nurture Your Garden
Lottie V. Spady:
"When a plant sends all of its energy down into the roots as opposed to when it is trying to bloom. When blooming, the plant expends all of its energy making flowers, and then making those flowers into fruit. This process takes a tremendous amount of resources. Better have good roots. From nature, I have learned to unapologetically attend to my garden."
Being of Nature
"Every aspect of nature is its own distinct contribution, sometimes greatly opposing the properties of another, and yet they find their complement together, and there is no question of belonging. Nature invited me into listening. It invited me into synergy and serendipity, and that coordination is both planned and spontaneously co-created. Nature asked me to widen in my heart and trust that the answers live way beyond me or what I can directly control."
She Holds Us Still
Prentis Hemphill and Kasha Ho are two of the most beautiful humans I have ever met, and they found each other, and I love and learn so much from how they live.
Prentis: "I moved to Hawaii two and a half years ago to be with my partner, whose family came here generations ago to work the plantations. Soon after moving, I had this experience of sitting in our backyard in the Palolo Valley of Oahu, which was mostly a section of jungle and less a yard. But I was sitting there on the dirt considering Western psychology (I'm a therapist) and this concept of the 'good-enough mother,' of being an imperfect but mostly present mother as enough to raise a healthy child. I was thinking about the isolation of Western parenting and how the burden fell absolutely on women, but also I was considering and feeling this human longing to be held completely.
Sitting on that ground, it occurred to me, through my body first, then my thoughts, that the Earth, the land was the key. The Earth has held everything that's ever happened to us. And in psychology we see health indicated by our romantic or familial or work relationships, but there's never an assessment of our relationship with place and land. It was a huge realization for me to feel that as a healing justice organizer and practitioner, I could borrow from the ground because it has always had the most capacity. And I can keep pointing our people in the direction of the ground and the land to hold what seems impossible. For Black people in the U.S., this is a complicated conversation and one I feel is critical to our collective healing."
The question is:
Can I get bigger than myself?
Not lose myself or let myself go
but become wide enough to contain all that is true.
Resist the temptation to retract around what is right
or makes me feel in control.
Broaden my hips out wide like the valley.
The Earth holds all of this
and doesn't feel responsible.
Her water is moved by the moon.
Her surface is warmed by the sun.
And she doesn't fight the feeling
or feel self-conscious.
We have torn and prodded and blown her apart.
She holds us still.
We kill each other and hate each other on her shores.
Sends rains to cleanse.
She doesn't question her existence.
She just continues to be.
From the Online Zine Let the Choir Say Wow to accompany Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
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For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.
What Is PTSD?<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">PTSD</a> can occur when someone is exposed to extreme exposure traumatic experience. Typically, the trauma involves a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Along with war veterans, it happens to refugees; to victims of gun violence, rape and other physical assaults; and to survivors of car accidents and natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes.</p><p>PTSD can also happen by witnessing trauma or its aftermath, often the case with <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd" target="_blank">first responders</a> and <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-anxiety-and-trauma/202006/invisible-wounds-the-frontline-heroes" target="_blank">front-line workers</a>.</p><p>All this adds up to tens of millions of Americans. Up to 30% of combat veterans and first responders, and 8% of civilians, <a href="https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp" target="_blank">fulfill the diagnostic criteria for PTSD</a>. And that criteria is not easily met: symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive trauma memories, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative emotions, and what we call "hyperarousal symptoms."</p>
Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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