Trebbe Johnson Shares Her Compassion for Wounded Places
There are all sorts of environmental activism in the world: that which preserves and stewards intact and beautiful places, that which cleans up those places that have been poisoned or otherwise impacted by humanity, and so on. But there’s another kind of activism that’s emerging, as author and activist Trebbe Johnson shares in a new essay in Orion magazine: that of giving attention to the wounded places in our world that are still a part of us. Her forthcoming book is called Aphrodite at the Landfill.
Q. Trebbe Johnson, in your Orion essay, you talk about trying to find beauty in a clearcut. How is this even possible, and what did you do?
A. If you sit long enough, openly enough, with curiosity and compassion, the very presence of a place begins to, well, leak through what seems the surface reality. In the clearcut, the most stunning example of beauty that I myself saw was a mother bear and two small cubs gracefully prancing over the top of clearcut debris three feet deep to get from the logging road over to a patch of remaining forest. One of the others on our journey to the clearcut made altars to aspects of her past that she considered ruined, and that created a kind of inner beauty for her about the power of redemption in damaged places, both inside and out. I have found that just being willing to sit with the un-beautiful, being open to what it might reveal, invariably reveals beauty in very surprising ways.
Q. How applicable is this to fracking rigs and mountains whose tops have been blown off?
A. My organization, Radical Joy for Hard Times, supports communities around the world in going to what we call “wounded places” and finding and making beauty there. I myself live in northeastern Pennsylvania, in fracking country, and have gone several times to places that have been fracked for natural gas. Last June, I sat with friends on the bank of Sugar Creek, near Towanda. Sugar Creek is endangered both because the gas companies are taking water out of it to frack and because they are dumping toxins into it. Spending an hour or so there, just sitting, being with the river on a Saturday morning, the unexpected gift of beauty was the persistent aliveness of this river that we all felt, the sorrow we shared because of its predicament, the sense of community we felt together in simply being with this river as if it were a dear friend who was ill and that we loved no matter what. And of course, the sun was glinting on the water, the birds and butterflies were flitting all about.
People invariably discover that by spending time in these places and simply being with them, they fall in love with them.
Q. Does the mindfulness training undertaken in such places inform, inhibit or spur activism?
A. Mindfulness training is all about being in the present. If you get accustomed to being in the present, whether you are actually sitting on your cushion or just living your daily life, then you recognize how essential it is to acknowledge the reality of the situation, any situation, not ignore it or tell yourself a story about why it’s not what it seems to be. In this way, mindfulness would inform activism, support activism. Simply acknowledging a terrible reality is not enough, of course; it’s imperative to act on what you perceive, what you know with a hard, fierce, solid certainty. But then again, I believe activism can take many forms, and not all of them entail protesting and being angry, which is what some people think activism means. Taking a group of school children to a river and having them sit quietly there for a few minutes is activism. Making art in and about and for a wounded place is activism. Being mindful of the wounded places around you so you don’t add to the woundedness is another form of activism. Ideally, mindfulness will make the present reality so vivid and immediate that one would be compelled to live differently in the face of that reality.
Q. On Tuesday during Orion's live discussion of your essay, we'll also have Glenn Albrecht on the line, the Australian philosopher who coined the term 'solastalgia.' Can you say what this is and why he developed it?
A. Glenn Albrecht came up with this term after he began getting desperate calls from people living nearby in Hunter Valley in New South Wales. This area used to be so lovely and fertile it was known as the Tuscany of Australia. Now it was being torn apart by deep-pit coal mining. The noise, the air and water pollution, the bright lights, the total destruction of the land and disregard for people’s feelings about it were having a shattering effect on people. They began asking Glenn for counsel. He coined this word, “solastalgia,” to describe what they were experiencing. It means “the pain one feels when the place where one lives and that one loves is under assault.” One of the roots is related to the word “nostalgia,” because, as he has said, it’s the experience of losing your place on Earth, not because you leave it, but because it leaves you.
Q. How is solastalgia related to or different from ecopsychology?
A. Solastalgia is such an important contribution to the way we think about ecology, because, for the first time, it expresses in a direct, singular way that when the places we love are hurt, we hurt, too. There is a word now for that reality, which often in the past was not even recognized as valid. If you were in pain about the loss of a place you loved, you might be accused of anthropomorphizing or of caring about frogs or snail darters or whatever more than people. Ecopsychology is another enormously important path of thinking about our relationship to the world around us. It was created by Theodore Roszak about twenty years ago, and it is the recognition and treatment of the reality that the mental and spiritual health of people is directly related to the health of the world around them. It’s not just your job and the way your parents treated you when you were a child that’s affecting how you feel about your life and your future, it’s the fact that the woods have been cut down to make a mall and the honeybees are no longer coming to your rose bushes and the climate is changing inexorably! You could say ecopsychology defines a path of study, treatment and exploration that will ideally lead to healthier people. Solastalgia names a place where many people might set out on that path.
Q. What is the Global Earth Exchange?
A. The Earth Exchange is the simple, five-part practice that Radical Joy for Hard Times created for anyone to do anywhere. The five steps are:
1. Go with friends to a wounded place.
2. Sit a while and share your stories about what the place means to you.
3. Spend time sitting or walking alone, getting to know the place as it is now.
4. Tell the stories of what you noticed.
5. Make an act of beauty for the place.
There’s a slide show on our website of some of the incredible acts of beauty people have made. In 2012, the Global Earth Exchanges happened in 19 countries and on all seven continents, and ranged from farmers planting native trees in north Bali, to a group in Japan who made origami birds for the people who had been victims of the tsunami and nuclear meltdown, to a visit three friends made to Los Alamos nuclear laboratory, to a scientist in Antarctica who participated in honor of the glacier melting outside her window. The next Global Earth Exchange is June 22, 2013.
Q. You end your Orion essay talking about the Gulf oil disaster's daily deluge of horrific images and news. How did your refusal to look away from it help you?
A. I think I should say first that I was physically remote from the Gulf while the BP rig was leaking. How I might have behaved differently if I had lived there and was personally experiencing so much hardship and suffering I can’t say. But by trying not just to read the news but to absorb it and feel sorrow and compassion for those who were suffering, I learned that I can face what’s ugly, distressing, infuriating and not run away.
I think the practice of trying to be present with the BP disaster has helped me as gas fracking comes closer and closer to my community in Pennsylvania. Sometimes I just sit on a hill and watch them putting in a well, and the experience of being present, seeing what’s actually happening instead of hiding from it, calms my fears and grounds me. Sometimes I force myself to wave at one of the guys in a truck carrying fracking fluid, when my whole body is boiling with anger and I want to throw stones at him. Finally, my husband and I realized we can’t try to escape by running away from northeastern Pennsylvania. We will stay, we will take care of our own five and a half acres, we will reach out to those who are hurting, we will find ways to make beauty and see beauty.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.
Trebbe Johnson will expand on these ideas during a live event hosted by Orion, also featuring solastalgia architect Glenn Albrecht and artist Lily Yeh, Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. EST.
For more information and registration for this free phone/web event click here.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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