earthweal weekly challenge: THE WORLD THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN


by Sherry Marr


“The opposite of extraction capitalism
is deep reciprocity.”
– Leanne Betasamosake Simpson,
from As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance

Recently, I watched a documentary titled The Sixties, and found myself in tears, remembering who we were then, how hopeful, how my generation thought we’d change the world. I have lived through a lot of movements in my life: the civil rights movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the anti-Viet Nam war movement, the hippie movement, the back to the land movement, the women’s movement, and all that has happened since.

After the Depression, followed by WWII, when boom times hit North America, our turn towards materialism left us feeling disconnected from the earth, from Mother Nature. We forgot that we are part of nature, like every other being.

In the 1980’s, I helped run a coffeehouse in Kelowna, B.C., full of lovely folk who lived gently on the earth. Among them was my friend Jeane Manning, who has devoted her life to the clean / breakthrough energy movement, described as “connecting the dots between technology, consciousness, health, the economy, the environment, grassroots activism and crowdfunding.” Jeane feels “consciousness” is the key word here. Where we once believed the transformation of consciousness would occur in time to turn things around, Jeane now wisely believes it may well come in reaction to the cataclysmic events by which Mother Earth is trying to awaken us.

Jeane has traveled the world interviewing scientists and inventors, and speaking at energy conferences. Of her several books about breakthrough energy, the most recent is titled Hidden Energy: Tesla-Inspired Inventors and a Mindful Path to Energy Abundance, co-written with Susan Manewich. The world has so many natural sources of energy that are cleaner and kinder than fossil fuels. Why are we so slow to make use of them?

When she first began studying the energy possibilities, she met many amazing inventors, whose inventions were suppressed by government and industry. (The first electric cars were developed in the 1800’s. A modern electric car was set to hit the market in the 1990’s [ remember the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?”]; production was thwarted because of opposition from the gas guzzling car and oil industries.) I am encouraged that more people are now turning to electric and hybrid cars.

Jeane made we coffeehouse folk aware that climate was being impacted by human and industrial behaviour. She told us about the HAARP project, which had the capability to manipulate the environment, change weather patterns, disrupt global communications systems and negatively impact the earth’s upper atmosphere. I ponder the possible connections between this project and subsequent extreme changes in weather.

Some of us, in the early 80’s, studied with a futurist, William Floyd, at Okanagan College. Bill closed the doors when he taught, because back then he was considered completely radical when he spoke about how – even then – everything was already set in place to inevitably lead us to where we are now – if nothing changed. As we know, change has been for the worse.

We invited him to our homes to tell us what he could not say in class. He predicted at some point the melting ice caps would tilt the planet on its axis, and the sea would rush through the Fraser Canyon in B.C.  Indigenous people up north have already reported that the earth has tilted somewhat; the sun is setting slightly off where it set before. The moon now has a “wobble” that NASA says may lead to massive flooding along coastlines.  As temperatures rise, polar ice is melting faster. The only surprise is, Bill Floyd thought climate breakdown would begin sooner than it has.

I fear we have passed the tipping point, though, were world leaders to take the steps so urgently needed, we could perhaps at least slow its progress. No one seems very agitated, even with massive flooding in India, China, and Europe, while much of North America and places in Europe are in flames.

We are now seeing human and animal deaths from unlivable temperatures. In B.C., in one week in June, more than 800 human deaths were attributed to the heat dome. A biologist reported that a billion sea creatures baked to death on the beach during that week. People near the wildfires can hear the screams of the animals, dying horrible deaths. This haunts me.

Another heat wave is on the way and the wildfires in my province are out of control. Each of the last five summers have seen the highest temperatures ever recorded. This extreme heat is not a one-off. It drives me crazy when leaders talk about lowering emissions by 2035, with the apocalypse on our doorstep. If anything, emissions are higher than ever. My sister is scrambling to secure hay for her horses; there will be no second crop this year, as the ground is too parched. We can expect shortages of food and produce as the heat continues. Things can’t grow in an oven. And water sources are already drying up.

As a child in the 50’s, I remember swinging on my grandma’s gate, under the rose arbor, as a huge truck rumbled down the street spraying DDT “to kill the mosquitoes”. Oh my goodness.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring sounded the alarm about pesticides in 1962. Her book met with fierce opposition, needless to say, from chemical companies. But her work sparked a grassroots environmental movement, and led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Man is a part of nature,” Ms. Carson said, “and his war against nature is, inevitably, a war against himself. …  We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

We young people of the ‘60s and ‘70s were so full of hope, so eager for change. But as we watched our most inspiring leaders get assassinated one by one, the world took a dark turning. It chose greed, materialism and capitalism that did not care about the future. In short, corporations won. And now the bill has come due; climate refugees are on the move on every continent.

We are farther down the wrong road than Ms. Carson could have foreseen. I don’t understand, as a rational human, how governments have not legislated prohibitions against pesticides and chemicals in our food. (And humane treatment of the animal victims of the meat industry.) What are we eating, on our pretty plates? Is it a coincidence that cancer cases have increased over the 100 years we have been eating more processed foods, grown with pesticides and additives?  Almost half of the food we eat every day has been significantly changed from its original state, with salt, sugar, fat, additives, preservatives and/or artificial colours added. The jury is still out about genetically modified food, but you can be sure I steer clear of them.

(That animal “farming” produces more greenhouse gases than cars do is a whole other topic I will address soon. Reduced meat consumption is one choice we can make towards a more sustainable world.)

The climate crisis is accelerating, and there is a domino effect that, when it occurs, could well be cataclysmic.

James Hansen was well known for his research on climatology in the 1980’s. His 1988 testimony raised awareness about climate change. He advocated action then, to avoid a dangerous outcome now. We had all the information, but governments cared more about re-election than taking the difficult stand that was and is needed. Each of them leaves it to future politicians to step up. I love Bernie Sanders, who tells it true, over and over, doing his best to effect change. Had he (or Al Gore some years back) been elected, we would be in a better place right now.


But here we are. In B.C., since April, more than 1,427 wildfires have gobbled vast tracts of forest, and impacted several towns. As I type this, the CITY of Vernon is on evacuation alert. A whole city of 40,000 potential climate refugees. (148 fires are burning, mostly out of control, during the week I am typing this. Some large fires are meeting each other and joining together.) Yet corporations still plan to clearcut the forests that survive. Can no one connect the dots between tree loss and rising temperatures? The best cooling agents on the planet are mature, long-standing trees, which are swiftly disappearing. Meanwhile, militarized police violently arrest peaceful land defenders. (Over 500 arrests to date at Fairy Creek.)

Strange storms and tornadoes strike at random, mutating viruses are gaining strength, and in the stress of climate breakdown, and a pandemic, we are watching human behavior deteriorate.

My frustration – as climate breakdown accelerates in front of our eyes while governments fail to act – is that we had all the information 40 years ago. No changes were made. The choice was to follow the money. And now here we are.

My wondering is: what kind of world would we have now, had Rachel Carson’s warning been heeded? Had Bill Floyd been recognized as a visionary instead of a lunatic? Had James Hansen’s information fallen on receptive governmental ears?  What will be left by 2035 if we wait that long to act? How hot will it be? I am actually relieved to be old. But I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I fear for the world they will be living in.

It would have been so much easier to reduce emissions forty years ago, to legislate against the use of pesticides and poisons in our food, water and air. If only governments had not given corporations free reign over all resources, allowing them to get too big to be controlled. Had they been required to operate sustainably, and to clean up the messes they left behind, had governments set limits on carbon emissions, imposing a hefty carbon tax from industry and a more modest one from the general population, how different might our situation be?  Had the transition to clean energy sources begun back then, and had we been more awake, and vocal in demanding these changes, we might have handed our children a world they could at least survive in, as we continue to address the demands 7.9 billion people make on a finite planet.

In 1980, I remember laughter and song, summer days filled with organic gardening and hope – so much hope. The world felt good, problems seemed solvable and Jeane and I believed the transformation of consciousness would happen in time. It was on its way.

I see hope again in the grassroots movement at Fairy Creek. There is joy there, and power, as people sing and dance around the road for the trees. More people are coming, and activists are finding ingenious ways to delay access to the forest. The folks there say a shift is happening, a recognition of the high cost of capitalism, and how our governments have sold us out. Change will have to come at the grassroots level, from the bottom up. We are awakening, even though a bit late in the day; our votes, our voices, our civil disobedience and the changes we make personally have an impact.

“Funeral of Trees” (Facebook meme)


For our challenge: Envision the world as it might have been had early warnings been acted upon forty years ago. What might living with Mother Earth in deep reciprocity have looked like? (I don’t have to look far. My neighbours, the Tla-o-qui-ahts, lived this way for ten thousand years.)  As always, write whatever this information sparks in you. Take any direction it steers you in.

Here is a poem that really spoke to me this week:

We who burned our brand
into the uncomplaining flank
of creation, begin to hope
for what may yet survive us…
and as the animals grow
smaller, moving off into a blue, inhuman
distance, we dare not call out
after them: ‘Good luck!’
for fear our best-meant words, straight
from the heart, will follow them
as they depart, and curse them.

— Eleanor Wilner,
Preface to
The Donkey Elegies by Nickole Brown

5 thoughts on “earthweal weekly challenge: THE WORLD THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

  1. Hello, poet friends. I am really looking forward to your offerings this week. I will be traveling home Monday afternoon, but will catch up with you once I’m home. I hope you are safe and sound, in whatever hamlet you call home.


  2. Thank you for hosting Sherry. This is a truly stimulating prompt. In thinking it through, I was inspired by one of my favorite of Robert Fripp’s King Crimson “Pojekts”. I then decide to borrow sections from 3 different poems I have written over the past years, editing and revising these borrowed sections, then melding them together with wholly new poetic bridges. This is my vision of how the world might be, and may still be, if we don’t pull our heads out into the light.
    Be warned, this is a dark vision, full of reflections on how beautiful this earth is —- and how it should always remain.


  3. I cant wait to read it,Rob. It sounds like a wonderful weaving together of material. How beautiful the world is always blows me away. Still and always beautiful, even midst the carnage we have wrought. It sort of breaks my heart, but also fills me with wonder.


  4. I’d love to be able to respond to your prompt, Sherry, but I can’t. It’s too distressing to think of what we’ve done, are still doing, and intend to keep on doing. The reason nothing was done when the first alarm bells rang, and why we’re still sitting on our hands, is money, profit. A human lifetime is short. You can make a billion and spend it well before the shit hits the fan. That has always been the logic and it still is. As a race we are beyond redemption.


  5. I so agree, Jane. Thanks for weighing in here. It does feel like wishful thinking to revisit how it was and how it should be. It is frustrating to have been an environmentalist for 40 years and we are still sitting on our hands. Leaders are saying and doing NOTHING as the planet burns. It will soon be realized we cant eat, drink or breathe money.


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