November 14th 2021- January 29th 2022
Our next stop was one that had called to me for years, and we arrived just in time for me to start my next decade. I turned 30 on the island of Crete. We spent nearly 3 months here, so this post is a bit longer than the rest... Forgive me, brevity has never been my strong suit.
A gal can feel a lot of things over the course of 11 weeks in the midst of a global pandemic in a totally foreign place– anything from gratitude, friendship, and absolute wonder to hopelessness, frustration, and despair. Though I was moved to literal tears of happiness on multiple occasions by how magnificent Greece was on the whole (and to be honest, how incredible the food was) it isn’t really the purpose of this blog to recount our adventures in that way. Everyone knows it is beautiful there. Everyone loves Spanakopita.
We set out on this journey to learn and to see what we hadn’t seen before– to understand our place in things– and those are the details I wish to try and capture here, which may or may not interest you, but which persisted in the background of this time in our lives, beating like an ancient drum. Let's philosophize a bit, shall we?
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
A few months before, over breakfast in Slovenia, we met a man Andrew McMillion over coffee. Andrew studied at the London School of Economics and worked for more than a decade in tech industry until he, like the rest of us, had a reckoning with the current state of things and decided to change the trajectory of his life and focus on sustainability.
Andrew is now a self-proclaimed peasant, and manages a small organic farm in Norway, as well as several community and global initiatives. He believes Scandinavia will become the main food producer in Europe as our planet continues to warm, and is doing his part to cultivate and spread resilient crop seeds in the meantime. He explained that even when Norway does get warmer, it won’t ever have more sunlight, which will inevitably change the plants we’re able to grow and eat in the future– a conundrum well worth pondering!
His passion and practical response was a welcome relief in a world filled with either hopeless cynicism or complete denial, and he pointed me towards a scientific paper and subsequent book written by PhD holder and professor Jem Bendell called Deep Adaptation. These writings radically shaped my experience as I read through them during our time in Greece, and I will do my best to explain them here.
“We need to find forms of hope that involve neither denial, nor blind optimism”
- Jem Bendell
Dr. Jem Bendell’s 2018 paper breaks down the inevitability of wide-spread, near-term societal collapse due to climate change. He defines collapse as “the uneven ending of our normal modes of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity, and meaning,” and argues that we are far too deep into the Anthropocene to reverse it anymore.
In the book released 2 years later, he and several other scholars tackle different elements of this hard truth from climate psychology, to governmental shortcomings, to the future of education and individual/ collective action. Deep Adaptation is a broad-reaching and fascinating piece of literature that really wakes you up.
Many of you may be tempted to stop reading this at this point. You might categorize this information as sensationalist, “end-is-neigh”, stock-the-storm-shelter-with-canned-food madness, but it’s really important that we stay with the trouble and face it. Deep down, we know something is wrong, and we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.
“Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to nuclear war,
none is so great as the deadening of our response.”
Temple of Poseidon
Discovering the Ancients
The story of human history I heard in school was distant and lifeless– filled with memorized dates and names that never remotely captured the imagination. The linear, savage-to-civilized story I learned is inherently false. A new book called The Dawn of Everything goes into this in much more detail, but what I absorbed most during our time in Greece was how advanced, creative, and intelligent our ancestors were, and how despite all of that, their societies collapsed and their knowledge was lost for thousands of years.
We visited the museum of Ancient Greek Technology in Athens which was filled with inventions from long, long ago. They knew the world was round, and even calculated its circumference. They knew about physics and water pressure, about long-distance communication and extremely successful warfare. They had indoor plumbing with flushing toilets, make-up and jewelry, alarm clocks, automatic doors and automatic weapons, and even ROBOTS that poured wine for them all as far back as 3,000 years ago. What?!
I was particularly moved by the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, whom I learned about 11 years ago in an art history class. Their society was more egalitarian and connected to nature, the seasons, and art. (Please see the picture of me literally crying.) They didn’t have guards around their palaces, they didn’t have slaves, they worshiped mother nature (or the "great mother") and elected their leaders every 9 years.
I believe that much of what we need to do to at this point is look back to what our ancestors did. We have the luxury of perspective and the gift of critical thinking to step away from "business as usual" and question where, perhaps, we've gone wrong.
Our ancestors knew how to collect water when there was drought. They knew which plants were edible, and which plants were medicinal (Greece has over 300 edible wild plants!). They didn’t pollute the very water sources that kept them alive, or fill their beaches with single-use plastic bags and bottle tops, they didn’t rely on monoculture and massive, vulnerable supply chains to get food year-round, with seeds genetically modified to withstand chemical weed-killers. They were knowledgeable and resourceful, and in tune with nature. We can learn how to be that again. too. Humans are smarter than we’re acting at the moment.
“All persons ought to endeavor to follow what is right, and not what is established.”
A visit to the Oracle of Delphi…
At the very beginning of the New Year, we traveled to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, nestled in the naval of snow-capped Mount Parnassus, where the ancient Greeks believed was the exact center of the world. Men would travel from far and wide on the 7th day of each month to consult the oracle and receive their prophecy. They believed Apollo (the God of Prophecy) spoke directly through the chosen Pythia (Oracle) and her spasms and predictions were often not what they wanted to hear. They would do everything they could to evade what she predicted, which usually lead to them inadvertently fulfilling the very prophecy they sought to reverse.
Deep Adaptation is also a prediction. Bendall argues that the media, governments, and even some scientists drastically understate existential climate risk when “informing” the public about what’s going on. They sugar-coat it, unlike the oracle, to ease the blow and avoid the blame. There are many levels of denial happening at once, and many reasons why we, as a species, lean into that denial. Ultimately, Bendell argues, the mounting current data suggests there is little we can do to save ourselves now. It’s inevitable that our turbo-capitalist way of life cannot continue. Our resources are finite, and are quickly running out. The gods have spoken.
This information is sometimes labeled “Disaster porn” and many argue that harsh delivery of the facts is “irresponsible” because it might trigger hopelessness and fear instead of action. Bendell argues feelings such as these are not always entirely negative, and many ancient traditions hold significant place for rage and despair and hopelessness as triggers for a new ways of perceiving self and the world around us. The ancient Greeks never sat patiently waiting for their demise! They sprung to action to fight against it, whether it worked out for them or not.
Our culture is one that is obsessed with positivity and pleasantries, but this is also a tool of keeping a population obedient and docile as capitalism rages on, destroying the ancient balances of the world. This is not acceptable, and it’s time to act swiftly and intentionally.
We briefly met a man named Demetrius who expressed his absolute contempt for the government of Greece. He was building a wind-shelter for a horse as he spoke breathlessly to us, explaining that "Greece was where Democracy was born, and WHERE IT CAME TO DIE." He was dismayed by the response to the urgent problem of extreme weather that threatens the people of Greece regularly. In the last 6 months alone, Greece has suffered raging wildfires, extreme flooding, and while we were there, a historic, freak blizzard which the infrastructure just can't handle.
Each time we visited a beautiful Mediterranean beach, we spent as much time picking up plastic waste as we did relaxing and enjoying the splendor. What happens when in 5 years you can’t even see the sand anymore, for all the plastic that’s in the way? We already have evidence of micro-plastics found in the placenta of unborn babies. These consequences will not go away until we address them head on.
Street Art in Athens
“We have already witnessed wars, climate refugees, increased mortality,
distress & disruptions from extreme weather, and now a crippling pandemic.”
-Rupert Read, Deep Adaptation
Alpha, Delta, Omikron
While pondering “the end of the world as we know it” amongst the ruins of collapsed, ancient civilizations, the plague we’ve all been running away from for two years (each variant named after Greek letters) finally caught up to us. We got Covid while visiting a small farm with 4 other people, 4 days after finally navigating the never-ending Greek bureaucracy to get our booster shots. The irony is not lost on me.
This pandemic is perhaps the most obvious turning point in our lifetimes in a shift away from “normalcy”, and we must acknowledge that things might actually never be the same again. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing.
The three Delphic Maxims written at the top of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, which are extremely relevant to us modern humans were:
“Nothing in Excess”
and the third, harder to translate and often debated
“Certainty will bring downfall”
This is interpreted in many ways, but I read it that we should question everything. Nothing is certain, and often what we think we know is wrong.
It is, of course, not certain that our way of life will collapse within our lifetimes, but we do know that we are exceeding all projections of what is considered within “acceptable limitations”. We know that none of the countries in the Paris Climate Accord have come close to achieving what they promised to do 8 years ago, and we know that we are an apex predator that is destroying our own food systems and the fragile stability of the ecosystems around us. We have already killed off 60% of all plants and animals on this planet since 1970. It is not so difficult to connect the dots to see that this show cannot go on forever. Endless growth is not possible. At some point, we have to retreat.
When we first arrived to the lovely house in Lagonisi where we stayed, tucked away from the world for weeks on end with two sheep, two cats, and one goat, I had to train myself not to flush the toilet paper down the toilet. This is a rule in all of Greece, and it has something to do with septic tanks and rocky terrain… I don’t know. It’s a hard habit to break, though, and I kicked myself for the first few days for seeming entirely incapable of doing it. But eventually, as all things, it became second nature, and now that we’ve left, I struggle to remember to do it the other way around. I bring up this silly anecdote to ask what habits do we do every day, that we’ve done our whole lives, which we can't do anymore? What habits do we simply have to break?
The night before leaving Greece, after the freak snowstorm brought on by climate change, I purchased a strand of “worry beads” or kombolói, which only seemed fitting. These are commonly seen dangling in the hands of Greek people, who toy with them to calm their busy minds. I find myself playing with them now as I write this long-winded essay, wondering if worrying is a good use of my time, or if leaning into the trouble boldly and looking it in the eye is a better solution. Greek mythology is filled with stories of heroes that went up against the impossible, which are exactly the types of stories we need to hear again today.
I choose to fight against the prophecy that we’re too greedy or selfish or careless to change our ways. I hope to be like Andrew Mcmillion, the Norwegian Farmer, and to try to find meaningful ways to prepare for this grim future. Or like Joanna Macy, an eco-psychologist, whose research since the 70's has proven that speaking the facts and expressing our emotions about them actually provokes a revival of energy and enthusiasm that leads to joy and action. I will push forward bravely and fiercely, re-learning what we used to know while planting seeds of resiliency and hope.
Eastern Orthodox people place votives on the alters of their churches related to the specific prayer they are asking for.
I will contribute an ear, in desperate hope that soon people will start to listen to the urgent call of scientists and activists that we cannot continue our lives in this way. Humans have been around for 3 million years and only in the last 100 years have we done such catastrophic damage. Two generations we have to backtrack.
If you're interested in learning more, I encourage you to read the book, Deep Adaptation, or at least the original paper here.
Lets get to it, okay?
PS- Though we were unable to find a specific permaculture farm or communal living situation in Greece (or any of Eastern Europe for that matter) we were lucky to meet an abundance of wonderful humans that welcomed us so sweetly and shared with us so much. I deeply loved Greece with all my heart, and had some profoundly meaningful experiences here. These weeks were necessary for us to rest, read, regroup, and ponder after all the constant movement and overstimulation. Mark, our host, all of his amazing friends, the 2 sheep and 2 cats and 1 goat we lived with in the lovely little hideaway in Lagonisi will forever have a place in our hearts.
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