Why we go.
“To love a place is not enough. We must find ways to heal it.”
-Robin Wall Kimmerer
We packed up our life and moved into a camper because we knew we needed to learn how to be less a part of “the problem,” and we knew that would require a dramatic change of scenery. If you ask me which problem I’m referring to specifically, I wouldn’t know where to begin exactly, but I moved out of the US in 2016 for the same vague reason– for perspective, and out of necessity. Four years later, the global crisis of 2020 made all these ugly truths that haunted me ever-more apparent, and Ben and I spent the year in lockdown researching and learning about the depth and complexity of this conundrum, and possible alternatives to this story.
“Bizarre, isn’t it, that the most intellectual creature, surely, that’s ever lived on the planet, is destroying its only home. And I always believe it’s because there is a disconnect between that clever, clever brain and the human heart– love and compassion. I truly believe, only when head and heart work in harmony can we attain our true human potential.”
Since long before we met, Ben and I were both heavy-hearted about the ever more discouraging reports on the magnitude of modern society’s impact on the world. We, as a planet, are well into the 6th mass extinction. The last one happened 145 million years ago, and this one is happening rapidly before our eyes and because of us. The last 10,000 years have been problematic, but the last 100 have been deliberately disastrous.
I cried in a park in Michigan in 2018 when I read a New York Times Magazine article that told the story of how climate activists dedicated their life to drawing attention to this climate catastrophe in the 1970s, nearly 40 years ago. Their pleas were largely ignored in support, instead, of further growth. We have released more carbon into the atmosphere since I was born than in the entire history of civilization before that. In 2012, “Nature” published a study led by more than 20 researchers from the top scientific institutions in the world predicting that humankind could disappear between 2040 and 2100. In 2019, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change) released an ever-bleaker report. It's time to wake up to these warnings.
On a more immediate and species-specific note, the inequality, the division, the numbness, the detachment, the mass shootings, the physical and mental illness in addition to the fires, draughts, hurricanes, and flooding are regular news these days that most seem capable of ignoring.
Things are getting worse. We know this, but we often don’t feel it. It’s difficult to let yourself feel it. Most people want to avoid feeling bad, and it’s certainly easier to pretend it isn’t happening… until it isn’t. Western society and capitalism portrays humans as detached from the rest of the living world, but this assumption is a great mistake. We are part of a giant web that makes up this pale blue dot. It is not possible to separate from the web without separating from life itself, which is, therefore, to step into extinction. Our planet dangles on a delicate scale, perfectly balanced for all of us. It has collapsed 5 times already throughout history, and it is not immortal to collapse again.
“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself… to harm the earth is to heap contempt upon the creator… contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.” - Chief Seattle, 1854, responding to a US government offer to buy Native land
It’s often difficult to even begin to ponder where and how anyone can protest these corrupt systems that have been roaring their force for lifetimes both socially and environmentally... These systems, which are so powerful they take down entire nations of people, seem so daunting as one seemingly powerless individual.
I’ve read about the protests of the 60’s, and the measures the US government took to make sure protests were never that effective again. I’ve seen friends get arrested for exercising their legal rights while attempting to protest oppression. I’ve seen mass injustice rain down on those that try to ask for change gently. Even so, one cannot sit around idly watching the world burn.
That being said, we leaned into research. We found many individuals and organizations taking things into their own hands, and we wanted in. Self-sufficiency: a courageous act of resistance, which offers immediate and satisfying results. Food sovereignty and land stewardship away from systems whose only interest is net gains and profit. People paying enough attention that they try to prepare for the bottom to drop out before it actually does. Organizations that are training plants and seeds to survive the harsher climates that we are knowingly hurtling towards.
"If we wait for the governments, it'll be too little, too late; if we act as individuals, it'll be too little; but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.”- Rob Hopkins, Founder of the Transition movement
We wanted to see with our own eyes the possibilities that the overarching capitalist commentary never writes about. We needed to learn by doing. We needed to meet other people that took this information seriously enough to change their entire lifestyle and carve a new path. We wanted what Joanne Macy describes with “understanding our despair, not shrinking from it, transforms it into strong, connective energy.” We wanted to have agency in our own circumstance. We wanted to feel good about our work at the end of the day. To feel brave about the world to come, not completely hopeless.
For years we’d lived on a noisy roundabout in a city in Northern Germany, unable to even sleep with the windows open because of the daily sounds of car crashes and sirens. We were so detached from the natural world that swimming in a manmade canal next to an abandoned factory was the highlight of the summers. We had a small plot of city-garden rented, where we experimented with potatoes and growing the 3 sisters, but it was time for more than that. Ben and I are both happiest in nature, and to nature we must return!
Due to our climate cynicism, we knew we definitely didn’t want kids, but also didn’t want to live alone as a family of 2. Humans are social animals and we lived for millions of years in tribes. We’re meant to live in groups, and life is easier when you live in groups, but we needed to experience this first hand to understand what exactly that would look like for us. How many people? To what extent do we live together? How much comfort and privacy do we actually truly need? What do we really need in general? How off-grid do we want to be? How much freedom can one have when one accepts the responsibility of land stewardship?
There was only one way to find out.
"The truth is that people are suffering from Climate Chaos already right now around the world, and increasingly so. We’ve been insulated from it, but no longer- when I saw we, I mean people living in affluent countries. So we’re now in danger, and no matter what we do now, there’s trouble ahead with the way extreme weather will disturb both our international and domestic agricultural systems and lead to all sorts of problems.
Another part of the truth is that our systems have failed us. Unless we realize that, we risk not really looking deeply into why we’ve gotten into this mess. When I say systems, I mean economic systems, political systems, belief systems – the way we imagine progress, the way we imagine the future, the way we think about what is right and wrong."
-Jem Bendell, Author of Deep Adaptation