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RPC Eco-Letter 11: Beavers, Deep Solidarity, and Rhizomatic Care

Much of the world celebrates International Workers’ Day on May 1st. That day has passed, but it’s still May. I’m going to talk about “solidarity”, a word we might associate with the labor movement, and I’ll start with hardworking beavers.

Beaver Solidarity

The climate crisis is an all-hands-on-deck situation. It requires diverse organizations and groups working together. Theologian Joerg Rieger thinks it would be helpful for us to also consider solidarity with nonhuman agents such as animals, plants, and microbes. How can we collaborate with our vibrant planet’s many actors to bring about ecological restoration?

Rieger uses the example of beavers to demonstrate this kind of cross-species partnership. The fur trade of the 18th and 19th centuries nearly wiped out beavers across North America, but populations have rebounded since then. When humans let them do their thing, beavers radically shape their environment. In the American West, beaver dams slow the flow of water as it comes down mountains, decreasing flooding and preserving freshwater. Beaver dams create habitat that increases biodiversity and stores carbon. Supporting beavers in this work might help us avoid expensive technological solutions aimed at doing the same thing. I like this idea of looking for nonhuman collaborators. Where else do we see life flourishing? How can we join in this process?

Deep Solidarity

Of course, Rieger also talks about the need for human solidarity. His understanding of solidarity is not the solidarity of fascism where everyone has to march in lockstep. In Theology in the Capitalocene: Ecology, Identity, Class, and Solidarity, Rieger calls for a “deep solidarity” that “not only appreciates but puts to work differences and diversity along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in a constructive fashion.” Solidarity comes from the common experience of exploitation—the unity of the 99 percent that the Occupy Movement called to our attention. (This is not out of self-righteous anger at the 1%, or to ignore our complicity, but to see injustice clearly. Fossil fuel companies have achieved record-breaking profits this last quarter, while we brace for a hot summer with drought, wildfires, and hurricanes.) As one response to this situation, Rieger encourages faith communities to contribute to an alternative economy, a solidarity economy, by supporting worker cooperatives. Co-ops have a more democratic structure than a traditional, hierarchical business and can prioritize people and planet over maximizing profit. This is not just a nice idea, but there are many examples of successful co-ops around the world. Rieger and others have put together a bible study and resources for churches wanting to learn about this kind of work. I don’t know if Reba is going to start a cooperative business incubator anytime soon, but I think this kind of creative thinking is important. We often think about our response to climate and the environment in terms of our role as consumers. We try to reduce our waste or purchase more sustainable products. But, as Rieger points out, our multiple crises require deeper change with new structures and new ways to collaborate.

Rhizomatic Care

Perhaps a good starting point for solidarity is realizing the connections we already have. Poet Ross Gay came to a new appreciation for our mutual dependence through working at a community orchard:

“Though I didn’t yet have the words for it, planting that orchard — by which I mean… joining my labor to the labor by which it came to be — reminded me, or illuminated for me, a matrix of connection, of care, that exists not only in the here and now, but comes to us from the past and extends forward into the future. A rhizomatic care I so often forget to notice I am every second in the midst of. By which I came to be, and am, at all. Despite every single lie to the contrary, despite every single action born of that lie — we are in the midst of rhizomatic care that extends in every direction, spatially, temporally, spiritually, you name it. It’s certainly not the only thing we’re in the midst of, but it’s the truest thing. By far.“

He goes on to talk about a solidarity that comes from joy. Joy, for Gay, is a “practice of survival” that comes out of our “common sorrow.” His hope is that “noticing what we love in common, and studying that, might help us survive.” I’m borrowing these quotes straight from Maria Popova’s website, the marginalian. You can also read more directly from Gay’s book, Inciting Joy.

Some climate and environmental news

* Blueberry Award Winners: Evanston Public Library created a new award to "showcase the best in kids’ literature about the earth and its protectors.” * No Mow May and Leaving the Leaves: Leslie Shad offers advice in the Evanston RoundTable. * Chicago Avenue Bike Lanes: City officials plan to expand bike lanes south to Howard, but the project still needs funding. * Ocean Circulation: “Scientists have long feared that warming could cause a breakdown of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic. But new research finds the real risk lies in Antarctica’s waters, where melting could disrupt currents in the next few decades, with profound impacts on global climate.” (From Yale Environment 360) * EPA Power Plant Rules: "New US rules could stem emissions from coal and gas power plants." (From the Guardian.)

This is the best photo I have of our neighborhood owl. Let me know if you have a better one! Or feel free to send me any other nature photos you'd be willing to have shared in this newsletter.


Jesse Miller, RPC Green Team

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