Author Archives: smudge studio

Letting Go doesn’t always mean giving up – in HBO documentary

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 11.17.21 AM.png

Short interview with the filmmaker that expresses a perspective that seems well worth considering! Cheers.

“Oscar-nominated director Josh Fox contemplates our climate-change future by exploring the human qualities that global warming can’t destroy.”

HBO:  How would you describe the message of How to Let Go of the World?

JOSH FOX:  I thought I was making a film about climate change, and then in the middle of it I ended up making a film about the stunning revelation that it’s sort of too late to stop a lot of what we think about as climate change. That we have to refocus our dialogue to be about humanity as we progress through the most difficult period of change that we have ever seen. Do we want to be known as the moment in history that was incredibly violent, that was incredibly insensitive, that created wars, starved huge sections of the population, was selfish, and was racist? Or do we want future civilizations to look at this moment as the time we completely changed the way our civilization operates?

Click here for Trailer.  Can watch on HBO-GO, HBO-NOW and HBO itself

In Secrets of Coral Spawning, Hope for Endangered Reefs

NYT op-ed: New Orleans’s New Flood Maps: An Outline for Disaster




“The new maps also do not adequately highlight the shifting reality wrought by climate change. It’s not just that a warming planet heralds bigger and more frequent storms. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Louisiana faces the highest rate of sea-level rise of any coastal region on the planet: As seas rise, Louisiana’s land is sinking, part of an ancient geologic process of subsidence accelerated by the levee system itself, which prevents mud from the Mississippi River from replenishing the land. Already, the Corps of Engineers has had to rebuild sections of the new levee system that had sunk six inches below their original height.

According to current projections, roughly 75 percent of New Orleans will be below sea level by 2050, up from 54 percent today….

We face a difficult choice. The National Flood Insurance Program can charge an unsubsidized, or “actuarial,” rate for coverage (as Congress decreed in 2012, though it later severely limited how rapidly those rates could rise); doing so would impose crippling costs on homeowners. Or it can continue to subsidize development in dangerous places. But these new maps represent an unwise compromise: blinding residents to their physical vulnerability, while also inviting them to financial ruin.”

Rebecca Solnit’s current interview with Krista Tippit on New Orleans, Climate Change, a highly nuanced sense of “hope” that embraces uncertainty, and how history is more like the weather than it’s like a checkers game

A Solnit interview released today, that continues and extends our RWII artist talks!

Soundcloud lets you add comments right in the player.  Your comment is keyed to a particular moment in the interview.  Other listeners can access and consider/reply to your comment …


A new kind of conference +

We just learned of this conference and thought it might be interesting given our conversations around practicing new forms of creative assembly in direct response to climate change:


“This is an unusual conference in two respects. First, because it approaches the issue of climate change from the perspective of the humanities, rather than, as might be expected, from that of the sciences. Second, it is also more than a little unusual because of the conference format: it is an international academic conference with over 50 speakers from eight countries, yet it has a nearly nonexistent carbon footprint. Had this been a traditional fly-in conference, our slate of speakers would have had to collectively travel over 300,000 miles, generating the equivalent of over 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the process. This is equal to the total annual carbon footprint of 50 people living in India, 165 in Kenya. A conference that takes up the issue of climate change while simultaneously contributing to the problem to such a degree would be simply unconscionable.”

Excerpts from Paul Kingsnorth’s piece, The Witness, in Tricycle last year, and his personal/political shift in perspective:

Environmental campaigning, like any form of politics, is predicated on control. It is about preventing negative things from happening and trying to channel society toward what you regard as more positive values and systems. It took me a long time to admit to myself that the level of control I wanted and desired simply couldn’t exist. Governments had been promising to act on climate change for 20 years, and precisely nothing had happened. All of the trends, from extinction to soil erosion to ocean acidification to rainforest destruction, were going in the wrong direction, fast. We—the greens—knew what needed to be done, but we had no power to make it happen. It wasn’t working. I looked around me, at the diminishing natural beauty and its accelerating destruction, and I despaired.

A few things saved me, eventually, from this despair. One of them was a geological perspective. We tend to look at the world through an anthropocentric lens: human concerns are foremost in our vision, bounded by our short lives and our everyday needs and desires. Among those desires is a concern that what we have always known as “nature” should continue as we have always known it. But nature has taken many forms. For the vast majority of its existence, “nature” here on earth consisted only of single-celled organisms. The brief period of climatic stability in which human civilizations have evolved is just that: a brief period. It is not any kind of norm, for there is no norm. Had it not been for the great oxygen catastrophe or the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs or who knows how many other such episodes, none of us would be here to agonize about the latest turbulent episode in the history of this planet. Why should the state of the planet to which we have adapted survive forever? Nothing does. The earth is a process as much as a thing: it is constantly changing. At this period in its history, we are the force tipping it into a new state. Now we are going to have to live with that state, whatever it brings—if we can.

As I write it down now it seems embarrassingly obvious, but there is a difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it at the deeper level toward which the dharma points. I look at a forest. You look at a forest. We see different things. Perhaps one of us sees planking or sawdust or biological diversity or spiritual retreat or silence or rare insect life or certain mosses or a quality of light. Yet none of what we see has any relevance to the forest itself, or any of the organisms that make up its whole. It is just what it is. It’s just there.

What does this mean? What it has meant for me is that I am now able to begin—only to begin, mind—separating reality from my view of it and to understand the emotional projections that I overlay onto the world I walk through. One of those projections is a sense of what nature is and should be, and how I should be able to help maintain it in a certain state. Nature itself, meanwhile, has no sense of that state. It has no sense that it is nature at all. Nature is made up of a vast and detailed complex of living beings doing what they do. Our self-consciousness and our needs are part of that complex. But nature doesn’t need us, and extinction as a concept is something that only humans worry about.

It is hard for us to take in the reality that the earth is an extinction machine. It doesn’t need us, and we cannot control it. The “ecological crisis” we hear so much about, and which I have written so much about and worked to stave off—well, who says it is a crisis? Humans do—and educated, socially concerned humans at that. For the earth itself, the Holocene Extinction is not a crisis—it is just another shift. Who determined that the planet should remain in the state in which humans find it conducive? Is this not a form of clinging to mutable things, and one that is destined to make us unhappy? When we campaign to “save the earth,” what are we really trying to save? And which earth?

A great change is under way, across the earth. We cannot prevent it now, and its outcomes are not going to be pretty for much of humanity. The nature of nature has always been change, which means that death—and rebirth—will always be with us, and that rebirth may take forms we do not recognize and did not expect. You are part of this process, and so am I, and this time around we are the cause of it, too. The future offers chaos, uncertainty, loss. To deny this is to deny reality. To pretend we have more control than we have, to cling to glib “solutions” as if the world were a math puzzle we could solve with the right equations, is a similar form of denial. There is an abyss opening up before us. It challenges everything we thought we knew about our culture and about nature. We need to look into it and concentrate on what we can see.

“Sit with it,” the teacher said. It is a common Zen response, and though some see it as a kind of shoulder-shrugging, to me it looks like the opposite. What it really says is: Pay attention. Our culture is hopeless at paying attention. It glorifies action and belittles contemplation. Responses to the ecocide currently unfurling around us are usually couched in aggressive demands for immediate “action”—any action, it seems, however ineffective, is better than none. But it doesn’t work like that. My years in green activism have shown me that false hope is worse than no hope and that ineffective action leads only to despair, particularly if frantic movement is a substitute for facing up to the realities of our limited powers. Sooner or later, that dam will burst. Before you can act on anything with effectiveness, you have to understand it—and that is where the sitting comes in. That is where the attention matters. That is when the stripping back of your self before the indifference of nature will come to serve you.

What happens if you sit with the earth? If you reach down and touch it, if you call it as your witness? What happens if you let your own needs and demands fall away, and see the world outside you for what it is? I would suggest that, with the right quality of attention, we may come to know what is right for us as individuals, and what we can usefully do. This doesn’t mean that all will be well. All will not be well. It doesn’t mean we will necessarily end up any less confused or conflicted, either. It doesn’t mean we will never again experience the despair of knowing what we have done and what we are still doing and of all the things we are losing and can never bring back.

But it does mean, or it could, that we are able to hold those feelings within us, to understand them and maybe reconcile them. It does mean that we can be done with denial and projection and false hope and false hopelessness. If we sit with the earth, with the trees and the soil and the wind and the mist, and pay attention, we may know what to do and how to begin doing it, whatever burden we carry with us as we walk.

read in fall at:

Also, a few movie recommendations:

Land of Hope, with English subtitles (we referenced this in our presentation last week (one step. one step. one step.)

It’s  a Disaster (improv comedy troupe on the end of the world)

Nuclear Nation I and II (where people displaced by the Fukushima disaster and living in temporary housing 5 years later express the desire to simply be told the truth, rather than false hope/political cowardice on the part of officals etc.)


“Sitting with the grand simultaneity of it all, with the direct perception of boundless, kaleidoscopic global change, one begins to feel something new: the possibility of a planetary sense.”

Seems relevant to recent conversations:


A section, but the whole thing is worth the read:

“The world is being built. It is growing. It is on fire. It is collapsing. It is in bloom. It is in decay.

And it is all these things at once.

Sitting with the grand simultaneity of it all, with the direct perception of boundless, kaleidoscopic global change, one begins to feel something new: the possibility of a planetary sense.

And here is the crux of the matter: Earth observation, if entered into deeply, can be not only a psychological experience, but a spiritual one, too.

This requires not just looking, but beholding — to sit in deep and focused awareness, in full presence, without judgment.

Through this practice, we can begin to internalize the complex and subtle array of connections, patterns, and rhythms that dance upon the Earth. With practice, one can induce a kind of “perceptual flickering” — the rapid switching of awareness between radically different scales of time, space, and organization.

As this awareness grows, so too do a host of simultaneous emotions: joy at the breathtaking beauty of the world; wonder at is occasional, deep strangeness; empathy with its suffering; urgency toward the relief of that suffering. These, in turn, reinforce an abiding solidarity with the planet and its many inhabitants.

Still deeper, this solidarity gives way to a sense of unity. The subject-object distinction collapses, and we discover that the dynamism of the world does not end at the water’s edge of our senses. It continues inward. We contain, and are contained within, a great multitude of systems and processes — flickering into being, growing, ebbing, and renewing.

Such an observation should not be paralyzing, but liberating. The world has conspired to produce consciousness at the human scale, but it hasn’t limited our ability to sense or act solely to that scale.

Language sometimes fails us. It is predicated on syntactical rules that often reinforce our separateness. We read “Earth Day” through the lens of this linguistic separation — as if we were somehow outside of the Earth, and not, in reality, utterly cradled within it.

By cultivating our planetary sense, to look more directly at the world, we can push past the illusions of syntax, toward a deep, contemplative ecology, of which we are an integral part.

Now there’s a project that seems worthy of Earth Day.”

Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’ A $48 million grant for Isle de Jean Charles, La., is the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community struggling with the effects of climate change.