At first glance, two new books that address our deepening environmental crises—Bright Green Lies by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, & Max Wilbert and Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World by Barry Lopez—seem worlds apart in their approach on how to heal our ailing planet. Even the covers send different messages: the former splashed with the red flames of a devastating wildfire and the latter wrapped in the soft greens and blues of a healthy, breathing forest. Yet on the inside, they share a common thread: the urgency of the moment we face right now. As Lopez puts it in one of his deeply personal essays:
“We can no longer afford to carry on in a prolonged era of polite reflection and ineffective resistance. An Era of Emergencies is bearing down on us… We must invent overnight, figuratively speaking, another kind of civilization, one more cognizant of limits, less greedy, more compassionate, less bigoted, more inclusive, less exploitative.”
It’s our current conception of “civilization” that Bright Green Lies identifies as the root cause of the varied environmental catastrophes we’re facing today. They write, “Civilization is the word for one specific way of life: people living in cities… the reality of people living in numbers large enough to require the importation of resources: city dwellers need more food than the land can give. Food, water, and energy have to come from somewhere else.” The bottomless need for those resources gave birth to colonial, capitalist systems which have marginalized and enslaved people and caused irrevocable harm to the natural world. And now it is those very systems that hold us back from taking real action to save our planet—and ultimately ourselves. As the authors write: “What we do now determines what life is like—or, indeed, whether it exists at all—for those humans and nonhumans who come after us.”
Lopez’s vision for “another kind of civilization” is what Bright Green Lies argues so ardently and persuasively for. Much of the book is focused on the fact that the environmental movement has been co-opted by corporate entities, making us believe that advances in technology can save our environment without forcing us to sacrifice the luxuries of our modern lives. They outline how the “promise” of renewable energy like solar, wind, and hydropower, and of stand-bys like recycling, still demand the kind of extractive processes that damaged the planet in the first place. They aren’t the panacea they are marketed to be, but simply trade one harm for another.
The cold, hard truth is this: there isn’t a solution that doesn’t demand a radical shift in the way many of us live our lives. Bright Green Lies makes us face the reality that the very foundations of our civilization—built on inequity and obsessed with constant growth—are what we must have the courage to change. The authors write:
“So many indigenous people have said that the first and most important thing we must do is decolonize our hearts and minds. We must grow to see the dominant culture for what it is: not as the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to human beings, but instead as a way of life that provides conveniences—luxuries—to one set of humans at the expense of everyone else—human and non-human.”
Bright Green Lies takes the position that “the health of the earth must be the primary consideration in our decision-making processes.” To make that happen, all of humanity, but particularly those of us who live with the privilege of wealth, will have to flip our priorities dramatically—and demand that our governing leaders do the same.
But what would we gain if we actually shifted our priorities and put the Earth first? That’s when returning to Lopez’s essays brings a cooling, reflective balm to balance the heat of Bright Green Lies. Throughout his life, Lopez was a traveler and observer of both the natural world and of human culture. It’s clear from his poignant essays that he found incredible solace through his experiences in nature, and he encourages us to tap into that power (what we call Reconnection Ecology® here at Earthfire) and pay close attention to how it changes our perception of the world and our place in it. As he writes:
“Intimacy with the physical earth awakens in us, at some wordless level, a primal knowledge of the nature of our emotional as well as our biological attachments to physical landscapes… we experience this primal connection as a diffuse, ineffable pleasure, experience it as the easing of a particular kind of longing.”
There’s a beautiful synergy in these two books that is rooted in their very different approaches and styles. Perhaps the facts presented in Bright Green Lies can instill in us the sense of urgency, fear, and anger that will drive us to take action, bolstered by the knowledge that we must change our culture at its most fundamental level if we’re to save our only home. But then it’s Lopez who reminds us to observe and embrace our burning world—to reconnect with it and remind ourselves what we lost when we started detaching from the natural world. His words give us the quiet, fearless hope we need to sustain our work on behalf of our planet.