XR Machynlleth post-London healing debrief session

By Beth Maiden, XR Machynlleth regenerative culture group

Almost everyone I talked to in the wake of April’s rebellion in London described taking part as ‘overwhelming’, even if they had a great time (which most had)! Actions like these are very intense and complex, and it’s hard work for most of us to participate. Hard work physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Suddenly, for days, a week, two, we are like a tiny pop-up nation, requiring systems for decision-making, communication, care and support, and more. Feelings run high as we co-create community, trying to respond collectively to a fluctuating, unpredictable environment that can change in an instant.

Then, just as suddenly, we are home, coming down from it all. Trying to make sense of what just happened, how it felt, what worked, what didn’t. What was joyful, what was painful. The whole roller-By Beth Maiden, XR Machynlleth regenerative culture groupcoaster of feelings we’ve just ridden.

We’re often so focused on the ‘action’ part of activism that we forget that driving it all is emotion. We act because we feel something. And when we are acting, we keep on feeling – highs, lows, joy, grief, anger, love, hope, elation, and of course the comedown after.

And so we need space to process. Space to share all that comes up for us – the common ground, and the different experiences. Space to celebrate. Space to release grief and pain. Space to gather back in all of the parts of ourselves that are so easily lost in these big overwhelming actions and in the fight of everyday life. Space to be witnessed as whole, imperfect, feeling beings. Space to witness each other.

Regenerative space.


A regenerative culture is one that is committed to creating those spaces, so that we can process and heal and ultimately, stay in the movement and not burn out.

Here in Machynlleth, members our Regen group hosted a healing/debrief session for local folks who had gone down to London.

I’m sharing a simple template of what we did for other groups to use/copy/adapt if wanted:

We weren’t totally sure what the session would be like – we just knew that we wanted to hold space for activists to get together and share process all they had seen and felt and experienced in London and since returning.

We booked a community room in a local church for 3 1/2 hours. We advertised the session as a debrief specifically for folks who had been to London. We encouraged people to bring along food to share, cushions, blankets. We also invited people to bring a small object that represented how they feel or felt about the action, to create a temporary community altar.

We had three of us to hold the space – two who had taken part, and one who had not (to hold the space while and allow for the other two to participate).

  • We had time to grab a cuppa while we arrived and came to sit in a big circle. There were about 20 of us from the local area. We agreed that this was a safe, confidential space.
  • For the first hour we simply went around the group. Each person took a few minutes to introduce themselves, talk about what they did in London, sharing thoughts and feelings while the group listened.
  • Then we ate together. This was really special – some folks hadn’t seen each other since the action, whilst in London everyone had felt very close. It felt really powerful and important for activists to be back together again, revisiting the experience with others who ‘get it’ about what it was like. We also lit candles on the altar.
  • After food, we worked in pairs, taking turns to share and offer active listening. One person would talk for one or two minutes, whilst the other would listen closely, without interrupting or strongly reacting. Using a timer to ensure we all got the same amount of talking/listening time, we asked three questions: How did I feel at the action? How am I feeling now? and What are you hoping for going forward, what seeds have been planted?
  • Then we joined pairs, to make ‘pods’ of four. Again using a timer (five minutes each), each group took turns to talk and listen. This time, the question was ‘What do I need?‘. This might be what I need right now (touch, words, silence…), or what I need more generally – from my community, from XR, from my self – to feel supported and remain a part of this movement.
  • Lastly, we had a closing circle to once again move round the group and share reflections on the action as a whole. Each person took a few minutes to share ideas on what was great about the action and its aftermath, and what could be done better, and we wrote these up on flip-chart paper for future planning.

Feedback after the session was that it was healing, nourishing and really necessary. As it was a dedicated space for people who had shard a very specific experience, people generally felt safe to share a wide range of emotions, they knew others would listen and understand. And whilst not everyone understood the purpose of the session at the beginning, we found that everyone had a lot to say once things opened up! There were tears and a lot of laughs, and the whole thing felt very profound. We intend to host these kinds of sessions after every action, to keep offering space for the regeneration that is so important to the sustainability of XR.

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So Much For The Good News

By Bill McGuire

There was actually some good news on the climate breakdown front last week, but don’t break out the champagne just yet. A new study, published in Nature Communications revealed that Arctic melting, as a result of accelerating global heating, will add around US$70 trillion – about five percent – to the climate breakdown bill. And why is this good news? I hear you ask. Well, apparently, the figure was expected to be higher – at around twice this. Of course, this is not good news at all. Just another piece of a jigsaw that, when completed, will disclose a picture of a planet trashed beyond redemption and a civilisation on its knees.

The new study makes a fist of estimating the cost of the global consequences of changes that occur across the Arctic region, even supposing that nations stick to their Paris Climate Agreement pledges, and it makes for depressing reading. The bill is the equivalent of almost a year’s global GDP, but the economic burden will not be borne by all countries equally. The poorer nations – especially across Africa and in South Asia – will take a far greater hit, driving increasing hardship and raising global inequality.

Harsh though they are, be in no doubt that the research findings massively underestimate the true cost of the impact of global heating at high northern latitudes. This is because the study only takes account of two factors: (1) the release of greenhouses gases as a consequence of thawing land permafrost, and (2) the absorption of more of the sun’s heat as white ice is replaced by dark land and sea. It does not consider a clutch of other critical feedback mechanisms, each of which presents a colossal threat in its own right; notably the release of methane due to thawing submarine permafrost, modifications to the Gulf Stream and associated currents caused by the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and changes in the ability of the great Boreal forests of Canada and Eurasia to continue to suck up carbon.

Furthermore, I suspect that even the authors of the new study, would agree that the final figure would need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. As far as I am concerned, at least, lumping together models of climate feedback mechanisms that are poorly constrained with economic models that often bear little relationship to the real world (how many predicted the 2008 crash?), results in numbers worth about as much as ones picked randomly out of a hat.

In all honesty, the only thing the study actually tells us is that the impact of global heating on the Arctic will be catastrophic and extremely costly – but we know that already. Arriving at a figure that seeks to monetise a small part of the threat is meaningless and does nothing to help anyone. So, take the results on board, always bearing in mind that the true picture is far worse. Draw strength from this and keep the pressure on the decision makers to take action to tackle the climate emergency. Not next year, or a decade down the line, but now – today!

Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.

Speech from XR Berlin die-in,

By John Ames
47 years ago, in 1972, an incredibly influential report was released by the group of scientists and professionals known as the Club of Rome. Working with MIT, they commissioned a group of modellers and systems analysts to describe the global system as deeply as possible. Together they built ​ World3​, and showed clear evidence of how the combinations of population growth and resource use would strain our planet. The natural end result would be huge ecological damage limiting the earth’s ability to support life – both animal and human.


It caused serious alarm, and many promises were made by the world. The obvious catastrophe laid out in the book was the foolishness of expecting infinite growth on a finite planet. We were warned to change our economic goals, and soon, to prevent environmental (and societal) collapse. Their projections suggested rising material wealth until the first quarter of the 21st century, after which the damage to the environment would become so severe as to severely impact our way of life. Their projections have been shown to be highly accurate. They did not need to know exactly what technologies would be invented to show roughly how capital and human numbers would expand, and the damage that would inevitably cause.

Around this time, Big Oil started two campaigns. One was to study the science of climate change, with internal communications and published journals showing they knew full well the dangers of huge greenhouse gas emissions. The second was to try to cast doubt on the science, and convince the public that it was not a real issue. Unfortunately, they were largely successful.
20 years later, and 27 year years ago, in 1992, the world’s leaders met for the Earth Summit in Brazil, and signed the Rio Convention. 190 coun​tries agreed to reduce their emissions and treat climate change with the seriousness it required. They agreed on the ​ precautionary principle​ , a principle stating that when some science is still needed to prove something beyond a doubt, but there was clear evidence of risk, the cautious option would always be chosen. This principle is invoked for keeping GMOs out of Europe, for instance. The economic (and political) sacrifices from cutting emissions proved to be too much for most countries though, and the following Kyoto protocol has fallen victim to the moral hazard of “whoever cuts first, loses; whoever cuts last, wins”, prompting foot dragging and withdrawals from many countries..

In 2004, they published an updated Limits to Growth… the 30 year update. World3 was further
refined, the previous projections compared to the observed trends, demonstrating clearly the general accuracy of their thesis. They highlighted possible future scenarios where we started strong emission cuts at different time points and severity. Starting directly and strongly at 2004 would have led to the best future scenario. For every year we waited, the future we were giving to our children, grandchildren, fellow citizens and nature itself became ever darker.

They emphasised that we must begin immediately. We still did not.

In 2015, world leaders met again, and following lengthy discussions and concessions, the Paris
Agreement was undersigned by 195 countries. The limits originally decided have since been clearly shown to be wholly inadequate for keeping warming below 2 degrees, even if they are faithfully implemented. So far, they have not been.

Four years later, we are still planning policy that goes in the wrong direction. New runways, coal
power stations and other counterproductive things. And now the UN and IPCC are both screaming warnings as loud as they can. That is why we are now rebelling. Finally.
There is no doubt in the science. There is no doubt in our broad understanding of the systems and mechanisms. The only surprise for scientists is how much quicker it is now progressing. We are seeing feedback loops we had never expected – As the global system gets worse, a result of that damage is to then speed up the future rate of damage. Therefore we are not seeing linear growth in temperature with rising CO2 concentrations, we are seeing an increasing rate of temperature rise and system damage.

Many systems have ​ tipping points in them, points where we lose control of the problem after a
certain point. After we cut down enough rainforest, the microclimate to sustain such forests will not exist any more, and we will turn our planet’s lungs into savannah. After we heat up the tundra enough, we will release huge quantities of methane, a gas around 50 times better at trapping the sun’s energy than CO2, causing even faster warming. These events would seriously undermine our chances of a happy ending.

What is the solution from those in power? They nibble at the edges of the problem. Rearranging the tablecloth and silverware while our house is on fire. Rearranging the deckchairs while the iceberg slowly emerges from the darkness.

These are not bad people. There are greedy people changing the dialogue for their short-term
survival. There are stupid people who believe the free market signals and human ingenuity can fix all problems, including super wicked ones like climate change. There are people who silenced their doubts and concerns with the reassuring lies and misinformation of vested interests. But there are no bad people.

The fact remains. The 10th biggest polluter in Germany is Ryanair, and air travel industry expands 6-8% globally per year. The rainforest in Brazil is being cut down at an alarming rate again. 95% of the things we buy are no longer in use 6 months after we buy them. GDP growth is still the greatest and only goal for every government in power.

Realistically, their behaviour is rational. Fighting against this will require sacrifices. We must consume less, and submit to less convenience. No politician wants to give that news to their voters. They only want to maximise the current “happiness”, ie GDP growth, now, and ignore anything that will happen beyond the next election. This “short termism” saps political will for meaningful change, and we have listened to their “beautiful words” for too long. How can we expect them to commit radical solutions without our clear support and understanding?

The Fridays for Future movement was originally written off as “Young and naive”. The media and politicians helpfully informed us that they don’t understand how the world really works. Alternatively, perhaps it is we that are “old and cynical”; we that lack vision and imagination, we that are not willing to fight for the world we and our children deserve. Seeing they needed support, scientists founded their own group, ScientistsforFuture, to show that there is no more doubt in academia. And also, supporting the same movement, is Extinction Rebellion; a group of concerned citizens, hoping we can follow in Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela’s footsteps. We believe we can finally force the issue with non-violent and creative demonstrations, using peaceful disobedience as our best weapon.

We need to acknowledge the global state of emergency for what it is. How many more “hottest
summer since records began”s do you need to be convinced? This is bigger than normal politics. This is not a matter of supporting left or right, the only important direction is forwards.
Only through working together with all the countries of the world do we have a chance. We cannot wait for other people to do this for us anymore, it is time we took control. We need the courage to really try to change our direction, with bold new economic organisation. We need the courage to be the global leaders in this, and to lead by example. And we need to rebel until our governments make that happen.

I will leave you with a slightly adapted speech from a timeless movie…
“We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is
going crazy, so we don’t go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are
living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living
rooms. Let me have my Netflix and my steak and my cheap Ryanair flights and I won’t say
anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!” (From “​Network”, 1976).

Endangered species laws – the epitome of double standards

By Karl Ammann – Time Magazine ‘Hero of the Environment’

Well on the way to climate breakdown and the sixth mass extinction of species on our planet, you would be hard pressed to know there have been international laws in place since 1975 with the aim of ensuring that ‘international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival’. So how are the bureaucrats who should be enforcing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) doing on that front?

Amongst other failures on their watch:

• Wild tiger numbers have halved to under 4,000 since the 1990s; 

• The South China tiger has almost certainly become extinct in the wild; 

• There has been a huge increase in Asian tiger farms despite a 2007 decision by CITES parties stating that tigers should not be bred for commercial purposes (with the suits in the CITES Secretariat having not once lifted a finger against China’s massively documented non-compliance with that decision); 

• The number of African lions nearly halved from 1993 to 2014, with just 25,000 or so now left in the wild (and yet the CITES Secretariat, bowing to pressure from the rich and influential American trophy hunting industry, still doesn’t recommend they be given the top level of ‘protection’ under CITES);  

• The elephant population of Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve dropped from 100,000 in the 1970s to 13,000 in 2013; 

• The illegal ivory trade increased by close to 300% between 1998 and 2011; 

• The illegal rhino horn trade in 2014 reached its highest levels since the early 1990s; 

• There was a 9,300% increase in rhino poaching in South Africa between 2007 and 2014; and 

• The western black rhinoceros was declared officially extinct in 2011. 

CITES itself is comparatively well drafted, the problem is with the suits who should be enforcing it. Administered by the UN, time and again we see them bowing to commercial interests and, without being xenophobic, window dressing to protect runaway Chinese consumption of the planet’s few remaining endangered species.

I’ve been trying to get the CITES Secretariat to properly implement and enforce their international, endangered species laws for decades. With English wildlife lawyer Richard Hargreaves helping me out in his spare time for free since 2011 we’re now ready to publish our first book, ‘Slave Apes’, exposing the rot and double standards within the Secretariat.

With my pictures and evidence from the front lines and Richard’s words and analysis we have everything we need to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst case of double standards imaginable when it comes to protecting endangered species. Put simply, this has left the pair of us unable to rule out FIFA level corruption amongst the very bureaucrats who should be overseeing the full implementation and enforcement of the world’s only international endangered species laws.

In short, in ‘Slave Apes’ we’re talking about the suits at CITES punishing third world Guinea for illegally exporting dozens of live, baby chimps from the wild to lives of squalor, horrendous conditions and remorseless commercial exploitation in Chinese zoos. That’s correct but the problem is we have all the evidence proving this trade was instigated at the Chinese end of the supply chain and that the CITES Secretariat have not just failed to lift a finger against China in that respect but actually protected them from punishment and having to place these chimps in sanctuaries as required under CITES.

Our first book could just as easily have covered the CITES Secretariat’s failings and protection of China when it comes to the massive growth in their tiger farming industry or, similarly, the massive growth in the trade in lion bones from South Africa to Asia (where they’re passed off as tiger, thereby increasing hunting pressure on the world’s few remaining wild tigers). It’s just that in ‘Slave Apes’ we have the strongest, most incontrovertible evidence against the CITES bureaucrats possible

Finally, although I’m not UK based, if you would be interested in lobbying the UK’s CITES officials to call for an end to the rot and double standards within the CITES Secretariat in Geneva I understand they’re based at Horizon House, Deanery Road, Bristol, BS1 5AH.

Keep up the great work!

‘And the whole of creation is waiting for us to become human’

(Translation of a graffiti inscription by poet ‘Johannes’, Lake Constance, Switzerland)

With the suits at CITES being administered by the UN, the one problem we have with ‘Slave Apes’ is finding a publisher brave enough to publish. So this is basically a call-out on the off-chance that anyone involved with XR can recommend a literary agent or, ideally, a publisher we may not have tried who may be interested in getting ‘Slave Apes’ published. If you know of anyone please contact me at karl@karlammann.ch

My weekend with Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion protest

Image Credit: Creative Commons: Julia Hawkins

By Tyrone Scott

This passing bank holiday weekend, I felt it was important to attend the protests launched by Extinction Rebellion in the name of preserving our planet and species. As a member of the Young Greens Executive Committee, I am passionate about the environment and was keen to get involved. I left my house early Friday morning to travel to Parliament Square, little did I know I would still be on Waterloo Bridge singing my heart out at 4AM Sunday morning!

The power of love

I have been involved in many protests in my young life, but I have rarely seen anything so well organised, so effective and so purely wholesome as this. From the first moment I stepped onto Parliament Square to the second I left Marble Arch the resounding feeling I felt was love. Love for our planet. Love for my fellow demonstrators. But most importantly, love for every human being on this planet.

Whether that be the few counter-protesters or the police trying to break us up, the important theme was that we showed love to everyone who approached us. With this approach, you avoid the pitfalls of isolating people who are not yet on board, and nothing is achieved if a significant portion of society feels isolated, and Extinction Rebellion identified and managed this to perfection.

Preventing shut down

I saw hundreds of arrests, from activists braver than I, yet the chants “We love the police” and “Who’s police, Our police!” continued to ring out until the moment I left the protest. What Extinction Rebellion understands is that the police are not the problem in this scenario, even if they are the facilitators for the will of the establishment.

What else Extinction Rebellion expertly did was make all zones alcohol and drug free. Whilst some people in attendance quite rightly fancied an ice cold can of beer in the blazing heat, everyone understood that we did not need to give the police, the right-wing press or anybody else an excuse. An excuse to shut us down. An excuse to demonise us. Or an excuse to not take us seriously.

The clear out

I spent Saturday daytime with the remaining activists on Oxford Circus, many of whom were arrested as the police scrambled to clear the junction. I watched in awe as the police used a vast array of power tools to try and free the activists who had managed to completely secure themselves to the concrete floor. The smell rising through the air of burnt tarmac. Sparks flying off the ground as they saw through the locks. Dozens of police surrounding each peaceful activist secured to the floor. This felt absolutely surreal against the backdrop of thousands of shoppers, giant brands and luxury cars. It was incredible.

Eventually, the police cleared the square however not without igniting the wrath of the protesters with some unashamedly non-environmentally friendly decisions. A large rubbish truck enters the Oxford Circus junction and all of the sleeping bags, duvets, cardboard boxes and everything else was unceremoniously discarded without a moments thought as to what could be recycled. If you could choose one crowd you would not want to watch that, it would be a large crowd of environmental activists.

As the sun went down, I moved to Waterloo Bridge for one of the most powerful evenings I have had the privilege to experience. With knowledge the police were looking to reclaim the bridge, hundreds of activists descended for an evening of music, talks and togetherness. A candlelit vigil was held whilst talented musicians played beautiful music on a wide range of interesting instruments against a backdrop of dozens of Police.

As the skatepark was dismantled, fairy lights taken down, trees torn up, we sang. As the fire brigade came to sturdy up the truck, so the police can cut protesters down to carry them away, we sang. No matter what negativity they tried to throw our way, to dampen our spirits, we simply sang.

It was clear by the end of the night the police did not expect this sheer determination and resilience from and it was evident the bridge was not being cleared tonight. Victory, for now. And yes, the bridge was cleared the following day, but not without a fight.

The morning after

Sunday brought more magic as hundreds marched from Parliament Square through to Marble Arch. A funeral procession with activists dressed in black, brass band in tow, led the rebellion forward as we marched past Buckingham Palace right into Marble Arch where Greta Thunberg delivered her rousing and inspirational speech. After days of activism, much walking and losing my voice completely, I thought I would take Sunday night to myself. Of course, my favourite band Massive Attack played a impromptu show, of which I then missed, so we are not going to talk about that.

Five Early Lessons From Extinction Rebellion

By Chris Taylor

How the new movement for ecological justice is reimagining the world by reimagining the art of protest, protection and healing. By Chris Taylor / filmsforaction.org / Apr 25, 2019

Five Early Lessons From Extinction Rebellion

Photo: Ruth Davey/Look Again – Photography for the Wellbeing of People and Planet (www.look-again.org)

Like many in the UK I have jumped feet first into the Extinction Rebellion movement. It has captured something in the zeitgeist, bringing together people across cultures and generations in a movement for fundamental global change. It’s not just about climate change. It’s about a revolution of love, deep ecology and radical transformation.

There is a long way to go. Victory will be secured over years rather than months. This is the struggle for the heart and soul of the human species, not for a quick fix climate solution. But even at this early stage we are starting to see trends and approaches that are making the difference – and that show how world-changing movements will operate in the coming global transition.

  1. This is a Self Organising System. XR is based on careful study of mass movements for civil disobedience and disruption. Local groups are free to plan and implement their own actions so long as they stay within the movement’s guiding principles. The sites occupied in London had the same freedom – to organise actions, events and activities as they saw fit.

The whole movement runs on self-organising interlinked circles connected through virtual platforms including Basecamp, Google docs and WhatsApp.

The focus on self-organisation releases untold amounts of energy and creativity. It builds agency and ownership and avoids the traps and delays of hierarchy.

  1. There is a very strong set of guiding principles. Rebels are able to navigate how to act because of ten core values. These include a shared vision, absolute non-violence, welcoming everyone and every part of everyone. Because these values are upfront and out there, they build a shared culture, which mirrors the world we are trying to create.
  2. XR’s organizational culture is “regenerative”. It aims to be nourishing and sustaining for all members. There were “welfare” tents at all London action sites offering space to relax, recuperate, meditate, practice yoga, as well as providing medical care as needed. This regenerative culture avoids burn-out and is attractive to the general population. The police were at a loss as to how to deal with such friendly protesters. Commuters grew to value the calm brought to the city, the festival atmosphere and the decrease in traffic.
  3. The movement is paying attention to its ultimate vision. XR publicly declares three concrete short term demands: governments should tell the truth about the climate emergency, they should go carbon net-neutral by 2025, and there should be a citizen’s assembly to explore and devise solutions.

But this is just the short term. Alongside this is a much longer term transformational vision, which takes its map from “the map of the human heart”. This is a vision of radical social transformation and a rebalancing of humanity’s relationship with nature. That’s the ultimate goal.

5. At its core this is a profoundly spiritual movement (with a small “s”). It is jam packed with muslims, sufis, christians, jews, quakers, buddhists and people of no faith, all exploring thier common beliefs, beyond religion. What we have found is a yearning for deeper meaning, for the magic and mystery of life, for a felt connection to the entire eco-system of this Earth. XR is alive with ceremony, contemplation and a careful, conscious action in honour of life, love and abundance. We are becoming nature protecting itself, experiencing its own beauty and evolving into its higher self.

How this will all play out is not easy to see. The movement in the UK is taking a pause, to regroup, recuperate and shift to some serious political horse-trading. What tactics will be needed to bring about both short-term policy change and long-term global transformation, only time will tell. But for sure, we’re off to a great start.

As one activist friend of mine, Nikki Levitan, put it:

“At the core of my experience this last week I see that this is the first ever activism that is heart-led, no blaming or shaming, just taking action from a place of love and collective responsibility. 
A community of all generations who care and are able to self organise. 
It is amazing when humans step out into the world and really do something and be the change, it unleashes so much creativity, possibility and courage.”

Mao once said “The Revolution is not a dinner party”. XR is showing it might just start with a street party instead.

Earth Day, 2019: Some Of Us Have Seen What’s Coming

By Cody Petterson
For the first time in 15 years, I sat down in my car the other day and broke down sobbing. On the side of a dirt road, surrounded by mountains. Waves of sadness, frustration, rage, and despair welling up.
I’d spent the day planting and watering seedlings, which I’ve done for half a decade now. We have 300 acres on the north slope of Volcan Mountain, between Julian and Warner Springs. The property got hit by the Pines Fire in 2002, which killed two-thirds of the conifers. I grew up hiking in Cuyamaca, before the fires, and I got it in my mind to restore the conifer forest on the property. It took months to figure out what was what, heading up to the mountain once a week, taking pictures, coming home and trying to identify all the species, reading late into the night about botany, and forestry, and silviculture. I collected thousands of cones. I learned how to get seeds out of them and to stratify, germinate, and pot the seeds. I started growing seedlings in the backyard. I put together a working group with US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, CALFIRE, and the US Natural Resource Conservation Service. We collected and sent 30 bushels of fresh cones up to the USFS nursery in Placerville, and I eventually got a thousand seedlings from those seeds.
I planted every which way I could, learning something new each time, year after year. The first year I planted in the open. The seedlings baked. Next in the shade. They baked. I learned to water every two or three weeks, which isn’t easy across 300 acres of steeply sloped terrain. The pocket gophers ate them from below. I caged the bottoms. Rabbits severed them at the base. I caged them above ground. Rodents climbed up and down into the cages and defoliated the needles. I caged the tops. The rodents ate the needles on all the branches that protruded from the cage, and the hardware cloth cages heated up in the sun and the metal killed all the branches and needles that were in contact with it. 
And all the time, the relentless heat and dryness killed any seedling left without watering for more than two or three weeks. Winter rains are good, but there’s no snow-melt anymore, and a winter rain doesn’t help a seedling survive in October when there hasn’t been a drop of rain in 8 months (the second half of 2017 was the driest on record here). In spite of thousands of hours of thought, and worry, and work, and care, I’ve lost probably 650 out of the 700 seedlings I’ve raised from seed and planted with my own hands over the last 5 years.
That day, after a long, dirty, hot day of planting, I walked to one of my favorite spots, a ring of granite boulders sheltered by a huge, gnarled Canyon Live Oak. There, lying shattered and rotting in the middle of the ring, was half the 60 foot tall tree. The other half was still standing, but covered in the telltale, tiny D-shaped holes of Gold-spotted Oak Borer (GSOB), a beetle that gets into the phloem, xylem, and cambium of our native oaks and kills them rapidly. GSOB arrived in San Diego on firewood from southeast Arizona fifteen years ago and has been slowly advancing north, laying waste to our native oaks. It’s killed maybe 80,000 so far. I wandered around to a dozen nearby trees, all big, ancient oaks. The trunks of every one were spotted with GSOB holes. I stood there stunned. The whole millenia-old forest was dying, as far as the eye could see. I wandered back to my truck, numb.
I sat down in the driver’s seat, staring out the window. At the oaks, dying in mass. At the stately, hundred-foot-tall Bigcone Douglas Fir, towering above the oak canopy. Each Bigcone drops maybe two hundred to a thousand cones, depending on size, every three to five years. Each cone has around 100 viable seeds in it. Maybe 40,000 seeds on average per tree, every few years. Times a few hundred trees. An average of somewhere around a million seeds a year fall on our stretch of mountain. And yet there’s not more than a dozen saplings growing naturally on the entire property, 300 acres. I sat there thinking about what that meant, year after year, a million seeds dropped and maybe one or two survive, and those only on the dampest, darkest parts of the mountain. It meant the days of the Bigcone are done.
I sat thinking about those thousands of oaks on all those slopes, and ridges, and hills. Dying. I thought of the Shot Hole Borer, working its way up through our canyons, killing all San Diego’s Coast Live Oak, and willow, and sycamore, and cottonwood. I thought of the Bigcone pushing their way up through the oak canopy. Last of their kind. I thought of all my seedlings. The hundreds I’ve planted over the years and the hundreds filling my patio and yard. I’ve lost too many to count, but I can somehow remember the moment I first saw each one had dried out, or been pulled under by gophers, or stripped bare by rodents, or gnawed by rabbits, or trampled by cattle from the neighboring reservation.
I’d thought about it all a thousand times. I’ve lain in bed so many nights trying to wrestle with it. I don’t know why, but that afternoon something in my mind buckled under the weight of it. I thought, ‘How do I tell my kids?’ and I started to cry. They’ve grown up with me storing seeds and acorns in the refrigerator, germinating seeds, potting seedlings, watering them, five hundred at any given time in the backyard, working in the greenhouses, unloading all my dusty tools and empty water bottles from the truck when I get back in the evening from the mountain. Their dad working in any spare moment on reforesting is all they’ve ever known. I thought of this photo we took a couple of years ago, sitting in front of all our hundreds of seedlings. So happy. How do I tell them that I don’t know what to do with the six hundred seedlings in the backyard? That if I keep them potted in the yard, they’ll get root-bound and slowly die, and if I try to outplant them on the mountain, they’ll die even faster? That there’s no place left in the world for these trees they’ve grown up with? And then the question that was probably there the whole time, waiting to surface: How do I tell myself? I think of all the love I’ve put into saving that forest. All the years. All the thousands of hours. All the thought, and worry, and hope, and faith. How do I tell myself that it’s all gonna die? I’ve spent so long among those trees. It’s not like trees in a park you visit. I don’t go to a different trail or campground or mountain every week. I go to the same mountain, every time. I know every corner of those three hundred acres. I can see the whole forest when I close my eyes. Those trees are like friends to me. I know their peculiarities, their personalities. I can identify some of those trees by their acorns alone. It’s honestly too much. To know they’re all doomed. And if my forest is dying, the same thing is happening everywhere on earth. My mind leapt back 20 years to when I was doing fieldwork up in Kenai, Alaska. I remembered driving past hundreds of miles of conifers dying from Spruce Bark Beetle, which had exploded without the cold winters to keep its population in check. I must have blocked it out for twenty years. But it was right there, just below the surface of my consciousness, foreshadowing.
The sadness, the fear, the despair comes over me in waves when I think about it. The whole biosphere, sixty-six million years of adaptation and speciation, is dying. I took personal responsibility for repairing, conserving, stewarding my half-mile square of it, and it finally hit me–what I’d been wrestling with unconsciously for a long time–that I can’t save it. No amount of wisdom, or sacrifice, or heroism is going to change the outcome. It’s been wearing on me for years, but when you’re raised on Star Wars and unconditional positive regard, you think that no matter how long the odds, you’re somehow gonna pull off the impossible. It’s been years of working, day-in, day-out, against odds that were unimaginably long. Only, they weren’t long. They were impossible.
And at the crescendo of sobbing and loss, the saddest thought I’ve ever had came to me: I wish I didn’t know. What else can you say, when faced with a catastrophe of such vastness, with the unravelling of the entire fabric of life on earth? I mean, we need to fight to save what we can, but the web of life as we know it is done. All the beautiful things we saw as kids on the Discovery Channel. The forests I grew up in. The mountain lions, and the horned owls, and the scat and the tracks in the washes. We’re so early in this curve, and the changes that are already baked in will be so profound. I don’t think humans are headed for extinction. We’ll survive, though many of us will suffer and many die. But all this life with which we’ve shared the planet, much of it won’t make it. I wish I didn’t know. I wish I didn’t know those ancient trees dying up there on the mountain. I wish I’d never hiked through Cuyamaca before the fires. Wish I’d never looked beneath rocks for lizards in the canyons before the bulldozers came. Or heard the frogs singing.
Some of us have seen what’s coming. Some of us feel, deeply, the oneness of all life, feel its fabric fraying. On the first of April, 2019, just after 3 o’clock, some faith–some fantasy inside me–died, and I felt despair for the world I’ve known and loved. We will not save what was. The world, the systems, the interrelationships, the densely woven tapestry, the totality we were raised to love will collapse. My responsibility now is to my children–to all our children–and the world that will remain to them. To rescue as much as we can from that global conflagration, from the catastrophes of famine, and flood, and fire, and conflict, and exodus, and extinctions that await. To end our dependence on fossil fuels, immediately. To dramatically change our food production, our transportation, our land use. Our way of life. To defeat anyone and anything that opposes or hampers that work. If there were ever a truly holy war, this struggle–to save the whole of life from ourselves–is it. There can be no compromise. No increments. No quarter. There is nothing left, but to go forth–with the grief, and desperation, and granite-hard determination–and transform the world. Utterly. Immediately.

Dr. Cody Petterson is an anthropologist and environmental activist. He is president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and serves on the boards of the San Diego River Conservancy and the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego. He lives with his wife and two children in La Jolla, California, where he enjoys his passion for native habitat conservation and restoration.