Climate: A New Story – Book Review

Open your mind, or not.

This may sound strange but if you are weary of reading books about climate change, Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein could be just the book for you.

At the beginning of January, I was definitely not interested in reading yet another book about climate change, when I spotted an article in the Yes! Media newsletter that arrives in my email inbox on Friday afternoons.

“Threats of global catastrophe won’t move people to action. Only the heart can inspire zeal.”

That text just below the article entitled, Why the Climate Change Message Isn’t Working caught my attention. I thought, “Yes, I totally agree.” The article contained an excerpt from Climate: A New Story.

My Copy of Climate A New Story Bristling with Sticky Flags

I was intrigued so I bought the book. It is now bristling with colored sticky flags (I reuse them), signaling that I found many interesting and thought-provoking passages worth marking for review and discussion.

Book Review

Reading Climate: A New Story requires a little bit of preparation. First, make sure you have some sticky flags, scraps of paper, or a highlighter on hand because trust me; there will be passages you will want to return to later. Second, to get the most out of your reading experience I recommend leaving your personal climate change baggage behind and approaching the book with an open mind.

The book contains twelve main chapters with titles like “A Crisis of Being,” “Beyond Climate Fundamentalism,” “A Bargain with the Devil,” “An Affair of the Heart,” and “Bridge to a Living World.”

I was riveted from the first chapter. Here is a taste of what you will be reading.

Chapter 1 – A Crisis of Being

This chapter is worth reading twice because it forms the basis for the balance of the book. For me, concepts like the story of separation and interbeing were new, the concept of they was not. Although I laughed when Eisenstein described the possible concerns of a fracking executive, he makes a good point that they are people, too.

Environmentalists may not like the part where Eisenstein asks us, meaning everyone on the planet, to give up fighting. After all, fighting, stopping, and banning things are major components of the current environmental movement. I know because I have been a willing participant.

“We call arguments “rational” when they appeal to self-interest. This book will argue that rational reasons are not enough; that the ecological crisis is asking for a revolution of love.”

Chapter 2 – Beyond Climate Fundamentalism

The first page of this chapter contains a hilarious, but probably sadly true, hypothetical exchange between Eisenstein and a prominent environmentalist proselytizing that addressing climate change is the only thing that matters.

“While this book is focused on the realm of ecological healing, it disengages from the rhetoric of “Nothing else is important compared to this. That’s the rhetoric that has alienated so many working-class people and minorities from environmentalism because it carries a patronizing message of “We know better than you do what you should be caring about.”

He goes on to explain why he believes that social healing and ecological healing are the same work and that neither can succeed without the other.

Chapter 3 – The Climate Spectrum and Beyond.

This chapter is all about framing the so-called climate debate and provides a new term “climate derangement,” which I think is much more descriptive than climate change or global warming.

I will leave you here with my favorite quote from “Chapter 8 – A Bargain with Devil”.

“By appealing to self-interest and fear we strengthen the habits of self-interest and fear, which, let’s face it, usually conspire to destroy the planet not save it. We will never increase the amount of care in the world by appealing to self-interest.

The Bottom Line

After graduating from Yale University with a degree in mathematics and philosophy, Charles Eisenstein moved to Taiwan, learned a new language, and spent the next ten years as a Chinese-English translator. This experience and others influenced the later direction of his life. Now, he is a writer, a speaker, and a podcaster focusing on civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution.

While I was reading Climate: A New Story, I often found myself wanting to jump up and go tell someone in my family about what I had just read. I showed some restraint by saving up tidbits and sharing them at the dinner table.

Generally, I thought that Climate: A New Story was a readable book but occasionally Eisenstein drifted off using language that seemed like he was more interested in hearing his own voice than making his ideas accessible to the reader. When that happened, I either read those parts again or skipped over them.

Climate: A New Story is about way more than climate. Everyone should read this book. Readers will come away with their own thoughts but I doubt anyone will be unmoved. I especially recommend this book to my fellow environmentalists because we need to broaden our horizons.

“Not-in-my-backyard thinking, when universalized to an empowered citizenry, becomes not-in-anyone’s-backyard.

Featured Image at Top: A majestic sunrise over the mountains – photo credit iStock/Alex Sava.

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Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees

Planting trees is an act of love towards people and the planet.

Imagine if you could do something simple to beautify your community and help keep Earth habitable. Planting a tree is one way to do it.

If you have access to a shovel or even a garden trowel, you can plant a tree seedling in your yard or somewhere else, that needs a tree like a park, community open space, or a forest. You can obtain a tree seedling from a nursery, botanical garden or native plant sale, or a nonprofit organization that grows trees.

Mother Nature does a lot of tree planting ably aided by the wind, rain, and critters, both feathered and furry. However, she would probably appreciate some assistance from us, humans. Mother Nature is unlikely to come knocking on your door asking you to plant trees, but I think she is wily and employs a variety of methods to get the word out. If you are not listening, she may give you a nudge or two. That is what happened to me.

Cambria in the Pines

Before moving to live among Monterey pine trees in the small town of Cambria on the California Central Coast, I had never lived this close to the rest of nature. Our town motto is “Cambria in the Pines.”

My spouse and I share a tiny piece of land with Monterey pine and oak trees, native plants, mule deer, wild turkeys, voles, lizards, and a wide variety of birds. I am acquainted with each tree in our mostly wild yard. Whenever a tree dies, I feel bereft. Then I will notice a new tree seedling in our yard and feel hope.

Our Monterey pine forest is one of the few remaining native stands of Monterey pine trees in the world. It is precious, irreplaceable, and struggling to survive. Drought, rising temperatures, and disease have taken a toll on the forest. Thousands of trees have been lost. Mother Nature and people have planted new tree seedlings, but not enough, not nearly enough. We are in danger of becoming “Cambria in the Pine.”

Over the years, to supplement Mother Nature’s efforts, I have attempted to buy Monterey pine seedlings at our local nursery, but they never have any in stock (I think this is weird). I admit that I did not look elsewhere for seedlings. Perhaps Mother Nature sensed that I needed a nudge to propel me to action so she gave me not one but two gentle nudges.

We Meet a Tree Hugger

Near the end of December, I saw a notice in the local newspaper The Cambrian that the Cambria Forest Committee was hosting a talk by a guy named Rick Hawley from Greenspace, a local nonprofit land trust. The subject was Monterey pine trees. I was interested but what really caught my attention was a sentence that said Greenspace grows Monterey pine seedlings for sale to the public. I thought, “You are kidding me. Why do I not know about this?”

A week or so later, on a cold evening in January, my spouse and I bundled up and walked down to the community room at the Rabobank to hear Rick speak and to find out how we could obtain some tree seedlings.

Rack Holding Tiny Monterey Pine Seedlings at Cambria Forest Committee Meeting on January 9, 2019
A rack holding tiny Monterey pine seedlings at the Cambria Forest Committee meeting – January 9, 2019. This photo and the one below courtesy of the Cambria Forest Committee.

As soon as we entered the room, I saw a rack of tiny Monterey pine seedlings nestled in little plastic sleeves sitting on a table. I coveted them.

Rick gave an impassioned talk about Monterey pine trees and discussed the importance of replacing trees that have been lost due to drought, disease, or age. Planting trees helps forests stay healthy and resilient.

One thing I discovered during the meeting is that I am not quite the law-abiding citizen that I thought I was. Apparently, you are supposed to obtain a permit before removing a tree over a certain size (including dead trees) and are required to plant replacement tree seedlings.

You know assuming is dangerous, right? Well, I had assumed that the tree service we hired from time to time to remove our dead trees had a permit or something so we did not need one. I did know about replacement tree requirements but fortunately, we have had more than enough tree seedlings volunteer in our yard to replace the dead trees (whew). Okay, now I know.

Rick Hawley and Linda Poppenheimer Talking after the Cambria Forest Committee Meeting on January 9, 2019

At the close of the meeting, I approached Rick to thank him for his inspiring talk and to volunteer to grow seedlings. When I asked him where I could obtain seedlings to plant in our yard, he gave me his business card and told me to call to make arrangements.

Mother Nature Throws down the Gauntlet

Two weeks later, Rick’s business card was still sitting on my desk.

Then, one day my spouse walked into our home office and said, “A Monterey pine tree just threw a seed at me.” This had occurred outside of our kitchen when a pinecone made a loud cracking noise as it burst open and then a single papery-winged seed drifted down onto the deck. I had never seen a Monterey pine seed.

I took this as a sign from Mother Nature.

After locating Rick’s card, I called and left a message that I was interested in buying some Monterey pine seedlings.

We are still in the rainy season so I thought the seedlings would have a good chance of settling in before the dry summer and fall months. I figured I could probably keep track of and care for twenty seedlings. This means keeping the wild grasses from overrunning them and carrying water to their locations if needed.

Rick called back and said he would bring the seedlings to the Greenspace office for me to pick up.

When I arrived at the office, Rick introduced me to Mary Webb, the current president of the board of directors. The three of us had a delightful conversation about Greenspace and Monterey pine trees. Greenspace began as a land trust in 1988 and has been instrumental in preserving natural areas, restoring the Santa Rosa Creek watershed, caring for the Monterey pine forest, leading educational forest excursions for middle school students, and advocating for local environmental issues.

Mary Webb and Rick Hawley Holding Greenspace 2001 Arbor Day Foundation Award and Two Monterey Pine Seedlings
Mary Webb and Rick Hawley standing outside the Greenspace office in Cambria, CA holding Greenspace’s 2001 Arbor Day Foundation award and two Monterey pine seedlings that would soon find a home in my yard – January 24, 2019.

Greenspace sells Monterey pine seedlings in one-gallon pots for $10 each. I think this is a good deal. If everyone in town invested just $10 for one tree seedling for their own yard or for a community open space, we could plant about 6,000 trees.

Planting Monterey Pine Tree Seedlings

When I got home, my spouse helped me unload the seedlings from my car and we lined them up on the edge of the driveway so I could take a group photo before we dispersed the trees to their planting locations (top phot0).

We decided to plant the seedlings that weekend before the next rainstorm.

Linda Poppenheimer Holding a Monterey Pine Seedling with Shovel, Bucket, and Watering Can
This is me decked out in a California Native Plant Society t-shirt, jeans, boots, gloves, and a hat ready to plant some Monterey pine seedlings.

In addition to typical tree planting concerns like not planting too close to the house and avoiding locations beneath power lines, we also needed to consider deer trails and vole highways. Deer cruising through the yard could easily crush a 12” seedling and voles tunneling underground dig up anything in their path and toss it aside.

We decided to plant the seedlings in groups spaced far enough apart so that they can grow into mature trees but close enough that they would have buddies nearby. In some cases, we planted the seedlings near decaying tree stumps in hopes that this will protect them from trampling by deer or even wild turkeys.

One thing I realized almost immediately is that I will need to put some kind of marker near the tree groupings because as soon as the grasses grow to more than a foot tall, it will be hard for me to locate them so I can check on their progress. In the past week, we have had several inches of rain and the tree seedlings seem happy, so far so good.

I am looking forward to Rick’s class on propagating Monterey pine seedlings from seeds. I have a spot picked out next to my pots of native plant seeds.

You Can Plant Trees, Too

Planting trees is an act of love towards people and the planet.

Even though it is winter, there are many places where planting trees now make sense. If you live in one of these milder climates, please consider taking action by planting a tree seedling or several seedlings. If you are hunkering down in a cold and snowy place, perhaps you could select the type of tree you would like to plant in the spring and put a photo of it on your refrigerator.

If you do not have a yard or do not want to plant a tree in your yard that is okay, there are plenty of other places that need trees such as playgrounds, parks, common areas, city streets, community open spaces, and forests. Find a tree planting opportunity in your area and go plant some trees.

You can still help even if you are not able to plant a tree or do not want to do it. Consider making a financial donation to a tree related nonprofit, offer to help organize a tree-planting event, or volunteer to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies for the people planting trees.

Fortunately, you do not need to wait for Mother Nature to toss a seed at you to get your attention. If you are reading this, she already has your attention so go plant a tree.

Featured Image at Top: Twenty Monterey pine tree seedlings in pots lined up on the curb of our driveway awaiting planting.

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