Learning Earthmind in a Time of War

“To prepare for war, to give millions of men and women the opportunity to practice killing day and night in their hearts, is to plant millions of seeds of violence, anger, frustration and fear that will be passed on for generations to come.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

I am sitting outside in the patio looking onto the Santa Monica mountains, green fields and hills, peppered with yellow mustard flowers. It is a wildly beautiful summer day, one of the last days of winter.  I relish this day as the grass will soon turn brown for lack of rain and fire season will probably begin early.

For several long summers, I sat here in this way, in the shade of Eucalyptus trees, writing, watching for fires, listening to the counsel of an old woman, La Vieja, who had, herself, taken refuge in a Fire Lookout in the Sierras, watching for fires. She is living there to see what we must see in these times, and she demands that I do likewise. That we do likewise. 

I have sat here with this focus and intent since October 2017.  Today, March 1, 2022, the book, La Vieja, A Journal of Fire, emerges into the world.  For the last five years, La Vieja slid between dimensions, slipped into various realms of the human and non-human, made connections across time and space, gathering ways of seeing and knowing that are significantly different from how we are living our lives.  She was looking as far as she could across this Earth, back into history, forward to the future, struggling to comprehend how to meet a world continuously, self-righteously set on fire each day through the most commonplace and conventional habits, activities, assumptions and beliefs.

It is bitter that she comes into the world today as another unconscionable war proceeds in Ukraine and the UN IPCC assessment 2022 is released. What does this simultaneity of war and climate dissolution indicate?  What is it we are called to see? 

 “Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC says. “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction.” The report asserts, “Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature…” 

“Human-induced climate change ….  Miles of lines of tanks. 

“Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released today.

Today, March 2, 2022, an even more violent attack on Ukraine cities has begun. A news photo shows a group of Ukrainian people standing across the road blocking access to a nuclear plant in Enehodar.  

In 1945, the US dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima.  The Fukishima nuclear disaster was in 2011. 

The American Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, “We have seen videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, which has no place on the battlefield. That includes cluster munitions and vacuum bombs – which are banned under the Geneva Convention.”

“The United States dropped about 1,228 cluster bombs containing 248,056 bomblets between October 2001 and March 2002.” [1] “The United States also used cluster bombs extensively in its cave campaigns near Tora Bora and Shahi-Kot. [2] Forty-six of the reported 232 strikes fell on these regions. [3] Reporters who arrived at an al-Qaeda camp in mid-December described the aftermath of a cluster strike, including denuded trees, shredded clothing, “twisted cooking pots,” torn religious books, and dead al-Qaeda fighters.” [4]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned that if a third world war were to occur, it would involve nuclear weapons and be destructive, according to Russian media.

Conservative as the IPCC report must be in order to be approved by the 195 government members, it, inevitably, does not mention war as a major contributor to the destruction of the environment. It does not say that every war is a war on the earth.  The report says we must change our use of fossil fuels now; it does not say we must end war now. 

Perhaps this is the most unlikely time, the most necessary moment to say no to war, to say no to ecocide, to recognize they are intrinsically inter-related and to act now.

“There is increasing evidence of adaptation that has caused unintended consequences, for example destroying nature, putting peoples’ lives at risk or increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be avoided by involving everyone in planning, attention to equity and justice, and drawing on Indigenous and local knowledge.”

A forty-mile line of tanks is advancing on the ancient city  of Kyiv that traces its history to the year 482 while its first settlements were 25,000 years ago. 25,000 years to come to this?  Russian paratroopers deployed in Kharkiv, the city of poets, as key port city of Kherson falls under Russian control.

IPCC Assessment Report, 3/1/2022.  SPM.D.5.3 The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

The first IPPC 1990 assessment said that certain that emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases, resulting on average in an additional warming of the Earth’s surface. They calculated with confidence that CO2 had been responsible for over half the enhanced greenhouse effect. They predicted that under a “business as usual” (BAU) scenario, global mean temperature would increase by about 0.3 °C per decade during the [21st] century.

We didn’t make the necessary internal or external changes to meet the dire circumstances being revealed to us. We didn’t understand.  We didn’t want to understand.

Thirty-two years later:

SPM.D.5 It is unequivocal that climate change has already disrupted human and natural systems. Past and current development trends (past emissions, development and climate change) have not advanced global climate resilient development (very high confidence). Societal choices and actions implemented in the next decade determine the extent to which medium- and long-term pathways will deliver higher or lower climate resilient development (high confidence). Importantly climate resilient development prospects are increasingly limited if current greenhouse gas emissions do not rapidly decline, especially if 1.5°C global warming is exceeded in the near term (high confidence).

Circumstances are changing so rapidly that even this essay is being rewritten five minutes before posting because circumstances have changed extremely in twenty-four hours.  The war advances, the dead and suffering soldiers and citizens increase.  The injuries to people, structures, land intensify. 

Let’s pause and take a breath.

This is an extreme moment.

Whether we are in Ukraine or seemingly safe gazing across a line of eucalyptus trees to a green field radiant with yellow mustard flowers (mustard gas, developed into chemotherapy, with serious and unacknowledged effects on the environment) we are in war. One war seems to demand our immediate reaction and the other to allow for gradual change. A misunderstanding of the realities of time and space leads us to these assumptions.

We have had so many alerts to what could be coming and so much sooner than we have expected.

Two years ago, Covid 19 or Queen Corona could be seen as a warning to change our lives. Disregard for the environment and the animals, the disruption of natural system led to the virus mutating and jumping to humans and the ensuing pandemic, still not globally contained. It is only hours since those in the US learned we could probably take off our masks and, statistically, be safe.

The global Covid death toll is almost 6 million.

In the last months, many of us, in the US and Canada and globally, have been struggling with unfathomable explosions of random violence, hate crimes, and extreme polarization in response to Covid, masking and vaccine. Divisions we had never imagined were emerging everywhere and we were not able to avoid them even in our own lives, even here (wherever here is for you who are reading this.) We were alarmed by the vitriol and violence even in the most intimate relationships. Now we see that these seemingly milder but alarming conflicts were harbingers of what is occurring. A difference, perhaps, in degree, but not in intent or consequences.

IPCC Assessment Report, 3/1/2022.  SPM.D.5.3 The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

Whether we live by signs or can connect the dots, this moment of extremity calls.  What are we to do?

We are to know that each of us, that we are at war.  That we live in terms of conflict, domination and winning, That our language is bellicose and we make war on everything and so war is pervasive. 

We do not think in terms of interconnection, interrelationship, and interdependence.  We do not think ecologically.  

The wars against the Earth and all living beings and the wars against nations and peoples are the same wars.  Each one affects the others.

The medicine for ending war and the medicine for ceasing ecocide, the methods, the strategies, the actions, are the same – interrelationship, interconnection, interdependence.

Insisting on relationship is a radical act that is only effective if it is universal, occurring in every realm and on every level, between all beings – without exceptions.  Further, it will only be possible if our activities of inter-relationship are pre-emptive. 

To step out of ecocide we must learn to think like an eco-system.  We must learn to think ‘we,’ to step out of making enemies.  Even today, as we watch the attacks increase, peacemaking is not a choice; it is an absolute necessity.

Even today, we are called to soul search and find ways not to be at war. 

Today we step out of war mind.

Tomorrow we truly change our lives.

We know very well that airplanes, guns and bombs cannot remove wrong perceptions. Only loving speech and compassionate listening can help people correct wrong perceptions. But our leaders are not trained in that discipline, and they only rely on the armed forces to remove terrorism.

Thich Nhat Hanh

On behalf a future for all beings,

Deena Metzger

This essay was originally posted in Deena’s substack here. Find out more about La Vieja: A Journal of Fire.

Deena Metzger is a writer, healer, and teacher whose work spans multiple genres including the novel, poetry, non-fiction, and plays. She is the author of many books, including the novels: A Rain of Night Birds, concerning two climatologists, La Negra y Blanca (2012 PEN Oakland Pen Award for Literature), Feral, and The Other Hand. Her other books include The Burden of Light, Ruin and Beauty and Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing. Metzger co-edited Intimate Nature, The Bond Between Women and Animals, which pioneered the radical understanding that animals are highly intelligent and exhibit intent. Her experiences with Elephants in the wild over twenty years is based on their spiritual agency and complex narrative communication. Some of that experience is chronicled in her latest novel, La Vieja: A Journal of Fire. She has developed The Literature of Restoration to, among other goals, advance Earth based writing, restore climate and counter extinction.


Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the Carnegie-longlisted British author of many Young Adult novels, including Green Rising, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. She is a RLF Royal Fellow, freelance editor and screenwriter. Lauren is the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League, and on the board of the Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group through the Society of Authors. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide and been translated into six languages. The Quiet at the End of the World was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

One thought on “Learning Earthmind in a Time of War

  1. I’ve said this before and it bears repeating:
    The stories we need so we can deal with climate change have to be familiar before the threat has the power to kill us all.
    We have the storytellers – we need the audience to listen.


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