Guest Post: Van from Speed River Journal

It’s time for another guest post! I believe we should hear from a range of different voices in the sustainability conversation: we have different perspectives, expertise and experiences and should learn from each other, working together to build a shared vision of the future. Fracturing into camps (locavores, vegans, off-the-gridders and the rest of us just trying to step a little more lightly and make sense of it all…) does us no favours at all. I want to build a community where all our voices are heard, and I could use a step down from my soap-box here and there. So if you’re interested in having your say, please drop me a line and come join the conversation.

Today’s post is from my friend Van, a keen naturalist with a background in environmental sciences. These days Van is a freelance journalist, poet and weaver based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Van writes beautifully about nature and the pursuit of sustainable living, drawing inspiration from his local environment and his personal sense of connection to place. He regards a river as metaphor for life and shares his words through his blog: Speed River Journal. I recommend heading over for a read. 

I hope Van’s vision of the shape of things to come gives you food for thought and that the conversation keeps on growing.


We live in such a dynamic time I want to live long enough to see what happens to our civilization, but things probably will not play out that quickly.

We can address the shape of things to come from three different perspectives:

  1. We can deny global environments are being degraded and civilization is at risk of collapse.
  2. We can acknowledge the problem and try to fix what is broken,
  3. or try predicting what is likely to happen and prepare for it.

Most environmentalists fall into the second category. Environmental thinkers have likened people’s attitudes about climate change to the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance. They assume when enough people reach acceptance, we can all buckle down and fix this dilemma. Unfortunately, in terms of grief, acceptance seldom involves saving what was lost. It means letting go, which scares most people. They do not want to talk about giving up the fight.

My mother died of breast cancer in February 2008 at the age of 74. She was able to enjoy most of the last six years after her diagnosis because she accepted her mortality. She undertook some treatment and was in remission for a brief period, but in the end she was less concerned with fighting the disease than with treating each day as a gift. Acceptance means being realistic about limited opportunities and making the most of them.

Faith in a cure for climate change is another form of denial, especially when it supports continued consumption of non-renewable resources. The system is limited and if we cannot control our urge to take more than we put back, it will enforce its own limits. Our biosphere has already changed irrevocably. We must face the mortality of our convenient, petroleum-based way of life. Technology cannot facilitate endless consumption, it can only give us useful tools for sustainable living.

We must believe the testimony of history. Civilizations collapsed, over and over again, whenever:

  • too much power was held by the elite,
  • food production could not support expanding population,
  • environmental degradation threatened food security, and
  • wars erupted over scarce resources.

History also offers a prognosis: civilization will fail but people will survive. We probably will not see and apocalyptic disaster, but a gradual dwindling of population and prosperity. We should focus our ingenuity on this likelihood of survival.

I can hardly begin to understand or address what our strategy should be. Here are some principles I believe we must follow:

  1. Communities are the best social units for solving people’s problems, so we must strengthen them.
  2. Establish and protect local food security and include everyone in its production.
  3. Restrict the power of corporations.
  4. Rely on sustainable energy sources.
  5. Make nature—both nurturing and brutal—more accessible to people.
  6. Build rich, biodiverse ecosystems everywhere.
  7. Look for ways to ease the transition to a simpler way of life.
  8. Seek satisfaction more in experiences than things.
  9. Let us all find work that contributes to the community and makes us happy.
  10. Enjoy every day.

Let us begin the conversation.


6 Comments on “Guest Post: Van from Speed River Journal

  1. Thank you for an excellent and thought-provoking post Van! It ties in nicely with some work I’m doing myself about acceptance. A few years ago a wise person taught me the idea of radical acceptance: to stop fighting and wholly accept the situation I find myself in, so then I can work out how best to manage it. I’m still working on it, but it helps me to focus my energies where they are most useful.

    Like you, I am trying to prepare for a very different future, building the skills and community that will help to ease the change, and sharing what I’m learning so others can learn from me (and I from them). Thank you for being part of this, and I look forward to sharing more of your words in the future!

  2. Fantastic post and vision. I agree about acceptance but as human beings we are fighters so I suppose that takes over in times of stress, particularly if we are being personally affected.

    I truly wish those ten strategies could happen but we seem so fractured as a society. Literally every human or social issue (culture/race, gender, breast feeding, having/not having children, different diets (vegan/paleo etc), medical conditions and treatment and so on) seems to polarise the community now, with people having so many divided and definitive ideas about things they probably don’t know much about but have read about online.

    Not to mention the self entitlement attitude I keep seeing and hearing in Australia. It’s not like I don’t have a whinge about things sometimes but mostly I’m happy with what I have and just want my loved ones and I to keep being healthy and happy. But then I run into an acquaintance who questions why I don’t have children yet or why my husband and I bought a flat instead of a house and feel as if I’ve failed in some way. I mean I was a registered nurse for 14 years up until recently and contributed to my community, I’m educated and care about the world around me and yet …

    I don’t think the average person has much of a sense of community anymore, so working together for something people either see as happening so far ahead in the future or not at all, seems insurmountable …

    Apologies, I must be feeling a bit negative today.

  3. Social trends over the past few decades have fractured communities and isolated people. The social unit has shifted from community and extended family to the nuclear family and individuals. That attitude of entitlement is dangerous, and its flip side is an illusion of self-sufficiency. Emma, we undervalue people like nurses and the ones they care for. We send away our children, sick and elderly. In the past we shared responsibility for caring for one another, and the burden taught us important lessons about being human. We are losing our integrated social fabric, and this cannot be healthy for a social creature. But the focus on self rather than the structure is a kind of addiction. It won’t change until something bad enough happens that individuals have to stop complaining and take responsibility. We need an old-fashioned sense of connection with an updated acceptance of diversity.

    I’m not so good at this myself. It took a personal crisis some years ago to make me recognize the importance of community. However, I’m a strong introvert so it is still often easier to keep to myself than invest in my network. I am fortunate to live in a small city where there are a lot of granola types, queer folk, artists and anarchists who share these values, so community is accessible whenever I reach out (incidentally, I am not an anarchist!). Virtual communities can also be valuable, but they mustn’t replace local ones.

  4. “I am fortunate to live in a small city where there are a lot of granola types, queer folk, artists and anarchists who share these values, so community is accessible whenever I reach out (incidentally, I am not an anarchist!). Virtual communities can also be valuable, but they mustn’t replace local ones.”

    I’m very envious of this! Sounds a lovely place. I couldn’t agree more, ideally, the virtual world should enhance our community (independent small companies, artists, creativity etc) but never replace it.

    also this “the burden taught us important lessons about being human” – I know people who work in offices, with computers etc (and we need these people!) but I’m not sure those jobs are beneficial towards someone’s life experiences … looking after people, particularly vulnerable people, taught me so much and has made me a better person than I would have been if I’d worked in another, less human oriented occupation (I have theories about nature -v- nurture in regard to the occupations we choose but that’s for another time).

  5. Howdy would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m looking to start my own blog
    soon but I’m having a hard time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.
    P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

%d bloggers like this: