A Revolution of Sweet Morning Dew

Change and climate, one story at a time.

(This story originally appeared on September 11th, 2013 on Daily Kos)

Only two more disks to go,” was how I met the disapproval of my father in a squeaky voice after he peered with disapproval into my bedroom at 2 AM. It was the ‘90’s, and following a series of irrational decisions, I had formatted the hard drive and began reinstalling the operating system on my computer awaiting the next screen prompt to “Please insert disk 12 of 14.” It was a self-imposed problem between me and a high school paper. My late night lessons in computer literacy were employed by adolescent mischievousness on more than one occasion, for example, on shopping errands, roaming the consumer aisles, I inevitably gravitated towards the latest computers on sale where I would say to myself: “This one has a fast processor, nice video card for gaming… lots of RAM… let me try the keyboard: > format C: and

*POOF*

Years ago, my typical morning was to commute together with strangers in fancy cars above blue shadows of morning light. I would exit highway 280 into Palo Alto and ease my foot off the accelerator, my gaze lingered on the grazing horses covered in blankets, black shadows against a bright sky, steam rising from their breath. Taking a right turn, I peer sideways at the crooked wandering branches of coast live oak drenched in golden light, shrouded by moss and wisps of lichen probably older than Palo Alto herself. My front windows lowered, I invite the sweet summer scent of dew drenched golden grass as my thoughts traversed memories and images of unknown valleys and peaks I traversed in the Sierra Nevada of my youth. These memories rooted and strengthened me to endure Silicon Valley pressure and creature comforts. My father approved and each financial quarter of the year, together with thousands of other people with soft fingers and mute clothing, I got up and left the sterile workplace and gentle whirr of computer fans to attend an ‘all hands’ meeting at the gymnasium while still others attended remotely from across the globe. “You are revolutionizing information technology”, we were informed, and yet I remained skeptical, because sweet morning dew was quietly fueling a revolution of its own.

Climate change is humanity’s self-imposed problem and if I were still a technologist of our Technopoly, I would reformat consumer culture and reinstall the operating system. But this is no technical problem, however, but social and political. I don’t believe there is anything human or sustainable about today’s pace of life, consumerism, or economic measures of progress. Today, I believe in the seasons and the sweet morning dew and I strive to be a “slow father” of three magical children. Neil Postman writes, in The Disappearance of Childhood, that “resistance [to our modern age] entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture,” and I couldn’t agree more.

My spouse returned to work a few months after our third child was born. We hired a full time caretaker for the children as our income tax bracket rose. We would return home to tired crying children. Some nights we bribed them through bathing, breaking bread, and bedtime. Each night, I attempted to reconnect with my wife but we typically ended up at each other’s throats. Our caretaker payed more attention to her phone than my children and then discovered her smoking on the porch one day, alcohol on her breath. I drew the line and quit my job.

Climate change and the environment has long been a concern of mine, however, it wasn’t until I slowed down that I began to understand the urgency. Forget recycling, electric cars, and over-population: George Monbiot declares escalating consumption our most serious problem. Just what are the terawatts of energy powering our planet used for? How long does my cell phone last? Do I need another pair of shoes? Shall I bike there? Does my child need more toys? Is it important to ship carbonated soft drinks across the globe? Its literally an avalanche and we’re all in this together. We will not be led astray by finger pointing at countries with rising emissions such as China or India. We will mindfully resolve to dissolve the carbon footprint of our imported goods. In the powerful video below, Dr. Saul Griffith, an inventor living in San Francisco, brings the urgency and scale of action into stark perspective as he audits our world’s energy demands and proposes to repurpose the incredible manufacturing achievements of our consumer culture into something a little more sensible.

I ponder the families at my daughter’s elementary school: Do they have the capacity to change the odds of our climate dilemma? Is there space beyond their loved ones, their vacation plans, their daily affairs, organized sports, fancy cars, and large American homes?

Here’s a small action to change the odds. This year, I begin leading handfuls of parents through a reading of Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne. The book is about the extraordinary power of less and how important it is for the health of children and families. Payne gives parents good reason and courage to say no to “too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time”. He advocates simplicity in our schedules, our meals, and our home environment. The book is an embrace of humanity that is a clear arc above consumer culture. I first read the book shortly after I quit my job and the incremental adjustments have been transformational. In shutting the door on consumption I have opened the door to relationship and family unity. I witness how compassion, connection, confidence, and intention now radiate outwards beyond family infecting my community and world. This has everything to do with climate change because by slowing down, we return home to our senses and renew the rhythms of life and gather strength. It is from here that we may recognize the fear beneath our consumption, recognize our innate courage and foster a capacity for action, to mend our fuel-ish ways and ultimately alter the odds of our dilemma.

I am grateful and hopeful because each day I witness children who fill their goblets of life with fresh experiences. Through rhythm and simplicity, I help them to empty their goblets and come to rest like stones in a field, so that the next day, they can return to the world stoked with curiosity and wonder, presence and heart, to partake in sweet morning dew.