Ep. 16. The Green Boat with Mary Pipher

Mill Valley Public Library interviews author Mary Pipher

The Keystone Pipeline Meets an Organized and Awake, Group of Nebraskans

“Environmentalists have a word for the realization that our planet is in urgent and serious trouble. They call it the ‘oh shit’ moment. “

Mary Pipher has something to offer us in this moment, Spring 2020, when we are shut in our homes, confronting a strange new reality (on top of all the other strange realities of this time), wondering how things are going to unfold. Will we be okay? How can we cope with what’s happening? How can we deal with the uncertainty?

Pipher, a cultural psychologist and best-selling author, has written 10 books including Reviving Ophelia, her most famous, and Women Rowing North, her most recent.  It’s her book The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, published in a 2013, that offers a helping hand – and a psychologist’s generous ear – to anyone reeling from the climate crisis. Indeed, it can be an effective guide for us during this COVID crisis as well.  She writes in the introduction, “I began this book in the summer of 2010 at a time when the world seemed almost too complicated and frightening for me to manage emotionally.”  

2010 was a significant year for Pipher.  First, she awoke to the shocking urgency of the climate crisis after reading Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth, in which he bluntly tells us: “The planet on which our civilization evolved no longer exists. The stability that produced that civilization has vanished; epic changes have begun….The earth that we knew – the only earth that we ever knew – is gone.”  

A few months later, she was horrified to learn of plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska (and other states) to transport tar sands oil from Canada, impacting farmlands, aquifers, wildlife and more.  So she spoke with a couple of friends. They met, formed a group, and began a successful campaign to stop the pipeline.

In The Green Boat, Pipher reminds us that understanding the emergency of the climate crisis is emotionally traumatic for us, and that we need to take care of ourselves as a result.  “Trauma is the psychological experience of stress when our inner and outer resources are not sufficient to handle what we are facing” she reminds us. And, “Trauma can arise from knowing that the planet is dying and that we are not organizing ourselves to prevent that.”

If we are afraid and worried and overwhelmed, numbing out all the time isn’t going to help. We need to be with the emotional experience of both what is happening to the world and how that is impacting us individually and in our communities. We need accept the truth of what is happening. “Once we face the facts, no matter how disturbing they are, we feel calmer and less crazy,” she writes. And, when we are ready, as Pipher points out, one of the best antidotes to climate trauma is climate action.

The book delivers the positive message that the bad news of the climate crisis (and other global crises, which Pipher calls at times the “global storm”) is interwoven with the good news that we are all in it together and that we have the capacity to work with the situation both personally and in the world.

Pipher tells a very inspiring story of engaged and empowered citizens. That group she and her friends started in 2010, blossomed into a large and effective coalition of farmers, landowners, school teachers, Republicans, Democrats, cowboys, and Indians in Nebraska. Their group joined with others to effectively stop the pipeline’s construction in Nebraska to this day.

Since much of the podcast focuses on the pipeline story, I’ll share here some of my favorite “wisdom” quotes from the book, just to give you a taste:

We can acquire the skills we need to overcome our sense of doom.”

“Of course people avoid facing problems they have no idea how to solve.”

“Nobody knows what will happen to the planet, but we do know what makes humans stronger, healthier, and more resilient. That is facing the truth, dealing with it emotionally, and transforming it.”

The book gave me hope. I hope you’ll check it out.

Kerry Nelson on behalf of the Mill Valley Public Library