The New Year Celebration Isn’t Over Yet- Happy Perihelium, and May Emergence Begin.
I spent New Year’s in my goat shed. I have long been ambivalent about New Year’s celebrations. As a child, I hated firecrackers, cowered when fireworks went off, and have been known to drop to the ground when a particularly loud one went off near me. I understand my goats, whose inclination is to run to the farthest, darkest corner of the shed and huddle together. This year, when a small group of friends gathered for dinner, and then after dinner headed out to watch the fireworks, I headed to the goat shed. I made up an impromptu song and sang it to them. The crackling explosions clapped around us. At one point the small window lit up with an eerie blue and red light. The goats ran, turned, and ran again back to their corner. I petted them and cooed comfort words and noises. I too, reacted to the largest bangs. I reflected on this ultimate display of purposeless self-gratifying consumption, the waste of resources, material and money, literally going up in smoke.
I often wonder how that money might be spent. London this year created 10,000 explosions and spent 1.8 million pounds; Sydney outdid them, at least money-wise, with a tally of 7 million dollars. It doesn’t just happen on New Year’s Eve of course- Americans spend some 800 million dollars a year for the Fourth of July, and China spends more than 200 million on its New Year’s displays. I reflect on the way we in our increasingly global culture spend this much so lightly; create fire and release carbon to the atmosphere so easily. It is a testament to our lack of connection to the Earth, I think, and to those, too, of our own species who could use those resources. I might be called a party pooper for calling this madness, but how is it not madness to celebrate by engaging in the very activities that are leading to the possible extinction of our species? Why do we celebrate the New Year in the least sustainable way imaginable?
There is no natural reason either, for celebrating the New Year on January 1st. The celebration, as well as the name of the month, goes back to the Roman times and the worship of the god Janus, he of two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. Janus was the deity of doorways, and thus of entrances, beginnings, and transitions. He is associated with times of peace, as well as trade, and with springs and streams. He is also given credit for having ushered in the golden age of Rome, with its civilization, monetary systems, and agricultural development.
If there is a natural time to celebrate at this time of year, it is linked to the heavens, the solar system and the sun. Early January brings us to perihelium; the time when the Earth comes its closest to the sun in its entire yearly orbit. This year perihelium will take place on the 3rd of January in the morning in Europe. Perhaps it is worth reflecting, at this special time, on the unique and serendipitous placement of Earth in relationship to the sun- often called the ‘goldilocks’ position, since it is neither too hot or too cold; just right for life. It is our sun, and our relationship to it, that is the basis of all life on Earth, including our own. It is this unique placement of Earth that allows for water to exist on our planet, neither evaporated or permanently frozen. It is in fact the Earth’s inter-relationship with its entire solar system, formed out of the collapse of a supernova more than 4.6 billion years ago, that created its unique formation as a rocky inner planet with an iron core, that gave rise to the collision that created our moon and stabilized our rotation, and that also formed the outer planets that slung meteorites bringing life giving water and perhaps even the seeds of life itself, to our Earth.
Life on Earth, our goldilocks planet, is indeed a gift to celebrate and protect. It is good to remember that we are just a small speck in a huge universe, a small planet in a tiny solar system. This year, we should heed the caution not to squander this gift we have. In his New Year’s address, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres issued a declaration for a Red Alert on Earth. Calling for peace, equality, human rights, and unity, he said, ‘this is not just an appeal’. It is in fact an imperative for the health of our species, and the regeneration of our culture, as well as the health of the Earth itself. This is not a drill- the accumulation of scientific, ecological and environmental evidence has made it clear that the inequalities in our societies, the over-consumption of Earth’s resources, and the health of the environment are inextricably linked. We are now, in our self-named Anthropocene, at risk of destroying not only the intricate and delicate interaction of life on this special planet, but our own species as well.
Maybe this is where we can re-invoke Janus and give some meaning to the January celebration, for Janus was also the god of civil and social order, said to aid the transition of societies from one order to another. If there ever was a time to lift human life and society out of one state and into another, now is it. If there was ever a time to invoke the principles of regenerative design to move our global culture to a higher level, it is now. The property of emergence, in evolutionary terms, refers to the ways in which new, previously non-existent properties at a higher order emerge out of the interaction of diverse elements in a complex system. I think Janus, the deity of doorways, might be seen as a tribute to the emergence of culture. Perhaps we can celebrate January as beginning of a transition to the evolution of a higher order for our species- one where, as Secretary General Guterres said, there are peace, equality, and unity, three properties that are essential if we are to survive as a species.
And we will not survive if we act alone, or see ourselves as separate from our environment and the Earth itself. It is time to fully understand the interbeing of humankind with every other form of life on Earth. Life itself is an intricate web, a complex system that itself is in a continual state of emergence. There is nothing that we do that does not impact our planet itself, and we humans are indeed dependent on every other life form and the very environment for our own survival.
In my goat shed last night, there was a knock on the door, and my friends came in to join me with the goats. I was so pleased that they included me, and the goats, in the celebrations: we rang in the New Year with goat petting, laughter and libations. This too, is an essential element for the regeneration of culture; it is only with the support of communities that join and work together that we can hope to develop or create change. We must keep our communities close, interact often, and support each other towards emergence.
Happy 2018, and Happy Perihelium! Here is to emergence of a regenerative culture for our species and the entire Earth as we travel on our small planet around our sun this New Year. May it begin!