Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 17, No. 5, May 2021
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Confusion as a State of Grace:[1]
Climate and Kinship in 2021

Cara Judea Alhadeff

May 2021

Photo by the author in her biographical website
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Following a determined, iridescent dung beetle, my previous four-part Mother Pelican series ended with: “And then we, too, shift our path...” I hadn't realized how dramatically our lives would change. Before we jump into the fire—the fires raging across the west coast of the United States, let's step back several decades...

As an eight-year old in 1979, I was confronted with an image that changed my world. It was on the back cover of a magazine in my dad’s kitchen—a photograph taken in the late 1800s.

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Proudly standing next to a 30 foot-in-diameter redwood tree, a logger, ax in hand with his foot propped up in a traditional masculine position of conquest. The caption read: “It took 20,000 years for this tree to grow and 20 minutes to be cut down.” I remember the tightening in my throat, rush in my stomach. I felt awe and horror, utter confusion.

As a child who had not yet been inundated with messages of ecological destruction, I didn’t know how to read this image. It felt like both a benediction for Progress and reprehension for its consequences. Today, we are all too familiar with these kinds of disorienting and demoralizing images, but rarely know how to decipher contradictory but seemingly inevitable implications. Too often, mainstream middle-class response is to consume our way "out" of our disorientation—numbing ourselves through materialist addictions that then reinforce the very root of our derangement. Through neoliberal globalization, our world mirrors the Titanic cruise ship—the quintessential symbol of the Anthropocene: so many people died during the debacle of the Titanic because the ship executives had prioritized lounging space over lifeboats.

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How are our daily choices recklessly reinforcing the very systems (climate crisis, environmental racism, isolation/ alienation) conscientious citizens question or even attempt to dismantle? How can we ask questions about what we need, what we already have individually and as a community, and how we can co-rethink to live more symbiotically?

How can we educate ourselves and our children to take nothing for granted; to filter perception-management and the seemingly self-evident through cultural, historical, and ecological contexts; to unlearn what we think we know while not only debating, but embodying differing perspectives? How can we embody an ecoliteracy, not through individualized, privatized behaviors, but in community —in order to generate collective action as a sustainable movement. Embodying ecoliteracy means co-creating infrastructures in which all sectors of society feel empowered to act individually and collectively—and we have the capacity to do it.[2] This means redefining resiliency. Throughout the US, city commissions on community resiliency focus their citizen-education programs on adaptation and preparedness for climate chaos. We must shift that focus to prevention through questioning the interrelational roots of each crisis.

Embodied Ecoliteracy

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I have been living off grid (economically, culturally, and in terms of near-zero resource consumption and waste) since I was a teenager. And, for almost thirty years, I have lived in intentional communities—across the United States, and in Belgium, France, and Tunisia—from permaculture ecovillages to a macrobiotic commune to a queer-focused political theater group. While living in ecovillages across the world, I found that my life choices, my passions and desires, were still on the margin of the margins. So I wrote a climate-chaos adventure fable and resource encyclopedia about embodying ecoliteracy in our daily lives. My transdisciplinary book Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era, highlights the intersections among cross-cultural and natural-world models, and my website is a biocentric, historical resource guide. As it confronts green colonialism and environmental racism implied in fallacious, carbon-intensive “renewable” energies,[3] Zazu Dreams unravels the radical potential of liminality, confusion-as-a-state of grace. Zazu Dreams conspires[4] the in-between—a third space between reality and our moral imagination; a third space of sacred orature (Dr. Oluwabunmi Bernard's, Nigerian professor, reference to sacred oral literature).

Because it is so rigorously interdisciplinary and incorporates hundreds of examples of theory-in-action, Zazu Dreams is extraordinarily challenging to pinpoint a target student group. Currently, it is used in undergraduate and graduate courses ranging from Environmental Science to Conflict-Resolution Studies, including: Ethnic Studies, Human Ecology, Middle Eastern Studies, Jewish Studies, Islamic Studies, Environmental Science, Cultural Studies, Conflict Resolution Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Philosophy, Biology, Social Justice and Peace Studies, Eco-Critical Studies, Environmental Humanities, Sustainability Studies, Health Equity, Social Justice, International Law and Human Rights.

Educators and activists adapt the material for their particular practice. To help navigate the research process, I include a guide in the beginning of the book named after Maimonides' "Guide to the Perplexed" and a resource encyclopedia at the end of the book deriving from Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project.

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Rooted in transgenerational, climate justice dialogue, Zazu Dreams explores how to cultivate awareness of embodied energy to develop social and emotional intelligence. When this awareness shifts into collective action, we co-inhabit an embodied ecoliteracy. This collaborative practice is not about “50 Things You Can Do To Save The Planet.” It is about our fundamental relationship to the context and history of the objects with which we live—from the technologies we employ to the clothes we wear to the materials with which we build our homes. Embodied energy/life-cycle analysis/true cost designate the local and global cycles of production (including mining, agribusiness, wage slavery), consumption (including advertising and the construction of desire), and disposal (including greenhouse gases and electronic-waste): extraction> transportation> manufacture> installation> disassembly/deconstruction> decomposition> contamination. For example, concrete material has an extremely high embodied energy. This relational awareness that leads to coalitional practice is central to a community actually living as an ecovillage.

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Intergenerational Ecoliteracy

In contrast with the empire of normalizing media that colonizes our relationships with our own bodies and our earth, lived ecoliteracy embodies a decolonizing, liberatory practice of cultivating dynamic intersubjectivities. In the vein of Toni Morrison whose writings gave children and adults “agency and soul,” this bridge between generations creates deep empathy and relevancy, encouraging all ages to learn all subjects from multiple perspectives—including activities about racial and health equity, ethnic, sexual, and cultural difference. Zazu Dreams embraces this social justice ecoliteracy challenge. In the interface between climate-refugee narrative and its interdisciplinary endnotes, myth mingles with science, literature, and polyvalent histories in order to re-examine manufactured consent and miseducation.

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Learning from scientists, healers, engineers, architects, philosophers, musicians and artists (many of whom are refugees) across the world throughout history, the characters become aware of how ecological relationships are bound to humanitarian crises. In each country they visit, they witness historic examples of social permaculture among humans and within our natural world. Bridging theory and practice, the book demonstrates how everyday lives can serve as intergenerational models of integrating spirituality, infrastructure redesign, and ecological consciousness that lead to collective action as a basis for essential paradigm shifts. For example, reclaiming ancient Middle Eastern spiritual-pharmacopeias, mosaic-based art, the sacred embodied in bioregional agricultural systems, and environmental architectural engineering practices can serve as practical solutions to our pandemic of racism / ethnic cleansing, climate crisis, and COVID-19.[5]

Lest we forget the fires. Or the floods. A climate justice story would not be complete without such extremes. Before we leave Earthaven Ecovillage, we must return.[6] First, the mold. Not the mycelium-rich biodependent poetry-in-action kind of fungus, but a propaganda-like mold that engulfed psyches, entrenched belief systems, rendered inert equitable collective consciousness, let alone action rooted in a lived awareness of our infinite interconnectedness.


[1] With deep respect, I cite my Iyengar yoga teacher and lifelong mentor, Judith Lasater.

[2] “Émile Durkheim termed 'collective effervescence,' a moment when the torrent of communal sentiment is larger than the sum of individual emotions” (Yifei Li, “Qi,” Matthew Schneide-Mayerson, Brent Ryan Bellamy, and Kim Stanley Robinson, An Ecotopian Lexicon, Introduction: 219).

[3] President Biden's American Jobs Plan echoes the greenwashing underlying the Green New Deal—the falsehood of “renewable” energy as a viable alternative to our fossil-fuel addicted economy. See my article for Deep Green Resistance, Environmental Racism, Green Colonialism, and the Renewable Energies Revolution. Also, see my video lecture for the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, Humanities on the Brink: Energy, Environment, Emergency: Climate Justice Now: Transforming the Anthropocene into The Ecozoic Era.

[4] See Endnote 138 from the Arcades Project of Zazu Dreams: Conspire means to breathe together. We seek the possibility of breathing together as a form of convivencia. Adrienne Rich reminds us: “The breath is also Ruach, the spirit, the human connection to the universe” (Adrienne Rich, What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993: 82). Breath also produces song, the whales’ song, the voice of the shofar.

[5] For a detailed account of these cross-cultural, historical practical solutions, please see my Sacred Activism: Ancient Islamic Practices for Contemporary Crises and Jewish Ecological Thought: Sacred Activism as Biophilia.

[6] Ecotheologian Thomas Berry regularly visited Earthaven Ecovillage to practice Restorative Circles.


Cara Judea Alhadeff, PhD, is a scholar/activist/artist/mother whose work engages feminist embodied theory, and has been the subject of several documentaries for international public television and film. In addition to critically-acclaimed Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017), her books include: Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene (Penn State University Press, 2014) and Climate Justice Now: Transforming the Anthropocene into The Ecozoic Era (Routledge, forthcoming). She has published dozens of interdisciplinary essays in eco-literacy, environmental justice, epigenetics, philosophy, performance-studies, art, gender, sexuality, and ethnic studies’ journals/anthologies. Her pedagogical practices, work as program director of Jews of the Earth, parenting, and commitment to solidarity economics and lived social-ecological ethics are intimately bound. Her photographs/performances have been defended by Freedom-of-Speech organizations (Electronic Freedom Foundation, Artsave/People for the AmericanWay, and the ACLU), and are in numerous collections including SanFrancisco MoMA, Berlin’s Jewish Museum, MoMA Salzburg, Austria, Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, and include collaborations with international choreographers, composers, poets, sculptors, architects, scientists. Cara is a former professor of Performance & Pedagogy at UC Santa Cruz and Critical Philosophy at the Global Center for Advanced Studies. She teaches, performs, parents, and lives a creative-zero-waste life. She is always eager to collaborate with other activists, scholars, and artists from other disciplines.  If you are interested please contact Cara via email at or via her websites, Cara Judea and Zazu Dreams. See also this article: Social ecology pioneers return to Nederland.

Climate Justice Now: Transforming the Anthropocene into The Ecozoic Era
Cara Judea Alhadeff, 7 June 2020

"Modern agriculture is a means of turning oil into food."

— David Pimentel (1925-2019)


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