I HAVE GIVEN NEARLY ONE THOUSAND TALKS ABOUT the environment in the past fifteen years, and after every speech a smaller crowd gathered to talk, ask questions, and exchange business cards. The people offering their cards were working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. They were from the nonprofit and nongovernmental world, also known as civil society. They looked after rivers and bays, educated consumers about sustainable agriculture, retrofitted houses with solar panels, lobbied state legislatures about pollution, fought against corporate-weighted trade policies, worked to green inner cities, or taught children about the environment. Quite simply, they were trying to safeguard nature and ensure justice.
After being on the road for a week or two, I would return with a couple hundred cards stuffed into various pockets. I would lay them out on the table in my kitchen, read the names, look at the logos, envisage the missions, and marvel at what groups do on behalf of others. Later, I would put them into drawers or paper bags, keepsakes of the journey. I couldn’t throw them away.
Over the years the cards mounted into the thousands, and whenever I glanced at the bags in my closet, I kept coming back to one question: did anyone know how many groups there were? At first, this was a matter of curiosity, but it slowly grew into a hunch that something larger was afoot, a significant social movement that was eluding the radar of mainstream culture.
I began to count. I looked at government records for different countries and, using various methods to approximate the number of environmental and social justice groups from tax census data, I initially estimated that there were thirty thousand environmental organizations strung around the globe; when I added social justice and indigenous organizations, the number exceeded one hundred thousand. I then researched past social movements to see if there were any equal in scale and scope, but I couldn’t find anything. The more I probed, the more I unearthed, and the numbers continued to climb. In trying to pick up a stone, I found the exposed tip of a geological formation. I discovered lists, indexes, and small databases specific to certain sectors or geographic areas, but no set of data came close to describing the movement’s breadth. Extrapolating from the records being accessed, I realized that the initial estimate of a hundred thousand organizations was off by at least a factor of ten. I now believe there are over one million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice. Maybe two.
By conventional definition, this is not a movement. Movements have leaders and ideologies. You join movements, study tracts, and identify yourself with a group. You read the biography of the founder(s) or listen to them perorate on tape or in person. Movements have followers, but this movement doesn’t work that way. It is dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent. There is no manifesto or doctrine, no authority to check with.
I sought a name for it, but there isn’t one.
Historically, social movements have arisen primarily because of injustice, inequalities, and corruption. Those woes remain legion, but a new condition exists that has no precedent: the planet has a life-threatening disease that is marked by massive ecological degradation and rapid climate change. It crossed my mind that perhaps I was seeing something organic, if not biologic. Rather than a movement in the conventional sense, is it a collective response to threat? Is it splintered for reasons that are innate to its purpose? Or is it simply disorganized? More questions followed. How does it function? How fast is it growing? How is it connected? Why is it largely ignored?
After spending years researching this phenomenon, including creating with my colleagues a global database of these organizations, I have come to these conclusions: this is the largest social movement in all of history, no one knows its scope, and how it functions is more mysterious than what meets the eye.
What does meet the eye is compelling: tens of millions of ordinary and not-so-ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.
CLAYTON THOMAS-MÜLLER SPEAKS to a community gathering of the Cree nation about waste sites on their native land in Northern Alberta, toxic lakes so big you can see them from outer space. Shi Lihong, founder of Wild China Films, makes documentaries with her husband on migrants displaced by construction of large dams. Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez, a member of the Maya-Kaqchikel people, fights for full accountability for tens of thousands of people killed by death squads in Guatemala. Rodrigo Baggio retrieves discarded computers from New York, London, and Toronto and installs them in the favelas of Brazil, where he and his staff teach computer skills to poor children. Biologist Janine Benyus speaks to twelve hundred executives at a business forum in Queensland about biologically inspired industrial development. Paul Sykes, a volunteer for the National Audubon Society, completes his fifty-second Christmas Bird Count in Little Creek, Virginia, joining fifty thousand other people who tally 70 million birds on one day. Sumita Dasgupta leads students, engineers, journalists, farmers, and Adivasis (tribal people) on a ten-day trek through Gujarat exploring the rebirth of ancient rainwater harvesting and catchment systems that bring life back to drought-prone areas of India. Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, who exposed links between the genocidal policies of former president Charles Taylor and illegal logging in Liberia, now creates certified, sustainable timber policies.
These eight, who may never meet and know one another, are part of a coalescence comprising hundreds of thousands of organizations with no center, codified beliefs, or charismatic leader. The movement grows and spreads in every city and country. Virtually every tribe, culture, language, and religion is part of it, from Mongolians to Uzbeks to Tamils. It is comprised of families in India, students in Australia, farmers in France, the landless in Brazil, the bananeras of Honduras, the “poors” of Durban, villagers in Irian Jaya, indigenous tribes of Bolivia, and housewives in Japan. Its leaders are farmers, zoologists, shoemakers, and poets.
The movement can’t be divided because it is atomized — small pieces loosely joined. It forms, gathers, and dissipates quickly. Many inside and out dismiss it as powerless, but it has been known to bring down governments, companies, and leaders through witnessing, informing, and massing.
The movement has three basic roots: the environmental and social justice movements, and indigenous cultures’ resistance to globalization — all of which are intertwining. It arises spontaneously from different economic sectors, cultures, regions, and cohorts, resulting in a global, classless, diverse, and embedded movement, spreading worldwide without exception. In a world grown too complex for constrictive ideologies, the very word movement may be too small, for it is the largest coming together of citizens in history.
There are research institutes, community development agencies, village- and citizen-based organizations, corporations, networks, faith-based groups, trusts, and foundations. They defend against corrupt politics and climate change, corporate predation and the death of the oceans, governmental indifference and pandemic poverty, industrial forestry and farming, depletion of soil and water.
Describing the breadth of the movement is like trying to hold the ocean in your hand. It is that large. When a part rises above the waterline, the iceberg beneath usually remains unseen. When Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize, the wire service stories didn’t mention the network of six thousand different women’s groups in Africa planting trees. When we hear about a chemical spill in a river, it is never mentioned that more than four thousand organizations in North America have adopted a river, creek, or stream. We read that organic agriculture is the fastest-growing sector of farming in America, Japan, Mexico, and Europe, but no connection is made to the more than three thousand organizations that educate farmers, customers, and legislators about sustainable agriculture.
This is the first time in history that a large social movement is not bound together by an “ism.” What binds it together is ideas, not ideologies. This unnamed movement’s big contribution is the absence of one big idea; in its stead it offers thousands of practical and useful ideas. In place of isms are processes, concerns, and compassion. The movement demonstrates a pliable, resonant, and generous side of humanity.
And it is impossible to pin down. Generalities are largely inaccurate. It is nonviolent, and grassroots; it has no bombs, armies, or helicopters. A charismatic male vertebrate is not in charge. The movement does not agree on everything nor will it ever, because that would be an ideology. But it shares a basic set of fundamental understandings about the Earth, how it functions, and the necessity of fairness and equity for all people partaking of the planet’s life-giving systems.
The promise of this unnamed movement is to offer solutions to what appear to be insoluble dilemmas: poverty, global climate change, terrorism, ecological degradation, polarization of income, loss of culture. It is not burdened with a syndrome of trying to save the world; it is trying to remake the world.
THERE IS FIERCENESS HERE. There is no other explanation for the raw courage and heart seen over and again in the people who march, speak, create, resist, and build. It is the fierceness of what it means to know we are human and want to survive.
This movement is relentless and unafraid. It cannot be mollified, pacified, or suppressed. There can be no Berlin Wall moment, no treaty-signing, no morning to awaken when the superpowers agree to stand down. The movement will continue to take myriad forms. It will not rest. There will be no Marx, Alexander, or Kennedy. No book can explain it, no person can represent it, no words can encompass it, because the movement is the breathing, sentient testament of the living world.
And I believe it will prevail. I don’t mean defeat, conquer, or cause harm to someone else. And I don’t tender the claim in an oracular sense. I mean the thinking that informs the movement’s goal — to create a just society conducive to life on Earth — will reign. It will soon suffuse and permeate most institutions. But before then, it will change a sufficient number of people so as to begin the reversal of centuries of frenzied self-destruction.
Inspiration is not garnered from litanies of what is flawed; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. Healing the wounds of the Earth and its people does not require saintliness or a political party. It is not a liberal or conservative activity. It is a sacred act.
Hawken’s article reminds me of the last paragraph of Rachel Carson’s acknowledgments in Silent Spring. “Finally, I must acknowledge our vast indebtedness to a host of people, many of them unknown to me personally, who have nevertherless made the writing of this book seem worthwhile. These are the people who first spoke out against the reckless and irresponsible poisoning of th world that man shares with all other creatures, and who are even now fighting the thousand of small battles that in the end will bring victory for sanity and common sense in our accommodation to the world that surrounds us.” And I think of how her understanding of human rights and ecology is a legacy that still inspires… For example, in an interview on the radio program, Living on Earth, Pete Seeger said, “It was Rachel Carson’s famous book “Silent Spring. I read it in The New Yorker, in installments. Up to then I’d thought the main job to do is help the meek inherit the Earth. And I still think that’s a job that’s got to be done. But I realized if we didn’t do something soon, what the meek would inherit would be a pretty poisonous place to live. And so I made almost 180-degree turn, started reading books like “The Population Bomb” by Paul Erlich, or “The Poverty of Power” by Barry Commoner. I’m a readaholic. …”I tell people, work in your local community. The world’s going to be saved by people who fight for their homes. Now, there may be glamorous places to go to, far across the oceans on, but really the world’s going to be saved by people who fight for their homes.”
I just read Hawken’s article after first reading Curtis White’s. White’s article was depressing beyond measure, because I kept thinking that this broad swipe at what’s wrong with the world does nothing to inspire or engage me. It all seems too big, and I know so many people are working to make the world a better place already. Then comes Paul Hawken, reminding me of what I already know: that there are people, millions of people, who already embrace the change that White demands, and the world Hawken describes already has this infinite mesh of people working for change in their communities, countries, and workplaces. That the mesh has no particular leader, no pinpoint center aside from spirit, and that the point is goodness, justice, and harmony between peoples and the natural world. Hawken’s viewpoint is both true and inspiring. White’s is dismal and defeating, causing me as a reader to think, “What’s the point, anyway? We’re doomed.” I loved the contrast because had I not read Hawken’s piece I would not have thought much about it, but just taken my dose of enviro guilt on with me as I return to my day — which lead me neither to a cubicle nor to a social activist job saving the planet. We need more people like Hawken, awakening us to what is, to what is happening, what can happen, and reminding us that faith and hope is not just possible, but makes sense. It’s like being hit over the head with a billy club of truth, and I do like that. Because the point isn’t necessarily whether we –or all the people thus engaged in helping the planet and the humans on it — win or lose. It’s how we play the game. Today and tomorrow. And if we learn to play it well, there will be many good tomorrows.
I think we need both “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will” to use Gramsci’s phrase. Certainly, Hawken has plenty of optimism, which is needed if one is to carry on in the face of realistically dismal prospects for a better future than today. He also needs to address the issue of connecting these thousands of groups & individuals, for ultimately we must come to institutional forms that don’t depend on isolated acts of courage & foresight. Perhaps starting at the local level–saving one’s own home in Pete Seeger’s words–will lead us to more global cooperation, but I’m not yet convinced.
I appreciate Hawken’s words and work to build bridges between all of these great groups. Orion has also been working to connect and inspire the grassroots, and its Orion Grassroots Network supports over 1,000 such groups around North America with practical services and more. It’s an inpiring coalition. Come have a look all the members in 49 states, Canada and Mexico: http://www.orionsociety.org/ogn
Marshman and the Princess
Upon a time circled back to now
Walked upon these shores
By long-tended grasses and barreling waves
He saged spartina, sea lavender, and all.
Dwelling upland in the forest forgotten by most,
The Marshman loved his children by night,
And cared for his marshes by day.
Young and ancient, no one knew.
Songs nescient he sang a few.
Upon salt hay where the ocean and land tarry,
The Princess came to see
The sea and earth make love.
With sweet toes entangled in peat,
She danced a beauty walk,
And listened to the reeds talk
About the Marshman.
As heir to the Rulers
She carried the concerns of all her subjects.
Her heart was big and her friends, lovers, and children many…
But she felt alone.
The Marshman heard her cry without a voice,
And knew of private feelings,
And as time and tides did flow,
In him a longing love for her grew.
The Princess saw him from afar;
As redwings called,
And osprey kreed,
And fiddler crabs danced,
And grasses grew,
Attracted to him she was
Beyond that which she knew.
But a Princess is a Princess,
And a Marshman only a Marshman.
Never did flower their distant bond as lovers.
She souled for all societies.
He souled for all living things.
As the late afternoon sun
Emblazes the fields of spartina,
And the winds carry his song devoted,
The streams fill up the marsh with his tears
Their longing love untouched.
And that is why the ocean’s level rises
Year after year
And the oceans rose.
Blankets of wild wet covered
Years of sorrow,
Fears of tomorrow,
Until they rose no more.
The Princess had been doing her life’s work,
Bringing heart into the battle,
Singing truth as the swords rattle,
Ordering the chaos with her tender touch.
She grew but a little younger,
By listening to her longing’s hunger,
While dancing under the woods wonder,
Both emptying and filling her cup.
And the Marshman dried up his sad tears,
Pushing down upon darkness, roots did appear,
Branching visions to the Light as a seer,
In the woods joined he and took stand.
And as Time puts everything back on its shelf
The Princess walked the forest as elf,
And warmed by the Love deep within her self,
She sat in wonderment, leaning against his furled bark.
And around these two Heaven and Earth were in spin,
There was nothing to lose, there was nothing to win,
Only the Kindness that washes away all the sin,
In the wonderment naturally born.
So People and Nature are really at One,
The New Age predicted has already begun,
And climbing the Tree up to the warmth of the sun,
The Princess smiles Heart into everyday.
If you can’t name it it’s not a movement. Yes, many brave people all over the world are fighting for good causes and living in touch with nature, but in the West, aren’t more people causing great harm and living out of touch with nature? Where is the evidence that good or sensible ideas will prevail?
Black Elk spoke so true,
The Love of Life point of view,
Learn from the Land, not be a fool,
Listen to the Silence.
Migrant workers understand,
What intellectuals grandstand,
Before you talk look at the Plan,
Listen to the Silence.
Real goods and services do abound,
But in our minds just concepts found,
Pray to just thoughts is for a clown,
Listen to the Silence.
Teeming joy of natural wonderment,
Overlooked by warring governments.
We are NOT the Lord Masters of the Universe, but lead preditor living on Earth…running up End of The World scenarios does not change behavior of Greed and stupidity, lusting for money only.
Hello All. I waver between hope and despair regarding the environment and citizens of the U.S. making the changes that will be necessary to make a difference.
The “thousands of small battles” will not make a difference unless we as a society are willing to give up certain things such as the Hummer in the driveway or the McMansion 30 miles from work or the other myriad materialistic purchases which require tapping the ever decreasing supply of Earth’s resources. For God’s sake, we are 4 – 5% of the world’s population and we use 25% of the resources?
We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We have to make choices every day to make do with less, otherwise, I fear we are doomed.
hello, i wanted to respond initially to ralph’s comment that paul “also needs to address the issue of connecting these thousands of groups & individuals, for ultimately we must come to institutional forms that don’t depend on isolated acts of courage & foresight.” i agree that this connecting of all these groups and grassroots initiatives globally is what is needed and that is precisely what http://www.wiserearth.org is doing. please check it out. i am a believer in connectivity because we are all like imaginal cells in evolutionary biology terms and there is a global transition from a caterpillar to a butterfly (from one way of being to another) and the connecting of these imaginal cells is what triggers the shift to a new species, a new organism. wiserearth is one vehicle for that and there are already over 102,000 organizational profiles listed and this just launched on earth day weekend. and basically it’s in beta. which means, it’s evolving. the key to this platform and this initiative is that it is our story. this is a new story field we can engage in. just like many others. it’s moments like this when we are creating a new metanarrative for our culture. the beauty i see in all this, and therefore the power (i see them as related) is that all these groups do not know they are part of this movement (or this movement of movements, or this new way of being, or a new social DNA). not yet. part of what will happen is that there will be a growing self-reflectivity that will allow these groups to see themselves as part of a larger whole and that will be huge! right now there is this kind of siloed and isolated and atomistic thing going on. a profound shift is underway. paul estimates through his research that there’s likely to be 1 to 2 million groups like these out there (he talks about this in his 2006 bioneers talk). for me, it is not critical that they all end up in wiser or somewhere else, because what’s being triggered is our ability to see who we are as a movement. and this will create huge ripple effects out in the world. seeing ourselves as part of the whole, and part of the larger social network of the planet’s immune system is profound.
this gives me great hope. i encourage you all to check it out and to engage and to think of it as yours and to engage with a loving and critical eye. right now there needs to be alot of feedback so it can grow and develop into a site that will be more than just a relational database or inventory of amazing groups.
i am inspired to think in terms of governance structures and new forms of governance. during the wto tom hayden said, “it is not enough to slow the rate of destruction, we must increase the rate of creation.” if we were living with the design principles of biomimicry and evolutionary biology (features of living systems), well then what might we design in terms of our self-governance prototypes.
i feel hope because i see all the work that is being done and i feel the pulse of this new cultural maturity that we are in and i believe in the power of positive images of the future to pull us through the darkest of times. history has shown this to be true. it doesn’t mean i don’t also hold the suffering and pain that is going on everywhere. i feel i can give my best at this time, in these times, by creating and by being willing to push the envelope of what that means as well. and sometimes that means risking what we have experienced as comfortable and safe. most people i know when i bring up new models of governance, get scared. they think it is impossible. or that it is so far into the future, that why think about it now. :))
i wonder if there’s any forum talking about these things. thanks for letting me go off on my related tangent.
Greetings and salutations from the Land Down Under – Australia!
I am grateful to have received this article. Having been an environmental activitist for the past 1o years, Iam both heartened and inspired to read that there are so many others around the planet who are looking for a sustainable future which is predicated on social justice and looking after the Earth Mother.
Hawkens article provides new depth to our mantra “think globally …. act locally”.
I suspect that once our sustainability consciousness reaches critical mass, it will culminate into the polarisation of humanity into 2 opposing camps (hopefully not as severe as depicted in Starhawks “The Fifth Sacred Thing”).
I welcome the opportunity to network/blogg with anyone looking to establish an enlightened global family.
I bought “The Next Economy” Lo! these many years ago in Sausalito at S & H…now I know how prescient was then, and still now is.
This movement is the perfect example of a complex adaptive system. (Organizational Survival in the New World, Bennet) CAS behavior is studied by militaries more often than not. So perhaps this CAS is a force for good, and self structuring.
Dear Friends and Colleagues All,
Unfortunately, Paul Hawken’s “good news” does not include data about the growth of the human population worldwide. As important as the remaking of the world is, it may turn out to be not such good news after all if absolute global human population numbers rise, as projected, by 40% between now and 2050.
What if the small planet God has blessed us to inhabit simply cannot sustain the fully anticipated 9.2 billion people in the human community by the middle of this century?
Consider the scale and growth rate of economic globalization and per human resource consumption during the next 43 years. How is a planet the size of Earth to sustain either the infinite growth of human enterprise in a finite world or the increasing and unrestrained per capita consumption of limited natural resources…… much less the unregulated addition of 2.5 billion more people than live on Earth today?
Within the first half of the twenty-first century, humankind could be presented with an unannounced and abhorrent predicament produced by the gigantic scale of certain global human activities, ones that are occurring synergistically in our time. Massive loss of wildlife and wilderness, reckless dissipation of scarce resources and the pernicious destabilization of the global ecosystems are probable results of these human overgrowth activities.
Huge and leviathan-like are the potential threats posed to humanity by certain distinctly human consumption, production and propagation activities now overspreading our planetary home. Even so, we can take the measure of whatsoever the looming global challenges and find solutions to our problems that are consonant with universally shared values.
To willfully ignore and remain electively mute in the face of so much good scientific evidence of approaching danger to life as we know it and to the integrity of Earth may not be a good idea. Indeed, our children may look back in anger at my not-so-great generation of elders for so much that we have done selfishly and for what we have needed to do but failed to do….all of which we continue representing to our young people as exercises of virtue.
I commend Hawkins for his work over the years–
However, as a fellow Marin resident, he is not being honest (or possibly too indroctonated to notice) about a “ism” he can’t let go of–
“Capitalism” and his “Neo-Smithian” view toward production and organization–
We can do better, and will need too for survival.
A greater imagination is needed.
Dear Scott Ahlf,
Sorry to have to agree with you. In our time it sadly seems to me that both intellectual dishonesty and silence RULE over open discussion of real issues and science.
I like “happy talk” as much as the next person; but when it is employed in denial good science, then my hopes sink for a good enough future for our children.
Thanks for injecting more realism and objectivity into this discussion.
Real Science…the correlation of sensory percepts…our best attempt to better our niche in the BIG Eolife on earth…when humans feel that it entitles them to pretend the extent that real science gives..i.e. make us Masters of the Universe in a false belief sort of way, we will Not survive in the most very real sense, Existence. Be good scientists; know the very real limits…without that honesty, no real hope. With it…ah…truly a potential for understanding for generations to follow. Honesty in who we really are.
We are so much littler than we think….understand, enjoy, do your very best…real goods and services…chipmunks, if they were dominant would do a better job than we pretend when we cannot appreciate the Gift of Life…which it is scientifically, religiously…please understand!
Dear Eric Levy,
Your thoughts are uncommon, refreshing and, yes, understandable. Thank you for them.
My not-so-great generation of elders appear to be doing a disservice to everything and everyone but ourselves. We are the “what’s in it for me?” generation. We demonstrate precious little regard for the integrity of Earth; precious little willingness to actually protect the environment from irreversible degradation; precious little serious consideration for the preservation of biodiversity, wilderness, and a good enough future for our children and coming generations; and no appreciation of the understanding that we are no more or less than human and have “feet of clay”.
We live in a soon to be unsustainable way in our planetary home and we are proud of it, thank you very much. Certainly, we will “have our cake and eat it, too”. We will fly private jets, live in McMansions, go to our distant hideouts and risk nothing of value to us. Please do not bother us with the problems of the world. We choose not to hear them, see them, or speak of them. We, economic powerbrokers, bought-and-paid-for politicians and our many minions in the mass media will meet you with hysterical deafness, willful blindness and elective mutism. If left to our own devices, we will continue in the exercise of our ‘rights’ to the unrestrained consumption of Earth’s limited resources; to expand economic globalization unto every corner of our natural world and, guess what, beyond; to encourage the unbridled growth of the human species so that where there are now 6+ billion people, soon we will have 9+ billion members of the human community and, guess what, even more people, perhaps 90 billion into the future, if that is what we desire.
We are self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe. We have no regard for human limits or Earth’s limitations, thank you very much. Please understand that we do not want anyone to present us with scientific evidence that we might be living in an artificially designed, temporary world of our own making…… a manmade world filling up with distinctly human enterprises which appear the be approaching a point in human history when THE INCREASE in global consumption, production and propagation activities of the human species becomes patently unsustainable in the world God has blessed us to inhabit….. and not to overwhelm, I suppose.
Dear Eric Levy,
Please be reassured that change in terms of open discussion of good science and intellectual honesty with regard to The Human Population is in the offing. Signs of openmindedness and expressions of support for the apparently unforeseen scientific evidence are surfacing in many places, even though the new, unchallenged evidence regarding the human population is menacing to the Masters of the Universe and their many minions in my not-so-great generation of elders, all of whom are unaccustomed to sharing resources, making changes, and appreciating the importance of maintaining the integrity of the planetary home in which we live.
Earth is limited in its resources
Letter to the Editor, Chapel Hill(NC)Newspaper
Nothing surpasses the splendor and diversity of life on Earth. The celebration of the 37th Earth Day on April 22 reminds us of the responsibilities humanity has to protect the integrity of the planet we inhabit, to preserve biodiversity, and to understand as adequately as we are able the placement of humankind within the natural order of living things.
Because global human population numbers have skyrocketed to almost 6.7 billion people who consume ever larger amounts of limited resources, it becomes necessary for us to think and act more carefully with regard to the Earth lest we inadvertently upset the delicate balance established in the many intricate processes of the natural world. We are able to recognize that this celestial orb upon which live can be abused as readily as the multitude of life that depends on it for existence.
In my youth, President John Kennedy said something like this: Here on this good Earth the work of God must surely be our own. If such a thing is to become so, it could make good sense to think at least twice before we kill the animals, shoot the birds, pick the flowers, collect the rocks and disturb the few remaining original wildlife habitats — before humankind commandeers all that remains untouched on Earth.
Data indicate the people in the “developed” world, like me, consume 32 times as many resources as a person in the “undeveloped” world. As a consequence, my “ecological footprint” is huge.
A virtual mountain of scientific evidence indicates that Earth is not an endless provider or an overflowing cornucopia, but rather a bounded celestial body composed of finite resources. Perhaps we are called upon now to revolutionize the way we think, perceive and act toward the planet we are blessed to inhabit. The Earth appears sufficient to our needs, but perhaps insufficient to our unrestrained wishes.
Steven Earl Salmony, Chapel Hill
Reading this article reminds me of am article in a magazine, name long forgotten, back in the 70’s about a phenomina called networking and nets. No one knew for sure what good they were, or what they could be used for, but it was recognized that they would be extremely durable, and would grow in unforseen ways. This was, of course, before the WWW. It is exciting to try to immagine what this thing Hawken is could lead to.
Millennia of gathered statistics, successes, failures, Five hundred years in the planning _ Now Casting a ‘Global Village Reality’ _ The whole worlds’ a stage and all the men and women will be the players and the audience. The closest thing we have to a script outline or in this case a flow chart for a planet makeover: http://raenergy.igc.org/ought.html
We need more people like Hawken (and Lovins)– to do the best within the capitalist system–not abandon it, as the anarchists suggest. We need effective challenges to capitalism’s trump cards:one, economies of scale, and two, comparitive advantage. We need success stories, and cogent arguments. Thanks.
The work of both is Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins is noteworthy. Their contributions have meant a great deal to me personally and to my generations. Having said that, it is helpful to point out something appearing more and more evident, day by day. Unbridled capitalism, the current engine for economic globalization, could soon become patently unsustainable at its current scale and growth rate.
Robert J. Samuelson observed some months ago that the world economy had grown by approximately 20% since 2001. If the Earth is round and not flat; if the resources of our planetary home are limited; if the natural world is finite; and if Earth is the relatively small size our best science tells us it is, then it appears that maximally growing the world economy as we are doing now will probably lead to a collapse of the ecological foundations of the Earth upon which life as we know it (and the manmade economy) depend for existence.
Perhaps such a collapse is not 1000 years away and not 100 years in the future. Some kind of collapse appears to loom ominously before humanity, even now visible on the far horizon. Our children are sure to learn a lesson that somehow, incredibly, has escaped recognition by so many in my generation: Earth has its limitations, even though they are everywhere denied in our time; human beings are limited, even though too many of our leading elders have repeatedly reminded one another and hubristically proclaimed that human beings are Masters of the Universe.
Our children will see that to which many too many in my generation have chosen to remain willfully blind: there are such things as real, physical limits to the unrestrained growth of human consumption, production and propagation activities that are now rampantly overspreading the surface of Earth.
Eric Levy has commented eloquently on this distinctly human-driven situation. Even so, I want to close by quoting the words of Scott Ahlf(see comment 15 above).
“We can do better, and will need too for survival.
A greater imagination is needed —
With thanks to Paul, Amory and all,
Rachel’s Democracy & Health News #909, May 31, 2007
A RESPONSE TO PAUL HAWKEN’S ‘TO REMAKE THE WORLD’
[Rachel’s introduction: Activist and author Kate Davies responds to Paul Hawken about the nature and future of the worldwide social movement that has arisen in response to widespread ecological devastation and global warming.]
By Kate Davies
Hooray for Paul Hawken! His article “To Remake the World” in Rachel’s News #908 and his new book “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming” are extremely timely and thought-provoking.
Hawken has put his finger on a global phenomenon that has been growing since the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Largely unacknowledged by the spotlight of media attention, a new social movement has been quietly gaining strength in the U.S. and internationally. In bringing it to light, Hawken has revealed a trend that is positive and hopeful at a time when these qualities are sorely needed in the world.
Although he has done an outstanding job of describing the new movement, several points call out for further exploration.
First, Hawken shies away from giving the new movement the full recognition of a name, calling it instead “this unnamed movement.” This is a little strange because it has already been given several names. My favorite is “the new progressive movement,” in homage to the U.S. Progressive Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The new progressive movement embraces many of the same principles as its predecessor, including beliefs in truly democratic institutions and processes, efficient government and the elimination of corruption, social and economic justice, regulation of large corporations and monopolies, and environmental protection.
He also asserts that the new movement lacks many basic attributes of previous social movements, specifically an ideology, leaders, and internal organization. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Hawken says the new movement does not have an ideology and its “big contribution is the absence of one big idea.” He is right — in a sense. The new movement does not impose a rigid article of faith on its members, but it is guided by one big, inspirational idea. Indeed, Hawken acknowledges as much in the article’s title.
The movement’s big, inspirational idea is that ordinary people, acting together, can “remake the world.” Collectively, empowered citizens can do more than just succeed on individual issues, like climate change or immigration. They can do more than just win legislative victories, like banning toxic flame retardants or protecting endangered species. The new movement is motivated by the transformative idea that by working together citizens can recreate the whole of society.
This is not a new concept. It is the same one that stimulated the birth of this country. But it is an idea that most Americans seem to have forgotten of late. In today’s social and political climate, the thought that ordinary people can shape society — rather than just relying on politicians, corporate leaders and economists — is truly radical. This may not be “ideology” in the sense that Hawken uses the word, but it is a “big idea” that motivates the entire movement.
In addition to this, there are four goals or aspirations that unite much of the movement:
** Creating an open, participatory and fully accountable democracy;
** Social and economic justice;
** Sustainability for people and the planet; and
** Health and wellbeing for all.
Most members of the new movement are committed to all these goals, even if they work on only one. Collectively, they provide an inspiring and world-changing ideology, especially when combined with the idea that empowered citizens really can remake society.
Hawken states that the new movement has few recognizable leaders. He says: “Its leaders are farmers, zoologists, shoemakers, and poets.” In short, there is no Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi to look up to and venerate.
Going one step further, I would say that the un-acclaimed leaders of the new movement exemplify new types of leadership. Transcending traditional concepts of charismatic and authoritative leadership, they are extremely low key and modest. They are people who emerge in response to specific situations and then relinquish their role when circumstances change. And they are people who serve a group rather than impose their will upon it.
The new movement is not alone in embodying new types of leadership. Many organizations are now experimenting with different approaches. Indeed, innovative ways of thinking about leadership have become very fashionable lately. Many authors, including Ronald Heifetz, Peter Senge and Meg Wheatley, have advocated many innovative ideas, such as:
** Seeing leadership as a process of relationship, rather than control;
** Recognizing that there are many different types of leaders;
** Thinking about leadership from a systems perspective; and
** Focusing on the adaptive challenges of long term change, rather than imposing immediate technical fixes.
They highlight that the concept of leadership itself is changing. So it should not be surprising that the leaders of the emerging movement are different from those of previous movements.
Hawken asserts that the new movement does not have any internal organization, saying: “It forms, gathers and dissipates quickly,” an organic process that is “dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent.”
This is true, but the idea that the emerging movement is more of a loose network than a coherent organization is not new. In early 2004, Gideon Rosenblatt, Executive Director of ONE/Northwest, published a paper called “Movement as Network: Connecting People and Organizations in the Environmental Movement.” In it, Rosenblatt made the point that the strength of the environmental movement is the countless links between people and organizations, rather than the people or the organizations themselves.
Although the “movement as network” idea espoused by Hawken and Rosenblatt has much to commend it, social movements need at least some internal organization. Without any lasting internal structures, it can be difficult to sustain the long-term political momentum needed to successfully confront the entrenched power elites.
So what types of structures would be helpful? There are many candidates including policy “think tanks” to facilitate strategic planning, national or regional groups to help local ones mobilize the public, research units to provide information, educational institutions to provide training and support, groups with expertise in communications, and last but not least, organizations with fundraising experience.
Beyond “To Remake the World” and “Blessed Unrest”
The next step beyond Paul Hawken’s article and book is to ask: “How can we build the new movement?” The answer may determine not only the success of the movement itself but also whether it can truly “remake the world.”
I believe that the emerging movement needs to deepen its understanding of what it takes to achieve systemic social change. This will require a greater understanding of the culture it wants to transform and a more strategic approach to advance progressive change.
Many members of the new movement are natural activists — me included. By this, I mean we want to identify problems and solve them. We want to fix what’s wrong with the world! Our strengths lie in targeting specific issues and promoting solutions.
But this emphasis on particular problems means that we pay less attention to the cultural origins that cause the problems we seek to correct. Developing an in-depth understanding of the fundamental economic, political and social forces that shape western culture is essential to identify the leverage points for change. If the new movement does not have a comprehensive knowledge of the culture in which it operates, how can it hope to intervene effectively?
This is challenging because issues are usually represented separately from each other by the media and other mainstream social institutions. Unemployment is portrayed as a different issue from racism. Racism is framed independently of environmental quality. Environmental quality is described without any connection to the economy. This fragmentation makes the public perceive individual issues in isolation from one another and prevents them from seeing the common cultural origins that connect different issues.
A Strategic Approach to Progressive Change
Activists’ usual emphasis on immediate solutions also means that the new movement pays less attention to strategies for long term success. As a result, it is relatively unskilled at achieving lasting, resilient change. Although the emerging movement is good at winning battles, it needs a better understanding of the strategies necessary to win the war.
Developing a strategic approach to progressive change will require knowledge of how social change actually happens. So how can the new movement acquire such knowledge?
1. One key source of information is previous movements, such as the civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, and women’s movements. These and other movements have not yet been adequately studied for what they can teach the new movement about progressive social change.
2. Current thinking about the process of social change provides another source. Ideas about social constructivism will be particularly relevant.
3. A third source is adult learning theory. Much work has already been done on the relationship between learning and change that will be helpful.
In summary, the emerging movement could learn a lot about the process of progressive social change that will enable it to be more strategic.
Paul Hawken’s article and book make an important contribution to progressive social change. They describe what has previously been an unnoticed, but widespread, movement and in doing they so make it much more visible.
But Hawken’s work is double-edged. At the same time as he describes the new movement, he asserts that it is fundamentally indescribable, saying: “No book can explain it, no person can represent it, no words can encompass it.” This remark runs the risk of being more poetic than helpful.
Indeed, on the basis of these words, Hawken’s readers may question the existence of a movement at all. If it cannot be explained, is it in fact real? If it cannot be represented, does it actually exist? If it cannot be encompassed, is it really a single entity? I fear that Hawken’s dualistic representation of the movement could dilute its significance and effectiveness. It also threatens to undermine his central thesis — that there is a new global movement for progressive social change. Hawken’s true gift is to help us all see just how real this movement is — real enough “to remake the world.”
OPEN LETTER to the 2007 LEADERS of THE G-8 SUMMIT in advance of their meetings this week:
Humanity needs your vision, courage and help in remaking the world.
Eight de facto leaders of the world in these early years of Century XXI are called upon to consider that their effort to steer humanity toward fulfillment of the goal of economic globalization is a fool’s errand, a formerly great but soon to become unsustainable work…… like the work of Ozymandias, king of kings.
You are implored not to follow in the path of Ozymandias as you are doing now by choosing to adamantly endorse the current scale and growth rate of the unbridled expansion of the world economy because such unlimited growth will result in a “colossal wreck,” one with profound implications for the future of life as we know it and for the integrity of Earth and its environment.
Your great work of growing the world economy has been a good thing until recently, at least for the millions of people you represent. Unfortunately, billions of human beings are not and will not become beneficiaries of economic globalization because the infinite growth of the ever enlarging scale of business enterprise now overspreading the surface of the Earth is patently unsustainable.
Please, leaders, a more reality-based and sustainable business paradigm, something different from a colossal pyramid scheme, is needed as a 21st century model for global economic activity because the endgame of big business conglomeration, that we have today, will result ultimately in an incomprehensible calamity, the likes of which only the once vainglorious and now wrecked Ozymandias has seen.
Open Letter to the Orion Society,
Thankfully, the meaning of great lives, the likes of Rachel Carson, are not lost in the unreal, endless economic growth chatter from the rich and powerful, modern day heirs of Ozymandias, king of kings, who are meeting in Germany this week to determine the future of the world.
Let us hope the current G-8 leaders, or else their immediate successors, will share an understanding of the words on the pedestal of the fallen sculpture of Ozymandias:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Because time does not appear to be on our side, perhaps our leaders will learn the lesson of Ozymandias before it is too late by proclaiming loudly, clearly and openly that changes in the way human beings relate to one another, to other species, and to the Earth are necessary now.
Without any doubt, at least in my mind, the masters of the universe leading a G-8 Summit will come to see the parallels you could see, even in the 1950s, between the approaching endgame of unbridled economic globalization and the colossal wreckage of which Ozymandias speaks.
If only we could know WHEN our leaders will exhibit the vision, courage and political will to remake the world.
Sooner is better than later, I suppose.
Always, with thanks to you,
Although late to the party so pleased to have found you. Very interesting article. Will add you the POLITICAL domain links within Hodges’ model:
Please advise regards any major events/conferences…
Practices which are
confounded with oppression and
human rights breakdown need to
be revolutionized as part of
what it means to “remake the
As a social justice activist
in the “client/survivor”
movement, aimed at revolutionizing
the way the society deals with
‘madness’, linked to the problem
of ‘paradigm change’ in today’s
[pre-scientific] way of ‘social
science’, I can’t trust this
When I feel that our movement is
being included, instead of being
relegated to “treatment,” then
that can/will change.
NOW, perhaps, is the best of times to remake the world because a virtual mountain of scientific evidence indicates with remarkable clarity that humankind is soon to be posed with an incomprehensible calamity, one resulting from a colossal wreckage: either a human-driven global ecological collapse or the collapse of the plainly unsustainable human construction referred to as unbridled economic globalization. Whether the collapse of the world’s ever expanding global economy occurs before the collapse of frangible global ecosystems or afterwards matters not.
ECOLOGIC collapse or ECONOMIC collapse, whichever occurs first, will have profound implications for life as we know it on Earth.
Fruitful discussion. To those who wish for a less fragmented ‘movement’ towards good change, see Fritjof Capra’s ‘The Hidden Connections’ in which he lays out how informal (and formal) human networks are – in fact, not in metaphor – living systems.
Begin to understand the system and we can begin to push it further towards positive change, whether a government, a school, or a nebulous global grouping of NGO’s with compatible goals….
Yes, definitely yes, to hidden connections found in living communication systems that provide a means of sharing understandings about the state of the world and the future of sustainability.
For example, we could choose to ask a question like, “Where is humanity headed and what might the world look like in 2070?”
Then offer examples like the one that follows. The example just below is presented in text format and as a slideshow:
Now a question for some living communication, “If humankind keeps doing what we are doing now by choosing to grow the population of the human species, the ever expanding global economy and the unrestrained per capita consumption of resources, will our children in 2070 (or the year 2030) find that where there was once water, water everywhere, in the foreseeable future there will not be a drop of water for them to drink?”
Perhaps we need not only reality-based, living communication but also an international forum for the expression of ideas and the promulgation of policies related to a currently taboo topic: the potentially profound implications of the scale and growth rate of human production, consumption and propagation behaviors for the future of life as we know it on Earth, even to the year 2030.
Please consider the following paper, and the proposal in the Science Magazine article, just below.
I believe an action plan implementing the proposal from two of our most eminent scientists, Donald Kennedy and Paul Ehrlich, is vital now and long overdue.
There are moments when the yearning is overwhelming..to embrace, to kiss, to love, to simply share a tear with another who struggles like you do…to stop our work for a brief second and sit in silence breathing in the air with the scent of justice, peace and freedom tantalizing our inner being with the welcoming knowledge that “we” are walking together….for so many reasons, probably the millions of tiny moments when I have questioned why or what or whether it is enough….Thank you!!!!!
Yes. We know that the structures must give up their power and stop their violence, that it requires more than individual sacrifice…however, it feels amazing to know that you do not sacrifice alone, that you walk a sacred path with millions…a brilliant reminder of that on occasion does wonders….
Thanks to Hawken for an article that provides hope in an ever-more cynical and negative environmental movement. The news about global warming is bad and growing increasingly worse, both on the international level, and here in my own home town in central Alaska, where weather patterns are seriously changing, and winter is substantially shorter.
I hate to focus on the negative. Anybody who has come to this site obviously cares deeply about our biosphere’s environmental problems; I don’t see much use in debate over the nuances of environmental degradation, I am more engaged in debate on effective ways to engage my fellow human beings in becoming positive environmental stewards.
i think that Salmony made a very good point with “The Earth appears sufficient to our needs, but perhaps insufficient to our unrestrained wishes.” I really and truly believe that the key to preserving human life here on this beautiful and precious planet is dramatically reducing our resource use. I consider it kind of an all-encompassing diet. A diet is a good thing; it makes you healthier, stronger, more physically attractive and generally more satisfied. Getting rid of all the stuff we don’t need and adapting our behaviors to be more in rhythm with our Mother Earth will have the same benefits for all of us. I really think it’s that simple, and I don’t think our current leaders are going to be very helpful inh getting it going. Nope, it’ll be those concerned citizens who come to websites like this one, and who lead by example in developing sustainable lifestyles in their own communities.
People want to preserve nature. People love wild landscapes and animals. People want to do what’s best for their children and themselves. Maybe I’m naive, but I’d like to think that my simple lifestyle and healthy actions will inspire others to preserve the things that really matter to us.
Dear Larry Kowalchuk and Emilie,
Your perspectives are beyond praise. Thanks to both of you for commenting just as you have.
I am one who supports your reality-oriented statements of love, faith and hope because these ideas will surely serve as guideposts along the path to a good enough future for our children and coming generations. Our children deserve new and bold leadership from people like you.
What is difficult to countenance is what appears to me as specious thinking, full of false hope and unreal happy talk from too many current leaders. Their illusory thinking, and the poor political and economic decisionmaking derived from such thought, could literally be “driving” our children down a primrose path toward a potentially colossal wreckage, one that sensible and reasonable human beings would do virtually any good thing to prevent.
yw….I agree with the disconcerting lack of leadership, or more likely their choices to not lead. It is the awakening individually with in millions that has escalated exponentially since 9/11 that feels ‘revolutionary’. Once Self is awakened to Be, oppression and its ability to oppress dies. That concept is reflected in the realization of what you describe. I am excited about this awakening…I do work,like you, towards more connection…the energy for change at the structural power levels escalates as that connecting occurs.
Perhaps Al Gore will lead humanity toward something new and better…..because whatsoever is to come has got to be sustainable.
The gigantic scale and anticipated growth rate of the endlessly expanding political economy on the small, finite planet we inhabit could soon become patently unsustainable.
The many virtues of Paul Hawken’s work are extolled below. Other signs of hope and also reasons to despair for the future of life as we know it are included in an outstanding essay that comes to us from a friend, Paul Chefurka,
Regardless of how long the not-so-great leaders of the predominant culture choose to worship and ultimately prize the endless accumulation of wealth and power, and despite their perverse use of human intelligence so as to mimic the primary behaviors of the cancer cell and the ostrich, surely it is not too late to more meaningfully deploy intelligence by limiting the expansion of the unbridled global economy and by making other necessary, more reality-oriented behavior changes for the sake of the saving the world as we know it for our children and coming generations.
Certain distinctly human, unchecked global overgrowth activities now virtually covering the entire habitable surface of the planetary home in which God has blessed us to live so well can and will be limited and more adequately organized.
If we are going to remake the world, then it could be necessary now for the mothers of children to speak out loudly and clearly about the changes that are in the offing.
Hear from a great spokeswoman because the need for “the feminine” to be widely introduced into public discourse is becoming evident.
Now comes Naomi Klein,
NINE TENTATIVE PROPOSALS:
1. Free, immediate and universal access to contraception is required;
2. Open access to family and health planning education is made available to everyone; and
3. The time for the economic and social empowerment of women is now.
4. As a means of accelerating the present downward movement in birth rates in some countries, a VOLUNTARY policy of one child per family would be initiated worldwide.
5. The many people who are suffering the unhealthy effects of obesity will share their overly-abundant resources with many too many people who are starving.
6. Every good idea to conserve energy and scarce material resources will be implemented.
7. Substanitial economic incentives are necessary for the development of energy resources as alternatives to fossil fuels.
8. Overhaul national tax systems so that conspicuous per human over-consumption of resources is eschewed and seemingly endless and patently unsustainable production/pollution activities are transformed into Earth-friendly, sustainable enterprises.
9. Humanity needs a modified economic system, one that is subordinated to democratic principles and more adequately meets the basic needs of a majority of humanity who could choose to live better lives with lesser amounts of energy and natural resources.
9. Overall, what is to be accomplished is a fair, more equitable and evolutionarily sustainable distribution of the world’s tangible (e.g., food) and intangible (e.g., education) resources, as soon as possible.
Thanks for your consideration.
As a community, from top to bottom, we have to find ways to succeed in talking about the vital issues of our time, the tabooed ones which are socially unpopular, politically incorrect and economically inexpedient.
We have noted in many places the ominously looming global challenges that array themselves before humanity on the far horizon. Because these challenges appear to be derived for certain overgrowth activities of the human species, it seems to me that human beings are called upon TO ADAPT by changing our behavior, according to the practical requirements of biophysical reality.
Of all the things I perceive as threats to human and environmental health, there is nothing I fear more than SILENCE. It is the abject failure of leadership within the human community to break the pernicious silence that keeps our brothers and sisters from recognizing clear and soon to be present perils…and then responding ably. Leaders seem to be turning their backs, or placing their heads in the sand, or suffering from hysterical blindness, willful deafness and elective mutism. Take your pick. We are denying good science, reason and common sense.
The silence will be broken…..hopefully sooner rather than later. At least to me, it does not appear that time or current circumstances favor those who care for the future of life as we know it on Earth. The self-proclaimed masters of the universe, these children of men, are in possession of some considerable sources of power. Thankfully, all of these heirs of Ozymandias, taken together, are not in control of all the sources of power, as they suppose.
The times, they are changing.
Thanks for talking about real issues.
Evidently, concerns like long-term human wellbeing, biodiversity preservation and the integrity of Earth’s body are MOMENTARILY at odds with powerful economic and political forces which relentlessly and unrealistically maintain an economic system marked by unrestricted and increasing per capita consumption, unbridled and expanding economic globalization, and continuous and rapid growth of the human population.
It now appears clear that at the base of certain primary human activities now overspreading Earth is an “economic engine” that drives human action and requires unregulated human consumption, production and propagation for its very existence. Because a colossal pyramid scheme is the structure employed for organizing and governing the global economy…… and this endless growth structure is soon to become patently unsustainable on a planet the size of Earth…… we will surely find ways to reorganize the world economy so that it is made sustainable by requiring the managers of the economic system to conform their activities to the limitations of the finite world we inhabit.
Public discourse is too often focused upon the ECONOMY and not sufficiently on ECOLOGY. The lion’s share of all wealth is used to maximally grow the economy, while lip service is paid to ecology. This lack of balance, this unconscionable failure by leadership in the human community to give adequate attention and economic resources to the preservation of Earth’s ecology, could be the primary basis for a nest of emerging global challenges that are already visible to humankind.
The circumstances being described here are MOMENTARILY unacknowledged or else unbelieveable to many people. To have either overlooked or ignored the human-forced predicament we are seeing presented to humanity seems incredible…… and it is.
We can see more clearly now and can do better…….. and I trust we will.
That’a what I’m feeling. I’ve always felt this ‘potential’ on the planet. I knew it was SO big — thanks for putting the pieces into a recognizable, awesome vision. STOP saving the World – Remake it!
Thanks for your comments.
Yes, definitely yes, the global challenges posed to humanity by the unbridled growth activities of the human species are SO big.
Despite the realization that SO many people are in denial of what could somehow be real, or else coming up with magical ways to marginalize the global threats to humanity, why unrealistically and wishfully ignore or minimize them?
Whatsoever is is, is it not?
Let me give a simple, obvious, rather direct example for remaking the world. We follow the adage, “To whom much is given, so also will even more be expected.”
Sometimes it looks to me as if some of our “brothers&sisters;-with-billions” are so single-mindedly focused on the accumulation of wealth and power, in feathering their own gigantic nests, frequenting exclusive clubs, exchanging secret handshakes, flying private jets, sailing yachts and visiting exotic hideaways, that they have forgotten how human life utterly depends upon Earth’s limited resources and frangible ecosystem services for its very existence.
The “powers that be” also appear to have forgotten that the Earth is not flat and endless but round, finite and relatively small. Perhaps one consequence of their adamant denial of the requirements of practical reality is that our scale and rate of per capita consumption is being encouraged in an unsustainable way, one that plainly dissipates natural resources faster than the Earth can restore them for human benefit. SO great is per human over consumption in our time that we can see biodiversity inadvertently extirpated, the environment unintentionally degraded and Earth’s carrying capacity unknowingly diminished.
Is the relentless effort to fulfill the insatiable wishes of unrestrained consumers unexpectedly and perversely tangled up with unbridled big business interests pursuing a course of seemingly endless economic expansion? Is feckless consumption occurring of the very resources needed for the survival of life as we know it? Is the human species literally eating itself out of house and home?
It could be helpful if the holders of wealth would begin by doing things differently…..by setting reality-based examples through more moderate behavior. Whether rich or poor, not one among those in the humanity community is free from personal responsibility for making necessary behavior changes required for assuring a good enough future for our children. Every preceding generation has accomplished this goal. Had they failed, we would not be now here. We would be nowhere.
Despite current leadership-without-vision, that imagines a future in which “WE’LL ALL BE DEAD,” many other people fully anticipate a future for coming generations and are prepared to work for it. Perhaps my not-so-great “ME-generation” of elders has been slow about doing what is needed.
At least to me, the challenges before humankind appear huge. Although not one of us is responsible for them, of necessity every member of the human community is called upon to help meet these challenges.
What I would like to see is the people who have assumed positions of leadership—- who have accepted responsibilities for remaking the world —to do new and different things….some things that, in the predominant culture, are likely politically unpopular and certainly economically inefficient.
These comments from Marla, A. E. Foster, Eric Levy and others in the Orion community are wonderful and, I believe, they have to grow in their numbers at a growth rate similar to that of economic globalization today. Of course, the scale and rate of economic globalization needs NOT to continue increasing as it is now. Economic globalization is soon to become patently unsustainable on a planet the size of Earth.
Thanks to contributors to this discussion and to other discussions like those occurring in the Earth & Sky community, we can share an adequate enough understanding of the distinctly human-derived predicament with which humanity is soon to be confronted.
Despite the remarkable efforts of deniers, naysayers, and those suffering from hysterical deafness, willful blindness and muteness, the good scientific evidence we share is sufficient for us to see our predicament.
How do we transmit Marla’s awareness to people who are simply unaware of what she is communicating so persuasively?
No sane human being could stand motionless in the face of such daunting challenges to life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as we are witnessing.
That silence about the global challenges looming before humanity as a result of certain unrestrained human overgrowth activities has been allowed to thrive while good science, reason and common sense have been ignored, is a sign of some kind of serious mental disturbance within the human community.
Evidence for the next statement is everywhere but not yet seen by many people.
THE HUMAN SPECIES IS DANGEROUSLY OUT OF BALANCE WITH THE NATURAL WORLD OF WHICH ARE AN INTEGRAL PART AND, EVEN WORSE, SUFFERS FROM A POTENTIALLY LETHAL LOSS OF MENTAL BALANCE REQUIRED FOR HUMAN SELF-PRESERVATION, I SUPPOSE.
A torch has got to be carried by all of us to the rich, the powerful and the famous —- the ones with most of the wealth —- who organize public opinion, form government policy and direct the ‘talking heads’ in the mass media, to get the word out. The time for ubiquitous, self-limiting behavior change is at hand. Indeed, it is long overdue.
Hopefully too much time has not been wasted, too much of the environment irreversibly degraded, too many species massively extirpated, many too many resources recklessly dissipated and too much of the world we inhabit uttely compromised by our unbridled consumption, production and propagaton activities.
If you know people who can and will make a difference, simply describe the world’s problem and tell them the time for action is now…..before it is too late.
I recently heard Hawken speak at Lawrence University, Appleton, WI and was struck by his hopeful message, surrounded as we are by the opposite. When serious economists begin to measure wealth in terms of not GDP, but Genuine Wealth Index (Herman Daly, Cobb, Anielski) we have a right to be hopeful. Also, the concept that we are living in a world of limits is percolating into our consciousness as never before, and this will drive the innovation we badly need.
Please consider that we need new approaches to the global challenges before humanity. Perhaps young people can help those in my generation of elders establish SUSTAINABLE LIVING CONDITIONS for themselves and coming generations.
A “top-down” approach to making necessary behavior changes that could lead us to a sustainable way of living in the world is not working, at least not yet. If the top-down approach was going to work, we would see more evidence of change by this time. Even though the challenges before us are formidable and undeniable, many too many of our leaders have found effective ways of either consciously overlooking or otherwise avoiding them.
As an example, “The AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population” has been in existence since 2001. In that time, the point of all its activities has been to gain the attention of the rich, powerful and famous at the top of the global political economy. The strategy has not accomplished much, except that someleaders now “see” the human predicament, even though they have resolutely refused to speak openly and honestly about it. Everywhere I have gone — from the Earth Summit in Jo’burg, World Water Week Conference, “This Tiny Planet” workshop, United Nations meetings, State of the Planet Conference, Annual Meeting of the Club of Rome to local town council meetings where I managed to get a global warming resolution passed — no action is taken by anyone with power. The people holding most of the world’s wealth and, therefore, most of the political power evidently like the world just the way it is now. Change seems to be anathema to them. They have made this single point crystal clear through their deafening silence, which so many of them have ubiquitously adopted as way of dealing with humanity’s distinctly human-forced predicament.
A “bottom-up” approach appears to be necessary with regard to adopting SUSTAINABLE human behavior changes in our time.
What you may find somewhat surprising is that a new approach to resolving human problems is needed within the scientific community. By that I mean we need for more scientists to examine “big picture” problems. Now, they mostly investigate little things. Scientists prefer skillful examinations of “trees” to careful investigations in which the scope of observation is “the forest.” Please see my brief letter on this topic,
If only we understood better what it is that serves as an adequate catalyst for large scale, dramatic social change. That would be a giant step forward. The intelligence and energy of youth is what we need, I believe.
Personally, I am counting on young people to help move us recalcitrant old folks toward a new and SUSTAINABLE WORLD ORDER by accessing the extraordinary, tsunami-like powers to be found in the grassroots, in the billions of young people who are among the most able members of the human community. We have 3 billion people under the age of thirty in our planetary home. From all I have been able to learn about the human predicament we are witnessing, only grassroots power is sufficient to overcome the power reposited in the colossal, artificially-designed political economy, the soon to become PATENTLY UNSUSTAINABLE HUMAN CONSTRUCTION organized and managed now by a remarkably small number of masters of the universe, children of men……..all heirs of Ozymandias.
Are too many of our current leaders stuck in the denial of reality?
Some of our leaders appear to be running away from real global challenges looming before humanity, as if they had seen a calamity in the making. Other leaders are promising pie-in-the-sky, “techno-fix” solutions for threats to human wellbeing and environmental health. Still others have apparently adopted the posture of an ostrich by placing their heads in the sand. Last but not least, we have a group of commanders of others who pose as hysterically deaf or blind and have become electively mute.
These various means of denying what could be called “more of the stark reality of the world we inhabit” are not helpful to anyone, I suppose, except themselves and their minions. They keep their wealth, power and privileges by maintaining the status quo, regardless of the potential for catastrophic circumstances in the offing, circumstances already dimly visible on the far horizon. Many too many, soon to be erstwhile leaders of the human community have allowed unbridled self-interests to literally separate themselves from a meaningful regard for humanity, for life as we know it, for a future of children and coming generations, and for the maintenance of the integrity of Earth and its ecosphere.
Thankfully, the human community is blessed with still other leaders, intellectually honest and courageous leaders, like UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, Al Gore, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Professor Al Bartlett, IPCC Vice Chair Mohan Munasinghe, Dr. Ernst von Weizsaecker, John Guillebaud, US Senator Bernie Sanders, Paul Chefurka, David Wasdell, Jean Krasno, Joseph Baker, Dame Jane Goodall, Jeffrey McNeely, Seti Sastrapradja, Vivian Ponniah, Peter Salonius, Hazel Henderson, Peter Nobel, Mickey Glantz, Margaret Swedish, Emily Spence, Susan B. Adamo, John C. Feeney, Lester Brown, Gretchen Daily, Bill Rees, Richard Duncan, Pentti Malaska, Deborah Byrd, Jean Gilbertson, Scott Walker, Alex de Sherbinin, Anne Ehrlich, Ashok Khosla, Paul Hawken, Werner Fornos, Jean Francois Rischard, Jan Janssens, Raoul Weiler, Mathis Wackernagel, Emily Spence, David Blockstein, Dave Roberts, Joe Romm and no less than 2000 IPCC scientists. Who knows, these and emerging leaders among our youth could be ready to “square up” to the global challenges soon be confronted by humankind, perhaps in these early years of Century XXI.
If empirical evidence from the great men, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and Dr. Mohan Munasinghe, and their 2000 colleagues in the International Panel on Climate Change, regarding global warming, is somehow on the correct track and not junk science, and not the hoax many people have assured us it is, then the political, economic and ecological ramifications of “staying the course” could be profound.
If humankind chooses to continue doing what we are relentlessly doing now by overconsuming, overpopulating, and endlessly expanding production capabilities of the artificially designed human economy, our children could unexpectedly come face to face with colossal problems, ones involving the perilous breakdown of the global political economy or the dangerous degradation of Earth’s frangible ecosystem services and limited resources, or both economic and ecologic collapse.
We see and hear in the news day after day about national security and economic security. I can understand that attention is focused upon these things. They are vital. What is difficult for me to grasp is the failure of people to openly and adequately discuss environmental security. That is vital, too, I suppose.
Let me add, in closing, that it will be pleasing to see expressions of concern for Earth’s ECOLOGY be presented in the mass media as often as words of concern for the manmade ECONOMY. I am also expecting that such parity will eventually lead to ECONOMIC wealth being directed to ECOLOGIC maintenance, dollar for dollar. That is to say, every dollar from sustainable economic development would be matched with a dollar directed to ecologic protection.
A Synthesis of the voluminous IPCC Report on Climate Change is now available
From my humble perspective, the news from the IPCC about the world we inhabit is forbidding. The unwelcome evidence appears to relate to aspects of stark biophysical reality that have been uncovered by good science and reported repeatedly by IPCC in recent years. If I may say so, the apparently unforeseen news from the IPCC is not good, even though this news is gained from the practice of good science.
I prefer to rely on good science and to eschew self-interested-thinking when it comes to sharing an understanding with our brothers and sisters about the way the world in which we live works and about an adequate enough grasp of the ï¿½placementï¿½ of the human species within the natural order of living things.
All the widely agreed to self-interested-thinking, from magical and wishful thinking to preternatural thinking, we see in the world today, when taken together, cannot be favorably compared to even one single thought derived from good science.
It appears that we have a remarkably large and loud number of people, many of them are our leaders, who are denialists and naysayers with regard to the science of global warming. They have been doing what they are doing now during much of my adult life. What they are saying and doing, I suppose, is derived from one form or another of self-interested-thinking. At least one consequence of their widely shared and consensually validated way of viewing the world could lead the human community into danger. Let me say more now about what I mean.
Self-interested-thinking is potentially dangerous because it serves to hide the truth of global warming, among other things, as well as ï¿½poisons the wellï¿½ of public discourse.
Too many of our politicians, economists, big-business benefactors and the talking heads in the mass media are all ï¿½whistling the same tune.ï¿½ What is even worse is the way they entice many appointees and surrogates to whistle that same tune, too. After all, who can resist offerings of great wealth, power and privileges that accrue to those who go along with whatsoever is political convenient, economically expedient, religiously tolerated and socially agreeable. In the face of such temptation, we can readily understand why the scientific gains of the IPCC would be everywhere, in every way, rejected by the denialists and naysayers. The science from the IPCC could forcefully impede their acquisition of more wealth, more power and more privileges.
Not only are too many leaders trying to hide or otherwise deny the good scientific evidence of human-driven climate change, they are also actively involved in poisoning the well of public discourse by strategically disseminating disinformation. And for what? Evermore power, wealth and privileges for themselves and their minions so they can carefreely play out the ï¿½conspicuous consumption fantasiesï¿½ of their ï¿½Me Generationï¿½ by living large and unsustainably, come what may, having forsaken the future of their children and forgotten how human life depends upon Earthï¿½s limited resources and frangible ecosystem services for its very existence.
It seems to me that the human community is fast approaching a crossroads: EITHER we will choose to ‘stay the current course’ of endless economic growth, ever increasing conspicuous per capita consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers OR we will find other ways to go forward. If these distinctly human overproduction, over-consumption and overpopulation activities we now see overspreading the surface of Earth are unsustainable, then I am going to suppose we will insist upon some changes in our behavioral repertoire so that sustainable ways of living in the world are proposed by policymakers and adopted by our leaders. Perhaps fundamental behavior change is in the offing. Yes, I believe that we are all (i.e., people in the developed, underdeveloped and undeveloped worlds) in this ï¿½spaceshipï¿½ together and all of us have some unanticipated duties to perform.
Thanks to everyone participating in this wondrous effort to save life as we know it, the ecosphere and Earth’s body from being inadvertently ravaged by certain unbridled overgrowth activities of the human species, the ones ominously threatening to overwhelm the planetary home, yes, definitely God’s Creation, in which we have been blessed to reside.
At least to me, it appears that the IPCC Report is not being examined in reasonable and sensible ways by too many politicians, economists, big-business benefactors and their minions in the mass media. For years now, since the time of Dr. Rachel Carson, people in positions of power have adamantly and relentlessly denigrated good science and, even now, continue to disparage it.
After years of careful and skillful research by the IPCC, it seems to me that the time has come to examine whether many too many government officials are behaving malevolently and acting in bad faith by continuing to disseminate disinformation that debunks the established evidence on global warming and climate change.
THREE QUESTIONS with a fourth question as a response.
1)What is happening? 2)Why do we keep doing what we are doing now, with the understanding that we will keep getting what we are getting now? 3)When will we change “what is patently unsustainable” to “what is ecologically sustainable”?
4)Are we witnessing something odd and unfortunate: an unforeseen loss of courage in the family of humanity that is reflected in both the absence of a sense of urgency by our leaders and the lack of an insistent expression of outrage by the public regarding the human-forced predicament in which we find ourselves in these early years of Century XXI?
Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
As many have incisively pointed out repeatedly, in the face of certain barely visible global challenges looming ominously before humanity, the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and their minions in the mass media in my not-so-great generation could need even more than Mr. Tom Brokaw’s recommendation of a six-month supply of hoarded rations and supplies to weather the coming “storms.” Leaders of my “What’s in it for Me” Generation could choose to think about long-term human wellbeing, not only about themselves?
The IPCC Report makes clear that dire consequences will be potentiated if humankind chooses to “stay the course” marked by endlessly growing the artificially designed, manmade global economy and by fecklessly increasing per capita consumption without regard to the biological and physical limits to this unbridled growth. UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon says that climate change is a problem for the human community now. The time is coming, I suppose, when we choose to “center” our attention on the good scientific evidence from no less than 2000 IPCC scientists so that the family of humanity can determine how we are going to proceed in order to make some new and different, ecologically sustainable choices regarding our ways of living in this wondrous world God blesses us to inhabit?
What kind of a future do we intend for our children? If we keep doing what we are doing now, we could end up leaving our children a world that is unfit for human habitation. The integrity of the Earth and and life as we know it could become dangerously undermined and irreversibly diminished by our current unrelenting efforts to endlessly increase human consumption, production and propagation activities on a relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible planet the size of Earth. Perhaps all of us and our leaders will at least consider that these distinctly human overgrowth activities could be changed by choosing to do less per human consuming, big-business producing and species propagating.
Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
If we are to remake the world, perhaps a perspective from one of my colleagues in psychology is helpful.
Story of Stuff
Nonsense! Environmental Protection, social justice, and indigenous rights are often in serious conflict with one another. They are dominated by different disciplines (even paradigms). This is as inane as the the “all religions basically teach the same thing” hooey.
Yes we have shared values were collaboration and cooperation are possible, but the belief that there is some underlying dialectic where we will all rise in unity to defeat the evil oppressors is sophomoric.
Maybe in garden supply heaven, but not on this earth.
There is an underlying unity….string theory in physics…Life in common sense…spend time really looking…human being because of their dominance on Earth are pretending to be Lord Masters of the Universe, which is not the case. Understand…it takes effort.
Have courage in Life, it is truly your only home!
The underlying dialectic may perhaps be understood by taking a “stand”….on Mother “Earth”, where we “walk” everyday. There are and always will be contradictions Amongst the people….non-antogonistic fundamentally and dramatically so. Of course we will struggle over the tactical and strategic urgency and paramountcy of our desires and hopes. Paradigms are not static anomalies but rahter one can view them as interconnected spirals whose dominant aspects change…as they do in all contradictions…it is in the struggle that our common “ground” reveals itself…one might nurture that struggle and discover that we walk on the same ground towards the same dream….stumbling, yes…yet never letting go of each other…we choose our path….why fear that there will be shit on it on occasion….I am weary of those who choose to put it on our path…take the hands that are held out there for you…
I too would love to believe in the triumph of hope and bottom-up action. But, realistically, I cannot. No amount of bottom-up action can clean up after the top-down failures of globally unsustainable economics. The necessary work on problem-preventing economics has barely begun and the political processes to implement it are busy with turf squabbles and single-issue patchwork policies. Will we prevail, or will we end up doing only enough to feel a bit better about allowing the planet to be trashed?
There are solutions that match the scale of the problems (see http://www.blindspot.org.uk) but they are easily overlooked.
Without a doubt, we need new thinking and new leadership and, yes, we need both now.
Hmmm…… ok…… for just a moment let us consider that at least one way to realistically address the challenges posed by global warming and global warming could be by limiting the rate of increase in the unbridled growth of the global economy.
Perhaps we could follow what we already know from good science, sound reasoning and common sense. We can choose to respond ably and differently, in a more reality-oriented way, to the emergent global challenges looming before humanity, the ones that we can certainly manage because these challenges can be seen so clearly now to be spectacularly induced by the unrestrained global growth of human overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities now threatening to ravage the Earth.
Of course, it is fair to ask what the family of humanity could choose to do “ably and differently, in a more reality-oriented way.” Here are several ideas that come to mind.
1. Implement a universal, voluntary, humane program of family planning and health education that teaches people the need for setting a limit on the number of offspring at one child per family.
2. Establish an upper limit on the growth of the individual human footprint.
3. Restrict the reckless dissipation of limited natural resources so that the Earth is given time to replenish them for human benefit.
4. Substitute clean, renewable sources of energy, through the use of substantial economic incentives, for the fossil fuels we rely upon now.
5. Recognize that everything human beings do on the surface of our planetary home utterly depends on the finite resources and frangible ecosystem services of Earth. Perhaps the time is nearly at hand when an endlessly expanding, gigantesque global economy on a relatively small planet of the size and make-up of Earth becomes patently unsustainable.
I’m glad it was you who responded as your link to Kathy McMahon’s ‘panglossian’ article sparked a discussion in our local ‘transition town’ forum. To summarise, it seems that we are better at finding reasons to hope than at creating the circumstances for hope.
The vast majority of the world’s population find hope in denial or diversions. The ‘movement’ Paul Hawken observes finds hope in diagnosing the varied ills and pursuing well-intended prescriptions such your list. Similar prescriptions date back decades without really making any difference to dangerous global trends. The delusional belief that the ‘movement’ will nevertheless prevail is explained well in the link at your comment #57. Your next comment #58 offers a way forward. We can learn to see the forest as well as the trees. Complex systems of people, resources and things going wrong can be understood as a whole. The economy can be reformed to make things go right, but probably not with the usual prescriptions.
I’ve sent you a paper, for the NATO Science Programme, in case you’d like to see how this might work. Happy to send it also to anyone who emails orion at blindspot.org dot uk.
Dear James Greyson,
Thanks for your kind comments.
There is not one iota that you have presented with which I am not in complete agreement.
And yes, definitely yes, humanity has been warned repeatedly about the threat to humanity, to life as we know it, to the viability of recognizably frangible global ecosystems and to the integrity of Earth and its limited resources that could be posed to humankind by the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers. Because we want human beings to be fed and to have jobs so they can feed themselves and their families, the growth of human numbers has lead great thinkers and scientists to regularly remind the human community of the impacts of unregulated human propagation, unrestrained consumption and rampantly expanding production activities in our planetary home.
Every possible bias, rhetorical device and “spin” appears to have been employed to deny the mounting evidence of the potential for impending ecological calamities and economic disasters from the near exponential growth of human numbers worldwide. Recently, good science about the way the world works has been flagrantly ignored; journalists have remained hysterically blind when presented with the unforeseen science; leading elders of the political economy have consciously conspired to mislead the public by misrepresenting the science and by turning climate science, for example, into a “political football” of sorts; ideological groups sponsored by super-rich, large-scale corporate ‘citizens’ have spread uncertainty and confusion in discussions about the nature of the biophysical world in which we live; and controversy has been manufactured where none would have otherwise existed.
The illusion of meaningful debate has been foisted upon the public by journalists and leaders who are evidently intent on “poisoning the well” of public discourse by knowingly and selfishly fostering disinformation campaigns for the purpose of enhancing their own financial interests……..come what may for our children, coming generations, global biodiversity, the environment, and the Earth as a fit place for human habitation.
The guarantors in our culture of a good enough future for the children appear to be leading our kids down a “primrose path” along which the children could unexpectedly be confronted with sudden, potentially colossal threats to human and environmental health that appear to be derived from human-driven, converging global challenges such as pernicious impacts of global warming and climate change, pollution of the air, water and land from microscopic particulates and solid waste, and the reckless dissipation of scarce natural resources. All the while, these leading elders remain in denial of the fulminating ecological degradation by willfully declining to acknowledge, much less begin to address, humanity’s emerging, human-induced predicament. One day, perhaps sooner rather than later, our children could have extraordinary difficulties responding ably to that with which they could soon come face to face; that is to say, because their leaders have so adamantly refused to acknowlege God’s great gift of the good science of biological and physical reality, our kids will not even know what “hit” them, much less why it is happening.
Well put Steve, our ‘leaders’ have placed us all into globally-growing bubbles of debt, pollution, resource scarcity and climate change – which are all set to burst. The leaders, the public and everyone’s kids will not know what hit them. The ‘movement’ is helping to delay the moment when things pop, but SFAIK offers no remedy on the scale of the problems.
Most people respond to this overwhelming reality by denial or token actions. Besides the global economic proposals in my paper (see my previous comment) there is perhaps some hope that those who can face the scale of our shared human failure don’t seem to stay overwhelmed. Do you suppose the Arctic ice melts and a thousand other glaring clues can somehow provoke the end of both business-as-usual and green-as-usual and start to inspire thinking and effort that matches what’s needed?
Your words are a breath of fresh air.
Because the global challenges before humanity are evidently human-induced, the human community has responsibilities to assume and duties to perform, ready of not, like them or not.
Perhaps we have too often chosen to ignore whatsoever is somehow real in order to believe whatsoever is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable, religiously tolerated and culturally prescribed. When something real comes into direct conflict with what we want to believe, that reality is denied. It appears that too many people are content to hold tightly to widely shared and consensually validated specious thinking when it serves our selfish interests.
What could be happening here and now? Are we living in a modern Tower of Babel……..once again, of our own construction?
That is to say, has human thinking, judging and willing become so grievously and perniciously impaired by our idolatry of the artificially designed, manmade, global political economy that we cannot see or speak intelligibly about anything else except economic growth and profits without sounding like blithering idiots?
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
Steve – yes, us humans have a special talent for denial of reality. Not because most of us are irresponsible and self-serving but because, as you say, there is a culturally prescribed norm or paradigm that pickles our thinking without us even noticing it. The paradigm that Paul Hawken articulates, about how more and more people are doing their bit to turn things around is not new; see for example Joanna Macey’s similar article of 10 years ago, http://www.resurgence.org/resurgence/186/macy186.htm
Questioning paradigms is uncomfortable (they call it cognitive dissonance) and letting go of this particular paradigm is about as uncomfortable as it gets, since we’re looking at a possible sad ending to the human story. However the point is not to proclaim doom but to find out what people are really capable of and whether the story can go on, not as a reassuring fairytale but as a sustainable reality. It should help to know that solutions on the scale of the problems are available and that plenty of people share your concerns.
Hopefully, many members of the Orion Community are thoroughly appreciating as much as I am your comments regarding how we are “to remake the world.”
So often in my experience, especially over the past 10 years, people have been dumbstruck upon first sighting of the huge emerging global challenges that loom before humanity on the far horizon.
Willful blindness, hysterical deafness and elective mutism have effectively produced a pervasive silence…… a silence so profound that open discussion of these forbidding circumstances, often within the community of scientists, has been eschewed. “See no truth, hear no truth and speak of no truth” have become the watchwords of many too many of our leaders with regard to the potentially colossal impacts induced by, and directly derived from, global human over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities now overspreading — and threatening to overwhelm — the surface of the Earth in these early years of Century XXI.
It is my hope that you will continue to comment on what looks to me like a formidable, multi-faceted, distinctly human-forced predicament, one that appears to have profound implications for the future of our children, coming generations, biodversity, life as we know it, and for the integrity of Earth and its environs as a fit place for human habitation.
The family of humanity can take the measure of the global challenges emergent in our time and find solutions to them that are consonant with universally shared values.
Many thanks Steve, I’ve also really appreciated talking with you here. All of us can add power to our work by breaking the silence about current efforts and plans being hopelessly inadequate. This reality check invites a rethink – not the usual tweaking but a careful search for holes in our thinking roughly the same size as the problems.
A clue – we don’t see these ‘holes’ because reductionist and compartmentalised thinking is pervasive, despite being at the source of the problems. Einstein once remarked, “The problems we have today cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them.” Section 2 of my paper shows how ‘systems thinking’ can be used to address complex global issues as a whole, without the need to pretend that they can be divided into ‘manageable’ pieces. You have this paper already but I’ll happily send it also to others who email orion at blindspot dot org dot uk. Sections 3 and 4 describe innovative economic instruments which could be implemented worldwide in a few years. This builds the circular economy you refer to in your comment #58. If this was done then you could expect to see an immediate switch in investment from over-consumption to addressing the global challenges you describe. Since this money would be spent productively it would circulate more and economic growth should perk up.
The unleashing of creative energy and momentum of response would be vast. Those who today struggle hard to achieve little would find open doors and helping hands. Paul Hawken might then really have something to be hopeful about (supposing we’re lucky and global problems remain reversible – fingers crossed!).
As a way of encouraging dialogue, let me suggest something. Let’s assume that you and I agree with the idea of having a discussion that seeks to find a reliable, secure, sensible and sustainable path to a good enough future for our children.
Inasmuch as human beings appear to be members of a species that appears to be inadvertently threatening to outgrow the planet it inhabits, the idea of at least not over-consuming Earth’s dissipating resources could be an idea whose time has come.
Given the relentless plunder and obscene per-capita over-consumption of Earth’s finite resources we are seeing in our time, choosing not to fecklessly plunder and grotesquely squander might be a bit too much to hope for.
Perhaps a more modest goal will be achieved when human beings agree to do what is humane and necessary by eschewing conspicuous over-consumption and, alternatively, beginning to voluntarily restrain themselves from literally “eating the family of humanity out of house and home.”
By suggesting this alternative, we would be consciously choosing to consume less resources as one reasonable and sensible way of responding ably to the gluttony and morbid obesity rampant in ‘advanced’ societies in our time?
Perhaps our children will soon enough come to understand that the choice to “consume less” is the most efficacious and powerful thing any person in the “overdeveloped” world can do to preserve life as we know it and the integrity of Earth.
If consuming less resources occurred collectively among individuals in the human community who are conspicuously over-consuming, as my generation of notoriously voracious elders is doing now, then a sustainable, “consume less” behavioral repertoire could make a huge difference, one that really makes a difference. It could help the family of humanity save itself from its unhealthy, recklessly increasing and soon to be unsustainable per-capita over-consumption activities.
Just this week a friend of mine said he possesses at least one of everything in the world he wants….and he is only getting started. Life is all about wealth accumulation and consumption, he advises. He is going for all the gusto, he says.
Is this an example of the one ‘right’ way to live or else the dream to which the human community is to aspire?
The Earth can barely sustain several million people behaving like my friend (and me). What can 6.6 billion (soon to be 9 billion) of our brothers and sisters reasonably and sensibly expect “to possess” in the course of their lives?
Yes Steve, there is a place for voluntary simplicity, which gives us more time than we would otherwise have to turn things around. This proposal is as old as wealth itself and regularly advocated over the past 30 years. I do it myself but am aware that even my reduced material requirements still add to climate change and a bunch of other problems. I’m also aware that it hasn’t caught on over the decades; in fact western culture is heading the other way and a materialistic ethos is advancing globally. This tells us that materialism is not a process that can be stopped by opting out of it.
Materialism rises as communities atomise – the more separately we all live, the more stuff we need, both for practical purposes and to feel better about ourselves. Unavoidable participation in an economy where prices don’t account for damage bludgeons us into ignoring the impacts on the planet. In the face of all this, and the prospect of rapid planetary collapse, most people propose modest goals and cross their fingers.
It is probably a good idea for me to say just a bit more about remaking the world on foundations that are sustainable rather than constructing a gigantic and patently unsustainable ‘house of cards’ like the one “built” on a foundation of sand by engineers of the global economy.
Creating economic “bubbles” serves to fuel duplicitous, short-term financial interests of big-businesses, I suppose, but what more? Where are the long-term benefits?
In the latest instance, the “Sub-prime Mess,” we have a ‘prime’ example of the way the economic powerbrokers in the investment banking industry dupe the poor, profit to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, and then get bailed out of the mess they cravenly manufactured by the global economy’s central banking system.
Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
Can anyone name anything in the human world that is more sublime than a responsible, able and courageous scientist who eschews political convenience, economic expediency and the hoarding of endless wealth in order to speak out loudly and clearly for new and unexpected science, especially when the unforeseen, good evidence has great explanatory power and profound implications for the future of the family of humanity on Earth?
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
There are many such people but I’m particularly impressed with one I was working with yesterday, David Wasdell. He is a reviewer on the IPCC who leads a team of climate scientists studying the feedbacks that explain why the symptoms of climate change are worsening faster than predicted. Their results are being used to brief politicians around the world. None of us have as much time as we’d hoped to turn things around. See http://www.apollo-gaia.org/BaliandBeyond.htm
Dear James Greystone,
Glad to hear you are working with David Wasdell. My spouse and I visited with him and Evelyn when we were in London year before last. David’s work, along with that of Hans J. Schellnhuber, Christopher Rapley and James Hansen, appears to me as top rank. His research makes clear, just as you have suggested, that time is not on our side and that we have “to turn things around” with all deliberate speed.
Best regards to you and through you to David, when you see him next. Thanks again for all you are doing.
Although I agree with much of this paper, and overall I think that it is well written and well argued, there some points with which I can find contention.
The one that most strikes me is the idea that no one can wrap his/her mouth around the whole thing with a single utterance. While it may be true, it shouldn’t be for lack of trying. And while a single person may not be able to encompass this unnamable movement of awareness and concern, multiple modes of encompassment are possible.
That said, I am still chewing on your distinction between idea and idealogy. Good article. Thought provoking.
We are seeing the emergence of a global community of sorts that is passively connected in cyberspace and has as its mission the protection of human wellbeing and the preservation of environmental health, among other goals.
How do we advance from passive “cyber contact” to a grounded, more active connectedness for precipitating necessary human behavior change?
Thanks for your consideration.
letter to the editor
Chapel Hill (NC) Newspaper
June 11, 2008
Solutions exist if we apply the science.
Humankind is surely experiencing the fulfillment of a Chinese proverb: “We live in interesting times.” Many of our brilliant scientists report that God is a delusion. On the other hand, intuitive and gifted believers regularly tell us that these scientists themselves suffer from a form of delusional atheism. No one knows, I suppose, which of these groups is correct.
I am one of those people who believes the family of humanity can use God’s gift of science to take the measure of any global challenge and find solutions that are consonant with universal values. But, before we can move forward to reasonably address and sensibly overcome a challenge to human wellbeing and environmental health such as global warming, that challenge needs to be openly acknowledged and widely discussed. I suppose it is a function of my life experience to suggest that we accurately “diagnose” whatever the challenge is before proceeding to implement “treatment” options.
If great spiritual and scientific leaders are somehow on the right track when realizing, “The Earth has a human-induced fever and could overheat,” then at least one available treatment option is to carefully and skillfully examine the extant scientific evidence related to global warming and to make necessary changes in human behavior, both individually and collectively.
All of the above serves to set the stage for our consideration of a question. How can politicians and economic powerbrokers in the human community be empowered to muster the “political will” necessary for addressing human-driven climate change as well as for providing the substantial economic incentives and financial capital necessary to overcome this potential global threat to life as we know it and the integrity of Earth?
— Steven Earl Salmony, Chapel Hill
One way of thinking about the economic incentives relates to the current madness in commodity markets. Accelerating prices are led, not just by shrinking supply and soaring demand, but crucially by the force of spare cash seeking a return on investment.
Due to the global lack of effective economic incentives there is no happy home for this investment money. The need for investment in sustainability has never been more critical yet the money is still driven to flow where it makes things worse. This can be changed – indeed it must be if there is to be a decent future for anyone, including the wealthy.
Political will is a curious beast, seemingly deaf to the sounds of ethics and evidence, but highly attuned to the needs of political survival and tax revenues. If we want to tame this beast we need to think beyond the usual arguments. A good starting place would be a Tobin tax on speculative market trading. Free money for governments which can no longer afford to keep up with the surge of demands upon them.
A broader, deeper fix is also needed. Economic incentives are available which can be applied globally to solve unsustainability at source. Climate change, pollution, resource constraints, loss of nature, poverty and security risks are all symptoms of a faulty economic paradigm. Fix the paradigm by fixing the incentives and the problems get reversed. Capitalism and investment capital can be switched to prevent the problems which it currently causes. From governments’ point of view this is a no-brainer. GDP can be maximised, so protecting tax revenues. People’s needs can continue to be met, protecting political credibility.
For more info please see the ‘climate briefing’ on my UNEP site, http://www.climateneutral.unep.org/cnn_members.aspx?m=195.
Time for leaders with clarity of human perception, with intellectual integrity and moral courage.
The evidence of climate change is so abundant and clear but people everywhere are not seeing it and, tberefore, not insisting upon adequate action. But why?
There are likely other causes for this failure of human perception, intellectual integrity and moral courage, but I would like to ask the Orion community to consider one rather obvious failing. Many too many of the “talking heads” in the mass media are part of this problem, not the solution. These commentators seem to be smart and clever but not intellectually honest; they get paid large sums of money to report news, whatever that is. On the whole, the public appears to think of these opinion-makers as objective commentators and worthy leaders, but they are neither objective nor are they leaders. Please forgive me for saying that many of them behave as professional prostitutes who are paid by wealthy benefactors to say whatsoever is economically expedient, politically convenient and supportive of the status quo for the conspicuously consuming rich and powerful people among us.
Perhaps we need objective leaders in the mass media as desperately as we require a new kind of leadership in politics.
PS: Thanks are due James Greyson for the vital work he is doing with the Meridian Project and UNEP.
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
Yes, media reports don’t usually reflect either the scope of the problems nor the scale of solutions needed. Part of that is due to the views of the media owners (I wouldn’t blame their employees, the commentators). Another part is that the media accurately portray the muddle of conflicting ideas and diversions from problem-solving which characterises almost all of human society. As a culture we think in small boxes and the media really just reveals this. I don’t think it’s a cover-up.