Earth Day, 2019: Some Of Us Have Seen What’s Coming

By Cody Petterson
For the first time in 15 years, I sat down in my car the other day and broke down sobbing. On the side of a dirt road, surrounded by mountains. Waves of sadness, frustration, rage, and despair welling up.
I’d spent the day planting and watering seedlings, which I’ve done for half a decade now. We have 300 acres on the north slope of Volcan Mountain, between Julian and Warner Springs. The property got hit by the Pines Fire in 2002, which killed two-thirds of the conifers. I grew up hiking in Cuyamaca, before the fires, and I got it in my mind to restore the conifer forest on the property. It took months to figure out what was what, heading up to the mountain once a week, taking pictures, coming home and trying to identify all the species, reading late into the night about botany, and forestry, and silviculture. I collected thousands of cones. I learned how to get seeds out of them and to stratify, germinate, and pot the seeds. I started growing seedlings in the backyard. I put together a working group with US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, CALFIRE, and the US Natural Resource Conservation Service. We collected and sent 30 bushels of fresh cones up to the USFS nursery in Placerville, and I eventually got a thousand seedlings from those seeds.
I planted every which way I could, learning something new each time, year after year. The first year I planted in the open. The seedlings baked. Next in the shade. They baked. I learned to water every two or three weeks, which isn’t easy across 300 acres of steeply sloped terrain. The pocket gophers ate them from below. I caged the bottoms. Rabbits severed them at the base. I caged them above ground. Rodents climbed up and down into the cages and defoliated the needles. I caged the tops. The rodents ate the needles on all the branches that protruded from the cage, and the hardware cloth cages heated up in the sun and the metal killed all the branches and needles that were in contact with it. 
And all the time, the relentless heat and dryness killed any seedling left without watering for more than two or three weeks. Winter rains are good, but there’s no snow-melt anymore, and a winter rain doesn’t help a seedling survive in October when there hasn’t been a drop of rain in 8 months (the second half of 2017 was the driest on record here). In spite of thousands of hours of thought, and worry, and work, and care, I’ve lost probably 650 out of the 700 seedlings I’ve raised from seed and planted with my own hands over the last 5 years.
That day, after a long, dirty, hot day of planting, I walked to one of my favorite spots, a ring of granite boulders sheltered by a huge, gnarled Canyon Live Oak. There, lying shattered and rotting in the middle of the ring, was half the 60 foot tall tree. The other half was still standing, but covered in the telltale, tiny D-shaped holes of Gold-spotted Oak Borer (GSOB), a beetle that gets into the phloem, xylem, and cambium of our native oaks and kills them rapidly. GSOB arrived in San Diego on firewood from southeast Arizona fifteen years ago and has been slowly advancing north, laying waste to our native oaks. It’s killed maybe 80,000 so far. I wandered around to a dozen nearby trees, all big, ancient oaks. The trunks of every one were spotted with GSOB holes. I stood there stunned. The whole millenia-old forest was dying, as far as the eye could see. I wandered back to my truck, numb.
I sat down in the driver’s seat, staring out the window. At the oaks, dying in mass. At the stately, hundred-foot-tall Bigcone Douglas Fir, towering above the oak canopy. Each Bigcone drops maybe two hundred to a thousand cones, depending on size, every three to five years. Each cone has around 100 viable seeds in it. Maybe 40,000 seeds on average per tree, every few years. Times a few hundred trees. An average of somewhere around a million seeds a year fall on our stretch of mountain. And yet there’s not more than a dozen saplings growing naturally on the entire property, 300 acres. I sat there thinking about what that meant, year after year, a million seeds dropped and maybe one or two survive, and those only on the dampest, darkest parts of the mountain. It meant the days of the Bigcone are done.
I sat thinking about those thousands of oaks on all those slopes, and ridges, and hills. Dying. I thought of the Shot Hole Borer, working its way up through our canyons, killing all San Diego’s Coast Live Oak, and willow, and sycamore, and cottonwood. I thought of the Bigcone pushing their way up through the oak canopy. Last of their kind. I thought of all my seedlings. The hundreds I’ve planted over the years and the hundreds filling my patio and yard. I’ve lost too many to count, but I can somehow remember the moment I first saw each one had dried out, or been pulled under by gophers, or stripped bare by rodents, or gnawed by rabbits, or trampled by cattle from the neighboring reservation.
I’d thought about it all a thousand times. I’ve lain in bed so many nights trying to wrestle with it. I don’t know why, but that afternoon something in my mind buckled under the weight of it. I thought, ‘How do I tell my kids?’ and I started to cry. They’ve grown up with me storing seeds and acorns in the refrigerator, germinating seeds, potting seedlings, watering them, five hundred at any given time in the backyard, working in the greenhouses, unloading all my dusty tools and empty water bottles from the truck when I get back in the evening from the mountain. Their dad working in any spare moment on reforesting is all they’ve ever known. I thought of this photo we took a couple of years ago, sitting in front of all our hundreds of seedlings. So happy. How do I tell them that I don’t know what to do with the six hundred seedlings in the backyard? That if I keep them potted in the yard, they’ll get root-bound and slowly die, and if I try to outplant them on the mountain, they’ll die even faster? That there’s no place left in the world for these trees they’ve grown up with? And then the question that was probably there the whole time, waiting to surface: How do I tell myself? I think of all the love I’ve put into saving that forest. All the years. All the thousands of hours. All the thought, and worry, and hope, and faith. How do I tell myself that it’s all gonna die? I’ve spent so long among those trees. It’s not like trees in a park you visit. I don’t go to a different trail or campground or mountain every week. I go to the same mountain, every time. I know every corner of those three hundred acres. I can see the whole forest when I close my eyes. Those trees are like friends to me. I know their peculiarities, their personalities. I can identify some of those trees by their acorns alone. It’s honestly too much. To know they’re all doomed. And if my forest is dying, the same thing is happening everywhere on earth. My mind leapt back 20 years to when I was doing fieldwork up in Kenai, Alaska. I remembered driving past hundreds of miles of conifers dying from Spruce Bark Beetle, which had exploded without the cold winters to keep its population in check. I must have blocked it out for twenty years. But it was right there, just below the surface of my consciousness, foreshadowing.
The sadness, the fear, the despair comes over me in waves when I think about it. The whole biosphere, sixty-six million years of adaptation and speciation, is dying. I took personal responsibility for repairing, conserving, stewarding my half-mile square of it, and it finally hit me–what I’d been wrestling with unconsciously for a long time–that I can’t save it. No amount of wisdom, or sacrifice, or heroism is going to change the outcome. It’s been wearing on me for years, but when you’re raised on Star Wars and unconditional positive regard, you think that no matter how long the odds, you’re somehow gonna pull off the impossible. It’s been years of working, day-in, day-out, against odds that were unimaginably long. Only, they weren’t long. They were impossible.
And at the crescendo of sobbing and loss, the saddest thought I’ve ever had came to me: I wish I didn’t know. What else can you say, when faced with a catastrophe of such vastness, with the unravelling of the entire fabric of life on earth? I mean, we need to fight to save what we can, but the web of life as we know it is done. All the beautiful things we saw as kids on the Discovery Channel. The forests I grew up in. The mountain lions, and the horned owls, and the scat and the tracks in the washes. We’re so early in this curve, and the changes that are already baked in will be so profound. I don’t think humans are headed for extinction. We’ll survive, though many of us will suffer and many die. But all this life with which we’ve shared the planet, much of it won’t make it. I wish I didn’t know. I wish I didn’t know those ancient trees dying up there on the mountain. I wish I’d never hiked through Cuyamaca before the fires. Wish I’d never looked beneath rocks for lizards in the canyons before the bulldozers came. Or heard the frogs singing.
Some of us have seen what’s coming. Some of us feel, deeply, the oneness of all life, feel its fabric fraying. On the first of April, 2019, just after 3 o’clock, some faith–some fantasy inside me–died, and I felt despair for the world I’ve known and loved. We will not save what was. The world, the systems, the interrelationships, the densely woven tapestry, the totality we were raised to love will collapse. My responsibility now is to my children–to all our children–and the world that will remain to them. To rescue as much as we can from that global conflagration, from the catastrophes of famine, and flood, and fire, and conflict, and exodus, and extinctions that await. To end our dependence on fossil fuels, immediately. To dramatically change our food production, our transportation, our land use. Our way of life. To defeat anyone and anything that opposes or hampers that work. If there were ever a truly holy war, this struggle–to save the whole of life from ourselves–is it. There can be no compromise. No increments. No quarter. There is nothing left, but to go forth–with the grief, and desperation, and granite-hard determination–and transform the world. Utterly. Immediately.

Dr. Cody Petterson is an anthropologist and environmental activist. He is president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and serves on the boards of the San Diego River Conservancy and the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego. He lives with his wife and two children in La Jolla, California, where he enjoys his passion for native habitat conservation and restoration.

Stop climate change with carbon taxes

By Andy Gebhardt

Everything has a price

Everything has a price. We can look at climate change as an economic problem. Economically speaking, climate change is a market failure. People fly, drive cars and overuse air conditioners because the consequent carbon emissions incur no cost: we do not have to pay for the damage we cause. That is where a carbon tax comes in: to resolve the market failure.

A carbon tax puts cost to pollution

A carbon tax is a tax just like VAT (value added tax), that we pay at the point of purchase, included in the price of the good/service, on all purchases we make. However, a carbon tax is a tax not levied on all purchases like a VAT. It is only applied to fossil fuels and other Green House Gas producing activities. The level of taxes is determined by the amount of CO2 emissions generated per unit of sold energy or substance.

Higher energy cost = higher efficiency = lower consumption

The tax increases the cost of energy intensive goods and services (e.g. fuel, flying). This is an incentive to use less of the now more expensive goods/services. It triggers efficiency. And with that, lower emissions.

However, for people with limited income, a hike in e.g. fuel cost can be disastrous -they might not be able to afford to go work anymore, as the yellow-west protests in France have shown. In particular in the absence of an affordable alternative to gasoline fuel. In addition, increasing the cost of GHG emitting fuels alone will not reduce emissions as fast as is required.

For this reason, individuals have to be compensated for the increasing energy cost. Simultaneously, we have to develop an affordable GHG-free alternative.

The climate tax develops a cheaper and GHG-free alternative to fossil energy

This is why 50% of the tax revenues will be paid back to individuals in cash; to compensate for the increasing energy bill and potentially increasing cost of goods. 40% of the tax revenues will be used to finance the rapid development of a renewable energy infrastructure. The new renewable energy infrastructure provides a cheaper alternative to fossil fuels, and will reduce emissions fast. The remaining 10% could be used for research and development of renewable energy technology.

The proposed carbon tax will reduce GHG emissions to Zero by 2035, while reducing the total global energy bill by 2% of World GDP.

For more information, please check http://www.globalcarbontax.org

The Benefits of Accepting the Possibility of Environmental Collapse and Human Extinction

By John BellS

British Professor of Sustainability Leadership, Jem Bendell, has recently published a thoughtful review of the scientific studies on climate change, called “Deep Adaptation”. He concludes that social collapse is inevitable, environmental catastrophe is probable, and human extinction possible. He says, dramatically enough to get our attention,

The evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war

But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.

He thinks facing this can lead to individual and collective change and growth toward insight, compassion, and action. He proposes what he terms “deep adaptation,” which includes the following framework:

I hope the deep adaptation agenda of resilience, relinquishment and restoration can be a useful framework for community dialogue in the face of climate change. Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?” Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?” Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”

In reading the piece, I found myself relieved and encouraged.

Relieved because I too have been thinking about the likely collapse, thinking that the earth’s environment is past the “tipping point” in many areas, that we will lose more species that we can imagine, that there will be social chaos, that we need to grieve the current and looming losses, and that I may need to become a planetary hospice worker, or a climate chaplain, joining with others in trying to provide support, comfort, and perhaps some spiritual wisdom to help us manage the coming troubles.

I was also relieved because I too have been hesitant to share these kinds of thoughts publicly for fear of reinforcing discouragement and despair that most people carry. I haven’t wanted to be a voice of gloom and doom, since that usually helps disempower people. Prof Bendell addresses this fear by saying that refusing to look directly at the seriousness of our situation gives us false hope that somehow we can avert the worst, and thereby keeps us numb enough to go along with accepting things as pretty much they are, or just advocating for mild, piecemeal reforms, thereby sealing our fate.

Encouraged because I have long believed that what is required is radical transformation at the base of our civilization—an economy that promotes well-being and happiness, not based on greed; a society based on fairness, compassion, and cooperation where the “isms” have been healed and eliminated; a re-uniting of humans with the rest of the natural world, recognizing our inextricable interdependence and embeddedness; a human culture that encourages contentedness, sufficiency, caring, curiosity, and creativity. The author points in that direction.

This transformation seems like a dream, given the current trends. All the more reason to not continue the slow, incremental reformist moves that most of the environmentalists have attempted. This is not sufficient. Nothing is sufficient to stop the severe climate induced disruption and suffering already built in. But hoping that technology or the market or human decency or enough political will can “save” us from the worst is not sufficient either. We are called to a radical shift in consciousness coupled with deep changes in our behavior, policies, and structures in the external sphere, and correspondingly deep changes in the interior realms–our self-concept, beliefs, internalized feelings of powerlessness and unworthiness, unconscious biases that make us feel superior or inferior, and the underlying conditioning that makes us feel separate from each other, other beings, and the Earth.

The interior transformations needed require, among many things, dedicated and effective methods of healing trauma, providing emotional safety and safeguards in the home and public settings, a set of mindful ethics to guide our behavior, and ways of nurturing compassion, loving kindness, peacefulness, and enjoyment in the joy of others.

Contemplating the interior dimension of change needed leads me to three conclusions or directions for myself. a) To re-dedicate myself to do even deeper emotional work to release stored distress and childhood hurts so that I can think more clearly and act more boldly. b) To re-commit myself to meditate more diligently and to practice even more fully the ethical principles I’ve been engaged with, namely, reverence for life, generosity, kind speech, and mindful consumption, so that my actions point to the world I want, and c) To live more deeply into the insights of interdependence, continual change, and unbroken wholeness of reality from which I can’t be separated, so that I know that the Earth and I are one, that what hurts the Earth or other being, hurts me, that when I care for a river’s health I am caring for my health.

Contemplating the radical change in social structures needed leads me personally to commit myself to advocate for a bold vision beyond reform; to support big ideas like the Green New Deal and beyond; to participate in mass non-violent civil disobedience actions; to help dismantle white supremacy, patriarchy, and all the dominator systems; to support the creation of a new just, cooperative economy. A tall order for sure, but why not go for it!

We don’t and can’t know how the story ends. But starting by embracing the strong possibility of environmental collapse and human extinction can jar us into a deeper relationship with our true nature and other beings.

“Inner healing, social transformation. You can’t have one without the other.”
– the tagline of Tikkun Magazine years ago.

John Bell is a Buddhist Dharma Teacher who lives near Boston, MA, USA. He is a founding staff and former vice president of YouthBuild USA, an international non-profit that provides learning, earning, and leadership opportunities to young people from low-income backgrounds. He is an author, lifelong social justice activist, international trainer facilitator, father and grandfather. His blog iswww.beginwithin.info and email isjbellminder@gmail.com.

Will we collapse like Easter Island?

By Zeeshan Hasan

The spectacular statues of Easter Island, a sparsely populated Pacific isle which is seemingly so desolate that there are not even any large trees on it, have been a mystery for centuries. How could an island of a few thousand people produce hundreds of such statues, the largest of which are 33 feet tall and weigh 82 tons? This question inspired Erich Von Daniken, a best-selling author of the 1970s, to speculate that the statues were erected by aliens from outer space. The real story of the statues and the people who carved them are the subject of the first chapter of Jared Diamond’s book, ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Survive’. Diamond is professor of Geography at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of several award-winning books on the impact of the physical world on human history. His Easter Island history turns out to have profound environmental lessons for us even today.

Diamond points out that archaeologists have proved that Easter Island was once very different from today; before being colonised by people, it was covered with forest typical of other sub-tropical Pacific islands. Once settled by explorers who arrived by canoe from other islands, it seemed to present itself as a hospitable place, and the human population expanded rapidly. Incidentally, this solves the mystery of the statues; a population several times bigger could more reasonably be expected to erect such monuments. However, unknown to the new settlers, the soil of Easter Island was much less fertile than that of other islands that they had lived on. This infertility manifested itself in slower tree growth. Thus when the Easter Islanders cut down trees for firewood, houses and deep-sea canoes, they did this at a rate which may have been sustainable on other islands that their ancestors had lived on; but on Easter Island it brought disaster. As the population grew, people cut down more trees for firewood and canoes. Canoes were necessary as dolphin-hunting provided a large portion of the animal protein in the diet (along with wild birds and other small animals from the forest). But once the forest cover was removed, the exposed land eroded quickly in the rain and wind. Crop yields decreased, and the islanders’ solution was apparently to cut down more trees to plant more crops and build more canoes for dolphin-hunting. As a result, within a few centuries the island was completely deforested. Without trees, there were no more wild birds or animals to hunt, except rats. With no more wood available for canoes, dolphin meat was also no longer available. The islanders descended into famine, war and cannibalism (unfortunately, human meat was one of few remaining sources of animal protein). Two-thirds of the population perished in this terrible manner.

Diamond describes other societies that collapsed primarily due to environmental difficulties, including several more Pacific islands, the Norse colony in Greenland, the native Anasazi culture of the southwestern US, the central American Maya civilisation and modern Rwanda. He also presents the case of Japan, which came close to such a fate but managed to avoid it thanks to intelligent decisions and good leadership.

There is a lesson for us here: in these times of global warming, it may be comforting to believe that our leaders can be trusted to sort everything out, and that humanity would never allow itself to be destroyed. But such a faith would be unfounded; many previous societies have thought this way, and failed. Long-term survival requires a real understanding of the limitations of our environment and a strong political will to live within those limits. Like the first settlers of Easter Island, we find ourselves in a new, unknown environment; namely an industrialised 21st century world with greenhouse gas levels higher than they have ever been in human history. We no longer need to colonise a new island to experience unfamiliar environmental conditions; our carbon dioxide emissions are altering the climate of our whole planet, which will bring unpredictable new risks for everyone. The lesson of Easter Island should make us think on the failure of our own leaders to take real action to prevent catastrophic climate change, even though the latest IPCC report said that only 11 years remain to prevent catastrophic global warming of more than 1.5 C.


What Will You Say to Your Grandchildren?

By Jeremy Lent

Facing oncoming climate disaster, some argue for “Deep Adaptation”—that we must prepare for inevitable collapse. However, this orientation is dangerously flawed. It threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy by diluting the efforts toward positive change. What we really need right now is Deep Transformation. There is still time to act: we must acknowledge this moral imperative.

Every now and then, history has a way of forcing ordinary people to face up to a moral encounter with destiny that they never expected. Back in the 1930s, as Adolf Hitler rose to power, those who turned away when they saw Jews getting beaten in the streets never expected that decades later, their grandchildren would turn toward them with repugnance and say “Why did you do nothing when there was still a chance to stop the horror?”

Now, nearly a century on, here we are again. The fate of future generations is at stake, and each of us needs to be prepared, one day, to face posterity—in whatever form that might take—and answer the question: “What did you do when you knew our future was on the line?”

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few months, or get your daily updates exclusively from Fox News, you’ll know that our world is facing a dire climate emergency that’s rapidly reeling out of control. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a warning to humanity that we have just twelve years to turn things around before we pass the point of no return. Governments continue to waffle and ignore the blaring sirens. The pledges they’ve made under the 2015 Paris agreement will lead to 3 degrees of warming, which would threaten the foundations of our civilization. And they’re not even on track to meet those commitments. Even the IPCC’s dire warning of calamity is, by many accounts, too conservative, failing to take into account tipping points in the earth system with reinforcing feedback effects that could drive temperatures far beyond the IPCC’s worst case scenarios.

People are beginning to feel panicky in the face of oncoming disaster. Books such as David Wallace-Wells’s Uninhabitable Earth paint a picture so frightening that it’s already feeling to some like game over. A strange new phenomenon is emerging: while mainstream media ignores impending catastrophe, increasing numbers of people are resonating with those who say it’s now “too late” to save civilization. The concept of “Deep Adaptation” is beginning to gain currency, with its proponent Jem Bendell arguing that “we face inevitable near-term societal collapse,” and therefore need to prepare for “civil unrest, lawlessness and a breakdown in normal life.”

There’s much that is true in the Deep Adaptation diagnosis of our situation, but its orientation is dangerously flawed. By turning people’s attention toward preparing for doom, rather than focusing on structural political and economic change, Deep Adaptation threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, increasing the risk of collapse by diluting efforts toward societal transformation.

Our headlong fling toward disaster

I have no disagreement with the dire assessment of our circumstances. In fact, things look even worse if you expand the scope beyond the climate emergency. Climate breakdown itself is merely a symptom of a far larger crisis: the ecological catastrophe unfolding in every domain of the living earth. Tropical forests are being decimated, making way for vast monocrops of wheat, soy, and palm oil plantations. The oceans are being turned into a garbage dump, with projections that by 2050 they will contain more plastic than fish. Animal populations are being wiped out. The insects that form the foundation of our global ecosystem are disappearing: bees, butterflies, and countless other species in free fall. Our living planet is being ravaged mercilessly by humanity’s insatiable consumption, and there’s not much left.

Deep Adaptation proponents are equally on target arguing that incremental fixes are utterly insufficient. Even if a global price on carbon was established, and if our governments invested in renewables rather than subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, we would still come up woefully short. The harsh reality is that, rather than heading toward net zero, global emissions just hit record numbers last year; Exxon, the largest shareholder-owned oil company, proudly announced recently that it’s doubling down on fossil fuel extraction; and wherever you look, whether it’s air travel, globalized shipping, or beef consumption, the juggernaut driving us to climate catastrophe only continues to accelerate. To cap it off, with ecological destruction and global emissions already unsustainable, the world economy is expected to triple by 2060.

The primary reason for this headlong fling toward disaster is that our economic system is based on perpetual growth—on the need to consume the earth at an ever-increasing rate. Our world is dominated by transnational corporations, which now account for sixty-nine of the world’s largest hundred economies. The value of these corporations is based on investors’ expectations for their continued growth, which they are driven to achieve at any cost, including the future welfare of humanity and the living earth. It’s a gigantic Ponzi scheme that barely gets a mention because the corporations also own the mainstream media, along with most governments. The real discussions we need about humanity’s future don’t make it to the table. Even a policy goal as ambitious as the Green New Deal—rejected by most mainstream pundits as utterly unrealistic—would still be insufficient to turn things around, because it doesn’t acknowledge the need to transition our economy away from reliance on endless growth.

Deep Adaptation . . . or Deep Transformation?

Faced with these realities, I understand why Deep Adaptation followers throw their hands up in despair and prepare for collapse. But I believe it’s wrong and irresponsible to declare definitively that it’s too late—that collapse is “inevitable.” It’s too late, perhaps, for the monarch butterflies, whose numbers are down 97% and headed for extinction. Too late, probably for the coral reefs that are projected not to survive beyond mid-century. Too late, clearly, for the climate refugees already fleeing their homes in desperation, only to find themselves rejected, exploited, and driven back by those whose comfort they threaten. There is plenty to grieve about in this unfolding catastrophe—it’s a valid and essential part of our response to mourn the losses we’re already experiencing. But while grieving, we must take action, not surrender to a false belief in the inevitable.

Defeatism in the face of overwhelming odds is something that I, perhaps, am especially averse to, having grown up in postwar Britain. In the dark days of 1940, defeat seemed inevitable for the British, as the Nazis swept through Europe, threatening an impending invasion. For many, the only prudent course was to negotiate with Hitler and turn Britain into a vassal state, a strategy that nearly prevailed at a fateful War Cabinet meeting in May 1940. When details about this Cabinet meeting became public, in my teens, I remember a chill going through my veins. Born into a Jewish family, I realized that I probably owed my very existence to those who bravely chose to overcome despair and fight on in a seemingly hopeless struggle.

A lesson to learn from this—and countless other historical episodes—is that history rarely progresses for long in a straight line. It takes unanticipated swerves that only make sense when analyzed retroactively. For ten years, Tarana Burke used the phrase “me too” to raise awareness of sexual assault, without knowing that it would one day help topple Harvey Weinstein, and potentiate a movement toward transformation of abusive cultural norms. The curve balls of history are all around us. No-one can accurately predict when the next stock market crash will occur, never mind when civilization itself will come undone.

There’s a second, equally important, lesson to learn from the nonlinear transformations that we see throughout history, such as universal women’s suffrage or the legalization of same-sex marriage. They don’t just happen by themselves—they result from the dogged actions of a critical mass of engaged citizens who see something that’s wrong and, regardless of seemingly insurmountable odds, keep pushing forward driven by their sense of moral urgency. As part of a system, we all collectively participate in how that system evolves, whether we know it or not, whether we want to or not.

Paradoxically, the very precariousness of our current system, teetering on the extremes of brutal inequality and ecological devastation, increases the potential for deep structural change. Research in complex systems reveals that, when a system is stable and secure, it’s very resistant to change. But when the linkages within the system begin to unravel, it’s far more likely to undergo the kind of deep restructuring that our world requires.

It’s not Deep Adaptation that we need right now—it’s Deep Transformation. The current dire predicament we’re in screams something loudly and clearly to anyone who’s listening: If we’re to retain any semblance of a healthy planet by the latter part of this century, we have to change the foundations of our civilization. We need to move from one that is wealth-based to once that is life-based—a new type of society built on life-affirming principles, often described as an Ecological Civilization. We need a global system that devolves power back to the people; that reins in the excesses of global corporations and government corruption; that replaces the insanity of infinite economic growth with a just transition toward a stable, equitable, steady-state economy optimizing human and natural flourishing.

Our moral encounter with destiny

Does that seem unlikely to you? Sure, it seems unlikely to me, too, but “likelihood” and “inevitability” stand a long way from each other. As Rebecca Solnit points out in Hope in the Dark, hope is not a prognostication. Taking either an optimistic or pessimistic stance on the future can justify a cop-out. An optimist says, “It will turn out fine so I don’t need to do anything.” A pessimist retorts, “Nothing I do will make a difference so let me not waste my time.” Hope, by contrast, is not a matter of estimating the odds. Hope is an active state of mind, a recognition that change is nonlinear, unpredictable, and arises from intentional engagement.

Bendell responds to this version of hope with a comparison to a terminal cancer patient. It would be cruel, he suggests, to tell them to keep hoping, pushing them to “spend their last days in struggle and denial, rather than discovering what might matter after acceptance.” This is a false equivalency. A terminal cancer condition has a statistical history, derived from the outcomes of many thousands of similar occurrences. Our current situation is unique. There is no history available of thousands of global civilizations bringing their planetary ecosystems to breaking point. This is the only one we know of, and it would be negligent to give up on it based on a set of projections. If a doctor told your mother, “This cancer is unique and we have no experience of its prognosis. There are things we can try but they might not work,” would you advise her to give up and prepare for death? I’m not giving up on Mother Earth that easily.

In truth, collapse is already happening in different parts of the world. It’s not a binary on-off switch. It’s a cruel reality bearing down on the most vulnerable among us. The desperation they’re experiencing right now makes it even more imperative to engage rather than declare game over. The millions left destitute in Africa by Cyclone Idai, the communities still ravaged in Puerto Rico, the two-thousand-year old baobab trees suddenly dying en masse, and the countless people and species yet to be devastated by global ecocide, all need those of us in positions of relative power and privilege to step up to the plate, not throw up our hands in despair. There’s currently much discussion about the devastating difference between 1.5 and 2.0 in global warming. Believe it, there will also be a huge difference between 2.5 and 3.0. As long as there are people at risk, as long as there are species struggling to survive, it’s not too late to avert further disaster.

This is something many of our youngest generation seem to know intuitively, putting their elders to shame. As fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg declared in her statement to the UN in Poland last November, “you are never too small to make a difference… Imagine what we can all do together, if we really wanted to.” Thunberg envisioned herself in 2078, with her own grandchildren. “They will ask,” she said, “why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.”

That’s the moral encounter with destiny that we each face today. Yes, there is still time to act. Last month, inspired by Thunberg’s example, more than a million school students in over a hundred countries walked out to demand climate action. To his great credit, even Jem Bendell disavows some of his own Deep Adaptation narrative to put his support behind protest. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched a mass civil disobedience campaign last year in England, blocking bridges in London and demanding an adequate response to our climate emergency. It has since spread to 27 other countries.

Studies have shown that, once 3.5% of a population becomes sustainably committed to nonviolent mass movements for political change, they are invariably successful. That would translate into 11.5 million Americans on the street, or 26 million Europeans. We’re a long way from that, but is it really impossible? I’m not ready, yet, to bet against humanity’s ability to transform itself or nature’s powers of regeneration. XR is planning a global week of direct action beginning on Monday, April 15, as a first step toward a coordinated worldwide grassroots rebellion against the system that’s destroying hope of future flourishing. It might just be the beginning of another of history’s U-turns. Do you want to look your grandchildren in the eyes? Yes, me too. I’ll see you there.

Jeremy Lent is author of The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, which investigates how different cultures have made sense of the universe and how their underlying values have changed the course of history. He is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering a sustainable worldview. For more information visit jeremylent.com.

On the Matter of Hope

By Rob Lewis

The question now peers out of every weather chart, UN climate report, and grim projection: is there hope? Though nebulous, it feels essential to us right now. Yet it’s getting harder and harder to find. Indeed, if you look with utter sobriety at the numbers, it’s hard not to arrive at zero in the hope column.

But is a hope really a quantity that you can have or not have? We seem to treat it as such. It has long been the practice when writing about climate or extinction to give the reader hope at the end, like it were a token they could place in a turn-style, on the other side of which, presumably, is the will to act.

I’m not sure what kind of hope that is, or if it’s really the kind we need right now. And we do need something like hope, something to give us the sense our efforts will be rewarded, that all is not lost. It’s not surprising that at one of the early meetings of our local Extinction Rebellion chapter, the thing we all talked about when introducing ourselves was our personal wresting matches with hopelessness. All of us pretty much admitted to having lost hope, yet there we were.

In the end we agreed it doesn’t really matter what quantities of hope supposedly exist or don’t exist in the world. We each have to decide for ourselves whether or not to fight for what we love. We were there because we had already answered that question. It wasn’t hope but something else that brought us, something less definable but apparently more necessary. What should we call it?

I don’t know, but it gave me hope.

I am standing on a high prairie, invigorated by a cold northern wind. Grasses, toughened by that wind, stretch gleaming around me, and I am thinking about hope, and its antipode: hopelessness. I have brought this question in my head onto this prairie, but it’s an argument that feels out of place here, which bristles and rushes with an intensity far fiercer than hope. Here, nothing seeks reassurance of its success, or hinges its commitment on a glimmer of anything. Here it is all in all the time. It has the effect, as wild places often do, of making me want to shout.

Amongst the lichen-mapped stones, snow has melted into a patchwork of pools, clear as liquid air. I look into them, “Do you have hope?” But they don’t seem to understand the question. The word hope, apparently, is not in their vocabulary. I look at the distant mountains and ask “is it hopeless?” but the wind tears the words out my mouth and blows them into nothing as I speak them.

I don’t think the earth, or any of its myriad creatures and beings, have hope as we tend to think of it. They don’t anticipate outcomes. They strive, no matter what. Maybe it’s that constancy of commitment that makes them seem so full of hope.

We’re different. We worry over the future, constantly gauging our odds both large and small, collectively and individually. It’s a habit of the human mind that most other minds would find bizarre. Certainly a salmon would never make it up the river scaling waterfalls if it thought that way. A migrating seabird might think twice about the upcoming trek to chile. Flowers could well keep their shops closed for fear of hail. But they don’t. They go, they blossom, they strive.

You could say many of these same things about the human body. Whatever our thoughts, it’s always busy at work, the heart vigorously pumping, the arteries singing, the cranium flashing like a small lightning cloud. The human body is like the salmon and the seabird, a creature of the earth. It is the horse we actually ride, not the one in our heads wondering if it’s going to work out. 

Thinking now of my time on that wild, windy prairie; was it my mind that wanted to shout, or my body?

Whatever hope is, it may be more physical than we realize. Take a vacant lot, asphalt crumbling, littered with trash. Put beside it a lot of equal measure planted with gardens and native plants, with “at risk” kids proudly growing food for their community. Tell me which side has more hope. A river dying behind a dam doesn’t offer much in the way of hope, but restore that river and watch hope flow. Preserve a prairie and watch it grow. Bring the songbirds back and hear hope sing.

It may be a good thing, this clamor for hope, for it may yet focus our gaze. If it is hope we are looking for, we should roll up our sleeves. We can restore it river by river, lot by lot. We can protect it, we can defend it, we can grow it. The sun is still in the sky and the earth wants to live. This is not too complicated.

The earth is hope embodied, and we embody the earth. For me it’s become that simple. As long as the living planet strives, I strive. And regardless of my mind’s conclusions while falling to sleep tonight, and however uncertain the dreaming, I know my body will wake me in the morning saying what it always says, more life please.

How am I to answer?

And what does hope have to do with it?

The Barrier

By Andy Matthews, Isle of Wight XR

UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “we are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change.” And that, “It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation…we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.” This statement came alongside the news that emissions had risen to a new high in 2018 after 30 years of supposedly attempting to cut them.

Can we adapt to the inevitable effects of “catastrophic climate disruption” under the capitalist system Or, is it a barrier to a sustainable future-fit for the good of all?

We need three basic elements to sustain life: food, water and shelter. When our species emerged some 40-60,000 years ago we maintained ourselves as hunter-gatherers. This period lasted for 90% of human history. Cooperation was crucial for our survival.

Chattel slavery and the concept of private property emerged before written history with basic agriculture and the production of surpluses. People became property, and the state evolved to defend property rights through the use of coercion. Between the 9th and 15th century in medieval Europe, the shackles of slavery gave way to feudal society and the legalised bondage of serfdom wherein the three basics for life were exchanged for service and labour on the land.

Capitalism dates from the 16th century and flourished at the expense of feudalisms inability to adapt. The central characteristics of capitalism are: private ownership of the means of production, profit, waged labour, the accumulation of capital, prices, and competitive markets.

As elites arose in slavery and feudalism, so too did the unequal division of food, water, and shelter for the vast majority of its people.

Capitalism has mirrored that as Oxfam reports that the, “World’s 26 richest people own as much as poorest 50%.” Whereas, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation revealed that the food system fails to properly nourish billions of people. More than 820 million people went hungry last year, while a third of all people did not get enough vitamins. Approximately 9 million people die of hunger globally each year.” 

And water? “At least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces…Nearly two million children a year die for want of clean water and proper sanitation…The UN Development Programme, argues that 1.1 billion people do not have safe water and 2.6 billion suffer from inadequate sewerage. This is not because of water scarcity but poverty, inequality and government failure.”

And shelter? Globally, ” one in eight people live in slums. In total, around a billion people live in slum conditions today”. In 2005, the last time a global survey was attempted by the UN, “an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide. As many as 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing”.

These are symptoms of a cancer called poverty. A sickness intrinsic to capitalism.

The question to ask yourself here is: are these people likely to be joined by millions more given what we know, at present, about the effects of “catastrophic climate disruption” under capitalism?

Politicians, the media, and entrepreneurs scrabble around for quick fixes. All of them involve market solutions. But the logic of the capitalist market is to make money. Thus, catastrophe can also be seen as an opportunity to turn a profit.

Bloomberg reports that, ” A top JP Morgan Asset investment strategist advised clients that sea-level rise was so inevitable that there was likely a lot of opportunity for investing in sea-wall construction.” And speculating on insurance policies, Barney Schauble, of Nephila Advisors LLC believes that, “the broader public’s failure to appreciate the risks of climate change is part of what makes it such a good area for investing.” Moreover, “there is evidence that many players in the corporate-military-security industrial nexus are already seeing climate change not just as a threat but an opportunity… climate change promises another financial boon to add to the ongoing War on Terror.”

Technology we are told will eventually provide solutions to climate change. This is a crude phantasm of an ideology that seeks to forego any alternative thinking and to “kick the can down the road.”

The “green new deal” appears in several shades of grey. Whether the so-called, “war-time mobilisation” some people call for could be realised in one country is debatable. But globally? That would take cooperation on a scale inconceivable given that in the 20th century The League of Nations, and later the UN were implemented to maintain peace. Nevertheless, countless millions were slaughtered in capitalisms’ wars.

And now? Consider the debacle that is Brexit. And the farce of climate change conferences.

Cooperatives and similar types of enterprises are argued for as solutions. But as long as markets exist they too have to conform to its iron laws. Cooperatives will have to compete with each other to buy raw materials and inputs, and then sell its commodities on the market with every other seller of an equal product. Thus, if a cooperative produces goods to sell on the market, to obtain money, to pay wages via profit, then it has to conform to all of the economic laws of capitalism.

Profit is capitalism’s raison d’être, and growth its imperative.

The quote, “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism,” becomes credible with the knowledge that, “just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, ” many of which are state entities and the residue potent friends of state actors. Likewise, “the U.S. Military is the World’s Biggest Polluter .” All powerful adversaries of anyone who wants to oppose the status quo.

But, for those who think this barrier can be overcome have one great advantage. Imagination. The ability to envision a different world. One fit for the good of all. To imagine it, clarify it, and start to build it. And those that believe the barrier could be breached should begin by inscribing on their banners the dictum -“Toward One World.”