Earth Day Hope

Earth is in trouble.  We all know that, and I don’t want to spend more than a few moments reminding ourselves of how and to what extent.  I want to dwell on the more hopeful news of the Great Turning that we are beginning to see in understanding, shifting beliefs, and innovation in policy and technology. I want to dwell primarily on what Kathleen Dean Moore calls the “Great Tide Rising” in her book of that title. But first. . . .

Around 1800 we began to create a heavy-handed, unsustainable, industrial-extraction civilization which led us to do four things that are driving us down the slippery slope toward the cliff, toward the chaos which will result from so damaging the ecological base of civilization that it will be followed by social collapse.

1:  Our population swarmed:  It took a million years to reach a billion about 1825. Then in the last 200 years it doubled four times to 2 billion, then 4 billion, and now nearly 8 billion.  There are too many of us taking too much.

2:  We are destroying habitat needed for the ecosystems that underlie and support civilization. We need to set aside half the world as wild.

3:  We have created tens of thousands of toxic chemicals that are depressing life—e.g. Roundup, DDT, PCBs, PFAS, et cetera ad nauseam, literally.  We’re killing the pollinators.  We are in the Sixth planetary extinction but this is one we have caused.  We are bleeding life from the planet.  Some areas have seen a 75 percent decline in insects in the last 30 years.

4:  We are rapidly altering the climate, leading to extreme heat, drought, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, sea level rise and the acidification of the ocean that is killing off the base of the ocean food chain.  Picture Panama Beach, and Paradise California.  Fishing fleets coming home empty all over the world.  Picture a deserted Miami under water. Picture a world with a billion more people in it but a world in which food production has declined markedly due to floods, drought, and extreme heat killing the crops, Iowa as a desert, Phoenix at 130 degrees.  This is where we are headed.

            So why is there hope?  First, many people are becoming aware that we need to create civilization 2.0.  A new understanding is arising in all sorts of places.  I refer you to just a couple of books: Moore’s just mentioned, and Justice on Earth, The Uninhabitable Earth, The Shock of the Anthropocene, Eco-cities, The Transition town Handbook, This Changes Everything, and others.  Just Google these titles, or go to Amazon books and search for “environment” “climate,” “extinctions,” etc.  But get your local book store to order for you.

            Second, many organizations are rising to the challenge of doing just that, of halting the disasters of a fossil fuel based mega-civilization and creating the new relationship to nature.  It’s not just that the Old Line groups are revitalized: Sierra Club (See their on-line “Revelator”), Earthjustice, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, but that new organizations are developing as well, like the Sunrise Movement (a youth organization), Citizen’s Climate Lobby, Climate Parents, The Shift Network, etc.

            Third, vital political forces are arising, including the just mentioned Sunrise Movement and the world-wide wave of children’s school walkouts demanding action on climate.  The rise of political action by indigenous peoples, like the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Lumi peoples who have blocked a fossil fuel export port in the Pacific Northwest, the indigenous blockade of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock,   the environmental justice movement in faith congregations, the Community Rights Movement and the general movement securing legal rights for rivers, lakes, and forests. Add in the excitement around the Green New Deal launched by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Of course, the Old Guard elites who benefit from trashing the Earth are fighting back but it’s a rear-guard action by people who have no solution to the devastation they have caused, and it appears, no awareness either.

I don’t know if we are going to make the transition from Hypercivilization to Ecocivilization and even if we do, there are going to be losses along the way.  Nevertheless, this is a time of great ferment; at no time in the past fifty years has the possibility been this good.  We are living in dangerous but exciting times.  We are at last on the move.

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My Land

I look out my window and I see “my land,” three acres of mixed forest on a small lake in Wisconsin.  But is it, “my land?”  My wife and I have “owned” it for twenty years and before that it was Mr. Richie’s land and before that, well I’d have to look at the deed.  It’s what conveys the illusion of “ownership.” And not long from now it will be someone else’s land, if we keep to this legal fiction.  But for 12,000 years it “belonged” to indigenous people who hunted and fished and camped here, and we’ve no reason not to believe that some of them are buried here.  Sacred land.  And of course, it “belongs” even now to the bears, white tail deer, fox, rabbit, turtles, squirrels, a whole array of woodland birds, hognose snakes, chipmunks, eagles, crows and ravens, frogs, and many others who come by foraging, to say nothing of the millions of soil organisms going about the dark work of breaking down the leaves and pine needles and turning them to soil.

The Buddha said “The words ‘I’ and ‘mine’ do not occur to a wise man.” He also said: “Paradoxical though it may seem, there is a path to walk on, but there is no traveller; there are deeds being done, but there is no doer, there is a blowing of the air but there is no wind that does the blowing. All thought of self is an error. . . .”  In plainer words—there is no such thing as an isolated, individual.  We are all dependent on one another for our very physical, to say nothing of our mental existence.  These trees are producing some of the oxygen that keeps me alive with every breath.  The comparable Hindu teaching is: “The Greater Self in all beings and all beings in the Greater Self.”

We don’t even “own” our own bodies for very long and they, like everything else, is continually shifting and changing.  So we have two of the great truths of Buddhism and Hinduism: impermanence, and dependent arising.  Meaning what for my perception of “my land”?  It’s not.  It’s not that “I” am only here for a short while, but that “we” are, companions in a community that the world of Mara, the world of fearful materialistic possessiveness, defines with imaginary lines on a map.  Meaning that the well-being of all of us is tied up with what we all do, and that this fluid and fairly boundary-less “I” person need to take their well-being into consideration and act as just one member of this community that stretches so far beyond the boundaries of “my” land.  And if we all wake up to this reality, then all will be well.

 

Asking the RIGHT QUESTION About The Environment

There are lots of right questions.  For example:

  • “How fast is the extinction rate proceeding?”
  • “Can the polar bears survive?
  • “How much CO2 is in the atmosphere now?”
  • “Why are so many toxic dumps sited by people of color?
  • “Who’s responsible for the pollution?”
  • “Are the coral reefs dying?”
  • “Why should anybody care of the insect populations are crashing?”
  • “How is the border wall damaging wildlife and biological diversity?”

 

And on and on.

 

These are perfectly good questions but they each give only a fragment of the whole picture. But what is THE RIGHT QUESTION?

 

If we are going to understand what’s happening, where we are in history of the Earth, and what to do about it, we need a much bigger question, a compound question that will help us ferret out what’s happening, how serious it is, who is responsible, who is harmed, and how it all interrelates or fits together. etc.  I suggest the following.  It’s not very elegant—won’t win any prizes for poetry, but here it is.

 

The Biosocial Question

Who determines what is done to nature, according to what beliefs and values, by whom, using what technologies at what rates, with what impacts on the planet and on society, and with what costs and benefits for whom?

 

What a mouthful!  But this analytical tool will reveal the state of the planet and civilization, showing us where we have gone wrong, who’s responsible, what we’ve done right and what we need to do now to avoid the impending collision between humanity and nature.  In short, we need a systems analysis approach since we are dealing with highly complex and interrelated biological, physical and social systems.  Put more simply, this ugly construction will tell us who we are, where we are, how we got here, and how to get out of here.

Do You Know Where You Are? Wendell Berry’s Sense Of Place

Wendell Berry, the sage of Kentucky and prolific author, laments our general ignorance of where we are living. Most of us really don’t know much about the place in which we find ourselves living.   He says that “. . . if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”  (Northwest Earth Institute, “Enjoying a Sense Of Place,” http://www.nwei.org/enjoying-sense-place/.)  Nor can you properly care for the place where you are.

How does one get to know a place intimately?

In his book, What Matters? Economics For A New Commonwealth (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010, pp. 34-35) Berry provides a set questions each of us must be able to answer in order to live successfully in a particular place.

  1. What has happened here?
  2. What should have happened here?
  3. What is here now? What is left of the original natural endowment?  What has been lost?  What has been added?
  4. What is the nature, or genius, of this place?
  5. What will nature permit us to do here without permanent damage or loss?
  6. What will nature help us to do here?
  7. What can we do to mend the damages we have done?
  8. What are the limits: Of the nature of this place? Of our intelligence and ability?

How many of us can answer these questions about our current home place?

It will be only by re-learning the where of where we are that we can then build up a care for its uniqueness that will power our actions to save it from the mass-uniformity that global industrialization is imposing on the world, and only that will lead us to true happiness.  The wisdom then gained about a place will be passed on to generations down the line.  A sustainable civilization can only be built on a renewed sense of place and that requires getting out of the house, out from behind the LED screens, into the real world, the local biosphere.   Once having learned the natural and cultural history  of our place, and figured out  its “genius,” then with a newly developed sense of wonder and awe, we we will realize that it is sacred and we are privileged to be its guardians and its restorers.

 

 

will realize that it is sacred and we are privileged to be its guardians and its restorers.

Joy In Desperate Times

While most people do not yet recognize it, we live in desperate times.  I am referring to the global environmental crisis that includes not only a dangerously deteriorating climate, a rate of extinction not seen in 60 million years that is tearing strands out of the web of life that supports civilization, the imminent arrival of another billion people who need will to eat, who will need clean water that is already in short supply, and the seemingly endless warfare we are inflicting on each other.  There.  That enough to convince?  Desperate times.

How then can anyone be joyful and why should we be?  Doesn’t being joyful imply a naive, Pollyanna attitude not worthy of a compassionate, thinking person?

I am in no way suggesting that we ignore the suffering or the evil of those who are causing it, those who are propelling the planet along a fossil fuel death march, who are bombing children in Yemen, who are tearing little ones away from their parents at the border, who are fear-mongering to divide us in order to stay in power.  What I am suggesting is twofold.

One is that we forgive them.  Don’t jump to conclusions here.  By forgiveness I do not mean condoning the evil they do.  No.  Personally I mean to oppose them at every turn with nonviolence, but also with compassion.  That means I can try to understand how they are damaged individuals, or just ignorant of the state of things and of the fundamental truth that we are all brothers and sisters on one small, beautiful planet wending its way through the universe.  Somehow they did not learn that and we can try to be their teachers.  By forgiving I mean letting go my anger at what they do and who they currently are, freeing myself from their power to damage me, for anger is damaging to the spirit and quite clearly to the body (heart disease, stroke, lowered immunity).  A wise man once said that anger is the punishment we give ourselves for somebody else’s mistake. I am going to let that go.  Anger clouds our judgement and deprives us of skillful means to take effective actions.  I am not going to let them have power over me to make me miserable. They are not going to dictate my response to life.  That is going to come out of my own values—my belief in peace, justice and my love for this amazing little planet.

Two, once freed in this way I can then also see the beauty around me—the sunrise, the setting of the moon, the incredible animals who share this planet with us.  Just think about the butterflies, puppies, the beauty of the mountains and the sea, the glories of music and the arts.  Our loved ones. These are still ours to enjoy.  Then, fighting for their preservation becomes in itself a thing of joy.  We can be happy warriors (nonviolent, of course).  There is such a contradiction in the demeanor of the angry peacemaker—it’s an oxymoron isn’t it?

When I wake up in the morning, I say a prayer of thanks for my sight, hearing, mobility, dexterity, such as they still are at seventy-eight years of age.  I look outside and see the frisky little red squirrel enjoying his day, the blue jay at the bird feeder.  They make me glad.  I thank all those predecessors who invented and maintained civilization for me, and I take joy in the coming day’s opportunity to use whatever resources and talents and time I have to work for the common good, to pass on a peaceful, just society on a restored Earth.  Joy in desperate times.  For sure.

 

Ten Reasons To Feel Good About Climate Change

Ten Reasons To Feel Good About Climate Change

Well, pretty good.  So much news we get is dire and I do not want to decrease our sense of urgency that much needs to be done.  But a little good news can stimulate hope-based action.  So here it is.  Wendy Becktold just published an article by this title, beginning with “Humanity’s on the brink, but signs are emerging that we’ll pull back.”  She lists these signs of positive change.

 

  1. The divestment movement is growing, forcing the fossil fuel industry to realize its stocks are stranded assets. Peabody Coal used divestment as a reason to file bankruptcy.  New York City is dumping $189 billion in fuel stocks from its pension fund.
  2. The Paris Agreement holds in spite of Trump’s attacks and at a meeting in Poland the world negotiated a set of rules on how to better measure progress nations are making.
  3. The law still rules: many of Trumps efforts to roll back former limits on greenhouse gas emissions are being challenged in the courts.
  4. Renewable energy is on the rise: now so cost effective it will replace fossil fuels in 20 years.
  5. Coal is going, going. . . . During Trump’s first two years, 20 gigawatts of coal fired plants were retired (8 times what happened in Obama’s 4 years), and Sierra Club predicts that by 2035 there will be no coal plants in the U.S.
  6. Technology is advancing including better wind generators, reforestation, no till agriculture and the possibility of carbon capture from the air by 2029.
  7. Transportation is headed in the right direction. Several U.S. regions are planning comprehensive transportation strategies to reduce emissions, electric vehicles are on the rise including school busses.  California is fighting the Trump administration to hold on to their strict tail pipe standards.
  8. The scales of justice are tipping. About 90 big companies are responsible for nearly 2/3 of rising surface temperatures and they are being sued by municipalities, unions, and environmental groups.
  9. The political winds are shifting including the 2018 Congressional elections which put many new representatives in the U.S. house who oppose Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental legislation, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who’s Green New Deal will be taken up at least in part by the new House.
  10. Youth are on the march, including the Sunrise Movement kids who did a sit in in Nancy Pelosi’s office, 15,000 high school students in Australia, and Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school girl who drew world-wide attention to government inaction. She skips school every Friday and sits on the steps of the Swedish Parliament.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the end of climate deterioration, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.  So let’s all get to work.

 

A GREEN NEW DEAL: OUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT

The crisis we Earth dwellers are now entering is the NEWS OF THE CENTURY. All the rest is just glitter and litter. Too much non-critical information.
We need to admit that we made a mistake in building a civilization on fossil fuels. We didn’t know back then. We do now. And we have a remedy at hand.
Newly elected representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has proposed that the House create a powerful “Select Committee” to create a Manhattan Project style plan for a comprehensive Green New Deal aimed at transitioning us to 100 percent carbon neutral economy by 2030, and laid out the means including renewable energy, retrofitting all buildings with high R value insulation, and other practical strategies. What did the House leadership do? It created a weak committee to study the problem.
Here’s Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal.
“The select committee shall have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality.” The Plan will be driven primarily by the federal government but in cooperation non-government organizations. The Committee will complete its plan by January 1, 2020.
Specifically: it will include:
The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall be developed in order to achieve the following goals, in each case in no longer than 10 years from the start of execution of the Plan:
i. 100% of national power generation from renewable sources;
ii. building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;
iii. upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
iv. decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries;
v. decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure;
vi. funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases;
vii. making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.

The House failed to give their study committee power to subpoena and depose, a mandate to create a plan for 100 percent carbon neutral economy, or the authority to create legislation and send it directly to the House floor for a vote, or to require that members who receive money from coal and oil industry be banned from the Select Committee. Too little, too late.

If we are going to avoid a potential collapse of civilization due to climate deterioration and a skyrocketing rate of extinction, we will need a powerful grass roots campaign to buck up the House leadership, demanding that their existing Select Committee gets the powers and the charge that Ocasio-Cortez has proposed.

Biodiversity Loss–Threat To Civilization

Scientists are warning us of a hidden threat to civilization, the loss of biodiversity.  This threat is as big a climate deterioration.

The staggering loss of biodiversity in the last 4 decades is an equal threat to our survival. Since 1970, we have wiped out 60 percent of animal populations on the planet. Insect populations in German nature preserves have declined by 75 percent since 1970. The UN biodiversity office predicts that “By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse.”

These losses are caused by primarily by habitat destruction (for example: clearing biodiverse forests for palm oil plantations), chemical pollution, infrastructure that injures and kills wildlife (glass skyscrapers, electric fences), and invasive species.  We are bleeding life from the planet and it is going unnoticed.  We are in the midst of the biggest extinction crisis since the disappearance of the dinosaurs millions of years ago.

Well, so what?  What’s the loss of some insect species to me, or some rare bird I will never see anyway?

Here’s what.  The web of life that supports us provides us food, oxygen, drinkable water, fiber for clothing, medicines, and building materials.  It is like a string hammock in which we lie.  We are rapidly cutting the strings. Beneath that hammock lies chaos and anarchy.  Stable social systems require stable ecosystems. Ecosystem stability comes from many species interacting, but ecosystems are collapsing all over the world.  Most of us live in cities and don’t see it, and the media and governments don’t have a clue either.  The UN points out that “The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.”

World leadership must very quickly act to establish goals for habitat protection, reducing chemical pollution and preventing the spread of invasive species before it is too late, because once gone is gone forever.

While we should be alarmed, we should not be paralyzed.  “The UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends – will meet in Egypt this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife.  This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations which must culminate in an ambitious new global deal, comparable to the Paris Climate Agreement, at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.

The U.S. is the only nation that has refused to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity.  We need to lobby the federal government to join the rest of the world.  And there is also much we can do at our homes and local community level to preserve and create habitat where we live.  Every little bit of pollinator habitat helps, every little bit of forest or wild grassland saved makes a difference.  Without biodiversity, civilization is imperiled.

A Different Perspective On Peace

A Different Perspective On Peace

By Kent D. Shifferd

Think of where we are, on a very special, tilted planet that revolves on its own axis every 24 hours while it is circled by a moon that moves around it every 27 days, and both are circling the sun every 365 days, and the sun and all its planets are part of the barred galaxy we call the Milky Way, which is revolving around its own axis once every 250 million years which means that our incredible little planet is racing through space, carried along by the galactic revolution or Cosmic Year, at a speed of 500,000 miles per hour or 12 million miles per day.  Try to picture all these simultaneous movements in your mind.  We are on the outer edge of just one galaxy in a universe of 100 billion galaxies, a tiny dot in measureless space.  And yet, and yet. . . this incredible planet has life, indeed is a living planet encased in a web of creatures dependent on one another and all functioning to support the whole miraculous enterprise.  And here we humans are, conscious of all this, which ought to be both overwhelmingly humbling and awe-inspiring to the point of putting us on our knees.  To think that we are a part of this almost inconceivable cosmic dance leaves me breathless.  And I say to myself, how can we possibly harm one another and the whole web of life, for as far as we know there is no such other planet like earth, and if there is, it’s too far away get to.  This is it, here on this rapidly moving miracle planet.  So, to put it simply, let’s all get along together and nurture the unique systems of life which support us in this remote but awesome place in the universe.

Kent Shifferd is the author of From War To Peace: A Guide To The Next Hundred Years, and is the former Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies

HOW TO OUTLAW WAR

 

Several years ago I wrote the book, FROM WAR TO PEACE: A GUIDE TO THE NEXT HUNDRED YEARS (McFarland, 2011). I now hope it won’t take a hundred years, but whenever the nations and peoples are ready to put an end to the barbarism of war, perhaps the treaty will look something like this.

A TREATY TO OUTLAW ALL FORMS OF WAR

PREAMBLE: Whereas war is a terrible crime against humanity and detracts crucially needed resources and attention from solving the most critical problems of the planet while contributing to their exacerbation;

And whereas all prior good will efforts to prevent war including the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the current Charter’s limited prohibition of aggression, and current provisions for collective security have failed to prevent war, and;

Recognizing that we currently live in a self-perpetuating war system causing untold misery, and that decisive steps must be taken to break out of this system, and;

Whereas the peoples and States of the world are interdependent as never before so that any war anywhere degrades the lives of all people everywhere and threatens the future of well-being on the planet, therefore:

ARTICLE I: The High Contracting Parties agree that all war is illegal and a crime against humanity, including interstate war (aggression or defense against aggression, declared or undeclared), terrorism and wars against terrorism, and civil wars, and further;

ARTICLE II: the Parties agree to rid themselves of the instruments of war including standing armies (not to include lightly armed domestic police forces), artillery, armed aircraft, bombs, missiles, tanks and all that is common in such cases, and other weapons already outlawed by international treaty (nuclear weapons, land mines, gas, cluster bombs, etc.), and further,

ARTICLE III: the Parties agree to immediately train at least ten percent of their citizens in nonviolent civilian-based defense, and further;

ARTICLE IV: each of the State Parties will establish a high level Department of Peace, and further;

ARTICLE V: that violations of these terms constitute a crime against humanity whose perpetrators will be turned over to the International Criminal Court for judgment, and further;

ARTICLE VI: that the High Contracting Parties shall agree to impose economic sanctions against any States that violate these terms, as determined by eighty percent of the members of the Security Council voting without the exercise of the veto.

ARTICLE VII: that the Parties agree to submit to the mediation by the United Nations in order to resolve conflicts as early as possible using the latest techniques of conflict resolution and mediation, or to undergo the judgment of the International Court of Justice whose subpoena will have the force of international law with appropriate sanctions for any State that ignores its summons, enforceable by the police power of the United Nations, and further;

ARTICLE IX: that the United Nations shall maintain an adequately armed international police force for the deterrence of violations, to be employed as a last resort as determined by eighty percent of the members of the Security Council voting without the exercise of the veto.