A Green and Just Planet Earth

Getting To A Green and Just Future On Planet Earth

If we are to save the earth from the assaults of Hypercivilization, and so save ourselves, we need to change our minds. A number of thinkers have been suggesting what we need to do to get to a green, just and sustainable future for planet earth. Ted Trainer writes: “To save the planet we do not need miraculous technical breakthroughs or vast amounts of capital. Essentially we need a radical change in our thinking.” Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns movement, says: “We need a positive vision of an abundant future: one which is energy lean, time-rich, less stressful, healthier and happier.” It’s what economist David Korten calls “The New Story” and “The Great Turning.” Willis Harmon reminds us: “Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in society have come about not from the dictates of governments and the result of battles, but through vast numbers of people changing their minds, sometimes only a little bit.”

We need a different set of foundational beliefs that don’t repeat the lie that we are all individuals in a zero sum competition with each other to acquire ever more material goods in an ever expanding economy. That’s not the path to the good life; it’s the road to a ruined Earth and a new Dark Age. So what might be the new cultural postulates that could undergird a green and just society? Here are twelve suggestions.

  1. The most first and most fundamental of the ideas that will undergird Ecocivilization is the idea of community, which ought to be so obvious as to be not worth stating, yet it is crucial to do so in this age of radical, narcissistic individualism. There is no such thing as a self-made person. We humans all rely on one another, but even more profoundly on the other members of the geobiotic community—trees, plants, animals, soil organisms, the atmosphere, the oceans, etc. Other foundational concepts flow out of and into this, including the following eleven changes from our present beliefs.
  2. From privatization to preserving the Commons. Water, air, soil, food, atmosphere, parks, peace and security are rights of everyone, not to be sold to profited self-seeking corporations.
  3. From anywhere is everywhere to restoring a deep sense of place. We can’t know who we are until we know intimately where we are.
  4. From treating the earth as a momentary utility to seeing the Earth community as sacred.
  5. From ignoring the limits of nature to respecting its design, knowing what we can and, more importantly, can’t do without long term harm.
  6. Moving from mindless experimentation (nuclear power, genetic engineering, geoengineering, terraforming) to the precautionary principle which says those who want to introduce changes must themselves first prove them harmless.
  7. From design by guess to redesign by biomimicry—nature as teacher.
  8. From never enough to asking how much is enough.
  9. From crude measures of economic growth to determining and measuring true happiness and well-being.
  10. From rigidity to resilience, global dependence to local independence and self-sufficiency.
  11. From our war system to a peace system. [For more, see my book, From War to Peace: a Guide to the Next Hundred Years, McFarland Publishers).
  12. From irresponsibility to responsibility, from letting corporations externalizetheir environmental and social costs to the rest of us to requiring accountability from them.

These 12 should not be considered linearly but systemically in their mutual and ongoing interrelationships. They are all interlocked with each other. All could be derived from any one of them. You really can’t think about one without thinking about all of them.

The good news is that this great post-Enlightenment Rethink is already developing. It can be found in numerous books, articles, magazines, classes and courses and in countless conversations world-wide. David Korten’s “Great Turning” is underway.

The Declaration of Peace

The Declaration of Peace

These are self-evident truths:

That all humans are a single family living on a fragile and endangered planet whose life support systems must remain intact if we are to survive;

That the well-being of the planet and the well-being of humanity are one and the same;

That the well-being of each requires the well-being of all—security is common;

That all war is a crime against humanity and nature;

That any war anywhere degrades the quality of life for all of us everywhere;

That all humans have a natural right to peace and a healthy planet;

That we live at the decisive moment in history when we will choose between break down or breakthrough on a planetary scale;

That we here now dedicate our intellectual, spiritual and material resources to the establishment of permanent peace and the conservation of nature, and,

That we are fully endowed by our Creator with the wisdom and the ability to achieve these ends.

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17 May, 2017 at Tomidhu Cottage, Crathie, Scotland,  by Kent Drummond Shifferd

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Please distribute freely. E copies may be had by emailing kentshifferd@gmail.com.

 

 

The Final Struggle To Save The Earth

The Final Struggle To Save The Earth

The planetary emergency is upon us. Now begins the final struggle to save the earth. We are at a critical turning point in human and natural history. For two hundred years we have been simplifying the biosphere on which all civilizations must rest. Now the worst extinction crisis in 60 million years is underway. Negative climate change is accelerating. Water shortages, droughts and unprecedented storms are already a reality and getting worse. Soil is being exhausted world-wide. Deserts are advancing. Tens of millions of refugees are displaced and many millions more will come as the conditions for agriculture deteriorate. Two billion more people will have to be fed, housed, clothed, and provided with energy by 2050, and this on top of the 7 billion already here now. In the face of this the forces of reaction have taken control and are plunging ahead; men who put greed above the common good, who think the solution is to drive this destructive machine even faster, to go back to fossil fuels instead of forward to renewables, to further chemicalize our air and water and food, to tinker with the genetic base of all life. They want to privatize the National Parks, drill and mine in the National Forests, blow the tops off of mountains and shove the toxic overburden into the streams, drive leaky oil pipelines under our rivers and drill in the stormy polar seas. This is the time to resist with all our might, and more than resist, it is the time to invent a new civilization compatible with the earth, based on renewables, conservation, reverence for the land and for the unique places in which we live, on revived local economies, and on peace. There is still much to save: many beautiful places, a livable climate only slightly damaged, restored soils, waters cleaned up, healthy local communities. But know this—it’s our last chance. We need to rise up both for ourselves and for future generations. We humans have no right to stupidly despoil the creation. There is still time, but not much. We can still avoid the rise of a new Dark Age, can still deliver to all posterity a restored, healthy planet and a sane civilization. We are the ones who are called by all the children who will ever be, who will stand in judgment of what we did, or did not do, in this critical moment in the history of the planet. Go forth!

The Clementine Community

The Clementine Community

Today I awake at 5 AM in the northern dark, arise and dress in warm clothes to take the little dog out. It is twenty below zero and we are back in the house quickly. I get the coffee started and eat a little orange called a clementine. This is an act of profound community, as well as something of a miracle in January. This small orange came all the way from Spain. The sweet juices it harbors are the rain that fell on the Spanish orchard last spring, or even many springs ago, filling an aquifer below the soil there.

Spanish soil, like soil everywhere, is a living community made up of thousands of insects, worms and micro-organisms, all aerating and turning the leaves of last year’s trees into once-again useable nutrients in the endless cycle that has been going on for millions of years. Soil is a precious community. I say a silent prayer of thanks to these creatures. There is the community of people, of course, the orchardists who carefully nurture these trees for years before they even begin to fruit, and then care for them into old age, each year producing this edible gold. Men, women, and boys who tend and till and pick and pack. I will never know their names, but they are my companions in this act of community. And this community extends far back in time to the first orchardists in China, thousands of years ago, who carefully bred this strain of citrus fruit, using natural methods, over generations, people who spoke a different language and had a different religion than mine.

And, too, there are the transporters: the men or women who drove the fruit to the workers at the washing and packing plant, who loaded it into boxes, and then into larger containers. How did it get here? By ship, with a big crew? On a jumbo jet? And then trucked to a distribution warehouse and somehow, SOMEHOW (!), it got to a little grocery in a small town in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, was unpacked and the stock boy put it on the shelf, and the young women at the register rang it up and another packed it in my cloth bag, and here it is. Moist. Delicious. Sweet. Nutritious.

Oh, and don’t forget—we humans only worked with the materials, and within the Nature’s laws. We do not preserve nature—nature preserves us. It is only together that we can live, people with people and people with natural communities, and it is only in peace that we can live together in community.

 

 

The Wisdom Of The Sufis

Wisdom of the Sufis

Sufism is the very old, inner, mystical dimension of Islam, focusing on God as divine love and seeking union with that divine nature in order to reflect it into the world. One of the ways the Sufi mystics seek to attain such a state is through trance achieved by the stately twirling in place (what we in the West have called the ‘whirling dervishes,” but are more properly known by their own name, the Melevli.) The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi said: “The Sufi opens his hand to the universe and gives away each instant, free. Unlike someone who begs on the street for money to survive, a dervish begs to give you his life.” And the 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz said, “The sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.” But the text I want to reflect on here is by the modern Sufi, Idries Shah (1924-1996)

“The donkey that brought you to this door must be dismissed if you want to go through it.”

 

The donkey that has brought us to this doorway in history is materialism in its corporate capitalist form with its relentless drive for economic growth. Actually, we face two doorways; one leads down a steep flight of dark steps into the basement of chaos, a world where most of the naturally evolved environment is destroyed and we are living in poverty amidst conflict, what many are now calling the “collapse scenario” for Western Civilization.

I’m am not arguing that the place the old donkey brought us to is all bad—far from it; we have modern medicine, electricity, rapid transport. But the way in which we are doing much of what we do is unsustainable, both because of too much and the wrong technologies, especially for energy, food production, forestry, and transport (not to mention warfare).

The other doorway leads to another place that I will call “Ecocivilization.” Go through that door and we will have abandoned the old attitudes including the world view in which nature is to be “conquered” and isolated individuals compete to maximize their own wealth, believing that doing so will make them happy and the world a better place. This view has not led to the conservation of the natural base on which civilization rests, nor has it led to a just and peaceful society. It has not preserved the commons or the common good. It has not even produced much happiness because there is never enough for all our greed. We need to get off this old donkey and go through the new door where we will build a world based on our realization that we are not separate from nature or from one another but rather all are interdependent. We need the earthworms, the trees, the bees, and on and on. The Buddhists call it “dependent arising.” I could not be without you (two leggeds, four leggeds, winged, finned ones). With a new appreciation for our place in and our dependence on nature and, dare I say it—realizing that the natural world is a sacred and holy place designed by a beneficent God (Allah, Adonai, Great Spirit, etc.), we will have the will to move to renewable practices in energy, transport, housing, city redesign, permaculture, local economies, and so on. So farewell, old donkey. We are heading for the Great Transition to Ecocivilization.

 

Stories We Tell Ourselves: Stories We Could Tell Ourselves

Every people tells its story and, sometimes, distorts the truth. Our American story is about a new start for humanity and tells us of coming to an empty, undeveloped land where we could be free to worship, free to own land, free of class distinctions and an aristocracy, self-governing, and where hard work would bring advancement in life. Every generation would do better than their parents.

There’s a lot of truth to this version, but it’s glaringly incomplete. The land was not empty. Old civilizations had been here for thousands of years before “we” came, some farming, some living intimately with the land as hunter gatherers. We drove them off, based on the view that might makes right and that “we” could make “better” use of the land. You all know this. And you know that “we” did not start out with self-government; only the rich could vote and sit in office. You also know that “we” went to Africa and stole human beings and forced them into servitude to do the much of the work that “built the nation.” Again, might made right. We even burned women alive as witches at Salem.

Now don’t get me wrong—none of you did any of that. It was long ago, but that does not mean that we who live today are not culpable of fixing what wrongs remain from these atrocities, this terrorism, for that is what it was.

Now consider what has become of the original vision that Tom Jefferson put forward. Americans were to be free because they would be beholden to no one but themselves since they would live on small hold farms that would feed and clothe them. Living simple, healthy lives while caring for the land. Self-sufficiency would yield liberty and with it, dignity.

And today? Less than one percent farm—nearly all rest of us are employees, under the power of someone else, often giant corporations that are ruining the land: blowing the tops off of mountains, polluting the groundwater, fouling the air. So how do we go forward to a better America, one that revives the old virtues in new ways? I am not talking about going back to sod houses, toothache, and incest. But let us reason together about how to recapture true liberty, self-government and how to live so as to protect the land, the water, the air—indeed the whole Creation. What is the course correction we will need? What is our new story? What is our new vision?

 

 

Christmas, 2016–Not Bad

 

NOT BAD

Jesus and the disciples lived in a world where there was no electricity and hence no nuclear waste, where there were no nuclear weapons and hence no threat of annihilation; where there were no coal and oil fired industries, no fossil driven automobiles, and hence no major carbon footprint; no air pollution; no light pollution; you could see the stars at night; no two hour commutes with angry drivers on crowded highways; no mass extinction of the other members of Creation; no cell phones and texting or computers with their toxic components; no chemical food additives; no plastic (hence no trashed landscapes or the Pacific gyre); no overharvesting and drastically declining populations of fish, only a few million other humans on the earth; no need for an array of complex kitchen appliances; no chemically polluted water or eutrophic lakes and rivers from farm run-off of agricultural chemicals; no televisions to be discarded when “obsolete”; food was organic and local; No obesity or tooth decay from highly refined sugars and flours; no crowded cities of a million or twenty million; no chemical smog; no impending climate change with more intensive storms. No streams of airliners streaking through the sky burning oxygen and polluting the upper atmosphere. Most people were farmers and herders. Most life was centered in small villages.                 Not bad.

 

The Planetary Emergency

“We may live in the strangest, most thoroughly different moment since human beings took up farming, 10,000 years ago, and time more or less commenced.”[i] Bill McKibben

“In effect, the human race has entered into a great wager. We are, so to speak, betting the planet.” [ii] Charles C. Mann

We are facing a planetary emergency that involves much more than the disastrous effects of unchecked global warming; we are on the brink of a comprehensive environmental and hence a social catastrophe. The history of life on Earth is eons old—probably three billion eight hundred million years. In that long, long time span, the basic building blocks of life, the cell, and then complicated organisms and complex ecosystems developed in response to their surroundings, creating the living planet on which civilizations rests, on which it depends for its life support.   We are now threatening all of that.

In a brief geological moment, the last 200 years, our species has radically altered and simplified these planetary ecosystems by creating Hypercivilization. Hypercivilization is a powerfully destructive way of interacting with nature. It is characterized by an unprecedented overreach in population, energy capture and dispersion, rapid urbanization, and a chemical revolution all leading to the toxification of the biosphere, massive habitat loss, extinctions, desertification, environmental diseases, food shortages and climate change. We have changed the conditions in which life evolved and upon which it is dependent. We are in uncharted waters. Neither we humans nor the Earth has ever been here before.

Hypercivilization is a greatly exaggerated, globalized, and intensified form of civilization. It is without precedent. It represents a radical discontinuity with both the evolutionary and the cultural past. It began to emerge first in the mind with a revolution in beliefs and values around 1600 A.D. and then materialized in a first wave of new institutions and the technologies of industrialization. This revolution was firmly entrenched in Western Europe by 1900 A.D., and by the twentieth century, it spread like a tidal wave over the rest of the Earth. It continues to spread and intensify with the onset of the second wave, the new technologies of nuclear fission and biogenics.

Hypercivilization’s main impact on Earth’s life support system is destructive. In Hypercivilization, the good life is defined as acquiring ever more material things called “goods,” by a process called “economic growth” and measured as Gross National Product. Most negative impacts on humans and nature are externalized from its economic system. They will be assessed against our children for generations to come. Pollution, deforestation, drought, erosion, extinctions, overpopulation, a deteriorating climate, and consequent social ills such as modern war and extreme poverty became normative. Seen in historical perspective, Hypercivilization burst upon the earth and trashed it in a comparatively few moments of evolutionary time.

[i] Bill McKibben, “A Special Moment In History,” Atlantic Monthly, May 1998, p. 55.

[ii] Peter Menzel, Material World: A Global Family Portrait Text by Charles Mann, (San    Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994), p. 9.

 

The Cross Roads Of History

 We stand at one of the great cross roads of history. We face a fateful choice between one of two paths into the future. Some say the answer is to do more of what got us here. But the civilization we have created, which is based on the relentless extraction of minerals, the creation of thousands of toxic materials, the pollution of the air, soil and water, the deterioration of the climate, permanent warfare and the rapid extinction of half of nature’s species, and a culture of shallow materialism, is unsustainable. It will collapse from exhaustion and from too high a price forced on the natural world, a world that must remain healthy because it is the base on which all civilizations rest. Here is how the end looks to me, if we stay on our current course.

A MAN ON A HORSE

From where I sit I can see the end

Of this mad, frenetic dance.

Driven by our addictions

We will lose our chance

To help the world mend.

The butterflies are gone,

And the polar bear,

Birds no longer give us cheering song,

But the politicians do not care.

Glaciers melt and Himalaya’s rivers

All run dry,

Ice sheets slide into the rising sea.

Summer bakes, the forests burn

And winter storms invade the land.

Coastal cities sink and islands disappear

While those who flee pile up before the guns.

The doors of empty Walmart’s flutter in the wind,

The ships that filled them once

Drift derelict on acid seas

Where all the fish have died.

In one last grab to keep it all

We built a thousand Fukushimas on the land.

Now a strong man riding on a horse,

Whip and sword at side, watches

While a few survivors plant weak seeds

In contaminated lands

And curse their father’s fathers

Who let slip paradise from out their hands.

This does not have to be our end. Many are working to bring into being a different world based on renewable energy, cradle to cradle manufacturing, legal protection of clean air and water as a human right, ecological restoration, social justice and peace. These are all of a piece, part of a new, sustainable civilization. It is in the womb. Our job is to nurture it, to follow these leaders so that, as the Bible says, “that you and your children may live.”

 

The Perfect Farm/The Perfect Farm Community

The Perfect Farm/The Perfect Farm Community

The perfect farm is one that is resilient; it can survive storms both economic and those thrown at it by Mother Nature. Resilience means independence. It is energy independent, free from the control of giant agricultural corporations and from reliance on distant markets over which it has no control. Energy independence is achieved by renewables. The perfect farm house and buildings are designed, or retrofitted, to derive as much energy as possible from passive solar. That includes south facing triple pane windows, the addition of mass for storing the incoming solar, and high value insulation. It means active solar panels and a wind generator to supply off the grid electricity, and when that production is inhibited by cloud and calm, the farm burns wood from its own woodlot or some other renewable fuel. The farm machinery runs on electricity and/or on methane from a methane generator operation, which brings us to the mix of plants and animals. As we mentioned, it will have a mixed species woodlot. Then an animal operation to maximize manure for the generator and for replenishing the soils. The perfect farm is no till. Green manure is also used to replenish the soil and that includes agro-ecology practices such as cover cropping with dozens of carefully chosen plant varieties.  Nothing is wasted on the perfect farm. The perfect farm is organic. It is a mixed farm with a variety of crops and animals. The perfect farm practices animal husbandry and major gardening. It has hogs, dairy cattle, chickens, goats, et alia. The perfect farm is self-sufficient in necessary foods including proteins, starches and fruits and nuts. It has a small orchard. The perfect farm is designed and run according to the principles of permaculture, meaning that its array of crops and animals is fitted to what the land knows is best which means that the farmer must know the land, the climate, and the seasons intimately, as well as the history of the place. What was done here before? What mistakes were made? What was done right? What is sustainable over generations? The perfect farm protects the soil from erosion and chemical poisoning. It protects the surface waters and the ground water. It protects pollinators and other forms of wildlife. A major portion of it is managed for meadow and hedgerow. The perfect farm maximizes perennial crops to the degree possible. The perfect farm generates more income than outgo—it is profitable, but we must understand that profit is not measured only in dollars paid selling for crops, animals and animal products such as milk and eggs. Farm income also includes the food and fuel it produces for itself, and the money saved by not buying fossil fuels and fertilizers, by not being in debt and having to pay interest, and the value of bartered goods. The perfect farm also engages in agro-tourism and internships for young people, creating both cash income, help with the work, and new insights into how nature works for urbanites.

Is there such a thing as the perfect farm? Probably not. No farm can do everything. So we must think further in terms of the perfect farm community. Some farms must specialize if only because of the requirements of the land. But no farm should be producing just a single product: grain, or apples, or steers. The good farm is a mixed farm to the greatest degree possible. Then it relies on its neighbors (and we can define the extent of neighborhood variously), for that which it doesn’t produce, bartering with them for what it does produce: apples for goat cheese, bread grains for meat, etc. Furthermore the good farm does not need to own every piece of equipment necessary to a farm; it can be part of an equipment coop with its neighbors and it can also rely on help from them with the farm labor. The good farm is much more labor intensive than today’s mechanized operations. After all, what is wrong with more people on the land? More people on the land means more eyes and minds to know it intimately so as not to make mistakes, to say nothing of the joy of being out in nature. We need to repopulate our rural areas. The perfect farm community supplies most of its own food and fiber needs, locally or at least regionally. The farm family at the dinner table does not have to rely entirely on food that has been transported a thousand miles and then processed in some factory. Farmer’s markets and CSAs thrive in the perfect farm community, and here we extend the boundaries of community. The villages and even our great cities can be surrounded by farms like this that supply them with the necessities so that food arrives fresh from a trip that id only dozens of miles instead of hundreds or even thousands. Here is where the farmers will earn the cash they might want to buy a banana at the grocery, since in the U.S. at any rate, no one in the community will be growing them. And this raises the question of how much and what are enough for the good life? Do we need the 50 inch flat screen TV and the latest I-phone in order to be happy and fulfilled? Or do we need meaningful work, families, making our own music, and living a thriving, active community life? Have we not gone far off course in agriculture—gigantism, dependence, erosion, water pollution, debt, loneliness on the land, bad food and the other ills of modern agri-business? Let’s get back to real farming and real communities.

The perfect farm community is a two-way street. It requires not only healthy and sustainable changes on our farms, but the same is required for consumers. It requires them to know what is in the food they buy, including at the Farmer’s Market. It requires them to know where that food comes from, how much energy was wasted in transport. And it requires all of us to ask if we really need to eat avocados every night, and grapefruit every morning. We need to return to the joy of eating seasonally, so that when certain fruits and vegetables are in season, we can relish them.

In the perfect farm community—and here we are extending the boundaries of that community to the entire nation including its big cities for we all depend of farms in order to live—more and more we garden. The urban gardening movement is thriving today. And more and more we cook our own food AND we preserve it through canning and freezing. This is what makes us free and healthy. The two-way street also requires us as consumers in the perfect farm community to support CSAs. It requires us to participate in our democracy by making sure the federal government allocates subsidies, if it is going to allocate them, to the small organic farms and the local processing plants, the local dairy, the local mill for making bread grains, and so forth. We need to urge the government to break up the big agri-business monopolies that arrogantly think they can control what we eat and how it’s produced.

One path to that end is for all of us to contribute through the tax system to young would- be farmers, to make it possible for them to learn about sustainable farming and then to buy a farm. As the big farms come on the market, the government can buy them, break them up, and sell them at a discount to young aspiring farmers. Local governments can support internships for high school and college age kids to work on local organic farms. The schools can be a big part of a program to revivify our food system. Every school can offer classes in gardening and sustainable agriculture, and not just theory, but courses grounded (literally) in a school garden. And such courses would include not just planting and harvesting but food prep and preservation and, in addition, instruction about the politics and economics of the food system.

There is much we can do locally and nationally. Let’s rebuild agriculture. Let’s save our food system, our rural communities, our urban landscapes, and our health before it’s too late.