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.


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.

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

A Treaty To Safeguard Humanity

A Treaty To Safeguard Humanity and the Biosphere From Potential Catastrophe’s Issuing From Artificial Genetic Manipulation

Whereas the artificial[i] manipulation of genetic material, the substrate of all life, and is “likely to be the most radical experiment humankind has ever carried out in the natural world.”[ii], posing grave and even catastrophic results equivalent to nuclear holocaust for humans, other creatures, and the global biosphere for all time to come, and whereas the same promises major improvements in human health and other benefits, it is necessary to bring these processes under the active control of humankind by means of an international treaty.

The Treaty

Article One: The manipulation of genetic material to create new diseases or make old diseases more virulent for purposes of making biological weapons, shall be a crime against humanity prosecuted according to the protocols of the International Criminal Court and any appropriate national court with a penalty of life in prison without parole.

Article Two: All forms of and practice of artificial genetic manipulation shall be strictly confined to qualified scientists at universities and other certified institutions of higher learning whose work shall be overseen on site by independent ethics committees.   No government laboratories will be assumed to qualify under these terms of restrictions.

Article Three: An independent organization of scientists, similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose members are drawn from at least twenty-five different countries will be constituted to oversee and investigate all such research to evaluate its future impact on society and on the biosphere and recommend continuation or discontinuation of said research. These recommendations shall have the force of international law and violations prosecuted under the protocols of the International Criminal Court. The scientific community shall make the appointments to the Agency independently of national governments.

Article Four: It shall be illegal and construed as a crime against humanity to manipulate human genetic material that would result in transmission to subsequent generations or to in any way attempt to clone human beings.


What we can do

  1. Learn more about genetic manipulation.
  2. Debate and refine these provisions with others.
  3. Carry these provisions to any national or international organization to which we belong or which we think will be interested.
  4. Carry these provisions to our own federal officials and elected representatives.
  5. Carry these provisions to appropriate bodies in the United Nations, particularly ECOSOC.

[i] That is, any form of laboratory based manipulation, e.g., gene splicing, CRISPR, etc., outside of traditional methods of breeding of plants and animals by selecting for traits to be passed on via natural means to the next generation

[ii] Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Harnessing The Gene And Remaking The World

(New York: Penguin/Putnam, 1998), p. x.

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.

Nuclear Power—A Climate Solution?


Nuclear Power—a Solution To Climate Deterioration?

In order to generate electricity in the traditional way you have to boil water into steam which, as it expands, drives a turbine which spins a generator (basically a magnet inside a copper coil). Most of our boiling is done with fossil fuels which pollute the air, cause sicknesses and it drives climate deterioration. Many people including some environmentalists are advocating nuclear energy as the solution or at least as a bridge to clean and renewable methods of power generation such as wind and solar, but nuclear has its own insurmountable problems. Currently it supplies only 4.8 percent of global generation and would have to be ramped up on a colossal scale to become relevant. However, nuclear generating plants take a long time to build and are horrifically expensive, much more so than clean alternatives that are now on the shelf. Even if we started to build them now, they would not come on line in time to ameliorate the climate crisis. Even more importantly, nuclear plants are not fossil free. They depend on large expenditures of fossil fuels for fuel processing, transport and construction. Nuclear power has its own large, carbon footprint. Further they leave us with horrific toxins for ten times longer than civilization has yet been around and also with useless, heavily irradiated structures that will need to be dismantled and buried at an astronomical cost per plant. Nuclear is not cheap. In fact, if you add in the cost of processing the fuel in the first place, and “decommissioning” the irradiated and dead plants at the end, nuclear is the most expensive way to generate electricity. Then there is the risk of the next Fukushima type meltdown. Finally, they complicate the problem of nuclear weapons proliferation and are prime targets for terrorist attacks which would make the World Trade Center attack pale by comparison. Finally, nuclear power just doesn’t make sense. It is an incredibly complicated and dangerous technology just to heat water into steam to turn a turbine to turn a magnet inside a copper coil. Heating water by fissioning uranium is just silly. I suspect it was developed for two reasons; one, because we could. It was what the original atomic bomb physicists called “a technologically sweet problem.” The second was guilt over unleashing horrific weapons of mass destruction on the world. Nuclear power generation would offset that guilt—“atoms for peace,” was their phrase. Expanding nuclear energy is worse than a non-starter, it’s a dumb and dangerous mistake.


Our Civilization Can Collapse? No Way. . . .

Our Civilization Can Collapse? No way. . . .


“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.”

Bill McKibben


“In effect, the human race has entered into a great wager. We are, so to speak, betting the planet.”

Charles C. Mann


Oops—We Created “Hypercivilization.”

The history of life on earth is three billion eight hundred million years old. In that long time span the basic building blocks of life: the cell, complicated organisms and complex ecosystems developed. But in a brief geological moment of the last 200 years our species has radically altered and simplified planetary ecosystems by creating “Hypercivilization,” a powerfully destructive way of interacting with nature characterized by an unprecedented overreach in population, energy capture and dispersion, urbanization, and a chemical revolution, all leading to the toxification of the biosphere, massive habitat loss, extinctions, desertification, environmental diseases, and climate change, etc. We have changed the conditions in which life evolved. 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; a radical discontinuity with the evolutionary and cultural past. In the twentieth century it spread like a tidal wave over the earth and continues to spread and intensify. Its 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.” Most negative impacts on humans and nature are externalized from this economic system. They will be assessed against our children for generations. Pollution, deforestation, drought, erosion, extinctions, overpopulation and consequent social ills such as modern war and extreme poverty became normative. “Hypercivilization” burst upon the earth and trashed it in a comparatively few moments of evolutionary time. But from our limited perspective in the present, it was a long time in coming.

The Foundations Are Cracking

In the last 200 years Homo’s technical reach has leapt into the stars and descended into the heart of the atom and the gene. Today, billions of hands are literally tearing at the web of life. The natural foundations on which civilization rests are already cracking and bending and sagging. The end result will be a drastic simplification of earth’s ecosystems to the point where they will not be able to sustain civilization. The trend is well underway and is continuing to accelerate. And yet, we do not see it because, while our evolution prepared us to see dangers that are big, hairy and fast, it did not prepare us to see dangers that are incremental and of our own making. Many civilizations have gone down before, some quite suddenly. We are not immune.

I don’t mean to discount the wonderful, life-giving and enriching aspects of the modern world. None of us would give up anesthesia, or all the rest of modern medicine. The advance of literacy is miraculous and the internet has made more knowledge available to more people more rapidly than ever before. The point is that we must use our new-found knowledge of the natural and social worlds to benefit ourselves, and that requires understanding and confronting “Hypercivilization.”

How do we get out of this situation? Many experts are working on it. For starters, get

“The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crisis” published by Watershed Media. Get from Amazon or better yet, your local bookstore.

The Miracle of Electricity and the Curse of Coal

Electricity is a miracle.  It makes our lives easier, running our lights, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, computers, etc., etc.  It entertains us, powering our music, our TVs.  It makes our life safer, running the stop lights, and healthier, lighting the operating theaters in our hospitals.  We’ve only had it for a little over a century and yet it has transformed our lives.

It is made mainly by boiling water.  Water is heated into expanding steam that pushes on the blades of a turbine causing it to spin at high speed.  Attached to the end of the turbine shaft is a magnet which is spinning inside a copper coil.  Presto!  Electric current begins to flow to every house and factory. A miracle!

The most common way to boil water is to burn coal.  Coal is cheap (if only the market price is considered) and high in BTUs.  But coal is a curse.  Why?  Many reasons.  Mining it is filthy, destructive and dangerous.  Miners die, or get horrible lung diseases.  Whole mountain tops are blasted off and shoved into valleys causing disruption, polluting streams with heavy metals, violating the land.  It is heavy and has to be transported long distances, exacting its own energy cost.  But the worst effects come from burning it.  The smoke contains mercury, arsenic and other pollutants that cause respiratory disease and cancer.  Burning coal puts harmful particulates in the air and yields toxic ash that has to be sequestered. Some experts estimate 10,000 deaths a year come from burning coal.

The true costs include the pollution and sickness but coal companies do not pay these.  We citizens do.  Our children do.  But this isn’t the worst aspect of coal.  Global warming is.

Some people choose not to believe in global warming, or that it is a threat only to our grandchildren.  One can also choose not to believe in the law of gravity, but such people should avoid jumping out of tall buildings.  Global warming is here already and the source is burning coal to make electricity.  Here’s a little of the evidence.

The earth, including the oceans, have warmed one degree Celsius since we began burning lots of coal in the 1850s and putting millions of tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, causing an increase in rainfall, storms, and in the violence of storms including more lightning strikes, causing more fires.  In one day in June, 2008, 1700 lightning strike fires in California burned a million acres.  In the Atlantic, 111 hurricanes formed between 1995 and 2008, a 75 percent increase over the previous 13 years, and they are forming earlier and later.  The last 30 years have yielded four times as many weather disasters as the previous 75 years.  For the last three years the arctic ice cap has melted at an unprecedented rate and for the first time in human history the Northwest Passage was open to shipping.  Not only is the ice melting from the top but from the bottom because the ocean has warmed.  Since 1980 the tropics have expanded 2 degrees of latitude south and north, pushing the drought plagued subtropics ahead of them.  Half of Australia is in permanent drought and wildfires are consuming wide regions.  India, the American Southwest, China, Brazil and Argentina are experiencing serious crop reductions due to unprecedented heat and drought.  The Chacatalya glacier in Bolivia, once the world’s highest ski run, is gone. The ocean is becoming more acidic, a result oceanographers ascribe to global warming, making it inhospitable for shell fish.  The Pacific oyster beds are seeing 80 percent mortality for oyster larvae.  And coral reefs, the nurseries of the oceans, are dying at an unprecedented rate and will likely not survive beyond 2050.  To put it ironically, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  One can multiply this evidence many fold.  For more, read James Hanson’s The Storms of My Grandchildren.  Hanson is the leading climatologist in America.  Read Bill McKibben’s new book, Eaarth.

There is another way to boil water, and that is by “burning” uranium.  It too has its dangers but many are now saying, reluctantly, that it’s a better risk than coal.  Coal, along with its cousins, tar sands, oil shale, and oil, is going to destroy the earth.  There are other ways to avail ourselves of enough electricity.  These include above all conservation.  We waste huge amounts of electricity.  Just close your eyes and picture Las Vegas at night.  But look at your own home, too.  How many lights do you leave on unnecessarily?  How many TVs running? And what about the ghost electricity that is keeping all your appliances ready to come on instantly?  Think conservation.  And then there are renewables—wind, hydro, and solar.  We could ramp these up quickly, but only with government based incentives (just as we ramped up nuclear energy, and still subsidize the airline industry and big farmers).

And don’t believe those who say there is such a thing as “clean coal.”  It’s a lie.  You can remove the CO2 from coal, but it adds 25 percent to the price of electricity, and you have to put it somewhere, preferably deep in the earth, and hope it won’t find its way out because if it does it will suffocate humans living in the region around it.  And burning the coal still puts other lung destroying pollutants in the air.  The quickest and best thing we can do for our economy, for ourselves and our children, is to stop burning coal.  Leave it in the ground.  Coal is not a boon; coal is a curse.