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.