Dear Partners in Green,
In 2006, Bill McKibben, a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College and leader of the climate campaign 350.org (whom I have mentioned in previous posts), wrote the book The End of Nature, one of the earliest warnings about global warming, which went mostly unheeded.
In 2010, he urged us to acknowledge that we’d waited too long and that massive change was not only unavoidable but already underway. Our old familiar globe was suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We’d created, in a very short time, a new planet recognizable but fundamentally different. And we should indeed call it by another name, “Eaarth,” the title of his book published that year.
Now, in 2023, it is time, indeed past time, to take his warning seriously. Every day there are signs that the earth is groaning under the weight of the decisions modern people have made since the 1800s: capitalism, individualism, and unbridled growth.
And this new planet that we created will be difficult to defend, and it will cost a great deal. Think of the fortune needed to repair New Orleans or the trillions it will take to transform our energy systems. Unfortunately, the endless economic growth that could underwrite such expense depends on a planet we’ve managed to damage and degrade. We can’t rely on our old way of living.
It is time for us to finally acknowledge that Bill McKibben was correct: we are living on and coping with a tough new planet.
McKibben argues that our hope depends on scaling back – on building the kind of societies and economies that can hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the communities that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale. Change – fundamental change – is our best hope for a planet suddenly and violently out of balance. What will we need?
For guidance, I turned to Linda Buzzell-Saltzman.*
A brief summary of what will be required includes:
- Food: healthy organic food from local farms, backyards, or community gardens.
- Water: frugal use of scarce water.
- Air: high air quality standards.
- Shelter: green housing and furnishings from local sources.
- Clothing and textiles: local non-toxic fabric, clothing, and textiles grown under fair-trade conditions.
- Commerce and trade: locally owned and operated businesses providing needed goods and services – mostly local.
- Travel and transport: energy-efficient alternative transport and freight trains, bikes, electric vehicles, etc.
- Energy: wind, solar, etc.
Her in-depth list continues, covering Community Governance, Social Support Systems, Education, Culture and Communication, Spirit, and Soul.
As overwhelming and impossible as this list may seem, it is likely the future that will be required if we are to survive on this new planet.
The reality is we are acting too slowly. We are living as though we were on the old earth, but we are not.
I once again quote from Gordon Leff’s essay, The Dissolution of The Middle Ages:
“There is a time-lag which enables people to live with discontinuities long after they have occurred. It is due to the principle of inertia, which is as strong in human society as in nature; but in society it has the added element of will, in wanting to continue in the same attitudes, long after they have become intellectually untenable or practically inconsistent. Only when they become so irreconcilable that they contradict the very ends they are supposed to serve are they usually abandoned and then not without a struggle, and a rearguard action, extending in some cases over centuries.”
We do not have ages; we do not have decades. We are down to the wire.
A beautiful summer day is not an indication that all is well. And putting one’s head in the sand is certainly not the answer.
Regarding the changes required, I do wish we could say with confidence, “Don’t worry; we got this.”
So this month, hunker down. Limit shopping and travel, support local farmers, speak out, research and donate to environmental organizations, let that grass grow another week, and hang out your laundry to dry.
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” — Robert Swan
Thank you for being on this journey.
Wishing peace and health to you and your loved ones.
Till next time,
* Linda Buzzell- Saltzman, MA, MFT Sustainable Small Cities Project for the Future.