We are running out of time to change the direction of our civilization. The evidence on climate change paints a truly terrifying picture of what lies ahead for humanity if we don’t make a seemingly impossible transition. Through a worldwide movement, we can rally to change our fate and chart a new direction, but we need to act quickly. We must overcome the current paradigm and launch a new operating system for global society, based on principles of regenerative design. As individuals, we must choose to make this unfolding catastrophe the focus of our future lives – of our actions in the world.
According to new projections from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by the end of this century, the climate will be 6 degrees Celsius hotter than it is now – and large sections of the Earth will be unlivable for human beings. Alas, the IPPC’s projections may be conservative. We are discovering that the climate system is very complex, and warming can accelerate rapidly due to positive feedback effects. For instance, melting Arctic ice means that less sunlight is reflected back into space, while warming forests become drier and more prone to fires. We could easily see a 4 – 6 degree Celsius rise by 2050, unless we stop and reverse our momentum.
The scientist James Lovelock once predicted that the human population could be reduced to a few hundred thousand people by the end of this century, living close to the Arctic Circle. Without a rapid metamorphosis of global civilization, time may prove him right. It is also possible that humanity will drive itself to extinction, as sea levels rise and agriculture becomes impossible, leading to hundreds of millions of environmental refugees, acts of bioterrorism, and wars of desperation. These kinds of scenarios are no longer distant or faraway: They are likely in the next twenty to thirty years, within our lifespans.
Some people continue to believe that climate change is not caused by CO2 emissions, or that it is some kind of conspiracy. The evidence is truly unassailable at this point. The oceans, for instance, have become 30% more acidic over the last 40 years, as they absorb a large proportion of the excess carbon emitted by our cars, refineries, and factories. This is leading to the disintegration of the coral reefs and the collapse of huge chains of undersea life – a threat to our future almost as dangerous as what is happening to our atmosphere.
The majority of people simply avoid thinking about what is taking place. They have been indoctrinated and programmed by the media and our education system to be cynical, passive, distracted, and self-centered. They vaguely believe that some super-technology will appear to save the day. We must find a way to awaken the sleeping multitudes, explaining why change is necessary, while giving them hope and a new vision for the future.
We currently possess the technical capability to transform our civilization rapidly, reducing and then eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels while we undertake global initiatives and distribute sustainable technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Through the Internet, we could organize global initiatives to plant trees and urban gardens, paint all the rooftops of our cities white to reflect the Sun, reduce people’s dependence on consumer goods by developing cooperative systems based on sharing and conserving resources. Through a global project, we could transition to renewable energy, algae-based biofuels, and use Biochar, among other techniques, to sequester carbon. We could build eco-cities on higher elevations, designed as scaffolding for living systems, with food, energy, and industry on site.
However, we cannot accomplish the deep, structural changes that need to happen under the current paradigm of Neoliberal economics and corporate capitalism, which has caused this crisis. The movement for a post carbon world finds solidarity with the movements for social justice, against economic inequality. The private possession of the Earths’ resources, concentrated in the hands of the few, makes it impossible to build true sustainability, or resilience. This system requires constant economic growth to perpetuate itself. It threatens the future of our biosphere. We must transition from a model of ownership to one of stewardship, protecting our threatened resources for future generations.
For the wealthy, this means they face a choice: They can maintain the status quo for a few decades more, at maximum, or they can reduce their lifestyles and liberate their capital resources to feed the global movement of transformation necessary for the future survival of our species. The poor, of course, have less choice: As climate change accelerates, vast populations, particularly across the developing world, will face drought, floods, and famine. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, in 2012 alone, 31.7 million people were driven from their homes due to extreme weather events. That number will, no doubt, grow exponentially in the years ahead.
As the author of a book on indigenous prophecies about this time, I also understand what is taking place on another level. I see it as a spiritual initiation for the human species, as a whole. We are being forced to shift from an individualistic and egocentric worldview to one that recognizes our interdependence and solidarity with one another and with all of life. I think it is possible that the sooner we, as individuals, make this shift, the more tragedy and trauma can be averted on a planetary scale. Such a change requires a breaking open of the global heart chakra, a revelation of empathy and compassion for all the beings who share this world with us.
While the changes we need, in a short time frame, may seem inconceivable, we find that transformations often take place in sudden and unexpected ways. Nobody predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the 2011 Arab Spring. A change of consciousness can happen invisibly at first, before something new erupts. Unfortunately, the collapse of the Soviet Union or the uprisings across the Middle East did not lead to happy outcomes. A positive transformation needs a new social model and a defined infrastructure. We won’t have time to recover after a social breakdown; therefore, we must find a way to rapidly supersede the current political and economic system. We must use the system we have to build a new one from within it.
I think there is a great evidence that this can be done, when we look at what has happened with the Internet over the last decades. Facebook is only ten years old, and it unites 1.2 billion people. Google has an even greater reach. Facebook and Twitter helped the uprisings across the Middle East, as the people realized their solidarity.
New social technologies could give people the means to make group decisions, build cooperative, decentralized, and autonomous organizations together, and share their resources as well as ideas efficiently. We could create new virtual currencies that support different behavior patterns and social values. Every new media technology profoundly impacts society. We are only at the beginning of the Internet revolution.
At the same time, we need to interrogate and dismantle the mainstream faith of Neoliberalism and neo-environmentalism – the belief that rapid innovation in technology can solve all of the problems created by past technologies. This ideology is pervasive and influential. It is what we find at TED talks, in Silicon Valley, corporate boardrooms, and the world of mega-philanthropy, such as the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations.
Neo-environmentalists argue that we must continue economic growth. They would build thousands of new nuclear power plants, feed the world’s population through genetic engineering, create carbon trading markets to reduce CO2 emissions, and address climate change through gigantic geo-engineering projects, such as pouring sulfur particles into the atmosphere or putting reflectors in space to deflect the Sun’s rays. All of these initiatives have, potentially, traumatic and terrible consequences.
The arguments for and against these technologies require a bit of nuance and complexity. From where we are now, considering the severe threats that humanity faces, we must be careful to remain flexible and openminded and resist orthodoxies, whether of the Green Movement, or any other. For instance, I find myself strongly, intuitively against genetically engineered food, and when I have researched it, I find that the benefits have been over-stated while the risks ignored by profit-driven corporations, who conduct research in secrecy and have corrupted the regulatory process.
It seems quite possible that organic agriculture and permaculture could satisfy the nutritional needs of the world’s population in a less risky fashion, as studies have surmised. Cuba provides one model. However, I can imagine that the potential to create drought-resistant crops able to grow in rapidly heating climates, or vegetables that can fix their own nitrogen in the soil without needing industrial fertilizer, could become critical in the next decades. Such research needs to be taken out of the hands of private corporations. It should be conducted carefully and conscientiously, publicly and transparently, for the collective good.
The block in the minds of Neoliberals and neo-environmentalists is that they cannot imagine that society could change significantly. They believe that human nature is fixed. My argument would be that “human nature” is, largely, a social construction, as the potential range of human values and beliefs is incredibly vast. In fact, the hyper-individualism and hyper-consumerism of contemporary society is an aberration. For over a hundred thousand years, human beings lived nomadically, with few, if any, possessions, where each person deeply identified themselves as part of a tribe.
We are all members of the single tribe of humanity, and humanity, as well, is an expression of the living biosphere, a planetary super-organism. We are that aspect of the biosphere that has become self-reflective, capable of directing our own evolution. We have the potential to transform ourselves in almost any way we choose. I think we can recognize the rapid development of technology as a semi-autonomous process, which is happening through us. It may be that humans are incubating technology, on behalf of the Gaian matrix of life. It is possible that our destiny is to bring the living biosphere to other worlds. But first we must overcome our shortsightedness.
We have tremendous potential – yet we are approaching a threshold of runaway climate change that threatens the existence of all life on Earth. This really is the “final exam” for our species, as the design scientist Buckminster Fuller foresaw. How much of the carbon spewed by our cars and industries supports wasteful, senseless activities? Can we imagine that, in a few years time, none of it will? Can we imagine centering human thought and activity on what will ensure our future flourishing, along with the Earth?
I support the Worldwide Wave of Action because I believe we can – we must – rise to this challenge by building a planetary movement of civil society toward rapid, systemic change. I hope and I pray that you will join us.
Apr 3rd, 2014