Making Peace with our Habitat
In Frieden mit unserem Lebensraum sein
Bunsen Gymnasium, Heidelberg:
The protesters who today are clubbed by police for actions against the building of airports and highways, treecutting, nuclear weapons, trade treaties, will once proudly hang their records from police and courts as precious diplomas for rescue operations for the future — if we have a future. For all our wealth and knowledge, the present generation is the first that has to connect the future with an “if”. As our telescopes and microscopes pry deep into the riddles of the universe and life itself, we confront the destruction of life in dimensions unknown in recorded history.
|1) Certainly our ancestors knew wars, plagues, and famine; entire civilizations foundered when they cut down their trees for warships and turned their lands to desert. But today it is not just a forest here and some farmlands and fisheries there; today entire species are dying — and whole cultures, and ecosystems on a global scale, even to the oxygen-producing plankton of our seas.||1) ||2) Scientists may try to tell us what is at stake when we burn rainforests and fossil fuels, dump toxic wastes in air, soil, sea, and use chemicals that devour our planet’s protective ozone shield. But their warnings are hard to heed. For ours is an Industrial Growth Society, that depends on ever-increasing consumption of resources to maintain its engines of progress. The planet is dug up and turned into goods to sell and also serves as “sink” for the poisonous by-products of our industries. All the time we must run faster to stay in the same place.||2) ||3) What is in store for our children’s children, what will be left for them? Too busy to think about that, we try to close our minds to nightmare scenarios of want and wars in a wasted, contaminated world.||3) ||4) We’ve come so far in our planetary journey, and there is so much promise still to unfold — yet we can lose it all. As the intricate web of living systems unravels, we can bring it all down with us. But we can still choose life. Dire predictions notwithstanding, it is crucial that we know this: we can meet our needs without destroying our life-support system. We have the technical knowledge and the means of communication to do that. We have the savvy and the resources to grow sufficient food, ensure clean air and water, and generate the energy we require through solar power, wind, and biomass. If we have the will, we have the means to control human population, to dismantle weapons and deflect wars, and give everyone a voice in democratic self-governance.||4) ||5) To choose life means to build a life-sustaining society, that is one that, unlike the Industrial Growth Society, operates within the “carrying capacity”. In the words of Lester Brown, Worldwatch: “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without jeopardizing the prospects of future generations.”||5) ||6) To choose life in this planet-time is a mighty adventure. As people in all countries and walks of life are discovering, this adventure elicits more courage and enlivening solidarity than any military campaign. From high school students restoring streams for salmon spawning, to inner city neighbors creating community gardens on vacant lots, from forest activists sitting in trees to delay logging until environmental impact studies are done, to windmill engineers bringing their technology to energy-hungry regions — countless groups are organizing, learning, taking action.||6) ||7) This multifaceted human activity on behalf of life may not make headlines, but to our progeny it will matter more than anything else we do. If their world is a livable one, it will be because we have managed to make the transition from the Industrial Growth Society to a Life-sustaining Society. When people of the future look back at this historical moment, they will see, perhaps more clearly than we can now, how revolutionary it is. They may well call it the time of the Great Turning.||7) ||8) They will see it as epochal. While the agricultural revolution took centuries, and the industrial revolution took generations, this ecological revolution has to happen within a matter of a few years. It also has to be more comprehensive — involving not only the political economy, but the habits and values that foster it.||8) ||9) Let us borrow the perspective of future generations and, in that larger context of time, look at how this Great Turning is gaining momentum today, through the choices of countless individuals and groups. We can see that it is happening simultaneously in three areas or dimensions that are mutually reinforcing. These are 1) actions to slow the damage to the Earth and its beings; 2) analysis of structural causes and creation of structural alternatives; and 3) a fundamental shift in world view and values. Many of us are engaged in all three, each of which is necessary to the creation of a sustainable civilization.||9) ||10) “Holding actions” in defense of life, the first dimension, include all the political, legislative, and legal work required to slow down the destruction, as well as direct actions. Such as blockades, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other forms of refusal. Or documenting ecological and health effects, campaigning for laws and the implementation of environmental and social regulations. Or lobbying against international trade agreements, like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Or blowing the whistle on illegal and unethical corporate practices and protesting against the global arms trade. Or providing shelter and food to the poor and homeless.||10) ||11) The second dimension of the Great Turning, analysis of the existing system and creation of alternative institutions, is equally crucial. To free ourselves from its destructive power, we must understand the dynamics of the Industrial Growth Society. What are the tacit agreements that create obscene wealth for a few, while progressively impoverishing the rest of humanity? How has an insatiable economy come to use our larger body, Earth, as supply house and sewer? It takes courage and confidence in our common sense to look at it with realism and demystify the workings of the global economy. When we see how this system operates, we are less tempted to demonize the politicians and corporate bosses who are in bondage to it. And we might even see through to how fragile this system, that appears so mighty, is — how dependent it is on our participation, and how doomed it is to devour itself.||11) ||12) Along with the study of the causes of the global crisis we are also creating structural alternatives. In countless localities, like green shoots pushing up through the rubble, new social and economic arrangements are sprouting. They may be hard to see at first, because they are seldom featured in the media. But if you keep your eyes open and fiddle with the focal length, they come into view — like a faint green haze over things, intensifying here and there in pockets of grass, cress and clover. Not waiting for our national or state politicos to catch up with us, we are banding together, taking action in our communities. The actions that burgeon from our hands and minds may look marginal, but hey hold the seeds for the future.||12) ||13) Third, there is the shift in perceptions of reality, a process that cannot take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. They must mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and each other. They require in other words, a profound shift in our perception of reality — and that shift is happening now, both as a revolution in knowledge and a spiritual awakening. This third, most basic dimension, of the Great Turning takes many forms, in our consciousness and our lives. They arise as grief for our world, giving the lie to established notions of the essential separateness of the isolated, competitive ego.||13) ||14)In our time, three rivers — anguish for our world, scientific breakthroughs, and ancestral teachings — flow together in experiences and insights that are absolutely necessary to free us from the grip of the Industrial Growth Society. They offer us nobler goals and deeper pleasures. They help us redefine our wealth and our worth. And they liberate us from illusions about what we need to own and what our place is in the order of things. Taking us beyond the tired old notions of competitive individualism, they bring us home to each other and our mutual belonging in the living body of Earth.||14) ||15) This shift in our sense of identity will be life-saving in the political and ecological traumas that lie before us. All honest forecasts are for rough weather ahead. A society that depends on accelerating consumption of resources is unsustainable. It is inexorably and exponentially destroying itself and cannot last. As distant markets and supplies dry up, and its interlocked financial institutions collapse, the shock waves wash over us all, tumbling us into fear and chaos. But when we know and revere the wholeness of life, we can stay alert and steady and withstand the temptation to turn on each other, finding scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage. We know there is no private salvation.||15) ||16) Despite the encouraging signs of a Great Turning, we have no assurance that it will happen in time, that the moment when the elements of a sustainable society cohere and catch hold will come before the point of no return. If the Great Turning should fail, it will not be for lack of technology or relevant data so much as for lack of political will. When we’re distracted and fearful, and the odds are running against us, it is easy to let the heart and mind go numb. ||16) ||17) The dangers now facing us are so pervasive and yet often so hard to see — and so painful, when we manage to look at them — that this numbing touches us all. No one is unaffected, no one immune to doubt, denial, or disbelief about the severity of our situation — and about or power to change it. Yet of all the dangers we face, from climatic change to nuclear wars, none is so great as the deadening of our response. And our defense is to reconnect with our deepest needs and desires, choose life, and make a peace accord with our habitat.||17) |