Acting against climate change requires uniting
In his message launching the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on April 4, 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres made the following chilling observation:
“Climate scientists warn that we are already dangerously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts.
But governments and high-emitting companies don’t just turn a blind eye; they add fuel to the flames.
They are suffocating our planet, based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuels, while cheaper, renewable solutions deliver green jobs, energy security and greater price stability.
The institutions he cited are also blocking efforts to protect Earth’s natural environment, end extreme and growing poverty and inequality, and prevent further deaths from weapons of war.
Many good and committed people work within these institutions, but their structures are relics of an era of imperial rule in which their function was to ensure the absolute rule of kings and queens on the pretext that they ruled by God’s will.
Many things have changed since. We are no longer ruled by kings and queens, but we are not exempt from top-down structures designed to enable their rule. Power now rests in the hands of global financiers who rule through their control of our access to money. They are supported by economists who assure us that the lust for power through wealth is inherent in human nature, and that maximizing our individual financial returns ultimately maximizes everyone’s well-being.
We have tested this perverse premise on a global scale and are now experiencing its devastating consequences: the destruction of the Earth’s ability to sustain life, an unprecedented concentration of wealth and power, and billions of people leading lives of daily desperation.
The deeply flawed economic theory behind this disaster ignores or denies three fundamental truths:
- Money has no intrinsic value. He will only buy what is for sale. It will be useless on a dead Earth.
- Science now confirms what thoughtful humans have long recognized: life only exists in communities of living beings that self-organize to create and maintain the conditions on which life depends. The indigenous people of South Africa call it ubuntu: “I am because you are.”
- While we know from daily experience that there are demented souls among us who take pleasure in hurting others, most people derive their greatest pleasure from caring for and sharing with others.
In my 85 years, I have had the joy and privilege of working with and celebrating people of widely varying cultures, genders, religions and races. This includes living for 21 years in Africa, Latin America and Asia, working first for the foreign aid establishment and later for civil society organizations with the aim of ending poverty in the world. . It also included periods of residence in Washington State, California, Florida, Virginia, New York and Massachusetts. Of all the many people I met, by far the majority were kind, caring, and willing, even willing, to help others, including strangers, in need.
But we are left behind by the society we have built. We cannot expect our dominant institutions to lead us to the transformation upon which a viable human future depends.
Change will and can only come from committed people mobilizing for a common cause as a powerful social movement. Together we can transform the institutions of global society to distribute power and organize from the bottom up. Critical elements are in place, but we have yet to recognize our common purpose.
Fifteen years ago, Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, author and activist, wrote Blessed Troubles: How the World’s Biggest Movement Was Born and Why No One Saw It Coming. He set out to collect the names of all the organizations around the world working to achieve ecological sustainability and social justice. He first estimated that the number of such organizations exceeded 100,000. As his research progressed, he discovered that there were in fact at least 1 million, possibly 2 million.
blessed troubles devotes over 100 pages to listing and defining categories of organizations engaged in issues of peace, justice, equality, governance, environment, indigenous rights and related issues fundamental to the well-being of being people and the Earth. Together they constitute all the various elements of what we may call an ecological civilization.
In his book – and the countless presentations, interviews and articles that followed – Hawken suggested that together these organizations constitute potentially the greatest social movement in human history. But it was not clear that these various organizations saw themselves as part of a larger movement, or recognized the interrelated nature of the causes they sought to advance.
Since the publication of blessed troubles in 2007, the continued deepening of humanity’s environmental, social and political crises drew more and more people to active engagement in one or more of the many elements of essential human transformation. These forces are most visible in local communities that are committed to reducing their dependence on fossil fuels; support local organic farms; form unions and cooperatives; work for racial, gender and religious justice; supporting local businesses; provide housing for the homeless; help refugees; ensuring drinking water and sanitation for all; and much more.
Many of these key players now recognize the inherent interdependence of their initiatives. It is this recognition that allows millions of people to see themselves as part of a transformational social movement that can bring about the change we so desperately need.
The current broken system dehumanizes us all, including the wealthy, and threatens the future of all our children. Our viability as a species depends on reshaping our relationships with each other and with the Earth. This requires new, ethically-based choices about culture, institutions, technology, and infrastructure that are compatible with the well-being of all and of the living Earth.
The institutions responsible for the current crisis will not change. A redistribution of wealth and a localization of power can only happen through bottom-up initiatives in which individual leaders see their work connecting with others as part of a larger transformation.
We are living beings born and nurtured by a living Earth. There will be no winners on a dead Earth. We will survive and prosper together, or we will perish together.
What we humans have created, we can change. This change must be dramatic, rapid and based on love and ethical sensitivity. Can we achieve this in the time allotted? We will only know if we try.
is co-founder of YES! Media, president of the Living Economies Forum, member of the Club of Rome and author of influential books, including “When Corporations Rule the World” and “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth”. “His work draws on lessons learned from the 21 years he and his wife, Fran, have lived and worked in Africa, Asia and Latin America in a quest to end global poverty.