The 11th Hour
The 11th Hour is a documentary film produced and directed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Leila Conners Petersen (who was for many years an editor at NPQ) and Nadia Conners which was distributed by Warner Brothers to theaters this summer. Below are excerpts from some of the broad array of scholars, thinkers, scientists and activists portrayed in the film.
Environmentalism was once the project of a passionate few. Now, millions of people have responded to ecological destruction and have created the groundwork for a sustainable and just world. With the onset of global warming and other catastrophic events, environmentalism has become today a broader unifying human issue. We as citizens, leaders, consumers and voters have the opportunity to help integrate ecology into governmental policy and everyday living standards. During this critical period of human history, healing the damage of industrial civilization is the task of our generation. Our response depends on the conscious evolution of our species, and this response could very well save this unique blue planet for future generations.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, one of Hollywood’s leading actors and an environmental activist
When you look at the history of humanity it’s basically about the relationship between the two most complicated systems on earth—human society and nature. If people have not lived in a good balance in that regard, then they will be gone. At the end of the day, when we all talk about saving the environment, in a way it’s misstated because the environment is going to survive. We’re the ones that may not survive, or we may survive in a world that we don’t particularly want to live in.
KENNY AUSUBEL, founder of Bioneers
As we destroy nature, we will be destroyed in the process. There’s no escaping that conclusion.
DAVID ORR, Environmental Studies Center, Oberlin College
Life on Earth is possible only because a number of parameters lay in certain very narrow ridges. Some of these clearly are environmental. The Earth has just the right temperature and pressure to have water.
STEPHEN HAWKING, theoretical physicist and author of A Brief History of Time
Earth is a planet that’s just right up from the sun and has just enough of that atmosphere of a certain composition where more heat stays here than radiates out to space. Gases in the atmosphere trap some of that heat and that’s why we’re not an ice ball. Some scientists have compared this whole business of the different planets going away from the sun as being like the “Goldilocks” effect: One planet is too cold. Another is too warm. This one is just right. And we just happen to be there.
ANDY REVKIN, environmental correspondent for The New York Times
Forty million centuries ago, a cell formed, and that cell had a gene and that gene is the password to every single other form of life there is. The amazing thing about the human body is that it has 100 trillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. They are fungi and bacteria and micro-organisms. In short, the thing that makes us human is not human. Within us is basically the back story of life on Earth, right back to that first original cell 40 million centuries ago.
If you could, for a moment, stop and feel what is happening in your body there are 6 septillion things going on at the same time. That’s a 6 with 24 zeros after it going on right now, right this instant as you sit in your chair. Then in the next instant, within 10 seconds, a hundred more things have happened than in all the stars and planets and asteroids in the known universe right there in your body. And that is called life.
PAUL HAWKEN, author of Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution
Homo sapiens, sapiens is an incredibly young species. We came very late in the calendar year of the Earth. In terms of the Earth calendar we know, it started Jan. 1 and now we’re Dec. 31. We humans just got here 15 minutes before midnight on Dec. 31 and all of recorded history has blinked by in the last 60 seconds.
JANINE BENYUS, co-founder of the BioMimicry Guild
We are fundamentally groups of animals, randomly scattered throughout the planet, slowly coalescing in groups that are more powerful, larger and very much conditioned by two essential characteristics. One is opportunism and the other is greed. All the animals and vegetables are opportunistic creatures. They do what is necessary in order to survive.
PAOLO SOLERI, arcologist (ecological architect) and founder of Arcosanti
It was the human mind that threw us out of balance with the rest of nature. The tragedy is that it was the human mind that was the key to our very survival.
When we began to evolve in Africa about 150,000 years ago, compared to the other animals that must have been on the plains of that time, we weren’t very impressive. We weren’t very many and we weren’t very big. The key to our survival and our taking over the planet was the human brain because the human mind invented the concept of a future. We’re the only animal on the planet that was able to recognize we could effect the future by what we do today. We look ahead, recognize what the opportunities are, where the dangers lie and choose accordingly to survive. That was the great survival strategy of our species.
One consequence of our survival strategy is that we live in a human-created environment where it’s very easy to think we’re different from other creatures. We’re smart, we create our own habitat, we don’t need nature. It’s the economy that’s the most important thing. And in focusing on the economy, we’ve forgotten those ancient truths that kept us plugged in to nature, that helped us understand that if we do something to offend the natural will, we’re going to pay a price, so we should treat nature much more gently. That’s the lesson that we’ve forgotten and we’re paying a price for today.
DAVID SUZUKI, ecologist, broadcaster and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia
The big rupture came in the 19th century with the advent of the steam engine and the use of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution. This was a great rupture from earlier forms and rhythms of life which were generally regenerative. What happened after the Industrial Revolution was that nature was converted to a resource and that resource was seen as eternally abundant. This led to the idea of, and the conception behind, progress, which is limitless growth, limitless expansion.
NATHAN GARDELS, editor of NPQ
For the vast majority of human history we lived on current sunlight. Sun fell on the fields, the fields grew plants, the plants made cellulose, animals ate the cellulose, we ate the plants, we ate the animals, and we wore clothing made out of the plants and animals.
So, the sunlight that fell on the Earth in a year was the maximum amount of sunlight that we could use. From the earliest evidence of human civilization 150,000 years ago up until a few thousand years ago, pretty much that’s how we lived. As a result, population never surpassed a billion people. And then we began discovering that there were these little pockets of ancient sunlight—some coal here, a bit of oil there. Slowly, between these reserves and the spread of the agricultural revolution, the Earth’s population crept up until we hit our first 1 billion people. It didn’t take us a hundred thousand years to go from 1 billion to 2 billion. Our second billion only took us 130 years. We hit 2 billion people in 1930. Our third billion took only 30 years, 1960. When John Kennedy was inaugurated, there were half as many people on the planet as there are today.
The reason we’ve been able to have this exponential growth of population is because of the ancient sunlight that was stored in the Earth 300 and 400 million years ago. And if we were to have to go back to simply living off current sunlight, lacking technology, the planet couldn’t sustain more than half a billion. At the most we could sustain a billion people.
THOM HARTMANN, comments on the Air America Network
Oil is really the basis with which we sustain complexity and with which we solve our problems. In a sense, all of our lives are subsidized. We are subsidized by oil. When we shop for anything in the store, we don’t pay the full price. We don’t pay the full cost of what it took to produce those products.
JOSEPH TAINTER, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies
The real problem is that there are too many of us, using too many resources too fast. Oil has enabled us to do that. We use oil to increase the rate at which we extract all other resources from topsoil to fresh water, from aluminum to zinc.
RICHARD HEINBERG, author of The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies
We borrow about $800 billion a year from the world to finance the excess of our consumption over what we produce. About a third of that, about $250 billion a year, is for oil imports. So, we borrow from the world, we issue IOUs, Treasury bills, whatever, to the tune of about a billion dollars every working day to finance our oil imports.
JAMES WOOLSEY, former director of the CIA
There’s a lot of harm that comes from the use of fossil fuels. Economists would call these costs externalities because they’re external to the price that you pay at the pump. For example, asthma rates among children are growing in many parts of the US. Acid rain is caused by burning coal. Burning fossil fuels contributes to global-warming conditions. And at least part of the cost of keeping US troops in the Middle East is to safeguard oil assets. These are all subsidies paid for the use of fossil fuels.
VIJAY VAITHEESWARAN, correspondent for The Economist
We don’t know the future, we know the past. We know the past in part through Greek mythology. What most applies to our situation today is the famous myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, the myth of hubris, of man overreaching and then having his liver eaten out continually by eagles sent by the gods—nemesis. It’s the revenge of the gods or the revenge of nature.
We’re seeing this now already, only 200 years after the Industrial Revolution. We didn’t know what we were creating, we didn’t know the damage that was being done. As we go forward, with technology even more powerful than before, we have magnified the presence of the human race inside the ecology. We can do vastly more damage with our technological prowess than we could before, and therefore we have to be even more cautious.
One of the most serious consequences of our actions is global warming brought about by raising levels of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. The danger is that the temperature increase might become self-sustaining if it has not done so already. Drought and deforestation are reducing the amount of carbon dioxide recycled into the atmosphere and the warming of the seas may trigger the release of large quantities of CO2 trapped on the ocean floor. In addition, the melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets will reduce the amount of solar energy reflected back into space and so increase the temperature further. We don’t know where the global warming will stop, but the worst-case scenario is that Earth would become like its sister planet, Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees Centigrade, and raining sulfuric acid. The human race could not survive in those conditions.
The record shows that greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide in particular, did not go above 280 parts per million over the last 650,000 years. We’re now more than 400 parts per million, coming close to what many scientists are now referring to as a tipping point. A tipping point is where we lose control of climate. And once we’ve lost control of climate, then Katrina scale of events will become simply the norm.
Unless we’re able to very quickly and very dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels, the computer modeling is pretty clear. Having increased the temperature one degree so far, we’ll increase it about another 5 degrees. That will make the Earth warmer than it’s been for tens of millions of years.
BILL McKIBBEN, author of The End of Nature
There’s no doubt that the speed of natural changes is now dwarfed by the changes that humans are making to the atmosphere and to the surface.
JIM HANSEN, NASA’s chief climate scientist
Climate change is happening first and fastest in the Arctic. We are starting to see that things are happening even faster than what scientists have indicated. By the end of the century, perhaps even in a few decades, the Arctic will be quite ice free, especially in the summertime.
SHEILA WATT CLOUTIER, recipient of the UN “Champions of the Earth” award.
Climate change is a national security problem in the sense that Florida might be the first affected as well as other coastal parts of the US; but more importantly than that, it’s an international security problem.
The UN estimates that by the middle of the century, there may be a 150 million environmental refugees at any given time from climate change.
What we saw with Katrina is just prologue. The worst is yet to come on that front. Global warming is real, and its destructive impacts defy the imagination.
The problem that confronts us is that every living system in the biosphere is in decline, and the rate of decline is accelerating. There isn’t one peer-reviewed scientific article published in the past 20 years that contradicts that statement. Living systems are coral reefs, they’re our climatic stability, our forest cover, the oceans themselves, aquifers and water, the conditions of the soil, biodiversity. The fact is, there isn’t one living system that is stable or improving. Those living systems provide the basis for all life.
We’d better first of all acknowledge that the planet is seamless. For instance, the fertilizer and the pesticides that are applied in the fields of the upper Midwest go down the Mississippi and 1,100 miles away, there’s a dead zone.
WES JACKSON, president of The Land Institute
Seventy countries in the world no longer have any intact or original forests. And here in the US, 95 percent of our old-growth forests are already gone. Forest loss is also effecting climate change because forests are the greatest terrestrial storehouse of carbon. Logging in Canada alone puts as much carbon into the atmosphere as all of the cars in California every year.
TZEPORAH BERMAN, program director of ForestEthics
In many cases forests will not grow back and that land is then converted to grassland. But in the case of rainforests, when the trees are removed they do not come back. The land becomes extremely dry and the nutrient cycling that those trees used to do is no longer functioning. That leads next to deserts. We’ve seen them and we’ve watched them grow around the world as we have removed trees from along the edges of very dry areas. Desertification has spread where there used to be forests.
GLORIA FLORA, a member of the US Forest Service for 22 years, is director of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions
In my own part of the world, I keep telling people, “Let us not cut trees irresponsibly; let us not destroy the forested mountains. If you destroy the forests on these mountains, the rivers will stop flowing and the rains will become irregular and the crops will fail and you will die of hunger and starvation.” The problem is, people don’t make those linkages.
WANGARI MAATHAI was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work planting trees in Kenya
What’s the volume of a tree in terms of how much water can be contained there? I asked the US Forest Service research scientists to calculate what the water volume was from one 100-foot-diameter tree. It turns out that it can grab 57,000 gallons of water in a 10- to 12-inch flash flood. It captures it in that sponge, prevents it from running off, cleans it and puts it back in the aquifer. Take that one tree away and you’ve got a flood, you’ve got soil erosion. You’ve lost those 57,000 gallons from the local water supply, and then that water is rushing on down stream, hurting people, hurting communities and ultimately polluting the ocean.
ANDY LIPKIS is founder of TreePeople
We really could tip the ocean into a different state. The health of the ocean as we know it depends on the water turning over, the surface water sinking to the bottom and the bottom water coming up to the top. It’s conceivable that we could turn that conveyor belt off by warming the surface of the ocean a little bit too much. If we do that, with all of our dead zones, we could make the whole surface of the ocean stagnant. That’s a terrifying thought. The last time that happened was at the end Permian mass extinction. More than 95 percent of all the species on the Earth went extinct at that time.
JEREMY JACKSON, an oceanographer at Scripps Institute and co-founder of the Shifting Baselines Media Campaign
On the issues of climate change and environment, the political system has failed us. It’s not first and foremost a crisis of technology; it isn’t even a crisis of public opinion. If you ask the public whether it wants solar energy, efficient appliances and efficient cars, the answers are overwhelmingly yes. The crisis is in that bridge across this chasm of public opinion to public policy that’s called government. That’s where the failure has been, that bridge has fallen into disrepair.
There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when Republicans and Democrats in the US joined together to pass the major environmental laws at the time—the National Government Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act. That system is now broken. Part of the crisis is, as everybody knows, that there is too much money in the political system.
The most basic thing to understand about our global economic system is that it’s a subsystem of a larger system. The larger system is the biosphere and the subsystem is the economy. The problem, of course is that our subsystem, the economy, is geared for growth—it’s all set up to grow, to expand—whereas the parent system doesn’t grow, it remains the same size. So as the economy grows, it encroaches upon the biosphere. This is the fundamental cost of economic growth. It’s what you give up when you expand. You give up what used to be there.
HERMAN DALY, former senior economist on environmental policy at the World Bank
Economists don’t include in their calculations all of the things that nature does for us for nothing. Some technologies would never be able to do what nature does, for example, pollinating all of the flowering plants. What would it cost us to take carbon dioxide out of the air and put oxygen back in it, which all the green things do for us for nothing? It’s possible to do a crude estimate of what it would cost us to replace nature. Several years ago it was estimated that it would cost us $35 trillion a year to do what nature is doing for us for nothing. At that time, all the economies of the world added up to $18 trillion. So nature was doing twice as much service for us as the economies of the world. In the madness of conventional economics, this is not part of the equation.
The throughput of the industrial system has to be reinvented from mine and wellhead to finished product that ends up in a landfill or incinerator. For every truckload of product with lasting value, 32 truckloads of waste are produced. We have a waste-making system. Clearly, we cannot continue to dig up the Earth and turn it to waste.
RAY ANDERSON, founder of Interface
We’re now subject to $500 billion worth of advertising each year. By the time young people enter college they’ve seen thousands of hours of television, four hours and some minutes per day on average. As a result, one study has shown that college students could identify a thousand corporate logos but fewer than 10 plants and animals native to their own place. So we’ve become not only consumers, but hugely ignorant of the terms by which we live on the Earth.
The average American goes shopping in one way or another five times a week. During the day we spend most of our time working to make the money so that we can shop. And there’s a growing weariness of having to hold up the global economy, to keep up with the Joneses. While everything is getting bigger—our bathtubs, our houses, our vehicles, our waistlines—we’re running out of time. We have less time to do the things we really care about.
BETSY TAYLOR, founder of the Center for the New American Dream
In America people are so insulated by our astonishing concentration of wealth. Americans spend more money maintaining their lawns than India collects in tax revenue. We’re anesthetized by our own wealth. We forget how the majority of the world lives.
WADE DAVIS, named an Explorer of the Millennium by National Geographic
As a civilization, consumerism is our leading ideology. You might even call it consumer democracy in the sense of a regime designed to give people what they want, when they want it—which is now. And people want consumer goods.
Once commodities become cultural symbols, whether it’s a cell phone in rural China or a Lamborghini in Malibu, there’s no stopping it. People believe in choice, and choice means consumerism for most people. There is no mileage in trying to save the planet by telling people they’re making the wrong choice. It’s not going to work. You have to change the object of desire in order to get the root of the problem. You have to change the impetus behind limitless expansion. In a phrase, we have to shift from well-having to well-being. Fundamentally, it is a cultural transformation.
We humans have always had material desires. It’s not that consumption is bad, it’s that it’s gotten totally out of balance.
Media is the instrument by which knowledge is passed along in our society. We no longer get knowledge directly from the Earth. We’re no longer in touch with the sources of our survival. Most of us in Western industrial society no longer grow our food or take care of our own subsistence or learn directly from our own experience. Basically we’re like an astronaut in space, floating around in a metallic, recreated universe, disconnected from the Earth. We’re dependent completely upon the information that is sent to us from very, very far away.
JERRY MANDER, founder of the International Forum on Globalization
We’re psychically numbed. We numb our senses from morning till night, whether it’s with noise or loud music or light at night. We rarely see the beauty. And if we’ve lost the feeling of the beauty of the world, then we are looking for substitutes. As Eric Hoffer said, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.” We rush around permanently needy and don’t know what it is we’ve lost. What we’ve lost is the beauty of the world. We make up for it by attempting to conquer the world, to possess the world.
JAMES HILLMAN, psychologist, co-founder of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
One can see from space how the human race has changed the Earth. Nearly all of the available land has been cleared of forest and is now used for agriculture or urban development. The polar icecaps are shrinking and the desert areas are increasing. At night the Earth is no longer dark, but large areas are lit up. All this is evidence that human exploitation of the planet is reaching a critical limit. Yet, human demands and expectations are ever increasing. We cannot continue to pollute the atmosphere, poison the ocean and exhaust the land. There isn’t any more available.
We don’t know at what point—when we lose biodiversity—that the system will start to fall apart. I believe in the resilience of nature. Once the human species becomes extinct, just as many species have become extinct before us and many species will become extinct after us, the Earth may well spin on its axis happily without humans. The microbes and insects will inherit the world unless we cause such a dramatic climate shift that the Earth becomes an arid, cold planet like Mars.
PAUL STAMETS, author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
I don’t believe for a minute that life will be extinguished. Even though we’ve radically altered the air, the water and the soil of the Earth, life has been incredibly tenacious and adaptable. But as a species at the very top of the food chain, we’re the most vulnerable.
Life has existed on Earth from 3.8 to 4 billion years. Over that time there have been a lot of species. But 99.9999 percent of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. So extinction is a natural part of life. Extinction is what has enabled life to flourish and evolve and change with the conditions of the changing planet. The planet hasn’t been stuck in one condition over 4 billion years.
The tragedy of human existence is that we’re an infant species. Not only are we hastening the conditions for our own demise, we’re taking 50,000 to 55,000 species a year with us. The tragedy is not only the potential extinction of humankind but the enormous extinction crisis that we’re causing right now.
What’s daunting is that no civilization that has exceeded its ecological limits has ever recovered. And the damage previously in history has always been localized because they’re smaller in scale. The difference today, because of globalization, is that we now have the capacity to blow it on a global scale.
Maybe it’s not so consciously articulated, but there is a sense that “Yeah, we’re creating a lot of problems.” I do think there’s an environmental consciousness out there. But there is also a residual belief that technology can take care of it, as if we can perform some kind of planetary liposuction at some point. There is a sense that if we waste and we grow and we create problems, somehow we can fix them.
My concern about the disintegration of life-support systems in many areas is that it will lead to social disintegration. In effect, more and more failed and failing states. Each year now, the list of failed and failing states gets longer and the question is, how many failed states do you have to have before you have a failed global civilization?
LESTER BROWN, president of the Earth Policy Institute
I think there is potential for a dark age. One of the problems that I see is that so many people who have to individually accept the cost of the transition are unaware that it’s coming. Most of our citizens wake up in the morning and worry about the morning commute and getting the kids to school and paying the mortgage and thinking about a new car or vacation or whatever. And this is simply too narrow a scale of thinking to address the problems that we have. We need people to be aware of the global forces that affect their lives and that will increasingly affect their lives in the future. If this awareness doesn’t develop, then I’m afraid the transition will probably be wrenching.
What is happening to our planet is something that should make us think and act differently. We’re not acting because we still are victims of inertia going back to the time when someone said, and believed it was a mistake even when it was said, that “man is the king of nature.”
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, the last president of the Soviet Union, is founder of Green Cross International
Some people suggest that in order to live sustainably we have to go out in the woods and put on animal skins, surviving on roots and berries. But the simple reality is that we do have technology. The question is how can we use our understanding of science and our understanding of technology, along with our understanding of how culture changes, to create a civilization that will interact with science and with the world around us in a sustainable fashion?
Now that there are 6.4 billion of us on this planet, we have to imagine what it would be like to redesign design itself, to see design as the first signal of human intention and realize that we need new intentions for our future.
Chemistry has given us valuable new materials; we need to shift to closed-cycle and cradle-to-cradle production, instead of cradle to grave, with energy coming from renewable resources. Design itself can change our way of mass utilization of things that are inherently assets instead of liabilities.
WILLIAM MCDONOUGH, an architect, was named one of Time’s Hero for the Planet.
Whether we’re talking about the design of a factory or a building or a road, or even a town, it’s much easier to design in isolation, and superimpose a design on what exists. But if we were to follow nature’s operating instructions, it designs in exactly the opposite way. It brings onto the pallet, so to speak, all of the kingdoms of life and then works symphonically to create an end result which might be a coral reef or might be a forest.
JOHN TODD is a research professor at the University of Vermont
How we make things in our industrial process is 180 degrees opposite from how life makes things. Look at the way we make Kevlar, which is our toughest material. We take petroleum, heat it up to about 1400 degrees Fahrenheit, bubble it in sulfuric acid and then pull it out under enormous pressure. Now imagine us making our bones or our teeth, or imagine abalones making a shell. They can’t afford to heat it up to really high temperatures or place it under pressures or chemical baths, so they found a different way. Now take the spider. The orb weaver spider is basically taking flies and crickets into the web and transforming them through chemistry in water in the abdomen. What comes out is this material that’s five times stronger ounce for ounce than steel. They do that silently, in water, at room temp. This is master chemistry! Mimicking the recipes of these organisms is manufacturing of the future.
Fungi are the grand molecular disassemblers in nature they are the interface organisms between life and death. They generate soil. The entire food web of nature is based on these fungal filaments. The mycilial network that infuses all land masses in the world is a supportive membrane upon which life proliferates and diversifies.
Mushrooms also have a very bizarre property of hyper-accumulating heavy metals. Forests are thousands of acres, and so fungi that produce mushrooms grow to thousands of acres of size. This gives us a ready ability to tap into this powerful inherent resource that mushroom mycelium have, to remediate environments, prevent downstream pollution from microbes, from viruses, bacteria and protozoa and also for breaking down a wide assortment pollutants. This is one of the pedestals of mycorestorations, using mushrooms to heal environments.
In nature there is no waste. One organism’s waste is another’s food. A waste-free industrial system—that’s the model for the industrial system that must eventually evolve.
Think about the tree as a design. It’s something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, distills water, provides a habitat for hundreds of species, accrues solar energy, makes complex sugars and food, creates micro climates, self-replicates. What would it be like to design a building like a tree? What would it be like to design a city like a forest? What would a building be like if it were photosynthetic?
If we were to combine our housing and our waste treatment, our food production and our energy generation into single integrate systems, we could live beautifully on the planet with one-tenth or less of the resources that our current civilization uses.
This country can move awfully fast if it wants to. Keep in mind that just after Dec. 7, 1941, Roosevelt went to Jimmy Byrnes and said, “You’re my deputy president for mobilizing the economy. Anybody who crosses you crosses me. Get to it.” Within six months, Detroit was completely retooled. Instead of making cars it was making military trucks, tanks, fighter aircraft. In three years and eight months we had mobilized and along with our allies defeated imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Three years and eight months!
These are not technical issues nearly as much as they are leadership issues. How much time do we have? Well, not much. By my reckoning we ought to be about the business as rapidly as possible. And this means everybody, every citizen, every government level, every organization, every corporation. This is all-hands-on-deck time, so that in the future, 500 years out, let’s say, the people look back on this time as our finest hour.
There are on Earth today more than 1 million environmental, social-justice and indigenous organizations. It is the fastest-growing movement on Earth. We’re starting to see them pull together to close the loops and plug the leaks of energy, water, food and finance to reimagine what it means to be a human being in the 21st century when every living system is in decline and learning how to reverse that.
It’s almost as if we had distributed an ambition, without ever having written it down, so that people all over the world knew what they ought to be working on and were working on it in their own way, aware that they only had one pixel in this incredible mosaic of an image of a sustainable future.
BRUCE MAU, a designer, is founder of the Institute Without Boundaries and editor of Massive Change
The exciting thing is that we can see now what the new economy would look like. Instead of being powered by fossil fuels, it’s powered largely by renewable energy. Instead of having an automobile-centered transportation system, it will have a much more diversified transport system. Instead of a throwaway economy, it will be reused economy.
The challenge for our generation is to build that economy in the time that’s available, and I don’t think we have a lot of time left.
Virtually all of our major infrastructure changes in this country have been encouraged in one way or another by the federal government. So I would think the way to deal with this transition away from oil is not to pretend that energy operates today in an unregulated free-enterprise market. It does not. What we need to do is go ahead as affordably as possible offering incentives to move toward alternative fuels and infrastructure.
If we move from the rigged game that we now have with energy to a genuine level playing field where there is open competition between dirty and clean, I have no doubt that the clean fuels will win. Once we send the right signal from the marketplace to those proverbial two guys in the garage who created Hewlett-Packard, then things will take off. They need to know that we’ve fixed our public policies. They are going to be rewarded when they come up with the killer app to defeat big oil. Once we do this, there will be a relatively quick shift to cleaner energy.
Life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. So our technology, our cities, our schools, what we make, what we wear, what we eat — if all of it is oriented around that one life principle, then we will be here for a long, long time.
We need to be slower; we need to be smarter. Slow means disengaging from consumerism as the main avenue of experience. It doesn’t reject any consumption, but it says, “We’re not going to live our lives mediated by stuff sold out there in the market. We’re not going to base our identities and our meaning on what we buy. Instead of the long commute, the bigger car, the bigger house, let’s enjoy the local produce and have time to ourselves. Let’s understand that things are thieves of time because the more things you have, the more time you have to spend working to pay for them, the more your life is chained to a rhythm of perpetual purchase.”
Being smart means reintroducing a term from before the Industrial Revolution—frugality. Frugality does not mean poverty or deprivation. It means the wise use of resources.
If we choose to eradicate ourselves from this Earth by whatever means, the Earth goes nowhere. And in time it will regenerate, and all the lakes will be pristine, the rivers, the waters, the mountains, everything will be green again. It will be peaceful. There may not be people. But the Earth will regenerate, and you know why? Because the Earth has all the time in the world. And we don’t.
OREN LYONS is chief of the Onondaga Nation
Civilizations are mortal. They endure, or don’t, based on intelligent decisions we make, or don’t make.