Earth Day

Posted on in On Our Radar by Daniel Pinchbeck

A Golden Opportunity


As we celebrate Earth Day this year, we must admit that things are not looking good for the green world right now. We were already facing a severe ecological catastrophe before Trump and his gang rumbled into the White House. They came with a radical plan to “drill, baby, drill!” while eliminating the EPA and almost all environmental restrictions. They seem to love corporations more than people. They want corporations to be free to pollute, defile, and extract.

It can be hard to understand how we reached such a low point—particularly in California, where environmentalism is a mantra. The fact is, even when Obama and the Clintons were running the show, we were not on rack to make the deep systemic changes we need to avert a crisis that might lead to humanity’s extinction over the next century or two. At a time of skyrocketing global warming, Hilary Clinton proudly supported fracking and other extractive technologies.

The UN’s COP-21 agreement was lauded as a victory. Many climate scientists said it was actually a disaster. COP-21 “kicked the can down the road” rather than mandating immediate reductions in carbon emissions.

In some ways, we must hope that Trump’s victory leads to a mass awakening and a collective realization, even if this requires hardship in the short term. If we are going to deal with the ecological crisis we have unleashed, we will have to break from the trance of our current system—a corrupt two-party government and a predatory financial paradigm based on constant, unsustainable growth. We need a plan to redesign our social and technical support systems for a healthy world. Before we can get there, we need a coherent vision of the world we want to see.

Many visionaries point the way forward, in different ways. David Korten, for instance, talks about a shift from Empire to Earth Democracy. In Journey to Earthland, Paul Raskin, director of the Tellus Institute, outlines how we make a “great transition” over the next decades from a market-driven, militarized model to a peaceful, pluralistic Eco-utopia. Paul Hawken considers all the ways that carbon can be removed from the atmosphere in his Drawdown Project. Naomi Klein, after finishing her book on climate change, This Changes Everything, launched a Beautiful Solutions website, showcasing many options.

In my new book How Soon Is Now?, I propose that we can evolve from mass consumerism to a new model which we might call regenerative society. We need to prioritize our relationship to the earth’s ecological systems over mass-produced goods and comforts. When we realize there really isn’t any alternative, we can take on the challenge of making this transformation as a personal and a collective initiation or rite of passage—as a spiritual mission. We saw a beautiful example of this in the movement around Standing Rock, which united indigenous communities across the world against the extractive industries.

Earth and the text "Earth Day 22 April"

In actual fact, humans have lived with very different systems in the past. Tribal people had no centralized governments or hierarchical power structures. Even money, in the modern sense of it, is a relatively recent human invention. There is no physical reason we couldn’t transform our government and other institutions in support of a more ecological, viable, and equitable world.

For instance, we know that we need to shift to renewable energy within the next decade or two—it could be done through a collective initiative. We have seen movements like this in the past. After the United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, we shifted all of our factories to wartime production in a few short months and taxed the wealthiest members of our society at more than 90% to defeat the common foe. The global community could do the same, facing this threat.

We also need to make a rapid transition in our agricultural systems, away from industrial farming that depletes topsoil and accelerates climate change. The alternative is regenerative agricultural practices like no till, permaculture, and organic farming that actually pulls carbon dioxide into the soil. We also need a largescale reduction in global meat consumption—and a movement that packages this as a choice we are making for the sake of future generations. Thirty percent of the earth’s surface is now used for grazing animals. This land could be reforested, which would help sequester carbon.

We need to overturn our model of planned obsolescence and conspicuous consumption by adopting William McDonough’s model of “cradle to cradle” industry. Products should be designed to be long-lasting, with replaceable components. Obviously, making this shift requires a transition in our financial model. At the moment, corporations profit by making people buy more and more gadgets. In a regenerative society, corporations will be incentivized to support the health of the environment and the diversity of local communities.

Let’s take this Earth Day as a golden opportunity to conceive of a global movement that will bring humanity together as one. Together, we can confront the crisis we have inadvertently unleashed through our rapid progress. If we can do this, we will have innumerable Earth Days ahead of us to celebrate and enjoy.

Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of Breaking Open the Head, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and How Soon Is Now? His How Soon Is Now? podcast can be found on iTunes. He was a cofounder of and Reality Sandwich and is featured in the documentary 2012: Time for Change.

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