EARTH DAY 2006-04-22

April 22, 2006

Excerpts from On Earth Day, a WorldChanging essay by Alex Steffen:

With every passing day, we are discovering that things are worse than we thought. Our climate is ripping apart at the seams at a rate that's surprising even the so-called alarmists. Natural systems are collapsing. The ocean seems headed towards a series of catastrophic tipping points. Economic inequity is producing a planet of billionaires and a billion desperate people. Our political systems are suffering a massive crisis of legitimacy, while insane fundamentalists, violent criminals and two-bit dictators (wearing both uniforms and Armani suits) are stealing or destroying everything they can get their hands on. Everywhere on the planet we find an empty consumer culture so accepted we barely speak of it, except perhaps to make an ironic joke. We have placed a Great Wager on the future of humanity, and the odds are getting worse.

In the face of this reality, recycling a bottle is an act so insignificant as to be merely totemic. Paper or plastic? Who the hell cares?


We don't need more carpool lanes. We need to eliminate fossil fuels from our economy. We don't need more recycling bins. We need to create a closed-loop, biomimetic, neobiological industrial system. We don't need to attend a tree-planting ceremony. We need to become expert at ecosystem management and gardening the planet. We don't need another unscented laundry detergent. We need to ban the vast majority of the toxic chemicals upon which our livestyles currently float and invent a completely non-toxic green chemistry. We don't need lite green fashions. We need a bright green revolution.


We need to help each other. Consumer-based approaches and "simple things" lists tend to reinforce our sense that the only sphere in which we can act is our own little private lives, and that isolates us. But the isolation we all sometimes feel in the face of the magnitude of the problems is itself a major part of the problem. None of us can change the world single-handedly: as Wendell Berry says, "to work at this work alone is to fail." We need to organize, mobilize, join together, act in concert. We need to seek out our allies and get their backs when they need us. That happens through applied effort, not impulse buying.


We need, above all else, to show that another world is possible, indeed, it's here all around us, though we do not see it. We need to inspire not only our fellow citizens but ourselves with visions of what we're beginning to accomplish together, visions of what a planet brought back to sanity will look and feel like, visions of how we will live in a bright green future. That future should be beautiful and stylish, dynamic and creative, but it must before all else be genuinely sustainable, or it's not much of a future at all, is it?

Let me add: there is no significant or reasonable doubt in the general scientific community about the truth of global climate change. And there is little doubt that humans play the most significant factor in the climate trends that are melting the Arctic, super-heating Europe, and bringing longer, more sustained droughts to sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a manifesto for being green. But it needs spirituality. It needs religious allies. Theirs is a language of the spiritual impetus for living in greater harmony with nature as well as the necessity to leave the world of the future as one in which all people have physical peace and well-being in which to pursue inner peace. The interfaith movement in particular offers new territory for winning friends and building green coalitions. Of the relationship between spirituality and sustainable development, the Baha'i International Community writes:

...unless and until spiritual issues become central to the development process, the establishment of a sustainable global civilization will prove impossible. For the vast majority of the world's people the idea that human nature is fundamentally spiritual is an incontrovertible truth. Indeed, this perception of reality is the defining cultural experience for most of the world's people and is inseparable from how they perceive themselves and the world around them. It is, therefore, only by bringing a focus on the spiritual dimension of human reality that development policies and programs can truly reflect the experiences, conditions and aspirations of the planet's inhabitants and elicit their heartfelt support and active participation.

What can you do, today, tomorrow, next month and so on? Seek radical change — but not the radicalism of a bygone and decadent age. Rather the radicalism of stepping back from our fears, away from all that we know and into a future that still has some vague chance of being Green.


Some commentators seem to get excited by doomsday scenarios. There's no doubt that climate change is going on. It always has. The challenge for scientists is to separate the human factors from the geophysical factors that would be happening, even if there were no humans on the planet.

There's an interesting piece on the BBC website that I think is worthing a read:

"Hardly a day goes by without a new dire warning about climate change. But some claims are more extreme than others, giving rise to fears that the problem is being oversold and damaging the issue.

"How much has the planet warmed up over the past century? Most people reckon between two and three degrees. They are not even close. The real figure, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is 0.6C.

"It's not surprising most people get it wrong. We are bombarded by stories warning us that global warming is out of control. The most extreme warn us we will be living in a tropical Britain where malaria is rife and Norfolk has disappeared altogether.

"Dr Hans Von Storch, a leading German climate scientist and fervent believer in global warming, is convinced the effect of climate change is being exaggerated.

"'The alarmists think that climate change is something extremely dangerous, extremely bad and that overselling a little bit, if it serves a good purpose, is not that bad.'"

And those who promote extreme measures "to save the planet" may also be overstating the case.

This is the link to the piece:

Thank you both for comments. I've not had the time or energy to respond for the past week or so, but please don't think I'm not appreciative of your contributions!

The warming trend we've seen in the past century is only a small part of the problem. It is the warming trend that we are likely to see throughout the next century that will be the real problem. The potential danger to the planet, and our way of life, is difficult to overstate.

While it is true that being overly alarming can turn people off (cf Cassandra and Laocoon from Greek mythology), in the US at least there are still far too many people who do not understand that global climate change is a real phenomenon that will, at the least, make our lives much more uncomfortable in many ways, and at worst completely mess up civilization.

Messing up civilization might not be such a bad thing itself, but we're also talking about scarring the planet itself for a long time. She'll survive, but many of her species might not. And biodiversity matters, it is something we should value in and of itself.