by Kenny Ausubel
The existential gauntlet is to make the shift fast enough to outrun global cataclysm. The next five or six years will be the once-in-a-civilization window to change course. We can move from breakdown to breakthrough.
The Mayan people call this the “Time of No Time.” From here on, we’re on Earth time. Mother Earth is shaking to her core. It’s a time of madness, disconnection, and hyper-individualism.
It’s also a time when new energies are coming into the world -- when people are growing a new skin.
The Mayan vision says we in the West will find safe harbor only if we can journey past a wall of mirrors. The mirrors will drive us mad—unless we have a strong heart. Some mirrors delude us with an infinity of reflections of our vanity and shadows. Others paralyze us with our terror and rage, feeding an empire that manufactures our fear into resignation.
But the empire has no roots and it’s toppling all around us. In this time, everyone is called to take a stand. Everyone is called to be a leader.
To get beyond the wall of mirrors, the final challenge is to pass through a tiny door. To do this, we must make ourselves very, very small. To be very humble.
Then we must burrow down into the Earth, where indigenous consciousness lives. On the other side is a clear pond. There, for the first time, we’ll be able to see our true reflection.
In this Time of No Time, we can go in any direction we want—by dreaming it. Our dreaming can shift the course of the world.
Paradoxically, the crisis confronting us today is precisely the dream of our current civilization. That dream of endless growth, hyper-individualism and domination has turned into a nightmare. How do we dream our way out of a nightmare?
One way is to wake up. All over the world, people are awakening to a new dream.
We’re re-imagining a civilization in the Age of Nature that honors the web of life, each other and future generations. It’s a revolution from the heart of nature.
For decades, brilliant scientific and social innovators such as the bioneers have patiently been creating the shadow systems for how we live on Earth for the long haul. For the most part, the solutions are present, or we know what directions to head in.
It’s not that we need more solutions -- we need to rapidly spread and scale what we’ve already got. We need to mobilize at the scale we’ve previously done in times of war.
In 2012, two rude awakenings are releasing the floodgates of transformation.
The first is the onset of conspicuous climate disruption. The second is the stranglehold of the greatest extremes of wealth ever seen in human civilization. They are not unrelated.
As Bill McKibben points out, scientists have underestimated the speed and scale of early climate disruption, at a rise of just .8 degrees Celsius. Even if we stopped pumping carbon right now, what we’ve already done will raise the temperature by another .8 degrees Celsius.
But we’re not stopping – we’re putting record amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. At this rate, in 16 years, the planet will become uninhabitable.
Meanwhile the major oil corporations hold reserves five times higher than the amounts of carbon we can burn to keep below the hopefully “safe” threshold of 2°Celsius of warming. They’re planning to burn it all.
As McKibben warns, rapid transformative change is the only way through – picture the civil rights movement in fast forward. The key is stopping the fossil fuel oligarchs before they poach the planet.
As the International Forum on Globalization observes in its report Outing the Oligarchy, “Today’s single biggest threat to our global climate commons is the group of billionaires who profit most from its pollution and, in turn, push government policies that promote more fossil fuels…
“Cooperative global action to address the most daunting challenge humanity has ever faced is being held hostage by a handful of profiteers who wield decisive power over our governments.”
Globalization has triggered a tectonic shift of financial wealth and political power upward to a group of multi-billionaires. According to Jeffrey Winters, the author of Oligarchy, wealth in the U.S. today is "two times as concentrated as imperial Rome, which was a slave-and-farmer society.”
Call it bottom down and top up – breadcrumbs and circuses. As Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, more equal societies are better for everyone, including the wealthy.
Jeremy Grantham, the far-seeing Chairman of the $100 billion GMO Capital fund, asserts that global warming will be the most important investment issue for the foreseeable future, and advocates very large immediate investments in renewables and smart grids.
He says humanity’s vexed relationship with the planet is the great economic story of our time. He concludes that “If we maintain our desperate focus on growth, we will run out of everything and crash – Peak Everything Else.”
That’s the nub – Boom and Doom -- the final throes of an oligarchic economic system bedeviled by its original sin of unlimited growth on a finite planet.
Nature does not favor centralization because one shock can crash the whole system all at once. Climate change compounded by the concentration of wealth and distribution of poverty is pushing natural and humans systems to a perfect storm of tipping points.
One key is to build resilience from the ground up through a radical decentralization of our infrastructure, energy and food systems.
It means a greater devolution of political power to local and regional levels. It means democratizing wealth and access to capital. It means democratizing democracy.
It’s do-able based largely on what we already know.
Using off-the-shelf clean technologies, we can radically increase energy conservation and rapidly ramp up distributed renewable energy. We know how to feed the world using ecological agriculture that sequesters carbon, restores natural capital and builds local economies. We have a good idea how to begin to restore ecosystems on a large scale – fairly quickly in some cases.
We’re rapidly learning how to deploy biomimicry to emulate nature’s designs and recipes with green chemistry, cradle-to-cradle industry, living buildings and smart growth. We can conserve and use water wisely. We’re reinventing finance as well as governance, instituting rights for nature and revoking corporate constitutional rights.
In this Age of Nature, we’re breaking through what author Richard Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder” with healthy doses of Vitamin N – the Nature Principle. We’re looking to nature as mentor and model, rather than physical resource.
The vanguard of the banking industry, including the Bank of England, is studying ecological networks and disease patterns to understand how nature avoids cataclysmic systemic shocks. One conclusion is simple: Too big to fail means too big. Break up the big banks, as the conservative Chicago School of Economics originally proposed.
In the wake of the banking crisis, millions of people have moved their money to smaller, local, values-driven banks, such as those that formed the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. It’s a new consortium of 19 of the world’s leading sustainable banks whose decisions are based first on the needs of people and the environment.
A 2012 study funded by the Rockefeller Foundation compared the performance of 17 values-based banks against 29 banks considered too big to fail. The study showed the values-based banks outperformed traditional mainstream banks in: return on assets, growth in loans and deposits, and capital strength. The smaller banks delivered better returns.
The report concludes their success is precisely their values, and they’re smaller.
The big wheels are also turning at the Department of Defense. The DoD his embedding sustainability into its national security strategy. It’s moving away from fossil fuels and toward the national decentralization of energy and other vulnerable infrastructures.
For the first time in 2010, investment in renewables exceeded that in fossil fuels.
The Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign has succeeded in forcing the closing of 124 coal plants and prevented many others from being built. Its goal is to shutter a third of the nation’s coal plants by 2020.
Bill McKibben and 350.org are hitting the road in November to build the movement strong enough to take on the fossil fuel industry. They will mount a campaign like the anti-Apartheid campaign to cut off the industry’s financial and political support.
But our greatest resilience resides in community. Social ties literally save lives. In Japan, the government sponsors small local festivals for people just to meet each other because experience shows they’ll be better prepared to weather crises. San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Seattle are following suit.
The Department of Homeland Security funded a successful 3-year FEMA pilot project in 8 cities to create a Whole Community Resilience System for disaster prevention.
In this Time of No Time, what we need to get past the wall of mirrors is a strong heart. Andy Lipkis of TreePeople sees it this way.
“I believe every single one of us has a scanner on board that’s operating in our body that nature must have installed. It’s our heart, and it’s asking the question, ‘Where am I needed? How can I help?’
“We’ve got to take care of the mom, Earth, because she has given us everything to raise us to this point -- not so we can kill ourselves.
“Where am I needed? How can I help? Your heart will answer. You’re big enough. We can do this.”
In this Time of No Time, at no time have we ever before faced what we face today.
We make the road by walking.
Kenny Ausubel is the cofounder of Bioneers. http://www.bioneers.org/
His new book just released is: Dreaming the Future: Reimagining Civilization in the Age of Nature
available at Chelsea Green : http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/dreaming_the_future