Epistle to the Ecotopians by Ernest Callenbach

This document was found on the computer of Ecotopia author Ernest Callenbach (1929-2012) after his death. It was originally published on TomDispatch and I read it on Climate Progress. I found these words to be utterly moving, much like his other works, and could not resist re-posting it. Please share this piece (with proper citation and credit to the above) to your friends, family and others.

Ecotopia CoverTo all brothers and sisters who hold the dream in their hearts of a future world in which humans and all other beings live in harmony and mutual support — a world of sustainability, stability, and confidence. A world something like the one I described, so long ago, in Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging.

As I survey my life, which is coming near its end, I want to set down a few thoughts that might be useful to those coming after. It will soon be time for me to give back to Gaia the nutrients that I have used during a long, busy, and happy life. I am not bitter or resentful at the approaching end; I have been one of the extraordinarily lucky ones. So it behooves me here to gather together some thoughts and attitudes that may prove useful in the dark times we are facing: a century or more of exceedingly difficult times.

How will those who survive manage it? What can we teach our friends, our children, our communities? Although we may not be capable of changing history, how can we equip ourselves to survive it?

I contemplate these questions in the full consciousness of my own mortality. Being offered an actual number of likely months to live, even though the estimate is uncertain, mightily focuses the mind. On personal things, of course, on loved ones and even loved things, but also on the Big Picture.

But let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.

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Free Money Day: Sharing Is Common Cents

Free Money Day Logo
Sharing Is Common Cents

It’s one of the most basic relationships most of us interact with on a daily basis: money. Just like anything else, if you love something set it free (or even if you don’t love it, just value it or put up with it). It’s time we started to challenge our perceptions around money. That time is nearly here – September 15th.

In just a few days you could be giving away your money to start a discussion about sharing economies, community, cash and alternatives to our unstable, unsustainable growth economy. It’s Free Money Day on September 15th, directly from the source:

What Is It?

On September 15th, at various public locations worldwide, people will hand out their own money to complete strangers (two coins/notes at a time) asking the recipients to pass one of these coins or notes on to someone else.

The Aim?

Raise awareness and start conversations about the benefits of economies based on sharing, as well as offer a liberating experience that gets us thinking more critically and creatively about our relationship with money and how we could have new types of economic activity.

The purpose of Free Money Day is to re-engage with money, re-exploring the way we relate with it and use it, and the possibilities that exist outside of it, in order to reinvigorate some of these democratizing ideals and bring them into practice.

You can register to host your own Free Money Day event here, and sign up to receive updates here. All the information you’ll need to organize a fun and successful event is posted on the Free Money Day website. And don’t forget to join the discussions leading up to and following September 15th.  We hope you’ll agree that this provides a great opportunity for us all to have some courageous conversations with the bonus of some fun added in!

Also, check our the Free Money Day video on YouTube:

This is a project that we’ve been working very diligantly on over at the Post Growth Institute (an international collective identifying, inspiring and implementing new approaches to global well-being without economic growth, co-founded by yours truly). I’m incredibly excited about this project and I hope you will join in!

Climate Awareness Shift?

Occasionally I have to fly for my day job. I’m not a huge fan of it – I can handle the actual act of flying, but I hate the whole experience, from the pre-boarding body search to the crammed-in-a-seat-built-for-someone-two-feet-shorter-than-me. Not to mention that it is the worst way to travel if you care about the climate. Alas, I still have to do it from time to time (though I am trying to phase it out all together).

I recently had to fly down to Davis, CA for a site visit on a project of mine in construction. While waiting to board my flight I talked with a gentleman from outside Tulsa, Oklahoma on his way home. He lamented on the horrible destruction of the tornados that recently hit the area. We talked briefly of the sporadic and crazy weather there and elsewhere. Then I said the two ominous words in any discussion with a stranger: “climate change.”

In all honesty, and to my own personal shame, I expected this man from the south to call me a lunatic or spout off some climate denier propaganda. But to his credit he nodded in agreement, as did another lady next to us who was listening in.

I went on to say that our atmospheric CO2 concentration is now at 394ppm and in order to maintain a planet in which life evolved and is accustomed too, the maximum safe level is 350ppm. Neither of my fellow travels appeared to be aware of this fact, there was shock on their face when I explained the numbers.

The women to my right speculated that we will evolve, but I felt compelled to correct her. All evidence is the the contrary. We’ve stamped out life on Earth quicker and with more vigor not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs. There are absolutely no guarantees of our survival going forward.

Flooding in Pakistan, drought in Texas (and Pakistan), record tornados in Oklahoma and elsewhere the likes of which has never before been seen in record history. All pointing to the fact that climate change has arrived, it’s no longer “on it’s way.” Because of all of this (not to mention that it’s undeniable science, really) I feel more and more that the “debate,” for which I no longer bother engaging in with climate deniers, might finally be coming to an end soon. We all see the craziness now. We’ve entered into a new geologic era. Perhaps now our lifestyles can finally shift.

The gentlemen from Tulsa asked me if I worked in this area or if I was just interested in the subject. “Concerned, deeply,” I replied. “I have a young son, how could I not be concerned?” We all nodded in agreement. As Mark Hertsgaard says in his book Hot:Living Through The Next Fifty Years On Earth, taking action against climate change is now “part of a parent’s job description, no less vital than tending to your child’s diet, health or eduction.” The tides of awareness are changing. Are you coming along?

Carrying Capacity And Overshoot

There once was a time when I was a very active homebrewer, making upwards of 14 batches of beer a year. Things have slowed down on that front quite a bit since having our son (not to mention my increased activity blogging and working on post-growth projects). Nowadays I make mead, wine and the occasional beer. The mead and wine are much easier to make in terms of labor hours, but require much more patience.

I bring this up because recently I have been thinking about the magical thing that drives that hobby of mine: yeast. They are amazing little creatures, and some even consider them to be proof of a higher power (that old Ben Franklin quote “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”) More to the point, I’ve been thinking about how much we seem to have in common with yeast:

  • They consume feverishly, producing wastes that slowly build up in their environment.
  • They produce CO2 in amazing quantity.
  • Their population reaches in the billions, each one is bent on consuming over everything else.
  • Eventually their waste (in the case of yeast, alcohol) spreads so far and wide into their environment it turns an otherwise supporting system into a killing system – they die in their own waste, poisoned by it.

We’ve definitely started to edge into the last one, but we already have hit the first three. Our economy and society, most especially here in the United States, relies and exists solely to consume (and produce things to consume). We’ve released so much CO2 into the atmosphere that we’re altering our beautiful ecosystem’s ability to support life. Our consumption continues to rise, but so does our population – both adding to the problem.

The pity is that we can’t bottle up our waste and toast it over a good meal with friends, like we can with the “waste” yeast cells produce. Maybe instead, we can learn from their experience – if we consume too much, produce too much waste, we will have a massive drop in production capacity and population. We can choose a different path. We can choose to stabilize our consumption, work to remove the CO2 from our system and try to restore a lot of the ecosystem we’ve destroyed so far.

This month is all about the Global Population Speak-Out. I’ve signed up to write some posts, and the GrowthBusters have decided to write a few more on our Post Growth blog. Let’s start talking about population and consumption – they’re getting out of control and we’re starting to look like we have the collective intelligence of single-celled organisms, so let’s start acting like we’ve actually got the intelligence of an evolved, sentient spices, huh?

The Real Population Question

Population
7 Billion People

This year will be a monumental one. 2011 is the year our spaceship Earth will have 7 billion people on board. A large majority of the developed countries’ populations are entering the elderly years, when they become less able to work and need more care. This means a lowered workforce all around and an increased need for a workforce to care for our elders. In the developing world, where a large majority of this population growth is occurring, there are more malnourished children, more uneducated mothers and more people living with inadequate shelter, food, health care, water, et cetera, et cetera.

I’ve written before about population. This is a dodgy issue surrounded by misconceptions, fear and contention. It is an easy topic to bring up if you are looking to start a heated argument, loose friends or out any Nazis in a group. However, the topic of population is an important one and it simply needs to be framed properly with the other root cause of “the problem” – consumption. The two go hand-in-hand and we like to avoid talking about either in respect to natural limits.

Jeremy, over at Make Wealth History, brought it up last month in a great post, “How many people can the Earth support?” and I want to echo his thoughts. I also want to make it clear to everyone that this debate must be had! We must have debate over these serious issues. We must be willing to potentially change our minds or, at the very least, be able to open them to solutions we might not have thought of ourselves or might not have be completely confident in their success. Either way we have to do something.

Next month is Global Population Speak Out Month, and I think we should all open up this topic for discussion. It is important for us to recognize that there is a limit to the number of people the world can support, as well as the amount of consumption that can be supported. The real question is what is the desired level of consumption that we want for everyone? We must be fair and grant enough room for all to equally share the Earth, so what is an appropriate stable population and consumption level? Our generation must answer these questions, so we should start by at least asking them.

Check out this infographic on the subject (my thanks to Grist for showing it to me) or this National Geographic video:

Ten Things That Will Build The New Economy

Out of the Old Economy of big-business, inequality, wall street over main street, oil & gas, environmental destruction and social degradation will rise the New Economy of small business, fair distribution, local systems, renewable energy, environmental restoration and protection, social renewal and strong communities.

The term “new economy” is broad, but its definition is gaining a more solid footing in the grass-roots of localism, communalism and post growth(ism). When I hear the term I think of an economy based on people and planet, not greed and growth. It is one that focuses energy on resilient local communities and businesses. It embraces the knowledge that small is beautiful. The New Economy is not just a rebooted version of the Old Economy – it is a drastic reshaping of the economic landscape. (I also believe that the New Economy is a post growth economy)

Out of the Old Economy of big-business, inequality, wall street over main street, oil & gas, environmental destruction and social degradation will rise the New Economy of small business, fair distribution, local systems, renewable energy, environmental restoration and protection, social renewal and strong communities.

The path ahead is not entirely clear, there are many opportunities to improving our social fabric and strengthening our local economics, but I believe that certain ideas will shine above the rest. Most of the change will come from the bottom up. This is true not only because the viability of anything getting done at the top of the political spectrum is practically non-existent, but also because the local movements will out-pace the movement of congress any day of the week. Here is my list of Top Ten Things That Will Build The New Economy (in no specific order):

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The Opportunity of Limits

The Limits of Earth

Debates over limits is not new. From Parson Malthus to Donella and Dennis Meadows to Herman Daly and, most recently, Tim Jackson, Juliet Schor, Peter Victor and many others – economists, policy-makers, ecologists, and biologists have all debated the limits we face and where they are encroach on society (or rather, where society encroaches on them). Economists from the very creation of the social science to recent shapers of the field have recognized the limits to a growth economy.

In the 19th century John Stuart Mill, a political economist who believed in free markets and utilitarianism, expounded the idea of a ‘stationary state,’ or a steady state, economy, one which remained stable without expanding in size. In Mills stationary state vision our economy would maintain a constant population and stocks of capital. He envisioned an enlightened state where “there would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the Art of Living and much more likelihood of its being improved, when minds cease to be engrossed by the art of getting on.”

John Maynard Keynes, the grandfather of current economic thought, even acknowledged that growth was a means to an end. Keynes referred to the dilemma of growth as “the economic problem” that someday will “take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems – the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.”

Where does that leave us today? In a world seemingly full of ecological limits playing out in numerous arenas – peak oil, water scarcity, climate change, dwindling resources – how do we find that stationary state equitably? Do any of these limits play out in our favor?

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The Sigma Of Growth

We need a social revolution to sweep the country (and the world): changing the business-as-usual economy into a stable, sustainable, human-oriented economy. A transition to a just, dynamic steady state economy will require movement of the people. This has me thinking that one thing we need is to create a stigma around pro-growth supporters: those that support continued economic growth in the face of ecological and social degradation.

In the seventies it was “the man.” The Man was keeping us down. The Man was taking our money. The Man was pushing his agenda of consumption, 40-hour work weeks and corporate profit. Today that stigma has been replaced with acceptance and encouragement! We need to bring back the Man, but we also need to create a similar stigma on the pro-growthers, the liquidators.

I propose “growther.” It sums it up pretty well. It should be used in disgust and disapproval, like “that’s the agenda of a growther trying to destroy your work-life balance” or “those growthers are driving our planet towards collapse” or “you ignorant growther!” I’m open to other ideas, too, so please chime in!