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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Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption at Seattle Town Hall

I was finally able to get this video uploaded from Pirate TV onto vimeo (couldn’t get it to work on youtube). Anyway, I know it’s been a while, but I was really impressed with Paul’s talk (and him as a person) – not to mention I was privileged to introduce him for it! (not in the video).

Anyway, check it out:

Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption at Town Hall Seattle on Vimeo.

Happy Birthday Yes! Magazine

Yes Magazine Cover
Yes! Magazine Celebrate's 15 Years

I just returned from a great evening with the folks at Yes! Magazine celebrating their 15th anniversary at Town Hall Seattle. In case you haven’t read Yes! Magazine, they are a leading sustainability-community-new-economy-social-justice – okay, progressive – media outlet. Their website is a constant stream of free (and ad free) content ranging from articles on social justice and sustainability to the new economy and happiness. I’ve been a big fan of them for some time, and privileged enough to be connected with Yes! through previous events, blogging and twitter friends (check out their issue #56 on “What Happy Families Know” my family is on page 52).

I’ll be adding the video of the speakers once it’s up, but wanted to give a quick run-down of tonight’s events, which included Van Jones, Bill McKibben and David Korten. For being a “humble writer,” Bill doesn’t give himself enough credit for his ability to inspire with his speaking as well as his writing. Van’s words were able to move the audience greatly with what appeared to be almost effortless charm – he had us hanging on every well-executed pause and perfectly timed joke. David gave credence to the progressive movements he’s helped to form and be part of with his piece, as well as highlight some of the great work being done to create a better world.

Yes! Magazine started in a basement on Bainbridge Island and is now a world-wide media outlet for progressive, positive stories and action-oriented motivation. They still function on the island, but their offices are a bit bigger. Of course, being a non-profit, community-supported magazine gives their voice even more validity (always good to walk the talk), but it also means they need support to run such an amazing publication. I highly recommend you becoming a subscriber, or read them online and donate. I’m a very satisified dedicated friend (read: monthly donor) and you might be too!

Happy Birthday Yes! Magazine, here’s to another 15 (or 500) years!

UPDATE: Here’s the video link where you can watch each speech separately or the whole thing.

 

Paul Gilding At Town Hall Seattle

In a two short weeks Town Hall Seattle will be hosting Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption. Paul will be discussing the now unavoidable consequences of climate change and the challenges humanity will face. But in the face of such great challenges Paul envisions it will bring out the best of us: compassion, innovation, resilience and adaptability.

Paul will be in Seattle giving a talk about his new book and I will be introducing him as the Washington State Chapter Director of CASSE. The event will be at 7:30pm on Friday, May 6th at Town Hall Seattle. I hope you can make it!

Here’s a short description of his work:

“It’s time to stop just worrying about climate change, says Paul Gilding. We need instead to brace for impact because global crisis is no longer avoidable. This Great Disruption started in 2008, with spiking food and oil prices and dramatic ecological changes, such as the melting ice caps. It is not simply about fossil fuels and carbon footprints. We have come to the end of Economic Growth, Version 1.0, a world economy based on consumption and waste, where we lived beyond the means of our planet’s ecosystems and resources.

The Great Disruption offers a stark and unflinching look at the challenge humanity faces-yet also a deeply optimistic message. The coming decades will see loss, suffering, and conflict as our planetary overdraft is paid; however, they will also bring out the best humanity can offer: compassion, innovation, resilience, and adaptability. Gilding tells us how to fight-and win-what he calls The One Degree War to prevent catastrophic warming of the earth, and how to start today.

“The crisis represents a rare chance to replace our addiction to growth with an ethic of sustainability, and it’s already happening. It’s also an unmatched business opportunity: Old industries will collapse while new companies will literally reshape our economy. In the aftermath of the Great Disruption, we will measure “growth” in a new way. It will mean not quantity of stuff but quality and happiness of life. Yes, there is life after shopping.”

Get your tickets here and check out Paul’s site for more locations on his tour.

Are Nuclear Fears Unfounded?

Nuclear Power PlantsI have a great respect for George Monbiot. He is an amazing writer (I loved his book Heat), a fearless journalist and a strong-willed political activist. He an deeply committed environmentalist, and also (so it appears, see below) a supporter of nuclear power.

Recently he engaged in a debate over the nuclear debacle in Japan with staunch anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott. After hunting for scientific evidence to support the claims of the anti-nuclear movement in general. Seeing as how I’ve been musing on the Japan nuclear quagmire, I thought I would share his piece with you.

From his recent article, “Evidence Meltdown,”

“Failing to provide sources, refuting data with anecdote, cherry-picking studies, scorning the scientific consensus, invoking a cover-up to explain it: all this is horribly familiar. These are the habits of climate change deniers, against which the green movement has struggled valiantly, calling science to its aid. It is distressing to discover that when the facts don’t suit them, members of this movement resort to the follies they have denounced.

“We have a duty to base our judgements on the best available information. This is not just because we owe it to other people to represent the issues fairly, but also because we owe it to ourselves not to squander our lives on fairytales. A great wrong has been done by this movement. We must put it right.”

Clearly a energy policy that does not rely on greenhouse gas emitting, non-renewable technologies is necessary. There is potential for nuclear power to provide a stop-gap to get us between our current technology level to when we will have more efficient, cheaper solar, wind, geothermal and wave/tidal power or potentially other more advance energy sources (fusion, hydrogen, etc). I also know that we could utilize all of these without nuclear power now, but I’m not so sure about the political feasibly of it all. And I am not keen on relying on unknown future technologies to save us in the present.

On the flip side, here’s Brian Czech’s most recent post on The Daly News.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Image Credit: Inhabitat

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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Earth Overshoot & Natural Debt


Earth Overshoot Day 2010
Our Natural Accounts Run Red

Today is the official day of Earth Overshoot: the first day of the year our natural capital spending is in the red. This type of natural debt is far more destructive than its monetary counterpart (natural debt meaning debt owed of natural capital, not a debt that is natural – there is no such thing). Instead of being able to pay back this loan, we’re actually making it harder to pay our bills next year and the year after.

Overshoot is a term used often by biologists to describe a population that consumes more than the system can support. This could be a pack of grey wolves in the Northern Territories that is eating more deer than can possible be born and grow within the year. What does that mean? With less deer this year to breed, there will be less deer next year to eat. The deer the wolves eat next year will deplete their reserve even further. Eventually no deer will be around to eat and the wolves will starve.

We’re doing the same thing today with the Earth. As the Global Footprint Network puts it,

“For most of human history, humanity has been able to live off of nature’s interest – consuming resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate lower than what the planet was able to regenerate and reabsorb each year.

But approximately three decades ago, we crossed a critical threshold, and the rate of human demand for ecological services began to outpace the rate at which nature could provide them. This gap between demand and supply – known as ecological overshoot – has grown steadily each year. It now takes one year and six months to regenerate the resources that humanity requires in one year.

The bummer here is that we can’t migrate to a new territory: there’s only one Earth. There will only ever be one Earth. One Planet. That’s how much we’ve been given, best we figure out how to use it well. We need to create a sustainable scale to our society and economy.

Gas Tank
Maxed Out: Earth Doesn't Have Give Out Credit

Overshoot is directly related to carrying capacity – and biologists know that when a population consumes more than the system can renew, this overshoot often leads to a mass die-off.  We’re already watching the most massive extinction since the dinosaurs, our biological diversity is dwindling at unheard-of rates. Perhaps this should be seen as a warning to our own existence? After all, we are part of nature.

Celebrate Earth Overshoot Day by donating your car and buying a bike, calling your congressman, writing the president, trading your oil company job for a green job, building resiliency in your local community and supporting your local economy. Have a great anti-Holiday!

See my cross-post on Post Growth and out my guest post on Green Growth Cascadia about Earth Overshoot Day. Image Credits: Global Footprint Network.