Now is the time to hold strong to our humanity. The world is changing quickly and much is at stake. It is even possible that our entire global civilization will collapse in our lifetime. This is a very difficult concept to sit with — yet sit with it we must, for now is a time of great consequences.
A four hundred year old economic system is dying. We can feel the pain all around us. It shivers in the outstretched hands of the homeless. Gets expressed as death rattles in the species going extinct on a daily basis. Entire societies have tattered the social fabric of trust as inequality skyrocketed in the last few decades. It is experienced as fear, anger, sadness, humiliation, shame, and despair.
Every person alive today has a responsibility to bear witness, provide hospice care to the dying, and participate in midwifing new ways to structure social life. This is our burden to be alive in the early part of the 21st Century. Yet so many among us are still behaving like children. They call each other names. Pick fights between parochial tribal groups. Bitch and moan when things don’t go their way. And hoard precious wealth in a time of increasing global scarcity.
Now is the time to behave like grownups. Because the threats now upon us are very serious.
I say this as a man who is about to become a father. My wife and I chose — with eyes wide open — to bring a child into this world in the midst of great upheaval. We believe deeply and firmly in humanity and are investing our blood in the future. This is not something we do lightly. It is a great responsibility to continue the human race even as billions starve and there now lurks a very real possibility that our child will live through the collapse of the Earth’s first globalized civilization.
This unborn child has prospects to live into the 22nd Century. What will be seen through their eyes? Will there be a saga of unraveling the biosphere for our precious home planet? Might the death throes of capitalism take down the safety nets of a stable climate? Will our child bear witness to the final days of humanity? We cannot say even how long his or her survival will be secure.
Yet we carry forth knowing what must be done. Humanity is in the crucible of change now. It is an all-hands-on-deck transition — away from life destroying economic practices based on wealth hoarding and extraction and toward life affirming practices of regeneration and renewal.
Let me state this seriously and succinctly. According to the Stockholm Resilience Institute, there are nine “planetary boundaries” that represent thresholds for a viable global civilization. Cross even one and the entire edifice will fall into ruin. While there remains uncertainty about where these thresholds are, the best scientific evidence available today tells us that we have probably already crossed four of them.
We are currently in overshoot and collapse.
There are time lags in the system so the unraveling may not happen until the middle of this century. Instead of thinking about putting our child through college in 20 years, we must grapple with scenarios of tremendous upheaval and disruption. They will need to be a survivalist and servant to others in need. Notions of stable careers and long-term planning may never be a possibility in this child’s life.
I write these words not out of despair, but as an affirmation of the most rugged hopefulness I can muster. I was trained in climate science and I know what is coming. I have studied the rise and fall of empires so I am aware that fascist dictators and resource wars are likely to arise in the turmoil of the coming decades. Yet still I gently touch the swollen belly of my wife and feel our baby kicking and turning in her womb. I have felt the heartbeat of a new life and will do all I can to ensure that humanity makes it through to the other side.
This is what it feels like to live through the death of capitalism. Eyes wide open even if tears may well up in them. I look to the horizon where shimmers of beautiful alternatives await. It doesn’t have to be like this. We can do better. We must do better. In truth, there are already hundreds of millions of people actively struggling against the wealth extracting juggernaut that is Western development — expressed as colonialism in early years, then later in the various forms of trade agreements, structural debt repayment programs, illicit resource wars fueled by propaganda, and the full apparatus of wealth extraction that is in place today.
We needn’t wonder why a mere 60 people have the same aggregate wealth as 4 billion. This is an outcome designed into the core logic of extraction that arises when private owners extract rents (what is commonly called profits) from the valuable labor of other people. It only took four hundred years for this system to run itself out.
What no one could have predicted then was that the human population would explode and our fingerprints on the Earth would grow from tiny scratches here and there to deep scars that can be viewed from space. This is our legacy as a species right now. It is the bed we have prepared for our own children and grandchildren to lie down in. And it is our responsibility to carry through the dark times we are now in so that future generations can thrive in whatever ways make sense to them.
I am with you, fellow humans. I believe in us. Let us not fall into despair or acquiesce as extremism rears its ugly head around the world — as it did recently in the United States. For it will be the beacons of light we carry that will show others the way forward. For my part, I am working with social movements to connect the dots of wealth extraction and training change makers in the art and science of intentional social change. I have seen with my own eyes that millions of peasant farmers are organizing across Latin America and India; students are protesting outrageous debt in Mexico, Greece, and Spain; indigenous peoples are coming together across the North American continent to protect their sacred lands.
We are gathering our strength for the collective transition. Of the 7.4 billion humans alive today, several hundred million are already organizing to drive the system to change. There is much to be hopeful about in this struggle. We each have a role to play. And time is of the essence.
Onward, fellow humans.