By Kenny Ausubel
Aug 16, 2014
In this epic moment of radical environmental and social disruption, the world is experiencing the dawn of a revolutionary transformation to becoming an ecologically literate and socially just civilization.
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.
It’s emergence in an emergency. As the Talking Heads sang, “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around.”
Today, 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. 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 Global Alliance for Banking on Values has set the goal of financing sustainable businesses that will impact 1 billion people by 2020.
Twenty states are now studying how to create a state public bank based on the Bank of North Dakota, a major success story. This publicly owned bank receives all state revenues and promotes local commerce and industry, makes student loans and supports new farmers. It was largely unaffected by the banking crisis.
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.
Marine Colonel Mark Puck Mykleby, who just retired as Special Strategic Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, puts it this way: “The Grand Challenge is global unsustainability. National security and the bridge to resilience have just as much to do with food, water, the built environment, transportation, education, health care, and the physical solvency of our nation as some bad guy sitting in some dark corner plotting whatever deed he’s going to do.”
Most importantly, the DoD is funding cutting-edge clean technology R&D. Just as it developed microprocessors, jet engines and computers, it’s using its market-making leverage to ramp up tomorrow’s clean tech industries.
Opinion research shows a shifting political landscape. Americans want action to address the threat of climate disruption, and strongly support clean energy. The Presidential Climate Action Project has just re-booted with an action plan recommending how the 45th President can address global warming even without Congress, by using executive authorities. Examples from prior PCAP recommendations include the recent upping of vehicle mileage standards and the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases.
Business also appears to be reaching a tipping point. Two thirds of companies are turning to sustainability for a competitive edge and higher profits.
For the first time in 2010, investment in renewables exceeded that in fossil fuels. According to McKinsey & Company, solar energy will come back strong after 2015, driven by the rapid spread of distributed energy with miniature community power stations and home solar. Google has capitalized two solar residential funds of $365 million apiece.
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 working to build a movement strong enough to take on the fossil fuel industry. They are mounting 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.
As Sarah Crowell said, “The way we’ll hold it together is to hold it – together.”
The hardest thing to change in a system is the paradigm, yet that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
Emergence in an emergency. Breakdowns to breakthroughs.
Imagine catalyzing a massive shift to Los Angeles becoming a sustainable city by 2021. Imagine reworking the city as a functioning community forest model of an urban watershed. Imagine biomimicking the forest as the pathway to sustainability in water, energy, air, and transportation.
Imagine inspiring, engaging and supporting a million Angelenos and families in changing their homes and neighborhoods. Imagine everybody becoming a manager of the ecosystem.
Imagine an integrated ecosystem management team, a Board of Chiefs among the infrastructure agencies, to create sustainability. Imagine there’s enough money by reallocating existing funds and it rebuilds the economy and jobs.
Imagine a community and multi-agency collaboration, bottom-up and top-down, to rapidly adapt L.A. before the crash.
You don’t have to imagine it. Andy Lipkis and TreePeople are doing it.
Imagine a partnership between a college and its Ohio Rust Belt hometown to go carbon-neutral by 2020. Imagine an agro-forestry belt that can grow 70% of the community’s food locally. Imagine combining these with an emerald green arts downtown redevelopment that models an economic driver for the whole region.
Imagine leveraging this template of town-gown partnership to mobilize the nation’s 4,100 colleges and universities and their communities.
You’re imagining David Orr’s Oberlin Project, and $60 million is making it real.
Imagine 142 communities comprising over 350,000 people adopting Corporate Rights Elimination Ordinances that give communities the right to refuse to recognize corporate constitutional rights at the municipal level. Imagine Pittsburgh becoming the first major municipality to adopt a Community Bill of Rights and enforce it by banning fracking and corporate rights within the city.
Imagine these same communities driving Rights for Nature into their ordinances. Imagine it spreading to Ecuador as the first country to recognize in its Constitution the rights of ecosystems to “exist, persist, regenerate and evolve.”
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund led by Tom Linzey and Mari Margil is doing it.
Imagine a new regional model of development such as an environmental bank that keeps your money in your region and gives loans to the people who grow your food.
Imagine a Forest Fund that manages forests for timber, jobs, conservation, and carbon sequestration. Imagine it makes a financially attractive return. Imagine buying industrial forestland and growing trees for their own sake because they provide habitat and carbon sequestration — and eventually bigger trees to sell in better markets. Imagine returns attractive to investors who see the value of storing wealth in natural capital, and want a return for their kids and grandkids.
You’re imagining EcoTrust and Spencer Beebe and Astrid Scholz in the Pacific Northwest.
Imagine disrupting our current institutions by giving people these better choices.
Imagine proliferating these kinds of winning institutional innovations rapidly around the world.
Imagine an infrastructure that shortcuts these innovations, and gets the world’s social entrepreneurs access to existing ideas and capital more quickly.
Imagine a global action network of resilient communities.
As Naomi Klein wrote, “The real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system — one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power.
“It demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal — and acutely sensitive to natural limits.”
In this Time of No Time, what we don’t have is time. Can we dodge the point of no return by ramping up the emergent shadow civilization fast enough?
If you have a meaningful conversation with almost anyone these days, within minutes the tears start to flow. We’re all hurting badly. We’re scared. We’re suffering under chronic background levels of PTSD.
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?’
“When something hits your frequency, my frequency, it converts to adrenaline, a biochemical response. It might be a drip. It might be a shot.
“When we’re given a shot of adrenaline, like when we see a car accident, it gives us the power to go help lift a car off the injured person. It looks like a miracle, but it’s nature’s gift to us.
“When the ecosystem is hurting, we get the drip. We’re hardwired for this. The love that’s there can sustain us. It’s what really feeds us.
“I’ve come to believe nature has adapted us to be its healers. It has raised us from being infants that were helpless to brilliant, powerful, compassionate beings.
“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.
It’s an honor to walk this road with you.
Bioneers is an innovative nonprofit educational organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet.
Founded in 1990 in Santa Fe, New Mexico by social entrepreneurs Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons, Bioneers has acted as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. A celebration of the genius of nature and human ingenuity, Bioneers connects people with breakthrough solutions and each other. Our acclaimed annual national and local conferences are complemented by extensive media outreach including an award-winning radio series, book series, and role in media projects such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s film The 11th Hour. Our programs further focus on Women’s Leadership, Indigenous Wisdom, Community Resilience Networks, and Leadership Development and Youth. Learn more>>