This morning I decided to read a newspaper, something I rarely do these days. Here’s why: a two-page spread in The Guardian contained articles on a new oil spill off the coast of New Zealand, widespread protests in Bolivia against exploitation of indigenous land, a scientific conference confirming the existence of the Yeti, and a meteorite crashing through someone’s roof in France. The other half of the spread was advertisements.
The world is changing rapidly around us – environmental degradation, social dislocation, and financial collapse are no longer taking place in distant lands or in a distant future. They are affecting our lives on a daily basis, whether we live in Bolivia, New Zealand, Siberia, or Paris.
In this incredibly unique stage of global transition, we have a choice as individuals, communities, and societies: sit quietly by as an impartial world changes around us or empower each other to stand up against an immoral system. Increasingly, people – the 99% – are taking that stand.
The people of Bolivia and New York City are part of the same movement, whether they realize it or not. So are the thousands who have protested against piping tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, tar sands which if magically burned overnight would shoot the CO² concentration in our atmosphere instantly from 391 ppm to well over 500 ppm. According to Bill McKibben (who visited Schumacher College last week), James Hansen, and pretty much every other scientist to consider this, the burning of this source of carbon will fundamentally and irreversibly change our planet. If that happens, it may not matter who are the rich and who the poor – we will all share the same fate.
And herein lies the strength of this burgeoning movement – it can no longer be narrowly defined as the “environmental movement” or the “social justice” movement. It crosses all causes, all classes, all countries. Without equality, we live in an unjust and unhappy world. But without a stable, resilient, healthy planet, who knows how we live at all.
Speakers at the Schumacher Centenary included environmental lawyer Polly Higgins, post-growth economist Tim Jackson, Transition Town founder Rob Hopkins, and educator and activist Satish Kumar.
It is no longer just “activists” voicing these concerns, but people from all walks of life. Last weekend I attended a conference to celebrate, explore, and further the ideas of E.F. Schumacher, the pioneer of holistic economics. The speakers included not just environmental organizers and green economists inspired by Schumacher’s ideas but also a lawyer, a banker, and a politician. Things are beginning to change, indeed.
Occupy Wall Street, now rapidly spreading across the US and elsewhere (there are demonstrations planned for London this weekend), is a collective expression of outrage. It is about reclaiming some agency in the effort to move beyond a crumbling and corrupt system. It may not have a unified voice or demand, but right now its diversity and passion are its strengths.
Whether non-violently occupying downtown Manhattan, marching 50 days across Bolivia to La Paz, or holding a bicycle rally in one of 2000 cities across the world, this is about exploring the space of possibility. We need the courage to name what is wrong, envision a positive alternative…and ultimately to embrace a profoundly unknown future with compassion and community.
All of these popular movements, from Tunisia to London to Wall Street, are part of the same process of creative destruction, of reclaiming our right and our responsibility to create a world where everyone, human and non-human, has the opportunity to flourish.
We have a choice. And a responsibility – to ourselves, our fellow beings on this planet, our children and their children. No one has the One Solution to fix it all. The collective genius is beginning to activate though, in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere. As the late great Wangari Maathai once said, “Only those who risk going too far can know how far they can go.”