Urgent need for a new lens and lexicon for conveying climate collapse
Climate change is not one among many issues, it is THE crisis, the greatest threat on Earth.
If you have kids, you know Raffi. But Raffi is much more than a singer, songwriter, and performer. He is a children’s champion and ecology advocate, founder and chair of the Centre for Child Honouring, the name of his powerful, integrated philosophy.
This essay, by Raffi, is reposted in full by permission followed by his song on global warming.
Are we tweeting while Earth burns? Is climate collapse our new collective Titanic? How do we best describe the survival struggle of 7 billion in a way that connects with the public and with decision makers?
The science on global warming is clear and compelling. Earth is in serious climate crisis. That’s why many writers have recently upgraded climate change to climate collapse, climate catastrophe, the long emergency. To convey the climate threat fully, we need a new Story.
In a well known Greek myth, the very rich King Midas who loves gold above all else, is granted his singular wish that everything he touches turn into gold. The gift becomes a curse when his golden touch kills plants, food, and even his daughter, who is turned into a statue. Bereft and repentant, forsaking greed, the king begs for deliverance. His curse is lifted by a wash in the river. All he holds truly precious is restored.
The modern version of the story is about a gold rush called globalization, a monetized world order that commodifies everything and poisons all that it touches: air, water, soil, whales, indigenous cultures, mothers’ milk, and babies, now born with a body burden of toxic chemicals. Money as symbolic reward for goods and services, when elevated above all else, becomes a curse. The symbol turns tyrant and casts a plague on the living. We’re currently in the atonement chapter of the tragedy, praying we have time to write a happier ending.
“Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world with climate patterns that we know and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril.”
James Hansen (2009)
“Regardless of what we do now, the Earth will warm by another half to a full degree centigrade by mid-century, bringing us uncomfortably close to what many scientists believe to be the threshold of disaster”¦. We have the choice of life and death before us, but now on a planetary scale.
There is no historical precedent, however, for what we must do if we are to endure.”
David Orr, (2009)
David Letterman (2009)
In this paper I propose a new lens and lexicon for conveying climate change as the greatest story of our time and the greatest threat on Earth, a tragedy of epic proportions, especially for the young. What’s at stake is the future of humanity’s children. We owe it to them to do everything possible to put things right. A call for fundamental systems change is the most sensible response to the continual wars of the current global disorder, its assault on the family of life and the unconscionable harm to the world’s children. For their sake, urgently, we need a global “bionomy”: a stewarding economy that respects Earth and Child.
Clearly, the industrial paradigm that produced climate chaos can’t stabilize it. It’s not just that “we’re trashing the planet and not having fun” (as Annie Leonard puts it), we’re foreclosing the children’s future. This bears repeating. It’s their future lives we’re talking about, and the lives of their children and generations to come!
I believe the child has the strongest moral power to inspire sanity.
Love for children is the enormous untapped power that can wake us up to the profound changes we need to make if we’re to have a future worth living.
Stabilizing climate will require unprecedented societal changes, and a profound reordering of priorities in the interconnected global system of finance, trade, and commerce. We need a new myth to spark such a huge shift””from a planet in peril to a vibrant, sustaining world fit for children. From an immature money-driven mindset, to a maturing consciousness attuned to the lifeblood of our young.
Here are the main elements of the new myth. The lens is Earth & Child””Child friendly means Earth friendly. The lexicon is a whole-brain “linking language” of systems, not fragments. The frame is climate change as The Crisis, the compound threat to the human future. The story is about aligning present with future, connecting climate change to kids, health, and behaviour so families get that it’s about them and their future. Just as the loss of King Midas’s daughter melted his gold-worn heart, children may yet move humanity to bathe in a new river. The story’s protagonist is the Child, our conscience.
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For over two decades there’s been a failure to effectively communicate the climate change crisis. Despite the best efforts of climate scientists and environmentalists to describe the dangers of inaction to policy makers and the general public, political response has been slow, most people have not sensed the seriousness of the issue, and the rate of CO2 emissions, rather than falling, has accelerated. That’s why we need a new story, a new way to convey the growing threat.
Let me say here that I’m not an ideologue, and I generally have a positive outlook. I write with a peaceful heart, enjoying the comforts of good food and shelter, clean water and air, loving friends and family. Privileged to live in beauty on Canada’s west coast, I have tracked and engaged the global warming issue for over 20 years. I feel a responsibility, to the children and grandchildren of today and tomorrow, to speak out again.
I am keenly aware of and grateful for the great many human success stories, such as the Grameen Bank’s brilliant micro-lending triumph that improves the lives of millions. I have only admiration for the “blessed unrest” of thousands of NGOs and volunteers on all continents””the millions strong “civil society” working to alleviate human suffering worldwide. We know the human spirit is boundless, and resilient in the face of adversity.
However, my focus here is on the evident failure of nations and the global community to prevent chronic unnecessary suffering, and to prevent the spectre of systems meltdown that climate collapse presents. Laudable as they are, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals don’t address humanity’s “future loss”"”what the global gold rush has wrought””the crisis of a different order of magnitude.
Experts are using escalating phrases to describe climate change. James Hansen: “the coming climate catastrophe,” “our last chance to save humanity;” Gustav Speth: “system failure,” “looking into the abyss.” Lester Brown writes: “The signs that our civilization is in trouble are multiplying.” David Orr puts it this way: “I know of no purely rational reason for anyone to be optimistic about the human future.” These are not doomsayers; they’re telling the truth of this pivotal chapter of the modern saga as they see it.
The moral of the new story is undeniable: We must not love money more than children. While we still have time, societies must reorder priorities towards supporting life systems””what matters most””not maximizing monetary wealth, or else succumb to the Midas craze and kill what we love. And once again, the child holds the power to return us to sanity. The choice is clear: Gaia’s gift of life, or the Midas curse.
Urgently, we need to create a world fit for children, with social and economic systems that constitute a culture of respect for them and for their planetary habitat. A liveable future for them and future generations depends on a stunning paradigm shift that stabilizes climate by reducing suffering and increasing joy.
Policy makers, climate scientists, media, educators, justice activists, faith leaders, environmentalists, health professionals, and everyone else: The child, as most vulnerable citizen, has a moral “first call” on our attention. With the most to lose or gain by diminished futures, children have a powerful claim on what we decide to do.
This is the gift of the child, to remind us of all that’s precious in the world””not just our species, but planet Earth’s teeming array of life. In every sector, we need a compassionate revolution in values that delivers on the birthright of every child to love, belonging, and peace. And to a future.
Nobody can guarantee a future. But who has the right to steal it?
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In the vast sky of our imaginings we can see the spiral dance of billions of suns and galaxies. I love that our dazzling home galaxy is called The Milky Way. Brilliant. Mother Earth, third planet from our sun, humanity’s shared birthplace, a living being with eons of history, is also known as Gaia. It’s not called Corporata.
As Gaia’s children, we’re in a jam. Industrial activity of 250 years threatens the evolution of billions. The relentless commerce of just decades has assaulted planetary life supports and left our fractured commons in peril. Planetary physicians say the patient is ill, the prognosis is not good.
We live in a period of downward and upward spirals, the wane of empire amidst the rise of something new. The heavily-armed global disorder is making things much worse in the short term, while a green revolution grows in the cracks, hoping to bloom, praying for time.
The climate alarm’s been ringing for a long time. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter asked the National Academy of Sciences to look into human-made global warming. Since then, scores of scientists and environmentalists, and numerous diplomats have tried their best to wake people up to the issue. NASA climate scientist James Hansen outlined the “greenhouse effect” causing the planet’s warming in 1988. The following year, David Suzuki, in a 5 part CBC Radio series, referred to global warming as “a matter of survival.” Maurice Strong, who organized the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro warned: “The stakes are high [and] the evidence is strongly persuasive that we must take fundamental action “¦ moving ahead to what I call lives of sophisticated modesty” (Maclean’s, December 16, 1991); and, “Frankly, we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse” (The Province, Vancouver, May 10, 1992).
From the Rio Summit and its Agenda 21 Report and Earth Charter declaration, to the 1993 Union of Concerned Scientists’ Warning to Humanity as well as a long parade of subsequent warnings for nearly twenty years””we’ve had alarms galore. Yet these and scores of climate conferences failed to rouse our species. We’ve been slow to respond. We’ve lost ground. Recent books forecast a range of dire future scenarios related to warming increases, from “best” to worst case (6 degrees Celsius rise in global average temperature). None are anything to look forward to.
In Plan B 4.0, former Worldwatch researcher Lester Brown outlines a bold set of initiatives including worldwide GHG reductions of 80% by 2020. He recalls that within months of the Pearl Harbour attack, the US converted civilian factories into arms production centres. Brown argues that in the face of the far greater climate threat, the US could””with bold leadership””similarly manufacture millions of wind turbines and solar panels. Today, though, it might take a climate cataclysm to prompt that mobilization response.
According to James Hansen, among the world’s leading climate scientists, the cost of delays on substantive CO2 cuts will impose a heavy burden on our ability to meet climate adversity, let alone stay civil. Perhaps that’s why Hansen’s brave book, Storms of My Grandchildren, is dedicated to his grandkids, Sophie, Conner, Jake, and to “all the world’s grandchildren.” He felt duty’s call to write it.
All is not yet lost. If a child moved King Midas’s heart, the Child can move ours.
“Please, be bold. Be courageous. Be positive. Act and demand action.”
James Hoggan (2009)
Climate collapse, say it. Feel it for a moment, imagine. Imagine how it might feel for kids.
Climate catastrophe. Say it”¦ Feels terrifying, and sad.
If our species could be granted one wish, what would that be? Wouldn’t it be to lift the Midas curse and restore what we have lost?
It’s essential to connect climate change to the present state of the world. Without global warming, the state of humanity on our ravaged planet would still be perilous (though the two are connected); this is vitally important to remember. The human family lives in profound inequity and hardship: a billion thirsty, another billion impoverished, yet more and more billionaires. Banks receive bailout billions while families lose their life savings. Destitute children survive in refugee camps, favelas, and barrios, while in some affluent countries children are sexually violated at pandemic levels, and large numbers are homeless.
The synchronous failures that threaten civilization and its life-support systems (in a long list of global crises) include mass species extinction, desertification, deforestation, freshwater shortages, marine life depletion, coral reef die-off, nuclear weapons, warmongering and, not least, rogue and state terror. The fossil fuel gorging of wealthy nations chokes their urban skies even as it warms the world’s climate. China and India’s coal powered development comes at a huge cost to their own citizens and to the world. Repeatedly, monetary concerns override wisdom at incalculable expense.
Any child can see how dumb this worldwide system is, how unjust, and how suicidal it is. From my conversations with the young, I can say that they easily see the injustice of the global system, for they have a moral sense their elders have all but lost. The globalized gold rush, despite its supposed benefits, has been a disaster. “Business as usual” has failed its children. With global warming, the breadth of that failure becomes clearer.
Climate change is not one among many issues, it is THE crisis, the greatest threat on Earth.
It represents the cumulative damage done, the aggregate calamity for which there is no partial remedy. Deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, air and water pollution””these and other crises are tied to global warming, which both impacts them, and is affected by them. Deforestation’s a good example: destroy forests that ingest CO2, and you increase global warming. And the warmer climate causes pine beetle infestation that ravages forests; this results in further warming. It’s all connected and can best be addressed with systems change, beginning with belief systems that are learned very early.
It’s true, greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of human made global warming, but the root cause is the uncaring belief systems that drive predatory commerce, relentless advertising and rampant consumption. To repeat: addressing climate change requires systems change, both societal and personal.
To change societal priorities and cut harmful emissions for good, change personal belief systems. Act boldly, use all avenues: legislation, education, media, art. When minds and hearts shift, the culture shifts. Start young.
Earth and Child
Coming to grips with future loss, we must link Earth and Child, self-interest with group survival, and child health to global health. Earth and child, mother and young. Earth and child, mother and young. What we do to our planet, we do to ourselves and to our children. Earth harm becomes child harm, and seen the other way, child friendly means Earth friendly. In our sustainability strategies, can we forget the one special interest in whom we are all invested?
“This is bigger than light bulbs or laws or energy sources. This revolution has to transform the hardest thing of all””the way we think”¦ Because we can’t accept the greed, the denial, the short term thinking, and the pollution.”
Alec Loorz, 16
“I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market.
“At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us how to behave in the world. You teach us not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? “¦ You grownups say you love us. But I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words.”
Severn Cullis-Suzuki, age 12 (Rio, 1992)
In RIo I got to hear first hand the moral power of young Severn’s voice as she scolded the UNCED delegates, saying she’d come 5000 miles “to tell you adults you must change your ways.” At the end of her rousing speech she got a standing ovation, but had the world leaders truly heeded her message we’d not be facing climate chaos 18 years later. (Severn is now 30, the mother of a baby boy.)
What is it about the clarity of 12 year olds?
In 2006, a 12 year old California boy, Alec Loorz, saw the film The Inconvenient Truth and it changed his life. He founded the non-profit organization, Kids vs Global Warming, met with political leaders and gave talks in high schools reaching 100,000 kids. Now 16, he wants everyone to “live as if the future matters.” He gets sustainability, don’t you think? (At a recent Bioneers conference, Alec was introduced to the capacity crowd by none other than climate scientist James Hansen.) This boy is onto something. He came up with the name “iMatter” for a broad, youth-led campaign to demand a future. He speaks of a cultural revolution.
The trouble is, in the global economy business is not conducted “as if the future matters.” That economy is tied to the present, its rules are all about immediate rewards. Short-termism runs economic and political cycles, and that runs counter to Alec’s wisdom””and his future.
“If we truly want to tackle climate change, poverty and conflict we need to think holistically”¦ as Ban Ki-moon said at the launch of the UN global sustainability panel, “think big, connecting the dots between poverty, energy, food, water, environmental pressure and climate change.”
Wangari Matthai (2010)
“A balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces but through the pursuit of consilience among them.”
E.O. Wilson (1998)
In our new story, we need to live in a synergy of systems aligned in purpose, and towards an overall systems goal.
How a society conducts itself day to day is its living legacy to the children’s future. Aligning present with future is a critical connection we need to make in all our institutions: to support the enormous creative intelligence of our species’ developing geniuses, the children.
We were all born into a space-time called childhood, when dreams moved our first steps. Can we forget that a society’s primary moral duty is to its young and their wellbeing? That’s the prime directive.
Failing the primary moral duty to children, societies make misery in every sector. Neglect of the young can be harmful to them, to us and the world we share””as sure as pollution is. But in respecting the developing needs of all children, we can detoxify all the spaces in which they live and play. Detoxify and decarbonise, these go together.
Is the alarming rise in children’s asthma a climate change issue? Does smog impact global warming? Of course. Simply put, it’s pollution that fuels global warming. Most greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuel pollution, which causes smog. So to stabilize climate, you cut pollution, and to cut pollution for good, you have to change old mindsets.
As belief systems go, the bottom-line business model has been disastrous. It’s uncaring of communities and ecosystems. Money as sole “profit” has been a lethal idea. It’s nothing to teach children and no way to treat the Earth.
No faith tradition condones degrading Earth’s life supports, destroying indigenous cultures, and wantonly exploiting children. But the monetary growth economy, elevated to a faux-religion, does. And this false religion, worshipped globally, causes global warming. That worship must end. As Riane Eisler wisely said (2009), we need a caring economics.
No belief system is as important as a child’s need to believe in the love of family and community. This is what our societies must quickly learn and not forget.
In the midnight hour of history, how are we to stabilize climate? By caring. By loving our children enough to demand and co-create nothing less than a whole systems shift to the caring societies that would make our world “fit for children” and thus for all.
Wonder-child explorer, the infant is humanity’s primary learning system. But early learning has a terrible vulnerability: it’s far easier to turn children towards dysfunctional behaviour than to teach them to be loving. The respectful guidance that can nurture a child’s loving ability takes much more time, attention and practice than the negative outcomes caused by neglect or coercion. That makes the task of positive childrearing critically important, and something no family can do alone. It needs the whole of a society in support””it takes a village. And in our interconnected world, it takes a global system: a global village of caring for our species’ early learners.
The good news is, we can teach children to be systems smart as they grow, confidently facing life’s challenges, both in the heart’s landscape and beyond. And they can teach us.
Humans are beings of great power. But unless that power knows itself early on to be lovable, and loving, it atrophies into chronic habitual afflictions in search of lost love. And fragmented lives can wreak havoc on each other and their environs. Not caring is not only not human, it’s the fear-based disorder of the false self, which is the source of greed; neglect of children is at the core of most destructive behaviours. To be human is to have empathy, to care.
Yet in much of our world, children are not treated humanely. They’re not seen and respected as persons in their own right. For all the child advocacy progress worldwide, the going is very slow. Though all but two of the world’s countries have ratified The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, implementation of its articles has a long ways to go.
They love me, they love me not, they love me”¦
“Love is the only emotion that expands intelligence,” wrote biologist Umberto Maturana, to which child development expert Joseph Chilton Pearse added, “Anxiety is the crippler of intelligence.” These sum up essential human experience, and the drives in human motivation.
If newborns’ first experience of life is anxiety instead of a felt sense of rightness and belonging, all sorts of ills accrue. Link unsupportive childrearing, perpetual advertising to the young, and rampant consumption, and you get global warming, climate change, climate collapse. But firmly rooted in early bonding, virtues knowledge, and emotional intelligence, children can grow to choose wisely and become change agents. A great many are doing just that; our planet needs countless more.
The Earth & Child lens is key: To grow Earth stewards, steward the children. Think about it, in failing the future we most fail the young and their dreams. That’s where the restoration must focus, both strategically and morally, with children. Not only do kids get sustainability, it’s their future that’s on the line. They have the most to lose or gain.
The antidote for climate change is systems change. That’s the new story message: about societies coming of age, coming to their senses, and moving heaven and Earth for their children. It’s about growing a generation of Earth stewards on every continent devoted to reclaiming the stolen future.
Consider this: the child is the strongest attractor of human emotion. Kittens, puppies, and babies””the young move our hearts like no other. So to tell the climate change story well, we have to connect kids, health, and global warming. If we can do that, we might just make it through this perilous time. It takes a simple mindshift: from fragmenting to connecting, to seeing the big picture, thinking in systems. And new language.
“Could this not be the single thought that steers us through the dangerous passage “”a world that honours all its children?”
Peter M. Senge, Senior Lecturer, MIT
With humanity’s survival at stake, we have to learn to live as if the future matters. And so “educating for sustainability,” practiced in a growing number of learning environments, is the new buzz phrase for growing the Earth stewards we need. And climate literacy is now becoming a vital part of that idea.
Early on, students can learn (as we all might) stimulating, connective, and mind-expanding words such as biomimicry, ecoliteracy, cradle to cradle, consilient, multidisciplinary, systemic, fiduciary, feedback loops, synergy, holistic, and more. (These are a few of my favourites.) There are words to add to our everyday vocabulary, and words to eliminate.
In most online newspaper menu bars, the isolated noun “environment” is tucked somewhere between TV and Travel, or not there at all. Is that any way treat Mother Nature, our daily provider? I propose a moratorium on the term “the environment.” It’s a cold way of referring to our living spaces and the planet we call home. While we’re at it, let’s ditch the word “warrior” that progressives still use as they “do battle” for social justice or an end to war. The energy and words of campaigns have to be aligned with their goals. If the ends are not in the means, what’s to be gained?
I propose we get excited about systems change and a new lexicon for engaging it. Let’s quiet the habitual brain and grow new neurons for the epic adventure of species survival””ours. Systems change is good news! Pass it on, with a linking lexicon of waves, not particles, of systems, not fragments. Patterning.
Right To A Future. Climate collapse begs a new human right. I propose that “The Right To A Future” be added to the articles of the UN Convention on The Rights of The Child. Indeed, “the right to a future” can be a rallying cry and unite us in purpose and, here again, children come first, not just because they have the most future ahead of them, but because the survival of our species depends on their wellbeing, and on their very desire to live. Can we bring children into a world without hope?
Systems Goal. Civilization has become a broken system that can’t be repaired. Urgently, we need to build a new one that is the conscious antithesis of empire””an “Earth community,” as David Korten puts it””one whose systems goal is sustainability for Earth and human societies, with a level playing field for all children. We need a life-affirming restorative system in which money serves the families that work and care for life and our planetary home.
Communion. As Thomas Berry said, we are not a collection of objects, we are a “communion of subjects.” Can you imagine commerce in a spirit of communion? What economic rules would best further that intention? Can you imagine service becoming the virtue we grow up with and long to fulfill? Can Love, as our mother tongue, power this heart-and-mind shift?
Bionomy, stewardship of Earth. Bionomy is a good word for the green economy our children deserve. It means “management of the biosphere” (from economy’s origin, “oikonomia,” management of the household), or, stewarding the planet. Bionomy offers all that ecological economists have brilliantly articulated: triple bottom line pricing and accounting, tax shifts, eco-subsidies, long term planning, a Wellbeing Index, and much more. Bionomy would be a cure for money-growth obsessive compulsive disorder. In a post-GDP measure of societal progress, bionomic indicators would bring value to the immeasurable currencies that make us human, as well as the currents of Nature that give us life.
Can-tagious. Educator Kiran Sethi has empowered kids in 32,000 schools in India to be infected with the “I can” spirit. She regards “contagious” as a good word. Positively cantagious. Sethi’s Design For Change (DFC) contest is putting Gandhi’s “be the change” motto into action, not just in India but in over twenty partnering countries. Now imagine the “I can” spirit going viral among the world’s youth!
iMatter. Alec Loorz plans a global iMatter campaign featuring a multi-national march to make a climate change statement on Mothers Day 2011. His youth-led campaign aims to educate and rally the world’s youth in support of a green, decarbonized, clean-energy future.
Child Honouring. This is my term for an all-encompassing framework for simultaneously restoring communities and ecosystems. It is a positive vision with a unifying central organizing principle for creating peacemaking cultures. A universal ethic for our world, Child Honouring calls for making a new covenant with the world’s children, their planet and their tomorrows.
Requiem for A Planet?
“Big big big sale, liquidation, everything must go, everything. Big big big sale, Indian Ocean, melting glaciers and the China Sea.
“Come and get your favourite species, all colours and sizes, everything must go, everything. Last few days left for shopping””hurry, hurry””everything, most everything must go.”
Raffi, from the song “Big Big Sale”(2009)
We’re smarter than this. We crave beauty and joy. We’re born to sing, as is our nature.
The enormous challenges to humanity’s survival cannot be addressed separately. But with systems change, we can shift parameters, and embrace the rules of a new paradigm: to affirm the young, support the organic, favour the local, align present with future, and design with Earth & child in mind. To be sure: It’s not a paradigm shift if it ignores children.
Humanity’s primary learners, the children, dance, sing and act in the inner theatre of their imaginal world. They need a planet fit for their dreams.
We have the moral duty to do all we can to provide that””a welcoming world, a hospitable climate. If we act now to reduce CO2 emissions to 350 ppm, the mark science deems necessary to stabilize climate, we can avert the worst of what inaction will bring: systems collapse.
With all it portends, the spectre of catastrophic climate change may offer our best and last chance to work towards a unity of purpose: societal systems change, a massive green revolution worldwide. And children hold the key to both the messaging of this profound transition, and for inspiring an emotional tipping point for action.
Nobody’s for poisoning children. Or stealing their future. It’s unthinkable, but that’s what’s happening. The industrial mindset that brought global warming also contaminated breast milk worldwide. That’s the flesh and blood side of pollution””it harms families, neighbourhoods, and our planet. That’s why we need a compassionate eco-revolution.
In being human, there is no neutral ground: we make a difference by being here, breathing, bustling, consuming needed resources. We humans are a choice-making species gifted in the ability to choose. And we must choose to care, to love, to be human. Love is always a choice, and yet paradoxically, it’s the only healthy choice.
The message to children is not “you can make a difference,” but “you DO make a difference, one way or another, so which way will it be”? And adults, one way or another, do make a difference in kids’ lives, but in which way? What do we choose? Do we hinder their spirit or help their light to shine?
Most of us have enjoyed and continue to use the products of businesses small and large””from ball point pens, bicycles and cars to CDs, cellphones and laptops. When we step back and consider the willful degradation of Nature in the process of manufacturing and distributing such products, especially in the last decades of the global gold rush, many feel troubled and conflicted. A question comes to mind.
By whose authority, by what legal precedent, by what spiritual claim, by what moral right can business activities so foul the living Earth so as to foreclose the future? Ray Anderson of Interface, the world’s largest floor coverings company, rightly says that he’s never heard “the business case for unsustainability.” Anderson is one of a growing minority of CEOs who have changed course. After a mid-life revelation that his business was a highly polluting venture, he has turned Interface into a light footprint sustainable operation. The times are a-changing, but not nearly fast enough.
To business leaders: Corporations owe the children of the world a makeover. Children need you to curb the abusive powers corporations legally hold. For the desecration of Creation is wrong, regardless of legality. Act now on the moral impulse of your fiduciary duty to the young, the children who are born equal shareholders of the present, and of the decades to come. You are trustees of their pure and total trust.
Ask not how the market can serve you””ask how you and an ethical market can serve to re-write this critical chapter in human history.
The children whose future lives are in your hands deserve to see the dawn of a great shift in how corporations fit into the fabric of life: a shift from limited liability protection and legal “person” status to a devoted servitude to sustainability, in thought, word, and deed. Corporate culture needs, in all humility, to remake itself for the sake of what is most precious””the children. You have no higher duty.
With great haste, strive to enact laws that set corporate ingenuity free to serve humanity as 100% shareholders of the Commons, and to serve the shared dream of all families to provide a bright future for their children.
Power, from the ancient French, poeir (to be able), is not about force, but ability. In power sharing we can all gain, and every person can discover the meaning of being human, of the immense energy within each of us that can, and must be, tapped for good.
Power sharing for a new world, who’s interested? Can the Child of every culture, as universal human, inspire a power-full human family consumed not in tribal or territorial clashes but in cooperation and peacemaking? Sustainability?
In the emerging dream of a decarbonized green energy world, one might ask: what place is there for nuclear weapons? None, except to coerce nations with insane suicidal threats. We must dismantle nukes for good. Adversarial “national security” is “so yesterday!” as the young would say. The Earth community needs a cooperative “mutual security” framework. Climate change forces cultures to cooperate, don’t we get that?
Power sharing is the polar opposite of the power concentration we see in much of the corporate sector. Instead of being mired in “the pathological pursuit of profit and power” as Joel Bakan puts it, imagine if corporations engaged the ecological embrace of Earth and child. Imagine entrepreneurial ingenuity profiting family, community, and Earth!
Come to think of it, the spirit of a new public-private partnership can be a wonderful healing energy throughout the world, if powered by the spirit of mutual respect.
In place of private and public sectors with often conflicting rights (as we have now), imagine the well-being of citizens entrenched in an integrated compact: a holarchy of needs, rights and responsibilities by which human endeavour honours a noble goal””respecting Earth and child. The rippling rewards of doing so””to psychological health, freed creativity and true prosperity on a planet restored””are almost unimaginable.
A species freed from constrained potential could soar to innovative heights of imagination and quickly spark a “sustainable design revolution” of unparalleled scale.
As long as sustainability remains remote from peoples’ everyday consciousness, this “seven generations” ethic will wither. But seen in the faces of children and heard in their voices, it can inspire us now as never before.
We Rise Again
“We rise again in the faces of our children / We rise again in the voices of our song,
We rise again in the waves out on the ocean/ And then, we rise again.”
The Rankin Family, from the song “Rise Again”
“If a thing must be done, it can be!”
Let us make a promise to the children, to uphold their sanctity, to do right by them, to heal every gold-torn heart by the pure love of what is truly precious.
We owe the world’s young this much””to take action and pass the laws that would prevent the worst of impacts on their tomorrows. We owe children this, and much more. By our deeds we might seek to earn their allegiance, and their love.
Governments and CEOs must act, but people aren’t waiting. The Transition Town network inspires all manner of folks to engage the power of community with local sustainability strategies. Organic farmers, slow food proponents, green entrepreneurs and low carbon advocates abound. Local living economies, municipal eco-bylaws, and innovative grassroots initiatives are blossoming everywhere. But neither fast enough nor with enough impact, yet.
Urgently, we must unravel the pervasive undemocratic abuses of corporatism, and the uncaring power imbalances that fuel climate change. Like King Midas, the corporate elite has a chance at redemption””by forsaking greed and embracing life.
Embracing systems change is not about economic hardship or personal sacrifice; that, there’s plenty of. It’s about making the systemic changes that will greatly improve quality of life for us, our neighbours, and our nations’ children. It’s something to get excited about.
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The loss of his daughter gave King Midas an immediate conversion experience, but our species has not yet conceived of global warning in such tragic terms and of comparable loss. But remembering Midas, we just might come around. Keep in mind that children are taught to learn a moral from his story. What’s odd is that the adult society has either forgotten that moral, or fallen to the Midas curse””the kids, however, get it right away, as I did when I first heard it. Oh no, my young mind reasoned when I heard of Midas’s wish, he’s insane, he won’t be able to live!
Fear not. We can see that the old system””the crumbling paradigm, the Orwellian monetized militaristic system that is anathema to children’s dreams””has wrought one disaster after another: notably the 2008 Wall Street fiasco and global economic meltdown; the huge oil rupture into the Gulf of Mexico; and the 2010 G20 Summit where a $1 billion police state security in downtown Toronto produced the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. These flagrant signs of decline can shake us into action. Litigate, legislate, liberate. March, write, act.
At the Kyoto Global Forum in 1993, I heard Mikhail Gorbachev say that the 20th century was “a century of warning,” and that the 21st would be “either the century of total crisis or the century of human recovery.” The man whose idea of glasnost and perestroika””openness and restructuring””unravelled the mighty Soviet Union, was now calling for systems change, only on a much larger scale! Apparently unfazed by the trumpeted triumph of capitalism (now discredited), Gorbachev was not talking about capital or markets, but rather about a change in the relationship of our species in Creation. He called for “a new kind of ecological literacy, a new relationship with nature” and “an ecology of spirit.” Shaken by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster seven years previous, Gorby in Kyoto was a man transformed, urging humanity to “live within the laws of the biosphere” and to cultivate an “ecology of moral and spiritual health.” To my mind, he was talking “bionomy,” invoking Earth and child.
Fast forward to the digital age. The Internet’s enormous reach holds huge convening power. What if millions worldwide, young & old, rallied by all digital means to herald a massive open source movement to stabilize climate? Can social media give the global disorder a new glasnost & perestroika””as unimaginable and breathtaking as the one Gorby sparked? Or far greater…? (Already, Wikileaks has made a start on the openness part.) Is social media the means by which to kick-start the turn away “from domination to partnership,” as Riane Eisler has urged? What if the abusive globalized money system unravels by the power of individuals connected and flexing their tech muscle to demand “the right to a future?”
What if this is the tipping point””when humanity bathes in a new river?
We can’t wait for new catastrophes to spur us into action. We’re in THE moral moment. We either breakdown or breakthrough to something startlingly new””a chance to reverse the Midas curse, thoroughly detoxify our world and cool this planet down.
We now know far more about life-sustaining systems (and life degrading ones) than we did 20 years ago. We know far more about diverse sources of clean energy. And we know that the global financial system must be redesigned and money be made to serve sustainable ends. The good news is that thanks to the work of a great many gifted souls we know how to revitalize the human spirit and support Nature’s resilience.
Each of us can summon more courage””more daring””and be an active change agent of the paradigm shift to set right our forward course. Overcoming the societal money-above-all-else addiction will help families and communities to regain their power to live well. With the Earth and child lens, we can get our priorities straight and redesign societies to be systems smart: just and sustainable, for the greatest good.
Schools, religious organizations, media, NGOs, and policy makers will all need to share the new story and heed its moral imperative. A strong grassroots campaign, inspired by youth and in support of their future, can be a vital asset to building a critical mass of support for systems change. We can co-write the rest of this new Gaia story with and for the children, so that together we may restore all we hold dear.
For Severn and her baby, for Alec””for your own children and grandchildren””and for the sake of all the children of this generation and those to come, let’s embrace the systemic changes needed to contain the climate threat. With utmost compassion, let us steer a course away from icebergs and towards a welcoming shore.
– Raffi Cavoukian, C.M., O.B.C., founder and chair of the Centre for Child Honouring, is best known as Raffi””singer, author, children’s champion, ecology advocate, and entrepreneur. Member of the Order of Canada, Raffi is the recipient of numerous awards including the UN Earth Achievement Award, the Global 500 Roll, and two honorary degrees. His renaissance as a systems thinker includes the anthology he co-edited, Child Honouring: How To Turn This World Around (2006) and two recent companion CDs of motivational songs: Resisto Dancing, and Communion.