A Time of Wonders

March 19, 2009

First published in Common Ground Magazine

This is a time of wonders. That statement may seem totally counter-intuitive and blind to the enormous troubles ahead, but I can’t ignore the perpetual voice that sings within me of the incredible possibilities at our fingertips.

If I look one way, I can see that we are racing towards the greatest ecological meltdown since the last great extinction event – the cretaceous – that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Time moves slowly and a human lifetime is long and yet we are so close to winning the collective Darwin Award, given every year to those individuals who do such stupid things that they do us the favour of removing their genes from the gene pool. I write these words on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, who I am sure would never have contemplated the possibility of the entire human race winning such an award one day.

Yet, if I look the other way, I see the road to the solar age, shining with promise and hope. I see the successful elimination of fossil fuels, children learning ecological literacy in every school, Earth’s cities becoming urban paradises. I see farms the world over adopting organic, butterfly-loving methods of cultivation and Earth’s working forests being treated like the temples they are, with reverence and love.

I have held this vision for more than 40 years and yet I have never felt it so close, so totally within our reach. My hopefulness does not stem from any recent intimacy with BC bud, but from my knowledge of communities around the world that are making it happen. It stems from Copenhagen where 36 percent of commuter trips are by bicycle; from San Francisco, well on the way to achieving 100 percent zero waste by 2020; from the small town of Güssing, in eastern Austria, whose people have eliminated 93 percent of their carbon footprint by building a variety of solar, biomass and other energy systems. I have just finished writing my new book on global climate solutions and I can feel the vibrancy of so much innovation and effort all around the world.

So what do we need to turn away from the dark path of cynicism, negativity and defeat and embrace instead the brilliance of hope? We need three things and they are all within our grasp.

The first is the willingness to act. By acting, we switch on our motivation, which releases a cascade of possibilities. One phone call asking, “How can I help?” is enough – perhaps to a local non-profit society; perhaps to the BC-STV campaign office (campaigning for the Single Transferable Vote in the May 12 referendum); perhaps to the office of the greenest, local candidate in the forthcoming provincial election.

The second is the willingness to persist. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Nothing of any worth was achieved without persistence. Persistence means learning, training, practising. You may have a vision that takes five or 10 years to fulfill, such as turning the street where you live into a community of sharing people, growing food, installing solar panels and planting trees. Alternatively, it might be kick-started with one rousing street party, organized with neighbours with a few weeks’ notice.

The third is the determination to stay positive and not be defeated by the apparent hopelessness of larger problems, such as the need to transform global capitalism, the domination of the US military industrial complex or the ecological collapse of the world’s oceans. Millions share your hopes, confident that success is possible.

What we need is faith at a deeper level, which does not require evidence at every step. Faith that humans have the ability to succeed in this challenge, just as we succeeded in ending slavery, winning the right of working people to form a labour union, defeating fascism and so much more.

The love that so many people feel for our troubled planet comes from that same deep place and it’s not going away. Our task is to hold onto it and act on it – now.

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