Part I: Why So Much Is Going Wrong & Isn’t Getting Fixed
1 Diagnosing a Critical Condition / 3
2 Discovering Its Cause / 34
HIV and the Viral Global Economy: Powerful Similarities / 52
3 What’s Wrong with a Global Economy /54
4 Too Big Not to Fail / 87
5 The Prognosis for Global Solutions is Poor / 92
Part II: How Life Deals with Global Economies
6 Life’s Steep Economic Learning Curve / 115
7 Life’s Economic Survival Protocol / 122
8 Life is Economical, Naturally / 123
9 Life’s Economical Communities: Prototypes for Deep Green / 128
10 Life is Organically Democratic / 149
Democratic Economical Communities v the Global Economy: Striking Contrasts / 169
Part III: Deep Green Methods for Surviving the Global Economy
The Heart of the Healing / 172
11 Mimicking Life’s Economics: Improving the Odds & Our Lives / 173
12 Mimicking Life’s Politics: Organically Democratic Principles & Practices / 210
13 Overcoming Obstacles to Deep Green / 230
14 Precedents for Success / 258
15 Dreaming Deep Green, Imagining the Ecozoic / 267
Afterword: August Jaccaci / 271
About the Green Horizon Foundation / 274
Acknowledgements / 276
About the Author / 277
Endnotes / 278
In four billion years, no living things have managed to become larger than Life. No species has successfully dominated the whole Earth, its resources and its resourcefulness. None has been able to bring an end to the whole Life experiment on Earth. Species and eco-systems have come and gone. Meteorological and geological cataclysms have brought particular kinds of creatures and communities to an end. But Life—the whole-Earth network of diverse living things and sys-tems working together—has persisted.
In fact. . .
If Life could be said to have an aim, it would seem to be to last.
Despite setbacks and catastrophes, Life ceaselessly commits its re-sources and its resourcefulness to endurance. In its long mutual part-nership with Earth it has continuously created more capacity for life, more kinds of life, and more safeguards to preserve the possibility of still more life.
We can understand and sympathize with Life’s ambition. It is our own as well, but with three significant differences. Our concept of more life is species specific: Most of us favor more human lives over more kinds of life. Our partnership with Earth is not mutual: Most of us favor humans getting more out of it than it has the capacity to give. And we do not favor safeguards to preserve the possibility of more life. Instead, under the influence of a viral global economy, we have seriously compromised Life’s primary safeguard: the natural com-munities and ecosystems that comprise Earth’s self-protective, self-healing equivalent of an immune system.
We have, for the most part unwittingly, induced a planet-wide disease syndrome, a critical condition ominously like HIV/AIDS that threatens to bring an end to Life as we know it. By this means, though we have not reduced the possibility of still more life, we have reduced the possibility that we will be able to cohabit congenially if at all with the kinds of life there may be more of.
For some of us this prideful, larger-than-Life worldview is conscious and our behaviors in accord with it are intentional. For some few it is unconscionable. For many or even most of us, especially those born since World War II, this superior and invulnerable frame of reference and the behaviors it occasions are unconscious and so customary, so habitual by now, as to seem normal.
As evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris suggests in her book EarthDance, most of us “have not understood ourselves as living beings within a larger being in the same sense that our cells are part of each of us.” So long as the majority of us believe that the human species is larger than Life rather than only part of it, we will hold fast to dreams of universal prosperity, perpetual economic growth and constant material progress. We will cling to a view of the world that says we are entitled, that having more material goods is better, and that we can always have more of them without incurring any fundamental risk or insurmountable obstacles.
This worldview and the behavior it encourages may seem normal to most modern, technological, industrial humans, but from Life’s perspective they are pathological: self-destructive, maladaptive and lethal. They result from the fact that most of us have forgotten the single most important lesson a species living on this planet can learn, a lesson we used to know by heart:
Life rules. We don’t. It’s not too late to remember.
The list of economical rules that guide the activities of other-than-human species toward long-term survival and have allowed Life to last so long on this small, often-challenged planet is surprisingly short and simple.
It’s not too late for us to learn and obey them.
Why is so much going wrong everywhere at once?
The answer is simple, though its implications for us are any-thing but. We humans are facing what has been variously described as collapse, bottleneck, overshoot, catastrophe, the long emergency, and Nature’s revenge because we are breaking Life’s paramount rule:
We are living beyond Earth’s means.
Our activities are bankrupting Earth’s four billion year old living trust accounts as surely as they are bankrupting most of the Earth’s national treasuries. In 2005, the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment put our hazardous extravagance in more official terms: “Human actions are depleting the Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.” Our actions have depleted even more of that natural capital in the intervening years.
Economic, environmental, social and political challenges like those on the preceding page are the direct and indirect consequences of living beyond Earth’s means. And they are neither static nor separate and distinct. On the contrary, they are reinforcing, amplifying and complicating each other and converging in a way that is precipitating a mega-crisis for which we modern humans have no precedent.
Never in the historic period, going back more than 6,000 years to the first city-states and civilizations, have all of Earth’s human communities faced—simultaneously—the real and present danger of being unable to meet most of their people’s needs.
Not since the end of the last ice age 11,000 years ago has the health and continuity of all the living systems on Earth been put at risk by a single global phenomenon.
Not since archaic bacteria approached the point of exceeding Earth’s capacity to support them has a single species been the cause of that Life-threatening and life-threatening phenomenon.
It’s not surprising, then, that most of us haven’t seen this moment coming and don’t yet appreciate the gravity of our circumstances or understand them fully if at all. Not surprising either that most of us, despite our being members of Earth’s predominant species, don’t yet accept responsibility for the part we’re playing in this unfolding tragedy. It’s easier, happier—and characteristically human—to deny the seriousness of the fix we’re in than to face what it would take to fix it.
Bankrupt governments? Nothing new, we’ll find a way out. The end of affordable oil? Not for decades, the skeptics say. Expensive coal, peak natural gas and the ramifications of losing all of our cheap fossil sources of energy? Won’t happen for centuries, say the no-limits faithful. Global warming, climate change? Fewer than half of us—26 per-cent of Britons, 42 percent of Germans, and barely 50 percent of Americans, for example—believe that significant warming or instability is occurring or that we have much to do with it if it is.
Not believing in something doesn’t prevent it from happening.
How about Amazon rainforest collapse, warfare over oil and gas in an often open Arctic Sea? Can we imagine Wal-Mart closing, two billion of us homeless and five billion hungry? What if social security systems, insurers and emergency management agencies go bankrupt? How about hundred-year droughts in some places and thousand-year flood cycles in others? Worst-case scenarios include the end of postal service, international shipping and discretionary plane travel, empty supermarket shelves, 50 percent unemployment, and the failure of antibiotics to treat common viruses.
Self styled “realists” assure us that these are not logical extensions of what’s going wrong in the world already. No, they’re the stuff of diehard pessimists’ fantasies. But what if the realists are wrong? In truth, these scenarios are fantastical. But they are also logical extensions of what’s already going wrong in the world, if we don’t do something effective about it.
And who is “we”? In these pages the “we” who will experience this convergence of crises is all of us: humankind. Young, old, rich, poor, male, female—— All of us everywhere will suffer a failure to fix what’s going wrong everywhere at once. But obviously not all of us are responsible for this mega-crisis. The young and poor and less able in present and past generations have born the brunt of symptoms but do not bear the burden of responsibility. And the deceased cannot help us now except by their wisdom and example. But for reasons that will become clear in the pages ahead, we adult, able humans are all complicit wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly, directly or indirectly, in the creation of the critical condition Earth’s in. Consequently, we— adult, able humans—are the only ones who can do something about it, who can get past denial and create the cure for and alternatives to this critical condition. This is the “we” idealists mean when they speak of “We, the people.”
But even if “we” do get past denial of the seriousness of our present circumstances and of worse ones if we don’t do something effective, how can we possibly get our minds around a challenge this enormous for which we’ve had no preparation? And yet we must get our minds around it. Failing to appreciate the gravity and understand the nature and cause of our worsening predicament could prove fatal to most of us and many other living things.
Over forty years ago media analyst and futurist Marshall McCluhan foresaw this clash of the human mind with too much reality. “When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” We do more of the same things that brought us to the brink of catastrophe until the catastrophe itself requires us to do something different.
Ignorance and inexperience explain our plight, but they are not permanent conditions and do not require us to capitulate to it.
The good news, and there is some, is that we adult, able humans are entirely capable of understanding the “why” of our present crises and of learning how to affectively deal with them. Down through the millennia, when push has come to shove, when there was finally no choice, humans have learned how to work together to survive ice ages and meltdowns, volcanic winters and collapsing civilizations, decades-long droughts, depressions and other disasters. As soft as some of us have become, as exhausted as others of us already are by long years or whole lives of hardship, we are the descendants of the survivors of those earlier crises. We can learn how to survive this mega-crisis, too. And we can surely make the process of trying to survive as humane, compassionate and rewarding as we are able. Some portion of us always has.
One way to begin is to acknowledge the fact of the crisis by giving it a name. Naming ephemeral things can make them seem more real. Giving something unfamiliar an effective name can be the beginning of the end of ignorance—and fear—of it.
What’s in a Name?
What’s in a name is precisely the capacity to share what cannot be widely or effectively shared without one. We need an evocative, even provocative name for our present mega-crisis so that it gets at least the same level of attention, widespread recognition, support and devotion we give top athletes, pop singers and movie stars.
Living beyond Earth’s means has confronted us with a perfect storm of crises. While perfect storms pass away as quickly as they form, this one isn’t going anywhere soon. And since it affects the whole Earth, there’s no way to go around it the way seamen can navigate around a perfect storm.
We have most definitely arrived at or, as Bill McKibben suggests (in his newest book with its aptly misspelled title, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet) we may have just past the tipping point in the evolution of this crisis after which nothing will be the same. The tippers are anticipated to be the end of cheap oil, an uncongenial climate, a fragile global economy and/or the apocalyptic convergence of all three. But, though McKibben and others believe we’ve shot past the tipping point already, there is not yet widespread agreement that we have. Most people cling to the belief, or the hope, that if there is to be a tipping point, it’s still up in front of us somewhere moving away from, not toward, us.
“Collapse” is the most commonly used term for what’s wrong in the world. It’s meant to name what comes after the tipping point: the decline and fall of modern industrial civilization. But as I write, collapse is still a prediction; it’s not (quite) a present reality. It properly names what will come, and possibly quite soon, if we do not effectively and immediately face up to the real potential for worldwide system failure.
But “collapse” does not help us understand the nature or cause of the potential failure. And “collapse,” like “tipping point,” suggests a sudden breakdown, whereas we may linger just in front of total break-down for a while longer yet, as social critic and best-selling author James Howard Kunstler proposes in The Long Emergency. And events may unfold so haphazardly and in what will seem such slow motion, each event distracting us from the others, that we will continue to overlook the real potential for collapse.
In fact, we have been able to use “collapse” to describe the demise of earlier socio-economic systems and civilizations only long after it was clear they had collapsed. It took the Roman Empire several centuries to complete the process we now call its “fall.” Decline was an on-again-off-again affair involving many of the same kinds of challenges we face now except that it took place regionally rather than globally. Historical documents suggest that few Romans saw it coming. “Collapse” is useful to us now primarily as a warning of what’s to come if we fail to deal with the challenges already confronting us.
It seems to me that “critical mass” better suggests the full significance and weight of the collection of crises we are already experiencing. And unlike the other possible names for it, “critical mass” can serve a double purpose: It can be used to name not only the crisis but also its cure. Getting through this crisis in a way that doesn’t make the Dark Ages look good will require that critical masses of us get our minds around the nature and cause of this mega-crisis and then deal with that cause.
The term “critical mass” in itself has no positive or negative connotation. Originally used by nuclear physicists to name the amount of fissionable material required to trigger and sustain a chain reaction, it is now used more generally to identify a point in time or in a process when enough of something has been literally amassed that a spontaneous transformation occurs. After critical mass is reached, something new emerges or is created, or a new state of being is achieved.
The something new that follows on the heels of reaching critical mass may by our reckoning be good. We may deem it an improvement over what went before, like when a critical mass of neurons and synapses, wrinkles and folds and gray matter was slowly added to primate and hominid brains, resulting in the more complex, sophisticated human brain. Members of the activist cyclists’ group Critical Mass deem it good when enough of them gather in a city’s streets to stop traffic, making their point about the dark side of our dependence on fossil-fueled transportation and hopefully helping to inspire a wide-spread transformation to post-carbon (non-fossil fuel) forms of transportation, like cycling.
On the other hand, what comes after critical mass may be something that is by our reckoning disastrous and regrettable, as when disease amasses in the human body to the point that it takes over and then take’s the human’s life, or plague amasses in so many humans’ bodies that it takes the lives of whole communities. Or when the amount of fissionable material gathered is sufficient to set off a chain reaction in a nuclear weapon.
If it is not dealt with soon and effectively, this critical mass of crises we are facing now will be of the latter sort. It will be so disastrous and regrettable from the human perspective that in these pages I will distinguish it from the positive and lesser kinds of critical mass with capital letters in order for us to be constantly reminded how urgent it is that we understand and deal with it.
So, there’s a second answer to the question “Why is so much going wrong everywhere at once?”
We have reached global Critical Mass.
HIV is a package of genetic information, an RNA code for a particular type of virus. // The global economy is a package of socio-economic information, a set of ideas about a particular type of economic system.
HIV is held together by a protein wrapper that works like the coating on a pill to camouflage the virus, making it “taste better,” or at least not taste bad, to the human bodies it aims to infect so that they don’t reject it on first pass. // The sugar coating that makes the viral global economy taste good and camouflages its intent is a capitalist ideology of perpetual growth and progress and universal prosperity—an easy sell to communities and nations lacking comparatively in material well-being.
Though it has some of the characteristics of living things, HIV cannot exist on its own. It’s a parasite, a taker. It lives off its hosts’ resources. In the process it weakens and sometimes kills them. // Without human workers, consumers and believers and without Earth’s raw materials, other-than-human species and ecological services, the global economy cannot exist, feed itself, expand or grow. It’s a parasite—a taker—too.
As a group, disease-causing agents like viruses have a name: they are called “pathogens.” // As a group, the directors, managers, promoters and primary beneficiaries of the pathological global economy have a name: they are called “the Powers That Be,” or simply “the Powers.”
The secret of a virus’s success is mobility. Viruses need reliable methods of transportation to move them from host to host. Many viruses are air-borne. HIV is liquid-borne. It gets around in bodily fluids like semen, blood and breast milk and through contact between mucous-lined—moist—tissues. // The global economy also relies on mobility. It spreads from community to community, nation to nation by means of liquid assets and fluid exchanges of money, credit, loans, “floats,” entitlements, tax breaks and incentives and through money-lined contacts between its participants, particularly the Powers.
HIV targets, takes over and dominates the immune system which, when it is functioning properly, protects, defends and heals the body. By means of this domination of the immune system HIV dominates the whole body. // The viral global economy targets, takes over and dominates the Earth’s equivalent of an immune system—the natural and human communities that in the past have been able to protect, defend and heal themselves, their ecosystems and the biosphere. With this take-over of Earth’s immune system, the global economy dominates the body of Life on Earth, the biosphere.
HIV invades immune system cells, disables their protective and healing capabilities and reprograms them to make millions of copies of itself. After it has used up a cell’s resources, its copies disperse to other parts of the body and other hosts. Captured cells and whole organ systems are destroyed in the process. // The global economy persuades, buys, cajoles, coerces and invades human and natural communities. It undermines their ability to provide for and protect themselves and reprograms them to support its growth and expansion instead. When it has depleted local resources, it moves on, leaving communities and nations in ruins.
The human immunodeficiency virus makes the body vulnerable to all manner of infection and disease. //The viral global economy makes every place on Earth vulnerable to the environmental, economic, social and political symptoms that result from inducing global Critical Mass.
Global economic theory relies on one particularly counterintuitive notion: that huge transnational corporations and organizations are not vulnerable to the defects inherent in all forms of gigantism. Rather they are believed to be “too big to fail.” Why? Letting these giants go under would be too much of a risk for the national economies, investors, stockholders, suppliers and other people and organizations they would weaken or take down with them. Some other economy, corporation, organization, country or consortium of them will—or must—as a mat-ter of course, bail out vulnerable mega-companies and institutions. They won’t be allowed to fail.
Bailout Theory, as it is called, is fatally flawed, however, when it comes to the global economy. Again, why? Because “Mother Nature does not do bailouts,” says former vice president and climate change spokesperson Al Gore. Just as there’s no other Earth to turn to if we live for too long beyond this one’s means, there’s no larger economy to turn to if the viral global economy operates much longer beyond its means. And there are no unaffected national or regional (subsidiary) economies that are sufficiently big, rich or independent to bail the global economy out. Even China’s economy slumped dangerously at the end of 2008, which diminished its leaders’ willingness and capacity to rescue others and changed its focus to producing primarily for its own people, which is causing its economy to grow cancerously again. For now.
The global economy’s wealthiest, most powerful and aggressive subsidiary economies are heavily invested in each other’s bad paper, foreclosures, bankruptcies and other forms of debt, and in development, infrastructure, energy, military and expansion projects that are so big that no subsidiary economy can afford to undertake them alone. The global economy’s poorest subsidiary economies already hang on by a thread that the richest, finding themselves somewhat less rich, may choose to cut. National economies are propping up each other’s credit and financial institutions in such a way that each of them is vulnerable to the failure of any of the others. (Witness Greece and the EEC.) Only one additional opportunistic condition is required to bring down this jerry-rigged, multinational system of props: protracted widespread drought, cumulative weather emergencies, failed grain crops, another major resource war, recognition of peak oil, a rapid or prolonged sequence of serious seismic events, or meltdown of the US, Chinese or European Union economies, for example.
But surely economic collapse isn’t inevitable, is it? After all, we pulled out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. That was a worldwide phenomenon too and the decades following the crash brought the most prosperity to the most people in human history. The mid-20th century miracles of industrial productivity, the phenomenally productive agricultural Green Revolution, computer and electronic technologies and free-market economic policies accomplished a number of ambitious goals. They enriched and added to the list of self-designated First World (rich or at least prosperous, powerful, developed, industrialized) economies and so-called Second World (developing, industrializing) economies. They hauled many so-called Third World economies (by the First World’s reckoning, the poor, less powerful, undeveloped, not-yet industrialized economies) into the modern era. In the process they created a conceptual divide that gave putative First World nations a dangerous sense of superiority and entitlement and global aspirations that carried stock markets around the world to such heights that at century’s end one investment analyst predicted the DOW Jones Industrial Average, which had yet to exceed 14,000 points, could hit 36,000.
Couldn’t upgraded versions of the same sorts of activities and policies that bailed us out then (policies we liked to believe were bailing us out in 2010) actually bail us out now too? No. Why not? Several once-in-an-Earthtime conditions permitted the boom that followed that early 20th century bust. Among them were:
None of these can save us now. Perpetual warfare bankrupts rather than bank-rolls nations and threatens unprecedented amounts of death and destruction. Earth’s cornucopia of resources and fossil fuels will not be refilled. Ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, soil maintenance, flood control and water purification have been seriously taxed by global economic activity over the past half century. The climate has already become noticeably unstable. Capital is not infinitely expandable. Or as American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein writes, “The endless accumulation of capital” is not possible. (The late-2010 drift of the American economy into the second stage of its Great Recession is indicative.) And the capacity of governments to manage at the global or even national level the complex of symptoms that characterize Critical Mass is in doubt.
“Thus it is that we can say,” Wallerstein concludes, “that the capitalist world-economy has now entered its terminal crisis, a crisis that may last up to fifty years . . . As the world-economy enters into a new period of expansion it will exacerbate the very conditions which have led it to this terminal crisis.”
“Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global,” adds US anthropologist and historian Joseph Tainter. “No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”
In short, the booming, credit driven economy that those once-in-an-Earth-time conditions permitted is the biggest economy there is and ever has been. There’s no bigger economy for it to turn to for help. It’s too big not to fail.
Bottom Line: For the global economy to cease to pose a threat to most of us and the Earth’s immune system of natural com-munities, it would have to become something it cannot become: not global.
Life’s basic unit of economic activity is not the individual, though Life has a penchant for individuality. Life exists because of the interactions of incredibly different, individual living things each of which has an inherent interest in self-preservation and in creating circumstances that give it a good shot at survival and reproduction. Though we use the word as a noun, a thing, in its essence Life is a verb. It is what living things do. In particular it is what they do together—in communities.
Every individual living thing—apparently even the lowly bacterium—is, like us, driven to work out its own existence and make the most of its opportunities. Each is inherently interested in its own survival and in producing more of its kind. Each is unique. Each embodies a combination of traits, talents, techniques or twists of form or function that give it identity, possibility and intrinsic value as one of Life’s experiments with new life. Accordingly, each living thing and living system establishes or grows a boundary around itself that defines and preserves its identity, its “self.” Cells have membranes or walls; we have skins; animals have territories; forests have edges. But no individual, no matter what kind of boundary it maintains, can live on its own.
Living things, writes philosopher Christian de Quincey, are “not so much’ individuals’ as interviduals.” The boundaries that living things and systems create around themselves are not hard and fast. They are permeable and flexible. They are intended to let out and keep out what might be harmful but also to let in and share what’s useful or beneficial. Life’s boundaries anticipate collaboration and facilitate interchange. They permit living things from the smallest to the largest to engage—without risk to their integrity or individuality—in what Elisa-bet Sahtouris has described as “constant negotiations” with their environments and with the other living things around them. Cells exchange electro-chemical information through their walls and membranes. Skin sweats, exudes pheromones, blocks pathogens and admits sunlight. Animal territories overlap like waves on a beach, and the borderlands between ecosystems like fields and forests are crossed and recrossed by species that get benefits from both environments.
Life’s basic unit of economic activity is also not the family or single-species group. Animal families, single-species animal groups like herds, prides, pods, hives, schools, flocks and packs, and plant groups like stands, groves, and clumps are stronger, smarter and better protected than any of the individuals in them would be on their own, and better able to access partners for procreation. But no family or single-species group, no matter how strong or well protected, can live on its own. Prides of lions can’t live without herds of impala to prey on; impala can’t live without clumps of grasses to graze; and grasses can’t thrive without strains of bacteria like Clostridium to fix nitrogen in the soil. Conversely, bacteria can’t live without the manure of herd animals like impala to feed them; herds of impala can’t thrive without predators like lions to trim their weakest members; and so forth. For this reason, Life’s basic unit of economic activity is the mixed-species community.
We apply the term “community” to almost any collection of people who share an interest, demographic or purpose, whether or not they are residents of a particular place or have even met. There are virtual and on line communities, workplace, ethnic, religious and professional communities. Membership in these communities is discretionary or conferred and active participation is rarely obligatory.
Natural communities, however, are not just located on but embedded in very particular places. Members of natural communities reside permanently or seasonally in those places. They are more familiar with each other and their environments, their lives are more fully integrated and intertwined, than most of us can imagine being. And they are active participants in their communities the way that hands, feet, and eyes are active participants in—members of—our bodies. They are also partners in a common cause: the well-being and survival of their communities.
Natural communities are communities of place, partnership and purpose.
If we wish, if we choose, to assuage the symptoms of Critical Mass and cure ourselves of it, so will our future economic communities be communities of place, partnership and purpose. As you read the rest of this chapter, you might want to imagine what its implications are for you and the sort of community you and those around you might decide or need to create in order to cope with the symptoms of Critical Mass.
Deep Green Dreaming
Having said that ecological politics and governance will need to work very differently than politicking and governments presently do, I must repeat that the closest we come to a political philosophy and social movement capable of helping us to envision, create and manage eco-logical communities is through Green Parties and their widely accepted Ten Key Values. Green Parties are the most organically democratic of present political parties.
Green Parties are making inroads in legislatures and parliaments around the world, but their impact is less than is needed to up-end politics as usual or provide a sufficient antidote to the viral economy. Too often Green candidates have to yield principles, policies and whole chunks of their platforms in order to forge relationships with other minority parties, and fund candidates and campaigns.
The Green movement, on the other hand, if it were to become deeply, ferociously and persistently green—if, that is, it were to take Life as its model and Life’s Economic Survival Protocol as its operating manual—might well, as Critical Mass worsens, be able to draw a critical mass of related single-issue organizations worldwide into a world-changing coalition powerful enough to change politics forever. Deep Green embraces all of its constituencies’ issues not as separate issues to be dealt with separately, but as interrelated aspects of one overriding issue: mimicking Life in order to live within Earth’s means.
Such a worldwide, self-conscious movement, such as Paul Hawken and his WiserEarth colleagues are hoping to create by cataloguing non-governmental organizations in every country, could make Green Parties the most influential political parties in the world.
Deep Green, Radically Conservative & Profoundly Liberating
In his last State of the Union message, Ronald Reagan said that “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.” In the American political landscape, classical environmentalism and present post-carbon, climate mitigation and localization movements are routinely stamped as liberal and, therefore, Democratic, Progressive or Green causes. Typically it is Democrats, Progressives or Greens and the equivalent parties in other nations that are in the front lines on these issues. And there can be no doubt that having or taking the opportunity to protect and defend the futures of our human and natural communities would be as profoundly liberating as it will be profoundly challenging. But concern for the environment is not particular to any one party or ideology, as an Internet search on green Republicans or conservative environmentalists will attest.
In fact, it can reasonably be said that successful, Lifelike ecological communities would be not only deeply green but also radically conservative precisely because the natural communities they will strive to mimic are radically conservative. Though the first of those two loaded words is often used to mean extreme or extremely unconventional, “radical” comes from the Latin word for “root.” Its original meaning is “arising from or going to a root or source.” The primary source of support for all life on Earth is Earth. Earth is the physical source of Life. Natural communities are so deeply rooted in their places on Earth and in Earth-stuff—physical resources—that they are poster children for “radical.”
Where Life’s concerned, we might more accurately spell the second word as I did in Chapter Eight: “conserve-ative,” with a hyphen after “conserve.” When it is detached from several centuries of political connotations, “conservative” means “tending to conserve or preserve, protect from loss or harm, and use carefully or sparingly, avoiding waste.” This is precisely what successful natural communities do. Their inherent conserve-atism is what makes them sustainable and allows them and the ecosystems with which they partner to last for astonishingly long periods of time. Conservative columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan points out that “At the core of conservatism, after all, is the word ‘conserve.’ The earth is something none of us can own or control. It is something far older than our limited minds can even imagine. Our task is therefore a modest one: of stewardship, the quintessential conservative occupation.” To which, David Jenkins, the Government Affairs Director for Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) adds that “The notion of stewardship is central to conservatism. Without a strong stewardship ethic—and the foreward thinking outlook it requires—the logic behind many conservative ideas falls short.”
Imagine schools and universities in which students raise their own food, process their own trash and waste, and are trained to compete in resource-watch and restoration and eco-design teams. Imagine empty big-box stores turned into community owned libraries, community built public housing and workshops, and small manufactories that produce fabrics from locally grown fibers like hemp, cotton, wool, cattail and flax, and build furniture from recycled materials and sustainably harvested bamboo and timber.
Imagine that long buried watercourses are uncovered and allowed to flow through cities again and depaved highways are turned into greenways that flow through and around them, too, allowing migratory animals and birds access to their whole range of ecosystems. Imagine that in places where there is no more nature, we invite nature back in.
All of these things are already being done somewhere. Hundreds of cities and suburbs around the world are bringing just such eco-logical imaginings to life. But why stop here with our imaginings? Let’s push beyond what’s already being done. Let’s imagine what isn’t yet but could be.
Imagine that the only thing we do on a global scale is share art, culture and information—about the status of our communities and environments, about survival strategies, inventions and innovations and about what worked for us and what didn’t. Imagine that tribal desert dwellers in Africa, Mongolia and the Arabian Peninsula can teach us things we do not and cannot know if they don’t teach us. That remnant populations of native peoples can teach us survival and subsistence techniques that make us competent and our communities sustainable in every kind of environment. That each generation of the world’s children is more place-competent and Life-wise rather than less.
Imagine that everything doesn’t always cost more and that nothing really important is scarce. That small is beautiful. That animals and plants and ecosystems become extinct only in the natural course of things. That—as if suddenly—the sky is once again darkened in spring and fall by clouds of butterflies and the migrations of birds. That you can hardly sleep in spring for the croaking of frogs. That salmon run thick in the world’s rivers again, shrimp and lobsters crawl the continental shelves, polar bears aren’t drowning or whales beaching or bees and bats dying. And color is coming back into the cheeks of paled coral.
Imagine that there are no world wars because there isn’t enough funny-money or fossil fuels—or even the will or desire to fight them. Imagine that human health improves because we’re no longer poisoning ourselves, the air, water, soils and our food with derivatives of those fossil fuels.