What must it be like, do you suppose, to be a fireman rushing though
a burning building, coming across a wealthy gentleman in his grand
apartment who insists that, well, this is nothing, there is often
smoke in the halls this time of the week--it is likely Mrs. O'Reilly
burning her biscuits again. Besides, his insists, the fire department
is filled with alarmists and he will not be leaving his apartment
just now, thank you, but will be calling a complaint into the mayor,
whose reelection campaigns he finances.
The question for environmental activists is this: can the planet be
saved even if many of the people do not understand the problem or,
despite the ready facts, are insistent upon staying the course of
self-destruction because it profits them in the short term? Will the
rising, stormy seas, the spreading deserts and droughts, only prompt
them to dig their heels deeper into the mud of the melting levees?
And as a species, are we not waddling toward the cliff? Why has no
great leader stood upon a rock with sufficient persuasion to halt the
march and save the day? Are the forces now too great against mere
words? Are the zombie masses, holding the hands of their children, on
a Jonestown-like death march we cannot fathom or halt? Is it
evolution itself we are watching, with our species automatically pre-
wired for extinction when, say, there are, by God's count, more
Washington lobbyists than tree frogs-and with stickier fingers?
It seems dark. Great electrical shovels, like invading space
monsters, take apart our mountains. The monstrous machines called
international corporations take apart the small farms and family
businesses and democracies here and around the world, pushing people
into cities and into powerless poverty, our global ecosystem and
survival be damned. The great middle class employers like General
Motors are purposely bankrupted by a behind-the-scenes elite so that
manufacturing might move to more profitable lands without union and
legal protections for human beings. The air is filled with warming
poisons. Any attempt by the people to organize or even fairly vote is
opposed and dismantled. Dark times. The government is now tracking
our calls and putting barbed wire around us when we gather together
as free men and women. A slave society, prison industries, yellow and
black skies, great manipulations to kill off whole problem
populations. A monstrous earth is the vision we can now im!
agine because, in fact, the great war between humans and the
tumorous corporate monsters we let loose is raging. You will see in
your lifetimes the outcome.
If we can learn something useful from nature in this battle, it is
this: lemmings don't get to vote. Lemmings, these days, only get to
watch Fox News. They don't have a chance, in other words. We can't
win this battle from inside the pack.
Strategically, I can image two possible outcomes for this battle. One
is dark and one is bright.
Here is the dark one. Global catastrophe builds upon global
catastrophe. Democracies become dictatorships as the masses reach for
leadership and rescue from storm, pestilence and famine. Shooting
wars break out between those who follow and those who oppose. A time
of violence and suffering falls upon the planet. The resources that
could have been spent to repair the ecosystem are needed for police
security and mass imprisonment or worse. The weakened species, as a
whole, finds itself in no position to survive when agricultural
systems collapse and anarchy overwhelms all authority. I cannot see
much past that, though there is probably much to see.
Here is the bright one. Global catastrophe builds upon global
catastrophe. (Yes, I know it starts out badly.) More and more people
opt out of the carbon economy to join a rising society of people and
communities who have moved rapidly toward an ethic of responsibility
and sustainability. These communities produce the best leaders, more
and more of whom are elected to national positions. Many existing
national leaders begin to move toward the ethic of these communities
and of sustainability. More and more towns and cities, led by goal-
setting organizations dominated by young people, accept sustainable
goals. The first President of the United States from such a community
is elected in the same year that similar leaders are chosen in
Europe, India and several other regions. The Untied Nations is
rapidly reorganized around its own Universal Declaration of Human
Rights and a post-carbon age economic model. Multi-national
corporations are outlawed, as corporations must now be ove!
rseen by the communities that grant their limited, public purpose
Now, which one of these visions, among the millions we could dream-
up, is the more likely? Or will the future be something in-between,
where there are solar cells on every roof, but every roof is a
What shall it be? Must we find caves in the far woods and set our
booby traps against the storm troopers of the Empire who might come
for us, or shall we get some responsible communities moving forward?
Here is why the brighter scenario is the more realistic: the problems
of the carbon age are not based on innate self-destructiveness, they
are based on addiction, and all the enabling supports of that
addiction are unsustainable and are now teetering. We who lose more
environmental battles than we win are now about to win the war. We
must become ready to keep that victory from turning into a new kind
This carbon addiction is a nasty sort, worse than heroine. The
heroine addict has, surrounding him or her, the larger society of
people who are productive and loving and healthy. As compelling as
the heroine addiction may be, this other world is always there,
always visible, always pulling and ready for a welcoming return.
Where is the saner, sustainable, more democratic, more human-scaled
and human-celebrating community offering a visible and attractive
alternative to the over-mortgaged, over-consuming, over-stressed
carbon addict? Have we put in place the better world we would have
people move toward?
It is interesting to be in a region where so many people escaped that
corporate lemming treadmill in the 1960s and 70s to create just such
communities. Some of the places survive as small communities or
weekend retreats where friends may be free and happy. The parties are
good, I am told. But gray heads cannot change the world alone, and,
while escapism is healthy for personal renewal, it is not revolution,
and revolution is what we need. It will come from people now in
junior high school and younger.
Do not despair; they are but a few years from voting, if voting will
mean anything. We do not have to tell them about fairness or about
the value of a healthy earth or the value of freedom. But we do have
to give them ways to move their ideals into effective political
action. Can we help them be more effective than we have done for
ourselves? I think we can, and I will get to that.
First, here are a few things I hope we can do to prepare the ground
for a peaceful, happy revolution.
We need to make the better world visible, so the carbon addict may be
drawn to it, and may see it as a place to go as nature begins to vote
more often in her harsh way-and there is no way to rig her vote.
We must encourage and advance the positive, human-scaled and
community-based systems already in place, such as community supported
agriculture, edible schoolyard programs, local economy support
projects and the like. We must go far beyond these ideas. We must
create political support organizations in every housing project, to
assist people with their immediate needs and build a new base for
progressive politics. We must work closer with labor unions, so that
they see a longer view, particularly in regard to environmental
issues, and so that the tremendous political power of united workers
begins again to shape public policy. We need more "listening
projects," to hear people and connect with their higher values. Many
of you are doing precisely these things. We need a greater
international reach. If some local communities in this country would
partner with communities in, for example, Mexico, non-exploitive
agricultural cooperatives can be established that enable people to stay in the communities they love, rather than suffer the abuses of
illegal immigration. Let's create the leadership for a better world,
and let's make it visible and attractive and real.
As people who must transcend borders, let us transcend our own
political districts. If the politicians of this area are too
beholden to the money of Big Coal, for example, let us partner with
the voters of districts far away, who must breath the same poisoned
air but whose Members of Congress are not so beholden to Coal. I
think my community in southern New Hampshire would be delighted to
partner with a community here, if we can find ways to organize this
idea. We have been divided and conquered, but we can undivided at
will, for we all have a stake in the air and water and the earth's
health and our human and democratic rights.
Part of the problem of the progressive left is that we have
fragmented into dozens of organizations, each of which must struggle
for funds and email addresses and all the rest. We need to fold
ourselves back into the Democratic Party and thoroughly invigorate
it. Do not worry that we will cause the Party to marginalize itself.
If the Party can base its actions on good science, effective
governance, and efficient delivery of the programs the people need,
it will prosper across all the left and all the middle of the
American political spectrum. But by splitting ourselves off into all
these good government organizations we have left the party to the
selfish elites, and they don't know how to serve the people or the
truth, and that means they do not know how to win.
We have a great tool in the Internet, if we can keep it. Great
energy is being applied to corporatize that last, great commons. If
they ruin it, of course, we can and will create an alternate one in
its place. It's just a matter of calling our computers into a new
system that I'm sure we will all be happy to create. Let the old one
try to prosper without us!
I would hope that some of the internet experts who care to keep open
the commons will begin this planning, in the event that a switch-over
becomes necessary. I hope the progressive funders, such as Mr.
Soros's Open Society Institute, will lend some assistance. The
servers of such a system may need to be in a country that still
respects privacy, and the connections may need to be by satellite
instead of telephone line, but we must and will keep open the lines
of communication between human beings in this time of great transition.
Now, let me get back to young people and what we might do.
We have learned much in the last few political campaign seasons about
how the Internet can get people together. Many of the people who
created wonderful Internet-based campaigns are sympathetic to our
Some systems, such as MySpace and Friendster and other social
networking systems, are already in place and can be used politically
if we play our cards right.
I believe the young people of each community ought to set goals for
their communities, their states and their nation. West Virginia
needs a "Goals for West Virginia" program, run by the youth of the
state, looking toward their own future. New Hampshire needs one too,
as do the young people of the towns.
How should these programs operate? How should the young people
express themselves politically, once they have set their agendas and
held their rallies and planned their marches, or whatever they will do?
How will they get good information to help them make good decisions?
I hope you will go back home from this meeting and reserve some
website names, such as Goals For Charleston, Goals for West Virginia,
Kentucky, North Carolina, and so on. I have reserved Goals for
America where we can switchboard them together. Let's be the enablers
for the idealism of youth. Let's help them, every way we can,
preserve the earth and democracy for their futures.
If two hundred thousand young people march on Washington to change
policy on global warming, for example, the world will never be the
same. As young people become involved, their parents will become
involved. Town councils, local newspapers and television stations,
state politicians and then national politicians will not be able to
survive without bending their way.
New voices have great power in politics. We are old voices. We keep
saying the same things and it is no longer newsworthy, no matter how
correct it is. Let's spend our energy helping new voices speak up
The environmental war is over. We have won. Not because of what we
have done or not done, but because Mother Nature is putting her
green thumb on the scales in our favor. It is not a good way to have
won, for the earth and our freedoms are tattered and on life support.
But it is time to know that a phase is over, and we must be ready to
move into a better world or another bad one. It is time to do new
things to advance new voices and new visions of the better world we
want for our children.
We need to draw these living democracy programs, existing and new,
into a committed lifestyle that will increasingly be seen as the
attractive alternative to the carbon-addicted world. Will this better
world still have credit cards and mortgage payments and tuition and
all the rest? As long as we are building a new world, let's try for a
little evolution on every front.