The Chinese character for crisis suggests that such a time is not only one of great risk and danger, it also presents us with a moment of great opportunity. Recognizing and acting upon this sense of fortuitous possibility is essential today, for it can empower us to create the sustainable communities we need for the unprecedented crisis we find ourselves in.
Unlike any other time in our known history, human kind is faced with a climate-based mortal threat to our existence. Short of decisive remedial action and transformative change on our part, we appear to be headed for planetary catastrophe. As Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated on the eve of the release of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment on climate change, "We have five minutes before midnight."
And while, perhaps, the most urgent of our challenges, climate change is but the eye of a perfect storm of crises that has gathered, including the demise of our democracy with the rise of the national security, corporate state; the self-perpetuating, global war on terror; the class warfare being waged by the 1 percent (and its allies), through the imposition of "free market" extremism and radical right political ideology on the rest of us; the omnipresent spectra of nuclear holocaust, whether from warring nations or peaceful reactors; not to mention peak water, the growing food crisis, failed (and failing) states, and nations of refugees on the move. These are but some of the most dramatic instances of a world coming unstuck, in great turmoil, and undergoing fundamental change.
And yet, it is within this increasingly fluid, seemingly chaotic context that equally unprecedented opportunity exists. With so much of our current life in flux -- with the old certitudes, institutions, and the only way of life we’ve ever known no longer viable, something we can trust and take for granted -- we have the opportunity to re-invent ourselves and our world, to live a truly civilized existence that is rooted in peace, social justice, and compassion for all living beings.
Indeed, we have no choice but to do so as a condition of our continuing existence. We live in a world where the chickens have come home to roost, and we either finally do what we’ve needed to do for some time now, or succumb to our circumstances, and their fatal consequences.
This is not a matter of making some technical adjustments to our economy or reforms of our political system, so that life can continue as usual. No, we need to raise the level of our game to a new normal by being the people who, in our saner moments, we know we should and want to be, and in fact, have been at other challenging times, but now need to be so with far greater consistency than our present circumstances indicate we’ve been up to now. In this case, necessity becomes the midwife of possibility.
Our new circumstances require that we be light on our feet, able to roll with the punches, unburdened with unnecessary baggage; to be creative and imaginative, resilient and collaborative, generous and compassionate. We can no longer afford the unwholesome behaviors that all too often stain daily life, or to remain stuck in the adversarial, internecine power-over relationships of gender, class, race, sexuality, etc. (not to mention the original political arrangement of humans over the rest of nature) that have defined and divided us from one another for millennia, and are at the heart of the crises that now threaten our lives.
If we’re to successfully navigate the unstable and unpredictable times we live in, we must make this paradigm shift, as a condition of our continued existence. The old no longer works; in order to move into a more resilient, sustainable life, we need to do -- and be -- something new.
This challenge is intimidating, especially when viewed within the context of our busy lives, and all that we have to do at present just to remain afloat. But what is seemingly "impractical" and "unrealistic" actually consists of behaviors that most of us are familiar with, modest acts of human decency and selflessness, for example, of compassion and kindness. They only need to be acted upon more mindfully, and with greater consistency, with our families and friends, in our schools and workplaces, neighborhoods and communities, to be transformative.
And while at times this may involve stepping outside of our comfort zones, or engaging in risk-taking behaviors, we will experience these as evolutionary moments, organic to the directions we’ve chosen, a natural response to the growth we’re already making. The changes we need to make in our lives -- seemingly impossible at an earlier time -- now become doable.
For by increasingly interacting with others in ways that speak to the best of us, we have a salutary influence on how we then go about living our lives, in general. Healthy relationships, and the people they reflect, are basic to creating the viable post oil world we need, and in many ways, have wanted all along. Less driven by ego, and the need to engage in all of those heartless behaviors that we employ in an effort to dominate and control the world, we are thus able to seize the opportunity before us, empowered to live life in ways that support our desire to both survive and thrive.
In this way, we become the family activists, the neighborhood activists, the citizen activists -- the everyday people activists -- that the world so dearly needs right now.
Please join us at the Climate Change Café, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 6 p.m., Brooks Library in Brattleboro.
Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and can be reached at 802.869.2141 and firstname.lastname@example.org.