The Earth is a regenerative system. It reproduces what it needs to survive on a timescale of billions of years. And for most of humanity’s existence, humans have lived within Earth’s regenerative cycles. Over the past millennium, we have more and more rapidly broken from those cycles, taking the planet’s resources, converting them to products to drive our capitalist economy, and in the process creating immense amounts of waste that foul the planetary biosphere that gives us life.
This shift from a regenerative way of life to an extractive one took 1000 years to complete. Unfortunately, the biosphere can not afford 1000 more years for us to switch back. At the same time, we know that the shifts we need to make are not simple ones. They involve the way we live our lives at every level – personal, local, institutional, national and global. At each level, we currently live, work, play, and relate in ways that extract from the Earth. We must do those things in ways that feed Earth’s regenerative qualities. We must collectively work at each of these levels to shift our way of being. No individual person can work at all of these levels – this is something we must do together.
At the personal level we can eat less meat, especially red meat. We can drive and fly less. When we replace old appliances, we can switch to energy-efficient, electric models.
At the local level, we can ask our local officials to pass ordinances requiring electrification of new and existing buildings and ordinances that require green energy to be used in our municipalities.
At the institutional level – in our workplaces and organizations – we can also push for green energy usage, as well as fossil fuel divestment in our organizations’ investments and our retirement funds.
At the national level, we can lobby our representatives to create a price on carbon via legislation, which would create incentives for businesses to pursue less carbon-intensive sources of energy and means of production.
At the global level, we can speak out about climate change and its disproportionate effects on poorer nations. We can advocate that our wealthy nation pays climate reparations to those countries, and make it clear to our national politicians that they must genuinely collaborate with other nations to address this crisis.
Ultimately, this sampling of many possible actions is about our interlocking choices. Our personal choices can feed our energy to act at the local, institutional, and national levels. Local or national legislation will have an impact on our personal choices – whether we are required to install electric appliances, or how much it costs to drive. A national price on carbon in the United States puts pressure on other nations to address climate change as well. We can choose to act at one level without acknowledging the others, but action at one makes action at another more likely.
Unfortunately, corporations and the politicians they support are doing whatever they can to avoid changes that will genuinely address this crisis. For a long time, corporations denied the reality of climate change. Now, they usually try to muddy the waters about what we can do to address it, or they create the narrative that addressing climate change is about our personal actions. This is false. Personal actions on their own can never address a crisis created by our interwoven, global systems. It is only when we collectively act at all levels – from the personal to the institutional to the global – that we will begin to have a true impact.
Indigenous people around the world hold the knowledge of our interconnected relationships – between person and person; between people, plants, and animals; between all of these creatures and their natural environments; between discrete environments and the global ecosystem. Western ways of knowing, scientific thinking, and capitalism have created a rupture between Western peoples and this knowledge of interconnection. In order to find our way back, we do not need to entirely abandon our ways of knowing and thinking. But we do need to rediscover with this deep memory of connectedness. Indigenous scientist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer said, “We are in the midst of a great remembering. We’re remembering what it would be like to live in a world where there is ecological justice, where other species would look at us and say those are good people, we’re glad that this species is among us.” I hope and I believe that we will remember in time to make the choices our planet and its creatures – including ourselves – require.
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