We Make the Road by Walking – Part I

This essay was originally published in the Summer 2013 RSF Quarterly.

Kenny Ausubel

By Kenny Ausubel

In this moment of radical environmental and social disruption, the world is experiencing the dawn of a necessary and revolutionary transformation to becoming an ecologically literate and socially just civilization. The existential gauntlet is to make the shift fast enough to outrun global cataclysm. The next five to six years will be the once-in-a-civilization window to change course. We can move from breakdown to breakthrough.

The Mayan people call this the “Time of No Time.” From here on, we’re on Earth time. Mother Earth is shaking to her core. It’s a time of madness, disconnection, and hyper-individualism. It’s also a time when new energies are coming into the world—when people are growing a new skin. The Mayan vision says we in the West will find safe harbor only if we can journey past a wall of mirrors. The mirrors will drive us mad, unless we have a strong heart. Some mirrors delude us with infinite reflections of our vanity and shadows. Others paralyze us with our terror and rage, feeding an empire that manufactures  fear and benefits from resignation. But the empire has no roots and it’s toppling all around us. In this time, everyone is called to take a stand. Everyone is called to be a leader.

To get beyond the wall of mirrors, the final challenge is to pass through a tiny door. To do this, we must make ourselves very, very small. To be very humble. Then we must burrow down into the Earth, where indigenous consciousness lives. On the other side is a clear pond. There, for the first time, we’ll be able to see our true reflection.

We’re re-imagining a civilization in the Age of Nature that honors the web of life, each other and future generations. It’s a revolution from the heart of nature. For decades, brilliant scientific and social innovators such as the bioneers have been in the shadows patiently creating the systems for how we will live on Earth for the long haul. For the most part, the solutions are present, or we know what directions to head in. It’s not that we need more solutions—we need to rapidly spread and scale, where possible, what we’ve already got. We need to mobilize in a way historically done in times of war. It’s emergence in an emergency.

In 2012, two highly problematic rude awakenings are pointing to the need to open the floodgates of transformation and they are not unrelated.

The first is the onset of conspicuous climate disruption. As Bill McKibben points out, scientists have underestimated the speed and scale of early climate disruption, at a rise of just 0.8 degrees Celsius. Even if we stopped pumping carbon right now, the temperature will rise by another 0.8 degrees Celsius. But we’re not stopping—we’re putting record amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. At this rate, in 16 years, the planet could become uninhabitable. Meanwhile the major oil corporations hold reserves five times higher than the amounts of carbon we can burn to keep below the hopefully “safe” threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of warming. They’re planning to burn it all. As McKibben warns, rapid transformative change is the only way through—picture the civil rights movement in fast forward. The key is stopping the fossil fuel oligarchs before they poach the planet.

The second indicator of the need for transformation is the reality of the greatest extremes of wealth ever seen in human civilization. While the following may seem judgmental, I use it to make my point. As the International Forum on Globalization observes in its report Outing the Oligarchy, “Today’s single biggest threat to our global climate commons is the group of billionaires who profit most from its pollution and, in turn, push government policies that promote more fossil fuels… Cooperative global action to address the most daunting challenge humanity has ever faced is being held hostage by a handful of profiteers who wield decisive power over our governments.” Globalization has triggered a tectonic shift of financial wealth and political power upward to a group of multi-billionaires. According to Jeffrey Winters, the author of Oligarchy, wealth in the U.S. today is “two times as concentrated as imperial Rome, which was a slave-and-farmer society.” But we know this is not the way. As Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, more equal societies are better for everyone, including the wealthy.

Jeremy Grantham, the far-seeing Chairman of the $100 billion GMO Capital fund, asserts that global warming will be the most important investment issue for the foreseeable future, and advocates very large immediate investments in renewables and smart grids. He says humanity’s vexed relationship with the planet is the great economic story of our time. He concludes that, “If we maintain our desperate focus on growth, we will run out of everything and crash – Peak Everything Else.” That’s the nub – Boom and Doom –the final throes of an oligarchic economic system bedeviled by its original sin of unlimited growth on a finite planet.

Click here for Part II.

Kenny Ausubel is Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Bioneers, along with his business partner and wife Nina Simons. He is an award-winning social entrepreneur, filmmaker, radio producer, and author. His recent book, Dreaming the Future: Reimagining Civilization in the Age of Nature, won the Grand Gold Nautilus prize for Ecology/Environment. He co-founded Seeds of Change in 1989. He was a central advisor to and appears in Leonardo DiCaprio’s feature documentary The 11th Hour.

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