I just watched the trailer for “Before the Flood” and spotted a serious error made by one of the talking heads interviewed in Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest documentary. The interviewee says:
“Politicians will do what the people want them to do. Once the American people are convinced, the politicians will fall in line very quickly.”
This fundamental error is the reason climate change is still getting worse. Gilens and Page wrote a paper that demonstrated in 2014 that although politicians respond well to the wishes of billionaires, the average voter has “little or no independent influence” on public policy. This is a difficult fact to accept, as is the reason people have not been shouting louder about the climate crisis.
Ten years ago Al Gore tried to convince us of “The Inconvenient Truth” (2006) that climate change was the most pressing issue of our time. Gore was correct, but his ideas were attacked and marginalized by organized right-wingers. The documentary “Merchants of Doubt” (2015), based on a book of the same name, unmasks the climate deniers, but fails to appreciate the role the corporate media plays in controlling the narrative. For that you have to go back to “Manufacturing Consent” (1992), to learn how the Propaganda Model works. The consolidation of media ownership is part of an even larger problem described in “The Corporation” (2003) which makes the case that if a corporation was a person, they would be considered a psycho.
This is the fundamental root problem of climate change. The biosphere is not under threat because you ate a hamburger this week (although it would be better if you didn’t). The problem is that the greed of billionaires is out of control. The climate scientists are not experts in the politics of power. The mainstream media produces propaganda instead of journalism. Corporations are abusing eminent domain not for public good, but for private profit because the Supreme Court condoned their behaviour. Politicians on both sides of the party divide are beholden to their major corporate donors. The average voter is learning that, worse than being ignored by elected representatives, even if their vote is accepted, it may not even be counted at all. Once we finally realize that the root cause of climate change is a lack of democracy, the way forward becomes clear.
When a critical mass of people wakes up, our peace officers will stop acting like rent-a-cops doing dirty deeds for greedy billionaires. Anti-corruption laws, driven by grassroots action and ballot initiatives, can take government out of the hands of corporations and Wall Street banks, and restore it to the people. Electoral reform can break the corrupt two-party system and ensure that paper ballots are used to audit electronic voting machines. The debate system can be opened up so smaller parties are not unfairly marginalized. When the people take back their power they can stop greedy corporations from destroying the biosphere and solve all kinds of problems.
Every problem has a solution, most have several and you don’t have to pick just one. If you want to be part of the solution, share these ideas with your friends, family, co-workers, clients, classmates and neighbours. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
When I walk along the edge of Lake Ontario and see little boys tossing pebbles into the water it always brings me joy. My own little boy did that once, drawn inexorably toward the shoreline and delighted by the rings he created as they moved ever outward. We smile at their efforts to make a mark on a great body of water, but little children understand something that the rest of us forget. The first lesson of ripples is that the only moment that any of us will ever have is right now. We sense this when we crouch beside children to see the shiny new world through their eyes. Now is the dividing line between the past and the future, between desire and fulfillment. Every pebble we toss, every decision we make happens on that frontier between our intentions and our actions.
As soon as we toss the second pebble we see that interesting things happen where two worlds collide.
The border where the sea meets the shore supports tremendous biodiversity and in science, intersections like this hold important lessons. The interactions between industrial scale monoculture, genetic engineering and chemical pesticides are having a devastating impact on the living earth. We are only beginning to see the connections to mammalian health and there are even deadlier interactions connected to the burning of fossil fuels. Corporations profiting from genetically modified seeds were allowed to be responsible for safety testing but their methodology was, unsurprisingly, inadequate. Longer term studies have now been released that are cause for concern. I am now trying to process the understanding that my child, for most of his life, has been used by transnational corporations as a science experiment without my knowledge or consent and that despite my effort to end it, this experiment continues, because I don’t buy groceries at his father’s house, or the school cafeteria.
The more pebbles you toss into the pond, the more complex the ripples become.
There are bound to be some messy interactions between the ripples created by different groups and we need to allow for this while understanding that although our goals may differ in their specifics, we all share the same fundamental needs for clean air, water and non-toxic food. The politics of division is incredibly corrosive, and it threatens the very biosphere when it fragments opposition to ecocide. Whether people stand behind the Idle No More protesters as settler allies, or march against GMOs as fellow earthlings or Terrestrials, it is the joining in a common purpose that will tip the balance of power away from oppression and exploitation and towards justice and sustainability. Some people think the living earth is a sentient being, but whether Gaia has consciousness or not is a moot point if we argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin while ignoring the transnational corporations that are destroying the biosphere we need to survive. We are all on the same side in our need for air, water and food.
Ripples begin from point at which the pebble falls and travel at their own speed.
Although it is inevitable that trolls will try to sow conflict by trying to find differences between the indisputable needs of First Nations’ communities and the sympathetic desire of Settler Allies for a better world for all of our grandchildren, I think we are all bright enough to recognize and reject any false narrative that attempts to weaken our shared momentum. We all need to begin where we are. Settler Allies are not equally educated or aware of indigenous issues, and this isn’t going to change overnight. My lack of in-depth understanding of the historical issues should not preclude my participation as long as I recognize and respect First Nations moral authority and sovereignity in events that they organize. Settler allies’ understanding of the importance of dismantling the oppressive colonial power structures will grow over time, and gradually spread outwards throughout the wider community. Patience and understanding will help this process unfold.
Once they start, ripples keep going and cannot be stopped.
Years ago I would watch my son sleeping and unconsciously match my breathing to his. My love for him and the primal instinct to protect was a powerful and transformative force. When I became a mother my circles of concern and compassion expanded outward to take in other children not born into the privileged life my son enjoys. News stories of abuse and neglect that make everyone sad, seemed suddenly to cut much deeper. The protective instinct a parent feels is a powerful, primal thing. No matter what other roles I may adopt, I am a mother first, and that means I would stop a bullet for my child. While the threats to our childrens’ health are widespread and numerous, I am not going to back down just because the problem I’m trying to solve is massive and intractable.
It is no surprise that Idle No More movement has risen on the shoulders of indigenous women. Mothers Against Drunk Driving made a real difference because they have an unassailable moral authority. Mothers of children everywhere are struggling against the corrosive power of transnational corporations and winning skirmishes on the ground in their own communities. These small victories send hope and courage rippling outwards to more families, friends and neighbours, increasing numbers of whom are finding it necessary to get off the couch to defend their communities as the tentacles of unrelenting corporate greed reach further into our daily lives.
As a species, we are finally connecting the dots between the countless smaller battles being fought in communities around the globe. We are dropping pebbles into the same pond because the issues are interconnected. The campaigns of groups like Idle No More, Seed Freedom, and Occupy all have a fundamental purpose in common with Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Arab spring brought people from all faiths and walks of life into the streets to recognize their common cause, and we are seeing small groups of people in the west now coalesce in social media. There is a growing awareness that we are all on the same side, and the divide-and-conquer tactics of transnational corporations are losing traction.
The pebbles of change will continue to drop and whether we march city streets, or meet at the blockades, we can all join hands and hearts in defense of the earth. There is a reason we are all drawn toward the shorelines of lakes, rivers and oceans to make ripples. It is the same thing that draws us to the barricades to make waves. The place where two worlds meet is where the tide turns and ripples begin to spread outward. This connection is where the magic happens.
This random insight hit me as I tumbled into bed two hours too late last night, having written 6 blog posts in 2 days. No recreational drugs were involved in this effort, not even caffeine. It was as if I turned on the spigot at a well into which thousands of bits of information had been pumped, building up the pressure. All the little bits of evidence that the world is going to hell in a handcart were shoved together inside a brain not quite big enough to hold it all, and now the flow has reversed.
I’ve been dismayed by the wide variety of problems we face today, and the inability of people to just connect the dots and realize that our children’s children are in grave danger and we need to do something about that before its too late. Divisions between any two groups on this planet are a problem because they distract us from the deception that that’s more important than the air we breathe and the water we need to live on this planet. If you think about basic human needs that we all have in common it really is not that complicated. We are all human, and beyond that, we are all Terrestrial.
We are all on and of this Earth. This planet is our home, just as we are home to billions of tiny micro-organisms that populate our skin and our intestinal tracts. The health of the parent organism depends on the health of its population, and too many of these populations are ailing. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m sick of a culture where rape is considered acceptable to joke about while we allow massive corporations to rape the planet for the profit of the few. If the Earth is our mother, think about that. We allow corporations to rape our mother. Yes, that is a truly disturbing picture. How many of us are saying that’s OK, as long as I get paid for it? Under the law of this land the person who co-operates with a crime is guilty as an accessory to it. It’s time to wake up to that fact.
I often tell my child that every problem has a solution and most have several. Saving the Earth has millions of solutions and we don’t have to pick just one. Some of us are pushing to divest from fossil fuels, others are fighting to get genetically engineered foods properly labeled and others want fluoride out of the drinking water. There are thousand of courageous people working at worthy and noble causes. These are all important, but the task of fixing all that is broken in our world will be much, much easier once we have wrestled control of our democracies out of the bloody hands of corporations who are murdering mother earth.
Repairing our broken democracies really is the foundation of any plan to save the world. That is the first prize we must keep our eyes on. That is the intermediate step that will bring all our plans closer to fruition. Terrestrialism is a little seed of an idea that I would like to plant in other brains. As an identity, it spans every living being on this planet – it is a club we already belong to. If you can shift your perception to encompass that idea, the world you perceive will change into a far less threatening place.
If you’re wondering how this will work, understand that it really is all about what you focus on. If you are focused on repairing the damage we have done to the biosphere so that our grandchildren don’t drown during a hurricane, how important is it to establish exactly who knocked down the world trade centre? Once you realize that the past cannot be undone, but the future can be saved, it becomes easier to entertain two conflicting viewpoints in your brain as well as in your circle of friends, without making a big deal out of it. Bringing the guilty to justice is certainly a worthy cause, and that is a goal we should work towards, but our basic needs for air, clean water and healthy food must be prioritized.
Keeping the goal in mind is helpful when fracking your brain by filling it up with the thousands of points-of-view that you are exposed to every day. Some of these ideas will stay with you, not unlike the chemicals that are pumped into the ground under our aquifers, but many will be ejected as unhelpful. Whenever you find a deep fissure between ideas, look for the elements of distraction and deception that go along with the politics of division, and realize how many of these dichotomies are false and illusory. We are all of this earth and we all have a duty of stewardship towards her.
Genocide is one of the four crimes against peace identified in international law. When a movement started to add Ecocide to the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, the backlash was tremendous. If you follow the money it is easy to see why. Corporations have a legal obligation to put profits before people and an ecocide law would seem to supersede that. So the vicious cycle continues; resource depletion, scarcity, conflict, war, and more environmental destruction. Huge corporations are raking in billions this way, and whine that any change would damage the economy. News flash – the economy has already been trashed – and it was Wall Street that did it, not the tree-huggers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy. That is a false dichotomy which doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Pressure to divest from fossil fuel companies will encourage many to shift their production to clean energy. Political pressure can shift subsidies from dirty oil to sustainable sources.
Enshrining ecocide into law will only be successful where democracy has been reclaimed from the corporations who control the medium and the message. The legal concept of superior responsibility means that the buck stops at the top. CEO’s and company directors don’t want to end up in jail, but that doesn’t need to be the end game in an ecocide prosecution. Corporations could be carved up into smaller units and still maintain employment and earn profits for their shareholders. I don’t buy corporate fear-mongering because, as Polly Higgins points out in her TEDx talk, of the 300 companies who profited from slavery, not one went out of business when it was abolished.
Meanwhile, at the grassroots level, we can add ecocide to our vocabulary and start tossing it around more generously. We can paint it on banners and march it through the streets. We can throw it at political candidates and demand that they respond to it. And when corporations stick their fingers in their ears, pretending they don’t hear it, we can vote with our dollars.
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Earth. We all have to share this small blue marble with billions of other living organisms. Yet the human species too often, as a nursery school teacher might say, “doesn’t play well with others.”
We each develop layers of identities as we grow: child, student, consumer, worker, voter, parent, activist. It can be empowering to find a tribe of like-minded beings who share your goals, but this tendency has its dark side. Whenever you gather in a group, a line is drawn which separates insiders from outsiders. Social psychologists know that this ‘us vs. them’ mindset can lead to horrific atrocities. Every time this happens we say “never again” and then fail to address the core problem. If the biosphere is destroyed, all of our children and their children will suffer, not just ‘ours’ or ‘theirs.’
In order to erase the lines that divide us, it helps to recognize how phony they are to begin with. Every time you turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper, you can see who is drawing the lines and why. Corporations rake in huge profits by convincing us that they are the gatekeepers to where we want to be. The politicians for all the major parties make promises to the people who vote for them, and then do what their corporate donors want instead. The whole system is broken. The medium is the message and the message is “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” We have been distracted (SQUIRREL!!) from what should be our first priority.
Our most basic need is air to breathe. If you doubt this, as Dr. Guy McPherson says: “try holding your breath while you count your money.” After air, our most pressing need is clean water. We cannot live without it and to deny water to other living beings is to commit the crime of ecocide. No corporation has a right to extract water for profit at the expense of living creatures. No corporation has the right to contaminate aquifers while extracting resources for profit. This is not rocket science, folks. Don’t let the mainstream media fool you – remember who they really work for.
Fortunately, every problem has a solution, and most have several. We don’t have to pick just one. There are many ways to work at fixing a broken system, including leaving it to start another, but what does it say about our species that a quarter of a million of us signed up to be on the first flight to Mars? Is it acceptable to rape this planet to death and then go find another? Have you seen photos from Mars? Do you want Earth to look like that one day? No, we need to join our energies together and be the change we want to create and those who still don’t believe its possible need to step out of the way. I have no doubt that many pessimists, when they see where this is all going, will join with the rest of us altruistic optimists in saving the world.
We need to save the biosphere. The time is now. The path is clear. Are you a Terrestrial?
On the Idle No More facebook page, a woman holds a handwritten sign that says “I am a setter and an ally.” I am that. Its good to see more and more kindred spirits who recognize that the First Nations are the last hope to save our planet from destruction. The reason is that the First Nations in North America have legally binding treaties based on their sovereign rights that no invasive colonial power can overturn. For this I am profoundly grateful, because the democratic rights of Canadians and Americans have been eroded beyond recognition by people too busy, too distracted to notice what they have lost.
However, it saddens me to see so many people so fractured, so divided into millions of powerless little groups that they cannot recognize that we will all die – and by ‘all’ I mean our childrens’ children – if we don’t join and work together to save the earth. I’m tired of all the negative “isms” that divide us based on race, gender and even species. We all breathe the same air and we all need clean water. We need to collectively recognize that we are all equal in our basic needs as living beings. Humanitarianism is a better label than most, but in order to describe a club big enough to include all living beings and exclude none, I prefer the term Terrestrialism.
This task is the most important one we face as a species. There are many steps along the path to a better world, but no matter how small our first steps are, we must begin now, and we must walk this path together.
Politicians always seem to campaign on “jobs” and the economy, but this is like knocking on someone’s door to talk about Jesus while their house is on fire. Although many of us have met our basic requirements and are striving to reach our fullest potential, many more are falling behind, and seeing our disposable incomes shrink. What is of even greater concern than rising income inequality – but connected to it by the same cause – the planet we live on is becoming less and less able to provide for our most fundamental needs. This is because we have poisoned our biosphere to the point that clean air and water are incresingly scarce. We have collectively “sinned.” The word ‘sin’ has the same root meaning as the score in archery when you literally “missed the mark.” The correct response to this sin is not punishment or vengeance. The only sensible response is to say “you can do better.”
My callout to politicians everywhere is the same. You can do better. The most pressing issue today is the human destruction of the planet that will kill and sicken many of our children and grandchildren. The ship of state is very large and we all understand that it won’t turn on a dime but the time to grab the wheel and start is not the next election: the time is NOW!
If you want to save the world, there are many ways to do it. In his essay “Reality Check from the Brink of Extinction,” Christopher Hedges makes the point that hanging your laundry outside is all well and good, but you need to understand that the vast majority of great harms done to the planet are by large corporations. Even if we all stop buying beef and bottled water, the earth will still die if we don’t stop corporate greed and malfeasance from undoing all the best efforts of individuals. If you haven’t yet watched the documentary film “The Corporation” you need to check it out. Consider the two-and-a-half hour investment a small penance for your previous sins against the planet, if that’s what it takes.
The next film to watch is called “Do the Math” by Bill McKibben, which is only 45 minutes. Once you’ve done that and you realize that the planet – our house – is on fire, how do you feel about politicians who talk about nothing but the economy (abstraction = distraction) or your monthly telecom bill? Exactly. This is why taking democracy back has to be among the first actions we take collectively to save the world. Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch. In Canada we already have LeadNow and DemocracyWatch. In the U.S. you have MoveOn and DemocracyNow. Please post in the comments any other organizations that are working towards transparency and accountability. The ability to recall politicians who fail to do the will of the people is crucial, so recall mechanisms are necessary in all healthy democracies. In Canada we need to turn up the heat and put our first-past-the-post issue on the front burner. There is no issue in any upcoming election that is more important than democratic reform. You can help save the world by making sure every candidate gets this message.