Transition Network has put on a big conference every year from 2007 onwards – first in Ruskin Mill near Stroud, then the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, in 2009 it was Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in London, then Seale Hayne in Devon, next heading North to Hope Uni in Liverpool, and finally back to BAC in 2012.
Transition Network has put on a big conference every year from 2007 onwards – first in Ruskin Mill near Stroud, then the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, in 2009 it was Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in London, then Seale Hayne in Devon, next heading North to Hope Uni in Liverpool, and finally back to BAC in 2012.
Transition Network has put on a big conference every year from 2007 onwards – first in Ruskin Mill near Stroud, then the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, in 2009 it was Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in London, then Seale Hayne in Devon, next heading North to Hope Uni in Liverpool, and finally back to BAC in 2012.
This is the final part of our serialization of Chapter 4 (Energy) from the latest Resilience guide, "Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable & Secure Food Systems". This installment shows the big problem we have with waste, but also suggests that this is an area where we can all wade in.
Like everything else in the food system, food waste isn’t that simple. Unlike everything else in the food system, waste knows no bounds—that is, it cuts across all components of the food system. Food is lost and wasted in every sector, from production to consumption. However, the pervasiveness of food waste also means that it’s one of the biggest opportunities for rebuilding local food systems. Before making that argument, though, it is important to understand the issue of food waste in more detail.Technically speaking, the term “food loss” is related to losses of quantity and quality of food in the initial production, processing, and distribution stages. “Food waste,” in contrast, tends to refer to the loss of food in the later stages of the food chain, ranging from storage spoilage to kitchen prep scraps to unconsumed prepared foods. The distinction between these terms can be helpful, but for the sake of simplicity, most discussions opt to avoid misconstrued nuances and simply use “food waste” as an allencompassing term.27 Regardless of terminology, one point is writ clear: the most technologically and economically advanced cultures in the world have the highest rates of food waste on the planet—and that’s even without including the astonishing amount of packaging and carry-out containers associated with our dietary habits. You would think that nations endowed with such economic and technological capacities would lead the way in reducing and recapturing food waste, but we are far from that reality, as evidenced in figure 4-8. Every time food is lost or wasted, all of the embedded energy that went into producing that food is also wasted. In other words, the dilemma is not just about the loss of the calories and the nutrients in the food itself. Nor is it solely about the squandered opportunity to feed the increasing number of malnourished people in our country and beyond, although that injustice alone should be reason enough to move us to act. Food lost and wasted is energy wasted. It also represents the arguably unnecessary dispersal of pesticides, carbon, airborne particulates, and other pollutants associated with producing foods. Waste is generally the first element examined and redressed in an audit of any kind of energy system. It may not be the sexiest consideration, but it’s the most important: minimizing waste is the best way to maximize efficiency. Consider a home energy-efficiency analysis. Perhaps the homeowner is particularly excited about installing a renewable energy system (such as solar panels) for her home. The first step is not to size, site, or install the new system; rather, it’s to determine current wasted energy. Until the sources of wasted energy are addressed, it makes little sense to invest in new sources of energy, no matter how “clean” or “renewable” they might be. Other than being much more complex than a home energy audit—by several orders of magnitude—a farm-to-plate energy audit also should focus on conservation. Only after we determine causes and potential remedies of food loss and waste can we then turn our attention to the energy systems employed in transforming seed and breed into the food on our plates. One strong but typically ignored argument for local food systems is that we can more easily track energy use and food waste in localized food systems than in the highly dispersed and complex food systems at the national and global levels. Furthermore, when we have to contend with waste on a local level, we tend to be more cognizant of the levels and the impacts of that waste. The more distant and dispersed the waste, the less heightened our awareness and concern. Most of us are likely unaware of how much food is wasted on a global scale: Approximately one-third of the edible foods produced worldwide are never consumed by humans. That amounts to a stunning 1.3 billion tons of food wasted annually. In the United States, the food waste percentage is closer to 40 percent. In wealthier industrialized countries, food is lost and wasted throughout the entire food chain, but a significant amount of perfectly edible food is wasted at the end of the food chain. In poorer countries, food losses tend to occur more at the earlier parts of the food chain, with minimal waste closer to the consumer end.28 Food loss and food waste in the United States are so enormous in terms of squandered nutrients, dollars, and energy that the overall impact is hard to fathom, in part because the results are relatively well hidden in Dumpsters and landfills relatively far removed from our daily orbits. Somehow, we Americans each account for approximately 600 to 650 pounds of lost and wasted food, most of which we barely see or consider.29 And seldom do we connect food waste to energy waste. Describing such food waste is an exercise in inexplicable contrasts. The immediate image is, of course, a reeking mishmash of spoiled foods compressed into an enormous metal container, oozing liquids that might even repel most vermin. But then there are utterly irrational images: Dumpsters full of perfectly intact packaged items still within their expiration dates, baked goods not even twenty-four hours old, five-star entrées that somehow never made it to the dining room. Or entire truckloads of fruit turned away from their destinations because they were too ripe and therefore had too short a shelf-life for a grocery store to accept. Regardless whether it came from the next town over or from Mexico, the entire shipment was bound for disposal. Composting has its merits, but human consumption should be the first priority. If that isn’t possible, livestock certainly relish such meals. Many people, myself included, have long congratulated ourselves for feeding our livestock and compost piles with food waste, assuming that we have closed an important ecological loop. In reality, though, we’ve only put lipstick on a pig (I swear that pig winked at me when I did it myself, though), since the food that we compost or feed to our livestock typically has higher energy invested in its entire “life cycle” than the physical energy it delivers to our livestock. The positive aspect is that we are at least utilizing an efficient biological process to dispose of food waste, enhance soil fertility, and perhaps even sequester carbon. This biological approach is generally more efficient than an approach utilizing mechanization and large-scale infrastructure, but it is not a silver bullet. By incorporating food waste into our livestock systems, we are in some ways progressing toward a less energy-intensive food system. But we also need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we are doing more to address waste disposal than to reduce the energy footprint of wasted foods in any significant way. The energy losses occurred long before our livestock ever smelled a good meal coming. It’s only natural for a pig or a chicken to be attracted to food waste, but should the same really be the case for a local food systems advocate? Absolutely. Not only can local communities audit their waste streams with more precision and care than a state or federal entity, but municipalities and regional agencies are already heavily involved in the management of solid waste streams. Advocates for local food systems shouldn’t waste any opportunity to further their cause, and with the proper framing of the arguments, unexpected allies will flock to the cause like . . . well, like seagulls to a landfill. Careful and creative management of food waste at the local level significantly energizes the rationale for rebuilding local food systems, as a result of these economic and environmental benefits:
- Maximizing the diversion and appropriate consumption of discarded or unused foods that are still edible, particularly for foodinsecure populations
- Maximizing the energy recapture of food waste through anaerobic digestion
- Minimizing the transport of heavy, water-laden food waste
- Minimizing nutrient loss from the food system by transforming food waste into engineered soils, while also reducing the potential for the leaching of these nutrients into waterways
- Highlighting local eating establishments that can document their efforts to achieve zero waste of food, eating utensils, and carryout containers
27. For an overview of the terms “food loss” and “food waste,” see Jenny Gustavsson et al., Global Food Losses & Food Waste: Extent, Causes, & Prevention (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011), http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ags/publications/GFL_web.pdf.
28. Ibid., 2.
296 | Rebuilding the Foodshed
29. Ibid., 5.
30. “Basic Information about Food Waste,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, accessed November 26, 2011, http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/organics/food/fd-basic.htm.
31. William Yardley, “Cities Get So Close to Recycling Ideal, They Can Smell It,” New York Times, June 27, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/28/us/a-recycling-ideal-so-close-cities-can-smell-it.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all.
32. “First Municipal Food Waste-to-Renewable Energy Facility to Connect to Power Grid in Urban Setting in U.S.,” press release, August 23, 2012, http://www.prweb.com/releases/prweb2012/8/prweb9831566.htm.
33. Stephanie Pruegel, “Pioneering Partnership Optimizes Power Production,” BioCycle, July 2010, 51.
34. Anya Kamanetz, “The Starbucks Cup Dilemma,” Fast Company online, October 20, 2010, http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/a-story-of-starbucks-and-the-limits-of-corporate-sustainability.html.
35. 2008 Fast Food Industry Packaging Report (Asheville, N.C.: Dogwood Alliance, n.d.), http://www.nofreerefills.org/download-report/.
In November 2006, I sat at the back of the Barn Cinema, Dartington, and watched ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘. It had such an impact on me that by the time it ended, I had decided that I couldn’t just leave the cinema without marking the event by making some kind of change in my life. I decided that evening not to fly again, and I haven’t flown since. I have played an active part in supporting the growth of an international movement in 40 countries since then, participating in countless workshops, and discussing Transition internationally through Skype and pre-recorded talks, most of which I begin with how much carbon I have saved by not travelling in person. However, I recently watched the film ‘Chasing Ice’, and it had, if anything, a more visceral impact than ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. My resolution at the end of watching it, re-enforced by the recent passing, for the first time, of 400 ppm of C02 in the atmosphere, was that it was time to get back on a plane, and I want to use this post to tell you why.
When I was born, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere was 325.36 ppm. I was 19 when it passed 350 ppm for the first time, the level which climate scientists such as James Hansen argue is the highest concentration possible if we are to “preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted” When, in 2004, the first seeds of Transition were sown when I sat with my students in a classroom at Kinsale Further Education College to watch The End of Suburbia, we were at 376.15 ppm. On the day this blog first began with its first post, we were at 378.29 ppm.
When I watched ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, it was 380.18 parts per million (ppm). On the day Transition Network was formally established we had reached 386.40 ppm. On the day I left Venice last September, following the Degrowth conference (which I had travelled to by train), seeing Venice from the sea as this extraordinary jewel just inches above sea level, concentrations had reached 391.06ppm. When I sat down to watch ‘Chasing Ice’ it was 395.55 ppm.
A couple of weeks ago we passed, for the first time, 400 ppm. It’s just a number, but it had a deep impact on me, a sobering line in the sand, a deeply troubling face. As Joe Romm at Climate Progress puts it:
Certainly as we hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence, with not even a plan to avoid 600 ppm, 800 ppm, and then 1000 — not even a national discussion or an outcry by the so-called intelligentsia – it is worth asking, why? Is there something inherent in homo “sapiens” that makes us oblivious to the obvious?
This means that current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are far higher than they have been for the last 4.5 millions years at least. The graph below shows how concentrations have fluctuated over the past 800,000 years. By way of context, 30,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon man was flourishing, hunting and gathering and painting cave walls. The Guardian have created a great infographic that tells the story of 400 ppm and what it means in a very understandable way. As Damien Carrington in The Guardian puts “the last time so much greenhouse gas was in the air was several million years ago, when the Arctic was ice-free, savannah spread across the Sahara desert and sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today”.
In spite of all the efforts of the green movement, Transition initiatives, a slew of international conferences and meaningless agreements, the rise has continued inexorably. It shows little sign of slowing, the International Energy Agency warning last year that the world is on track for at least a 6 degree rise in temperatures by 2100.
I know anecdotally that my giving up flying has inspired quite a few people to do the same, but has it had any impact at all on the rising levels of emissions? Clearly not. But has it been the right thing, thus far, to have done? Absolutely. A fascinating paper by Joakim Sandberg, called My emissions make no difference explored this question. He writes:
My suggestion is that we have a collective obligation to change our ways, and this collective obligation may be partly separate from the obligations of individuals. While my own flying makes no difference, it should be noted, climate change could be averted if we all changed our ways. But then it seems plausible to say that we act wrongly as a collective, even though no individual driver or flyer may be doing anything wrong. This view could be further explained by saying that moral questions can be asked on at least two different levels, with implicit reference to different sorts of agents. It is one thing to ask “What should I do?” but quite a different thing to ask “What should we do?” and the answers may not always converge.
The fact is that at a time in history when we desperately need to cut emissions sharply, we all have a responsibility to re-evaluate behaviour we undertake that normalises, for those around us, ways of acting that generate high levels of emissions. As Sandberg puts it, “while it may not typically be wrong of me to drive or fly, then, it may be wrong of us to do so and we must therefore seek ways of coordinating our environmental efforts more effectively”. I will still not fly for holidays or family reasons, to conferences, for pretty much any reasons. However I have decided, through discussions with those I work with, that passing 400 ppm, the extent of the climate crisis, means that it is time to get back on a plane, in cases where the benefits can be seen as outweighing the impacts.
Around 25% of the world’s emissions come from the US, the world’s greatest emitter of carbon dioxide. I recently had a moving conversation with someone in the US, who works for an organisation who fund groups acting on climate change, and who is very well connected politically in the US. She told me, with strong emotion in her voice, that it was her sense from talking to people she knows in the UN and other organisations, that there seems to be a consensus to give it another 18 months, 2 years at most, and then the funding and political effort will shift from mitigation and into adaptation and defence.
I’ll say that again. The funding and political effort will shift from mitigation and into adaptation and defence. Or to put it another way, that they will give up. The consensus will shift to the assumption being that it is now too late. Officially. The imminent White House briefing about the state of the Arctic ice and its implications probably won’t help either, given the gravity and seeming irreversibility of that situation.
I refuse to accept that the lurch to 500ppm, 600ppm, 800ppm is an inevitability. I refuse to accept, as Nigel Lawson tried to argue in his debate with the remarkably patient Kevin Anderson on Jeremy Vine’s radio show recently, that doing anything about climate change would impact on economic growth so we shouldn’t bother. I refuse to agree with Peter Lilley that the only way to preserve our economy is to allow unfettered gas fracking anywhere the gas industry decides it wants to drill because “there are simply no affordable renewable technologies available to replace fossil fuels”. I refuse to accept that we can’t do any better than what we have now, and that communities have only a passive role to play in doing something about this with the real work being done by governments and business. I refuse to give up while there’s still a chance.
So when an explicitly personal invitation came in to speak to a gathering of the largest philanthropic funders at their gathering in the US, and the opportunity to present them with Transition’s model of bottom-up, community-led action and to explain how Transition is increasingly focusing on the creation of a new economy, owned by the people, for the benefit of the people, the climate and the future, I had to think twice. That’s quite an extraordinary opportunity to try and influence the mindset of people who have the power and capacity to significantly support communities, and other crucial actors, who need to act to make the real and rapid shift so needed. I have thought long and hard about it.
I have come to a place, also through discussions with other people here at Transition Network and in discussion with our friends at Transition US and Post Carbon Institute, of feeling that it is worth having a go and getting on a plane and making the journey, in the (possibly naive) hope that it might sow some seeds of a new direction in the minds of some of the US’s foremost funders, give Transition in the US a boost, raise its profile, do what I can to try and support what’s already happening there. I would expect to return home wrung out like a sponge. This doesn’t open the door to now flying here, there and everywhere. This is a very particular invitation that has been looked at entirely on its own merits.
What do I know? Many of the movements, ideas, people and projects that have inspired me over the last 20 years have come from the US. There are wonderful things happening there, inspirational projects, great movements, incredible networks. But if Transition can bring something energising, some insights from this 7-year global experiment, some kind of renewed optimism that change is possible, something, anything, then it feels worth doing, before the window of possibility closes.
What haunts me every day, and no doubt will for the rest of my days, is what I will reply to my grandchildren when they ask me what I did during the time when climate change could have been brought under some sort of control, when the necessary changes could have been put in place to create a low-carbon, resilient and thriving culture that nurtured healthy human cultures. Was I as effective as I could have been? Did I do everything I could have? Having reflected on this for some time, it feels churlish to decline an opportunity that could potentially have a far greater positive impact than the negative impact of the flight.
So sometime in late September, it looks very much as though I will make that journey. Quite what I’ll do when I’m there has yet to be agreed (although we will of course let you know). Whether it will have any meaningful impact is even less certain. But it needs to be done, so I’m doing it.
The CO2 concentration statistics come from the Earth System Research Laboratory’s website, from measurements taken at the Mauna Loa research station.
Originally published at Transition Culture
A new phrase, “supply shock,” entered the lexicon of the global oil business this week when the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that unexpectedly rapid growth in tight oil production from North Dakota and Texas is leading to profound changes in the global energy markets.U.S. oil production, which grew by 800,000 barrels a day (b/d) last year, is now expected to grow by another 2.3 million b/d by 2018. In addition another 1.3 million b/d increase from Canada’s oil sands is expected. This 3.9 million b/d accounts for nearly half of the 8.4 million b/d increase in global production of combustible liquids that the IEA is expecting to be available by the end of the decade. This rapid increase in North American oil production is expected to outrun the growth in global demand during next few years, which is forecast to grow at about 900,000 b/d annually – at least in the near term. This implies that the demand for OPEC oil exports during the next five years is likely to be weaker than had been expected. The Agency predicts that OPEC will gain an additional 2 million b/d increase in its spare capacity during the next few years. Growth in the domestic oil supply has already resulted in major reductions in U.S. imports from West Africa which are now flowing to China and other Asian nations. Needless to say, these new forecasts have the U.S. financial press in ecstasy with predictions that the U.S. will soon become the world’s largest oil producer and could be energy independent by 2020 – if you throw in Canadian tar sands production and lots of pipelines to the south. Some even have U.S. output reaching an all-time high of 11.9 million b/d by 2018. There is a growing consensus that we won’t have to worry about all those petty sheiks and dictators controlling our gasoline, and we can all forget about oil shortages and perhaps even high prices – at least for the next five years. Now all this is probably good news for it gives the world’s oil situation a few years of breathing space; helps the U.S. balance of payments; creates jobs; and unless you live downstream from some of the fracking operations or note the ever increasing buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere you should probably be happy with the news. Like with most things, however, there is another side to the story — for simply talking about a few years of rapid increases in U.S. oil production does not tell the whole tale. As we should all know by now, oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing and from Canada’s tar sands is very expensive oil. As time goes on it will become still more expensive for the best spots are exploited first and costs of production will continue to increase. The only reason we can afford to exploit tight oil and tar sands oil is that prices have been holding close to $100 a barrel in recent years. We should also all be aware that tight oil wells dry up much faster than conventional ones. The best forecasts by independent geologists (who are free to talk about their findings), is that America’s tight oil bubble only has another 3-4 years to run and that production will peak at about 2.3 million b/d circa 2017. This says that in four or five years US tight oil production will start to decline, unless somebody can work out the issues involved in exploiting the tight oil that is reported to be under California – a decidedly different place to drill wells than in North Dakota or south Texas. In addition to production and the cost of oil, there are at least three other factors that could overwhelm the significance of a few million barrels of increased U.S. production. The rapidly deteriorating Middle Eastern situation is number one. Some 20 million b/d of the global oil supply currently comes from the region, and nearly all of the oil region’s oil exporters have a finger in the current turmoil. The next issue is the condition of the global economy over the next few years. Europe is in bad shape and, except for the occasional flurry of optimism, the U.S. is really not doing much serious "recovering." Our last major issue is emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels which has two parts – hazardous particulate matter in the air and the continuing atmospheric CO2 buildup which has now hit an extraordinary 400 parts per million. While most developed countries have taken steps to ameliorate the dirty air problem in recent decades, the Chinese have largely ignored air quality in their quest for high rates of economic growth. The situation in Chinese cities has become so bad that Beijing now seems on the verge of foregoing some growth in favor of cleaner air. How this will play out in terms of China’s consumption of fossil fuels in the coming decade remains to be seen, but the spectacular annual increases in oil consumption may be slowing soon. Of even more importance are the CO2 emissions which many believe are behind the increasing unstable weather besetting the world in recent years. While the simple answer to this is major reductions in the combustion of fossil fuels, for now global sentiment clearly favors increased consumption of fossil fuels as a means of maintaining and improving lifestyles. Just when atmospheric conditions become so bad globally that sentiment changes will be one of the major issues of the next decade. Don’t break out the champagne just yet. The fundamental premise of peak oil that the world’s supply of affordable oil is limited and will become increasingly scarce is still alive and well. Gas prices are unlikely to go down very much and in a few short years, or less if the Middle East blows up, we will be back to worrying about shortages. Originally published at Falls Church News-Press
This is part 6 of our serialization of Chapter 4 (Energy) from the latest Resilience guide, "Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable & Secure Food Systems". So how does eating out stack up?
We Americans spend almost 50 percent of our household food budgets on eating outside the confines of our homes, and we derive more than 30 percent of our caloric intake from those meals and snacks.25 It only makes sense that researchers and market analysts would come up with a name for all of that dietary and economic activity.26 “Away-from-home food” is an American passion, second only to our love affair with the car. They are, of course, in cahoots, but that’s another steamy story for later.Energy consumption in the “away-from-home food” category differs significantly from that of home food storage and preparation. Refrigeration actually becomes the smallest energy concern, with food preparation and HVAC systems becoming much more energy-intensive than in the average home. Sanitation is obviously a central concern and therefore an energy-intensive demand in a food service setting. Lighting is also a high energy demand, as it needs to be sufficient for work, safety, and hygiene. Energy bills in a public eating establishment are an integral element in determining profit margins profit and loss, so some players in the food service industry have been quick to adopt energy-efficiency technologies and practices. So how does energy in the food service sector relate to local food systems? The simple response is “waste.” However, this simple answer is not lacking in complexity. Remember that food service is essentially a waiting game: food service personnel are trying to predict both the timing and the scope of customer demand. It’s not like cooking in the home kitchen, where you generally know who is coming to dinner and when they will be arriving. Even if you do miscalculate, you can always put the leftovers in the refrigerator for the next day. In contrast, a miscalculation on the part of a restaurant manager or a grocery store deli operator typically results in food—with all of its embedded energy from farm to plate—being tossed into the garbage...yes, garbage. All too seldom does this food go to the charitable food system or a municipal composting operation. And then there is the issue of disposable utensils, containers, and packaging—materials made of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper, born out of habit and not necessity. Patronizing a local full-service establishment as opposed to a fast-food restaurant or supermarket deli can result in significantly less waste of energy and packaging. Not all local establishments are necessarily conscious about the number or types of containers that they use, but places where customers sit down to eat generally generate less post-consumer waste than fast-food establishments and the increasingly ubiquitous prepared-food sections of supermarkets. Cafés and restaurants also tend to build more rapport and community interaction, as hospitality is an important part of the equation for the success of a local business. And it’s also much simpler to advocate for change in how foods are served in locally owned food service establishments than it is in chain restaurants. As soon as we step out of our homes in pursuit of food, we cross an energy threshold that is worth considering. In all cases—upper and lower—Calories and calories count.
25. “Food and Alcoholic Beverages: Total Expenditures,” table 1 in the USDA Economic Research Service Food Expenditure Series, accessed November 26, 2011, http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/cpifoodandexpenditures/Data/Expenditures_tables/table1.htm.
26. Hayden Stewart, Noel Blisard, and Dean Jollife, Let’s Eat Out: Americans Weigh Taste, Convenience, and Nutrition, Economic Research Service Economic Information Bulletin no. 19 (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, October 2006), 1, http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib19/eib19.pdf.
This is Chapter 26 of the new WorldWatch State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? report. It is reproduced here with permission.
The first evidence linking climate change and human emissions of carbon dioxide was painstakingly assembled in 1897 by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. What began as an interesting but seemingly unimportant conjecture about the effect of rising carbon dioxide on temperature has turned into a flood of increasingly urgent and rigorous warnings about the rapid warming of Earth and the dire consequences of inaction. Nonetheless, the global dialogue on climate is floundering while the scientific and anecdotal evidence of rapid climate destabilization grows by the day.1We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening ecological, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.2 The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy. As a consequence, in political theorist Brian Barry’s words, “it is quite possible that by the year 2100 human life will have become extinct or will be confined to a few residential areas that have escaped the devastating effects of nuclear holocaust or global warming.”3 Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name. Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming.”4 The Problem of Governance In An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, in 1974, economist Robert Heilbroner wrote: “I not only predict but I prescribe a centralization of power as the only means by which our threatened and dangerous civilization will make way for its successor.” Heilbroner’s description of the human prospect included global warming but also other threats to industrial civilization, including the possibility that finally we would not care enough to do the things necessary to protect posterity. The extent to which power must be centralized, he said, depends on the capacity of populations, accustomed to affluence, for self-discipline. But he did not find “much evidence in history—especially in the history of nations organized under the materialistic and individualistic promptings of an industrial civilization—to encourage expectations of an easy subordination of the private interest to the public weal.”5 Heilbroner’s conclusions are broadly similar to those of others, including British sociologist Anthony Giddens, who somewhat less apocalyptically proposes “a return to greater state interventionism”—but as a catalyst, facilitator, and enforcer of guarantees. Giddens believes the climate crisis will motivate governments to create new partnerships with corporations and civil society, which is to say more of the same, only bigger and better. David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace likewise argues that the role of the state must evolve toward larger, more innovative governments and “stronger international institutions [as] the only possible way to preserve national interests.”6 The performance of highly centralized governments, however, is not encouraging—especially relative to the conditions of the long emergency. Governments have been effective at waging war and sometimes in solving—or appearing to solve—economic problems. But even then they are cumbersome, slow, and excessively bureaucratic. They tend to fragment agencies by problem, rather like mailbox pigeonholes, but the long emergency will require managing complex systems over long time periods. Might there be more agile, dependable, and less awkward ways to conduct the public business in the long emergency that do not require authoritarian governments, the compromises and irrational messiness of politics, or even reliance on personal sacrifice? Can these be made to work over the long time spans necessary to stabilize the climate? If not, how else might we conduct the public business? Broadly, there are three other possibilities.7 First, champions of markets and advanced technology propose to solve the climate crisis by harnessing the power of markets and technological innovation to avoid what they regard as the quagmire of government. Rational corporate behavior responding to markets and prices, they believe, can stabilize climate faster at lower costs and without hair-shirt sacrifice, moral posturing, and slow, clumsy, overbearing bureaucracies. The reason is said to be the power of informed self-interest plus the ongoing revolution in energy technology that has made efficiency and renewable energy cheaper, faster, less risky, and more profitable than fossil fuels. In their 2011 book, Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and his coauthors, for example, ask whether “the United States could realistically stop using oil and coal by 2050? And could such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be led by business for durable advantage?” The answer, they say, is yes, and the reasoning and data they marshal are formidable.8 But why would corporations, particularly those in highly subsidized extractive industries, agree to change as long as they can pass on the costs of climate change to someone else? Who would pay for the “stranded” oil and coal reserves (with an estimated value in excess of $20 trillion) that cannot be burned if we are to stay below a 2 degree Celsius warming—often thought to be the threshold of catastrophe? Would corporations continue to use their financial power to manipulate public opinion, undermine regulations, and oppose an equitable sharing of costs, risks, and benefits? How does corporate responsibility fit with the capitalist drive to expand market share? Economist Robert Reich concludes that given the existing rules of the market, corporations “cannot be socially responsible, at least not to any significant extent. . . . Supercapitalism does not permit acts of corporate virtue that erode the bottom line. No corporation can ‘voluntarily’ take on an extra cost that its competitors don’t also take on.” He further argues that the alleged convergence of social responsibility and profitability is unsupported by any factual evidence.9 There are still larger questions about how large corporations fit in democratic societies. One of the most insightful students of politics and economics, Yale political scientist Charles Lindblom, concluded his magisterial Politics and Markets in 1977 with the observation that “the large private corporation fits oddly into democratic theory and vision. Indeed, it does not fit” (emphasis added). Until democratized internally, stripped of legal “personhood,” and rendered publicly accountable, large corporations will remain autocratic fiefdoms, for the most part beyond public control.10 These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.11 A second alternative to authoritarian governments may lie in the emergence of national and global networks abetted by the Internet and advancing communications technology. They are decentralized, self-replicating, and sometimes self-correcting. In time, they might grow into a global system doing what traditional governments and international agencies once did—but better, faster, and cheaper. Some analysts believe that the old model of the nation-state is inadequate to meet many of the challenges of the long emergency and is losing power to a variety of novel organizations. Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University, for one, envisions networks of “disaggregated states in which national government officials interact intensively with one another and adopt codes of best practices and agree on coordinated solutions to common problems,” thereby sidestepping conventional intergovernmental practices and international politics.12 Below the level of governments there is, in fact, an explosion of nongovernmental organizations, citizens’ groups, and professional networks that are already assuming many of the functions and responsibilities once left to governments. Writer and entrepreneur Paul Hawken believes that the world is already being reshaped by a global upwelling of grassroots organizations promoting sustainable economies, renewable energy, justice, transparency, and community mobilization. Many of the thousands of groups Hawken describes are linked in “global action networks,” organized around specific issues to provide “communication platforms for sub-groups to organize in ever-more-specialized geographic and sub-issue networks.” Early examples include the International Red Cross and the International Labour Organization.13 Recently clusters of nongovernmental groups have organized around issues such as common property resources, global financing for local projects, water, climate, political campaigns, and access to information. They are fast, agile, and participatory. Relative to other citizens’ efforts, they require little funding. But like other grassroots organizations, they have no power to legislate, tax, or enforce rules. In Mark Mazower’s words, “Many are too opaque and unrepresentative to any collective body.” Much of the same, he believes, can be said of foundations and philanthropists. By applying business methods to social problems, Mazower writes, “Philanthrocapitalists exaggerate what technology can do, ignore the complexities of social and institutional constraints, often waste sums that would have been better spent more carefully and wreak havoc with the existing fabric of society in places they know very little about.” Moreover, they are not immune to fashion, delusion, corruption, and arrogance. Nor are they often held accountable to the public.14 So what is to be done? Robert Heilbroner proposed enlarging the powers of the state. Green economy advocates believe that corporations can lead the transition through the long emergency. Others argue that an effective planetary immune system is already emerging in the form of networks. Each offers a piece in a larger puzzle. But there is a fourth possibility. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change,” she writes: requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.15 Democracy, Winston Churchill once famously said, is the worst form of government except for all the others ever tried. But has it ever been tried? In columnist Harold Myerson’s words, “the problem isn’t that we’re too democratic. It’s that we’re not democratic enough.” The authors of the U.S. Constitution, for example, grounded ultimate power in “we the people” while denying them any such power or even much access to it.16 Political theorist Benjamin Barber proposes that we take some of the power back by revitalizing society as a “strong democracy,” by which he means a “self-governing community of citizens who are united less by homogeneous interests than by civic education and who are made capable of common purpose and mutual action by virtue of their civic attitudes and participatory institutions rather than their altruism or their good nature.” Strong democracy requires engaged, thoughtful citizens, as once proposed by Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey. The primary obstacle, Barber concedes, is the lack of a “nationwide system of local civic participation.” To fill that void he proposes, among other things, a national system of neighborhood assemblies rebuilding democracy from the bottom up.17 Political theorists Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson similarly propose the creation of deliberative institutions in which “free and equal citizens (and their representatives), justify decisions in a process in which they give one another reasons that are mutually acceptable and generally accessible, with the aim of reaching conclusions that are binding in the present to all citizens but open to challenge in the future.” Reminiscent of classical Greek democracy, they intend to get people talking about large issues in public settings in order to raise the legitimacy of policy choices, improve public knowledge, and increase civil discourse. (See Box 26–1.) A great deal depends, they concede, on the durability and vitality of practices and institutions that enable deliberation to work well.18 Box 26–1. A More Sustainable Democracy Philosophers have argued through the ages that democracy is the best form of government, and some have claimed that the deeper it is, the better. By “deeper” they mean a structure that spreads power widely, engages more people, and invites them to take a more direct role in the shaping of policy. Most liberal (current) democracies do not meet that definition, being republican in form and thus giving most power and decision making responsibility to elected representatives. In some of these republics, democracy is even further degraded. In the United States, for instance, Supreme Court decisions over the years have established that there is essentially no difference in civic standing between individual citizens and corporations or other private interests that can and do spend billions of dollars on political advertising, lobbying, and propaganda (over $8 billion in the 2010 election cycle). But it is not simply such distortions of democracy that compel a closer look at the benefits of deepening it. The democracies that most of the industrial world lives in have been derided by political theorist Benjamin Barber as “politics as zookeeping”—systems designed “to keep men safely apart rather than bring them fruitfully together.” In fact there are major potential advantages in bringing people fruitfully together in the political arena, not least with respect to the environmental crises that beset humanity now. Paradoxically, one of the weaknesses of liberal democracy may be not that it asks too much of its citizens but that it asks too little. Having mostly handed off all responsibility for assessing issues and setting policy to elected politicians, voters are free to indulge themselves in narrow and virulently asserted positions rather than having to come together, work to perceive the common good, and plot a course toward it. One antidote to this is deliberation. Deliberative democracy can take many forms, but its essence, according to social scientist Adolf Gundersen, is “the process by which individuals actively confront challenges to their beliefs.” It can happen when someone reads a book and thinks about what it says, but in the public sphere more generally it means engaging in pairs or larger groups to discuss issues, compare notes, probe (not attack) one another’s assertions, and take the opportunity to evolve a personal position in the interests of forging a collective one. Deliberative democracy, in Gundersen’s words, “challenges citizens to move beyond their present beliefs, develop their ideas, and examine their values. It calls upon them to make connections, to connect more firmly and fully with the people and the world around them.” When arranged to address environmental aims, deliberative democracy “connects the people, first with each other and then with the environment they wish not simply to visit, but also to inhabit.” Given the uneven record of democracies in educating their people into citizenship, true deliberation might be difficult to learn, especially in countries where the politics are strongly adversarial. Deliberative democracy is a “conversation,” Gundersen says, “not a series of speeches.” Conversations involve respectful listening—not just waiting to talk—as well as speaking. Yet there is an untapped hunger for it that can be released when the circumstances are conducive. And Gundersen has established through 240 hours of interviews with 46 Americans that deliberation about environmental matters “leads citizens to think of our collective pursuit of environmental ends in a more collective, long-term, holistic, and self-reflective way.” Such thinking might be the indispensable foundation for achieving anything like sustainability. —Tom Prugh Codirector, State of the World 2013 Source: See endnote 18. Political scientists Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin propose a new national holiday, Deliberation Day, on which citizens would meet in structured dialogues about issues and candidates. They believe that “ordinary citizens are willing and able to take on the challenge of civic deliberation during ordinary times” in a properly structured setting that “facilitates genuine learning about the choices confronting the political community.”19 Legal scholar Sanford Levinson believes, however, that reforms will be ineffective without first repairing the structural flaws in the U.S. Constitution, which is less democratic than any of the 50 state constitutions in the United States. He proposes a Constitutional Convention of citizens selected by lottery proportional to state populations to remodel the basic structure of governance. Whether this is feasible or not, the U.S. Constitution has other flaws that will limit effective responses to problems of governance in the long emergency.20 In this regard the U.S. Constitution is typical of others in giving no “clear, unambiguous textual foundation for federal environmental protection law,” notes legal scholar Richard Lazarus. It privileges “decentralized, fragmented, and incremental lawmaking . . . which makes it difficult to address issues in a comprehensive, holistic fashion.” Congressional committee jurisdiction based on the Constitution further fragments responsibility and legislative results. The Constitution gives too much power to private rights as opposed to public goods. It does not mention the environment or the need to protect soils, air, water, wildlife, and climate and so it offers no unambiguous basis for environmental protection. The commerce clause, the source for major environmental statutes, is a cumbersome and awkward legal basis for environmental protection. The result, Lazarus notes, is that “our lawmaking institutions are particularly inapt for the task of considering problems and crafting legal solutions of the spatial and temporal dimensions necessary for environmental law.”21 The U.S. Constitution is deficient in other ways as well. Posterity is mentioned only in the Preamble, but not thereafter. The omission, understandable when the Constitution was written, now poses an egregious wrong. In 1787, the framers could have had no premonition that far into the future one generation could deprive all others of life, liberty, and property without due process of law or even good cause. And so, in theologian Thomas Berry’s words: “It is already determined that our children and grandchildren will live amid the ruined infrastructures of the industrial world and amid the ruins of the natural world itself.” The U.S. Constitution gives them no protection whatsoever.22 Further, with a few notable exceptions—such as in Ecuador—most constitutions pertain only to humans and their affairs and property. We privilege humans, while excluding other members of the biotic community. A more expansive system of governance would extend rights of sorts and in some fashion to species, rivers, landscapes, ecologies, and trees, as legal scholar Christopher Stone once proposed. In Thomas Berry’s words: “We have established our human governance with little regard for the need to integrate it with the functional order of the planet itself.” In fact, from our bodies to our global civilization we are part of a worldwide parliament of beings, systems, and forces far beyond our understanding. We are kin to all that ever was and all that ever will be and must learn what that fact means for governance.23 Building the Foundations of Robust Democracies The history of democracy is complex and often troubled. In classical Athens it lasted only 200 years. Political philosopher John Plamenatz once wrote that “democracy is the best form of government only when certain conditions hold.” But those conditions may not hold in established democracies in the long emergency ahead and may be impossible in less stable societies and failed states with no history of it. The reasons are many.24 For one, citizens in most democratic societies have become accustomed to comfort and affluence, but democracy “requires citizens who are willing to sacrifice for the common good and [restrain] their passions,” notes political theorist Wilson Carey McWilliams. How people shaped by consumption will respond politically in what will certainly be more straitened times is unknown. Political analyst Peter Burnell cautions that “democratization does not necessarily make it easier and can make it more difficult for countries to engage with climate mitigation.”25 Even in the best of times, however, representative democracies are vulnerable to neglect, changing circumstances, corruption, the frailties of human judgment, and the political uses of fear—whether of terrorism or subversion. They tend to become ineffective, sclerotic, and easily co-opted by the powerful and wealthy. They are vulnerable to militarization, as James Madison noted long ago. They are susceptible to ideologically driven factions that refuse to play by the rules of compromise, tolerance, and fair play. They work differently at different scales. And they cannot long endure the many economic and social forces that corrode political intelligence and democratic competence.26 Democracies are also vulnerable to what conservative philosopher Richard Weaver once described as the spoiled-child psychology, “a kind of irresponsibility of the mental process . . . because [people] do not have to think to survive . . . typical thinking of such people [exhibits] a sort of contempt for realities.” Psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell believe that the behavior Weaver noted in the 1940s has now exploded into a full-blown “epidemic of narcissism.” Such failures of personality, judgment, and character could multiply under the stresses likely in the long emergency.27 We are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. There is no good case to be made for smaller governments in the long emergency unless we wish to sharply reduce our security and lower our standards for the public downward to a libertarian, gun-toting, free-for-all—Thomas Hobbes’s nightmare on steroids. On the contrary, it will be necessary to enlarge governments domestically and internationally to deal with the nastier aspects of the long emergency, including relocating people from rising oceans and spreading deserts, restoring order in the wake of large storms, managing conflicts over diminishing water, food, and resources, dealing with the spread of diseases, and managing the difficult transition to a post-growth economy. On the other hand, we have good reason to fear an enlargement of government powers as both ineffective and potentially oppressive.28 Given those choices, there is no good outcome that does not require something like a second democratic revolution in which we must master the art and science of governance for a new era—creating and maintaining governments that are ecologically competent, effective at managing complex systems, agile, capable of foresight, and sturdy over an extraordinary time span. If we intend for such governments to also be democratic, we will have to summon an extraordinary level of political creativity and courage. To meet the challenges of the late eighteenth century, James Madison argued that democracy required a free press that served a well-informed and engaged citizenry, fair and open elections, and reliable ways to counterbalance competing interests. But he feared that even the best government with indifferent and incompetent citizens and leaders would sooner or later come to ruin. In our time, strong democracy may be our best hope for governance in the long emergency, but it will not develop, persist, and flourish without significant changes. The most difficult of these will require that we confront the age-old nemesis of democracy: economic oligarchy. Today the majority of concentrated wealth is tied, directly or indirectly, to the extraction, processing, and sale of fossil fuels, which is also the major driver of the long emergency. Decades of rising global inequality have entrenched control in a small group of super-wealthy individuals, financiers, corporations, media tycoons, drug lords, and celebrities in positions of unaccountable authority.29 In the United States, for example, the wealthiest 400 individuals have more net wealth than the bottom 185,000,000 people. Six Walmart heirs alone control as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the U.S. population. Rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere reflects neither efficiency nor merit. And beyond some threshold it divides society by class, erodes empathy, hardens hearts, undermines public trust, incites violence, saps our collective imagination, and destroys the public spirit that upholds democracy and community alike. Nonetheless, the rich do not give up easily. According to political economist Jeffrey Winters, the redistribution of wealth has always occurred as a result of war, conquest, or revolution, not as a democratic decision or from the benevolence of plutocrats.30 Toward the end of his life, historian Lewis Mumford concluded that the only way out of this conundrum is “a steady withdrawal” from the “megamachine” of technocratic and corporate control. He did not mean community-scale isolation and autarky, but rather more equitable, decentralized, and self-reliant communities that met a significant portion of their needs for food, energy, shelter, waste cycling, and economic support. He did not propose secession from the national and global community but rather withdrawal from dependence on the forces of oligarchy, technological domination, and zombie-like consumption. Half a century later, that remains the most likely strategy for building the foundations of democracies robust enough to see us through the tribulations ahead.31 In other words, the alternative to a futile and probably bloody attempt to forcibly redistribute wealth is to spread the ownership of economic assets throughout society. From the pioneering work of progressive economists, scholars, and activists such as Scott Bernstein, Michael Shuman, Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Jeff Gates we know that revitalization of local economies through worker-owned businesses, local investment, and greater local self-reliance is smart economics, wise social policy, smart environmental management, and a solid foundation for both democracy and national resilience.32 Simultaneously, and without much public notice, there have been dramatic advances in ecological design, biomimicry, distributed renewable energy, efficiency, ecological engineering, transportation infrastructure, permaculture, and natural systems agriculture. Applied systematically at community, city, and regional scales, ecological design opens genuine possibilities for greater local control over energy, food, shelter, money, water, transportation, and waste cycling. (See Box 26–2.) It is the most likely basis for revitalizing local economies powered by home-grown efficiency and locally accessible renewable energy while eliminating pollution, improving resilience, and spreading wealth. The upshot at a national level is to reduce the need for government regulation, which pleases conservatives, while improving quality of life, which appeals to liberals. Fifty years ago, Mumford’s suggestion seemed unlikely. But in the years since, local self-reliance, Transition Towns, and regional policy initiatives are leading progressive changes throughout Europe and the United States while central governments have been rendered ineffective.33 Box 26–2. Resilience from the Bottom Up At the dawn of the modern environmental era, in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act required all federal agencies to “utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decisionmaking.” Nonetheless, the government and corporations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations still work mostly by breaking issues and problems into their parts and dealing with each in isolation. Separate agencies, departments, and organizations specialize in energy, land, food, air, water, wildlife, economy, finance, building regulations, urban policy, technology, health, and transportation as if each were unrelated to the others. Reducing wholes to parts is the core of the modern worldview we inherited from Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes. And for a time it worked economic, scientific, and technological miracles. But the price we pay is considerable and growing fast. For one, we seldom anticipate or account for collateral costs of fragmentation or count the benefits of systems integration. We mostly focus on short-term benefits while ignoring long-term risks and vulnerabilities. Imponderables and non-priced benefits are excluded altogether. The results corrupt our politics, economics, and values, and they undermine our prospects. Nonetheless, we administer, organize, and analyze in parts, not wholes. But in the real world there are tipping points, surprises, step-level changes, time delays, and unpredictable, high-impact events. To fathom such things requires a mind-set capable of seeing connections, systems, and patterns as well as a perspective far longer than next year’s election or an annual balance sheet. Awareness that we live in systems we can never fully comprehend and control and humility in the face of the unknown gives rise to precaution and resilient design. One example of this approach comes from Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S. “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous industrial region sacrificed to political expediency and bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and Detroit. But things here are beginning to change. In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability, and help catalyze similar efforts across the United States at larger scales. The community is organized into seven teams, focused on economic development, education, law and policy, energy, community engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis. The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community in a way that is catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the community, and the college to a collaborative postcheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability. The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustainability worldwide, including the Mondragón Cooperative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways, each is aiming to transform complex systems called cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally generated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create opportunities for good work and higher levels of worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises organized around necessities. The upshot is a global movement toward communities with the capacity to withstand outside disturbances while preserving core values and functions. In practical terms, resilience means redundancy of major functions, appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical systems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,” technological accidents, malice, and climate destabilization. In short, it is human systems designed in much the way that nature designs ecologies: from the bottom up. Source: See endnote 33. A second change is in order. Democracies from classical Athens to the present are only as vibrant as the quality and moral power of the ideas they can muster, mull over, and act upon. Debate, argument, and civil conversation are the lifeblood of the democratic process. In our time, said to be an age of information, one of the most striking characteristics is the triviality, narrowness, and often factual inaccuracy of our political conversations. Much of what passes for public dialogue has to do with jobs and economic growth, but it is based on economic theories that fit neither biophysical reality nor the highest aspirations of humankind. The rules of market economies are said to date from Adam Smith 237 years ago, but those of natural systems are 3.8 billion years old. Allowed to run on much longer, the mismatch will destroy us. It is time to talk about important things. Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually? Why do we still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert? How can humankind reclaim the commons of atmosphere, seas, biological diversity, mineral resources, and lands as the heritage of all, not the private possessions of a few? How much can we fairly and sustainably take from Earth, and for what purposes? Why is wealth so concentrated and poverty so pervasive? Are there better ways to earn our livelihoods than by maximizing consumption, a word that once signified a fatal disease? Can we organize governance at all levels around the doctrine of public trust rather than through fear and competition? And, finally, how might Homo sapiens, with a violent and bloody past, be redeemed in the long arc of time?34 Outside of Hollywood movies, stories do not always have happy endings. Human history, to the contrary, is “one damn thing after another” as an undergraduate history major once famously noted. And one of those damn things is the collapse of entire civilizations when leaders do not summon the wit and commitment to solve problems while they can. Whatever the particulars, the downward spiral has a large dose of elite incompetence and irresponsibility, often with the strong aroma of wishful thinking, denial, and groupthink abetted by rules that reward selfishness, not group success.35 In the long emergency ahead, the challenges to be overcome are first and foremost political, not technological or economic. They are in the domain of governance where the operative words are “we” and “us,” not those of markets where the pronouns are “I,” “me,” and “mine.” At issue is whether we have the wherewithal, wisdom, and foresight to preserve and improve the human enterprise in the midst of a profound human crisis. Any chance for us to come through the trials of climate destabilization in a nuclear-armed world with 10 billion people by 2100 will require that we soon reckon with the thorny issues of politics, political theory, and governance with wisdom, boldness, and creativity.
1. Svante Arrhenius, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground,” The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, April 1896.
2. The phrase is from James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005); Kevin A. Baumert, Timothy Herzog, and Jonathan Pershing, Navigating the Numbers: Greenhouse Gas Data and International Climate Policy (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2005), p. 113.
3. Brian Barry, Why Social Justice Matters (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2005), p. 251.
4. Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap (New York: Knopf, 2000); Mark Mazower, Governing the World (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 424.
5. Robert Heilbroner, An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980), p. 175; Robert Heilbroner, “Second Thoughts on The Human Prospect,” Challenge, May-June, 1975, p. 27.
6. Anthony Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2009), p. 96; David Rothkopf, Power, Inc: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 360.
7. David W. Orr and Stuart Hill, “Leviathan, the Open Society, and the Crisis of Ecology,” Western Political Quarterly, December 1978, pp. 457–69.
8. Amory B. Lovins et al., Reinventing Fire (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011), p. ix.
9. Value over $20 trillion from Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, 2 August 2012; Robert B. Reich, Supercapitalism (New York: Knopf, 2007), pp. 170–01, 204.
10. Charles E. Lindblom, Politics and Markets (New York: Basic Books, 1977), p. 356; Charles E. Lindblom, The Market System (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001).
11. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), p. 73; John Dunn, The Cunning of Unreason (London: Harper-Collins, 2000), p. 332; David Rothkopf, Superclass (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2008), p. 322; Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).
12. Nicholas A. Christakis and James Fowler, Connected (Boston: Little Brown, 2009), pp. 289–92; Steven Johnson, Emergence (New York: Scribners, 2001), pp. 224–26; Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 263.
13. Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest (New York: Penguin, 2007); Steve Waddell, Global Action Networks (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011), p. 23.
14. Mark Mazower, Governing the World (New York: Penguin, 2012), pp. 420, 418; Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, Philanthropocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World (New York: Bloomsbury, 2008).
15. Naomi Klein, “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” The Nation, 21 November 2011.
16. Harold Myerson, “Foundering Fathers,” American Prospect, October 2011, p. 16; to improve at least U.S. democracy, see Steven Hill, 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy (Sausalito, CA: PoliPoint Press, 2006).
17. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 117, 151; see also Thad Williamson, David Imbroscio, and Gar Alperovitz, Making a Place for Community (New York: Routledge, 2002); Jeffereson and Dewey from Carol Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1970); final quote from Barber, op. cit. this note, p. 269.
18. Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, Why Deliberative Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 7, 59; see also Susan Clark and Woden Teachout, Slow Democracy (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2012). Box 26–1 from the following: Adam Liptak, “Justices, 5–4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit,” New York Times, 22 January 2010; Robert J. Shapiro and Douglas Dowson, Corporate Political Spending: Why the New Critics Are Wrong, Legal Policy Report No. 15 (New York: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, June 2012); Barber, op. cit. note 17, pp. 3, 4; Adolf G. Gundersen, The Environmental Promise of Democratic Deliberation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), pp. 9, 10, 19, and 22.
19. Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin, Deliberation Day (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 171; see also James S. Fishkin, The Voice of the People: Public Opinion and Democracy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995).
20. Sanford Levinson, Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 389; see also Derek Bok, The Trouble with Government (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
21. Richard J. Lazarus, The Making of Environmental Law (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp. 30, 33, 42; Richard J. Lazarus, “Super Wicked Problems and Climate Change: Restraining the Present to Liberate the Future,” Cornell Law Review, vol. 94 (2009), pp. 1,153–234.
22. Thomas Berry, Evening Thoughts (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2006), p. 95.
23. Ecuador from Erik Assadourian, “The Rise and Fall of Consumer Cultures,” in Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2010 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), p. 19; Christopher Stone, Should Trees Have Standing: Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects (Los Altos, CA: William Kaufmann, 1972); Berry, op. cit. note 22, p. 44.
24. John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009); see also Paul Woodruff, First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); John Plamenatz, Democracy and Illusion (London: Longman, 1973), p. 9.
25. Wilson Carey McWilliams, Redeeming Democracy in America (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2011), p.15; Peter Burnell, Climate Change and Democratization (Berlin: Heinrich Böll Stiftung, 2009), p. 40.
26. See, for example, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, It’s Even Worse than It Looks (New York: Basic Books, 2012), Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), and Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010); Frank Bryan, Real Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p. 294; see also Robert Dahl and Edward Tufte, Size and Democracy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1973).
27. Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 127; Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic (New York: The Free Press, 2009), p. 276.
28. Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007); see also Corey Robin, Fear: The History of a Political Idea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
29. Rothkopf, op. cit. note 11; see also International Forum on Globalization, Outing the Oligarchy: Billionaires Who Benefit from Today’s Climate Crisis (San Francisco: 2011).
30. Josh Bivens, “Inequality, Exhibit A: Walmart and the Wealth of American Families” (blog), Economic Policy Institute, 17 July 2012; Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone (London: Penguin Books, 2010); Jeffrey Winters, Oligarchy (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 284–85.
31. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970), pp. 413, 434.
32. Gar Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism (Takoma Park, MD: Democracy Collaborative Press, 2011); Gar Alperovitz, “Anchoring Wealth to Sustain Cities and Population Growth, Solutions, July 2012; James Gustave Speth, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012); Michael H. Shuman, Going Local (New York: Routledge, 2000); Michael H. Shuman, Local Dollars, Local Sense (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2012); Greg Pahl, Power from the People (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2012); Jeff Gates, Democracy at Risk (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2000).
33. William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle (New York: North Point Press, 2002); Janine Benyus, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (New York: William Morrow, 1996); John Lyle, Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development (New York: John Wiley, 1994); John R. Ehrenfeld, Sustainability by Design (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008); Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook (Totnes, U.K.: Greenbooks, 2008); Rob Hopkins, The Transition Companion (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2011). Box 26–2 based on National Environmental Policy Act, at ceq.hss.doe.gov/laws_and_executive_orders/the_nepa_statute.html, and on David W. Orr, The Oberlin Project: A Clinton Climate Initiative Climate Positive Project (Oberlin, OH: undated).
34. For more on these issues, see Ron Rosenbaum, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011); Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0 (San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler, 2006); Burns Weston and David Bollier, Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights, and the Commons (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth (London: Earthscan, 2009); Peter Victor, Managing without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2008); Peter G. Brown, Restoring the Public Trust (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), pp. 71–91; Peter G. Brown, The Commonwealth of Life, 2nd ed. (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2008); Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nation: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011); Harald Welzer, Climate Wars: Why People Will be Killed in the 21st Century (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2012).
35. Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking, 2005), p. 438.
Stormy road image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.