The Sayings of Abu Francis
I say, the year 2017 may go down in the history books as the year climate change became a disaster. That is, if there’s anyone left to write history books.
For decades we talked about global warming and greenhouse gases – five years ago, the planet started pummeling humanity into submission with hurricanes, fires and floods.
However some may debate the finer points of what human activity is to blame, no one is saying it’s weather as usual. Bill McGuire, British professor of geophysical and climate hazards, is the latest scientist to break ranks by talking about extinction.
“I know a lot of people working in climate science who say one thing in public but a very different thing in private,” says McGuire, author of the new book, Hothouse Earth – which declares we have passed the point of no return and can expect a future of lethal heatwaves, and warm and acidic oceans. “In confidence, they are all much more scared about the future we face, but they won’t admit that in public.”
He’s definitely not talking about Guy McPherson, the professor emeritus of natural resources and ecology at the University of Arizona. McPherson has been labeled a “doomer fringe theorist” for promoting “near term extinction” and giving humanity less than 10 years before runaway climate change turns most of the planet into uninhabitable desert.
Guy McPherson reviews the latest climate assessment on his podcast, Nature Bats Last.
While folks are more likely than ever to admit the climate is changing, nobody in their right mind wants to think about billions of people dying in the next 10 years from heat, famine and pestilence. People see the reality of climate going amok, but still seem to deny that climate change will affect them personally.
Climate change is still somebody else’s problem – whether that somebody else is a desertification refugee from North African trying to jump ship into Europe or a Northern California homeowner waiting for a fire insurance settlement.
We live as though climate change will never touch us – nothing terrible will ever happen to us. We hold onto this irrational hope even though our leaders have no idea of how to evacuate cities or feed people longer than three days if the grid goes down.
We hold onto this irrational hope and yet have no significant stores of food and water in our pantries. Hope is great motivator, but it’s not a strategy.
A Strategy for Hope
The greatest act of denial I see is people wanting to believe we can avert the coming ravages of climate change by driving electric cars or recycling plastic water bottles. Or voting. The spectre of human extinction lies down the road and we maintain some sense of sanity by denying it. Who wouldn’t?
Perhaps we have grown up with a kind of Second Coming Scenario in the back of our minds: no matter how bad the tribulation gets, Jesus will zoom down in the nick of time to whisk us off to a new heaven and a new earth.
I say, don’t wait for either the best- or worst-case scenario to unfold. Let’s get cracking on the new earth part. I call it a “Personal Transition Plan” and have been working on mine since 2013. Wish I’d started sooner, but better late than never. We may not survive climate change, but we don’t want to spend our last days in a high school gymnasium waiting for Jesus – or FEMA – to miraculously to save us.
Bill Mollison – the late co-founder of permaculture – actually planted the notion of a transition plan in his 1991 documentary series, Global Gardener. Mollison took his camera to a small village in India where he had taught permaculture in the late 1980s. The villagers had been trapped in a cash-crop economy – just like the rest of us – in which they no longer grew their own food.
Dr. Venkat (left) with Bill Mollison during a Permaculture Design Certification course in India, 1987
Instead, they cultivated sugar cane, cotton and rubber for market, struggling to earn enough money to turn around and put food on the table.
India’s village system, purposely destroyed by the British Raj, had never been rebuilt despite Gandhi’s success in evicting the invaders. Mollison offered permaculture as a tool to design self-reliant villages, but how could Indians suddenly stop growing cash crops and switch to their own subsistence crops? (What American could quit his or her job and suddenly survive on their own garden?)
India permaculturist Dr. Venkat explained on camera that villagers in the Hyderabad region worked on a transition plan – switching 10 percent of their land from cash crop to food each year.
“We told them you don’t have to stop totally what you are doing now,” Venkat said. “In the course of 5-7 years, you will transition from an unsustainable system to a sustainable system.”
Mollison’s visit after only four years showed a rocky, dusty village transformed into a lush plantation for fruits and vegetables.
As climate change continues to be a disaster, we all need to build self-reliant local food systems and transition out of our present global, corporate, fossil fuel-driven food chain.
No more denial! Call it a Personal Transition Plan or get some neighbors together and start a Permaculture City – we have the tools, we just need the foresight to use them while we still can. And let’s talk – this is tough stuff! No one needs to feel like they’re facing this alone – leave a comment below!
I almost didn’t want to keep reading after the opening paragraphs. I’m an ecologically minded person, preferring time spent alone or with loved ones in a creek or in the forest than anything else. My dwindling trips into town for this or that show me how little modernization has of interest for me. That being said I can tell something is not right with the lands. I’ve had that uneasiness of things being amiss for a very long time and yet the way we talk about climate change seems designed to induce paralysis and apathy. There is such an overwhelming avalanche of information pummeled at us with statistic and charts and data. Then there are the ad campaigns featuring scolding teenagers, imploring the “adults” to figure it out. Then there is the green washing machine that just turns manufacturing magically sustainable. It’s all too much. I agree things need to be done. I would argue all the things that need doing and shifting (I too am a permaculturist) would need shifting even if our ecology want in a state of chaos. The misery and emptiness of the modern human experience is exhibit A. Besides the way our actions are hurting the otherkin, the trees and frogs and bears, the mushrooms and bacteria and bees, our actions hurt us the most! There is a deadening that comes from separation of man and the ecological circumstances we evolved in. It deadens us to be always in comfort, never too hot or too cold, to never feel a pebble underfoot. It deadens us to wake up to artificial alarms and the sounds of freeways rather than sunlight on our faces and birdsong.
I’m tired of the framing of this climate struggle in terms of what we are losing and what has been lost. The grief is important to feel and yet to remain stuck there is to abdicate our responsibility for the future. I wonder these days about the utility of giving it to people so grim. Extinction and natural disasters and apocalypse! Even if that is true I doubt it will move anyone. If we are to facilitate the mass scale mobilization of humanity towards a new/old paradigm I think we need to show them a better way. Permaculture is great for this because it exudes abundance and beauty, factoring in humans to their own environments. If we are going to have to move away from the old, we need to help frightened people understand there can be a beautiful future in its place. I love the work of Charles Eisenstein for this reason: amidst the grief there is so much glowing hope and love.
I’d rather poke my eye out than listen to another very stern scientist or scolding Greta Thunberg character. It’s easy to tune out when you feel you are being yelled at.