This past winter and spring, after a year of focusing on helping to grow a local environmental foundation (an interesting journey in its own right), I was invited to do a research project that enabled me to once again pay closer attention to the global sustainability data and news. The situation is far more urgent now than it was just a year ago, which is crazy to imagine—as I researched sustainability for 17 years as a Worldwatch researcher. But in the last six months research has been published that has found that:
- Antarctica is melting six times faster than it did 40 years ago;
- Glaciers are melting five times faster than the 1960s;
- Greenland is melting six times faster than the 1980s;
- Oceans are warming 40 percent faster than estimated just five years ago;
- Sea ice off Antarctica has shrunk as much in the past 4 years as Arctic sea ice has shrunk in 34 years;
- And just this week: This past June was the hottest June in history and July may be the hottest month ever recorded;
- And pretty much every day there is a new and horrifying disaster—including the horrific flooding in Nepal and India happening now.
It’s frightening. Overwhelming. Apocalyptic even. And yet most people continue to go about their lives, either not aware, ignoring, or even vehemently denying reality. Some beautiful people are taking to the streets. That’s fantastic. And I haven’t done enough in this regard and will do more (the September 20th global school strike is already on my calendar—#FridaysForFuture). But direct activism alone is not enough.
We have to recognize that The Quickening* has started. You could call this The Great Acceleration of The Great Acceleration (a term coined to describe the rapid growth of resources and energy particularly after World War II). But in the last decades—particularly with the consumerization of China and India (coupled with the never ending growth of consumption in already industrialized countries), our cancerous ways have metastasized—spreading and intensifying everywhere.
Sadly, there’s probably only one outcome that’s realistic now. 2-6 degrees Celsius of climate change coupled with many other ecological system breakdowns, which will lead to drowned cities, famines, political unrest, and violence. Not everywhere, of course. There will be havens of better-off people who can still afford food even as it grows in price (a recently leaked UN report suggests climate change will increase cereal prices by 29 percent). But for the most part, the next century will be tough for everyone—and made tougher as people cling to their memories of life in the consumer era and support politicians who promise they can make their countries consumer paradises again.
So how do we get ready for that?
My answer is The Gaian Way. Create a way of being that works to actively heal Earth, that heals you and others (from decades of physical and mental illness cultivated by life in a consumer culture—e.g. obesity, too little sleep, anxiety, addiction to entertainment and social media) and builds local communities that can help support each other—in living better, in Earth-healing efforts, and when life as we know it is disrupted and we have to figure out how to live in a new era (whether that’s economic recession, a local disaster, global price spikes, etc.).
I imagine these local communities not just engaging with themselves but serving as Gaian Missionaries—sharing an ecocentric philosophy with others—through meetings and gatherings, through their activism and modeling right behavior, and through their social service provision (in the beginning that can be something as simple as organizing a ESL class, some basic skill classes, or helping with already existing projects to find likeminded people to connect with: a river cleanup, a local scout troop, or a karate dojo).
I hope, too, that these local fellowships can be connected to a larger global philosophical movement, which over time can help push for a civilizational change. The Quakers may be small in number, but their collective impact—from the abolition movement to the anti-war movement—has been colossal. That is something to aspire to and to work towards.
*Why call this The Quickening?
The Quickening generally means to hasten or accelerate. It’s also the term when a mother starts feeling her baby move around in the womb. We’re coming alive (which is what quick used to mean centuries ago). In the throes of the climate crisis, either a new Gaian civilization is about to be birthed or humanity will come out stillborn. We’re recognizing that we are part of Gaia (feeling the walls of the womb) but also have a separate will and agency—which like all children, we can use for good or for ill—either to care for the community we are part of or neglect and harm it.