“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up … Hope is a sober quality.”
David Orr in The TH Interview (Part Three): Where Hope and Optimism Split
“Absolutely it’s reversible.
There’s no question about it.
… but hope has to pass the sobriety test and walk a pretty straight line to reality.
Otherwise, it’s delusion.”
Paul Hawken, author and founder at Project Drawdown, Interview at Regenerative Development Conference
“We’ll also need to accept some good news— the pace of change is not even.
Predictions of doom usually assume a steady pace, but in fact there is often acceleration when masses go into motion.”
George Lakey, Beyond Paris and the temptation to despair via Waging NonViolence
In 2014, Glaciologist Eric Rignot suggested that there may yet be a chance to slow down the West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s rapid irreversible decline and “a different level of communication” is required to translate the gravity of what he and his peers see.
Written by Extinction Witness founder and creative director Megan Hollingsworth as a practice response to Eric Rignot’s call, the Vow 2 Act emphasizes that role modeling helpful action is the primary different level of communication needed. Following is an introduction to the reasoning and philosophy of the Vow 2 Act. The Vow itself can be read and affirmed at ExtinctionWitness.org
“Now, the sea is lifting above its shore, the harvest is faltering,
and the seasons arrive and depart in disorder.”
Robinson Meyer in A Grave Climate Warning, Buried on Black Friday via The Atlantic
Like humans, the solutions to personal and ecological imbalance are not black and white. Some steps must be taken simultaneously to avoid greater harm than good as a result. The same solutions vary according to the individual and community.
Socioeconomic pressures that perpetuate harms can be extreme at every level of engagement. Compassion, understanding, cooperation, and patience are integral to the sound, successful implementation of every solution.
There are many reasons why humans with enough information about the greenhouse effect have not changed their personal behavior and/or their business activity in response.
“We don't have a right to ask whether we're going to succeed or not.
The only question we have a right to ask is what's the right thing to do?”
Wendell Berry in a 2013 interview with Bill Moyers
Setting aside controversy and judgment of inaction, vow signatories embrace the uncertainty of whether it’s possible to help facilitate the drawdown of greenhouse gasses in time to ease the balance and commit themselves to act with kindness and compassion toward self and other in peace toward common vitality.
Given what and who has been long valued, money is no longer near a true measure of wealth. Just because an individual can afford to purchase a service or an item, does not mean that the community can afford the exchange. This is true whether shopping at a dollar store or yacht dealer. When it comes to associated harms, the lowest priced items can be among the greatest culprits.
“There is a lot of goodwill ... but the window for action is narrowing.
We need higher levels of political and citizen will”
Cristiana Pasca P, Executive Secretary of the UN Biodiversity Convention
While the present moment is incredibly bleak for multitudes and no one can forecast the future today's child may know, regenerative socioeconomic practices and helpful technologies are on the rise like the ocean.
Because, in fact, those with ability and agency have no choice but to try and drawdown current levels of greenhouse gasses if the intention is survival.
“…the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it increased Earth’s temperature to a point 7°C higher than it is today, and increased sea levels 23 meters above current level.
Hence, we are now only waiting for the planet to catch up to what we’ve done…”
Dahr Jamail in AS THE BIOSPHERE DIES, SO DO WE via Buckminster Fuller Institute
How this drawdown is accomplished will not only determine who and how many survive, but whether that survival is a continuation of present-day inequalities and abuses—degenerative—or a return to compassionate socioeconomic policies and practices—generative. The difference determined by a willingness to share if that means sacrifice and whether or not the emphasis is on reviving biodiversity as emissions are reduced.
Many of the solutions for reversing global warming and reviving biodiversity are already in play and simply require scaling up.
Efficiency and voluntary simplicity - avoiding waste and reducing overall energy and material consumption – go further and faster toward the goal of reversing global warming and reviving biodiversity than does a shift to 'alternative' energy sources and materials. Particularly if that shift to alternatives involves continued extreme inequality, forced productivity, and extravagant conveniences that encourage indulgence and ill health.
Many are the simple solutions, such as stopping the production of absolutely unnecessary stuff and sharing common ground and tools, including vehicles. Solutions that save money and means and/or require little to zero financial investment while reducing waste and fostering social cohesion.
Many are the solutions that provide healthy (meaningful) work, such as traditional highly-skilled trades and regenerative agriculture—land and sea.
Many are the solutions already in play and ‘in the wings’ that simply require investment for large scale, decentralized, locally appropriate implementation.
First of all these solutions is women’s (and girl’s) control over their own bodies, education, and other means, and their inclusion in decision making for their children and communities.
“We already have the facts
and the solutions.
All we have to do is wake up
And why should we be studying
for a future that soon
will be no more.
When no one is doing anything
whatsoever to save that future?
Are we [children] even
on your list of priorities?”
Greta Thunberg, 15 year old climate activist with Asperger’s
“Although solutions lay partly in laws,
no power will match … individuals in large numbers who change their everyday choices and reduce the harm they cause.”
David Buckel in his suicide note
Like prominent LGBTQ lawyer and community compost innovator David Buckel, who self-immolated April 14, 2018 as a “reflection of what we are doing to ourselves” by continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels, Greta is doing her best to get a message across to anyone listening with specific attention to those who are writing and upholding socioeconomic policy.
Greta and David’s sacrifices both in solidarity with and for all children who now look to their elders for answers in the way of effective and efficient actions.
Greta’s action (inspired by the school strike among students and teachers demanding improved gun control and mental wellness programs) is catching among her peers and echoes those young in years who demand recognition of the right to a healthy atmosphere for present and future generations.
While he expressed agreement with the need for sound policy, David’s self-immolation specifically pointed to the importance of everyone’s everyday choices or daily acts.
“ …Unfortunately, the Brazilian people, elite and masses alike, were generally unprepared to evaluate the transition critically; and so tossed about by the force of the contending contradictions, they began to fall into sectarian positions instead of opting for radical solutions.”
Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness, 1973
Vow 2 Act signatories vow to be a different level of communication by thought, word, and all other actions. This, a true “radicalization” of the individual toward truly radical solutions to collective ills—a devotion rebellion in the purest sense. Rebellion as honesty, compassion, and kindness.
Rebellion as the ability to see one’s own propensity for ignorance and refrain from ignorance. To see one’s own propensity for greed and refrain from greed. To see one’s own propensity for hatred and refrain from hatred.
Rebellion as the ability to practice compassion toward oneself and all others by thought, word, and hand that every expression and exchange display and promote compassion with kindness.
Just as every human can contribute to relational ills, every human can contribute to relational cures. Yet, exchange of goods and services in the market involves moral decision making for those with ability and agency - freedom of choice.
While the words used and stories told matter, actions are effective according to the intention that forms the basis of the actions (OWN). Selfish intent, naturally born of insecurity, yields actual insecurity.
The results of brutal competition complicated by materialism are in. Whether or not we personally experience scarcity, this is a globally scarce moment that calls for compassionate intention, frugality, efficiency, and ingenuity.
Someone living in New York, where over 11,000 children under the age of 6 live in the shelter system, need not visit Yemen or Ghana to see the child’s deprivation brought by cruel socioeconomic practices generations-old. Practices that truly serve the ‘wealthy’ child no better than the ‘poor’ child.
Thus, grounded in the philosophy of mutual aid, the Vow 2 Act is written and affirmed with understanding that the ecological health crisis is driven by a human health crisis. And the roots of the human health crisis are the spiritual crises of materialism, entitlement, and punitive judgment that harm everyone.
STATS and YEARS
The 2018 World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report shows that populations of undomesticated species declined by 60% between 1970 and 2014. Human population more than doubled during that time - some 7.7 billion humans live in 2018.
Earth Overshoot Day - the day when human consumption of common means in a given year exceeds what can regenerate in that year happened August 1 in 2018, two months earlier than in 2006. Overshoot Day varies by country according to what land area would be required for the entire human population to live the lifestyle of the average human in that country.
The air has changed dramatically since the greenhouse effect was first hypothesized in 1896. “Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide (prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution) were about 280 parts per million by volume (ppm)” (UCR) … “Carbon dioxide levels reached 405 parts per million (ppm) in 2017, a level not seen in 3-5 million years.” (BBC News)
“Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from human activities have come from deforestation.” (Phys.org)
Seventeen of the 18 hottest years in 136 years recorded have occurred since 2001. 2016, the hottest of all. (stats via NASA – Earth’s vital signs)
“The poorest half of the world’s population - 3.5 billion people - is responsible for just 10% of carbon emissions, despite being the most threatened by the catastrophic storms, droughts, and other severe weather shocks linked to climate change.” (OXFAM International, 2015)
ABILITY and AGENCY
The Vow 2 Act focuses on personal behavior change while recognizing that some individuals have greater ability and agency in moral decision making. Thus, their behavior influences the ability and agency of many others to choose and/or enjoy healthy living, compassionate materials and means.
Lasting behavior change is not easy and harder when it goes against the grain of familial and societal norms. So, the Vow 2 Act is offered as community practice and social net. The Vow includes devotion to supporting one another’s efforts to keep the Vow in service to collective vitality.
NON-SPECIFIC and NON-BINDING
In terms of right and wrong - do and don’t do - the Vow 2 Act summons precaution and is non-binding and non-specific accounting for:
ubiquitous chemical contamination that now compromises everyone’s health
differences in dietary needs according to one’s personal constitution, current health status, location, and activity
less than ideal circumstances stemming from generations of unfortunate socioeconomic practice
varied roles and responsibilities according to one’s skills and calling
life is for learning. there’s always more to know and someone who knows more
intention makes all the difference
The Vow 2 Act is a commitment to do what we can do because and while we can.
Plenty, when it exists, is derived from a common plenty.
Sharing in scarce times yields peace of mind - the one thing worth striving for.
MODELING HELPFUL BEHAVIOR
One can and ought to model the honesty, fairness, unconditional love, and compassion that help children thrive in bleak hours as in hours of plenty.
One can and ought to learn and show others how to process challenging emotions and resolve conflicts of interest peacefully. Rather than pointing fingers at others, one ought to model compassion, honesty, understanding, and accountability.
Adults can and ought to show CHILDREN that they ALL are now and will always be as they ought to have always been the answer to WHY?
With thanks for all you are and do, please read and affirm the Vow 2 Act.
A version of this introduction and the VOW 2 ACT is published in the ‘What can be done?’ section of Unpsychology Magazine Climate Minds Anthology, available free for download.