Earth Island Reports
Sustainable World Coalition
We’re All in this Together
Civilization as we know it is at great risk. As the recent assessment by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes abundantly clear, climate change alone represents an accelerating, systemic slide into a planet that will be unrecognizable in a few decades.
Given this fact, plus the other enormous environmental challenges we currently face – many of which are appearing more often in mainstream media – one would think we’d be gaining the traction across the planet to address them successfully.
But that’s not the case.
While temperatures threaten to hurtle past the two-degree Celsius increase that scientists agree will result in catastrophic change, we continue to dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and raze the rainforests as if there were no tomorrow. Why does humankind continue to behave this way?
Now that we’ve had a chance to observe this phenomenon, we’ve come to understand some of the psychological barriers to the response so desperately needed. We know that the human brain is wired to respond to the personal and immediate threat of, say, a saber-toothed tiger attack, rather than a longer-term, global threat such as climate change. Like the proverbial frog in the warming water pot, we do not respond to slow, incremental changes even when they become life-threatening to us.
Dramatic, planet-wide changes are not part of the human experience, so the enormity of the danger to our children and grandchildren is not easily grasped. And when we do understand it, many of us tune it out as too immense and scary for us individually to do anything about.
At the Sustainable World Coalition we have made these questions our central focus: Given these psychological barriers, how can we penetrate this veil of denial? What story can portray our stark predicament in a way that everyone can recognize – and motivate and inspire them to get engaged in solutions?
The standard approach of environmental activists thus far, the “story” they tell, has fallen far short of motivating or inspiring on the scale that is needed. In response, we are bringing together sustainability and social justice leaders to co-create a new story that will crack the code and stimulate a shift in consciousness – the kind of shift that led to the abolition of slavery and voting rights for women.
Human history has been characterized by identity groups – tribes, clans, nations – all competing for survival and resources, facing off against each other and the rest of the world. With the advent of modern modes of communication, most notably the Internet, we’re now realizing that we are all related as a planetary family – related through genes as well as through our common basic needs and aspirations.
Thinking of, and relating to, each other as kin changes everything. For example, it would make it unacceptable for actions taken by the United States to be determined solely by “our strategic interests,” instead of on the basis of what would be the best course of action for all concerned. The idea, or meme, that we are a planetary family is taking root around the world, but still only in a fraction of the global population. Our survival depends on our effectiveness at spreading this new awareness quickly and on a large scale.
To help inspire the general public with this new story and suggest ways people can engage in solution-oriented actions, the Sustainable World Coalition, along with The Shift Network, sponsors a major virtual event each year – the Spring of Sustainability.
For the first time this year, Spring of Sustainability (SoS) will kick off with a 12-hour international webcast on Earth Day, April 22. It will be followed by a series of nine free week-long programs with a specific focus. The overarching theme for this year’s program is “The New Story: A Planetary Family on the Living Earth.” This context will be explored in depth during the first week of the 2014 SoS program. It will then be woven into the subject themes of the week-long events that follow – events that will explore solutions like equitable food systems, biodiversity protection, building local sustainable economies, global access to clean water, and reversing corporate control of our economic and political systems.
For details and to register for the event, visit: www.springofsustainablity.com
The 12-hour Earth Day Telesummit on April 22 will feature presentations by renowned sustainability leaders, live panels with audience Q&A, some short documentary videos, and music and arts with a purpose. The week-long themes will feature interactive, educational and action-oriented programs, offered in collaboration with our partner organizations that have expertise in each of the issues covered.
Spring of Sustainability is offered free to the global community. Real-time participation is by phone or the Web, and includes online forums for conversation and action tracking. We invite the Earth Island community to join in for this unique experience through which, collectively, we can create a meaningful and inspiring new story for ourselves and our world.
—Vinit Allen and Steve Motenko