"Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world with climate patterns that we know and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril." -- James Hansen
"We're screwed!" -- David Letterman
Are we tweeting while Earth burns? Is climate collapse our new collective Titanic? How do we best describe the survival struggle of 7 billion in a way that connects?
The science on global warming is clear and compelling. Earth is in serious climate crisis. That's why many writers have recently upgraded climate change to climate collapse, climate catastrophe, the long emergency. We need a new story to convey the threat.
In a well known Greek myth, the very rich King Midas, who loves gold above all else, is granted his singular wish that everything he touches turn into gold. The gift becomes a curse when his golden touch kills plants, food, and even his daughter, who is turned into a statue. Bereft and repentant, forsaking greed, the king begs for deliverance. His curse is lifted by a wash in the river. All he holds truly precious is restored.
The modern version of the story is about a gold rush called globalization, a monetized world order that commodifies everything and poisons all that it touches: air, water, soil, whales, indigenous cultures, mothers' milk, and babies, now born with a body burden of toxic chemicals. Money, as symbolic reward for goods and services, when elevated above all else, becomes a curse. The symbol turns tyrant and casts a plague on the living. We're currently in the atonement chapter of the tragedy, praying we have time to write a happier ending.
But despite the best efforts of climate scientists and environmentalists to explain the dangers of climate inaction, political response is slow, most people don't get the seriousness of the issue. CO2 emissions aren't falling, they're rising.
Experts use escalating phrases to describe climate change. James Hansen: "the coming climate catastrophe," "our last chance to save humanity;" Gustav Speth: "system failure," "looking into the abyss." Lester Brown writes: "The signs that our civilization is in trouble are multiplying."
That's why we need a new lens and lexicon for conveying climate change as the greatest threat on Earth, a tragedy of epic proportions, especially for the world's young.
Here are the main elements of the new story. The lens is Earth & Child--Child friendly means Earth friendly. The lexicon is a whole-brain "linking language" of systems, not fragments. The frame is climate change as The Crisis, the compound threat to the human future. The story aligns present with future, connecting climate change to kids, health, and behavior so families get that it's about them and their future. Just as the loss of King Midas's daughter melted his gold-worn heart, children may yet move humanity to bathe in a new river. The story's protagonist is the Child, our conscience.
The moral of the new story is undeniable: We must not love money more than children. While there is time, societies must reorder priorities towards supporting life systems--what matters most--not maximizing monetary wealth. Worldwide, social inequities are growing, while our planet's life support systems are failing. The choice is clear: Gaia's gift of life, or the Midas curse.
If our species could be granted one wish, what would that be? Wouldn't it be to lift the Midas curse, reclaim what we have lost and restore our sanity?
Climate change is not one among many issues, it is the crisis, the greatest threat on Earth, the cumulative damage that has no partial remedy. It's best addressed with systems change, beginning with belief systems learned very early. To cut pollution and GHG emissions for good, change personal belief systems. Start young.
To grow Earth stewards, steward the children and youth. This is where the restoration must focus--strategically and morally. Not only do kids get sustainability, they have the most to lose or gain.
With all it portends, the specter of catastrophic climate change may offer our best and last chance to work towards a massive green revolution that stabilizes climate with atmospheric CO2 at 350ppm, the mark science dictates.
The young have the strongest moral claim on climate action. It's their future on the line. And they may hold the key to inspiring an emotional tipping point for critical mass.
We urgently need to embrace social and economic systems that constitute a culture of respect for children and their planetary habitat.
We need a stunning paradigm shift that stabilizes climate by reducing suffering and increasing joy. We may need a youth-led cultural revolution to get there. Sixteen-year-old Alec Loorz of California thinks so: he wants people to live as if the future matters. His "iMatter" climate change campaign plans to rally the world's youth.
In 1990, two words (20 characters) brought down the Soviet Union and the Berlin wall: glasnost and perestroikia--openness and restructuring. What if the enormous convening power of social media gave the existing global disorder a "glasnost & perestroika shakedown" just as unimaginable? Can the abusive globalized money system unravel by people flexing their tech muscle to collectively demand "the right to a future?"
We're in the moral moment. We must thoroughly detoxify our world, cool this planet down, and redesign societies to be systems smart. With utmost compassion, let us steer a course away from icebergs and towards a welcoming shore.
Raffi Cavoukian, C.M., O.B.C., founder and chair of the Centre for Child Honouring, is best known as Raffi--singer, author, children's champion, ecology advocate, and entrepreneur. Member of the Order of Canada, Raffi's honours include the UN Earth Achievement Award, the Global 500 Roll, and two honorary degrees. His renaissance as a systems thinker includes the anthology he co-edited, Child Honouring: How To Turn This World Around (2006) and two recent companion CDs of motivational songs: Resisto Dancing, and Communion. Raffi networks to advance Child Honouring as a universal ethic for creating sustainable peace-making cultures.