“As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.” – Marianne Williamson
After nearly three decades as an eco-activist and attorney fighting for public lands, wildlife and climate sanity, I ultimately concluded that something was fundamentally wrong with the environmental movement in the United States. Our very existence as a species, along with the biological diversity of all life on earth, depends on finding another approach to the systemic human problem underlying the climate crisis – and soon.
For my part, I decided to return to school to study ecopsychology, which fundamentally revises psychology in terms of the human-nature relationship, and actively seeks to heal society in the service of life. What follows is my best attempt to instigate the kind of social rebellion that actually has the potential to avert ecocatastrophe by restoring some semblance of natural balance in the world.
Listen: When we split the atom, asserting dominion over the awesome creative and destructive forces of nature (under extreme duress, of course), we unwittingly split humanity off from nature. Something fundamental ruptured. As lead scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer recalled the visceral response of the Trinity test’s witnesses in 1945: “We knew the world would not be the same.” He could not have been more prescient. While beholding the radiant mushrooming cloud, Oppenheimer famously called to mind an ominous passage from Hindu scripture attributed to the creator/destroyer god Shiva: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
We have proven to be lousy gods, and now the whole world is paying the price.
Many scientists today pinpoint that exact moment in time as the end of the 11,000-year-long ascendance of human civilization, the Holocene Age, and the beginning of the Anthropocene Age, marked by our exertion of the kind of power over nature that had previously been the province of gods. Acting out this implicit fissure with the natural world that had always sustained us, we Americans set about immediately creating an artificial, quite unnatural world we called “suburbia.” As if recognizing subconsciously that we had fallen asleep, we called this new life the “American dream.” We replaced natural materials with plastic; mom-and-pop grocers, butchers and bakers closely tied to our communities with fancy new supermarkets; and we even replaced the most natural and formative connection of all, a mother’s breast, with plastic nipples and formulas deemed superior to a mother’s milk.
But perhaps most significantly of all, in light of our present predicament, we set about replacing the family farmers – the lifeblood of the United States’ pre-war culture, who served the function of maintaining our closest remaining connection to the earth, who represented the culmination of agriculture developed throughout the long course of the Holocene Age, with industrial monoculture and factory farms heavily dependent upon a chemical soup of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, steroids and growth hormones. “Better living through chemistry,” we were told. Except that it wasn’t, at least not for long.
The Orwellian oligarchy has done a masterful job of convincing us that we are powerless.
We have proven to be lousy gods, and now the whole world is paying the price, with species extinction, dying oceans and the dire prospect of an irreversible unravelling of our complex life support system that threatens another “Great Dying” like the one that wiped out 95 percent of all species 250 million years ago, requiring 10 million years for earth to regenerate. Since our clueless political leaders and their corporate controllers are not about to sacrifice their short-term interests in profits and re-election to the long-term interests of future generations and the web of life itself, it is up to the masses to revolt.
We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union between humans and nature . . .
But there is a problem here, as well. The Orwellian oligarchy has done a masterful job of convincing us that we are powerless, reducing us to despair and symbolic political actions in pursuit of wholly inadequate, piecemeal changes where science and nature demand radical, systemic reforms. The result is a cultural malaise in which we “medicate” our natural depression with OCDD: obsessive compulsive distraction disorder. And, of course, the plutocrats are more than happy to supply us with a seductive cornucopia of distractive electronic suppressants and copious amounts of antidepressants and opioids to numb our spiritual pain.
The reason we are losing this autocratic game, and losing the world in the process, is that we are playing by their rules. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our power is limited to voting for the lesser of corporate-sponsored evils, marching in the streets and feebly petitioning our broken political institutions for crumbs of incremental change. Which is to say, no power at all – trickle-down politics. To pull the curtain back and reveal our naked emperors, we must stop thinking within the dark political box by which they’ve disenfranchised us. We must recognize our most effective powers.
There are two symbiotic powers in particular that our dark overlords have ceded to us that have explosive potential that we’ve barely begun to appreciate. If we rouse ourselves from the Matrix-like slumber of the American dream long enough to recognize the transformative potential of human nature, then we can effectively wield these latent powers to reconnect ourselves to the natural world in a way that will forcibly restructure human society – without the need for corporate political reform.
Sound too good to be true? Follow me here.
This food rebellion holds great promise for solving our climate crisis, even to the point of reversing carbon dioxide emissions.
The first power has to do with what makes us human, the one common activity that we have the most sovereign power over and that the oligarchs have somehow managed to subvert over time. This is the power of choosing how and what we put into our mouths. To recover our lost connection to the natural world, to wrest control over nature herself away from those who have relentlessly abused her and would now destroy her for personal gain, we must recognize the virtually unlimited political power of eating natural foods – and conversely, the powerlessness inherent in eating unwholesome, crap food. In other words, we must actually wield wisely the very consumer power that has for decades now been harnessed by corporations to consume the very planet that sustains us.
Our experiment in chemical monoculture, like the American dream itself, has turned into a planetary nightmare.
Let’s stop pretending we have no control over our food choices. Or that these choices are personal and not political. Food is POWER! Eating was once considered such a magical and important human activity as to deserve its own Goddess – Edesia, the divine spirit of feasting. We plebes now need to resurrect this potent Goddess from the soiled depths of our own Mother Earth. The verb edes can also mean “to spend money on food,” which is how we can invoke our connection to Edesia and elicit her aid in our struggle against nefarious Mammon, the dark prince of greed who tyrannizes our global economy.
The corporate media will not cover it, but this silent revolution has already begun. There is a global food rebellion underway, and it is changing the way people relate to the natural world, reconnecting us to the living planet and undermining the evil idea that nature is a commodity to be possessed and consumed – even if it entails removing mountaintops, mowing down rain forests, plundering the Arctic or poisoning precious groundwater reserves. Quite unlike endless corporate-sponsored climate summits, which have yielding nothing but status quo regress for two decades now, this food rebellion holds great promise for solving our climate crisis, even to the point of reversing carbon dioxide emissions.
Our experiment in chemical monoculture, like the American dream itself, has turned into a planetary nightmare. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops in this way. And it’s not just fattening us up for slaughter, either. As Allison Wilson of the Bioscience Resource Project notes, this “lethal” form of agriculture “is causing the extinction of thousands of species worldwide,” threatening the birds and the bees, bats and butterflies, and all amphibians with extermination. And as the world’s leading oceanographer, Sylvia Earl warns in the documentary Mission Blue, our oceans are dying. If Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was our wake-up call, this is our tsunami siren.
Now, simply switch from this failed, civilization-ending agribusiness model to organic farming with natural soil, and we produce more food per acre, remove the poisons from our food chain, and the soil itself regenerates. Restorative organic agriculture science has proven the following in studies provided to (and ignored by) the US Congress:
• If all current croplands switched to regenerative organic agriculture, more than 40 percent of current (excessive) annual carbon emissions would be absorbed by the soil.
• If all pasturelands adopted the regenerative model, another 71 percent of atmospheric carbon would be captured by soil uptake.
• 71 percent + 40 percent = 111 percent, meaning that agriculture would reverse climate change rather than be its principal cause. (1)
The factory-farmed livestock industry . . . consumes a third of all freshwater, occupy nearly half of all arable land and is the leading cause of species extinction, water pollution, habitat destruction and ocean dead zones.
Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, points to the conclusions of a four-year international assessment by over 400 experts: Agriculture “can serve life only if it is regarded as a culture of healthy relationships, both in the field – among soil organisms, insects, animals, plants, water, sun – and in the human communities it supports.” This is the province of agroecology – the study of the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment within agricultural systems. If civilization is going to survive the climate crisis, it is up to human communities to do our part in this culture of life-sustaining food.
The factory-farmed livestock industry is directly opposed to this culture of healthy relationships. It now supplies 95 percent of all our meat, utilizing intensive chemical and antibiotic inputs that are bad for us, and cruel concentration camp conditions that are an abomination for animals. It is so unspeakably bad that industry’s politicians are scrambling to adopt “ag-gag” laws that make it a crime to reveal accurate images of this ongoing holocaust. These merchants of misery are responsible for over half of all greenhouse gases and 90 percent of rainforest destruction. They also consume a third of all freshwater, occupy nearly half of all arable land and are the leading cause of species extinction, water pollution, habitat destruction and ocean dead zones. (2)
Let’s be clear. When we eat meat without knowing where it comes from, we are not just shortening our life; we are mercilessly devouring the planet. Still “loving it?”
The Arab Spring uprising was ignited by a Tunisian fruit vendor’s self-immolation, fueled by high food prices and spread by social media to the point of rebellion. This followed the catastrophic 2011 to 2012 droughts in the Russian, Australian and American breadbaskets, driving grain prices up worldwide and precipitating food riots. Of course, as the means chosen for revolt was to gather in public squares, it was not difficult for totalitarian governments to brutally suppress that rebellion.
Obama . . . turned out to be the climate equivalent of an anti-Christ, turning the United States into the No. 1 producer of oil and gas, opening up the Arctic and Atlantic Coast to drilling, and driving a stake through the heart of the climate treaty process.
The American Spring, coming from a place of relative privilege rather than abject poverty, from conscience rather than desperation, requires a different kind of food movement. It is blossoming from increasing health concerns, compassion for animals and a growing sense of food sovereignty. Simply stated, more and more of us are becoming mad as hell, and we’re not taking it anymore. The seeds and sprouts of this growing movement are visible all over the country, with urban farming, permaculture, community gardens, farmers markets, slow food, CSAs, food co-ops, local seed banks and even a successful, urban-driven Occupy Farms movement in California. These sprouting cultural seeds are being watered by truly subversive, educational documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, Food Matters and Small Scale Farmers Cool the Planet, to name just a few. But for these dispersed local movements to coalesce into a national food rebellion, some kind of natural fertilizer will need to be added.
This is a role climate activists can ably fill, if we could just get over our stalking obsession with bought-and-paid-for political institutions. We really thought that Obama was going to be our climate savior, but he turned out to be the climate equivalent of an anti-Christ, turning the United States into the No. 1 producer of oil and gas, opening up the Arctic and Atlantic Coast to drilling, and driving a stake through the heart of the climate treaty process. While climate activists see the Paris talks this year as the last chance for salvation, Obama’s chief climate emissary, Todd Stern, is already busy “managing expectations” for Paris, cautioning people in advance not to judge it by results! Science tells us we have to leave fossil fuels in the ground, but this will never be acceptable to industry or politicians. Opening the Arctic up to drilling even as the permafrost thaws, releasing vast reserves of carbon, leaves no doubt as to plutocratic intentions. It’s time to change our tactics.
One of my favorite global social commentators, the Australian astrologer Ang Stoic, recently observed that the emergence of “rising protest groups and movements, particularly using social media to rally causes and to effect massive sociological changes, has clearly become the new phenomenon in world politics … Channels that facilitate a collective voice in areas of humanitarian, socio-political, economical, ecological and psycho-spiritual themes are rapidly spreading to challenge, corrupt and defray traditionally narrow pathways of current ‘patriarchal’ rule.” The question, of course, is how to harness this new collective power, and to what ends.
Channeling people en masse into the streets and onto CNN either sets them up for conflict with militarized corporate police or results in a momentary blip in the ephemeral collective consciousness. And if the intention is to change the minds of the amoral industrial-military-political-media complex, it is Pollyannaish as well. But let us ask ourselves this: If we organized ourselves en masse via social media to protest with our food choices, making the “great sacrifice” of choosing healthy organic produce over carcinogenic commercial produce and boycotting processed Franken-foods, like our European brothers and sisters have done; if we were to boycott beef, factory-farmed pork and poultry, and industrially harvested fish – please note, this is not the same as asking people to become vegan or vegetarian, as there are alternatives, including wild game and organically produced meats – what exactly could the corporations and politicians do to us? Send their security goons into the supermarkets? Hire scab consumers?? Pass laws that prevent us from eating healthy foods?
How hard would this be? According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans already seek out organic foods in their diets! (3) 45 percent! And a 2013 Public Policy Polling survey surprisingly found that 13 percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarian, with over half of those calling themselves vegan! This is a rebellion in the making, but nobody is tapping into it.
If we succeeded in changing the food habits of most Americans over the next decade, what would result? It’s a question of demand and supply. Already, as a direct response to the growing demand for fresh, healthy foods, the numbers of small family farms have grown by over 20,000 nationwide. Over time, giant agribusiness would be forced by decreasing demand to relinquish more land to organic producers; family farms would propagate exponentially; farmer’s markets would grow and reconnect communities to the earth; the prices would come down, permitting expansion of the organic produce markets into poorer urban areas, and our leaders would follow or get out of the way.
“The food movement’s power is connection itself.”
And if we do not succeed in changing the food habits of Americans, guess what? It won’t matter what kind of incremental progress we make in the energy sectors. If we shut down every coal-fired power plant, all fracking and all means of transportation over that same period of time, but do nothing to change our diets, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise, threatening another Great Dying and unimaginable, unnecessary human misery. So this is not just our best hope; it is our only realistic hope. Let’s stop wasting so much energy on trying to reform our broken and, after Citizens United, hopelessly undemocratic, corporate political system, and start devoting all that energy instead to something that holds the promise of a viable, sustainable and healthy future for us all.
Frances Lappé sums it up this way: “The food movement’s power is connection itself. Corporatism distances us from one another, from the earth – and even from our own bodies, tricking them to crave that which destroys them – while the food movement celebrates our reconnection” to each other and the natural world. By utilizing the interconnectivity of social media, this movement has the potential to become a powerful source of social and “political” transformation between now and 2020 – the earliest point in time when a climate treaty can take effect.
At the founding of our country, Thomas Paine said, “Tyranny like hell is not easily conquered yet we have this consolation with us, the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” In this spirit of “sunshine patriotism,” let us now answer the earth’s call and assert our great power:
We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union between humans and nature, establish Climate Sanity, insure Domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense of our Mother, promote general Health & Well Being, and secure the Blessings of Human Nature for ourselves, our Children, and all Species, do declare and establish this Natural Convention for the United Peoples of Planet Earth. We demand by our collective power healthy produce grown in healthy soil by family farmers, and we pledge to refrain from eating unhealthy meat and dairy products from inhumane factory farms that are directly responsible for most of our planet’s ills.
In the name of Edesia, who ensures that feasts go well and that the food is excellent, let the insurrection begin tonight, at your dinner table. Bon appetit! Viva la revolucion!
3. The margin of sampling error for this survey is plus or minus 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.