To flourish as a planet and as a species in the next thousand years, what do we need to do today?
This was the question Collectief Walden asked me to reflect on during the Warming Up Festival in October 2021. The following piece came out of my explorations:
I don’t know. We can’t control what the effects of our actions today will be in a thousand years. First and foremost, we (with ‘we’ I refer to western society) need to give up some of our core beliefs: that we can control the planet and that humans are superior to other beings.
To get to the core of the question, I will deconstruct it, leaving the ‘what’ part until the end. Let’s start with the question:
Who is ‘we’?
In a world (I mean the Western capitalist world we live in) constructed upon separations and inequalities between the separated parts, race, gender, income, access to education, etc, the word ‘we’ is not self-evident. Who is ‘we’? We, the 30 people attending this event tonight? The ones that can afford 35 euros to be here? We, the ones that can eat a three course menu and drink wine? We are part of the wealthiest 10 percent (and I dare to say, 1%) of the world’s population responsible for over half of its greenhouse gas emissions.
When is today?
I will extend the timeframe of ‘today’ to include the time between today and 2027. In 2018, The IPCC told the world that we had one decade to limit global warming to 1,5 degree. Three years later, not much has changed.
Today, we live in neoliberal capitalism. I’m not going to delve into that. But what is important to mention is that it is a system in which governments serve the interests of corporations above the interests of all life on the planet. The political and economic structures of today are intertwined with giant corporations, and that intertwining is causing the climate crisis. That is what colours our ‘today’.
One thousand years
In 1000 years we will be in the ‘not yet’. Civilization as we know it, as we practise it today, will definitely be gone in 1000 years. And, we don’t know if we are facing the 6th mass extinction or another form of mass extinction of many species and cultures on the planet. In any case, the world will look very different from how it does now. The planet will ultimately ‘flourish’, with or without us, but I think it will take more than a thousand years for a thriving planet to reemerge.
We cannot control or measure what the consequences of our actions today will be in a thousand years, but I do know that what we do ‘today’ (for the next 7-8 years) will determine whether humanity will continue to exist or not.
What I also know is that we must see ourselves as part of a larger ecosystem in order to thrive as a species. We are part of one big energy stream or life force that flows through all living beings, minerals, bacteria, the food we are eating now, everything around us.
To flourish we must make sure that everything around us also flourishes.
And now back to the ‘what’.
What can we do?
Let’s start by understanding the moment we are living in. It is full of complexities. If a mass extinction is the result of this moment in time, we are the asteroid and the dinosaurs at the same time, as Timothy Morton tells us. Human lifestyles – like this glass of wine – are killing humanity. If we stop drinking this glass of wine, we will still be the asteroid. And that is why this moment is so complicated. Our lifestyle is part of an economic system that allows mega agribusiness to flourish instead of ecological small-scale farmers, a system that allows companies like Shell to flourish instead of small-scale renewable energy cooperatives. This system is an entanglement of governments, multinationals and institutions that support the profits and power of corporations. This system upholds the conditions that created the crisis in the first place.
The biggest confrontation is that, if we individually choose a different lifestyle: imagine we go off-the-grid, we participate in ecological farming projects, we stop eating meat, we give up our cars, we turn off this stove; we will still be the asteroid.
The asteroid is the system in which we live.
The only thing we can and should do is intervene in the asteroid’s course. Or better still, dismantle it.