Excerpt | Coming Back to Life

by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown

We Can Still Opt for a Life-Sustaining World

Excerpted from Chapter OneComingBacktoLife~CatFW

We can choose life. Even as we face global climate disruption, world-encompassing nuclear contamination, hydro-fracking, mountaintop removal mining, tar sands extraction, deep sea drilling, and the genetic engineering of our food supply, we can still choose life. We can still act for the sake of a livable world.

It is crucial that we know this: we can meet our needs without destroying our life-support system. We have the scientific knowledge and the technical means to do that. We have the savvy and the resources to grow sufficient quantities of real, unaltered food. We know how to protect clean air and water. We can generate the energy we require through solar power, wind, tides, algae, and fungi. We have birth control methods to stop the growth and eventually reduce human population. We have the technical and social mechanisms to dismantle weapons, deflect wars, and give everyone a voice in democratic self-governance. We can exercise our moral imagination to bring our lifestyles and consumption into harmony with the living systems of Earth. All we need is the collective will.

To choose life means to build a life-sustaining society. “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without jeopardizing the prospects of future generations,2 says Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute. In contrast to the Industrial Growth Society, a Life-Sustaining Society operates within the carrying capacity of its life-support system, regional and planetary, both in the resources it consumes and the wastes it produces.

To choose life in this planet time is a mighty adventure. As people everywhere are discovering, this adventure ignites more courage and solidarity than any military campaign. From high school students restoring streams for salmon spawning to inner city neighbors creating community gardens on vacant lots, from First Nations peoples blocking oil production and pipelines on their ancestral lands to village women bringing solar and water purifying technologies to their communities, numberless people are organizing, learning, and taking action. This multifaceted human activity on behalf of life may not make today’s headlines or newscasts, but to our progeny it will matter more than anything else we do. For if there is to be a livable world for those who come after us, it will be because we have managed to make the transition from the Industrial Growth Society to a LifeSustaining Society. When people of the future look back at this historical moment, they will see more clearly than we can now how revolutionary it is. Perhaps they’ll call it the time of the Great Turning.3

They will recognize it as epochal. While the agricultural revolution took centuries and the industrial revolution took generations, this ecological revolution has to happen within a matter of years. It also has to be conscious, involving not only the political economy, but the habits, values, and understandings that foster it.

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