The Time is Now

School is ending, summer beginning, and that annual ritual of graduation is upon us. My little guy just finished kindergarten so I feel all reflective at the thought that he is embarking on something bigger, but then again, aren't we all? In no time in the past three decades of my life have I felt this something bigger - not when I graduated high school or even college or even after receiving my Masters in Environmental Law. Yes, I embarked on continued learning and then an environmental career, but the momentum just wasn't there. When I voiced concern over polar bear habitat or the lack of adequate recycling initiatives or corporate lobbying power to diminish actual environmental law on the books, I wasn't taken too seriously. My voice was well heard by my colleagues, we were a chorus of voices all fighting for the same hope, and there was an even bigger chorus across the world, years ahead of those of us in the states. But, it wasn't breaking news, and it was just considered "those environmentalists" by the majority of Americans.

Environmentalism has become one of those polar issues that divides right v. left, republican v. democrat, corporate v. crazy hippies. Yet, it is not a polar issue at all, it is survival. No one can refute the fact that we are completely dependent on this earth that supports us and sustains life as we know it. We kind of need clean air and water and food to live, right? So why then do most Americans have a difficult time prioritizing it that way? If there is a drought and farms across the midwest don't produce enough corn and the grocery stores all of a sudden don't have your favorite cereal, then you may get upset. If there are floods that wipe out all crops across the country and no store can carry any food, then you might starve. Of course the first scenario has already happened, and the latter may seem extreme, but it is not out of the question. The point isn't to use a scare tactic, as some environmentalists have used over the years inadequately, but to emphasize that our lives depend on the weather in other parts of the world, our lives are so interconnected that we have to prioritize the environment as an issue central to our daily lives, just as health care or the economy (and those issues I would argue, as well, are interconnected with the health of our environment).

But despite the continued polarization by some, there is finally hope on the horizon. We now have a president in office that truly cares about the health of our planet and sees the change to renewable energy as essential to our sustainability as well as a benefit to our failing economy. I am not sure he will go as far as I think we need to protect our planet and all that ails us in the process, but at least there is a ray of hope. And unlike over the past three decades, there is finally enough public attention to ignite and flame the hard work of so many that have been fighting for this change for a long time.

I was moved by the following words from Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest, in a commencement address to the University of Portland's Class of 2009, and as we sweep from school to the summer months, I just hope that the momentum continues, for we are all just part of this season and what you are doing everyday to create positive change really does matter.

"Let's begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil, or air, don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food-but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring... And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

...This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn't stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn't ask for a better boss.The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it."

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Angela MalsonComment