To tell the truth


Some gurus teach that if we think positively, we can achieve anything we want. Books, seminars and programs have been sold to people who want to improve their lot in life through some version of that theme. As the basis for hope, positive thinking is necessary; however, it is not enough. Desperate hopes notwithstanding, there are no high-tech solutions to our predicament, only wishful thinking. The tools and thinking that got us into our mess are incapable of getting us out.

Climate scientists and activists who focus only on greenhouse-gas emissions are doing us all an injustice, for they are only telling part of the story. Greenhouse gases are a symptom, and by focusing intently on the symptom they are ignoring the root causes. Those probably began over 200 years ago with exploitive, extractive and exponentially growing industrialization. If global warming were solved tomorrow, we would still be left with other catastrophic means to extinguish most life forms in short order. We cannot change our course by addressing separate issues; we must find a way to address the root causes. We could start by admitting that the battle against greenhouse-gas emissions, as we have currently framed it, is over. We have lost. 

The greenhouse effects we see today are the result of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide emitted sometime before 1980. It’s clear that several phenomena and tipping points are amplifying cycles of melting ice and glaciers, melting tundra and other methane sources, and increasing ocean acidification. Feedback loops will continue creating ecological chaos even if we were to reduce future human emissions to zero. New and improved light bulbs, Priuses and Leafs, solar panels and wind turbines will only have a negligible effect. We must find the courage to say so.

We all know that endless growth is impossible on our finite planet. Economic collapse is all but certain and ecological collapse is likely. Because of our society’s obsession with growth, its demise is completely predictable. There are no “free market” or “economic” solutions to the genocide and ecocide we are witnessing. And since corporations are designed to pursue economic growth, corporate social responsibility is a myth. The only truly responsible act that corporations could now undertake would be to dissolve themselves, which of course they would never willingly do.

There’s no bargaining with the forces of nature. We can either plan for a radical transition or the physical forces of nature will do it for us. If our leaders don’t begin telling the truth, no amount of positive thinking will help. And, contrary to mainstream climate-activist opinion, the only way to tell the truth is to tell it plainly and directly. We must insist on “System Change, Not Climate Change” as many demonstrators have chanted. 

It’s offensive to assume that people can’t handle the truth and that the truth must be made more palatable. In our hearts we all know things are horribly wrong. Continuing our collective denial wastes energy and is emotionally exhausting. Pretending that we can save our current way of life sends us in many directions, leading us hopelessly astray. The sooner we embrace the truth, the sooner we can begin the real work.

Any planning that is based on a false premise, such as the oft-stated refrain that reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions will forestall the worst effects of global warming, will just yield more false solutions—solutions that will make us feel better as we stumble toward the end and that will ultimately make no difference whatsoever. 

The reason for clearly stating our root problems is to clarify the questions, confusions and unknowns. An honest, widely accepted problem statement could actually lead to some meaningful answers. Important creative thinking would happen if we were to work collectively on developing such a statement. Yet this may be the hardest task we humans have ever faced. 

It surely involves rediscovering a much simpler way of living on earth. We must live locally, in harmony with nature, obtaining what we need from within walking, biking, sailing or animal-riding distances. Future technologies must be locally based, using local resources and accessible tools that are renewable and non-toxic. We have a great deal of rethinking to do, learning from our hunter-gatherer forebears who survived for a couple hundred thousand years in ways that we, with our civilized blinders, can barely imagine. We cannot expect to exist apart from nature. The evidence is ample and overwhelming; all we have to do is be brave enough to look at it honestly.  

Time is running short, but the resilience of this blue sphere, in a vast universe, can still inspire and nourish us, if we only give it a chance. Our overriding obligation is to part the cultural veil, at long last, and tell the truth. Transition West Marin’s Inner Transition Group will hold its second meeting in Point Reyes on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. to help each other move forward with such thinking. Contact Bing Gong at (415) 663.1380 or for details.


Bernie Stephan, an Inverness resident, is the Radical Realtor at Eco Realty and co-host with Bing Gong of KWMR’s Post Carbon Radio.