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The Choice for a Sustainable World

An excerpt from the writings of
Joanna Macy

We can choose life.  Dire predictions notwithstanding, we can still act to ensure a livable world.  It is crucial that we know this: we can meet our needs without destroying our life-support system.  We have the technical knowledge and the means of communication to do that.  We have the savvy and the resources to grow sufficient food, ensure clean air and water, and generate the energy we require through solar power, wind and biomass.  If we have the will, we have the means to control human population, to dismantle weapons and deflect wars, and give everyone a voice in democratic self-governance.

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,” according to Lester Brown of Worldwatch 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 in all countries and walks of life are discovering, this adventure elicits more courage and enlivening solidarity than any military campaign.  From high school students restoring stream for salmon spawning, to inner city neighbors creating community gardens on vacant lots, from forest activists sitting in trees to delay logging until environmental impact studies are done, to windmill engineers bringing their technology to energy-hungry regions – countless groups are organizing, learning, 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 Life-sustaining Society.  When people of the future look back at this historical moment, they will see, perhaps more clearly than we can now, how revolutionary it is.  They may well call it the time of the Great Turning.

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

Let us borrow the perspective of future generations and, in that larger context of time, look at how this Great Turning is gaining momentum today, through the choices of countless individuals and groups.  We can see that it is happening simultaneously in three dimensions that are mutually reinforcing.  These are 1) actions to slow the damage to the earth and its beings; 2) analysis of structural causes and creation of structural alternatives; and 3) a fundamental shift in worldview and values.  Many of us are engaged in all three, each of which is necessary to the creation of a sustainable civilization…

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The Canary Club is an educational advisory group with a team of medical advisors headed by Richard Shames, M.D.