When I received notice that the Praxis Peace Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to offering peace education, would be hosting a presentation titled "Facing the Heat: Global Warming, Peak Oil, Economic Collapse," I was conflicted. I wasn't sure if I was up to another power-point session on global warming. In fact, it's quite possible that if I see one more slide of the predicted ocean levels in 2030, I'm going to become one of those people so cynical that the few friends I have left will begin to seriously consider dumping me for someone who isn't such a bummer. But deadline loomed, and so I made the trek to Mill Valley on a recent gorgeous Sunday afternoon to hear Daniel Solnit give his take on climate change, the oil crisis and what he thinks must be done about it.
Solnit is the founder and director of the Institute for Local Economic Democracy, a nonprofit leading the transition to local sustainability, the campaign coordinator for GE-Free Sonoma County and the lead organizer for the Green Party of California. He is knowledgeable, equipped and ready to tell me what I don't want to hear.
I arrive half an hour late as usual, and pick a seat in the back behind about 20 other people who are there to hear the bitter truth. Solnit's presentation is fast-paced, gripping and absolutely devastating. As he speeds through slide after slide, covering everything from the effects of factory farming to the power of corporate globalization, I take as many notes as I can in an attempt to document, at least quasi-accurately, what it is, exactly, we are up against.
From what I can glean from Solnit's rapid-fire presentation, we have roughly 10 years to build an alternative to our current, unsustainable system, and 20 years, should we fail to do so, before we hit the earth's tipping point. The main tipping points are the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, the Amazon rain forest and the ocean floor. When the North Atlantic Current, warmed by the melting ice sheets, begins to wreak havoc on our weather patterns, the massive amounts of carbon sequestered in the Amazon rain forest and the ocean floor will be released into the atmosphere.
Here's the fun part. According to Solnit, unless the United States reduces its CO2 emissions by 94 percent by 2030—that's just 22 years—we will not be able to avoid the tipping point. The entire world needs to reduce by 80 percent to 90 percent, but the United States remains the leading offender. Once the tipping point is reached, the planet will be decimated by climate change—drought, ravaging storms, etc.—and there will be no way to save us.
This is an issue, Solnit stresses, not of overpopulation, but of over-consumption. If everyone on the planet consumed as much as we do, we would need five and a half earths to sustain us. We are using things faster than they can rejuvenate, and we need to get over the mythology that this is solely an environmental issue. The reality is that we have to change our way of life, and we don't have much time to do so.
Solnit also stresses that we would have enough on this one single planet to take care of everyone if we did not suffer from a concentration of capital. Statistics show that, after a certain point, wealth actually decreases our well-being (though the statistic alone may not be enough to convince the obnoxiously wealthy to donate their extra money to halting climate change, one can always hope).
Solnit does not seem to put too much stock in this possibility, however, and believes that our hope lies in the global grassroots popular-resistance movement. There is nothing we can do in our individual lives that will solve this problem, he emphasizes—not even with our reusable grocery bags, organic food or hybrid automobiles. According to Solnit, the only thing that will save our planet is if we become involved politically and systemically. And do it now.
On the way home, I find myself stuck between a behemoth Alhambra truck and a Hummer. Together, we roar past a small gathering of fawns munching grass on the side of Highway 101. Solnit's presentation spoke clearly of his reverence for the earth, which he describes as a living organism, and I find myself overwhelmed by a great sadness, not for myself or my fellow animals, but for the earth herself. Though Solnit ended his presentation with a long list of solutions, I can't help but fixate on that daunting 94 percent reduction.
In order to assuage my feelings of gloom, I hope to attend an upcoming event put on by the Praxis Peace Institute on April 8, "The Lasting Appeal of War and the Quest for a Moral and Erotic Equivalent," presented by Sam Keen. Though the topic may not be helpful for cocktail conversation, I am encouraged by the word "erotic."
If nothing else, at least we have that.
Sam Keen appears on Tuesday, April 8, at the Glaser Center. 547 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 7:30pm. $20. 707.939.2973.