Maybe what I’m about to say is a mistake, considering this is meant to be a fundraising appeal. But one of the constants of our organization since it was founded 15 years ago is the value of honesty. So I’m going to tell it like I see it: we, humanity, are in deep, deep trouble.
To be more specific, we’re in overshoot—we have too many people consuming too many things, undermining the life-support systems of the planet and putting our fate in jeopardy. And we’re in collective denial about that reality, despite the outcry of scientists, the admonition of brave and angry youth, the efforts of organizations like ours, and even the increasingly fervent ways that Gaia herself is trying to get our attention. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report in October stating that we need to slash global greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50% in the next 12 years to avoid catastrophic warming. And yet Google searches for the term “mega millions” during that period outstripped searches for “climate change” and “global warming” by orders of magnitude.
All this can be very hard to face. On a rainy Autumn morning in 2017 I opened my web browser to learn that the number of flying insects found in German nature preserves had declined by 76% in less than three decades. I lost my breath, trying and failing to process that information, as my two sons bustled about getting ready for school. What kind of planet are they going to be handed in 12 short years? And not just my sons, but all of the sons, daughters, siblings, parents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. Will there still be songbirds? Will there be sea ice? Will there be enough food? What can be done?
Wrestling with such questions is not for the faint of heart. I’m not a particularly courageous person, but when my oldest son was born 12 years ago, I set out on a journey to grapple with humanity’s most daunting challenges. What’s sustained me in this journey is the fortune of working at Post Carbon Institute for the past decade. I go to work every day honored and humbled by the opportunity. It’s what allows me to cope, and I feel very, very lucky.
That’s not to say any of it is easy. The mission of Post Carbon Institute—to provide individuals and communities with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated ecological, economic, energy, and equity crises of the 21st century—is not simple, nor is it particularly popular. We challenge deeply held beliefs and belief systems. We guide people to uncomfortable conclusions. And perhaps because of our dedication to honesty, we hold views that sit in tension, that have a certain nuance and level of contradiction built into them.
For example, we believe that humanity will undergo a fundamental energy transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources. But we also believe that we’ll be consuming far less energy and that modern life will undergo dramatic transformations as a result of that transition. We believe that both overpopulation and overconsumption are dire threats. We believe that our current growth- and consumption-based market economy needs to be replaced. We believe that our situation is precarious, that the future will be extremely challenging, and that many people and other species will suffer in the coming years, decades, and even centuries. But we also believe that humanity will make it through “the bottleneck” and that there are valuable, concrete things to be done—especially at the community level—to navigate the turbulence ahead.
These positions make us an easy target for critics on both sides of the sustainability spectrum. We’re dismissed by some as pessimists, as Luddites or Malthusians or Cassandras. (I was once called a Luciferian but that’s another story.) And we’re chastised by others who think humanity will do itself in before our effort to build awareness, deepen peoples’ understanding, and support community resilience can take hold.
And yet there is a growing number of people, like you, who recognize that the only way to get through the difficult times ahead is with an honest, systemic understanding of why we’re in this mess and what must be done to navigate the “Great Unraveling” in a way that protects the most people and nature.
Post Carbon Institute has taken on the task of building and supporting that cohort of people. But it takes resources. If you see the value of truth-telling, systems thinking, and community resilience-building, please consider supporting our efforts. Each dollar you donate before the end of the year will be matched (up to $30,000) by an anonymous donor.