Some context for this essay: I was asked a week ago by Pete McCloskey, one of the organizers of the first Earth Day in the U.S. fifty years ago, to provide a list of the top six things that the U.S. Congress – a new one, presumably – could do to combat the climate crisis to be announced on Earth Day 2020. It seems when I addressed this prompt I forgot about the “U.S. Congress” qualifier and just went with my top six things. The reader will quickly discern that they are the musing of a U.S.-based educator-activist, and tend to focus around what university teachers could and should be doing in aid of our students.
In that spirit, and hoping to spark discussions and other lists, these six ideas for system change are humbly offered, because it’s all about building global networks of people seeking systemic change as our only hope for confronting the climate crisis that is worthy of the name.
Visionary Comprehensive Climate Education from Kindergarten through College
Climate change education is starting to come on strong in some schools in some states at some levels, but now is the time for a massive push to deeply embed it in many thoughtful and creative ways in as many schools in as many places at every possible level.
California looks to be the state-level pioneer on this, and two notable markers of this are the UC-CSU NXTerra platform for college and high school teachers and the recent UC-CSU Climate Education Summit at UCLA.
There is a need for a task force or some kind of network to scale all this up into a movement with momentum.
A Climate Action Service Year Program
Massively build on the above by rolling out a really cool year-long Earth Corps program for graduating high school seniors and open to all non-graduating 18-year-olds as well that puts motivated young people to work in a myriad of projects, each of which involves them in the co-creation of a strategy and vision to carry each project out. The program would be paid for by cutting the military budget the amount that the program costs.
“Don’t Fly or We Die” campaign
Create an imaginative and attractive campaign to reduce flying of all kinds: business, academic, touristic, and so on. Develop alternative, mostly virtual, methods of achieving the same outcomes.
Academics in particular need to stop flying, and there are campaigns around this, Peter Kalmus’s Being the Change book and documentary, as well as exciting alternatives such as the “nearly-carbon neutral” academic conference model.
Virtual tourism should be advocated by a vast person-to-person exchange bank so that people can learn about other places through the eyes of, and in direct connection with, actual people who live in those places.
Bringing a Movement and Political Candidates Together to Jump Start a “Real Green Deal”
This one is already under way between the Green New Deal Resolution, the many creative community, state, and international creative design processes and actions it has inspired, and the enthusiastic push from below that the Sunrise Movement and others are engaged in.
There has been a spectacular flowering of great scope and imagination, with versions and ideas ranging from the Red Deal to the Feminist Green Deal; local initiatives everywhere, including a UC Santa Barbara student-designed one in Isla Vista, California [see below]; and more.
Of the many politicians’ versions, I am most impressed by the comprehensiveness, detail, and justice approach of Bernie Sanders’s version.
What is needed between Earth Day and the November election is a great movement that works to elect Bernie as the next president of the United States, composed of the many million donors and grassroots groups already campaigning for him, and as many of the climate justice movements as possible – groups like 350.org, Sunrise, The Climate Mobilization, Extinction Rebellion, the Climate Justice Alliance, and many many others.
The Thousand Eco-Communities Campaign
Communities everywhere are engaged in making a new world without waiting for help from governments: the Transition Town and Transition US networks of movements, the ecovillage movement, indigenous communities based on buen vivir, the Cool California Project, and countless others.
Students and community members in Isla Vista, California have articulated and are working toward what they are calling Eco Vista – with the aim of turning their 23,000-person town of Isla Vista into an eco-village in the next ten years “through renewable energy, a flourishing and regenerative agro-ecology of public urban gardens, cooperative, affordable eco-housing, a circular eco-economy based on solidarity and meeting the real needs of the inhabitants, a vibrant web of visionary cultural creativity, radical self-governance, and community priorities determined by all who reside here.”
Eco Vista’s dream is to help birth a network of university communities in as many places as possible so that young people can take the power to shape their own futures without waiting for their governments or the Paris Agreement, which have totally failed to taken the deep, swift action the climate crisis urgently demands.
Oh, and it should be fun and sexy and life-changing!
Digital Platform on Peoples’ Systemic Alternatives
There should be a robust set of global resources and a vast network of people who are working and thinking right now about building the new local communities referred to just above for people everywhere who want the ideas, models, and connections to envision and create the next system.
Two great starting places are the book Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary, and the recently launched Global Tapestry of Alternatives web platform. Two others are the book/website Systemic Alternatives, and my own teaching topic on Systemic Alternatives at NXTerra.
These resources should be massively scaled out to put people, communities, and movements in touch with each other to co-create the next worlds right now!
These are six ideas that spring mostly from my places and activities.
Wouldn’t it be great if Resilience solicited many more such lists of visionary ideas, or if interested folks just sent theirs on?
In such ways are new networks and connections between people, ideas, and practices born.