On March 5th, Bill McKibben and youth climate activists from Maine spoke to a standing room only audience at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in western Maine, kicking off the 2020 Vision: Finding Hope in Climate Action Climate Convergence—two days of intense climate activist training in which hundreds participated.

Such a community “convergence” is pretty much unthinkable roughly two weeks later as we each seek, in our own ways, to prevent a public health catastrophe by sheltering in place and practicing the odd new skill: social distancing.

Snippets of the Convergence are still swirling around in my mind. For example, in each of the workshops I led, we concluded with a group visioning session, going around the circle, unleashing our imaginations to offer ‘glimpses’ into the year 2030, when the transition to net-zero carbon emissions is well underway, ecosystems are being restored, and we are successfully conserving biodiversity in our backyards and across the planet. After a couple of times of going around the circle (each new addition to the vision beginning with the unifying and affirming words ‘Yes, and’ . . .) a truly beautiful picture of the near-future began to take shape. Many of the ideas put forth were marvelous and ingenious, others thoughtfully simple and elegant. Others, it must be said, were heart-piercingly poignant, such as when 15-year old climate activist Anna Siegel said, “Yes, and in this new world children like me will not have to do what I am doing. They can just be children.”

The bottom line is, that despite the current urgency of the global pandemic, the climate crisis that brought us all together continues unabated. Indeed, scientists warn that the kind of global disruption we are now experiencing so keenly, will become increasingly common in the years to come unless we act now to sharply curb our CO2 emissions.  And while the COVID-19 challenge before us seems more than enough to handle, if one takes a deep breath and wades into our current predicament for a while, it also becomes apparent that here, in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, new unprecedented pathways to meaningful, positive change are also opening up.

For example . . .

‘Social distancing’ and ‘sheltering in place’ are causing us to find, devise, and become adept at new ways of communicating authentically with one another through technology.  These are precisely the tools that we are going to need to become better global citizens, to learn from each other, to share what we have learned, to provide encouragement and make meaningful connection across borders and boundaries, to work together in new ways to bring down our carbon emissions and help those whose lives are being upended by climate chaos.

Our increased awareness of shortfalls of current global supply chains has the potential to encourage widespread movement toward locally-produced goods and services, to create and enliven new local markets, to provide new incentives for growing and processing our own food, building materials and fiber. In other words, new ways are opening up for communities to become more vibrant, connected, resourceful, and resilient.

It is hard to imagine that an economic system that favors profits over people, or a health care system that leaves so many at risk, will ever be viewed again in the same light.  Sweeping, systemic change is precisely what is needed if we are to achieve a more sustainable civilization within the time demanded, and these systems will surely be part of the mix.

Despite what we may have believed prior to this crisis, we are learning that we can indeed change old patterns of living overnight, mobilize with great speed to address the emergency at hand, and make personal sacrifices in order to protect not just our own families, but also our unknown neighbors, our communities, our fellow Mainers, our species.

As we work collectively to tamp down a deadly global pandemic, old divisions between neighbors and nations seem less meaningful, habitual ways of doing things seem less useful, past assumptions seem less inevitable, all of which make this moment ripe with possibility.

Yes of course, the priorities have shifted. Yes of course we will have to put many of our climate action plans on the rear burner for a while.  But as we work to negotiate the current public health emergency and find new ways of truly taking care of one other, we would also do very well to stay attuned to the pathways to a brighter future that are uniquely opening right now, so when the day comes to fully seize them and work to realize their full potential we will be ready.  I believe this is what Winston Churchill was referring to when he said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

In the meantime keep up the social distancing and stay well everyone.


Teaser photo credit: Center for an Ecology-Based Economy‎ Facebook page.