Author Archives: Julian Caldecott

About Julian Caldecott

Dr Julian Caldecott is an ecologist, having studied monkeys, bearded pigs and other animals in tropical rainforests. He is a conservationist and has been involved in setting up numerous protected ares. He works as an environmental consultant, advising governments and charities on how to do sustainable development better. And he writes books on what to do about - and how to adapt to - climate change, biodiversity loss, and water problems around the world.

What Greta Means To Me

The tension between reason, reduction, technology and industry on the one hand, and feeling, holism, intuition, empathy, compassion and light-touch living on the other, has long haunted us. It continues to smoulder in the friction between environmental movements, such as Greta Thunberg’s Climate Strike, and the powers of business as usual. It became obvious once the ideas of the Franco-Scottish Enlightenment were absorbed, monetarised and weaponised by the English to create the Industrial Revolution. But one suspects that these very different ways of thinking have much deeper roots, since there is so clearly a tendency for simple, close-to-nature lifeways, with their shamanic beliefs and spiritual art-forms, to be ploughed under from time to time by more rational and better-armed cultures, who live to exploit and destroy everything that cannot be used.

One such model in Europe is the Ancient Roman Empire – a notably harsh and invasive cultural system that shaped so many of our values – but even here there is tension between this heritage and the non-Roman parts of Europe, notably that of the German peoples. This, based on federation among equal local societies, was later given expression through the (confusingly mis-named) ‘Holy Roman Empire’, the Reformation and the European Union. By contrast, the Roman model itself gave us the Roman Catholic Church and a tendency towards hierarchy and centralisation. But this is all wildly complex, as the various influences swirled and settled in different places, and then influenced one another. It may be decipherable one day, if we can ask the right questions and reconstruct enough social history and folklore, but meanwhile we are left with tensions between just-discernible tendencies and ways of doing things that seem to be associated with different local histories, languages, myths and political traditions.

Trying to make sense of some of this, in my 2008 book Water: Life in Every Drop, I built on the many lines of evidence that support the idea of humanity having both a fully terrestrial and a semi-aquatic heritage, and extended the idea from anatomy to behaviour. I observed that “humans seem equally adept at living in either of two alternative and contrasting models of society: one militaristic, controlling, male-dominated and hierarchical; the other peaceful, accepting and egalitarian. It seems we can do either, depending on circumstances.” So I argued that our minds must be inclined, and have the capacity to think, in two contradictory ways, which I called a ‘hard’ way, which I associated with the Confucian tradition in China: top-down, mechanistic, reductionist, the thinking of a terrestrial ape; and a ‘soft’ way, which I linked to Taoism: bottom-up, organic, holistic, the thinking of an aquatic ape. And I claimed that “Their different implications are expressed sometimes this way, sometimes that, in response to social context, lessons learned in upbringing, and the observations, reasoning and self-discipline of which people are capable during their long lives.”

Now, from Tim Flannery’s 2018 book Europe: The First 100 Million Years, we learn that the invention of truly spectacular cave art – at Lascaux in France and El Castillo in Spain – and the carving of works such as the Löwenmensch (Lion-man) figurine of Hohlenstein-Stadel – and the domestication of dogs, can all be dated to about 35,000 years ago, and may have resulted from hybridisation between Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens in the Danube Corridor, which is known to have occurred at about the same time. Flannery argues that neither parent species showed much sign of artistic-religious creativity or the kind of empathy needed to domesticate animals before then, and that some kind of ‘hybrid vigour’ induced it. The hybrid element in our gene pool was later swamped by subsequent invasions of ‘unimproved’ humans from Asia, leaving the ‘neanderthal’ component as a tiny fraction among our genes.

There is very much still unknown about the flow of humanity across the world, the human-like species with which we interacted and interbred – including Homo denisova, whose genes are now so widespread in Australasia, and Homo erectus or its descendent species which persisted among the Indonesian islands until very recently – and the nature of the various actors and their habitats, so firm conclusions cannot yet be drawn. But the suspicion is there again in Flannery’s work that a tension exists in modern humanity between an artistic, creative, pacific side, and a mechanistic, analytical, warlike side, which may be traced to distinct and ancient heritages.

And we find a similar pattern in Wendell Berry’s 2002 essay ‘Two Minds’, in The World-Ending Fire. Here he nails the difference and tension between what he calls the ‘Rational Mind’ and the ‘Sympathetic Mind’. As Berry summarises it: “The Rational Mind is objective, analytical, and empirical; it makes itself up only by considering facts; it pursues truth by experimentation; it is uncorrupted by preconception, received authority, religious belief, or feeling. Its ideal products are the proven fact, the accurate prediction, and the ‘informed decision’. It is, you might say, the official mind of science, industry, and government. The Sympathetic Mind differs from the Rational Mind, not by being unreasonable, but by refusing to limit knowledge or reality to the scope of reason or factuality or experimentation, and by making reason the servant of things it considers precedent and higher. The Rational Mind is motivated by the fear of being misled, of being wrong. Its purpose is to exclude everything that cannot empirically or experimentally be proven to be a fact. The Sympathetic Mind is motivated by fear of error of a very different kind: the error of carelessness, of being unloving. Its purpose is to be considerate of whatever is present, to leave nothing out. The Rational Mind is exclusive; the Sympathetic Mind, however failingly, wishes to be inclusive.” (pages 181-182).

So what light, if any, does all this shed on the current environmental movement and the reaction of its participants to the eruption of Greta Thunberg onto the scene in 2018? To simplify slightly, let’s consider only the Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Greta’s Climate Strike for the Future, which arose together in late 2018 (Greta spoke at the launch of XR in London on 31 October), and have been growing in global influence, in dialogue and in parallel, ever since.

Participants in the XR movement call for official truth-telling and declarations of climate and ecological emergency, urgent action against GHG emissions with an early goal of zero net carbon, and governance reforms built on citizens’ assemblies to provide leadership and participation at all levels of society. These participants are a very mixed bag of people, all of whom share a fear of impending climate chaos, ecological collapse and mass extinction, and frustration over official denial and inaction over the decades since the dimensions of the crisis became known. The culture of the movement is determinedly non-violent, inclusive, egalitarian, tolerant, welcoming, transparent and regenerative through mutual support. It is also highly respectful of art – and wonderful art has been a hallmark from its beginning – spirit, healing and the ecological and climate sciences, and practitioners of all these traditions are highly valued. Everyone else is seen as persuadable through the logic of environmental truth, the feeling of shared nature and humanity, and the recognition that we are all equally terrified by reality but can help one another through ‘existential nausea’ to a better, more accepting and more determined frame of mind.

This is all both benign and electrifying. There are no great ideological tomes to read – if only because, as yet, there is no theory of governance to promote. There is only the manifest truth that all is very far from all right, that we have been lied to, and that it might be possible to build a better world if we can only summon enough spiritual energy and collective goodwill. There is, however, a deep and potent back-story: the history of life on Earth as told by palaentologists and planetary ecologists; the inexorable decline of the Arctic Ocean’s summer ice towards zero in about 2030, and what this means for runaway global heating; mass extinction at a level that may be as high as a million species annually; the processes of human separation from nature and the pretence of human ascendancy over the rules of ecology; and the consequences of that separation in broken societies and broken ecosystems. These consequences, it is understood, may soon include total breakdown: mass starvation, desperate migration, unconstrained war, and the wholesale end of the biosphere that we as a species have known for ever.

Since all this is well-founded in consilient knowledge (i.e. ‘science’), the question and frustration arises over why it has not been acted upon. Clearly, the science has been ignored, and it isn’t hard to make a list of reasons for this: it’s complicated, difficult, expensive to do anything, and it’s much easier to rationalise denial and delay, using whatever entitlement myths may be to hand – religious, racist, nationalist or neoconservative. From an English perspective we might cite two contributions by the folk hero Winston Churchill: the ‘ten year rule’ for not doing anything about a threat until it can no longer be pretended to be more than ten years away; and the aphorism that ‘scientists should be on tap – not on top’. These traditions of English conservatism can stand for a whole raft of reasons why the establishment is reluctant to respond to the urgings of science, and specifically ecological science whose practitioners have been pilloried as ‘tree-huggers’ since the 1960s when ecology first came to political prominence.

Well, that’s the problem – or part of it, since in addition to ecology there’s also the whole set of other things in XR, including the art, shamanism and anarchism, the purple-bearded men and the children and young mums with their naïve hand-made posters. Greta’s School Strike adds to the mix a million or two disobedient adolescents. This lot is virtually guaranteed to activate hostile feelings among more conventional thinkers, or Rational Minds, or Confucian officials. In this sense, as it has been since the ancestral environmental movements of the 1960s, ecology can be seen as a pseudo-scientific front for the anarchist left, easy to ’other’, easy to ignore and isolate, and, like the rest of the ‘hippies’ and ‘subversives’, if push comes to shove, easy to do away with. Which is frustrating for all concerned, and especially for ecologists.

But this brings us back to Greta Thunberg, and what her advent may mean. To me it is very clear. Greta activates a potent archetype: the virgin girl-child inspired by divinity, speaking truth to power, taking on the world. These figures are recognisable throughout history, and are powerful because they spark a deep response in our collective minds, summoning us to great out-pourings of spiritual energy which often have the effect of changing history. Since we need a great outpouring of spiritual energy to overcome resistance to change, and we need to change history very urgently, this is all as it should be. Whatever is going on in Greta’s mind, and for all I know in the mind of God in communion with her, it is necessary and welcome.

But the other thing here is that Greta’s message, essentially is: “Everyone and everything needs to change. Make the best available science the heart of politics and democracy. We must start today. We have no more excuses.” (from No One is Too Small to Make a Difference). The sailing yacht on which she is now crossing the Atlantic Ocean bears the slogan ‘Unite behind the science!’ on every boom and spar. The call is for policy and action on climate chaos to be based on scientific realism (i.e. what is needed) rather than political convenience (i.e. what is cheap and easy). That’s the message, and that is the green line that runs through the XR and Climate Strike movements, that holds them to the truth, that validates the knowledge we need for change, and that provides us with the indicators we need to measure real progress.

By uniting in one person deep respect for consilient knowledge, open-mindedness, creativity, compassion and social union, Greta symbolises everything important that we have been trying to say for decades, and quite possibly for millennia. As a girl-child/eco-warrior/hero-archetype she’s impressive and necessary enough, and one important thing is that she may summon our energies to change what needs to be changed, as a matter of deep and immediate urgency. But another important thing is that she may succeed finally in inspiring us to unify the divided mind of our species. This attempt seems to me utterly worthy of passionate engagement.

© Julian Caldecott

 

Rusalka: an ancient warning for modern times

An opening night at the opera, Glyndebourne, 29 June 2019

In 1899 the Bohemian Czech Jaroslav Kvapil finished writing the storyline and lyrics for the drama Rusalka, as the libretto for an opera, and began looking for someone to compose the music for it. He drew on ancient fairy-tales, but in his mind were great questions of governance, power and accountability. This was an era of decaying multi-national empires, including the Habsburg of which Bohemia was a part, where tensions between the rights of local peoples and the rights of over-arching authority were in everyone’s minds. A few years later, Kvapil was to sign the Manifesto of Czech Writers, which expressed the yearning of a self-aware people to be free. Meanwhile, though, he was exploring similar themes by unearthing shimmering veins of meaning in the rich loam of folklore and faerie. And those themes are ours today, as much as his then, because they are everyone’s everywhere.

A glance at Aboriginal Australia makes this clear, for the Dreaming Law created tens of millennia ago contains the same principles of autonomy that peoples still strive to articulate and defend (see: Dingo Makes Us Human: Life and Land in an Australian Aboriginal Culture, by Deborah Bird Rose, Cambridge, 1992: 45-55). Here no species, group, or country can command another, since each adheres to its own Law; to be a centre is not to dominate, but to have one’s own perspective; there are no orders from above because there is no above; and in each country the Law manifests an eternal, stable relationship between nature and humanity. Each part of every system shares responsibility for sustaining itself, for learning to understand, for paying attention, and for balancing every other part. The processes of ecology weave themselves through these countries, as rivers, evolutionary relationships, mountains, aquifers, migrating birds and breeding crocodiles, and are represented by the adventures of Dreamtime creation beings that are shared by all peoples, unifying them. This symbolic, ecological universe was being ruined by Europeans in Australia while Kvapil wrote his libretto, just as the land of faerie was being oppressed by modernity in Europe itself.

All this is reflected in Kvapil’s choice of myth and the characters to represent classes of beings and relationships in Rusalka. There is Vodník (Alexander Roslavets), the ruling spirit of a lake: absolute monarch of that one ecosystem of aquatic water-nymphs or naiads, co-equal with the ruling beings of all other natural spheres, and relating on those terms to a vaster natural ecosystem of witches and wood-nymphs or dryads. There is Rusalka (Sally Matthews) herself, his daughter who pines for a different, mortal, human life. And there is Ježibaba (Patricia Bardon), the witch. These names are all personified symbols: in Czech, vodník means ‘shape-shifting water spirit-creature’ (or something like the Loch Ness monster, say, in our terms), just as rusalka means ‘water-sprite’ (or perhaps mermaid) and ježibaba means ‘witch’ (or any figure that the Christian tradition uses to demonise female knowledge and power outside Church control). Against these mythical materials, Kvapil opposes others, all numinous but all refracted through the distorting lens of human Christian thought.

Thus the Prince (Evan LeRoy Johnson), representing an utterly different idea of universal relative status, blunders into Vodník’s world, hunting and killing his way into the forest with a party of humans. They understand nothing of where they are, or why they should care, or what’s up with their Prince, who seems to be searching for something that only he can sense the existence of. Seeing him, Rusalka projects her own yearning onto him, and bewitches herself, just as he will presently do in response to her. This is the moment when the ecosystem breaks, when Law falls into madness.

Kvapil found in Antonín Dvořák a composer skilled and subtle enough to illuminate this story with the most sublime, powerful and sensitive music. Between them, and the fabulous singers in this production, they articulate the whole bitter tale in a way that is a painful joy to experience. For Rusalka becomes obsessed, begging Ježibaba to help her abandon her own nature, as well as Nature and Law, so that she can experience a human life instead. The witch pretends reluctance, but it is her role to facilitate transformations – as witches do, presiding over the generations, initiations and transmutations of life, most of which are female, horrible, painful, and necessary. After Rusalka’s obsession proves immune to the dire warnings of Vodník, the witch and her sisters summon the powers of change, warping the very fabric of the ecosystem (represented on stage by the toppling of its trees, like a collapsing pine forest over melting permafrost), and ripping the hearts, eye-balls, wings and other organs from its quivering wildlife. These sacrifices are stirred into a boiling iron womb, into which Rusalka is also eventually fed. She will emerge, bereft of swimming tail, unsteady on her new feet, and not possessing human speech, to meet her new destiny as a bewildered, yearning woman in the arms of a bewildered, yearning Prince.

For the audience, these terrible sights are leavened by a champagne-break amid the flowering paradise of the Glyndebourne gardens. We can imagine what Rusalka went through no more than we can sense what went on in the pupae that broke open to release the bees and butterflies who are around us in the summer afternoon. Also, we don’t yet know how badly it will turn out. But back in the auditorium, the forest lake has been transformed into a castle kitchen. Humans are drawing and quartering wildlife, and chatting among themselves as they work. The castle gamekeeper (Colin Judson) marches in, unslinging a cross-bow and handing out dead animals for butchering. He and his niece (Alix Le Saux) sing about the strange, silent creature that the Prince has brought back from the forest, and that he intends to possess through the sacrament of marriage. Meanwhile, the aristocratic guests of imperial Bohemia gather behind and around them for the wedding party.

The kitchen table duly becomes a banquet hall, a runway for the fashionable dance-guests of the wedding ball, a marriage bed strewn with the red roses of lust and blood. Rusalka, looking more bewildered and yearning than any human ever has before, is trying to wear heels and a misshapen white wedding dress, is trying to learn how to dance like everyone else, is trying to convey her feelings to the Prince, and is utterly confused by every signal, as is the Prince himself. Rusalka becomes more and more desperate, the Prince more and more impatient, the guests more and more patronising. Prince and Rusalka are locked into a binary orbit the unbearable tension of which is almost resolved as Rusalka sheds her panties in a desperate effort at communication and bonding. But a glamorous foreign Princess (Zoya Tsererina) intervenes and makes a pass at the Prince, who is briefly distracted by the thought of a relationship that he can at least understand.

Nothing can last, because the Law is in ruins. Rusalka flutters around the candle-flame of her human love. Vodník manifests to observe the ball, which under his gaze is held in slow-motion ordinary time while he mourns for his daughter in faerie time, before taking her away, back to the forest and the lake. The foreign princess, sensing that the Prince is already broken by madness, spits him out with shrill curses. And so the second Act ends in smoking ruins, with the trembling audience retreating to the picnic gardens to try to make sense of it all, perhaps more sensitive than before to brief movements in the undergrowth as they forage among the crystals, patés and cheeses. They gather their energies for whatever lies ahead.

There, Kvapil and Dvořák have laid a most intricate trap. We knew it would go ill for nature, but here comes Rusalka to greet her sister naiads, with their writhing tails dangling from the water surface high above, who reject her utterly and for ever. Here is a damaged, charred Rusalka begging restoration from Ježibaba, who offers her relief only at the price of hot human blood freed by the dagger that she offers, which Rusalka cannot accept. Here are the gamekeeper and his niece, come to seek Ježibaba’s help to heal their Prince of his madness, but they are spurned by the witches and are taken instead by the wood-nymphs, who strip with them, dance with them, and bloodily consume the gamekeeper’s heart. Here the imagery and music pass beyond understanding, as the wild-haired conductor (Robin Ticciati) dances in the pit with the instruments of pain and pleasure. Somehow, the idea is conveyed that the great virtue of being mortal is the opportunity to die, to bring suffering to an end and to participate in furthering the endless cycles of life.

And so before long … here runs a beautiful exhausted doe, her tall ears rotating as the human hunters approach, until she dies at last, reflecting the fall of Rusalka herself who has vanished deep into a corner of the lake. There she contemplates eternity as a will-o-wisp, one of the swamp stars fired by the methane of decay that lure men to their deaths by night. And here comes the Prince, blundering and staggering, demented and exalted. He sings of his guilt and of his loss. Humanity self-pityingly recognising that his actions have ruined Nature, begging forgiveness, knowing that she can never again be the sustaining all-mother that she was while the Law still held. And Rusalka responds from the muddy depths, gradually emerging, beautiful, hopeless, broken, understanding. She can only offer humanity death as a release from guilt, and the Prince gratefully accepts her gift, dying with a kiss in her arms.

Rusalka then, neither lawful sprite nor human, considers the constellation of swamp-stars among which she will rot for ever, and plods off to join them. The music seals the tale with perfection, and we are left to think: how unnecessary the quest, how pitiful the outcome, how foolish the choices that brought us to this insane, unlawful result where nothing will ever be whole again. For make no mistake: whether or not it was once about empires crushing the indigenous peoples and lifeways of mediaeval Europe, this whole story is nowabout modern humanity destroying the living world in arrogance and greed, reckless of our own vulnerability and dependency upon nature. We have broken every law, polluted the oceans and atmosphere, driven a million wild species a year into extinction, ignored all warnings, and are at last starting to realise that we have lost what we most pretended to love. We are now blundering around in anger, and will soon start snivelling. But Nature is now too damaged to offer us anything more than the kiss of death, before she plods off to exist as best she can amid the methane fires of the melted Arctic.

The second viewing (20 July 2019)

Everything worked just a bit better with practice and tweaking. Excellent on the opening night, three weeks later Rusalkawas fascinating, moving and brilliant. What I wrote before can stand, but I saw more detail: how the sacrificial animals were torn from the wood nymphs like vivisected daemons in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials; the cursing of the Prince by Vodník at the end of the ball; the doe as a guide between human and faerie. Above all, the acting of Rusalka herself, struck dumb by metamorphosis, had reached a new level of heart-breaking perfection. Half the audience were crying by the end, including us. The lady on the door murmured her sympathy as we filed out. The talk around us was all of beauty and despair. We couldn’t resist joining some conversations. In one, a shaken observer noted that the music was so expressive that it drove the story-telling to a sublime ending “that left us to meditate on what we had just witnessed”, and that the performance was one of those very rare moments “when an opera is a true combination of acting and theatre and text and music all together and not separately”. I can vouch for that. It was far more emotionally potent than before. I suspect that other operas will feel like light entertainment after this. So I think I’ll get back to my day job now: fighting climate chaos, mass extinction, and the brutalisation of nature and ourselves. Viva Greta!

© Julian Caldecott

On Brexit, Slavery and Civil War, 1820-2020

The ‘defining sin’ of a country shapes its history and sparks fresh anxiety and discord whenever any social issue is looked at too closely, often over centuries. Genocide has that role across both American continents, but in the United States specifically the defining sin is slavery, with racism its after-glow. Here, from the 1787 Constitution to the 1861 Civil War, political crises were common between slave and free states, played out in Congress, the courts and the Presidency.

There were repeated compromises over which states and territories would be free and which slave, as the nation grew westward. One of them was the Missouri Compromise of 1820, by which free Maine and slave Missouri were admitted to the Union, on condition that everywhere north-west of the southern border of Missouri (36o30’N) would thereafter be free, and everywhere south-west of it would be slave.

But the compromises eventually broke down and the matter was settled in the Civil War of 1861-1865. Slavery became illegal (except for convicts) with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, and people of African ancestry were thereafter recognised as eligible for citizenship. That this breakthrough was largely cosmetic, until a further struggle in the 1960s (which still continues), shows just how powerful a country’s defining sin can be.

England also has a defining sin, which like America’s is accompanied by the sustained and characteristic injustices of inequity, exclusion, oppression and exploitation. In England it is ‘class’, not ‘race’, and it is based not so much on skin-colour as a marker of ethnicity and legal status, but on wealth, speech, education and other markers of social status. Many observers have noted how England’s defining sin of class arises whenever any social issue is examined closely, just as racism does in America. It is an interesting comparison, but what does it have to do with Brexit?

There’s little point in pretending that Brexit is not being advanced by parts of the wealth-owning elite in England, or that slavery was not protected by parts of the slave-owning elite in the slave states. In both cases, their causes needed mass support from people who had nothing much to gain from their success: poor people in England and poor whites in the slave states. In both cases, and in many others, nationalism, racism, fear, and envy of ‘othered’ and demonised groups were found convenient for this purpose, along with the active suppression of dissent.

Looking in more detail at slavery, enough white men (the only voters) were convinced by racist entitlement myths and fear to keep the slave system going, decade after decade. In this the slave-owning elite were helped by an electoral booster that they had managed to include in the 1787 Constitution. This allowed for slaves to be ‘worth’ three-fifths of a person in terms of the number of representatives that each state sent to Congress. In other words, the more slaves there were in a state, the more representatives it sent, even though the slaves could not vote for them. This is now hard to imagine, but it made a huge difference to who got elected.

In 1857, the struggle between slave and free states, and the thinkers, propagandists, activists and interest groups on both sides, had reached the stage at which the US Supreme Court could no longer avoid making a ruling on whether the Constitution sanctioned slavery, or not [1]. The point at issue was the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise, and it is worth considering the implications of bringing such a decision to such a forum. For it made the choice depend on the balance of opinions among a tiny group of old white men, all of whom had been selected by a corrupt and slavery-influenced system and subjected to years of pressure by cynical interest groups, of which the most cynical (to judge from the selfish cruelty of their regime) were no doubt the slave-owners.

The result is not so surprising with hindsight. The Court ruled by a 7-2 majority on 6 March 1857 that although the Missouri Compromise was indeed unconstitutional, the Constitution did not inhibit the states’ rights to keep slavery going. The judges’ grounds were that the men who wrote the Constitution couldn’t possibly have meant to include blacks in their fine worlds about men being equal, since people of African descent were “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” and none could therefore ever be considered citizens of the United States. The slave interests were overjoyed, and started going on about ‘we won, you lost, get over it!’. Most others – the intelligent, the educated, the compassionate, the religious, the professional, and the well-travelled – were stunned, and after a few days they all started moaning about it in the newspapers.

The Court’s decision can be understood in terms of how slave-owners managed to bring the decision to a corrupt forum that they largely controlled. In this, the similarities with the 2016 Brexit referendum are obvious, with its biased press, subverted social media, public lies, shadowy foreign influences and illegal campaign spending. The details are very different, but the underlying process by which the best-organised and most ruthless side of the debate brought overwhelming influence to bear on a single decision point masquerading as ‘democracy’ (just as the American one masqueraded as ‘law’) are much the same.

In America, the Court’s judgement was so obviously wrong that it was not sustainable, not with capitalist modernity demanding freely-recruited labour to work privately-owned machines [2], and not with the likes of Frederick Douglass, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln working against it. All it really bought was a few more years of suffering for slaves, and of profit-making and tax-avoiding for the slave-owning elite. And then, when the free states insisted on change after all, the slave states walked out of the Union. At least three-quarters of a million Americans died in the war that followed.

Returning to 2019, the EU may have its own defining sins, or at least influences (notably the Ancient Roman empire via the Church, and the Holy Roman empire via Germany), but it stands inherently for a way of life that has no real place for the English class system and its unequal education, its off-shore tax havens, its piratical traditions, and its weak environmental and social protections. This is surely why parts of England’s wealth-owning elite wanted Brexit in the first place: to perpetuate an unequal system, just as American slave-owners had sought to do. And there are obvious similarities between the tricks that the two groups used, and their success in delaying reform for centuries. But considering the United States in 1857-1861 and the United Kingdom in 2016-2020, the question is: what happens next, for us?

In America, the 1857 ruling began a countdown to civil war, while positions hardened and emotions escalated. In Britain, the 2016 referendum began a countdown to Brexit itself, while positions have hardened and emotions have escalated. But does Britain really have to play out the rest of the scenario, or can we dodge the civil war part? In trying to, we have the huge advantage over the Americans of 1860 that we’ve been taught to submit to the class system so thoroughly, and for so long, that we may no longer possess the social volatility needed for armed struggle. Remember that it wasn’t the oppressed slaves, weakened by the habits and hardships of slavery, who made the American Civil War; it was white folk, righteous, self-interested and free, with each side attacking the others’ homelands on a matter of principle.

So, do the English care enough? Do we realise how far we’ve been trained to accept the class system? Could the EU intervene militarily in England, as the free Union did in the Confederacy? If it did, would Russia (widely suspected of influencing the 2016 referendum and US election) support the Brexiter side in Britain (as England did for the South in the American Civil War)? Perhaps not. I suspect rather that the English will manage only a divisive, resentful grumble that will drag on for years, while most of us get poorer and the rich use us as they wish. Since the alternative may be civil war, this could be as good as it gets. Until, that is, the whole system breaks under the multiple catastrophes of climate chaos, whereupon we’ll all starve.

But we can imagine other endings to this story. We could postpone Brexit and hold a free and fair referendum, either to ratify its terms or to cancel it. We could cancel Brexit and revert, older and wiser, to count our blessings as citizens of an EU member state. After that, we could lead the EU in its efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. And those efforts, replicated world-wide with the support of the EU, might be successful. To adapt Lincoln’s words at his 1861 inauguration, the bonds and friendships of our common European identity may be enough to save the day, when we are touched “by the better angels of our nature”. Those angels failed for Lincoln, but may still work for us.

© Julian Caldecott

[1] These Truths, A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore (Norton, 2018).

[2] The Age of Capital 1848-1875, by Eric Hobsbawm (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1962).

Extinction and Brexit: the Same Struggle

People ask why I campaign at the same time for the Extinction Rebellion (XR) and for the UK’s continued full membership of the EU. Some argue that Brexit is a trivial matter compared with climate chaos, ecological collapse and mass extinction, so why bother, why get distracted? I say the opposite: that the two issues are utterly one, that XR should be completely against Brexit, and that the anti-Brexit movement should be completely with XR. The two being separated is just what the poisonous elite who ruin the country want, the better to divide, delay, starve, and kill off the united opposition, and unity is what they truly fear.  So why do I think all this?

Before I answer, I want to acknowledge two things. First, the UK has in fact led the world in raising the alarm about climate change. I have documented in my books the impact on international aid priorities, for example, of HM Treasury’s 1997 Stern Report on the economic costs of climate change. The UK has also led the world in making legally-binding commitments to reduce GHG emissions. The EU’s relatively advanced position on climate change mitigation is largely a result of Britain’s lobbying and example in 1995-2015. The problem now, since 2016, is that the UK has fallen into the trap of Brexit, compromising its ability to lead on these subjects.

And second, I do acknowledge that the EU is in part a ‘liberal’ free-trade zone, dedicated to support capitalist enterprise and the ‘bourgeois’ middle-class lifestyle, with all that that implies for unsustainable and unequal levels and patterns of collective resource consumption and pollution, including the exploitation of the weak and the direct and indirect promotion of GHG emissions. However, the EU is also much more than that. It is a system of standard-setting, conflict-resolving, experimentalist governance that is capable of driving steady improvements in social and environmental well-being, and has in fact done so (with the Water Framework Directive being a potent example). Its underlying model, which allows for all its member states to solve common problems in their own ways with the intellectual, material and moral support of their neighbours, is equally applicable everywhere and is, I believe, the only viable model for a practicable global system that could ‘save the world’ and improve the human condition.

Any big diverse system is going to have more or less progressive parts, and the EU has plenty, but only an EU-type system is able to manage them all and help them all find their own paths to success in line with common standards. This is why the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was so good: it allowed everyone to agree on common standards, to compete and cooperate to build capacity to achieve them, and to tighten the standards and goals over time. It may be too slow for the climate campaigners, and it may be too slow for the biosphere, but top-down global planning and enforcement could not have worked without universal coercion, which was not and is not an option. This way, the EU way, we have a chance, especially with XR putting on pressure to demand tighter goals. As Greta Thunberg said: the EU must double its climate goals! And the EU could do that, and with EU leadership, so could the Paris Agreement signatories. Slowly, no doubt, but this is what global cooperation on solving a wicked problem actually looks like.

So, duly acknowledged. But where does it all leave XR and Brexit? My points are simple. First, the people of major parts of the EU are far more progressive on climate change than those of major parts of the UK. Because those parts of the EU also have proportional representation, their governments are much more responsive to public concerns than in the UK. Thus, we see the Nordic countries, the Low Countries, Germany, Portugal and increasingly France exerting themselves mightily on climate change, while England dreams of the past (specifically, and alarmingly, the 1930s). If a few hundred people turn out for climate strikes in the UK, tens of thousands do so in Belgium, etc. Thus, being part of a system influenced by mass support for climate action helps the UK make progress, even if it is now a follower rather than a leader.

Second, the EU has tough and progressive targets on climate action, and these are improvable through public demand. Moreover, the EU has potency at a global level which it can use, and is using, to protect and push its climate agenda forward, influencing trade, transport, aid and industrial standards worldwide, standing up to those countries that temporarily fall to bad leadership. This makes the EU almost the only entity that is remotely capable of promoting system change on the scale that the climate emergency demands. At least at a conventional level, negotiated, transparent and agreed. Obviously a universal Zeitgeist shift and the rise of a new globally-effective mass movement of militant ecologists might happen, or something else might happen, to change the whole situation. But while we hope and strive, there’s a lot to be said for working as best we can with what we have right now. And what we have right now is the EU.

Third, outside the EU there are few powers that have much interest in saving the biosphere. Whatever non-EU trade deals the isolated UK might negotiate will be with repressive regimes selling toxic and/or socially-suspect and/or environmentally-compromised products. An isolated UK will inevitably be forced to ‘dine with the devil’ or starve, and it will also have to be much more complicit than it would otherwise be in the destruction of the living world, while also having walked away from the only grouping that is determinedly willing and has the proven capacity to save nature, and us. And that’s why I carry on waving an EU and an XR flag, in solidarity with both, in the same struggle.

© Julian Caldecott

The Indonesia-Norway REDD+ Partnership

“Thank God for the Norwegians”, a Jakarta-based environmental aid official said to me in March 2011, in awe of the game-changing impact that Norway’s billion-dollar International Climate and Forest Initiative was having on the Indonesian forest conservation scene. Ten months earlier, the Indonesia-Norway REDD+ Partnership had been signed into being through a Letter of Intent (LoI) between the two governments. Suddenly, it seemed, a new ending had been written for the story of Indonesia’s forests, after decades of frustration, inaction, corruption, deforestation and carbon emissions, otherwise known as ‘business as usual’. President Yudhoyono was fully engaged, keen young and forceful older Indonesians were assigned to reform the old system, while the provinces were falling over each other to cooperate. It was a good time to lead the first review of the Indonesia-Norway REDD+ Partnership [1].

Indonesian forests and peatlands have long been degraded by demand for forest products and plantation land, with the pressures made worse by a changing climate and the fire-proneness of damaged and desiccated ecosystems. It was always going to be a challenge to reduce emissions from land use here, or to increase security of biodiversity, natural ecosystems and traditional ways of life, all of them vital to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD)+. But in 2009, the country’s leadership realised the scale of Indonesia’s contribution to climate change, and its vulnerability to the consequences. With Norway keen to support tropical REDD+, it wasn’t long before they began to talk, and the result was the LoI in which Indonesia agreed to attempt forestry reforms and Norway promised up to a billion dollars to enable and reward success. The LoI envisioned three phases: (1) for establishing institutions and capacity, (2) for transforming forest management and governance, and (3) for delivering verified emission reductions. None was expected to be simple or quick.

By the time I went back to lead the second review of the Partnership in 2013 [2], things were looking good. There had been rapid progress on a moratorium on new forest concessions for logging and plantations in primary forests, on national and sub-national REDD+ strategies, on a publicly-accessible database (‘One Map’) with 85 data layers, including all forests, peatlands and concessions (unprecedented in the secretive forest sector), and on establishing a ministerial-level REDD+ Agency. The latter was set up in August 2013, and became a real powerhouse of Indonesian conservation talent, thought and energy. In my career I have been privileged to visit several institutions in the full flush of their youth and enthusiasm: the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity in the Philippines, the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development in Guyana, the National Biodiversity Institute in Costa Rica; well, Indonesia’s REDD+ Agency was like that.

It led the LoI process until early 2015, but it couldn’t last. It was becoming very effective, but it was outside the Indonesian bureaucracy and not remotely sustainable. It could have done with another year or two to consolidate some things, but the newly-elected President Widodo ordered the ministries of environment and forestry to become one Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK), which would absorb the REDD+ Agency and disperse its responsibilities throughout the new institution. The challenges of merging these two very different ministries caused a severe loss of Phase 2 momentum during 2015-16. The third review of the LoI process was also delayed, and only in 2018 did I have the opportunity to understand the previous five years, and to describe the current position [3]. It turned out that although staff of the former REDD+ Agency had largely scattered, ecological events had put many of the things that they had been working on back on the national agenda. Thus, forest and peatland fires in late 2015 caused immense damage in Indonesia and led to a strong response in the forms of new and enhanced regulations, a new Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), and increased policy priority for fire prevention, One Map, law enforcement, social forestry, and land reform. Meanwhile, the LoI had been automatically renewed at the end of 2016, while Norway continued to support its various Indonesian partners, by such means as funding the new BRG and delivering capacity-building support to KLHK and others. So the Partnership remained very much alive.

Moreover, essential parts of an agreed system for accounting, earning, receiving and managing payments for verified emission reductions could only be put in place by government, and these were now nearing completion. Better, after all the investment in mapping and monitoring, there was good evidence that the loss of Indonesian forest cover in 2017 was less than in 2016. We suggested having a look at the numbers again in early 2020, to confirm a real trend in reducing forest loss and hopefully justifying a huge party on the tenth anniversary of the LoI on 26 May 2020. But the data were good enough already, and on 16 February 2019 ministers for the two Partners announced that reduced deforestation in Indonesia had triggered the first payment for results – nearly five million tonnes of reduced emissions! [4]. This good news validates the long-term strategy of both Partners, which is based on the truth that solving complex environmental problems requires sustained effort and flexible investment, involves many stakeholders and relationships, and makes it necessary to accept that there may only be slow directional change over a long period, with fewer dramatic breakthroughs than one might like.

[1]www.ccmin.aippnet.org/pdfs/Indonesia-Norway%20REDD+%20Partnership-%20first%20evaluation%20of%20deliverables%20-%20Final%20Report.pdf

[2]www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/78ef00f5b01148e2973dca203463caee/indonesia-norway-reddsecond-verification-final-report.pdf

[3]https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/56473ac483ff4f8fa537bd5dfda9d57b/idn-nor-third-review–final-report.pdf

[4]www.regjeringen.no/en/aktuelt/indonesia-reports-reduced-deforestation-triggering-first-carbon-payment-from-norway/id2629504/

© Julian Caldecott

On Citizens’ Assemblies

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a growing movement among those willing to take or support non-violent direct action to reform ‘business as usual’ (BAU) in order to fix global heating, ecological collapse and mass extinction. It’s allied with like-minded movements and blessed by the gurus, priests and shamans of numerous faiths and philosophies. I joined XR because after so many years pushing for ecological system change around the world, here at last was a global mass movement that might be able to create political momentum for serious reform. It has three demands which I summarise and interpret as follows.

  • First, the governing elite must tell the truth about the state of the biosphere, the ways of the BAU that threaten its integrity, and their implications for humanity and nature.
  • Second, the governing elite must act effectively and with extreme urgency to address and resolve all threats to the integrity of the biosphere.
  • And third, a new system of leadership and governance must be installed, to guide and supervise reform of the current BAU, so as to ensure effective change and maintain the spirit of inclusiveness and democratic accountability.

Meeting the first demand means building public understanding and support for decisive action, while accepting that depression and fear are natural responses to truth about the world that we have made. Meeting the second demand means making deep and far-reaching changes to the BAU system, going far beyond anything so far agreed but consistent with the true situation that has resulted from past inaction. The third demand is the one that strikes most directly at the ability of the governing elite and BAU system to resist, delay and undermine reform efforts.

It is based on the reasonable beliefs that the ecological problems confronting humanity are too complex and urgent to be handled effectively by current decision-making arrangements, that the BAU system cannot be trusted to reform itself, and that the existing party-based political arrangements are too influenced by those who control BAU to be able to take the necessary hard decisions. This is not to say that individual legislators and businessmen are incompetent or untrustworthy, but it does recognise that established systems of interest and privilege tend to paralyse or misdirect change, at a time when urgent, directional reform is essential.

How decisions are made is important, as it sets the tone for future relationships among people and between people and nature. So any new decision-making forum should be inclusive in its construction, while also being informed and free of undue influence in its deliberations, and able to reach clear, quick, wise and useful decisions. Taking these factors into account, XR proposes to put in place a new Citizens’ Assembly to make strategic decisions. Members would be chosen through ‘sortition’ – that is random selection, like in jury service. The several hundred members would then be given access to expert advice (including a crash-course in ecology and planetary systems science) before deciding how we should proceed.

I speculate that such strategic decisions might focus on how to ensure that ecological reality always takes precedence over human laws (e.g. a Peace with Nature Constitution), or on how to protect the interests of vulnerable and future people and non-human species in all decisions (e.g. the appointment of Tribunes with veto powers). But they would certainly include priorities for combating climate change and mass extinction that are binding on all institutions and sectors. In short, for the specific purpose of making hard decisions to solve the problems of climate change, ecological collapse and mass extinction, a Citizens’ Assembly offers a way to combine the democratic strengths of informed public opinion with the serious responsibilities of jury service. This seems to me well worth demanding. See you on the streets!

© Julian Caldecott

Leadership

Leadership is the skill with which a group’s needs and desires are detected, shaped, and steered. This is worth thinking about, because we are surrounded and blathered at by people claiming to be ‘leaders’ – of political parties and countries especially – but few of them are any good at it. As a result, we are in a real pickle – doomed to being driven mad (e.g. by Brexit) and then extinct (e.g. by climate change). In short, we need good leadership, and urgently. But how to recognise it?

The idea of leadership. The  verb ‘to lead’ comes from the Old English lǣdan (‘lead’) and lād (‘journey’, ‘way’, ‘course’), and it’s linked to ‘load’ (things you carry on a journey) and ‘lode’ (as in lodestar and lodestone, things that guide you on a journey). People have been migrating for scores of millennia (from Africa to Australia and the Americas), and even settled peoples can never afford to forget how to do it as there is always the risk of drought, sea-level rise and invasion. So the idea of a person responsible for starting and steering a journey must be utterly primal. But a group must be ready to travel before a leader can shape a vague motivation to move into enthusiasm for a journey in a particular direction, with all its dangers and labours. And physical travel is only where the idea of leadership came from originally; it now covers other kinds of journey, ones that involve change and progress in relationships between people, and between people and their environments. All require similar skills in managing conflict by dispensing justice, managing relations with other groups, understanding and articulating the needs and desires of groups, and choosing directions and destinations. Leadership is the artistry in doing all these things – and ‘good leadership’ means doing them well.

Why is leadership so hard? Because it brings together every other mental capacity. It requires all signs in the environment to be seen and understood, including the moods of people, nature, and the spirit world, the behaviour of animals, the crying of babies, the texture of grass and soil, and the frequency, intensity and content of social disputes. Many of the clues are subtle – the bad temper of white-tipped reef sharks just before an earthquake, for example – while others (such as the dust of an approaching army) are anything but. In any case, there is a long list, from which particular indicators are chosen (as influenced by culture, itself shaped by experience in that particular environment), and their significance marshalled into a story that can help the group’s ideas and desires take form. These will have been influenced by the same signals that the leader has detected, but perhaps not organised so well or in the same way.

Why do leaders have to be brave? Many important environmental and social signals cannot be appreciated without knowledge and attention to detail, so they may only be recognised by a few people. This applies often in large, complex or fragmented societies in which there are many distractions, and especially involve environmental threats (such as slowly-deteriorating ecological conditions) and social threats (such as slowly-growing inequality, corruption, and political polarisation). Here, if the threats are severe and solutions are needed urgently, but there is little public appreciation of the need for action, an essential quality of leadership is a willingness to act decisively to safeguard the group but in advance of public opinion.

Leaders must make sense of complexity. Modern societies comprise millions of people in political systems and billions in economic ones, and have complex distributions of power among class, caste, gender, ethnic, ideological, and other groups. Distilling useful messages from so many people now requires very selective listening (to focal groups, poll samples, and factional leaders), and very crude messaging about the intentions of the leadership. One-size-fits all price signals, slogans and binary choices tend to replace the subtleties of social discourse, and minorities that cannot build alliances to form large voting blocks tend to be ignored. Only through universal, high-quality education can good minority ideas (such as equity and sustainability) spread widely, and only through local empowerment and decentralisation can accountable governance be maintained in ultra-large political systems. But both education and localism are needed, since otherwise leadership in large societies produces non-inclusive and polarised outcomes. And when these outcomes are challenged by dire events in the social sphere (e.g. through insurrection by the dispossessed), the economic sphere (e.g. through technological or market changes), or the environmental sphere (e.g. through the consequences of climate change), then polarised outcomes can quickly turn into despotic ones. Then we end up with warlords rather than good leaders running the world.

So what are we looking for? Good leadership must include the competence to identify key challenges, the attention given to diverse signals about them and how they are likely to affect the group, the intelligence needed to seek, discriminate and absorb sound advice about what to do about them, the articulacy to explain and build support for a collective course of action that will minimise harm and maximise benefit for most people in the long run, and the flexibility to maintain alliances while adapting to events. So a good leader must be competent, attentive, intelligent, articulate, and flexible, and in the modern world all this must be combined with a surety of touch in communicating with very diverse audiences. How many of those who claim to be leaders come close? Have a look at the UK parliament right now, and see what you think.

© Julian Caldecott

Towards a Peace with Nature Constitution

People ask why I carry a ‘Peace with Nature’ flag at Extinction Rebellion demonstrations. I say it’s because humanity has got into the habit of waging war on nature, but this is a war that we simply cannot win. So we need to give up, surrender, relax, and submit to ecological reality instead. But the habit of war against nature is so strong – how do we break it? My answer is that we need a process of steady, educational change in a consistent direction, as our forces are demobilised and our societies reorganised for peace and sustainability. Then I explain about the daring and imaginative ways that Costa Rica has used to build Peace with Nature over decades. And I say that it’s time to pay attention and learn how to do peace.

Costa Rica is a country in Central America, between Panamá and Nicaragua. In 1948, it abolished its armed forces and redirected its military budget to healthcare, education and environmental protection. During the 1970s and 1980s, despite this early wisdom, rapid deforestation convinced local conservationists that virtually all private lands were likely to be cleared of natural ecosystems. Their lobbying led in 1989 to a National Biodiversity Planning Commission, which started with the premises that biodiversity was economically valuable so should be preserved and used for public benefit, and that forest protection could not succeed unless the people living around each protected area were willing to help protect it. The Commission proposed new laws to consolidate a National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), with all the units being managed locally and for local benefit. To help pay for this, the Commission recommended a national biodiversity inventory, to find out exactly what made up Costa Rica’s biological richness and what it might be used for, and also the creation of a National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) to manage the inventory. All of this was done, and it led in the early 1990s to the high-profile birth of bioprospecting as a strategy for tropical developing countries to use and conserve their own living resources for their own long-term benefit.

By the mid 1990s, the logic of using ecosystems creatively to pay for their own conservation and contribute to national well-being had resulted in a ‘payments for ecosystem services’ (PES) programme in Costa Rica. This is a national system to manage payments for carbon storage, hydrological services, and the protection of biodiversity and landscapes. It is mostly financed by a 3.5% sales tax on fossil fuels, but the aim is that all beneficiaries of environmental services eventually pay for those they receive. In 1997-2004, some US$200 million was invested in PES to protect over 460,000 hectares of forests, to establish forestry plantations and to provide additional income to more than 8,000 forest owners. It had the effect of turning deforestation in Costa Rica into net reforestation by the early 2000s.

These environmentally-based economic programmes, together with debt-for-nature swaps and the rapid growth of genuine ecotourism (i.e. nature-based tourism that pays for conservation and promotes environmental education), helped to transform the country’s self-image and future, and by 2007 Costa Rica was ready for the next logical step, which was to declare Peace with Nature. This involved a number of specific commitments by the government, to abolish all forces that destroy nature by 2021: by banning net GHG emissions and single-use plastics, and promoting environmental action planning by all state institutions, investment in the protected area system and biodiversity, arrangements for users of ecosystem services to pay for their conservation, and environmental education in all schools.

Costa Rica’s 30-year process of change is built on consistent ecological reasoning, appropriate technologies and the sharing of costs and benefits to involve multiple aspects of society and the economy. The factors that made such an approach feasible in Costa Rica (with historical starting positions, luck, and leadership among them) need to be understood, but there are lessons to be learned here that are applicable in all other countries. Three factors are particularly relevant:

  • First, that the social and ethical development of a country or group of states needed for a Peace with Nature Declaration can now be achieved far more quickly than it was in Costa Rica, since we’ve all been wrestling with and learning from similar issues.
  • Second, that ‘Peace with Nature’ need not stop at a declaration and a set of government programmes, even over-arching and mainstreaming ones. Rather it could also be the basis for constitutional reform, applicable equally to a country like the UK that currently lacks a written constitution, and to countries where an existing constitution lacks adequate attention to environmental sustainability.
  • Third, that with ‘experimentalist governance’ as a proven idea (i.e. networked, exploratory peer learning, as applied in the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, the EU Water Framework Directive, the Chinese and Canadian development processes, and in air-traffic and nuclear safety systems), Peace with Nature can provide a goal to which all countries aspire and which they compete and cooperate to achieve.

I reckon that every country needs a Peace with Nature Declaration (to include commitments to Climate Emergency and Carbon Neutrality, but going far beyond them), and a cross-sectoral implementation programme through which to give it meaning, and a Peace with Nature Constitution to embed the key principles at the heart of its legal system, so that laws passed by its parliament can be challenged and judged against the standard of compliance with ecological reality, and struck down as unconstitutional if they fail the test. This would allow a country’s laws to be guided steadily, quickly and irreversibly towards ecological compliance, which is the key essential part of any survival strategy for our species and biosphere. And that’s why I carry a ‘Peace with Nature’ flag at Extinction Rebellion demonstrations! Do join in.

© Julian Caldecott

The EU Pledge

“I affirm my loyalty to the principles and practices of cooperation and social and environmental sustainability that are shared and collectively improved by EU member peoples and institutions, while understanding that this loyalty is compatible with others I may have to place, people and nature. I confirm my distaste for all movements that exploit lies and xenophobia to undermine cooperation among EU member peoples and institutions. I recognise ‘Brexit’ as the aim of such a movement and I reject it utterly: I will not forget those responsible for it; I will resist and strive to reverse its effects; and I will for ever seek a secure and peaceful union between my country and its neighbours, and through them the world and our common future.”

Julian Caldecott (31 January 2019).

The perfectible future

It is clean-up time. The year is 2085 and the biosphere is being saved. The ‘hot storms’ that began in the first quarter of the century built understanding that nature is supreme and merciless in responding to ecological damage, that humanity was violating absolute ecological rules, and that ecological science and spiritual insight could guide us to safety if we paid attention and worked together. A ‘salvage corps’ of young people was mobilised in the 2020s to protect and restore ecological and social harmony worldwide, through hard, intelligent, cooperative work in all environments. The Zeitgeist flipped in the 2030s, and country after country began a constitutional process to declare Peace with Nature, to place ecological law above human law, and to commit to slashing and reversing GHG emissions, protecting and restoring ecosystems, and harmonising society and ecology around true sustainability.

Once the causes of imbalance and extinction had been decisively rejected by a new wave of leaders, trust grew in nature, spirit and human ingenuity to restore the biosphere. The oceans had stored a lot of energy while in the greenhouse, and sea levels are still rising, rainfall patterns remain distorted, and wild storms still pound coastal areas. But there’s a sense of hope even so. Soft engineering, new building codes, and the relocation of populations has allowed for some adaptation, and most people are now reasonably safe. As locally accountable management of ecosystems became the norm, and communities learned from one another about what to require of their leaders, these ideas came to be expressed in a host of different ways, grafted onto a range of religions and philosophies of life. The practical results were incredibly diverse, and this was the whole point of local people seeking and gaining the power to make their own choices, putting their own ecological ethics into practice in their own way.

© Julian Caldecott