Updated: Apr 25
Today was the presidential election day in France: a showdown between the unconvincing and the unthinkable.
I cast my ballot, certain that it had little bearing on the most significant collective choices yet to be made.
I cast a ballot, knowing I would need to do better than only that.
“Apocalypse, Now” was an unsettling movie set during the Vietnam war, but the title seems to capture well enough a leitmotif of our modern world narrative. Each year, every “now”, has its distinctive ring of doom. If I were President, perhaps I would call my program “Salvation, Now”. In spite of any eschatological undertones, its main thrust would be (as you’ll see), entirely “down to earth”.
How about you? What is it you most want to save?
If a loved one were in mortal danger–your child for example–you wouldn’t have to think.
If your own life were in danger, and you could save it without sacrificing someone else’s, you’d be quick to make that choice too, unless you’re suicidal.
Last year, most of the world mobilized itself to save people from Covid.
This year, we are focused on saving Ukraine from Putin.
On this day, in France, an unsettled, narrow majority voted to save the Republic from a fascist presidential candidate.
All of the above describe immediate dangers to only a fraction of humanity, yet they absorb our attention, entirely. The last three are circumscribed and self-regulating dangers.
Covid will inevitably come and go, uninvited and without a goodbye.
Putin and his regime will ultimately crumble, as will any far-right presidency in France.
What if we knew there to be greater existential threats than these, directly affecting all humans and all life on Earth? Would we seek salvation, now?
We do in fact know such threats exist. One of these is nuclear war, which may or may not happen. For the sake of discussion (nobody wants to talk about it), let’s say we narrowly and harrowingly avoid that scenario (as we did on several occasions during the Cold War while nobody was paying attention).
Having averted “the worst”, we remain faced with an impending environmental catastrophe: a systemic breakdown of our ecosystem. For those willing to look up, it is clear enough that a failure to act massively and systematically to inverse the trend will spell doom for our grandchildren. But are we really interested in their salvation, now?
Given the inadequacy of political, institutional, and consumer response, we can safely conclude that our grandchildren are not the priority. The priority has always been to “win the war” – be it the war on terrorism, on Covid, or against Putin. And so we fight our wars and continue to destroy our planet. Will any war ever bring salvation, now?
People have their own take on environmental priorities, but I’ve yet to meet a single human being who believes all is well with our natural environment.
For as long as I can remember, I have known–or felt–that all is not well. Our manner of exploiting and destroying our natural resources has always seemed just as criminal to me as the act of a thief or rapist. Individual crimes are easier to prosecute. What do you do about collective crimes committed by democratic nations and powerful corporations? They can’t be easily prosecuted, because just about everyone is complicit at some level.
Twenty-five years ago, I wrote an academic paper on eco-efficiency which competes as one of my most irrelevant and time-consuming endeavors ever. Since then, I’ve stood by, gaping, at the lack of collective awareness and response to ecological destruction.
What is it, exactly, that has made us unwilling or unable to deal with this collective crisis so far? Is it just because it’s not urgent enough? Folks in California, when they see flames, know full well from experience that those flames could soon be lapping at their doorstep. But what experience do we have with unprecedented ecological tipping points? There’s no dress rehearsal.
Maybe we think ourselves powerless? Or maybe competing experts can’t agree on the temperature of the fire that’s consuming our common home, and we're content to let it burn while they debate?
At what seems to be the final act of this epic tragic-comedy, I am grasping for some magic wand of salvation, now.
This is what I have found as a wand:
The saving power ignites when head and heart unite. We must get beyond fear, and beyond the idea of just putting up a fight.
Later I’ll speak from the heart, but let’s start by getting our thinking right. There are so many possible entry points into the daunting complexity of environmental degradation. The best-known and most claimed of these is climate change. From this standpoint, everything boils down to controlling carbon emissions. No doubt, climate change will have some severe consequences for life on earth -- for some more than others.
More fundamentally, however, a greater threat may be the depletion of soil, because the quality and quantity of soil determine the quality and quantity of our food and water supply. There were far more people dying of starvation, malnutrition, and contaminated water over the past three years than from the Covid pandemic, but governments, media, and most people were far more concerned about Covid. Perhaps they felt personally threatened? Incidentally, there remains a program to vaccinate everyone on the planet (including the 800 million who are currently starving).
Should food and water shortages ever affect affluent nations, soil depletion will quickly become a worldwide priority. Perhaps that will not happen, and the occasional headline about there only being 60 harvests remaining is possibly exaggerated.
Paradoxically, during a half-century of bounty, Americans manufactured and even exported what may be the least healthy diet in human history. Most likely, there will always remain “foodstuffs”. But will these “stuffs” foster or further degrade our health?
Will our grandchildren ever experience, thanks to their latest Iphone, the tastes of the exquisite fruits that once grew from a fertile earth?
Saving our soil should be a priority because it regenerates just about everything else, in particular, that other vital resource called water. It is the soil that captures and filters rainwater, replenishing and purifying the groundwater that supports all ecosystems. Rich soil is also a cornerstone of biodiversity and atmospheric equilibrium.
How do we regenerate soil? It is as simple as restoring balance and letting nature do its work. It's about re-creating ecosystems that have been destroyed by industrialized agriculture and meat production. How do you re-create ecosystems? Planting the right kind of trees is a simple start to a more systemic approach, the science for which is not lacking.
If science is not lacking, are means lacking? The USA allocates 800 billion USD per year to defend its land against foreign aggression, while the same land is progressively depleted under domestic discretion. No bombs ever prevented the infamous “Dust Bowl”.
The means are not lacking. Such massive power we hold to destroy life. So weak is our will to preserve it. Have psychopaths seized power in our democracies? Is this what we, the people, want? Is this our pursuit of happiness?
Saving our soil is a step on the path to salvation, now.
It’s not a means of saving everything (humans will likely keep on exploiting each other for a while), but it most certainly is a means of saving our life-sustaining resources without which all the rest won’t matter much in the end.
What can we do for salvation, now? Five things come to mind.
Back what you buy
Without waiting on governments to act, we can make consumer choices that serve to boycott the current system of mass agricultural production. Refusing to consume industrially-produced meat is perhaps the highest-impact consumer choice because meat production (including the crops to support it) depletes greater surface areas than any other economic activity. Every consumer choice does count, just like every vote counts. Once enough people change their consumption patterns, the consumer-oriented system will change what it produces….painfully, for sure, and provoking massive job losses. After the Covid lockdowns, we now know that the government operates on a blank check of fiat currency. It can bring the economy to a halt when it deems necessary, and pay off its debt somewhere over the rainbow. Resetting our hell-bent economy is absolutely necessary for salvation, now.
Speak up and shut down
The social and media spheres are replete with idle chatter and divisive opinions. They even thrive on it. What if as much attention were given to soil regeneration as was given to a Hollywood star’s bad behavior at the Oscars? Who knows…but what about you, just you? What prevents you from spreading the word and informing the conversation? Is it a fear of no “likes”? Rest assured, you won’t get many “likes” (far fewer than for the photo of your latest desert)--but you will have done the small thing that affects the whole in a way that you cannot predict. What prevents you from shutting down your participation in those media that are actually a part of the problem?
It is well-documented that Hitler and his henchmen only succeeded thanks to countless and nameless people carrying out insignificant acts. The horror was nicely broken-down into tiny palatable pieces.
The dynamic of “small acts” works both ways, for the better and for the worse.
Better your ballot
It is the willingness to speak up that ultimately creates traction among a critical mass of fellow citizens. This is the necessary first step before any political action can emerge. We need to collectively concur that soil regeneration really is a priority, and only then push politicians and policymakers to act. The environmental agenda will need to feature more than just soil regeneration, but I sense this goal to be more inclusive and less abstract than climate change, even though the two are entirely interdependent.
Do governments really have the power to act? During the Covid years, governments reacted with unimaginably drastic (and often counter-productive) measures. If they were able to do so for a circumscribed threat, surely they can also act on a concern that is so much more far-reaching. Given our experience with pandemic administration, it is plausible that democratic governments will invoke emergency powers to manage climate change when the going gets really rough. That would be a dreadful outcome because we would have to choose between personal freedom and the imperious need to preserve natural resources. How far superior it would be to use our current freedoms towards our salvation, now.
Invest for environmental returns
If your primary work does not directly contribute to restoring the environment, then invest in enterprises that are working on the problem directly. What’s the point in saving money for retirement if money can no longer buy what is essential: clean water and nourishing food? Does that sound completely implausible?
You can always follow the crowd and invest (directly or indirectly) in one of the “big A” companies (Alphabet, Apple, Amazon) that promise a positive financial return. By doing so, you will also ensure a negative environmental return. Is that a good deal for your deathbed?
How about investing for the sake of “environmental returns” instead of financial returns? Seeking the former, you may even achieve the latter. Is there any more valuable asset than the Earth? Time for the Planet is an innovative holding company that invests in start-ups developing services and technologies in service of salvation, now.
A final call to action is to “dig in”. Get your hands on (and into) a parcel of land (communal or private) and begin to acquaint yourself with the magic of mud. Soil is a marvel, itself the richest ecosystem on the planet, with the unique capacity to transmute death into life. Whatever you think of your body, it is ultimately destined for digestion by the soil, from which new life will again emerge.
With whatever land you can take upon yourself to cultivate, let that sovereign parcel become a microcosm for the world. Taking care of life in this way, you will become more vibrantly alive.
Heart matters in the end
I stated earlier that when the head and heart unite, the saving power ignites.
Here now is the heart of the matter. Humankind, the star of the “Apocalpyse, Now” narrative, has been stuck in a fear-response mode for as long as we can remember. Fear is a survival mechanism, but paradoxically it can also lead to destruction, with a whimper or a bang. We will never do anything great out of fear, and without greatness, we are not fully human.
Only love will lead us to great things. Only love will lead us to salvation, now.
The word love should be understood in the context of the impending catastrophe. This is not the love for your spouse, or your family, or your country–although it is felt from the same place. This is a love for what unites all of us as humans: our common home. The love for what unites us must supersede the identities that divide us. It is not an impersonal or conceptual form of love. As a man, I can compare it to what I've felt for my beloved and have previously written about it as "Earth Erotica".
“Salvation, Now!” requires that we who are able, kindle this fire of love for the Earth and for all life. Such love is naturally within us. Our sense of separateness from what we love is only an illusion. We just need to find and focus on love instead of fear. Some humans have so alienated themselves from their natural state of being that they cannot find such love within themselves. They may be engrossed in their games of power and prestige or their misery of subsistence and survival. We can’t convince or coerce such persons, but neither do we have to elect them. Maybe, by some form of mysterious grace, we can touch them.
I don’t know for certain that enough love will arise to save us in the end. I do know in my heart that love has the power to save us. The greater the danger becomes, the greater also the power of salvation, now.