Tipping point: “The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, tipping point, like the Chinese characters for crisis that combine danger and opportunity, describes where we are as a species. On the one hand, our climate is approaching a point of no return where it tips from ‘change’ — which is already evident, particularly in South Florida where I live — to ‘chaos’ about which we can only offer educated guesses, none of them good. On the other hand, we have unprecedented opportunities to reverse the damage caused by capitalism gone rogue, and see the fruits of our effort in our lifetime, and/or in the lives of our children and theirs.
Don’t expect to find guidance in political promises that continue to insist we can have infinite growth on a finite planet. Generally, scientific papers do a better job in framing the problem than in pointing to solutions. For some — my spouse and I, for example — the thing we can do is right under our feet: soil to be healed, food to be grown, and forests to be started. We are enrolled in an introductory permaculture course this month at the renowned Mounts Botanical Garden, about which more later.
In Soil Not Oil, physicist/environmental activist/author, Vandana Shiva, builds a clear relationship between healthy soil and our survival as a species. Could it really be that simple? “Every step in building a living agriculture sustained by a living soil is a step toward both mitigating and adapting to climate change,” she writes. James Hansen makes a similar urgent argument for sequestering carbon in the soil. And Rodale Institute’s White Paper on regenerative agriculture points out:
Excess carbon in the atmosphere is surely toxic to life, but we are, after all, carbon-based life forms, and returning stable carbon to the soil is a tonic that can support ecological abundance.
What if we reject options like geothermal engineering or methods of extracting fuels from photosynthesis or seawater for the risky business they are. What if enough of us put our attention on reclaiming land to plant trees and grow food? Where’s the downside?
As the documentary, Growing Cities, points out, Americans have reverted to this simple idea in times of crisis. The Victory Gardens of World War II come to mind, and Michelle Obama’s anti-0besity campaign that includes a vegetable plot on the grounds of The White House. Then, when ‘happy days are here again,’ we ‘forget’ how powerful these choices make us and surrender to the ease of supermarket shopping and Big Ag dominated food system. The good news: skills may lie dormant, but they don’t go away.
One of the projects of Transition Totnes, the UK’s first Transition Town, was to interview elders about their life experiences of an earlier, slower time. People who grew up during the Depression and World War II are an ever-shrinking group now, but there are plenty of 70- and 80-somethings with good memories of growing up on a farm or living in small towns where everyone knew each other by name and often worked together in some common enterprise.
I am thinking about the series of interviews FAU professor and performance artist, Sherryl Muriente, conducted with elders in the Italian town of Artena, subject Regeneration City, a documentary about The International Society of Biourbanism summer school in July 2013. She uncovered among the nonnas of Artena a tradition of bread baking that had all but disappeared, and was able to revive it in an inspiring local festival. (A second screening of the film was held in Lake Worth last weekend.) This could be a great project for any Transition Town in the making, and, nonna that I am, feel ready to work both ends of the interview.
Degrowth is far from a popular idea in my circles (yet), but it could be that better days are ahead if we can let go of the world we’ve been conditioned to accept and open ourselves to the one that is possible, and possibly superior, to this one. Samuel Alexander, founder of The Simplicity Collective, thinks so. He makes a persuasive case for a degrowth economy, one that achieves a steady state within the Earth’s biophysical limits: “Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”, turning our energy crises into an opportunity for civilisational renewal.” This is also at the heart of Transition’s energy descent philosophy.
Self-identified ‘degrowth activist,’ Charles Eisenstein is eloquent on the subject. From The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible: “When any of us meet someone who rejects dominant norms and values, we feel a little less crazy for doing the same. Any act of rebellion or non-participation, even on a very small-scale, is therefore a political act.”