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Tuesday
Apr262011

Is There a One-Earth Story to Live By?

More and more of us are finding that parts of the story we’ve been living aren’t working. When we talk about what we are doing, some words that flowed and described our activity before now stick in our throat, or somewhere. In our gut or heart or head, other voices are saying, “But it’s not working. You need to change.”

This story which is now failing, I call the multi-Earths story because it takes multiple Earths to sustain it. The endless wars and ruthless competition for the resources of our one planet expose this story as utterly inadequate to fit within the carrying capacity of our planet. That the multi-Earths story is a weakling story is further revealed by its reliance on and animation of lower human capacities such as greed and fear. Its frailty to address such realities as radical inequalities of resources and power, species dieoff, and a rapidly expanding population all convince us that we humans are capable of a far better story.

That better story is both as old as homo sapiens and as young as its latest version. It is seasoned by centuries and millennia of previous versions. Contributing to such an updated narrative and helping one another live it, is the mission of the “One-Earth Project.” You can flip to the last chapter and read a version of such a story compiled from the details of the other chapters. It is a story that joyfully fits one Earth.

Early chapters in this “One-Earth Project” describe the story on which the leadership on our planet bases their behaviors. It gives us their version of how to be an economic success as a person, business, or nation. But it has now outlived its viability. Stay with it and it will kill us. So we need to exodus that story with its economy in favor of one that the Earth herself has been telling. That’s what the middle and later chapters are about. In this story, we will experience more about our interconnectedness with all of Creation. Our desire to align our lives and the structures we use with the rest of the Earth Community will be better met. We will feel our solidarity as full participants with all species in the evolutionary processes of one, sustainable Earth, our joint home.

I call this story the one-Earth story. The economics that expresses this story fits with one planet. It builds on perceiving Earth’s abundance and commits itself to the structures by which all, people and species, have enough.

The narrative of the new story has a four part outline.

  1. The problem—Civilization continues to design economies that concentrate wealth and power in a succession of empires of various kinds. These require multiple Earths if they are to serve all. But they don’t. For 12,000 years the civilization project has continually generated wealth for a relative few countries and people while great majorities have had their poverty increased or sustained. Now this civilization project has come face-to-face with a challenge it is ill-equipped to adapt to: Earth, our only home, can no longer sustain the project.
  2. Our participation in the problem—Whether by choice, coercion, or the inability to see a viable alternative, most people of the Earth have been included to a greater or lesser degree in the civilization project. Most of us have not realized that the models we have developed take multiple planets to resource them, not just the one planet we have. Alternative models have been marginalized or ignored but have never gone away. They are rooted in creation and continue to exist and reassert themselves, but they have not so far become a way of healing and salvation for the earth. Earth’s controlling powers shun them for fear of losing their control as they have arranged it. It’s true; they would —just as spiritual wisdom in all religious traditions and outside those traditions has said. Even so, consciousness is changing.
  3. Our turning toward solutions with promise—Now, as Earth herself holds civilization accountable for our economic models, Creation extends anew her invitation to live within her life-giving order. Responding to this gracious invitation is the great work of our time. The best motivators for our turning from the status quo to solutions are love of Creation and Creator, wonder and reverence for the sacred mystery and wisdom shining throughout Creation, and caring for Earth’s entire community, from the millions of microbes in a cubic foot of soil to gigantic sequoias, ivory-tusked rhinos, and the diverse human species. Reconnecting with the state of mystery in the presence of Earth’s many wonders is a major need in our time; meeting that need is within our reach and will result in wisdom unavailable to rational analysis or planning.
  4. The promise—Embedded in Earth’s grand promise is the challenge to join in her move from the Cenozoic Era to the Ecozoic Era (Thomas Berry’s language in his book, The Great Work). Some will call it re-inventing civilization, but the promise is best expressed by creation herself. It lies in her continuously evolving story. Despite the savagery of “civilization’s” economies which result in extinctions, eco-raping, taming, and loss of biodiversity, nature continues to have a wild side, an unconquerable mystery, and teaches us day and night to follow her into a new era of Earth Community for all.

Putting our faith in a one-Earth story may feel risky or daring. But the risks of the multi-Earth story, when accurately perceived, raise much greater alarm. Shifting our faith to a one-Earth story, though not without risk, places our faith in a more dynamic and assured story. First, I emphasize again that it is the story of Earth and the cosmos—a very old story continually evolving into perpetual newness. Also, it is, truly, the only story that our commonsense affirms, given we have only one planet to live on. Furthermore, our basic sense of fairness and love get that the resources of this planet are to be shared with all—not only all humans, but all species. And beyond our commonsense, fairness, and love, many of us have made a spiritual commitment or sacred vow to our Creator to live according to the design of this magnificent Creation.

Each of us needs to be able to tell a version of this story—one that feels compelling to us. The version we tell will testify to why we live our lives as we do, both flaws and triumphs. Our story will give examples of which economic structures we use and why; it will describe the kind of Earth communities we aspire to be part of. The final chapters give broad contours and essential concepts of a one-Earth economy.

I want to emphasize, then, that a one-Earth story is marked by abundance within the creational order, not by scarcity and fear. It is an exciting story because it releases all of our higher capacities to work in our lives and for the common good. It is a story filled with “ah-hahs” because its evolution never stops and perpetually generates newness in ways that surprise us. Why would we not commit ourselves, mind, heart, soul, and strength to love and live such a holy and human story?

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