Getting There From Here

Reading the final document from the Rio+20 conference together with the Earth Charter leaves me with a sense of disquiet. Both are eloquent statements of where we need to be, as humans and as cohabitants of the planet we share.

My disquiet comes from their inability to explain how we might get there from here, from where we are at the moment to where both these two documents urgently insist we need to be. Whether the language is about sustainability or is stripped down to the issue of mere survival, we have long since lost the luxury of being able to mince words.

But we still do, and earnestly. Real urgency is lost in the face of bureaucratic objections, the machinations of government, the legal conundrums what belongs to whom, or the boundaries of whatever politics are involved in conceiving of ourselves as a global problem in need of a similarly global solution.

A sea change is required, something that reorders our human priorities and puts them in line with planetary ones, that places our wants and desires in a framework, not only of our own needs, but also the needs of the other creatures with whom we share the planet.

PowerShift 2012 is an attempt to begin such a transformation. Bring together 1500 young and talented people, encourage them to understand that they are not alone and that their gifts and ideas are needed and useful — even crucial – at this point in history, and something changes.

What is most important, however, is that their energy should be directed at finding solutions, not merely at overcoming the problems caused by their elders.

Of course, it would be nice if governments – Canada’s or those elsewhere – would suddenly take the steps needed toward a sustainable future. But history demonstrates that government policies are more apt to be barriers than aids. Bureaucratic processes speed up for no person (or planet), regardless how good a reason.

It would also be nice to see official support for the ideas behind PowerShift, but the likelihood is instead some collective fear at the potential for violence – mirrored visors of the riot squads, confrontation with the minions of authority rather than conversation with authority itself. Hooligans are easily understood and managed, after all. The more serious questions are those that go beyond tussles in the streets, staged by whoever seeks to capitalize on such things to further their own more selfish agenda.

The struggle is with ourselves, not with some external and malevolent agency. It is our choices that created the structures that continue to wreak havoc on the planet, our support that maintains them, and our own lack of wisdom that means we cannot see where and how to do things differently.

I remember the days in the 1980s when tens of thousands of Canadians marched in the streets of our major cities for peace – Canadians of all ages, from all walks of life, convinced that all of our futures were at risk unless something changed and the Cold War came to an end.

When it comes to climate change, I wish for the same response, only on a larger scale. When the young people gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa for PowerShift 2012, they need to be joined by everyone who worries that we are headed in the wrong direction, that something different must be done.

This is not about young versus old, poor versus rich, weak versus powerful. It is about us contending against ourselves, pitting today against tomorrow, and needing instead to find solutions that work for all of us, in the time we have left to choose.

A generation that lives for today at the expense of tomorrow has no future, just as a generation that lives for tomorrow at the expense of today will not survive to see it.

Wisdom lies somewhere in between. Somehow, we need to change the game, because no one will win the one we are now playing.

Peter Denton is the author of Gift Ecology: Reimagining a Sustainable World (Rocky Mountain Books, 2012).