31 Dec Welcome the Fire of Transformation
Written by Alec Loorz, Founder Kids vs Global Warming/iMatter
Taken from keynote speech at Whidbey Bioneers- November 2, 2013
Hello! Thank you so much, I’m so excited to have this opportunity to share with you
some of the things I’ve been thinking about recently.
First off, I’m very sorry I can’t be with you in person. I am currently in Copenhagen,
Denmark where I will be involved in a roundtable discussion with key players in the business and sustainability worlds, gathering to discuss what it will actually look like to transition to a safe and sustainable future. It’s an amazing opportunity to influence some of the people who actually hold power, and open a dialogue between groups who wouldn’t normally have very close contact. One of the key perspectives I plan on bringing to the table is the idea that creating a safeand sustainable future will take more than just investing in solar power and starting new renewable energy companies, but requires a fundamental shift in the way we value each other, the earth, and, dare I say it, money. Yes, the shift to sustainability is not a matter of changing what we sell so that we profit more from things that emit less carbon, but we must shift so dramatically that we no longer value profits and wealth as the most important thing at all.
I realized that giving out these little personal actions was almost disempowering, after hearing about how huge of a problem we’re facing. And I began to think that solving global warming would take a lot more than riding bikes and changing light bulbs, that the answer must be to go bigger.
Before I go any further, let me first go backwards, to the beginning of my own journey. I started off focused completely on spreading the message that climate change is real, and will affect the youngest generation more than anyone else. I was 13 when I first started giving presentations, and they were mostly at middle and high schools, as well as some environmental events where people my age were in attendance. And it was basically the straightforward Al Gore presentation, complete with the pretty little slides showing how Carbon Dioxide traps heat inside our atmosphere, and how the increased heat will lead to more devastating hurricanes and more intense droughts, I even had the slide with the fluctuating Co2 levels over the last 800,000 years, showing how we are now pumping out more of these gasses than our planet has ever seen before.
I then offered vague solutions for people to take in their own homes… things like recycling and installing solar panels and buying energy efficient light bulbs and fridges and cars.
I spent sometimes half of the whole presentation talking about these solutions, but still everysingle time I spoke I would get the question “so, what can we actually do to stop global warming?” I realized that giving out these little personal actions was almost disempowering, after hearing about how huge of a problem we’re facing. And I began to think that solving global warming would take a lot more than riding bikes and changing light bulbs, that the answer must be to go bigger. So I started encouraging students to start Global Warming Action Teams in their schools, doing things like planting gardens and trying to get school buses to stop idling and starting recycling programs in their cafeterias. It was empowering and the students usually were pretty excited to join these groups. But after the first couple of meetings, they tended to just sort of trail off and disappear. Even the ones that lasted for a while ended up just meeting every couple weeks to talk about things they could do but never really went anywhere. And so I realized that the answer must be bigger even than these local school groups… that we needed a movement of groups all across the world joining together to demand change.
I started calling for a revolution, and in 2011, I and my organization Kids vs Global Warming organized an international event called the iMatter March, in which youth from over 45 countries gathered together and marched in their streets to let the world know that the youngest generation will no longer stand idly by as our future is gambled away. The marches were organized by young people, most of them under 18, and they were an amazing way to empower these young people to be leaders in their communities. It gave them a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves, of standing for something great and important. It was amazing, but I still had this feeling that we weren’t really changing anything. Yeah, all these young people were getting empowered, but we were still emitting just as much carbon and burning just as much coal and drilling for just as much oil.
And so, I filed a lawsuit against the federal government, for allowing profits to come before our survival. I was connected with a group of lawyers working on this legal doctrine called atmospheric trust litigation, which aims to hold the government accountable for keeping the atmosphere safe, as a part of the public trust.
My organization was responsible for finding youth in all 50 states to be the plaintiffs in cases in their own state courts, and we did. In 2011, we filed cases in all 50 states, including a big federal case that I was the lead plaintiff for. It was a big exciting deal, we all went to the federal district courthouse in DC and met with a whole bunch of Congresspeople the day before the hearing was set to be held. They were all supportive, took lots of nice pictures with us. Then we went into the hearing room and saw all our lawyers sitting around a table over on one side, the judge right up in the middle, and then on the other side, there was one representative of the US government agencies we were suing, and then a good half-dozen lawyers representing the fossil fuel industry which had intervened in the case to try to stop us. They resorted to legal quibbles about whether we had the jurisdiction for this or used the right legal jargon for that, and didn’t even allow the climate change point to be made at all. Dr. James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, was ready to testify at the hearing, on behalf of his own grandchildren, but the court wouldn’t allow it, deciding instead to let the fossil fuel industry take advantage of loopholes in the system and force our case into the floor because it threatened their profits.
After 12 long months of deliberation, the judge finally gave his verdict: that the case was
dismissed. No settlements, no compromises, it was done. The fossil fuel industry succeeded in stopping a group of kids from standing up for their future….Our lawyers filed an appeal just a couple weeks ago, but in the year and a half since we got the letter of rejection, I’ve done a lot of thinking. And it doesn’t seem to me like the answer
lies in the legal system, or the political system. For one thing, it too is so bought out by money that the only way to get anywhere is to have the deepest pockets. But more than that, it seems to me that while I was constantly going bigger and bigger with my efforts, trying to solve more and more of the problem with one action or one campaign, I was missing a very key point fundamental to understanding what it will actually take to create a sustainable and just society.
You see, what I’m only now just beginning to realize… is that the shift in our society is not just rooted in the actions we take. It isn’t just about the kind of car we drive or how many solar panels we buy, it isn’t how many people are in our action team or how loudly we can yell at all those marches. No, it isn’t even rooted in what kind of laws our leaders pass or even what source of energy powers our factories and charges our computers.
The transformation our society is about to undergo is akin not to the development of the electric car or the invention of solar power, and can’t even be compared to the French revolution or the civil rights movement. My friends, this shift is so deep and wide-reaching in its effect that it can only be compared to the harnessing of fire, or the invention of language, or the development of agriculture, or the beginning of organized civilization, or the brilliance of the ancient Greek philosophers, or the birth of Jesus, or the rise of the Roman Empire and the domination of the Roman Catholic Church, or the enlightenment, or the scientific revolution.
Brothers and sisters, these movements were more than just changes in lifestyle or shifts in power. These were revolutions in the system of thinking of our entire species. These were redefinitions of what it means to be a member of the human species, of what it means to be a member of the community of life. Throughout human history, there have been these moments, these movements, these catastrophic events where everything that we ever knew or thought about ourselves and the world falls apart and is shattered. The lenses through which we look are the world are thrown off our face and broken into a million pieces, and there right before us is a new pair, bright and shining like the rising sun on the first day of spring. They are moments of apocalypse, a Greek word meaning “lifting of the veil” or revelation. They are moments of understanding that go deeper than we can even express, that redefine not only how we live and how we act, but what
it means to be alive, what it means to be human.
This is what is happening now. Our society is in the beginning stages of a transformative process of redefinition of what it means to be human. It’s happening as we speak, it is not a conscious thing, it will happen and it is happening whether we want it to or not. The first step in any transformation is always destruction. The old ways must die before anything new can grow. This is how it is in all of nature. Wherever there is growth, wherever there is life, there is also death. This is one of the fundamental laws of nature, and this is the first thing that we need to understand if we are to cope with the transformation that is beginning now.
Because whether we like it or not, everything that our society is right now will fall apart one way or another. The only choice that we have is whether to resist that death, and be thrownover a raging waterfall that tears us to pieces and wipes us away forever… or to welcome in the fire of transformation and allow it to deconstruct the old system in a way that allows us to rise up again from the ashes once more, as a new humanity.
This is the choice we face. And it’s difficult to imagine because the transformation is not one that can be seen visibly. It’s effects will be visible, just as the effects of the harnessing of fire and the agricultural revolution can be seen still today, but it is at its core a transformation in the way that we think… the way that we relate to each other and to the world.
We will create a society that functions in accordance with the laws of nature, that operates not in a healthy relationship with nature, but as a part of nature itself. We must understand that we are all a part of something much, much greater than ourselves, greater than our communities, our countries, or even our civilization as a whole. We are part of a universal system of organization which governs every aspect of nature, from the rotation of the stars to the death of a bumblebee, it is a set of laws by which every natural being abides. At some point in the history of our species, we decided that we no longer were subject to these laws, that we were somehow separate from the natural world and had every right to harness it for our own advantage. But the time has now come to once again allow these laws of nature to govern us. We return to this system bringing with us tens of thousands of years of wisdom and growth. It was not all for nothing. Throughout these thousands of generations, we have become a force of transformation ourselves. And perhaps that is the role we will play in the coming times.
To be completely honest, I don’t know what this new humanity will look like. I know that it has something to do with this renewing cycle of life and death, that is has something to do with thinking and acting on behalf of not only ourselves but the greater community around us, I know it has something to do with being in a reciprocal relationship with our environment, of giving back just as much as we take, I know it has something to do with reconnecting with our roots,and realizing that those roots extend far deeper than our families or even our ancestors, but that our roots extend through all of evolutionary history, back through every animal, plant, and oxygen molecule that came before us, back past the beginning of earth and the creation of all the stars in every galaxy, back even beyond the big bang, back to that source of life which came before everything and which holds everything in balance… I know that this understanding will be part of the new humanity.
But these are just tiny glimpses of the new life that will and must arise. And I can’t tell you exactly what it will look like or every step of how we’ll get there. But I can see the path. I am ready to begin walking it. And I only hope that you will join me.