If we want a future for our grandchildren, what changes must our society make in the next few years? What can we do as individuals and as a community?
Asheville was one of 15 cities across the country chosen by Rainforest Action Network for a Climate Leadership Summit, held on Oct. 25-26 at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Forty-five activists, including some who had traveled from Tennessee and South Carolina, converged to envision and brainstorm solutions to the planet’s most pressing problem: climate change. The weekend was devoted to collaborative visions and strategies for solutions.
There were students from UNC Asheville and attendees in their 60s or older with long histories of activism, including one man who was over 80 years old. Some had traveled to New York together for the People’s Climate March in September; many had been trained in civil disobedience in order to protest Keystone Pipeline. The Green Grannies — including me and Debby Genz of 350.org, the Pledge of Resistance, and the Climate March — gave a rousing rendition of the anthem, “Do It Now.” Dylan Ryals-Hamilton and Beth Gilman, permaculturists, and Cathy Scott, an artist, were among those representing Transition Asheville. Sherry Ingram and I are members of Asheville’s Food Policy Council. From Durham, an activist named Jodi invited everyone to a statewide climate justice summit.
After conference leader Todd Zimmer of RAN time-traveled us forward to a successful transition in 2050, some of the beautiful visions generated: an economy with worker-owned cooperatives, regional production, and a focus on restoring and healing devastated ecosystems (no more big box stores with goods from China); food growing in former lawns, with food access for all; no more flush toilets, bio-gas digesters producing methane from wastes and also giving rich fertilizer; decision making that is nonhierarchical and uses compassionate communication; bicycles everywhere, and biodiesel vans; an education system that is student-centered and allows children to learn from nature; community-built passive solar housing made from natural materials; a smart grid incorporating solar and wind; water revered as our most valued resource.
In the “Climate Relics Museum,” we imagined a smokestack, a tractor, pesticides, nuclear and coal plants, RVs, container ships.
What are the “pillars” that prop up the present system? The fossil fuel industries, of course, but also the multinational corporations, the banks, corporate personhood (money in politics), and the whole growth-centered economic system and the consumer society it spawned. How to knock down these pillars? As participants held up a poster symbolizing the present carbon-spewing system, others called out: “Divestiture from fossil fuels!” “Buy local movement!” “Move to amend the Constitution!” (to repeal corporate personhood and get the money out of politics) With each of these, the “pillars” groaned and collapsed.
What pillars can support the new society we want? The group decided that education, cooperatives, renewable energy, systemic planning including sustainable agriculture, and inclusive consent-based governance were keys. Invoking the Precautionary Principle, externalization of costs would no longer be allowed. We lifted up these new pillars.
Working together, the group laid out a timeline complete with benchmarks of important dates to accomplish goals. Some examples: Campaign Finance Reform enacted. Huge movement succeeds in mass divestiture from fossil fuel corporations. Rights of Nature becomes part of Constitution.
Already underway, we learned, are campaigns at UNCA calling for divestment from fossil fuels and promoting more local food on campus. The next step for Rainforest Action Network is to spread the process of collecting visions, by empowering summit participants to lead a similar process with friends and neighbors. This will be happening in the next few months, and leading up to a nationwide “Day of Action.” Stay tuned!