By Kristin Scheer

Our PeaceWorks vision is a healthy world of justice and peace without war and its weapons. As we engage in our ongoing activities toward this vision, it’s important to reflect on how our work and our vision are related to the climate crisis. We can look more deeply at what aspects of our human civilization contribute to the conditions that have created both the climate crisis and the crises of the many faces of destruction, injustice, violence, and environmental degradation that flow from the global military complex.

I’ve been looking more closely at this nexus in a five-session climate response course I’m taking right now, which is based right here in Kansas City, Mo. This course offers a powerful set of resources, which are designed to provide three outcomes to participants in just five weeks:

  • shifting the way participants relate to the climate crisis from fear and avoidance to an integrated, lasting sense of opportunity and active hope,
  • supporting participants in understanding and taking the most important specific, measurable actions individuals can take to help reverse global warming, and
  • helping participants to gain clarity about the direction they want to take once the course is complete.
If our hearts hear the rush of the Colorado mountain stream, perhaps we will shift the way we relate to the climate crisis from fear and avoidance to a sense of opportunity and hope.

At the halfway point of the course, I am engaged and inspired, despite the scope of the challenge of the climate crisis and its uncertain outcome. Through the climate response course, I have learned from Paul Hawkins, one of the key leaders in the environmental movement over the past 40 years. He is author of books such as Blessed Unrest and The Ecology of Commerce.  As Hawkins was taking in the dire news from scientists of the rapid decline of natural systems, he kept asking himself one question: What to do about it? He says the scientists did such a good job of describing the impact of global warming that we expected they would have a solution. Hawkins, an English major, realized that the language they were using to describe the crisis was that of fear about what was happening. Fear, he says, quoting Dune, “is a mind-killer.” It was disengaging 99% of the population. So he gathered scientists, philosophers, artists, activists, and poets, and came up with the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. And it is communicated without the tell-tale fear of doomsaying. (See Drawdown.org.)

I have also learned from Joanna Macy, who suggests that people make meaning by the cultural stories we tell, and that there are three stories in our time. One story is “business as usual” in the industrial growth society. The second story tells of the great unraveling of living systems on Earth. The third is the Great Turning, the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining society. The first story, she says, tells us to “consume, be silent, and obey.” Corporate profits and market shares grow, we are comfortable, and our lives are convenient. But, as a scholar of systems, Macy explains you cannot maximize a system for one variable, economic growth, without it going out of control. And that’s what we have done, sliding us into the second story, where the sixth mass extinction, the melting of our glaciers, deadly weather patterns, and the meltdown of economic systems prevail.

Joanna Macy says, “We are witnessing a revolution: farmers’ markets, green buildings, indigenous voices, science, and spirituality—a recognition that our Earth is alive.” These prairie flowers from the Kansas Flint Hills testify that our Earth is alive.

And yet, the third story is rising, says Macy. “We are witnessing a revolution: farmers’ markets, green buildings, indigenous voices, science, and spirituality—a recognition that our Earth is alive.” It is an exciting story, and its ending has yet to be written. “We are in a time of radical uncertainty,” Macy says, “and with that comes the gift of freedom to push fear aside while acknowledging the grief of all that has been lost, freedom to be present in the current moment of possibility and act accordingly.”

The climate response course has also introduced me to Dr. Riane Eisler, a systems scientist, futurist, historian, and author of The Chalice and the Blade and The Real Wealth of Nations. Her pioneering work offers new perspectives for constructing less violent and more egalitarian, gender-balanced, and ecologically sustainable societies. Eisler says we are “waking up from a domination trance, top-down rule, and post-industrial age, and moving towards partnership systems.” She notes that the structure of economics keeps the old systems of domination in place, pointing out that “GDP only measures and values the productive work/activities that harm and take life,” as illustrated by the fact that “Trees only enter GDP when they are dead.” She suggests, “We need tools to change the consciousness to recognize natural economy, volunteer economy, and household economy, working on new metrics of measurement from the exploitation of life systems to honoring and valuing the care of those same systems.”

Another thought leader I have met through this course is Christiana Figuerez, United Nations negotiator and climate change policy expert. Ms. Figuerez is a principal architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement and author of The Future We Choose. She describes a future of cities planted with trees and flowers, walls of verdant vines, and solar collectors. “We are at a crossroads, and our chances are 50/50,” she says, “but failing is not allowable, not on our watch. We must reduce greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2030. The evidence of our choice will not happen till 2050. We cannot wait.” Figuerez continues, “When they ask us, ‘What did you do?’ the answer ‘We did everything we could’ is not acceptable. The only acceptable answer is ‘We did everything that was necessary.’ In the difference between those answers,” she says, “lies humanity’s destiny.”

“Trees only enter GDP when they are dead,” says Dr. Riane Eisler. She calls for honoring and valuing the care of life systems, not exploiting them.

The course also brought me to TreeSisters, a global organization that has planted more than 26 million trees toward their mission of reforesting the planet. The Food Revolution Network is another group I’ve discovered from the course–they are supporting people in addressing the #4 Drawdown solution: transitioning to a plant-based diet, as well as teaching people how to eat sustainably and improve their health in the process.

We can see that some of the roots of war are also at the source of the climate crisis. It makes sense to address them in tandem. Doing so is a huge undertaking, with no guarantees. Success is not a foregone conclusion, but neither is failure. I have learned through the climate response course that the most powerful place to stand–and from which to act–is in the not knowing: if we think we know how things will turn out, we are likely to become complacent or cynical.

This course highlights the extraordinary efforts that are already underway addressing the cultural stories that keep us stuck in old patterns which got us into this mess, and creating new cultural patterns–patterns of what Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning. It is an exciting moment in our human story!

This course is created and is being piloted by Kansas City’s June Holte. She has been actively participating in the Great Turning for nearly 40 years, long before she had the term to describe her work. In 2020, she was awarded Kansas City’s Metropolitan Energy Center’s Powering the Present, Fueling the Future Award.

When the dates of the next climate response pilot course are announced, we will post the dates on this website.

—Kristin Scheer is an environmental activist on the PeaceWorks Kansas City Board of Directors. June Holte assisted in developing this column. ©2022, Kristin Scheer, June Holte, Ann Suellentrop, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.