Excerpt: Advocating for the Environment
Imagine how the world would look and feel if we made a healthy, joyous, safe, and equitable planet a reality.
Now imagine that it would only take 3.5% of us to bring this about. Research has shown that this can happen.1 But in order for it to happen, we have to imagine it, we have to feel it, we have to believe it, and we have to take action. That is what this book is about.
Humanity is expanding its understanding of who we are and where we fit with the rest of life on the planet. I’m writing this as we’re experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, a renewed movement to lift up Black lives, a serious economic downturn, and a dangerously warming atmosphere. These events are awakening us to the idea that no one’s life, race, gender, country, or occupation is more important than another’s, and the earth itself matters. A major shift in consciousness has begun.
Scientific studies show how forests are a single living system with many connected parts. The ocean is also a living system, interacting with the atmosphere and the water cycle to create the weather. We are learning that our bodies are a living system too, composed of microorganisms and human cells that continuously interact. Estimates of the ratio of nonhuman to human cells in our bodies range from 1:1 to 10:1.
Similarly, humanity is a part of a large, interconnected ecosystem. We depend on air, water, and food to survive. Industrialized nations are just beginning to understand the connection between human beliefs, behavior, policies, and practices on the one hand; and our life experience on the other. We are beginning to talk about people as a part of nature instead of the managers of it. As we come to understand our place in a complex natural system, I believe we will choose a sustainable path.
There is also a chance—a smaller chance, I believe—that we will choose a different path, a path where we would be at war over diminishing resources. We would hunker down within our tribes and fight off those who threaten to take our resources away. In this scenario, many more would be without clean air, water, and food. Our health and life expectancy would decline. Fear for survival would reign, and the lives of people, plants, and animals would be in danger. Violence would erupt around the globe. We are seeing signs of this second scenario with the warming atmosphere, acidifying oceans, intensifying storms and fires, concentration of power among a few, and increasing inequality.
My purpose in writing is to illuminate the life-affirming path forward. There’s a prophecy in the Bible that says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it in their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying know the Lord, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Another way to express this prophecy is to say that there is great wisdom in our hearts, and as we grow and expand, humanity will be able to touch and eventually live from this wisdom. I believe we are at the thresh- old of the time described by this prophecy, and now have the opportunity to bring it into being.
In order to sustain human life, we have to awaken to the truth of who we really are, and we have to relate to each other and the earth in a more just, loving, and equitable way. We must wake up to the stories we tell ourselves—stories that rationalize policies and behaviors that destroy life. Then we must create and tell new stories that allow our lives to fully bloom and glorify life on earth.
You don’t have to agree. In fact, writing this book has been humbling. None of us can see exactly what the future looks like. However, there’s one thing I’m absolutely sure of: If humanity focuses on a vision of the world as we truly want it, our chances of getting there are greatly enhanced.
This book focuses on advocacy, which is defined as asking decision makers—corporate CEOs, politicians, and community leaders—to do what you want them to do. The main focus of the book is on shifting power from the elite to the people, and how to do that. It shows how to work with stake- holders and decision makers to plot a course for positive social change.
This book also touches on direct action, which is political action outside the policy-making process. It shows how direct action can be effectively used to wake people up and demand change. Direct action and advocacy can (and should) work together to achieve a new vision for life on the planet.
If the last several paragraphs seemed lofty to you, do not despair. In order to meet the challenges of climate change, inequality, and a poisoned planet, we need everyone. Actions as small as bringing cloth shopping bags to the store count. So does an email to your city councilor or state legislator. Small actions can connect you to a sense of hope and purpose, a first step for every advocate. I urge you to begin right where you are.
The shift we need to make is not about giving things up. It is about expanding our concept of love. If we are living a life founded on love, purpose, and community, our need to despoil the planet, consume more and more, and extract resources without giving back will subside.
If we want to leave a positive, healthy, and joyful future for our children and grandchildren, we must change our thinking and act differently, beginning now. The situation is urgent. Science tells us we have until 2030 to reduce our carbon emissions before the warming atmosphere plays havoc with our weather and increases extinctions, fires, drought, floods, and famine.
Before taking action, it helps to be clear on what we are trying to do. That’s why part I of this book is titled “Learn to Think Differently.” It describes the profound shift in consciousness that is a prerequisite to affirming and sustaining life on the planet. If you’re interested in the mental models that undergird environmental advocacy, part I is for you.
Chapter 1 shows how to connect with the personal power that is deep within you. Your personal experience and story can touch the most jaded decision makers and stand out like a shining star among highly paid lob- byists. Citizens, students, and community organizers have great power to change things, and this book shows how.
Chapter 2 explains advocacy and shows the many different ways ordinary people can make a difference. It describes the range of actions citizens can take, from short and simple actions to complex campaigns and litigation.
Chapter 3 examines the beliefs we hold—our “earth stories”—both conscious and unconscious. Our underlying stories will hold us back or propel us forward, depending on what we accept as “reality.” This chapter shows how questioning and challenging assumptions, beliefs, and stories is the first step toward social change.
Chapters 4 and 5 build on chapter 3 and describe some of the specific constellations of beliefs that hold us back. The opposing worldviews of the left and the right keep us politically stuck at a time when we need policies that protect and support human progress and the natural environment. These chapters show how to bridge these differences.
Chapter 6 is about vision. It’s based on the fact that in order to create a changed world, we must first be able to envision it. A positive vision is especially important in sustaining us through troubled times. This chapter shows how we can move from a place of despair to a place of vision and hope.
Part II of this book, titled “Gather Your Power and Take Action,” is focused on the practical skills and tools needed to advocate with impact. Part II is all about action. If you are one of those people who acts first and reflects later, part II is where you should start. It shows how to research and analyze your issue, work with those who are for and against your cause, and under- stand and influence decision makers. The how-tos of organizing a coalition and developing a strategy are here. Although every issue has its own set of variables, the ideas presented in this part can be applied to most any issue.
Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 give a candid, inside look at power, strategy, and working with decision makers, based on my personal experience.
Later chapters in part II provide guidance on how to communicate. These chapters cover framing your issue, working with the media, and writing impactful letters to the editor, emails, press releases, and legislative testimony. Real examples that you can use as templates are provided in the text and in the appendices.
The final chapter sketches out my vision for the planet and gives eight specific reasons to be optimistic. If you need inspiration, I suggest you skip to the back of the book and read the last chapter first.
The laboratory for my experiments in advocacy has been the state of Maine, where I’ve been an environmental advocate and organizer for many years, including fourteen years serving at the senior level in state govern- ment. The principles and methods I describe can be applied in any town, city, county, or state in the country. The opportunities to participate in change are numerous and occur at every level!
In order to realize a new, healthy vision for humanity and the earth, your help is needed. During the Second World War, every person in the United States worked in some way to support the war effort. Grandmothers rolled bandages and wrote Christmas cards to soldiers. Young men served in the military, and young women took jobs to keep the economy running. The spirit, commitment, and productive output that won that war was tremendous—unlike anything we had done before. It showed that Americans are capable of great things.
The movement to achieve drawdown, where we stop global warming and reach a point where carbon emissions are declining, could be similar. If a majority is committed and makes a contribution, we can have a healthy planet. Whether it’s recycling at home or making national policy, it counts.
Small groups tackling environmental issues are springing up around the country. They are building solar farms, starting community gardens, recycling waste, enacting sustainable land-use ordinances, addressing sea-level rise, holding corporations accountable, and banning toxins. I invite you to join in! Try starting with one thing, and see where it leads. Whether you are a seasoned advocate or just beginning, I wish you good luck, and I offer this book as a field guide to help you on your way.