This sculpture by Issac Cordal in Berlin is called “Politicians discussing global warming.”
Shea Howell, “Climate Challenges”

“As the economic, political and media elite prepare for their annual gathering on Mackinac Island, they should stop and take a close look at the water. Coast Guard cutters only recently freed it from ice three feet deep. Tim Hygh, the director of the Mackinac Island Convention Bureau said he had never seen anything like the ice encasing the island this winter. “Some of the locals,” he said, “will tell you they haven’t seen anything like this since 1972.”

This extreme winter cold and snow is but one more sign that our climate is shifting. Excessive heat and drought ravage most of Africa and now Russia. California is experiencing the worst drought in 100 years and wildfires are commonplace.
The right-wing ideologues, many of whom are friends and financiers of those gathering on Mackinac, still deny what many of us recognize as the most serious crisis to face any generation of human beings. We are bringing the planet to the breaking point of its capacity to sustain human life.

Recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the planet is warming rapidly, humans are primarily responsible for this, and we are not prepared for the dire consequences.

These conclusions were echoed by the report from the Obama Administration, The National Climate Assessment, released in early May. It warns our current energy production system depends on a stable and predictable water supply. That supply is increasing in flux, pitting demands for electricity and fuel against the water needed for irrigation and drinking.  Large coal-burning and nuclear plants are especially vulnerable. Generally located on water sources for cooling, they are subject to flooding, as happened in Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun nuclear station in 2011.

Last week, the Christian Science Monitor reported our “global food system is growing more fragile.” They said volatile weather patterns threaten global food production and could reduce food production “by two percent each decade for the rest of this century.”

As the elite gather to enjoy the ample food and drink of the Mackinac Grand Hotel, they have little appreciation for the profound challenges we are facing. Their thinking about the future is as frozen as the ice around Mackinac. They imagine a future that will look much like the past.

Most of them think the recent declaration of bankruptcy and the imposition of an emergency manager is an opportunity for unconstrained reconstruction of the city along the lines they have long advocated. They hail the Detroit Future City report as an example of how “greening” strategies are now an accepted part of urban redevelopment.  This limited thinking mocks the seriousness of what we face.

For example, days before the National Climate Assessment was released, DTE Energy asked for a 20-year extension on the operating license for their nuclear power plant, Fermi 2 in Monroe. This would allow the plant to operate until 2045. Supporters of the move say this is just “procedural” and will position the plant to continue to operate until it is 60 years old.  Fermi 2 is the same model plant Japan’s Fukushima plant that was devastated following the earthquake. Critics call it a plant with a “dismal safety record.”

Joining DTE on Mackinac will be the recipients the Detroit Free Press Michigan Green Leader Awards. The Free Press handed out these awards to demonstrate “the importance of environmentally-sound approaches in turning around a distressed city.”

One of the recipients was John Hantz. The Free Press said he shows the way to “repurpose Detroit’s vacant districts.» Hantz’s controversial development depended on getting land from the city at bargain basement prices. He used the guise of urban agriculture to increase land scarcity and speculation.

These are not the strategies and values for creating a sustainable future.

Richard Heinberg, “The Anthropocene: It’s not all about us” (EXCERPTS)

“The essence of our problem is this: the side effects of our growth binge are compounding rapidly and threaten a crisis in which the artificial support systems we’ve built over past decades (food, transport, and financial systems, among others) – as well as nature’s wild systems, on which we still also depend – could all crash more or less simultaneously.

If we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns and potential crisis with regard to our current strategy of constant population/consumption growth and ecosystem takeover, then it would seem that a change of direction is necessary and inevitable. If we were smart, rather than attempting to dream up ways of further re-engineering natural systems in untested (and probably unaffordable) ways, we would be limiting and ameliorating the environmental impacts of our global industrial system while reducing our population and overall consumption levels.  And if we don’t proactively limit population and consumption? Then nature will eventually do it for us, and likely by very unpleasant means (famine, plague, and perhaps war).

Governments are probably incapable of leading a strategic retreat in our war on nature, as they are systemically hooked on economic growth. But there may be another path forward. Perhaps citizens and communities can initiate a change of direction. Back in the 1970s, as the first energy shocks hit home and the environmental movement flourished, ecological thinkers began tackling the question: What are the most biologically regenerative, least harmful ways of meeting basic human needs? Two of these thinkers, Australians David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, came up with a system they called permaculture. According to Mollison, “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.” Today there are thousands of permaculture practitioners throughout the world, and permaculture Design courses are frequently on offer in almost every country.

Meanwhile, community resilience efforts have sprung up in thousands of towns and cities around the world – including the Transition Initiatives, which are propelled by a compelling, flexible, grassroots organizing model and a vision of a future in which life is better without fossil fuels.  Population Media Center is working to ensure we don’t get to 10 billion humans by enlisting creative artists in countries with high population growth rates to produce radio and television soap operas featuring strong female characters who successfully confront issues related to family planning. This strategy has been shown to be the most cost-effective and humane means of reducing high birth rates in these nations.

What else can be done? Substitute human or animal labor for fossil fuels. Localize food systems. Capture atmospheric carbon in soil and biomass. Replant forests and restore ecosytems. Recycle and re-use. Manufacture more durable goods. Rethink economics to deliver human satisfaction without endless growth. There are organizations throughout the world working to further each of these goals, usually with little or no government support. Taken together, they could lead us to an entirely different Anthropocene.