An authoritative new study sets out a grim vision of what lies ahead: climate change will cause shortages and violence, provoking much of civilization to collapse.
This blunt warning is the heart of the 2009 State of the Future study from the UN’s Millennium Project. The report, which will be made public in August, is based on the input of 2,700 researchers, and backed by a range of organizations including UNESCO, the World Bank, and the US Army.
According to the report, “The scope and scale of the future effects of climate change – ranging from changes in weather patterns to loss of livelihoods and disappearing states – has unprecedented implications for political and social stability.”
The immediate problems are rising food and energy prices, shortages of water and increasing migrations “due to political, environmental and economic conditions,” which could plunge half the world into social instability and violence.
The report suggests the threats could also engender wise and healthy responses. “The good news is that the global financial crisis and climate change planning may be helping humanity to move from its often selfish, self-centered adolescence to a more globally responsible adulthood…Many perceive the current economic disaster as an opportunity to invest in the next generation of greener technologies…and to put the world on course for a better future.”
What is good and healthy and helpful?
Reading the stark forecasts from this report put me in mind – thankfully — of someone I knew and admired, the late Leon Secatero of the Canoncito Band of Navajo, To’Hajiilee, New Mexico. Whenever Leon would hear pronouncements of inevitable doom, he would acknowledge the potential, then respond calmly.
In one of our conversations back in 2005, Grandfather Leon spoke with me about the future. “The journey we are beginning now is for the next 500 years. What will be the sacred path that people will walk over the next 500 years? Even in the midst of all the changes taking place and all the things falling apart, we are building that foundation now. That’s something important for us to remember and to focus on. If we don’t do it, no one else will.
“All anyone needs to do is look around,” Leon said. “We have been destroying nature systematically for many decades. Now nature is destroying us with winds and storms and earthquakes and volcanoes. All that was known a long time ago. The elders have been telling us for years that this would come. Now it’s here and it’s hurting us.
“We need to take a close look at this and then really come to terms with ourselves,” Leon said. “To move ahead into the next 500 years we must leave some things behind or they will contaminate or even eliminate the future. We cannot go forward if we keep destroying the earth. But we must also ask, what is good and healthy and helpful? Those good things can be part of our foundation, part of our pathway into the next 500 years…”
There is a growing cohort of people who are actively asking these questions, and responding creatively. I have come to think of them as the Millennial Agrarians, and they got a nod of acknowledgement this week from USA Today.
In the story, reporter Elizabeth Weise wrote “Agriculture specialists say there is a burgeoning movement in which young people — most of whom come from cities and suburbs — are taking up what may be the world’s oldest profession: organic farming.
“The wave of young farmers on tiny farms is too new and too small to have turned up significantly in USDA statistics, but people in the farming world acknowledge there’s something afoot.
“For these new farmers, going back to the land isn’t a rejection of conventional society, but an embrace of growing crops and raising animals for market as an honorable, important career choice.”
In the face of the grim vision described by the researchers involved with the State of the Future report, these Millennial Agrarians are an embodiment of hope. We are going to need millions more people – perhaps as many as 80 to 100 million more – to face what is happening in our world, and to respond intelligently to the call of the land.
(For more on this theme, including many more creative responses, see my blog at The Call of the Land.).