An Interim Report from Common Earth, the Community for a Post-Carbon Caring Society
In Alberta, Canada there is a site where for perhaps 6000 or more years the indigenous peoples of the northern great plains hunted buffalo (bison) in a unique manner. The hunters created a stampede of buffalo and drove them over a cliff. The site is called Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Now, of course, buffalo don’t voluntarily jump off cliffs, they must be pushed. The stampede of the herd meant that the ones behind push the ones in front. The Great Plains Peoples knew the habits of the buffalo well enough that they were able to use this method to obtain their food.
Humanity today is stampeding towards a cliff. None of us would naturally decide to meet our end and take most other large animals with us. But we are in a stampede and the rules of the stampede demand we keep moving. We would not naturally take this action, but we are being pushed. We are pushed by the momentum of a herd to which we all belong.
The following pages outline how a small group of like-minded colleagues created an organization called Common Earth and how that group of people decided to take up the challenge of finding the path to the Post-Carbon Caring Society.
Many voices are telling us how we can move beyond the stampede. How humanity can avoid the cataclysmic change. Many of those voices imagine a socioeconomic system pretty much like our present society but with energy coming from green sources. Common Earth, however, doesn’t believe that massive change can be avoided. By massive change we mean the restructuring of global society at all levels. Other voices are saying the cataclysmic change must be catastrophic and that the appropriate action is adaptation. But it is a cliff we are headed for, and it is difficult to imagine how we adapt to falling off a cliff. So, at Common Earth we are committed to finding the path forward without assuming either a smooth transition or a catastrophic collapse. We are out to bring clarity to the forces behind our march to disaster. At the same time, we are out to discover the points where massive leverage can be exerted to shift the stampede away from the direction of the cliff and let it play itself out on the gentle plain.
Our plan is to follow this introduction with a series of five articles.
The first article will lay out what we mean by the post-carbon caring society.
Here we will make a bold claim. That claim is that we now live in a caring society that puts carbon in its place. Now, this claim is both preposterous and true. It is as true as it would have been to say “we now live in an automotive age” the moment the first Model T came off Ford’s production line. There was no highway system, no suburbs, no steel-belted radial tires, but we were in the automotive age, nonetheless. It is as true as it would have been to say “we now live in the age of instant universal constant connectivity” the moment Steve Jobs stood on the stage at Apple in 2007 and announced the new iPhone. There were few apps, little in the way of social media apps but we were nevertheless already in the age of universal constant connectivity. It is in that sense that we say, “we now live in a caring society that puts carbon in its place.”
The second article in this series will focus on the dying system in overshoot headed for collapse. This is not something we relish but we will lay out the hard facts. This will include the following seven central facts of our current reality on Earth today.
The First Law of Thermodynamics. That is, the reality that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. When we use energy, it doesn’t go away. It becomes low-grade heat in the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land. It is not just the energy we waste that is the problem. All the energy we use to do work, regardless of how “green” the source, has the same fate. It all ends up as low-grade heat.
The CO2 blanket around the Earth is preventing the heat from escaping to space. Yes, we all know about emissions but what we seem to ignore is that not only have we wrapped the Earth in a blanket, but we have turned up the heat under that blanket.
The sun sends Earth high-energy photons that can easily penetrate the CO2 blanket. The unfortunate reality is that the Earth radiates photons back into space that are carrying about 20 times less energy than the incoming photons. This means the Earth must radiate 20 times as many photons as it receives. In addition, since these outbound photons are less energetic, they have a harder time penetrating the CO2 layer.
Our global energy consumption is doubling about every 26 years. Today we use four times the energy we used in the 1960s. If we stay on that path, by the end of this century we will use 8 times today’s energy or 32 times the energy we used in the 1960s. That is exponential growth. All this locked-in heat is headed toward the atmosphere and the oceans.
The great imagined rescuer of humankind, nuclear fusion, is a chimera. Nuclear fusion provides the possibility of unlimited nearly free energy. How could we consider that to be a solution knowing that heat is the problem, and all that energy will turn to heat in the Earth’s atmosphere? It is pushing the energy variable in precisely the wrong direction. And yet the many inventors racing in this direction call themselves “physicists.”
Our need to keep our body temperature within a narrow range around 37 degrees Celsius (98.6F). We simply can’t survive in 50 degrees C (122 F) heat
Our minds think in terms of normal distributions. Even when we are operating on an exponential curve we react as if “we will get back to normal.” The most important implication of being on an exponential curve is the need to act quickly. Each day a response is delayed, the size of the response needed dramatically increases.
When we examine each of these seven facts in detail, it will be impossible to imagine that the current global society is not a dying system in overshoot and headed for collapse. When faced with that current reality there are those who will branch off in the direction of the new society. Others will stay with the herd believing, like the buffalo, that staying with the herd is safest. We each get to choose but we don’t get to not choose.
The third article will provide initial thoughts on the emerging system which we believe will take us again to a reciprocal relationship with our fellow beings. They have co-evolved with us over the 13.8-billion-year history of it all, and the 4.54-billion-year history of Earth and we are tied to them as closely as bees are tied to flowers. In brief, we will look at the processes and structures that got us here and which continue to be the way in which our fellow beings, be they plants, animals, or fungi, continue to operate. The message is that there is no new world to conquer, no new source of territory to despoil with the waste of our “modern” society. Elon Musk thinks he can make Mars into that new Eden. He is wrong. That is a nostalgic yearning for the years when the European civilization colonized the world because it found much of the world had resources with economic value for the European economy. We can’t make Mars into Earth, but we are making Earth into Mars.
There is truly only one answer. We need to get with the program – the program that the Universe and Earth used to get us here. In this article, we will look in more detail at what the Earth’s program is, and how it might shift the future of energy, food, agriculture, transportation, housing, population, and the economy. But the central feature of the new society will be how its participants see themselves. It will be the thoughtware that most radically differentiates the new society from any that has gone before. The last time the people of the Earth had a major change in self-understanding was initiated by the Copernican Revolution. That change in thought and in self-understanding led directly to Newton and the Scientific Revolution. The scientific breakthroughs of that era led directly to the Industrial Revolution. The coming shift in thought would have been impossible without the carbon age. The knowledge we have gained in the last 400 years has provided the base for a wholly new perspective. So, as we leave the Carbon Age, we need to thank it for delivering us to this point and still respectfully ask it to depart. We don’t mourn the passing of the Stone Age or the Bronze Age. We will not mourn the passing of the Carbon Age.
The fourth article tackles our insecurity and disbelief. As long as a whole system change seems impossible, we will be left only with collapse. When we realize that collapse is inevitable, we are left only with whole system change. And this is a reason to hope.
As we proceed down this path, we realize we humans have received two gifts that will carry us through the radical change. The first gift is one of insight. It is an ability to see our own massive capability for lucidity, resilience, and creativity. When we move beyond our insecurity and get clear on who we really are and the depth of our own capabilities, we will fearlessly embrace the change we face. The second gift is the gift of community. The community we belong to is the same one that has been sustaining us all along. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, all of it comes from our larger Earth community. And when we get with the program, we see that we can build a human community to integrate with that larger community. Our human story is like the Biblical story of the prodigal son. The son takes his family’s gifts and squanders them, living the good life in a land far from home. But at some point, the good life turns sour, and he comes to his senses and returns home. The father, thinking the son had been lost throws a massive welcome party for the wayward son. Likewise, the greater Earth community will celebrate massively with a new flourishing when we rejoin the only family we have. It is the family of all the beings of the Earth.
Finally, the fifth article will show that given the new technology, this shift is possible. It will describe some of the actions of local people on every continent who are already naturally operating out of the new understanding, totally unrelated to our efforts at Common Earth. It will also describe the growing network of people from literally all parts of the world who have taken our courses and who are now beginning to see their role in calling forth the new society.
This article will also demonstrate how through communities and networks power for change resides with local common people. It always has.
To be clear, Common Earth is not proposing another climate plan. These articles are not a manifesto to overthrow some current society for some ideal one. They are more of an invitation to join with us in developing a clear understanding of our current reality, and in the real work of discerning the emerging society – the caring society that puts carbon in its place.
We invite you to read the next five promised instalments and to connect with us in whatever manner seems appropriate to you. We are all on a journey and we would enjoy your company along the way.
© 2023 - David Patterson - All rights reserved.