“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” That is what I thought as I attended the Sun Valley forum on The Future We Want.* We heard the worst of what humans can do–what we have done to our planet and other life–and the best of human courage, innovation, heart, passion and determination. The conference was not for the faint of heart but for those leaders who see our problems and face them squarely and clear-eyed. There were over 200 such people there, wonderfully including powerful young high school activists. Their passion and insight balanced the strategic plans of the older generations.
The topics for the forum were informed by two reports. The first is the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Crisis report, Out of Control. It named the top two risks facing us and our planet as extreme weather events, and a failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The second is the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned of significant changes to our Earth’s life support systems in the next ten years. One presenter remarked that a more appropriate term for climate change was “climate instability,” which is what we will be facing.
Founder of the Sun Valley Forum, Aimee Christensen, pulled together a transformative three days of powerful, essential, informative presentations. The days were intense, packed from morning through evening–no bathroom or coffee breaks scheduled! I share a few of the insights here. Access to videos of all the talks will be on the Sun Valley Forum website, www.sunvalleyinstitute.org.
The first presentation by Justin Winters of the One Earth Initiative discussed their plan to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degree C “through the three pillars of renewable energy, nature conservation, and regenerative farming.” Co-host Mitch Anderson of Amazon Frontlines offered a fascinating, “turned-on-its-head” idea: instead of thinking of us protecting indigenous rights, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon are protecting us by protecting the Amazon, a major source of the oxygen we breath and a contributor to climate stability.
There was a panel that sounded boring (insurance) but was, in fact, startlingly interesting. The companies that insure disasters have a front row seat to what is happening around the world as the claims roll in. They may need to cut back as increasing need overwhelms their capacity… what then?
In the forum on plastic pollution, Holly Kaufman offered the startling fact that every piece of plastic ever made is still here on the Earth and there is no “away” (i.e. sending it away somewhere else). It may be “out of sight out of mind,” but not “away.” Nature doesn’t have the capacity to absorb it and turn it into something else. The pieces just get smaller and smaller until micro-pieces are consumed by the microplankton, which are eaten by the fish we eat—and the birds and mammals that depend on fish, etc. etc. etc. Instead of helping with the problem, the fossil fuel industry plans to produce more and more plastic as the world veers away from fossil fuels. Plastic is profitable, as it is cheap to produce. It is unconscionable. The ever increasing drive for money can be viewed as a sickness. Money for what? To what end? In his groundbreaking book Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, illustrating how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity; destroyed community; and necessitated endless growth. He sees us at the end of this cycle with economic collapse on the horizon, but he states that in the wake of its collapse, we may find great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological, and sustainable way of being.
There were many financial advisors for people of great wealth and companies of great power, offering new models of investment that mitigate climate change, ensure our food systems, and support renewable energy. They recommended that we each look at our own savings, small as they may be, to see if we are inadvertently supporting companies that go against our own values. They stated that sustainable investing need not affect the return, though it may require a bit more diligence. My own reaction is that I would gladly accept a lower rate as a tithe for supporting Life.
The hopeful movement of regenerative farming was well represented as a way we can reclaim the soil we are poisoning and impoverishing (leading to impoverished nutrition) and develop the small farms and Earth-friendly practices we will need for flexibility and food security in the future. The American Farmland Trust had several representatives there who are fighting for the farmers. Developing resilience in the face of climate change was a theme throughout the conference.
The high school students mentioned earlier were representatives of a group of 21 that are suing the US government, claiming that it is depriving them of their inalienable right to clean air. With incredible persistence, clarity, and courage, they have gone through the courts to win the right to a trial. It was to have taken place last October, but the government has managed to delay the date. The entire effort has been the subject of a documentary film which will be released next spring.
From the Earthfire point of view, I spoke of the importance of saving land and corridors for wildlife, especially critical in this time of climate change and one of the main focuses of our work. I also spoke of the moral dimension—helping people see wild animals as unique individuals worthy of respect, care, and the right to space in which to live. I related the conference themes of connectivity and community to broaden our thinking to include wildlife corridors and expanding our sense of community to truly include all Life. Such thinking would change everything we do.
Again, all the talks were recorded and will soon be available on the Sun Valley Forum website. They are worth watching. We are all impacted by what is happening and we all have a chance and responsibility to help in our own way. These presentations will give inspiration and ideas as to what we can do. If the young kids can put their full heart and energy into making changes for the Earth, surely we adults can, too.
*The full title of the Forum was The Future We Want: Transforming Leadership, Accelerating Innovation and Unlocking Imagination