There’s no question we live in transitional times. Even those who can’t bring themselves to acknowledge shifts now well underway sense tectonic tremors beneath their feet.

Three fast freakouts:

* Despite the most recent National Intelligence Estimate finding no atomic weapons programs in Iran, White House fundamentalists determined to speed Armageddon remain eager to “Go Nuclear” there.

* Despite rapidly melting glaciers threatening to drown major cities, and guaranteed planetwide catastrophe if carbon emissions keep rising, Big Automakers, Big Oil, faceless bankers and their sponsored politicians continue to sabotage international response.

* Despite Saudi Arabia’s frantic failure over the past several months to boost output above the world oil production plateau, national governments remain silent on preparing their constituents for “Peak Oil” at a time when demand is soaring.

For anyone tuned in, the Web’s daily radar is filled with “incoming” hits like these. But anyone still sleepwalking in a media trance of denial and distraction is about to see their favorite reality tunnel caved in as calamities besetting strangers broadcast as snacking “infotainment” begin taking place outside their windows.

But there’s a flip-side to fatalism. As New Economist Hazel Henderson once famously said, “Things are getting a lot worse – and a lot better – at the same time.”

* Ten million people in the streets saying no to war and violence is unprecedented.

* So are cities across the United States moving into high gear with European-style initiatives and incentives to improve their qualities of life, while tackling greenhouse emissions.

* Amazon’s last surviving rainforests may be left standing thanks to new initiatives that could see countries paid more for the carbon sequestered in their trees than for cutting them down.

Whether these six examples of countervailing trends are cause for dancing or despair depends on where we put our attention.

During four decades as a journalist/activist in the peace and environmental movements, I’ve noticed over and over how veteran campaigners slogging for years in desperate, unsung trenches too often end up married to gloomy Cassandra. Though cause for deep personal anguish, each newly reported calamity – a forest clearcut here, a savage bombardment of another city there – also imparts a grimly self-righteous satisfaction, an “I told you so” vindication of scoffed-at warnings. Maybe this time, volunteers trying to dent government and public indifference tell themselves in an exhausted mantra. Maybe after this atrocity or disaster, people will begin to wake up and get it.

Even more insidiously, I’ve seen how activists and administrators fortunate enough to get paid to work relentless hours under “firehouse” stress of constantly ringing alarms come to depend on disastrous news to convince donors to keep sending those organization-sustaining checks.

This is understandable.

But while we must unflinchingly update our most realistic appraisals of the threats we face in order to take effective corrective action, being wedded to doom is a marriage made in hell. As I’ve seen so many times, having an emotional or financial investment in bad news is a sure-fire way to crack up our most valued relationships, turn off the public, and propel our burned-out, cancer-ridden corpus into a box or urn.

Even more worrisome is a tendency I first noticed when I caught myself reflexively dismissing good news that contradicted the message I was “selling”.

Continuing worldwide peaceful uprisings against violence and war?
The neocons’ senseless aggression continues anyway.

People everywhere rallying to reshape their lives in more conscious, less consumptive ways?
Too little, too late.

Carbon tax schemes that keep Earth’s last surviving rainforests standing?
Just another scam to bypass indigenous input, while allowing major polluters to undercut future carbon-reduction agreements by buying “carbon credits” – and keep on polluting.

Which perspectives are correct?

Whichever one we choose to give energy to.

It pays to heed the First Law Of The Universe, which stipulates:


Since nothing beats fear-powered pessimism for instant manifestation, it is 100% certain that our dourest rebuttals to encouraging news will become self-fulfilling.

In the same way – and here’s the good news behind good news – even the smallest signs of positive change can become the gentlest snowflakes that trigger an irresistible avalanche of transformation.

The catches are three:

1. You can never know in advance of the next demo, interview or keystroke when the Hundredth Monkey will get it, sending “critical mass” consciousness sweeping through the entire world tribe. The only certainty is that if everyone gives up, our space colony will founder.

2. Universal energy does not respond to confusion. Choose doom. Or choose bloom. You can’t go both ways at once.

3. Denial is not an option.

Still certain that we’re toast, that our individual efforts can’t matter?

You’re right!

(See the First Law Of The Universe.)

On the other hand…

When all appears lost – and during an eight-year Pacific circumnavigation challenged by hurricanes, groundings and pirates in the South China Sea, I had many terrific opportunities to shake hands with terror, panic and despair – it pays to follow this useful adage:


What other choice of action could possibly be as entertaining while we await whatever comes next?

Tell the universe, “No worries, I’m on it” and I’ve been repeatedly slack-jawed in wonder as the allies, guides, tools, tickets and cash required for right action are always – always – synchronistically provided.

All captains know that false hope is foolish when there are no lifeboats and the good ship Earth’s going down. But even deadlier is anticipating doom and doing nothing to join others patching the hull, leading shipmates to safety, or working the pumps. When disaster strikes – and we’ve got plenty of icebergs to choose from! – cracking a joke and lending a hand is always the best palladium.

While we’re busy channeling our grief and outrage into cooperative efforts aimed at redirecting the militarized-corporate energies causing senseless slaughter, or the acidification of our planet’s single great ocean – we must also remember to:


No “win” is too small to elicit loud expressions of gratitude and right on! affirmations that reinforce and ramp up each ripple of positive accomplishment:

“I left my car parked for five days this week.”

(Right on!)

“Our Tupperware company is recovering and recycling its waste chemicals, while converting to manufacture sustainable plastics derived from the third pressings of discarded veggie oils.”

(Right on!)

“We cut our household electricity bill 30% just by turning off thermostats in unneeded rooms, switching off lights, and pulling the plugs on TVs, computers and power-bars crammed with those little black power boxes – each of which is sucking power, even when supposedly switched “off.”

(Right on!)

“Forget cheap fare come-ons. I am not flying anywhere through our planet’s unraveling stratosphere.”

(Right on!)

And so it could go – multiplied by billions of similar decisions – once we change our minds and begin acting on those realizations.

How about right now?

I know. I know.

Major ecological and geological thresholds are already behind us and receding fast. All indications are that we’re heading fast for mass die-offs and disruptions. And sure, my personal choice to make most of my hilly, short-haul trips by electric-assist bicycle, and run a hydroelectric-powered heater instead of burning logs in my woodstove are insignificant gestures compared with the obscene and rising carbon emissions from Alberta’s tar-sands feeding frenzy.

So what?

It might be useful to recall that the “future” so many are so freaked out about does not exist.

All we have is this moment.

And no one else’s action or lack of action relieves me of my personal responsibility toward the many lives that sustain me, and those that will follow.

Despair is easy. Hopelessness is a cop-out. Both are affronts to the miraculous gift of life. And neither is much fun.

Try this bracing two-part remedy instead:



With species including our closest kin – lemurs, monkeys and gorillas – becoming extinct a hundred times faster than the fossil record, what counts is not whether we succeed in slowing Earth’s Sixth Great Extinction Event before most critters (including us) go permanently bye-bye.

What matters is getting the lessons we’ve arranged for ourselves. And starting to live with attention.

What matters is whatever joy, creativity and gratitude we can bring through our rage and our tears to reclaim our harmonious kinship with the great skein of interwoven lives sharing this Earth.

This is our graduation exercise.

It is strictly pass/fail.

While working with a small band of brothers trying to save endangered flocks of migratory birds winging their way north from Africa through the oil-fired hell of Kuwait, I understood that our quixotic quest did not matter in ways that could be counted.

Regardless of odds or outcome, we knew only that we had to try. Almost daily, we had to risk sand-drifted minefields and later, the booby-trapped waters off al-Khiran in the hopes of saving even a single bird. Not because our respective lives could or should be weighed. But because Rick Thorpe, Jim Logan, Michael Bailey and I sensed that in such insane desolation, with crude oil raining from perpetually blackened skies, blinded flying creatures careening into blowtorched wells, and the cries of a hundred-thousand butchered teenage conscripts still echoing across a stunned galaxy – someone had to affirm life.

And so it is today. Except you don’t have to rush off to a war or disaster zone. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you can start making a difference the instant you realize:


This is very cool. For in helping reconcile the karmic balance, no act is too small. Every right action reverberates, joins with others – and matters.

And you never know…

Out great-grandchildren, and myriad furred, finned, feathered and seeded offspring, just might make it.

And even Cassandra will smile.


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