Keynotes World in 2050 (Final)



Keynote Speakers

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is an author, environmentalist, and activist.  In 1988 he wrote The End of Nature, the first book for a common audience about global warming.  He is a co-founder and Senior Advisor at, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, which has organized twenty thousand rallies around the world in every country save North Korea.


Erik Assadourian

Erik Assadourian is a Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute. Over the past 15 years with Worldwatch, Erik has directed two editions of Vital Signs and five editions of State of the World, including the 2013 edition: Is Sustainability Still Possible? and the upcoming 2017 edition: EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet.

Margaret Klein Salamon

Margaret Klein Salamon is the Founder and Director of the The Climate Mobilization. Margaret earned her PhD in clinical psychology from Adelphi University and also holds a BA in social anthropology from Harvard. Though she loved being a therapist, Margaret felt called to apply her psychological and anthropological knowledge to solving climate change.

Wen Stephenson

Wen Stephenson, an independent journalist and climate activist, is a contributor to The Nation and the author of What We’re Fighting For Now is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice (Beacon Press, 2015). As a volunteer activist he helped launch the grassroots network 350 Massachusetts, has been deeply engaged in the Divest Harvard campaign from the outset, and has participated in and supported numerous nonviolent civil disobedience actions.


Note that, owing to very full schedules, not all of the keynote speakers may be contributing to this Q&A session. Feel free, however, to use their talks as points of departure for an open discussion where issues and questions that they raise can be taken up by anyone interested in contributing.

Q & A

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36 replies
  1. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Dear Bill,

    Thank you for participating and contributing this wonderful keynote. Today, the news that we have crossed the 400 ppm threshold. Of course, I have to think of all the stellar work of, named after the 350 ppm threshold. It was very interesting to hear of your two visions for 2050. As regards to the latter, and the relationship to the institutions of higher learning in particular: I have been wondering for a bit about retooling universities, as Naomi Klein also argues in the latter sections of This Changes Everything, to address climate change. What would that retool look like? What would it mean? In terms of what topics we focus on; how we approach them; what tools in the toolbox we develop, etc. etc. And of course having programs work together for this retool would be ideal, so that there is coordination towards a goal and amidst knowledge banks to get there. Thanks so much again for your talk!

    • Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

      Christina, I have a related comment on Bill’s talk, regarding the impact of climate change on the careers – in all majors – of current undergraduates. At the 2015 USBGC national Greenbuild conference, I was intrigued by Joe Romm’s statement that climate change will be the Internet of the next 25 years – meaning that it will have the same kind of universal revolutionary impact that the Internet had on the last 25 years. I used that as the frame for an architecture design studio I taught in Spring 2016, asking how the careers of young architects will be shaped by climate change mitigation/adaptation over the next few decades. This kind of “changing the zeitgeist” is needed in all programs, all majors, all professions, because (obviously) the magnitude of change we need cannot be accomplished by professional activists alone. This is inspirational, but the challenge lies in , as Christina points out, all the concrete details. The gap is vast between the global scale of climate science and the scale any of us address in coursework. Good news: there’s plenty of room for good new work. Bad news: it can be difficult to grapple with. (One attempt to grapple with it in a really targeted manageable way for non-activist students is the focus of my presentation in Panel 13.)

  2. Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh says:

    Dear Bill, incisive talk, as expected. I did, however, miss what I think is an important point: challenging the absolute demand of energy at both individual and human species level. Even if everywhere we converted to decentralised renewables, as we must, if our demands for energy keep rising, it is likely to be seriously unsustainable … after all, solar also needs mining and production facilities and so on. So the issue of challenging and changing consumption patterns (of course, not only of energy) is as crucial as the shift away from fossil fuels to renewables. And this also then means addressing the issues of political and economic control by the rich and powerful, the gross inequalities that all countries now face, and the fundamental structures that create the problems in the first place, including capitalism, state-dominated politics, patriarchy. Of course you can’t cover all this in one talk (you may be interested in the 5-circle radical transformation I present in my talk in Panel 9, covering political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological pillars), but I would have thought the issue of energy consumption would have been core to your proposition for the second vision (which I share). Thanks.

  3. Susan Dieterlen, Syracuse University says:

    Dear Erik: Thank you for a thought-provoking talk. It sounds like what you propose is the establishment of a new religion, but I wonder about the promise of incorporating/adopting/connecting to the major established religions. Here in the western world it’s easy to see traditional religions as in decline, but viewed globally, the number of believers is still enormous. Care for creation and community and the virtues of sacrifice are just a few of the possible connections between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and your proposed philosophy; I’m sure there are many others, including those with other religions. You note the international network of the Catholic church, including untold numbers of buildings and infrastructure. Imagine the difference in ecological impact between being able to use or share that network vs. building a parallel one. This kind of strategic reuse of existing resources is key to the way to inhabit today’s built environment with a smaller population (as you also note). It’s also important to consider the authentic spiritual connection current believers have with their faith communities. How might that connection expand to include your proposals, rather than becoming the competition?

    • Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute says:

      Thanks Susan. You raise an important point that I couldn’t raise in the context of this short speech. For a longer treatment of ecomissionary philosophical movements please read my chapter on the topic in State of the World 2013. On page 302 I talk specifically about the relationship between existing religions and new ecocentric philosophies. Hopefully as new ecocentric philosophies grow in adherents, existing relgions will understand the value of better incorporating ecocentric values (i.e. to prevent loss of membership at the least). Or ecocentric philosophies may evolve in parallel (or “syncretically”) with existing religions, with people choosing to be both Christians and Gaians or Ecologians (or whatever term ends up coming along).
      While there is power in the assets and adherents of today’s religions (as my colleague Gary Gardner has written extensively about), my view is that most existing religions don’t have the capacity to make the radical shifts in focus necessary. The Catholic Church, for example, can’t even accommodate contraception, so how will it create a new focus around having fewer children mindfully? Though some churches will and are becoming more environmentally-minded, fortunately. And in the long-term, I can see Christianity evolving to absorb Creation as a central tenet. (For example, I’d love to see the Trinity evolve into the Quaternity, with Creation being the 4th element of this Quaternity.)
      Lots more to say on this topic, but keep in mind that what I’m discussing here is imagined on the scale of centuries not years so the things we imagine as impossible today, are quite possible. Will Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all survive another 2000 years? Who would ever have imagined 2000 years ago that a little group of those that followed the teachings of Jesus would one day build their churches with the stones of defunct Pagan temples? If we’re lucky, the future will be an ecocentric one, led by either reformed religions that have become ecocentric or Earth-centered ones that were established during the Great Transition, or perhaps some combination of both.

      • Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:

        Thank you for your talk. I was very much intrigued by the idea of an ecocentric philosophy. It seems like a movement that will certainly make itself more present as time goes on. One specific aspect I was curious about was when you delved deeper into burial. For people who are already morally or culturally founded in their methods of burial and honoring the deceased, what do you think could be a good model for starting to make that switch towards an environmentally sustainable burial? As soon as I heard you speak about it, it seemed like a beautiful idea, honoring a loved one with new life growing in its place. However, I feel it may be hard to convince friends, even family, that this is something to consider now. How do we uproot ourselves from tradition in the most gentle way possible? And better yet, how do we make one single idea such as this spread with the magnitude of, say, the spread of Christianity? Or do we first need to reach the state of an entire ecomissionary/ecocentric movement before small steps like burial will be implemented on a larger scale?

  4. Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers says:

    Wen Stephenson, you are right that a systemic issue requires a systemic response. This is indeed a moral issue and incrementalism in the face of climate change is acquiescence in genocide. However, in your talk as well, you don’t talk about animal rights, which is perhaps the central social justice issue of our time.

    We have to rethink everything in our socioeconomic and political systems entirely. As the character, George Costanza, puts it in the popular serial, Seinfeld, we need to do the “opposite.”

  5. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Susan Dieterlen, Much agreed about Joe Romm’s astute comment. I always say to my students: want job security? Work on climate change. (And/or related issues.) Of course, I am eager to encourage them to work on the topic, so it is addressed, too!

    Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh – I very much agree that energy is a key issue! It always amazes me how seldom energy *efficiency* is discussed! (Reduce-reuse-recycle). We could save so much with a focus on *reduction.*

    Dear Erik Assadourian – Very grateful for your rich talk. I appreciated the retool of our education systems mentioned at the end. And the discussion of midwifery. Naomi Klein talks about the law carbon footprint professions – midwives, teachers among them – in This Changes Everything. Although the point about conference travel was one that occurred to me when reading it, so I am glad it was flagged in the opening remarks. I think calculating carbon footprints for industries or professions not only individuals would be a great idea, too; calculating it for actions (so verbs) not things (so nouns, consumer oriented, purchase a thing) would be great. I get the impetus of your suggestion of mobilizing faith, if it is a focused on environment, I take it. I wd. perhaps tread gently with the model of missionaries, in that, here in Hawaii, for example, it would not go very far. Perhaps one could also consider holistic models, which you seem to be advocating in other parts of your talk: Indigenous models, histories, cultures and rights (thinking of Idle No More, NAPL), which also brings us to environmental justice, a consideration of how class, race and environmental (in)justice intersect. I am thinking here of Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Thank so much again for such a thought-provoking talk, Erik!

  6. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Dear Margaret Klein Salamon – Thanks so much for your talk and your work! Very very inspiring. Love the Climate Year initiative. And nice work on the Victory Plan. Thank you for the presentation about the WWII Scale Mobilization. Just looked up some links to documents you cited while listening and post them here, in case they are of interest for other conference participants. Questions at bottom.

    Joe Romm’s July 22, 106 article about the democratic platform’s call for WWII Scale Mobilization:

    About the new Democratic Party Platform, which calls for WWI Scale Mobilization:

    Bill McKibben’s August 15, 2016 article to declare war on Climate Change and Mobilize like we did against WWII

    And Ezra Silk’s August 19, 2016 Victory Plan

    In many ways, you are calling on the government to lead or call for this shift, given the analogy to WWII mobilization, right? Just checking. And the initial WWII analogy came from the Democratic Party Platform, right? See link above and Joe Romm’s article about it. But your and Ezra’s plan is not necessarily government-focused alone, right? It is a decentralized NGO / non-profit grounds up mentality shift? Or grassroots mobilization? It sounds like at the end. Of course, it is not either or! And one influences the other. Just curious to hear more about the relationship between the two: Democratic Platform and Victory Plan. Thanks so much again for your excellent presentation and work!

  7. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Wen Stephenson – thanks so much for your inspiring talk. Been following your writing at The Nation (for whom I covered the UN climate talks in 2010 in Cancún).
    Climate Change does tap at the root of who we are: it *is* radical (in the sense of radix, Greek: root, radical). And it demands radical answers, approaches, solutions. Thank *you* for bringing in the issue of climate justice! Of equality, economic, racial … the history of colonization, that women bear the brunt. Eager to read your new book.
    Grateful for your work in MA.

  8. Wen Stephenson, independent writer and activist says:

    I’m reluctant to be the first speaker to reply here, because the questions for Bill and Erik are deep and important. But since I have a few minutes right now, so here goes.

    To Sailesh Rao: Thanks very much for your response. You’re right, of course, that I didn’t mention animal rights. I don’t know if non-human beings have “rights” in the same sense that we speak of human rights. I’ll leave that question to others (who are far more expert than I am). But I do believe that all life is deeply interconnected. And I do want to save all beings, human and non-human, from suffering. (Of course it would be delusional to think that I/we can actually save ALL beings, but I want to save all we can.) I suppose the reasoning behind my human-centric approach is this: If we want to slow and ultimately stop the sixth mass extinction now underway, surely humans need to stop pouring carbon and methane and the other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. We need to stop acidifying the oceans. We need to protect and restore and build up the planet’s natural carbon sinks. In short, we need to stop runaway, truly apocalyptic, global warming. (I doubt you would disagree with any of that.) And I just don’t see how we make any meaningful progress on these absolutely critical fronts without awakening and inspiring humanity to save itself.

    So that’s one reason I focus on the human, moral dimension of the climate fight, and on climate justice, and the importance of holding onto our humanity (including a commitment to human rights) as we head into this new era. The other reason, more personal, and, I guess, spiritual, is simply that I love people.

    To Susan Dieterlen: Although you were responding to Erik, not me, I want to say that I really appreciate your point about traditional religious/faith communities. In reporting and writing my book, and in my own engagement in the climate movement, I’ve been consistently amazed and inspired by how many of the people who are most committed to this work are motivated and sustained by their religious faith, both traditional and non-traditional. Thank you for raising this.

    To Christina Gerhardt: Thank you so much. I hope you find the book to be useful in some way.

    • Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers says:

      Wen Stephenson, I stated that Animal rights is the central social justice issue of our time. Perhaps I need to justify that statement.

      First, animal rights is acknowledging the right of animals not to be enslaved and exploited. It calls for abolishing animal slavery and exploitation.

      I refer you to the paper on Megafauna biomass tradeoffs by Prof. Anthony Barnosky in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from 2008. In that paper, Prof. Barnosky showed that the biomass of humans alone, 500 Million Metric Tons (MT) is more than double the estimated biomass of ALL wild megafauna from 10,000 years ago, 200 MT. Therefore, human consumption is inherently an unprecedented burden on the biosphere. But on top of that, our livestock consume nearly 5 times as much food as all humans put together, thereby presenting the profile of a 2500 MT animal group, 12 times larger than the weight of all wild megafauna from 10,000 years ago (Please see IPCC AR5 WG3 Chapter 11)!

      Therefore, if we keep marginalizing the animal rights movement within the social justice community, we will continue to be ineffective.

      • Wen Stephenson, independent writer and activist says:

        There’s no question that human consumption in the most affluent societies is unconscionable.

        But as long as human rights continue to be marginalized in the conversation around climate and environment — and they are marginalized — there will never be a widespread commitment to animal rights. It’s safe to say most people need justice for themselves and their children and grandchildren before they’re willing/able to think about the rights of other species. That’s my impression, anyway. Perhaps I’m wrong.

        • Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers says:

          I agree with you that the current conversation around climate and the environment is grossly inadequate and marginalizes even human rights issues. It is a conversation centered around the Earth’s fever, while the cancer rages on as the biosphere is being eaten alive.

          However, addressing the climate and the environment requires addressing ALL social justice issues simultaneously, in a systemic fashion. Therefore, our narrative needs to be all inclusive. Why leave out the biggest piece, in terms of sheer environmental impact?

  9. Sandra Lindberg says:

    For Wen Stephenson: Witnessing your presentation and recognizing how your words affected me intellectually and emotionally, I must thank you for the honesty and openness of what you shared. Your presentation empowers others to move, to do, because you acknowledge that even in the midst of your work you experience doubt, sadness and uncertainty. I have known such feelings in my work, as I have heard from friends that they do, too. There is never a perfect time or place to begin the work that needs to happen. There is never an appropriate scope or topic for this work. Your recognition that each will be called to contribute as s/he is ready and able opens doors for people. I am very glad to have encountered your work.

  10. ErikAssadourian says:

    Hello everyone and thanks for watching our lectures and participating in this conference. This is my first virtual conference and it’s quite surreal to participate in such a heavy conference while in my local coffee shop/work-sharing space, while everyone around me is sipping their coffees, shopping on, studying, or doing their day-to-day work. But then again, to be able to have walked 5 blocks to the conference instead of flying 1000 miles more than makes up for this dissonance.

    Some comments on the keynote talks now that I’ve had a chance to watch them.

    I think the key point that all of us make is that we’re facing a radical future either way— one where we have to find a pathway beyond the completely unsustainable consumer lifestyle or one where young people, as Bill notes, will be spending their best years dealing with crisis after crisis.
    But to be very clear: that doesn’t mean just a switch to renewables as Bill focuses on, or even a war-time-esque mobilization, but pretty much a complete rethinking of modern life, including the abandonment of many dead-end elements of it. How we can get people to do that willingly is nearly impossible to imagine. Perhaps why I suggest an almost religious pathway forward!

    The renewable infrastructure that both Bill and Margaret describe will take massive amounts of fossil fuels to build so the reality is that we’ll have to make due with a lot less energy (and in the short term, even less as we’ll have to redirect energy currently used by consumers to building renewable infrastructure). Is there really any possibility that this could happen? It’s one thing to mobilize against an immediate (and time-limited) threat that pretty much everyone agrees is a threat (the Nazis and Japanese during World War II) and one that industry can still profit from, building tanks and bombers instead of cars and trucks. It’s another thing when we have to ramp down a large portion of industry and strip away a large percentage of our population’s consumer spending power (and if we’re being honest, making many of them into small-scale community farmers). The consumer economy is doomed—but candidly discussing that is not compatible with the required mobilization. Sadly, most people would choose to keep their pet puppies if forced to choose between them and stopping a climate catastrophe even just 10 years from now!

    I don’t disagree that a major mobilization is necessary—in fact I’ve been advocating for a Gandhi style “Carbon March to DC” where activists march from around the country and converge on DC to shut down the major streets into the District through gentle civil disobedience actions since before President Obama took office. While risky to volunteers, it’s certainly not as risky as Ken Ward’s action of shutting down pipelines—jail time for jaywalking and stalling cars should be minimal. (For anyone interested, here is an older version of the document—not updated since 2012: (Bill: with your point about Hilary being baby step focused, perhaps you can now consider this proposal? And Margaret: perhaps you’d consider this for your Climate Year volunteers? Or as a way to pressure the US government to agree to a mobilization.)
    But while I think a bold form of mobilization (i.e. one that forces the US government to react or be shamed by the global media) could work, even this would be very hard to accomplish—primarily as we need to strip away the consumer lifestyle, which even if mediated by framing this around a carbon tax, the endpoint will be to make people’s cars, vacations, pets, meat, and large homes unaffordable). So at best, this will always be a minority-led mobilization. The majority will remain in denial or minimize the problem or dissociate (as Margaret notes). And as soon as we start down the slippery slope of dealing with crisis after crisis, the desire and resources to deal proactively with climate change will suddenly evaporate.

    Hence, why I’m advocating for a deeper movement—this too would allow for a mass mobilization (in fact most philanthropic giving in the US is religious giving) where ecophilosophical adherents would devote much more of their time to being active—at their community level, at the activist level, or whatever level they feel most passionate to act at. Social services, by the Ecomissionaries, could provide services lost (either due to the end of the consumer culture or due to converging crises), provide relevant education, health services, and so on. And in the process, hopefully they could spread a new way of being in the world. I know, it’s a romantic dream, but that’s how the largest movements have started. So it’s a dream I feel is worth sharing!

    –Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute

    • Rachel May, Syracuse University says:

      Erik, thank you for your unflinchingly honest look at the world in 2050 and the radical rethinking we need to do about how we can help a post-consumer culture shape itself in the most humane way possible. Thinking about “mobilization,” though, is a sticking point for me in and of itself. I love that this conference is allowing us to stay rooted in our own places while we have this conversation in virtual space. Lately I’ve been working on incorporating indigenous values, particularly the values of gratitude and reciprocity, into environmental science and social studies curricula for high schools and middle schools. Exposing the kids -and myself – to the voices of elders from the Onondaga Nation, who have been practicing active gratitude and seventh-generation thinking for at least a millennium, has gotten me rethinking a lot of things about my culture, especially its mobility. It isn’t just a matter of the high costs of travel ($$, carbon, time, infrastructure, social disruption, etc.), but the constant taking ourselves out of contact with the land and its rhythms, that increasingly worries me. What might “mobilization in place” look like? Or even ” OF place,” where we projected the moral weight of beloved places as the faces of advocacy for a deep cultural movement rooted in the ecophilosophy you are describing? It’s a pretty abstract thought, but maybe one worth developing.

      • Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute says:

        A hard question Rachel. So few of us are rooted in place any longer–including me–that it’s hard to imagine what this looks like. But I think you’re right–teaching children to be aware of this–ideally experiencing the cycles repeatedly over many years–will help. My son, who is 4.5, has now gone through at least a few cycles of the seasons consciously. We pick mulberries, cherries, apples, acorns, from the street trees near us and the forest trees in Rock Creek Park. This year we even found paw-paws. And now we’re starting to mark the calendar and make maps to start being more conscious of timings and locations. We make acorn flour, jams, and so on so there is a seasonality (and place-based-ness) of our eating. We garden and forage wild greens so even in the heart of DC I feel like he’s connected more than I ever was as a kid (a kid who was mostly connected to TV).

        Reintegrating indigenous wisdom is also essential–two chapters in State of the World 2017 will grapple directly with this and most importantly, how to spread this to non-indigenous, bringing out the ‘indigeneity’ in all of us. It’s great that you have built relationships with elders.

        Being with the Earth–whether foraging, gardening, practicing wilderness skills, etc.–I think may be the best way to train people to better connect with the place they’re in (at least from a nature perspective). Though I’d argue rooting in place with an actual community–through living in a walkable neighborhoods, etc. is also very important in moving forward–i.e. to develop sustainable and resilient communities, ones that have higher odds of surviving the major changes coming our way.

    • Margaret Klein Salamon, The Climate Mobilization says:

      Hi Erik and everyone– thank you for the great talks and commentary. I am proud to be a part of this innovative conference with a great bunch of speakers.

      I wanted to note a couple of things:
      First, there doesn’t seem to be too much disagreement about the need for a massive mobilization to end emissions as soon as possible. Our questions are only about approach, framing, and strategic estimates about what is possible.

      I thought Erik’s (and Wen’s) comments on spirituality were fascinating. Erik I often think about building a new spiritual system. However- I think we can do that NOW and use those who ascribe to that system to try and prevent the collapse of civilization rather than focusing on rebuilding with better values. (I would also argue that attempting to get sustainable values implemented now WILL ALSO make it more likely to be used in a re-built process if your predictions are in fact true. However, with the collapse of civilization I worry about nuclear exchange, and/or runaway warming that makes rebuild impossible. Even if we can rebuild, we are still talking about billions of human lives and millions of species…. So I think that restoring a safe climate is a moral imperative.) One book I really like along these lines is “The Triumph of Christianity: how the Jesus Movement became the world’s largest religion.” by Rodney Stark. I think your emphasis on rituals and life passages are very important.

      I also think that being a part of the solution, rather than the problem, is a great spiritual need. Helping to prevent the collapse of civilization and the natural world should probably be considered a fundamental human right. Lets build a political/ spiritual/ social movement around being “Protectors” as they would say at Standing Rock, rather than consumers who damage the biosphere day in and day out.

      • Sophie Christman Lavin, SUNY Stony Brook says:

        Hi Margaret,
        I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your talk. The idea of a WW2-type of climate mobilization is a strong concept that is interdependent on state and civic participation. It very much relates to a concept I am theorizing in my dissertation project called “The Sustainable Citizen,” since we US citizens enjoy many rights, and it is our duty now to also carry out civic responsibilities to eradicate climate change. In my state, New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation launched the Excelsior Student Conservation Corps this year ( which offers young citizens the opportunity to conduct environmental stewardship.

        As Michael Klare has noted in The Nation, we will having coming “climate wars” and huge global civil unrest as a result of global warming. We all agree that our future is dire, and I want to ask if, in your vision of climate mobilization, you anticipate citizens freely volunteering, or do you envision the US eventually enacting legislation that will require citizens to participate in “environmental conscription” (which started in the Civil War) or alternately, a type of “selective environmental service” (started during WW2)?

        Sophie Christman Lavin (panel 2)
        SUNY Stony Brook University

  11. Sandra Lindberg says:

    Hello, Erik and thank you for the thoughtful presentation.

    I want to share this page: You may know of the work of Joanna Macy, but on this page she acknowledges the very long time during which humans will need to keep safe and harmless the nuclear materials we have already created. She envisions nuclear guardians, a kind of monk or nun class, that would commit to this work. I think you will find her page interesting, if you have not already viewed it.

    After reading your responses to my presentation and viewing yours, I am struck by your trust that those with knowledge will somehow persuade large numbers of uninformed people to adopt the strategies you propose, a top-down approach it could be called. Have you imagined how the changes we need to make might happen differently? Perhaps you imagine this top-down approach as preferable because you are so aware of the speed with which change needs to happen? Can you imagine how these changes might happen democratically, in maybe a less organized or predictable fashion, but one where people would avoid the hierarchical structures that, I believe, are part of the reason we are in our current crisis? Currently, a plutocracy or corporatocracy is driving the planet to collapse. I have lost my taste for, and trust in, top-down structures. I hope you will consider how the many wonderful ideas you bring forward could happen within systems far different than the one(s) we currently must endure.

    • Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers says:

      I share your concern that top down solutions are doomed to failure. Such top-down narratives lull us into complacency while the genocide and ecocide continues apace. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 67% of all wildlife will have been destroyed in the 50 years between 1970 and 2020 and there are no signs of any reduction in this exponentially accelerating murder rate. It is largely our consumption patterns that is killing them off, not climate change.

      Unfortunately, the “Cowspiracy” is widespread in the upper echelons of our society. Therefore, I subscribe to the Buckminster Fuller dictum, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

    • Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute says:

      Dear Sandra,

      I’m not sure where you see me advocating for top-down interventions. We’ve had 40 years to act in a concerted top-down/state-led way but have failed to. I’m certainly not against state-led efforts. In fact, some states are acting boldly–the Netherlands, with its multi-decade approach to protecting itself from sea level rise, Cuba’s assessment of vulnerable cities, etc. But of course, none are acting boldly enough: abandoning a growth agenda, moving rapidly away from fossil fuels and a consumerism-oriented economy. State-led efforts will continue, but the Ecomissionary movement I’m describing certainly does not have to be top-down.

      Yes, there would eventually be a leadership structure, even a hierarchy (I’m not one who believes in the long-term success of anarchic structures), but it could decentralize to a large degree its decision-making. Certain core beliefs would have to be unified if there were to be one larger movement (like the First Council of Nicea did for Christianity) but much of the creation of projects, allocation of funds, etc. would be decentralized among parishes.

      In fact, unlike missionary movements of today, that could even be an intentional strength. Christianity and Buddhism both have absorbed/allowed for incorporation of existing beliefs along side of these religions. An ecomissionary religion could do this and more–absorbing and adding in local ecological knowledge to help flavor the local diocese and help guide the adherents in that specific place (bioregion). The religion would be recognizable in its overall practice everywhere, but have local elements. For example, having had the chance to speak in a church in Honolulu recently, I was struck by the prominent place the Taro leaf (sacred in Hawaiian culture) had in the church. We even had a special communion with breadfruit and coconut water (instead of bread and wine). There is much ability to adapt locally while remaining true to the larger shared paradigm. That’s what I’d imagine for this type of movement.

      Perhaps that’s still too top-down for you but this would be a voluntary movement–with people joining because they see the value in what the movement offers (health, security, community, a deeper understanding of the Earth and why there is so much suffering, etc.). The goal would be to utilize this energy to not only help these adherents (and others who hopefully would eventually also become adherents) but to use that life force to start restoring Earth’s systems and sowing the seeds of an ecocentric culture that could last for millennia and prevent our current cancerous growth culture from rerooting and once again poisoning the Earth.

  12. John Ryan, University of Western Australia says:

    Thanks to all the keynote speakers!

    I have a recent anecdote of institutional resistance to carbon emissions reduction. Interviewing for a new job in Australia after almost a year of unemployment. The interview panel offers a Skype interview as an alternative (I was located in Northern Thailand in anticipation of my loss of employment) but my internal contacts tell me the reality is that only those who attend interview in person get hired. Three flights, huge carbon emissions, almost 13 hours on planes, travel expenses I don’t have, psychological distress from plane travel and airports, and sickness from adjusting to a cold temperate region of Australia from tropical Thailand. All of this could have been avoided with a simple Skype call.

    I’m giving these details as an example to suggest that change needs to happen at a systemic level. The institutional assumption is often that if someone is serious about something (a job, a conference, a meeting), she or he will make the effort to fly. How do we change this kind of culture?

    Yours sincerely,

    John Ryan (between Australia and Thailand).

    • Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:

      Hi John,

      This is an interesting conflict you have presented. Do you know if this is standard practice for Australian hiring agencies? I was not aware of this here in the states, but who knows, perhaps this is more common than I had known. It certainly seems that with the near constant technological improvements that are occurring, ,platforms such as Skype or other high-definition communication methods should be seen as an acceptable form of secondary interviews. While I understand that it is hard to gauge a candidate entirely based on voice (such as a traditional phone interview), I can see no reason why employers would have negative feelings to conducting their interviews via Skype. Like you mentioned, it makes little sense to have a cross country (or continent) prospective employee be forced to commit to traveling when internet video platforms are so advanced. At least in the realm of environmental positions, perhaps this is an issue you could voice to the employer directly. If you state your reasons for wanting to do the Skype interview versus flying out for an in-person interview, hopefully they would understand and not discredit your ability to be a reliable, qualified candidate.

  13. DavidBarkin says:

    Why are you (and so many others) not recognizing the fact that the alternative movements that you see as so important (and difficult, — The Canticle) are already being constructed and lived in by so many millions who are presently being attacked in the USA but mostly elsewhere — it seems incredible that the cultural blinders and the structures of capitalism are so very strong that most of the dialogues in this conference are ignoring these possibilities or necesities and in fact are not dealing with the deliberate attacks that these peoples are suffering worldd wide. (or no need for you to leave the USA: North Dakota). A thought from the Global South!

    • Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute says:

      Yes David, the blinders must be very strong as I cannot point to even one example of ecomissionaries–in the North, South, East, or West. I’m very much looking forward to your reply. Please include some examples of ecomissionaries (and ideally some links to where I can learn more). And by ecomissionaries, I mean groups or even individuals that are spreading ecological philosophies through a means of proselytizing and/or use of social services. Or if that’s too much to ask for, any aspect of this would be refreshing to hear about!


  14. Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute says:

    I just read the recent New York Times article suggesting we describe efforts to deal with climate change as a revolution rather than as a war/mobilization (We don’t need a war on climate we need a revolution).

    The author makes an interesting point:
    ““Revolution” can be just as motivating as “war,” but a green revolution would center the human-nature metabolism over and against the drive for profits. It would answer the question McKibben leaves open, namely, how we get from green technology to more just ecological and social relations.”

    What’s interesting to me is both these models assume we have capacity left to have a ‘green revolution’ in the technological sense. A conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energy, with a population of 7.4-9.9 billion people, all being encouraged to live consumer lifestyles (and now in some cases, even being pushed to do so, such as increases in air conditioning due to hotter summers), is impossible. The war is unwinnable. The revolution–if meant in the sense of an ‘industrial revolution’ or even if meant in the sense of the majority of people overthrowing the current establishment–is also doomed to fail. The majority want to be (or at least can imagine nothing other than being) consumers and certainly aren’t going to be advocates for abandoning the consumer culture, with the hopes of increasing the odds of (but not guaranteeing) stopping catastrophe down the line.

    So perhaps the right language at this late stage in the “war” is Climate Insurgency?

    Also recently in the New York Times was this article about Estonia training its population in insurgency tactics (“Spooked By Russia, Tiny Estonia Trains a Nation of Insurgents”) –surviving on wild plants, hiding from enemies, shooting, even the design of IEDs!

    Not suggesting the Climate Insurgency prioritizes these types of trainings of course, but maybe we have to radicalize our thinking, recognizing that we have already been occupied. We can’t win the war, but we can dismantle the war machine that continues to destroy the climate, as quickly as possible (with hopes that the forces of industrialization can no longer muster the will to continue the occupation). Of course, even raising this sounds like I’m advocating for a Deep Green Resistance-esque platform. But I think there’s a path just before violence that would appeal to a larger group (look at how popular these Estonian Defense Leagues are). Perhaps The Climate Mobilization can have a Climate Year track focused on monkeywrenching? Or at least strategic civil disobedience? Or providing deeper community services that help to extract people from the consumer society and put them into the ranks of climate insurgents–not necessarily as monkeywrenchers but as yardfarmers, community resilience leaders, etc. Social service provision is a gateway for building local support–look at the Black Panthers, Hezbollah, or many other case studies. And converting servants of the consumer system into sufficiency farmers, and embedding them in local economies could do a lot in effectively waging this insurgency (by extracting both their labor and their demand for consumer products).

    • Sophie Christman Lavin, SUNY Stony Brook says:

      Dear Erik,
      Thank you for your talk. Your term “ecomissionary” is fresh and very pragmatic. I see it as a globally inclusive concept for existing religious communities that can adapt, or adopt, sustainable ecological practices. My question has to deal with how you distinguish the religious missionary component from your earth education core principles. Are they connected, and are they interdependent?
      Sophie Christman Lavin
      SUNY Stony Brook University (and panel 2 here)

      • Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute says:

        A great question, Sophie. They’re complementary. The Earth Education core principles are what I see as essential principles for reshaping education–in all schools. One doesn’t have to be an ecomissionary to find these principles useful!

        But when I daydream about ecomissionary efforts of the future, I imagine ecomissionaries leading the way in implementing these EarthCore principles and showing how effective they are in raising, good, kind, just and ecocentric children and adults. Once proven I imagine they’ll spread further into ‘mainstream’ schools.


  15. John Mustol, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. says:

    Thank you for your excellent talk. As an evangelical Christian and former missionary, I was surprised by your desire to adopt the “missionary” methods of early Christianity since it grew rapidly and seems to have been so “successful.” I haven’t read Stark’s book, but, if I may, I might offer a comment. Human nature, motivation, and behavior are extremely complex and variable. It’s hard to discern in any given context what factors and conditions are at play when humans behave in different ways and when they change their attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyles. My little talk is an attempt to suggest some factors issuing from our evolutionary biology, but there are many other factors too. What approach will work to induce large scale human behavioral change (especially change that involves sacrifice) – social-political movements, education, training, war, revolution, coercion, transformation, catastrophe, etc.? I don’t know. But perhaps if we studied and understood human nature a little better, we might have a better chance of selecting a method that would work.

    I also used to be a physician. To become a doctor, you spend a lot of time studying human anatomy, physiology, psychology, and so on. You try to learn about “human nature.” That way you have an idea of how humans will respond to different interventions (medicine, surgery, etc.) when they are sick and you need try to help make them better. Perhaps the same approach might be wise in approaching environmental problems and climate change. Before we “intervene” with some kind of social “medicine or surgery,” maybe we should learn something about “the patient” – human beings? Maybe in this way we would be more effective. But maybe we don’t have time for that. Anyway, thanks for your talk.
    john mustol

    • John Mustol, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. says:

      Erik Assadourian
      My apologies for misspelling your name. Sorry.
      john m

    • Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute says:

      Thanks John. I’d argue that we now know a lot about human nature. The psychological, anthropological, and sociological data shows how malleable humans’ customs and cultures are. It also shows how animal-like we are too. From click-whirr response to cognitive dissonance to implicit priming, our animal brains can be readily nudged to pathways good or bad. And marketers (not to mention politicians) do a lot of this, using even brain imaging machines to better design ads for example. We need to start working on building new cultural systems that extract people from the manipulations they’re constantly bombarded by to consume unthinkingly.

      The patient (consumer civilization) has a terminal illness. It will die, painfully and horrifically. There is no saving it.

      The question is whether we have set up care for its children. Or will they be shuffled off to an orphanage upon its death? In other words, does dictatorship replace the Consumer Republic or can we start building the foundations of a new ecocentric system that can prevent the worst abuses of the transition from manifesting. The only realistic path I see to do that is through an ecomissionary model.


  16. John Mustol, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. says:

    Thank you for your talk. I am greatly impressed by your dedication and commitment. My question is “Who’s the enemy?” In my little talk, I mentioned a possible behavioral disposition possessed by humans (and other social primates) that derives from our evolutionary history – “in-group preference” vis-a-vis out-groups. In most (all?) wars, combatants have a clear “enemy” against whom people can generate the needed emotional energy to motivate mobilization, fighting, sacrificial behavior, and so on. In WWII, we had clear-cut human enemies – Germany and Japan. So, in climate change, who’s the enemy?
    Thank you again for your talk and for all your hard work.
    john mustol

  17. Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:

    Dear Margaret Klein Salamon,
    Thank you for your talk and your inspiring work. Both the Climate Year and the notion of a “grassroots army” to mobilize climate efforts were fascinating approaches to our current climate concerns. As you mentioned, this type of mobilization requires a huge amount of cooperation among both the people and the government. In light of recent news regarding our newly elected government, what should we be thinking and looking towards now? I would imagine Climate Year and Climate Mobilization may have to adjust their plan of attack, per say, to combat these changes. What should our first steps be, and what can we do (locally or globally) to make the MOST impact under these new circumstances?

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