Let me be the first to say that I agree — we’re in trouble. Just today, on a ride to the post office to get my mail, my friend and I discussed rising sea levels, the seemingly inevitable gradual destruction of croplands with climate change, failures in medicare treatment procedures, and the challenges to running a sustainable small business in today’s competitive markets. Human life is complex, and we make it worse — from the global to the local.
Our media, our politics, our work and our relationships are polluted by fear, justifiable fear, of destruction that we don’t seem to know how to stop. It runs so deep that we entertain apocalypse as a daily possibility — and that doesn’t count the movies and novels that predict so many ways for the world to end that there’s not much rest for the wicked, or the weary. What’s a leader to do?
So many obligations, so little time! So many fears, such cold comfort! So many possible futures, so much present confusion! Lately, I’m thinking, the only way to break our growing addiction — yes, I mean addiction — to fear and the apocalyptic stories we entertain every day — is to stop entertaining them. That is — stop convincing ourselves that nothing can be done, and start looking at the reality of our lives. And in a culture of fear — fear of terrorism, fear of disease, fear of environmental disaster, fear of poverty, fear of aging, fear of change — that requires leaders who are charismatic, visionary and pragmatic.
I know, it seems like I’m calling for leadership superheroes! But I’m not. Because the first step is for leaders to stop entertaining the mythic apocalyptic conversation of our fear-mongering collective and individual imaginations, and take a step back — waaaaay back — so they can see the trees for the forest. So they can stand up for next steps to prevent the worst disasters we seem to be courting in our literature, our political debates and our personal conversations. And in case this seems like a tall order, the bottom line is that all these conversations and imaginary futures (yes — they are still imaginary!) are dangerous because they make us passive, make us think nothing can be done. And that’s far from the truth.
So who are some leaders, I hear you asking, who are doing what you say should be done? Well, check these leaders out, and let me know if they’re getting the job started.
BILL MCKIBBEN and hundreds of thousands of activists in 35o.org
The number 350 means climate safety: to preserve a livable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.
We believe that a global grassroots movement can hold our leaders accountable to the realities of science and the principles of justice. That movement is rising from the bottom up all over the world, and is uniting to create the solutions that will ensure a better future for all.
Maybe you know other leaders who are cutting through the fearful apathy of imaginary apocalypse, who want to support a present and a future which makes these mythic depressing stories seem laughable. Who are these leaders, creating solutions for real problems, not responses to fears and end-of-world fantasies? Who do you see stepping up to the challenges that frighten us today?