Most of us would agree: We are living in an age of unprecedented change, where a mind-boggling number of crises converge - including global economic instability, climate change, overpopulation, erosion of traditional community values, declining biodiversity and wars over waning natural resources, especially oil.
These calamities not only impact the earth but bring our daily lives into turmoil. Deep down, many of us know that the coming shocks will be catastrophic if we don't prepare.
But instead of acting, nations controlled by the world's biggest corporations dither and resist. At the Earth Summit in Rio this month, for example, the U.S. delegation savaged the summit's draft declaration of purpose, stripping it of all commitments.
"The word 'equitable,' the U.S. insists, must be cleansed from the text," notes commentator George Monbiot. "So must any mention of the right to food, water, health, the rule of law, gender equality and women's empowerment. So must a clear target of preventing two degrees of global warming. So must a commitment to alter 'unsustainable consumption and production patterns.'"
Meanwhile, Rome burns.
In a landmark paper just published in Nature, entitled "Approaching a State-Shift in Earth's Biosphere," 12 respected scientists spanning a multitude of disciplines warn that our planet's ecosystem is careening towards imminent, irreversible collapse: "Earth's accelerating loss of biodiversity, its climates' increasingly extreme fluctuations are precursors to reaching a planetary state threshold or tipping point. Once that happens, the planet's ecosystems, as we know them, could irreversibly collapse in the proverbial blink of an eye," says the media summary of the paper.
In the grim face of such forecasts, it's hard to refute the conclusion of author Richard Heinberg when he says, "Our central survival task for the decades ahead, as individuals and as a species, must be to make a transition away from the use of fossil fuels and to do this as peacefully, equitably and intelligently as possible."
Fortunately, as daunting as that challenge may seem, "The good news is that we already have everything we need to create a better future," explains Chris Martenson in his book "Crash Course." "All the understanding, resources, technology, ideas, system, institutions, and thinking are already available, invented, or in place, ready to be deployed in service of a better future; we just need to decide to make use of them. By simply reorienting our priorities, we can assure that we choose prosperity over growth."
It is time for us to get down to the business of literally and figuratively cultivating the fields of the future.
We cannot waste one minute more waiting on the outcome of failed international summits, or the next presidential election, or for Congress or the states to act.
Communities must face up to the coming crises. It's very likely that the federal and state safety nets of the past will not be there for us. If we don't plan for resilient communities and create local solutions for pressing problems, we could be swept away by the crises.
We need to engage each other and our local communities in building "lifeboats" to weather an uncertain and difficult future.
We need to cultivate local economies, local currencies, local food and energy security, and partnerships between local government, local business and local nonprofits.
The Great Depression and World War II taught us that crisis can equal opportunity. However, unless we prepare, the opportunity afforded by crisis could be hijacked by a more organized, well financed minority with a self-serving, totalitarian agenda.
The lessons of the past are clear: We cannot expect others to save us. We must rely exclusively on our selves and our neighbors. Together we can lead our communities to a more abundant, equitable and healthy future.
Andy Willner lives in Keyport, N.J., is one of the founding members of the Waterkeeper Alliance and served as the NY/NJ Baykeeper from 1989 to 2008.