Tom Atlee: The rapid growth of serious responses to climate disruption

Cultural Intelligence, Earth Intelligence
Tom Atlee
Tom Atlee

The rapid growth of serious responses to climate disruption

A LOT of developments are emerging around the climate issue – a nonviolent insurgency, offensive and defensive fossil fuel divestment efforts, insurance industry responses, new forms of agriculture, dark humor, a cross country march, municipal preparedness, US administration actions, and more.  I also encourage action on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, currently being negotiated in secret and very dangerous to democracy and climate action.

Dear friends,

There’s so much change happening around the climate issue, in the climate movement, and in various sectors affected by climate impacts that we could describe it all as an awakening, a radicalization, perhaps even a speeding up of evolution. The several articles I’ve included below are only a sampling of what’s going on – and here’s a quick summary of what they see and say:

* NONVIOLENT INSURGENCY – The climate movement can, should, and is already evolving from lobbying and protesting to a mass civil disobedience-based insurgency aimed at enforcing a “higher law”, as well as ordinary laws and fundamental legal principles that are being violated by those endangering our grandchildren’s future. Such a movement may break laws like “no trespassing” in order to enforce far more important laws and principles and to challenge the legitimacy of authorities involved in destroying the commons we all depend on – what legal scholars call “the public trust”. (PS: Consider a great holiday gift about the power of nonviolence: DENMARK RISING by Barry Clemson, an inspiring, exciting, history-based novel chronicling the surprisingly effective actual – and potential – Danish nonviolent resistance to the Nazis. I just read it and loved it.)

* DIVESTMENT – A major research effort shows that obliviousness and mismanagement by the vast majority of retirement and investment funds are threatening investors and retirees with potentially massive losses through exposure to climate-associated risks. On the other hand, these funds could be driving the transition to a low carbon economy. Unions, cities, and other fund-users take note of this mix of danger and opportunity. (The study mentioned here complements the carbon divestment movement underway on campuses and elsewhere.)

* INSURANCE – Global insurance losses due to extreme weather have averaged $70 billion a year since 2010, an increase of 75 percent from 2000 to 2009 and 367 percent from 1980 to 1989. The insurance sector has been one of the earliest industries to voice concerns about climate change, because it hits their bottom lines very visibly and intensively. The consequent rise in insurance rates is bringing the climate home to more and more people, corporations, and municipalities.

* AGRICULTURE – Intense erosion and weather anomalies like unusually dry springs or wet summers are on the rise, challenging farmers. One industrial approach to solving this is to use larger mechanized planters that can plant more crops quicker. While many US farmers are adopting that approach, a more sustainable approach not mentioned in the article is agroforestry, which mixes trees with crops to better hold and access water, reduce erosion, support pest predators, and provide diverse yields, among other benefits. (Agroforestry itself is intimately related to permaculture, a global movement which is also working on ecologically aware farming practices to meet the challenges of climate change.)

* HUMOR – Comedians are diving into the absurdities and possibilities raised by our civilization’s bizarre response to nature and to its own impending doom.

There is much much more, of course. For starters you can Google /climate change adaptation cities/ to see reports from the World Bank and MIT right at the top, among many other institutional and non-governmental sites. And I just heard this morning that John Podesta has joined White House staff specifically “to oversee an aggressive climate change agenda via executive action”. The mounting litany of responses goes on and on, but those here are quite enough to make my point. Suffice it to say that I see an acceleration of diverse and widespread responses to the climate challenge.

Whether all this is happening “fast enough” is, of course, an open question, because climate disruption dynamics are accelerating and there is evidence that we need to dig far deeper to sufficiently transform our culture and our economic and governance systems if we are to adequately meet the growing climate challenge. (If you are interested in further information and thoughts about this, see my blog post Acknowledging real end-times possibilities –  especially its list of sites/groups taking extreme climate disruption and peak oil seriously and links in the comments below the blog post.)


A very important opportunity to enable all these diverse strategies and opportunities to be digested in ongoing conversations and action is the upcoming Great March for Climate Action. More than a hundred activists from all parts of the climate movement will live and walk together for eight months across the US, talking all the time. Imagine what could come of that. As I noted in my September 15th blog post An opportunity like no other – the Great March for Climate Action, these marcher activists

will talk about … climate change, activism, strategies, deeper causes, long term nuanced consequences, how their grandchildren will live, and what REALLY needs to be done about all that. Their diverse perspectives and information will churn together in a thousand combinations and novel configurations. The march will be a hothouse of new ways of thinking, feeling, and taking action. We could even say that it will be ‘the other greenhouse effect’ – a hundredfold concentration and enrichment of the energy, thinking, and conversations we already engage in together for a few hours or days at a time [but always hunger for more!]. Carrying on such intensified interaction for EIGHT MONTHS cannot help but generate breakthrough initiatives and collaborations, transformed lives and lifestyles, new directions for the whole climate movement and every other movement.

Just what we need – all quite in addition to the media attention, the activation and actions of citizens and towns along the way, the march examples of small carbon footprint, and the inspiring commitment of people whose lives embody the seriousness of the issue… I urge you to really consider supporting the march and/or specific marchers — or becoming a marcher yourself. There is nothing quite like it.


If you feel called to take even more action on climate issues over the holidays, consider addressing the horrendous Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) currently being negotiated in secret (except for occasional WikiLeaks leaks). Once completed (possibly in mid-2014), the Obama administration wants Congress to “fast-track” it to make informed public response and even sensible Congressional deliberation difficult if not impossible. The TPP reaches far beyond climate issues. But it particularly relates to climate change because any environmental regulation in a signatory country that threatens any corporation’s “expected future profits” can result in that corporation suing the country’s government directly in special international tribunals of private sector lawyers, not only bypassing the sovereignty and citizenry of the country concerned but, if they win, forcing the country’s taxpayers to pay the corporation for its “losses”. Can you believe it?! If TPP passes, it will give corporations unprecedented power to undermine regulations that address climate change – which is why preventing its passage is one of the most important climate actions we can take at the moment.

Public Citizen is one good place to familiarize yourself with this trade agreement and what to do about it. See and their related action site. For specific TPP issues related to the environment, read this. For a petition to nix fast-track, go here.

You can read another stimulating, clarifying, and very powerful overview of TPP here and another excellent one from a non-US, Malaysian perspective – which notes the role of TPP in US geopolitical strategy – here.

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All this gives evidence – once again! – that things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster simultaneously – often in intimately related ways!

We are all part of the accelerating evolution of life on our planet, shaped so strongly by our human activity… all of it energized by the twin possibilities of pointless and painful extinction on the one hand and, on the other, a new civilization of just and generous partnership with each other and nature. That’s what’s unfolding, right now, through everything we do…


Read various excerpts supporting the above views.

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