Earth scientists are trying to get our attention. Well, that's an understatement – they are apoplectic, waving their arms in the windows of the super mall that our culture has become. Yes, we don't notice them because we're shopping, with iPhones glowing in our faces and white wires in our ears.
The King of the Slow Motion Shoppers is Barack Obama. He's doing the tai chi of total hesitation. He puts off the pipeline. He puts it off until after the apocalypse. In so doing, he encourages all citizens to enter the gradualism of shopping where basic change, structural way-of-life change, is impossible. Shoppers are morphed into Obama-like ditherers, lost in a cloud of alternatives, the product, the packaging, competing prices, warranties, credit, resale value, prestige value, sex life value, status value. Shopping forces upon us its false complexity.
In the last year study after study has been published by a world of natural scientists. The IPCC report from the United Nations is the most famous, but there are many others. These groups of conservation biologists, paleontologists, climatologists, – across the spectrum of disciplines within the natural sciences, add up to an unprecedented gathering of scientists around a single issue, which you might call "Life on Earth."
Each of these learned researchers is reporting the mass death on the island of life that they are studying. Each professor's specialty is dying before her eyes. Thousands of scientists are shouting to us from their coral reefs, wetlands, glaciers, cloud forests and mountain streams, from every conceivable eco-system. They all conclude their reports with the same thundering pronouncements, like a secularized Book of Revelation. "Super storms that will overwhelm economies..." "Migrations from the coastal cities and global south..." "Methane levels like the Permia Extinction of 250 million years ago..."
Our response? As the fires, droughts, floods and storms increase, we are less and less interested. At least in the United States, this is what the pollsters tell us. The climate catastrophe isn't a product that is meeting sales projections. Consumers seem to suffer an attention deficit when it comes to self-induced mortality. It doesn't get the best placement in Walmart's aisle.
And yet, it's strange how in this era of the Sixth Great Extinction, the most popular movie is in the saving-the-world genre. Now it's Captain America. All those Marvel films. A super-hero with fantastic powers saves us from a super villain, the film's stand-in for climate change. Maybe this is the problem.
The apocalypse with the five stars on Amazon isn't the real one. The End-Times with 600 special effects engineers catches our eye, and the actual one with the oceans crushing cities – that's just another disaster in the tabloids.
We shop for our super heroes, but we don't believe that we can be that hero ourselves. Heroes don't suffer from gradualism. We do.
Even the threat of a world that will cut short our childrens' lives isn't enough to motivate us. Something about how we are living has taken our fight or flight mechanism and disabled it.
How do we put the move in the movement? There is no Earth Movement without millions of us moving. How can we possibly estimate what it will take? Let's just say: Millions of heroes will have to be pretty damn heroic. We must move to change how we personally live, and simultaneously challenge institutional power. We'll have to help each other repair those fight or flight evolutionary tools. To get our instruction manuals and repair kits, we'll have to leave our computers and malls and walk back toward the eco-systems where the naturalists are stranded. We'll need to learn some old things from scratch.
Each of us will be called upon to be radical in our own way. A fossil fuel extraction site appears in your kitchen window and you up and chain yourself to a bulldozer. People are doing such things, every day, around the world. Local eco-warriors are being murdered at the rate of two a week. The movement is beginning.
Our leader is the Earth itself. You know how not-gradual a tornado can be when it goes shopping in a big box store full of sweatshop-made CO2-emitting tchotchkes? The Earth is our teacher. The Earth will train us to shout like Typhoon Haiyan. We need to move the ground and make people jump. We must to keep the pressure on with the thoroughness of Lake Cameron in Somerset or implacability of the tourist-killing Tasmanian heat.
Where are the super-heroes for the Earth? That's a trick question. They aren't in the past, or on the silver screen. The heroes aren't "over there." They are here. They are you and I. We're here and are we ready? Of course we are, because we want to live. We're ready to launch an Arctic 30 in every ocean, a Chelsea Manning in every regiment, a Sea Shepherd in every whale hunt, a Wangari Maathi in every clear-cut, a Pussy Riot in every church, a Vandana Shiva on every farm.
I can hear Sam Cooke singing "A Change Is Gonna Come!"