Out of Destruction, Transformation?

Most of my recent columns have been about change, from climate change to twitter. Well, this is a start-of-the-year post, and it seems appropriate to take on change in a big way as the year changes.

We’re in an unstable moment. Climate change is here and it’s affecting us all. The economy is global and governments are local and flailing or just plain being thrown out. From coastlines to currencies, there is more destruction than creation happening. History has taught us creative destruction happens, and as we approach the end of 2011, it’s happening on a near-global basis. On balance, this is good; we need change. But I suspect 2012 will be difficult and that the creative part of the creative destruction isn’t going to come along and heal all of our hurts any time soon.

Let’s start with climate change. One of my favorite writers and futurists, Bruce Sterling, is reported to have said, “I will pass the rest of my lifetime in the shadow of climate change. It’s not about warning people in 2011, or trying to avert or defuse a misfortune. The wolf is beyond the door. The wolf is in the living room.” This strikes a chord for me because as I think about the destruction it feels like we’re passing through, I believe we have created a condition where either we fix it – we manage the current and future ecosystems – or we spend our lives and our children spend their lives reacting to changes in the beautiful planet we are lucky enough to call home.

As an alternative tone to Bruce’s comments, I want to juxtapose a quote from a recent op-ed in the New York Times on the Anthropocene, “We can accept the reality of humanity’s reshaping of the environment without giving up in despair. We can, and we should, consider actively moving species at risk of extinction from climate change. We can design ecosystems to maintain wildlife, filter water and sequester carbon. We can restore once magnificent ecosystems like Yellowstone and the Gulf of Mexico to new glories — but glories that still contain a heavy hand of man.” One of these two quotes is true for sure; climate change is here. The second is hopeful and positive (given the wolf inside the door), but much work remains to get it done.

And we’ll need a structure to get that work done.

A lot of governance has been destroyed. More might be in the next year or two. In America, the occupy movement has a good chance of emerging stronger in the spring. China may be on the brink of an economic downturn. The Mexican/American border is a disaster. The Euro is deeply troubled. The Arab Spring was a sign of change. It destroyed long-standing power structures, creating space for the new.

But there are already signs that the rebuilding is not going easy. I heard a radio news story today that suggested the same Libyan militants that helped unseat Khadafi are now threatening the safety of patients in hospitals. Right now, as I write this, tweets are coming across about the Egyptian army killing militants in Tahrir square. We need to find a better way. Tweets can bring down a government, but I haven’t seen a way to use tweets to build a new one. But we need – and need to demand – better than we have.

The challenge of climate change can only be met if we can figure out how to govern ourselves wisely. Even if there was no past where we were Adam and Eve needing to care for Paradise, we are now in charge of the garden. Gardening the planet – running the ecosystem – needs both an international structure and a thoughtful collective movement in communities across the globe. We need a strong global power and more accountability than I’ve ever seen in any government. We need goals – global goals. We need to think and plan longer-term, and be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term good.

This is going to be hard. It isn’t certain that we can do it.

The next few decades could be good or bad; save us or not. But I’m a perennial optimist and I intend to watch and see what happens. After all, my latest novel is a Mayan 2012 book where the world doesn’t end…

Here are some of the articles and stories I’ve been reading this week while I thought about this:

There’s more, of course. Follow my tweetstream @brendacooper if you want to read along with me between columns.


Brenda Cooper’s latest science fiction novel, Mayan December, is out now from Prime Books. For more information, see her website!

2 thoughts on “Out of Destruction, Transformation?”

  1. You had me confused at the first sentence.

    “Most of my columns this year…”

    Considering this is your first column of the year did you mean “most of my columns last year” or “most of my columns in the last 12 months”. Maybe I’m a pedant, but it confused me.

    I’ll go back and read the column now because your posts are generally of interest even if my pedantry slows me down 😉

  2. Sorry – I thought it was going to be posted in December and thus be my last column of last year. I’ll see if I can sneak an edit in to fix my mistake. 🙂 Didn’t mean to confuse you – and I’m glad you find they’re generally interesting.

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