Commusings: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation by Paul Hawken

Sep 18, 2021

Or, listen on Spotify

Hello Commune Community,

In 1933, in the throes of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt announced The New Deal, a series of social programs to dull the sharp edges of capitalism. In 1960, President Kennedy captivated our collective imagination with The New Frontier, the unfathomable vision of flying a man to the moon. And, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson posited a Great Society that would eliminate poverty and racial injustice.
These inspiring visions not only met the challenges of their time, they also implored us to see the world beyond our own individual plight. When, in 1969, Apollo 11 transmitted the first luminescent images taken of earth from space, it forever changed our relationship to the planet we call home. Less than a year after the Giant Leap, we celebrated the first Earth Day and established the E.P.A. But this proved to be a fragile revolution.
Global warming and its downstream impacts are no longer eventualities lingering vaguely off in the future. According to the IPCC we need to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to escape the most deleterious effects, but I don’t need to enumerate a series of statistics or point to extreme weather events to underscore the fact the climate crisis is here and now.
The challenge of reversing global warming is once again an opportunity for the human race to summon its ingenuity and collective will. If the past 18 months proves anything, it is that humanity can change its behavior and that systemic inertia is not fixed. But we need a transcendent call-to-action that transforms awareness into agency.
Regeneration, Paul Hawken’s new book and Commune course, provides this vision — and it’s right on time. While Regeneration addresses energy, agriculture, food, clothing and other specific areas of focus that must be addressed, it is equally a broader philosophy of how to understand our relationship with nature and each other. Regeneration centers around cooperation, collective action and mutual interdependence. Regeneration applies broadly not just to soil, but to forests, oceans, communities, economies, downtowns and our own microbiome and spirituality.
Through examination of one’s mind, Buddhist practice reveals the illusoriness of self. If you remain unconvinced that you are not an individual then peer not into the mind but into the gut to find 100 trillion microbes that govern your immune system, digestion, pulmonary activity and mood. Regeneration is a shift from individualism to interconnectedness, from separateness to togetherness.
For the next several weeks – in Commusings and on the podcast – Paul will give us a glimpse into how we reverse global warming in one generation and, through this process, how we rediscover the joy of being nature. We are so fortunate to have his wisdom to guide us toward becoming the Regeneration Nation.
Send me a missive at jeffk@onecommune and follow my exhortations on IG @jeffkrasno.
In love, include me,

• • •

Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation

by Paul Hawken


The climate crisis is not the warming of the planet. What unnerves scientists is what warming will do to life on the planet. 

Changes in atmospheric temperature, ocean currents, and melting polar ice could trigger runaway disruption on multiple fronts in rapidly succeeding tipping points. Losses could include more frequent droughts in the tropics that would convert the world’s rainforests into fire-prone savannas. Changes in ocean circulation would dramatically alter worldwide weather and agriculture. The rapid increase in fires and pests could lead to the collapse of our northern forests. Ocean heating and acidification could cause the death of every coral reef in the world. The accelerating melting of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica would cause a three-foot rise in sea levels. The melting of Arctic permafrost would release massive amounts of ancient stored carbon dioxide and methane. 

It is difficult, if not incomprehensible, to imagine how these events would affect families, cities, economies, companies, food, politics, and children in more temperate climates. However, it is not difficult for more than two dozen Arctic cultures who are experiencing the impact of the melting Arctic directly and quickly: the Inuit, Yupik, Chukchi, Aleuts, Saami, Nenets, Athabaskan, Gwich’in, and Kalaallit, cultures that have occupied their lands for up to ten thousand years.

Accurate as they may be, climate predictions can obscure another set of tipping points, the numerous small changes and crucially important outcomes that lead to people’s involvement and participation, rather than passivity and fear. These are actions that slow, forestall, and transform the climate crisis. 

Ending the climate crisis means creating a society that is going in the right direction at the right speed by 2030, a rate of change that will lead to zero net emissions before 2050. That means halving emissions by 2030 and then halving again by 2040. 

Tens of thousands of organizations, teachers, companies, architects, farmers, Indigenous cultures, and native leaders know what to do and are active in implementation. The current growth of the climate movement is magnificent, but it remains a small fraction of the world. 

Hundreds of millions of people need to realize that they have agency, that they can take action, and that collectively it is possible to prevent runaway global warming.

The agent who can head off the climate crisis is reading this sentence. Logically, this seems like nonsense—surely individuals are powerless to counter the global drivers and momentum of global warming. 

That’s a fair conclusion if we assume that yesterday’s institutions should or will do it for us. There is a debate as to whether individual behavior or government policy is the key to solving the climate crisis. There shouldn’t be. We need the involvement of every sector of society, top to bottom, and everything between.

It is engaging and fascinating to calculate one’s own carbon footprint, but Regeneration – my upcoming book and course with Commune – takes a different and wider tack, because there is no such thing as a single individual. 

Thinking you are an individual is self-identity. Being an individual is an ongoing, functional, and intimate connection to the human and living world. 

When we look at our networks, each of us is multitudes. We have different skills and potential, including sharing, electing, demonstrating, teaching, conserving, and diverse means of helping leaders, cities, companies, neighbors, co-workers and governments become aware and able to act.

Worried that you are not an expert? Almost no one is. But we understand enough. We know how greenhouse gases function and warm the planet; we are seeing greater climate volatility and extreme weather; and we know the primary sources of carbon emissions. We want a stable climate, food security, pure water, clean air, and an enduring future that we can become ancestors to. Cultures, families, communities, lands, professions, and skills vary with every person. The situations we find ourselves in differ. 

Who better to know what to do at this time, in this place, with your knowledge, than you?

Nevertheless, solving the climate crisis is an unnatural act, one that human beings are ill-equipped to do. Our minds just don’t work that way. 

The idea of a future existential threat is abstract and conceptual. War metaphors about fighting, battling, and combating climate change don’t connect either. Who wakes up in the morning excited about mitigating or getting to “net zero” in thirty years? 

Most people ignore climate headlines, and for good reason. The overwhelming majority focus on current dilemmas, not distant ones, obstacles that impact one’s life now, not in 2050. On the other hand, humans are notably brilliant at joining together to solve problems. Give us immediate threats like an impending cyclone, flood, or hurricane, and we are all over it. 

If we are going to engage the bulk of humanity to end the climate crisis, the way to do it is counterintuitive: to reverse global warming, we need to address current human needs, not an imagined dystopian future.

If we want to get the attention of humanity, humanity needs to feel it is getting attention. 

If we are going to save the world from the threat of global warming, we need to create a world worth saving. 

If we are not serving our children, the poor, and the excluded, we are not addressing the climate crisis. If fundamental human rights and material needs are not met, efforts to stem the crisis will fail. If there are not timely and cumulative benefits for an individual or family, they will focus elsewhere. 

The needs of people and living systems are often presented as conflicting priorities—biodiversity versus poverty, or forests versus hunger—when in fact the destinies of human society and the natural world are inseparably intertwined, if not identical. 

Social justice is not a sideshow to the emergency. Injustice is the cause. 

Giving every young child an education; providing renewable energy to all; erasing food waste and hunger; ensuring gender equity, economic justice, and shared opportunity; recognizing our responsibility and making amends to myriad communities of the world for past injustices—these and more are at the very heart of what can turn the tide for all of humanity, rich and poor, and everyone between. Reversing the climate crisis is an outcome. Regenerating human health, security and well-being, the living world, and justice is the purpose.

This requires a worldwide, collective, committed effort. Collectives do not emerge from the tops of institutions. They begin with one person and then another, the invisible social space where commitment and action join and come together to become a dyad, a group, a team, a movement. 

To put it simply: no one is coming to help. There is not a brain trust that is going to work out the problems while we ponder and wait. 

The most complex, radical climate technologies on earth are the human heart, head, and mind, not a solar panel. 

Just as we stand at the abyss of a climatic emergency, we stand at another remarkable threshold. The rate of understanding and awakening about climate change is increasing exponentially, even skyrocketing. Climate change is becoming experiential rather than conceptual. As weather becomes ever more disruptive, and awareness and concern increase, the movement to reverse the climate crisis will likely become the largest movement in the history of humankind. It took decades to create this moment.

It is natural to worry that it matters little if you are taking action if others are not. From the planet’s point of view, there is no difference between a climate denier and someone who understands the problem but does nothing. 

The number one cause of human change is when people around us change. Research by Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman upends the idea that beliefs determine what we do or what we can do. It is the opposite. Beliefs do not change our actions. Actions change our beliefs. 

Do you believe there is nothing you can do to make a difference? Logical. 

Do you fear the future? Understandable. 

Do you feel stressed about climate change? Sensible. 

However, stress is your brain telling you to act. Stress is a signal; it is urging you to do something. Not only do actions change your beliefs, your actions change other people’s beliefs.

When honeybee scouts find a bounty of blooms and nectar, they return to the hive, where they do a symbolic waggle dance at the entrance of the hive. The dance signals the precise direction and distance to the flowering plants or trees. The more vigorous the waggle, the richer the source of nectar. Once worker bees have seen the dance, they have the necessary information and fly straight to the source. 

It is time for humanity to create waggle dances unique to their knowledge, place, and determination. 

Another way to look at this time in history is this: we are being homeschooled by the planet, our teacher. 


Regeneration – my new book and Commune course – is an attempt to reflect those teachings.





• • •

Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, and bestselling author of eight books that have been published in thirty languages in more than fifty countries and have sold more than two million copies. Hawken is a renowned lecturer who has keynoted conferences and led workshops on the impact of commerce upon the environment, and has consulted with governments and corporations throughout the world.

From REGENERATION edited by Paul Hawken, to be published on September 21, 2021 by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Paul Hawken. Photo by Erlend Haarberg for National Geographic.

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