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Van Jones: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

"We are entering the tough terrain of an unforgiving new century. But there is a path forward," says Jones in this excerpt from Greg Pahl's book, "Power from the People."
 
 
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Photo Credit: Sergej Khakimullin/ Shutterstock

 
 
 
 

The following excerpt is from Power from the People: How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects by Greg Pahl, published by Chelsea Green.

This book rests an optimistic message on a pessimistic premise. 

The sobering underlying thesis is that human civilization is already in big trouble—both ecologically and economically. And things are set to get much worse. The hopeful underlying message is that we still have the capacity to pull good outcomes from even the most frightening scenarios. 

The paradox is this: Only by recognizing how much worse things can get can we muster the energy and creativity to win a better future. In that regard, the book you hold in your hands is not just an action guide; it is a survival guide.

The Bad News Is Very Bad

At this late date, there is no point in mincing words about the impending series of calamities. The global production of oil will soon peak, ending forever the era of cheap crude. The resulting price spikes and fuel shortages could throw all of industrial society into an ugly death spiral. Worse still: We have seen only the earliest examples of the kind of biblical disasters—the super-storms, wildfires, floods, and droughts—that climate experts predict are in the pipeline, even if we cease all carbon emissions immediately.

The polar ice caps haven’t melted yet; if they do, they will send temperatures and sea levels soaring, forcing us to redraw every coastal map in the world. Even under the friendliest scenarios, we will likely see food systems disrupted, life-sustaining fuels priced beyond reach for many, and our health challenged as tropical super-bugs invade formerly temperate climes. On a hotter planet, we could face the choice between water rationing and water riots. As stressful as the present moment is, worse times are possible—and even likely.

At the same time, the majority of the world’s people now live in cities. And though cities cover only 2 percent of Earth’s surface, they already consume 75 percent of the planet’s natural resources. As more people continue crowding into cities, that figure will climb even higher, which means urban areas have become the main driver in the ecological crisis. Many cities are sinkholes of human suffering, especially for a marginalized population of low-income earners and people of color. And in the United States, the word urban has become synonymous with the word problem. Many urban neighborhoods are plagued by economic desperation, violence, pollution, and crumbling infrastructure.

Climate change and the economic and equity crises of our communities may appear to have little in common, but they share a key determining factor—namely, our near-complete dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas. The carbon dioxide produced by driving our vehicles, heating (and cooling) our homes, and lighting our cities with fossil fuels is the main culprit behind climate change. Meanwhile, that same dependence on fossil fuels sucks billions of dollars every year out of communities across America, with the poorest households often hit hardest.

But what if we found ways to power our homes, businesses, factories, and vehicles that didn’t warm the planet, that kept local dollars circulating in local economies, and that even created local jobs? What if we spread those climate-friendly, local-economy-boosting, job-creating ideas to every city and town across the country?

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

It is too late for us to avert all of the negative consequences of 150 years of ecological folly and resource wastefulness. Our challenge is to begin implementing real changes, rapidly and from the bottom up. Certain bills are coming due, and certain chickens are coming home to roost, no matter what we do. But there are steps we can take to cushion the blow.