The impulse that often draws people toward activism is a profound feeling of "No!" This can manifest as an inability to stay silent about a variety of environmental issues, including pollution of the air we breathe and the water we drink, the loss of wild lands and quiet spaces, and the grave risks of climate change.
It’s a good impulse to honor, this need to speak up and speak out, but for all of its strength and motivation, "No" doesn’t always have the stamina of "Yes." If we want to engage with these issues over the long term, a key strategy is to balance "No" with something less intense and longer lasting.
Finding our "Yes," personally or organizationally, strikes this balance; knowing and articulating what we want, rather than only what we don’t want. And, being for something—and being able to state it, clearly—can help us maintain our drive, enthusiasm, and effectiveness.
Many organizations are mobilizing people and building awareness about the environmental threats we are facing right now. Here are some examples of work being done that is moving beyond the "No" impulse and creating inspirational "Yes" visions to work toward.
The Solutions Project
It’s easy to say that the pollution created by fossil fuels is bad for our environment, and that renewable energy sources are the better way to power our lives—especially in the face of oil spills and as more and more information about other sources of fossil fuels, such as tar sands and fracking, comes to light. What’s more difficult is articulating simply how each and every state in the United States can be entirely free of fossil fuels in a relatively short time period.
The Solutions Project does this. Started by Stanford University professor Marc Jacobson, businessman Marco Krapels, actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, and filmmaker Josh Fox, the Solutions Project set out in 2011 to “use the powerful combination of science, business, and culture to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.” They hope to do this by focusing “on market-based solutions and [identifying] opportunities that make economic sense for consumers, businesses, communities, and states.”
The most graphic illustration of where they hope to go, as quickly as possible, is an outline of how all 50 states can transition entirely to renewable energy.
Vandana Shiva has been one of the world’s most outspoken critics of genetically modified foods, the corporatization of food, the privatization of water, and many other critical environmental issues, both in her native India and globally.
On these issues she is one of the most powerful "No" voices in the world today. But she’s one of the most articulate "Yes" voices as well.
The organization she founded, Navdanya (meaning ‘nine seeds,’ symbolizing cultural and biological diversity), operates an organic farm in the foothills of the Himalayas and coordinates 111 community seed banks across India. It has trained some 500,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, and sustainable agriculture.
Navdanya models and successfully promotes the sort of world it hopes to bring about—in the process, by its own account, conserving more than 3,000 local varieties of rice, 150 varieties of wheat, 150 varieties of kidney beans, 15 varieties of millet, as well as other local vegetables, beans, and medicinal plants.
The Transition Network, which began in 2006 out of the work Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande did with Transition Town in Totnes, England, is a terrific example of committed individuals moving beyond saying "No" to ecologically unsustainable development and lifestyles, to saying "Yes" to a future they want.
In the near-decade since its inception, the concept of transition towns has become pretty well-known within environmental circles. Indeed the movement has grown beyond Totnes to towns and groups in 40 countries.
The Transition Network describes what they do this way, “Transition is one manifestation of the idea that local action can change the world; one attempt to create a supportive, nurturing, healthy context in which the practical solutions the world needs can flourish. The aim of Transition is to help you be the catalyst in your community for an historic push to make where you live more resilient, healthier, and bursting with strong local livelihoods, while also reducing the community's ecological footprint.”
Most transition groups start with growing food locally, then moving on to building up community owned bakeries, breweries, energy sources, and other projects to revitalize and relocalize the economy. Each group contributes in their own unique way to help bring about their vision of a sustainable future.
What’s Your "Yes"?
What's your vision for a sustainable future? What are you working toward? How are you thinking about sustainability? What world are you creating? What solution will you say "Yes" to?
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies