The “unleash SOLAR” billboard saved me. I had just been kicked in the gut by the shocking story of the activist who was questioned by Capitol police about “child pornography” because her testimony to Congress included a photo of a child bathing in water contaminated by coal mining.
Maybe I was desperate, but “unleash SOLAR” seemed to spring up out of the car-scape like a dandelion busting through concrete. Its funky commercial vibe was just right: home-spun, crass, undaunted by the organized weight of what it challenged.
Large-scale institutions clearly lack the will or the ability or both to save humanity from catastrophic climate disruption. Oil and coal interests have captured them. We can’t abandon global climate negotiations and the battle for national policy, but neither can we count on the institutions they aim to move.
While we wrestle to regain control of our crumbling democracy, however, something live and green is growing up through the cracks – a beautiful mess of solutions. It is driven not by a grand plan, but by local, community-based efforts to affirm and protect life, health, dignity, and beauty. Large-scale policy (like the California solar incentives that “unleash SOLAR”) can create space for these initiatives, but they are driven from below.
Paul Hawken called this the “largest movement in the world” in Blessed Unrest. It’s a spontaneous, relentless convergence of thousands of small mobilizations for environmental health, social justice, and cultural integrity. Hawken likened its decentralized power to the functions of an immune system – resisting collective pathologies by distributing and affirming social health.
Since Hawken first documented the pattern 5 years ago, the growth of the “movement” has been exponential. It includes businesses as well as non-profits. In Bellingham, WA, those businesses are prominently represented by Sustainable Connections, which is bigger than the local Chamber.
It’s as small and neighborly as Depave – a community group winning back patches of permeable ground – and as big and bold as Arab Spring.
It’s as inspiring as Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community and Whatcom Docs – local leaders in the growing groundswell of neighbors resisting the coal industry’s scheme to turn the Northwest into a conveyor belt for delivering fuel to stoke the climate crisis.
Can it, we have to wonder, respond at scale to the climate challenge? Beats me. It’s “point” and its potential resist all estimation. No one can know what it will accomplish, or who must be silenced or paid off in order to stop it. It has no mission statement, no strategic plan. It proceeds directly from first principles and core values, applied in particular to local circumstances.
It is powered by the spirit of “unleash SOLAR” – the rising thirst for freedom from the abusive concentration of economic and political power that fossil fuel dependence wreaks.
….. freedom from the kind of tyranny in which political “leaders,” representing coal extractors, call the cops on a woman for showing a picture of a child who has nothing to bathe in but their poison.