top of page

The ABC’s of getting out of this mess

I have a narrative rattling around in my head that tells the story of how we weave our way out of the situation we find ourselves in. I think you know the situation I am referring to. It’s the one where the climate shifts catastrophically and in parallel we experience social upheaval and decline. It’s not a nice situation, hence the narrative about how to avoid it.

In my head, the story has three parts that go something like this:

A. Now is the time

B. Instead of worrying about stuff, let’s deal with it

C. Here are some shortcuts

I’m going to take poetic license and play with the order for a moment. Chalk it up to there really being no linear order in this reality. (That’s your first shortcut, by the way. While we may want a path through the woods, we might be better off realizing that woods are dynamic interconnected ecosystems comprised of pathways for billions of actors, some known, some unknown, of which we are but one. The shortcut is to accept those billions of paths as real and note that we’re already treading on a bunch of them in tandem.)

Hang on. Let’s go back to B for a moment before we get carried away with C. (Hang tight, A). B is about replacing worry with something way more fun. Let’s go to Brazil for this one, since it conveniently starts with B.

As a high school exchange student in Brazil, I lived with a family – the Zagos – for the better part of a year. My host father, who was known simply as Zago, was full of goofy expressions and was prone to full-belly laughs long after the rest of us had moved passed a joke. One of Zago’s favorite expressions, always uttered with a smile no matter the situation’s seriousness, was: “Não te preocupe – te ocupe!” It loosely translates (overriding his creativity with Portuguese grammar) as: “Don’t worry about things, get busy dealing with them!”

I recently returned from Brazil once more, this time for work on forest company Fibria’s sustainability advisory committee. This was the final part of a circuitous trip that included stops in the United Kingdom as well as Columbia. Having left my home base in New York, meanwhile keeping in touch with friends and family in Canada as I traveled, I noted a consistent theme despite the diversity of people and places: worry.

People are worried, and about pretty big stuff. News of forest fires in multiple regions was paired with record-setting hot temperatures, ratcheting up the global warming alarm. Fanning the flames (unfortunately, somewhat literally) are disturbing political winds blowing in each of these places, where the “post-truth” era makes “making sense” a fool’s errand.

But if we apply Zago’s theory of busy-ness, there are things we can do, right now. For example,

on reversing global warming, we need to get busy believing that it’s possible to live wonderful lives within a society that sequesters more CO2 than it emits.

If you start there your whole world starts to look different. Having trouble starting there? Let me help you with some shortcuts. There are already companies – such as North Face – selling clothing using Climate Beneficial Wool which pulls more carbon out of the air than it emits. And jeans maker Wrangler (speaking of high school …) is investing in carbon-sequestering cotton cultivation.

My fiber artisan friends will recognize that yet again spinners and weavers are the source of an emergent economic game-changer (just like they spawned the computer) since that amazing gang at Fibershed are behind a lot of this. Lest you dismiss them as a small-scale band of granolas, note the two companies mentioned above are both part of VF Corp, one of the largest apparel groups in the world, and they sell rather mainstream toques and jeans. Nothing fluffy going on here (except sheep’s wool and cotton fiber, of course).

But that’s just the tip of the carbon-fixing iceberg (to coin an ironic phrase). Since soil is at the base of just about everything we grow, you have numerous other opportunities to get busy if you don’t need a new wool cap or jeans. Ask your grocers, farmers market vendors and lumber yard managers what they know about the soil impacts of their products. If they don’t know now, they should know soon. Watch for hashtags like #RegenerativeAgriculture, #CarbonFarming, or #ClimateBeneficial.

It’s early days yet, but regenerative producers are coming on line in increasing numbers. This takes some digging, but that’s what busy people do instead of worrying.

Politics: going to heaven in a hand basket. What would that even look like?

Well, it definitely won’t look like worrying about going to hell in a hand basket all day, that’s for sure. Instead we can get busy engaging in thoughtful dialogue, we can ask questions and listen for new and different answers. We can do our homework on what’s behind the headlines, embracing the complexity of the issues and the related – and interrelated – systems.

Some have chosen to get way busier than that. Miriam Prochnow, whom I met through the above-mentioned committee, is running for Senator in Brazil’s state of Santa Catarina. In one of her promotional videos she offers a great provocation, Zago-like, to voters: “Não dá para querer mudar, e não mudar,” or roughly: “You can’t say you want change, and then not change.” Right?!

And my dear friend and one of Toronto’s mayoral candidates, Sarah Climenhaga, is an environmentalist, urban planner and cycling advocate who decided to shift gears to contribute her positive vision in the lead up to the city’s municipal elections.

These talented women are not worrying about whether or not they’re front-runners in their respective races. Rather, they’re getting busy being the change they seek.

Curiously enough Zago ran for local office during Brazil’s first democratic election back in 1989 during my exchange year. Zago didn’t win his local seat, but he didn’t worry about that. He just went ahead and got busy with what he needed to do next.

This photo is from a t-shirt I bought back in 1989. The phrase, “A hora é essa — voto consciente” can be translated as: “The time is now for conscious voting.” In the lead-up to the first ever democratic election in the country, there was a remarkable cultural push to do it right the first time – hence shirts like this one from trendy clothier, Company. We can snicker smugly about what happened next (Collor, sigh), but then if we happened to live in [insert pretty much any country I can think of right now] we would also have to admit we’ve had our own…er…issues in terms of electing quality candidates.

I’d suggest instead of pointing fingers at the few people who make it to office, for better or worse, that we think of ourselves as the ballot boxes, that we get B-for-Busy voting – in all senses of the word’s root, including “choosing,” “vowing,” and “deciding” – and then in cheerful Zago style, we double down on the C-for-shortcuts. Choosing those things which we believe do more good and less harm. Vowing to hear new information and changing ourselves as part of the change we seek. Taking the shortcuts as they emerge to accelerate positive change.

Which brings me back to A. A Hora é Essa.

A. A Hora é Essa. (Now is the time)

B. (Let’s get) Busy.

C. (Take) shortCuts

Let’s do this.


Photos: (Banner) Evening walk in Central Park. (Above) T-shirt that is rather threadbare some 30 years on. (Both images by B. Lorraine Smith / 2018.)

bottom of page