One foot in front of the other


A Transformation of Consciousness or One Foot in Front of the Other:  Getting to sustainable communities

Greg Gerritt


Poverty, violence, climate change, extinctions, inequality, and food insecurity stalk the land.  According to the ruling class, these issues are either non-issues, or the fault of the people suffering from these traumas.   We are also told that these issues are completely separate with no linkage between them.   We are told, repeatedly, there is nothing wrong with the dominant ideology in which a small number of people get very rich exploiting labor and resources.   Consumerism is the best thing ever.  People get stuff.


But we know better. Things are connected, and much that is going on can be traced back to greed and violent domination. We may not have perfect knowledge, but we know how things got so bad.   Despite the bankers cult of TINA (There Is No Alternative) we know there are other paths.


For an example of connections take air pollution.  Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not directly make people sick.  But burning coal not only produces the carbon dioxide that is radically warming the planet in ways that physicists can demonstrate quite clearly, burning fossil fuels is always accompanied by an array of particles that can cause great harm in and of themselves.   Much follows from that,  And if we do not stop burning the 300 million year accumulation of decaying organic matter from low oxygen conditions, we are in a heap of trouble.  Ask the folks in China choking in the Killer Smog that hit as this essay was being written .  Ask the people still recovering from Superstorm Sandy brought north by incredibly warm waters.


Individually and collectively, those with the bent for it ponder what are the obstacles to peace and prosperity. What are the obstacles to living in harmony with Earth? We look for general rules and specific examples clarifying what to do and what not to do.  We are living under a global wealth elite that manages an ever greater share of what people do. We look for ways to challenge and change the framing to make it much easier, or at least more likely, that as individuals and together we can democratically create a society—a society in which all people, not just the few at the top, are treated with respect and dignity, a society in which healing the earth has a central role in our economy.


I am not sure if it is possible to be right about this: about how to heal the planet and its communities.  No one person is going to think of all  the different possible ideas and act upon them.  I am not sure there is a cure for the impulse of planetary destruction, nor one way to heal the planet.  I am not sure anyone could describe all of the ways the 1% manipulate our desires, subtly and crudely, and their ways of turning those desires into more for themselves. Or all the ways they use violence to take what they want and keep more than their share.  And no one knows all the ways the 99% push back in the struggle to protect our planet and our communities. I sometimes wonder if the pondering is all that necessary, that maybe instead putting one foot in front of the other on the journey through time and space is all we can do.  Yet I ponder, frequently, as it helps me do better work day to day.


Recent Reading


Recently I have been reading a variety of books and articles about this struggle and how to overcome the inertia that keeps our society and the global economy on such an unsustainable path.  Where to start that exploration?  Due to my predilections, I often start with primate evolutionary biology. While genes are not destiny, it is clear that many of our societal and ecological traumas are amplified due to deep seated behaviors coming out of our primate heritage.  That and $3 will get you a cup of coffee brewed from coffee beans grown in what was once a forest full of monkeys.   In practical terms it just sort of reminds me how hard the task of those who seek to heal the world is.  Clearly paths other than primate evolution can also bring us insights and possible leverage points as we seek transformation away from consumerism,  ecological destruction, and the violence used to keep the looters and exploiters in charge.


In “The Coming Transformation” edited by Stephen Kellert and Gus Speth, the different authors explore a variety of approaches to solve the problems we face. Essays explore the spiritual components of our malaise, the psychological roots of consumerism as it takes root in people with little money and a less than joyous home environment, exploited by Madison Avenue.  Essays explore the spiritual and religious dimensions of the transformation and the efforts to create a change in consciousness.  Kellert and Speth are especially convinced that such a transformation of consciousness is the only way forward. They too refer to the biology of humans, with its history of violence, and say to change the behavior we have to change the consciousness. there is no simple way to make it easy to do the right thing without a whole lot more people “getting it” and being willing to take a stand.


One essay I really enjoyed was “A Transformational Ecology” by Jonathan F.P. Rose. When a business man starts a chapter with the words:

“Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. And getting and

spending, we lay waste the earth’s ecology. How might we align the

extraordinary powers of the human species with the health of the

earth? To do so, we need to transform our relationship to the earth’s



it is a good start.  He explores psychology, history, biology, and religion in an effort to help us see the roots of the problem and the way forward.  We are left with mind and spirit to change the world.


The one place he frustrated me was in only going up to the edge of the cliff that says economies in the west, already shrinking for most folks, actually have to start shrinking as part of the ending of the cult of stuff.  The business man in him has not reached that place yet.


I can not say you will like all of the essays in the  book, but the odds are pretty good that if you are a Green Horizon reader some of them will resonate.  A friend sent me the link to the free download, and I highly recommend it.


The same friend, a few hours later,  sent me the pdf of Cynthia Kaufman‘s book Getting Past Capitalism. This book explores the same kind of issues and has the same holistic view of the disaster being inflicted on people and planet by the 1%.  Kaufman is more like I am in that she thinks it’s critical to “keep on keeping on” in the struggle, noting and coordinating with folks doing the right thing.  And she does not think there is some overarching change, a sea change of consciousness. that we can wait for, rely on, or anything else.


I stop my literature review here.  Every day I read something else that makes me think, makes me wonder about the hand basket trip we find ourselves on. Some of it brand new, some of it historic such as Martin Luther King’s speech “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Beyond Vietnam” (April 4, 1967).   Can we change how people think or can we merely hope for changes in what they do?  Will the rich give up the power peacefully, can we use democracy to save the world, can we close the military industrial complex, can we make sure everyone has health care so their insecurities, and those of their parents as they grow older, can be alleviated, making them less susceptible to consumerism. Can we kick the growth obsession and the need to eat more of the planet every day to feed it?   Can we all just get along and live in peace and harmony?


There is no answer as to whether we shall see a change in consciousness, or if we can spark one.  There is no answer as to whether any of the things we do will heal the earth. But many of us know we have to try.  So I am going to stick to business.  This year I expect to write quite a bit, study on the state of the world and how to help heal the people and planet, run a conference based on building the compost industry in Rhode Island, testify in favor of making it easier for community gardens to start compost programs in their neighborhoods, help an anaerobic digester find food scraps to digest for clean energy, make a video about tadpoles in an urban cemetery on the shoulder of I-95, help Green Party candidates run for office, and organize a conference  on “Ecological healing, Ecological economics, Economic Justice:  Creating Prosperity for the 99% in Rhode Island”.  Will it help?  I do not know, but I know that if I do not do something, then there will be no change. This way at least I am in the struggle and may do some good.  I will leave transformation to others.



“We are told, repeatedly, there is nothing wrong with the dominant ideology in which a small number of people get very rich exploiting labor and resources.   Consumerism is the best thing ever.  People get stuff.  But we know better.”


“There is no answer as to whether we shall see a change in consciousness, or if we can spark one.  There is no answer as to whether any of the things we do will heal the earth. But many of us know we have to try. ”





Stephen R. Kellert and James Gustave Speth, Eds.  The Coming Transformation: Values to Sustain Human and Natural Communities. Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 2009.


Cynthia Kaufman, Getting Past Capitalism. Lexington Books, 2012



The founder of the think tank, and the Coordinator of the Environment Council of Rhode Island’s Compost Initiative, Greg Gerritt has been involved in efforts to create a sustainable economy since the 1970’s when he began building solar buildings and creating organic homesteads.  Currently involved in efforts around the exploration of the ecology/economy interface, urban agriculture, compost, river restoration and the administration of the coalition of environmental organizations in RI, Gerritt has been the leading advocate in RI for making sure ecology is actually a component of efforts to create a sustainable economy in Rhode Island and in 2012 received a Merit Award from EPA Region 1 for advancing the cause of compost in Rhode Island.



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