When The New York Times graces the environmentally themed documentary The 11th Hour with what amounts to a rave review, you know the climate is changing, in more ways than one. (Don't get me wrong, I love the Times' Manohla Dargis' tough, smart movie reviews). The Times has historically slighted environmentalism in ways that in other cultural contexts could be considered parallel to racism or sexism. Even faint praise by the Times has generally come braceleted with spikes and fins. Unexpectedly, the huge preponderance of mainstream media coverage is highly favorable to the film. So yes, perhaps it's just the recognition of a fine film. Yet something more profound and mysterious in the culture may be shifting: our collective environmental consciousness as a society or -- dare to dream -- as a species. From an environmental perspective, truly it's the eleventh hour. As some wag once quipped, there's nothing like a hanging to focus the mind.
This epochal transformation is already shuffling the deck in numerous ways. For one thing, we're increasingly going to be on Earth time from here on out. At the same time that we've become a force of nature by radically disrupting natural systems to perilous thresholds of collapse, we've built our civilization on brittle infrastructures dependent on the very stability of the narrow range of conditions that our human systems are inherently destabilizing. In other words, we've provoked the very conditions we cannot handle. We may be conjuring a long-term instability that no systems can reliably adapt to.
Nature bats last, but even more importantly, it's her playing field. We would be wise to learn the ground rules and how to play by them, if we want to stick around for the long haul. In great measure we already know what to do, or certainly what directions to head in. That's where our societal attention needs to be directed in the kind of mass mobilization seldom seen except in times of war. In this case, our purpose is precisely the opposite: to create peace.
This cultural climate change has also abruptly altered the political landscape. It's getting harder to find anyone who doesn't avow being an environmentalist. That doesn't mean the driftnets of disinformation will be put out to dry, but only that the drift of the disinformation will change directions. We'll still be getting framed by the corporate class having public relations with us while doing as little as possible to fundamentally restructure the basic systems that are the source of the crisis.
The systems are both technical and political. Large sectors of big business have already recognized the green to be made in this inevitable next industrial revolution by aligning business with biology. Organic farming is going mainstream, as is green building. Green chemistry will transform the industry over the next decade, for reasons of both profit and liability. The list of greening sectors and industries will leaf out rapidly over the next few years. But what does "going green" really mean?
Who will make the decisions? Who will benefit? Are our deficits of democracy and justice at the root of the crisis we face? Can we have peace with the Earth unless we create justice for each other? Will this next green revolution simply perpetuate the concentration of wealth and the distribution of poverty?
The underlying question many of us in The 11th Hour are really asking is this: If you're in a car speeding 100 miles per hour straight for the edge of a cliff, does slowing down to 55 address the problem?
Will we change directions? That's the kicker. We already have "state-of-the-shelf" solutions to perhaps 90 percent of the problems we face. The core issues are not technical but political. Will we as a society mobilize to confront the deepest truth that the environmental crisis is a human crisis? A crisis of consciousness has deluded us to somehow believe we are separate from nature, immune to natural principles. When a reporter asked me at one of the movie press conferences whether this new wave of environmentalism is just a "fad," I responded that, from nature's point of view, unless we start adopting nature's operating instructions, humanity might turn out to be the fad.
Reality is consensual, and in many ways we face a crisis of education. Every year the National Association of Environmental Educators conducts a routine survey with the American public. Out of 10 questions, the average score is 2.2 correct answers. Random guessing would produce 2.5 right answers. Add to that the fact that as Americans we get 90 percent of our "environmental education" through the media. That's why a film like The 11th Hour or Inconvenient Truth is so immeasurably important.
See the film. Tell all your friends and everyone you can reach to go. The next few weeks of box office will be decisive as to whether the movie gets wider release. As the futurist H.G. Wells said over a century ago, "We are in a race between education and catastrophe."
I hope The 11th Hour marks the crossroads where humanity finally made the choice to travel in another direction. It may be the moment the climate changed and we changed with it.
(In the interests of full disclosure, I became personally involved in The 11th Hour about three years ago as a central advisor. Over half the "experts" in the movie, myself included, came through the Bioneers Conference and organization that I founded and co-direct. The DiCaprio Foundation has made grants to Bioneers for the past three years.)