We can achieve an economy that thrives, and provides for expanded human freedom and dignity, without doing harm to the natural systems that support life. When one of the world’s most influential spiritual leaders calls for integral human ecology as the guiding principle for all policy everywhere, the fact that we can do this without suffering economically, impeding innovation or limiting human freedom, becomes a foundational insight that makes all future success possible.
Yesterday, Solar Impulse landed a 100% solar-powered plane in Hawai’i, after a record-setting 117-hour solo flight. The technology proved tremendously reliable, and the plane flew successfully through 5 nights. The accomplishment demonstrates that we are entering a new era in the evolution of human energy use and transportation: scalable clean energy solutions are on their way to surpassing all other options; that a record number of night-time flight hours were flown by a solar plane is just the beginning.
In May, Elon Musk announced that Tesla will be producing affordable home energy storage units that can scale up to industrial rates of energy storage, and that it will share its patents openly with the world. We can now enter a race to the top for efficient clean energy storage and smart-grid energy flow management, finally accessing all of the generation potential and efficiency capabilities we have locked out of the grid due to technical difficulties.
We now have PV-infused fabrics, composites, and even building materials, that can ensure everywhere-active access to clean solar energy. Many objects and services not currently linked to our energy markets will begin to facilitate a universal transition to zero-emissions energy.
We are on the verge of establishing our independence from destructive energy practices. As one representative of the Vatican recently said to me, the ethical imperative put forward in the Pope’s Encyclical is actually an easy standard to meet: if you can do something that leads to direct and hidden harm of many kinds or do something better, why would you not just do what is better and avoid causing harm?
Contrary to what many in politics and business have long feared, the clean energy revolution is going to expand human freedom and mobility, democratize investment, ownership and enterprise, and decentralize governing powers, while ensuring a greater likelihood that decision-making will be done inclusively.
The more than 800 million people across the planet who live day to day without reliable access to electricity can now look to a near future in which solar microgrids, local geothermal and other clean energy technologies will give them zero-carbon always-active energy. No longer does development mean being a place where the centralized grid sees a profit motive in providing power; communities can power themselves and prosper sustainably.
The democratization of energy production will also democratize other areas of our lives, and so help to counter vested interests and ensure better outcomes at the human scale. When we rely on local communities and homeowners to produce more energy, we empower individuals and make sustainable practices more accessible to more people and more sectors.
Farming and water use will become less carbon intensive and more conducive to diversified, resilient local value-building investment practices. The financial sector will be better positioned to accurately assess carbon asset risk and shift support to projects that have long-term value built in. Rewiring our economy to facilitate both means and outcomes that build value at the human scale means a more open, more intelligent, more prosperous society, in which more human creativity, more useful and dignified enterprise, and more resilient democratic participation is possible.
In Paragraph 64 of his Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si: On Caring for Our Common Home, Pope Francis calls for an open dialogue between all people, “so that, together, we can seek paths of liberation.” We are degraded by practices that degrade the life-support systems we depend on, and we are liberated—from fear, scarcity, indignity, conflict, and degradation—by actions that interact intelligently with the rest of the ecological web on which all value rests.
This July 4, 239 years after the Declaration of Independence, we can say we stand at the dawn of a new day in the history of human civilization. We can declare our independence not only from oppression, but also from degradation wrought by our impatience, industrial limitation, and by politics fraught by vested interest.
Science shows us that everything is connected. In some way, all forces and substances are interpenetrating and interwoven, so we need full transparency in our policy processes. Everyone deserves to be at the table, and everyone’s life interest and life energy should be part of the progress, the liberty, and the dignity, we dream of and work for.
Achieving an economy informed by and capable of integral ecology means rowing together, maximizing the reach of our local genius and our best intentions. We are now seeing a convergence—in the evolving politics of resilient low-carbon development, in the spiritual ethical call of our faith traditions, in the breakthrough technologies that are freeing us from the pains and penalties of combustion, and in the emergence of more transparent decision-making processes—that will enable us to transcend destructive practices, market inefficiencies, and resource conflict.
Let’s celebrate today our ability to work together, to row together, to steer our common vessel toward that future of expanded and ecologically integral human liberation.
Paths to Liberation
The liberation that comes with building a world that is defined by integral human ecology is not only open to us in some fanciful future; it is something we can all work to achieve. The following are ways to build and to access that better future in which the standard is mutual thriving and human activity reinforces and sustains Earth’s natural life-support systems.
- Citizens’ Climate Lobby
- Carbon Fee and Dividend
- Laudato Si: On Caring for Our Common Home
- Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network
- Living Future Strategies
- ACCESS to GOOD
- The World We Want
- NAZCA: Climate Action Zone
- Healthy Climate Alliance
- Knowledge-based Climate Stewardship
- The Poetry of Climate Ethics
If you would like to join a global effort to accelerate direct citizen participation in building a climate future in which human beings live with more liberty and more dignity, go to engage4climate.org and download the toolkit for running local meetings.