Honest Abe and Climate Change

by | Jan 1, 2013 | Leadership, Nature, Reflection

Last night, I saw Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It was stunning and fantastic. Aside from a few cinematography liberties exercised, it was historically precise. It completely engulfs the viewer into the intensity of the Civil War, a momentous bifurcation point for the United States of America and for the human species.


In a sea of emotions and thoughts during the closing credits, one clear and deep question arose – What is the relationship between the human slavery and the defilement of the earth’s ecosystem? It was a lighting bolt of inquiry that, for the next thirty minutes, paralyzed me. I would like to share with you my insights from this investigation.


First, a few notes as to why the time of this post is fitting:

  • Today, January 1, 2013, marks the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, a war-time executive order by Abraham Lincoln that freed slaves in all states controlled by the Union.
  • Today will also mark, pending approval in the House, a close to the drawn-out, sloppy fiscal cliff negotiations that once again highlight the dysfunctional government.
  • The price of gas, a key factor in climate change action, is also the lowest in over two years. On December 30th, I paid $2.84/gallon at a Costco in Boulder, CO.

Human Slavery and Earth Slavery


Both have taken advantage of cheap and defenseless energy to produce huge personal gains and comforts. Morality and virtue were set aside for the sake of money and efficiency, and a deeply ingrained dogma created a wall of resistance to change.


Both have polluted the body, mind, and spirit of the planet and its inhabitants. The trauma of each has been and will be a heavy burden for countless generations, and no one is immune from the effect and responsibility. Then, we can begin to calculate the true cost of “cheap” energy.


Both have caused fierce dissension, violence, and death that relentlessly challenge human existence and action. The reactions and decisions made about each issue illuminate what purpose we strive to embody as humans.


time_clockBoth proved the tremendous impact humans have on the Earth. We have transformed the most pronounced features of our planet: human societies into slaves, deserts into cities, oceans into wastelands, mountains into resorts, forests into barren land, and icecaps into water. Most have gone unnoticed in everyday life because they are either hidden from affluent cultures or traces of the former existence can no longer be found. More importantly than changing the face of the earth, we have completely altered the system of the earth. Metamorphoses that happened for inconceivable time, cease to exist.


All of this has been done with such imprudence and selfishness. Humans have existed on the earth for an absolute minuscule amount of time. A common analogy is if the life span of the earth (4.5 billion years) was compared to a 24-hour day, humans would have arrived at 23h 58m 43s. Let alone the life of the universe before the birth of the earth (some 10 billion years), as we and the earth are ancestors of the cosmos.


It is true…but, was it inevitable?


Were defenseless humans of all races destined for slavery based on human morality at that time? Was the south’s land, left fertile from plankton 100 million years ago, fated for cotton and tobacco production?


Was the lighting-speed development of our supreme cognitive ability combined with our deepest-rooted survival instinct, a pre-destined formula for environmental exploitation? Did this evolutionary twist automatically accelerate technology and disregard the value of emotional intelligence and earth-based wisdom?


Is it just the laws of the universe that chaos and suffering must precede higher order and existence?


Regardless of the inevitability, it is actuality that matters.


Advice from Honest Abe


President Lincoln stressed that the abolition of slavery was not only for the millions alive, but for the millions to be born. This reason holds true for the the Earth today but the factor has changed. It is for the billions alive and to be born. It is reminiscent of a Native American tradition to consider the world we leave for seven generations into the future.


President Lincoln understood that support for and opposition to abolishing slavery stem from a variety of reasons that sometimes superseded moral beliefs. There were economical, structural, and safety concerns that needed to be addressed. The identical spectrum of factors exist today and must be simultaneously considered by those that understand the true significance of environmental justice. He also understood the importance of collaboration over compromise, a critical lesson we must relearn today.


President Lincoln recognized the only actions that would deeply and permanently alter the course of history were twofold: an amendment to the constitution and a shift in consciousness. The order and development of these actions varied for each individual and group; however, it was important that those people with an early shift in consciousness do everything they can to have an enforceable and guiding policy in place for the country. The same is true of environmental justice.


Courage to Act and Evolve


Human civilization, and the entire universe for that matter, have and will continue to face colossal crossroads as we evolve. For the self-aware human species, it takes an enormous amount of courage to even accept that we are at a crossroads. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity does not remain open for long. In the case of slavery, it was essentially 45 days. In the case of the Earth, it seems to be a few generations. The great news is that hardwired into our existence is an immovable courage and openness to evolve. It is only our equally-strong habitual nature that prevents us from trusting it. However, our possession of this innate wisdom is undeniable and there is no doubt we will reclaim it.


I wept for the planet last night but also rejoiced for evolution ahead.


Here are two organizations that are instilling the courage to act:

  • Earth Charter: The Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the whole human family, the greater community of life, and future generations. It is a vision of hope and a call to action.
  • 350.org: 350 is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis and push for policies that will put the world on track to get to 350 ppm CO2. Their online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.

Learn more about David

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Creative, enthusiastic leader dedicated to the transformation of self, community, and the planet


Skilled in building the necessary infrastructure for organizations and individual employees to thrive


Dedicated and versatile nonprofit director able to connect the big picture with everyday actions