‘Good Anthropocene’: Grassroots Initiatives Worldwide Show Path Forward

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Above Photo: ‘As many observers have noted, finding what will work is key, as the status quo is simply not an option.’ (Photo: Pixabay/CC0)

‘Our legacy may not be as dark as we might think’

Looking for a ray of sunshine amidst seemingly endless news of the warming planet, global biodiversity loss, or ongoing war?

You might want to head over to Seeds of a Good Anthropocene, a website developed by a team of international researchers to spotlight global initiatives or “seeds” from the grassroots that help pave the path towards a more just, sustainable world. Think the permaculture system developed from Australian researchers and designers Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, or The Leap Manifesto, a call to care “for the Earth and one another,” or the Ngäbe-Buglé Struggle to Protect Environmental Resources in Panama.

“We’re building these global pathways from the bottom up, by crowdsourcing a rich data base of ‘bright spots,’ real places that demonstrate one or more elements of a positive future that might serve as seeds of a good Anthropocene.”
—Elena Bennett, McGill University

One of the researchers, Elena Bennett, an ecosystem ecologist and geographer at McGill University, explained last week at the New York Times that “Unlike previous scientific efforts to build scenarios for future change, which typically rely on structures organized from the top down, we’re building these global pathways from the bottom up, by crowdsourcing a rich data base of ‘bright spots,’ real places that demonstrate one or more elements of a positive future that might serve as seeds of a good Anthropocene.”

Bennett and her fellow researchers analyzed 100 of the roughly 500 efforts submitted to the site, and published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment what they identified as six overarching themes under which the initiatives fall: agroecology, green urbanism, future knowledge, urban transformation, fair futures, and sustainable futures.

The Sukhomajri village in the Shivalik range of the Himalaya, for example, where residents came together to protect their watershed, would fall under urban transformation theme. A bicycle-powered carrot washer—something you’d find posted with the Farm Hack, a collective of skill-sharing farms—would fall under the sustainable futures category.

Identifying the categories was important, said Bennett, who was also lead author.

“As scientists, we tend to be very focused on all the problems,” she said, “so to look at examples of the sustainable solutions that people are coming up with—and to move towards asking, ‘What do the solutions have in common?’ is a big change.”

Co-lead author Martin Solan, a professor in marine ecology at University of Southampton, adds: “What’s striking is that our analyses are revealing that many of these initiatives gain traction and spread quickly, and that there are aspects of behavior that are repeated time and time again. I get a sense of relief from that, by learning what does and does not work means, our legacy may not be as dark as we might think.”

As many observers have noted, finding what will work is key, as the status quo is simply not an option.

“We aim to use the bright spots in groups to help build scenarios of futures that are at once realistic and positive,” Bennett said. “We cannot build what we cannot imagine.”

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    I live in the Pacific Northwest, more specifically the Olympic Peninsula. Only about a 2-hour drive from Seattle, there is a collection of small towns with a history of dairy farming, fishing, and lumbering, now evolving to lavender farms and organic farms with only 1 daily farm still in existence with continued fishing and lumbering, both of which are much more limited than before. There is now a composite manufacturing startup.

    We have a lot of retirees with a lot of interests, including biochar and several indigenous tribes that have been responsible for the removal of the dam on the Elwha River and water rights that preserve the salmon industry by ensuring that there is sufficient water in the rivers throughout the state to allow the salmon to spawn. We also have community organic gardens and people like Paul Gautschi, who developed what he likes to call simple, sustainable solutions, for growing food with little need to water or to weed, mimicking Mother Nature. “Back to Eden” documents the process – available at http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/… or through Amazon. Restaurants in the area like to brag that the food they serve has been obtained within a 100-mile radius. And we have a land conservation group that works with preservation of portions of family farms that ensure when a farm is being sold and subdivided into smaller parcels there will still be farmland available.

    We also are blessed with a lot of land preserved in the Olympic National Forest that contains 628,115 acres and surrounds the Olympic National Park encompassing nearly a million acres- we even a couple of rain forests. We have a lot lakes and rivers and the Olympic Mountains that provide a microclimate with mild temperatures year round. We have the Discovery Trail, a walking and biking trail that will one day exist from Port Townsend all the way to the Forks and beyond to the ocean beaches on the West Coast of Washington.

    Because we are relatively isolated, a sense of old-fashioned community is still prevalent throughout the peninsula, with neighbor helping neighbor. Don’t get me wrong, we have our share of current day problems, but compared to the rest of the world live is good here.

    From the ideas presented in this article, we would qualify as one of the bright spots on planet Earth – an anthropocene grassroots initiative – in many ways.