We live in what sustainability pioneer Wes Jackson calls “the most important moment in human history.” The various challenges confronting us are like a bright warning light in the dashboard of a speeding vehicle called Civilization, accompanied by an insistent and annoying buzzing sound, requiring immediate attention. I call this moment the Age of Consequences—a time when the worrying consequences of our hard partying over the past sixty years have begun to bite, raising difficult and anguished questions.
How do you explain to your children what we’ve done to the planet—to their planet? How do you explain to them not only our actions but our inaction as well? It’s not enough simply to say that adults behave in complex, confusing, and often contradictory ways because children today can see the warning light in Civilization’s dashboard for themselves. When they point, what do we say?
How did you attempt to answer this question?
It created a strong desire to document the sequence of events that I was witnessing as well as attempt to explain our behavior as a society. Hopefully, we would manage to turn off the warning light in Civilization’s dashboard, but if we did not I was certain that future generations would want an accounting of our behavior. So, in 2008 I began to write, blending headlines with narrative and observation, travel and research into chronological installments, crossing my fingers.
Where does the Hope come in?
My work with the nonprofit Quivira Coalition over nearly 20 years provided hopeful answers to various Age of Consequences concerns, including many ‘low-tech’ solutions involving sunlight, grass, dirt, creeks and animals. These answers include ecological restoration, grassfed beef production, local food systems and carbon sequestration in soils, all part of what is being called a ‘new agrarianism.’ We see it as connected—cattle, soil, grass, water, food, people—all working in nature’s image of health and regeneration.
How do the two parts come together?
I viewed these anguished questions and hopeful answers as two sides of the same coin and pulled them together into this book. Answers exist if we’re willing to work together and try new ideas (and some old ones). While there’s much to worry about these days, there’s also a lot that we can do together at the grassroots – beginning literally with the grass and the roots.
COURTNEY WHITE is a former archaeologist, environmental activist, and the co-founder of the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists, and others around practices that improve land health. Today, his conservation work focuses on fostering economic and ecological resilience for working landscapes, with a special emphasis on carbon ranching and the new agrarian movement. White is the author of Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West and Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country. In 2012, he published a collection of black-and-white photographs of the American West in an online book titled The Indelible West. It includes a foreword by Wallace Stegner (written in 1992). His new book is The Age of Consequences: A Chronicle of Concern and Hope, published this month by Counterpoint Press. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.