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Responding to unravelling

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There's a new word in the world: Polycrisis.

It's a term describing the consequences of the Great Unraveling, as per the Post Carbon Institute's report, "Welcome to the Great Unraveling":

"During the 20th century, and especially the latter half of the century, humanity's increasing adoption of fossil fuels as sources of cheap and abundant energy enabled rapid industrialization. The result was a massive increase in nearly all human activities and their ecological and social impacts, a process that has been called the Great Acceleration. The first two decades of 21st century saw a new phase of the Great Acceleration, with wars fought over the last sources of cheap oil ... the massive use of debt and speculation to expand energy production and maintain economic growth, and the arrival of environmental and social impacts too overwhelming for even the world's wealthiest and most powerful people and nations to ignore."

Those mutually exacerbating crises form the polycrisis.

"Welcome to the Great Unraveling" is heavy on coping and light on hope and solutions. In its catalog of intersecting crises, the report doesn't mince words when it comes to biodiversity and habitat loss: "Wild nature is suffering an accelerating die-off both of numbers of species, and numbers of individuals within most species. This die-off is being caused by human land use that destroys habitat; pollution from pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other industrial chemicals; invasive species often transported by humans; and human-caused climate change."

But there is hope, and a solution. On March 1, 2023, Laurentino Cortizo, president of Panama, signed a law for the protection and conservation of sea turtles and their habitats. The special part: The law recognizes the inherent rights of sea turtles and their habitats.

Constanza Prieto Figelist at Earth Law Center, an NGO that provided expertise to the draft law, commented on its significance: "This law can advance the conservation of endangered sea turtles by ensuring an ecosystem perspective, strengthening standards of conservation, and including the inherent needs and health of turtles and their habitats in decision making. This is a new discipline, and the government decision makers and courts need specific models of conduct and standards to follow."

Erica Lyman, director of the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment at Lewis & Clark Law School, told the Associated Press, "Business-as-usual laws aren't doing enough to protect against the extinction crisis and climate change. This is an attempt at a new kind of framing that offers hope."

So, on the one hand: the Great Unraveling. On the other: Ley 371 Que Establece La Conservación Y Protección De Las Tortugas Marinas Y Sus Hábitats En La República De Panamá. Hundreds of rights of nature laws now exist in more than 30 countries.

The concept of animal rights has been around for a while. The 18th century ethical philosophers who first broached the idea had no idea that recognizing and enforcing the legal rights of other species, including their right to a livable habitat, may turn out to be a way to save the world.

But while forging ahead with new framing and driving the creation of new standards and models, we must also protect what we have already achieved. Fifty years ago this month, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and President Richard Nixon signed it into law. It has been hugely successful, but like the endangered species it has protected, the Endangered Species Act is constantly in need of protection. Hostile members of Congress are now trying to slip amendments into "must-pass" budget and defense bills to strip ESA protections from listed species and prevent new listings. Tell your legislators: We need the Endangered Species Act more than ever before. Stop attacks on the Act and imperiled wild species.

Richard Heinberg says climate change and the disappearance of wild nature occupy one bucket of the polycrisis. In the other bucket is the social crisis, which "includes increasing economic inequality, poverty, racism and ... the rise of authoritarianism."

About that last one. This is my last New Times column, as I am retiring from the Sierra Club at the end of the year. I haven't yet formulated any special plans for retirement—except for the next 10 months, when I and everyone else who believes in the requirements of citizenship in a democratic society will be working to prevent the death cult formerly known as the Republican Party from returning their orange personal Jesus to his throne; installing more of his enablers in Congress, state houses, and county boards of supervisors; and achieving the goal of turning this country into a fascist state.

The hallmark of the Great Unravelling, says the Post Carbon Institute, is "the need to grapple with complexity, uncertainty, and conflicting priorities." But right now, when it comes to addressing the social-crisis half of the polycrisis, the No. 1 priority could not be more obvious. Δ

Wish Andrew Christie a fulfilling, restful retirement by emailing him through the editor at [email protected].

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