The Cliff Edge: Generating Political Will for the Required Level of Change

Randy Hayes | February 19, 2019 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

U-Turn | Scott Meis | Flickr

Without rapid change many will not survive societal breakdowns.

The natives and the newcomers living the natural way gives hope.

In the high desert near the Grand Canyon is one of the oldest tribes in the Western Hemisphere, the Hopi. The old people there say that we newcomers need to get our industrial foot off the throat of nature allowing their people to live.

There are those from many walks of life that get the urgency of the impending ecological collapse. We know as well how much major change must happen now and know that we must build a new way of living on this planet. We also know that there isn’t the political will in society to do what needs to be done.

How do we generate greater political will? It starts with sharing our message with many. Demand attention to this on all fronts. Provide a comprehensive framework of a plan to get them started.

In the 1970s I lived off and on with the Hopi and worked to support the elders. These eighty, ninety, and over a hundred-year-old women and men talked to us newcomers about their ways. Much of their day to day lives, their economies, came from their own biologically diverse regions. They knew of their neighboring tribes well. They traveled and traded far and wide. The stories were fascinating, but as a newcomer I kept coming back to two key lessons from these native elders. Get the industrial society foot off the throat of nature. Whether you are a native or a newcomer, we must all live the natural way.

Where does one begin? How do we get BIG with footstep removal? To many, it is foolish to talk of shifting to a continental network of bioregional economies[i] with green infrastructure servicing all. Suggestions of low impact living, using much less energy, and giving up high consumption high tech economies goes nowhere with most business leaders and political “servants”. The sad truth remains the required level of change in humanity’s damaging industrial operating systems are far greater than most are willing to face. A science, common sense, and longer-term planning message hasn’t carried the day. Yet, without quick massive change to societal operating systems our damaging economy will lead to greater breakdowns. Think of the 2008 economic spasm only worse. Think of a six year drought lasting twenty. There are already turbulent times.

Business as usual is short-term profitable. Vested interests, particularly in commerce, will keep fighting major change. Remember the saying that power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. We can’t ignore that reality.

However, with the next set of economic down-steps, more minds will open. That is good. Telling the story of the ecological truth of these times, as best one can, may help garner the much-needed political will for decisive action. So, get out there and make noise in every sector of society. Sound the alarm with these points:

The reality of our situation is dire and urgent

Industrial technologies, modern chemistry, and billions of over-consuming wasteful people are destroying these precious life support systems. Weather pattern deterioration is just one major example. The extinction of pollinators is another example. Synthetic chemicals toxify food and poison our body tissues. Shredding the interconnected unity of the biosphere is wrong. This must change if humanity is to survive because natural systems sustain all life on earth.

Call out to advance major changes

These points are offered to provide a sample holistic approach for the transition (Foundation Earth’s seven-point new green deal has greater details on this action agenda).

  1. Promote a True Cost Economy. This is a steady state circular economy that structurally eliminates pollution externalities. We must replace the current polluting model.
  2. Quickly achieve 100% renewable energy, while using less and wasting none. Quid pro quo, shut down a gigawatt of fossil energy with every gigawatt of renewable energy.
  3. Quickly achieve 100% ecological farming. Remove fossil fertilizers and other toxics. Shift to a plant-based diet.
  4. Halt the extinction crisis. Protect and restore damaged natural systems. Remove the funding for ecologically damaging infrastructure projects. Honor biological diversity everywhere.
  5. Shift to low-impact lifestyles. Along with how we live, we need smaller numbers and a population educated about the ways of the biosphere, our life-support system. Remove the foot of ignorance and unthinking lifestyles.
  6. Ensure appropriate technology policy. Study unintended consequences. Remove technologies causing more problems then what they were designed to improve.
  7. Other! This list can’t account for all that is important and needed. We trust you will help cover other vital issues, solutions, and foot removals.

Every sector of society must engage. All must speak out and call for high level action. The hour is late, and we only have time for big steps in the right direction. What “leaders” can you write a letter to today? Such acts make you a kindhearted revolutionary in the love letter army. What else?

Teach compassion to combat anger and fear. We need compassion and empathy broadly embraced for our world to change and survive. We don’t need to allow the path of strongman leaders and fascism to deeply stain these historic times. Cooperative community survival is the key to any individual survival.

Bring your awareness into a bioregional community and take collective action. Fortify disaster responses safety nets, especially first responders. It is always sensible stockpile some food for yourself and some neighbors, be that in the next watershed or across some ocean.

Develop a deep understanding of and respect for nature’s ways. Protected and restored natural systems locally, continentally, and globally are key to our medium-term survival and the long-term survival of web of life. Get to know your bioregional neighbors.

A transition is coming — be that via turbulent times, catastrophic disruptions, or having to rebuild post-catastrophe. There are those already working for continental networks of bioregional economies and the green infrastructure for a better world.

Put forth an urgent message. Over time it will resonate with many more. Clarify major steps we might take and, more importantly, what foots to remove from nature’s throat. Foster compassion as did the Hopi elders. At some point the unobservant or the denial types will realize that the “alarmists” were right. Their revelation and newly offered support for the required shift is to be welcomed.

To conclude, in most places globally there were the natives and now there are the newcomers. The current migrants into Europe are yet another such wave. No matter one’s ancestral origin, we must all learn to live a deeply natural way. It is the path to authentic hope.


Randy Hayes has been described in the Wall Street Journal as “an environmental pit bull.” His is Executive Director of Foundation Earth, a new organization fostering the big rethink to help protect the planet’s life support systems. Hayes calls for a “True Cost Economy” that accounts for ecological externalities and honors carrying capacity limits.  Hayes also founded Rainforest Action Network and is emeritus on the board of directors. He is an advocate of general systems theory and deep ecology.  As a former filmmaker, Hayes is a veteran of many high-visibility corporate accountability campaigns and has advocated for the rights of Indigenous peoples throughout the world.

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to


[i] Bioregional economies: Think of the local area you can bike across in 2 or 3 days. Biological regions are units of collective agency for their inhabitants. Collective coordination of such economic units throughout a continent could provide dignified lives for all.

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  • Karen Gaia

    A solution frequently ignored is the education of girls. A women with 12 years of schooling has 4-5 less children than a woman with no schooling. The gap in funding for girls education if $39 billion. Girls in developing countries who get an education frequently become child brides. If nothing is done, the number of women who married as children will reach over 1.2 billion by 2050. . I started this project 3 years ago and the percent of girls going to school has gone from 38% to 59%.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    Sadly, your lovely article danced all around the core problem of human overpopulation, without ever identifying it as a problem, let alone a central and defining problem. Yours, Hopi elder references and all, is a very limited set of suggestions, none of which face human overpopulation head-on. My 42 year medical practice, including many Native Americans, has finally convinced me that population density stress is killing us NOW, and still we produce 220,000 new humans daily worldwide, in spite of the 69,000,000 homeless migrants searching for new homes worldwide. That would be a pretty big Hopi village, right? Take a ride with your brother, the Eagle, and look down on the broader landscape. We must start depopulating this earth of humans or Mother Nature will ramp-up Her efforts to cull us through all of our exponentially growing “diseases of civilization”, which I encountered hour after hour, day after long day, in my medical practice. One-child families, so typical of traditional living hunter-gatherer band/clan living peoples world wide can bring our numbers back down to the 1950 level of a just sustainable 2.5B by 2,100, if free women are given the free choice to continue their education to 16 years plus, to find meaningful work, and to have ready access to safe, effective, inexpensive birth control. Otherwise, there will not be a Hopi village big enough to contain us all, no matter how environmentally friendly our behavior. We have our feet on the throat of Mother Nature and She ain’t like’n it much. Go in peace, my brother. Stress R Us

  • trilemmaman

    I love Mr. Hayes suggestion that we “Promote a True Cost Economy.” That would be more useful if we documented the specific costs of ignoring the destructive global forces I mentioned in my first rant. If you are interested in organizing others in your Congressional District to research these local costs in health, economics and natural resources…please let me know. ASAP.

  • trilemmaman

    While I agree with (and try to work on) everything Randy Hayes asserts environmentally he’s missing two fundamental elements that must also be addressed simultaneously. AND fortunately,.. are all three are related and interdependent. Without empathy for the needs of the 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day we will not see progress in protecting our biosphere, or a reduction in population, or violent extremism, or reduction of infectious diseases and pandemics, or political instability linked to high IMR stats. Second is the hyper evolution of weaponry…nearly beyond our human capacity to grasp. Cyber, bio, nano, robotics, and about 20 other new factors related to unprecedented power, affordability, availability and anonymous use — have together exponentially accelerated the pace of effective offensive operations, virtually eliminating the capacity for effective defense measures… and government diplomacy/decision making capacity needed to stop preemptive measures….that could unleash hell on earth, faster than climate change… And even if we get lucky with all this…there’s still the unknowable outcome of computer learning…leading to AI…and whatever the heck it will bring. Hopefully AI will achieve wisdom, since it doesn’t appear we humans will. If it does, holding individuals (Presidents, dictators, kleptocrats, crime cartels, violent extremists, and capitalists avoiding taxes…) accountable for their crimes… we can only hope that it will use their offshore stashes of Trillions of dollars — to fund the 17 SDGs –which are the ONLY comprehensive (and globally agreed upon plan) to try and prevent the coming Chaos that Mr. Hayes is rightfully predicting. The trillion dollar question is: What are we going to do about it?
    What’s missing is the political will to do anything intelligent. That’s where “we the people” and most scientists have failed. We allowed policy makers to rig the system thinking that once we put them in office they would have our backs and use all the researched information available. Wrong! The NRA, tobacco, pharmaceutical, dairy, Tea Party, and real-estate lobbies had access to their offices — while we watched reruns of 3rd Rock from the Sun. FYI: If you haven’t yet watched “One Strange Rock” a ten part series narrated by Will Smith, you will never rally know how lucky we are to have this amazing planet, and what we need to do for our species to survive. DO you know where your Congressperson is? On funding the SDGs?