And Where Do We Go from Here?

by Birgitta Jansen

A few weeks ago, I saw an older man in the supermarket wearing a brown t-shirt with black lettering that said, “We are the meteorite.” I understood that this was a reference to how humans are changing the earth. “I like your t-shirt,” I said. He turned his head to look at me, a shared moment of understanding. With a half smile he replied, “Thank you,” and continued reading the label on a jar of mayonnaise.
I am not certain I would liken humanity to a meteorite; there are many differences after all. But there is one significant commonality and that is destruction. The meteorite changed everything. So did we.
What we need to face is that the Anthropocene1 − the recent age of man − has produced immense and irreversible changes. Humanity has become the dominant force on this planet. This is not a crisis for which we can find solutions and then move on. From the Anthropocene, there is no exit.
Nature’s cycles evolved over millions of years as they continuously adapted and balanced the planet’s biospheric functioning. But within a few hundred years we have managed to profoundly alter or destroy most of these cycles. With our expanding numbers, we continue that destruction. Our cities become mega-cities. Our need for food increases, and industrial farms grow larger. Resources are consumed at an alarming rate while more waste is produced. As resources are being depleted, we resort to ever more destructive methods to get what we think we need. Deep sea mining comes to mind: the destruction of a hitherto pristine environment to obtain the minerals we need for lithium batteries.2, 3
Most of us will be familiar with our list of catastrophes and pending catastrophes, so there’s no need to waste more paper. We know what the problems are. Yet our lifestyles remain unsustainable considering planetary limits. The writing was on the proverbial wall more than fifty years ago. Why are we continuing to resist the changes that are so urgently needed?
Part of the problem is that resistance to addressing environmental issues is expressed in countless ways. In addition the complexity and sheer scale of it all is almost incomprehensible, and even paralyzing for some Perhaps it might help to conceptualize the resistance in three categories − corporate, political, and individual, although it must be understood that these three are inextricably intertwined.

Corporate Resistance

Consider the oil and gas industries as examples of what happens in the corporate world. Oil companies have known since the 1960s that their product would irreversibly harm the biosphere as meticulously documented in Geoff Dembicki’s The Petroleum Papers.4 They industry devised a myriad of ways to hide and deny what their own scientists and CEOs knew.5,6 In general, large corporations use tactics such as green washing, denial, lying, misinformation, disinformation, and so on to create doubt by declaring that the science is inconclusive.7, 8, 9
In his most recent book and movie, The New Corporation, Joel Bakan points out that in the early 2000s corporations devised new strategies to make us believe that they are stepping up to the plate. For instance, the CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, stated in his annual 2021 shareholders’ letter: “Business and government collaborating can conquer big challenges – income inequality, economic opportunity, universal education and health concerns, infrastructure, affordable housing, and disaster preparedness to name a few.”10
Many corporations are actively advocating for privatizing public services. They justify this by claiming that they can do a better job than governments can. Privatization of education and healthcare are prime examples.11,12,13 Yes, there are problems with government services, but at least citizens can have input. Once privatized, that’s not the case.

Many multinational corporations are increasingly making it look as if they are positioning themselves to provide strong leadership addressing societal and environmental problems. However the well-being of citizens or the environment will never be, and cannot be, their priority. Their bottom line is making money by increasing consumption of their products and increasing the GDP.

Alliances and Political Resistance

Government and corporate interests have become increasing aligned. This is clearly evidenced by the growing importance of “dark money” initiated by the Koch brothers in the 1960s. In an interview, author Jane Mayer commented that Charles Koch’s intention was to get rid of all social programs, taxes, and most of government to have a free, corporate market.14 To move towards this goal Koch Industries, described as a “fossil fuel behemoth,” started channeling huge sums of money to political election campaigns. Donations were processed in such a way that the funding source remained undisclosed. Funding went to candidates who favored looser regulations and fewer social programs for the poor and middle class. Other industries soon followed suit as regulations, such as environmental protection, were viewed as threatening to business interests.15, 16
Ronald Regan’s presidency in the 1980s was characterized by deregulation, reducing the power of unions, and decreasing the role of government.17 In 2010, Citizen United Ruling opened the floodgates of money flow seeking to influence elections even more.18 In recent years, election costs have escalated significantly making “running for office” very much a rich man’s game. One of many problems with this is that a significant number of politicians reside in society’s upper echelons. One has to wonder how such people can represent or even relate to their constituents, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. Politicians and their constituents frequently live in different worlds, and neither can imagine what it might be like to live in the other. And President Trump’s infamous tax cut that proved to be a windfall for the rich hasn’t even been mentioned…
Also symptomatic of the increasing corporate/political alliance is the ever-expanding army of corporate lobbyists. For example, the big tech companies’ lobbyists, barely present in Washington D.C. a decade ago, are now among the capital’s top lobbyists − Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google spending a total from $27.4 million to $55 million between 2016 and 2018.19
Corporations have relentlessly lobbied government to reduce environmental restrictions and oversight. This has led to major environmental disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in 2010, after British Petroleum had pushed for deregulation and self-regulation enabling it to cut corners on process safety.20
Unfortunately, we’ve now become accustomed to the easy availability of cheap merchandise, abundant food from large industrial farms in far-away places, and a good supply of energy. This makes our current situation complex because we have become so dependent on the system as it is, and we have let these developments happen.

Individual Resistance

There are countless ways in which we resist making changes in our lives. To name a few: we all have our own beliefs about the world we live in. We have our own stories, our own experiences, and our own truths. We value our freedom, and we don’t ever like to be told what to do. Put us in a position where we feel that our beliefs, values, or way of life, are threatened or attacked, and we will vigorously defend that which we know. Even though we know we need to change our lifestyles, the pull of the familiar is strong.

One important point: we have perhaps not realized how vulnerable democracy is, what it means to live in a democratic society, and how fortunate we are. We’ve come to regard all of what we have as normal; this is how the world is, and we have known it to be this way for the duration of most of our lifetimes. Of course we’d like it to stay that way. But while we are preoccupied with living our daily lives, too many of us have abdicated our responsibility to be well-informed citizens. We’re not making the changes we need to make.

Where Do We Go from Here?

“Ask not what your country can do for you − ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy’s memorable message was “to combat tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself” by urging American citizens to participate in public service.21
Since that time, unfortunately, many of us have disengaged with politics and left the decision-making up to those elected to represent us. But they are people too and have their own beliefs and interests. Many of us have lost trust in our politicians. It is sad to note that polls show that politicians are less respected or admired than those in most other professions.22 No wonder. Election campaigns are full of lofty promises. Once elected, promises seem to be forgotten or broken. It is as if we’ve almost come to expect that. Corruption is common. But it is up to us to reclaim our position as citizens and use our voice instead of becoming cynical and gripped by apathy and inertia,
Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, and Joel Bakan emphasize the urgent need for citizens to get involved in public service whether it be local, regional, or federal.23, 24
May believes that, “An engaged citizenry in a democracy can change policy, change society. If we want equity, if we want social justice, and if we want to avoid an increase in the global average temperature greater than 1.5 degrees C, then we have to take control of the levers of power and take them away from corporations.”25 She feels strongly that reigning in corporate power has become necessary, and there are many other features that need to be addressed. Joel Bakan comments, “Both activism and electoral politics are needed. Neither alone is sufficient. It is the synergy between them that holds great promise and gives reason for hope.”26
I have often heard it said, “I am just an individual. What I do, or don’t do, makes no difference.” Not true. What each person does can make a difference. The way we live, our lifestyles, are noticed by other people around us. When we find ways to consume less yet create a fulfilling life, it can inspire others to do the same. In fact, research is now showing that social learning, i.e., the human tendency to look at what the neighbors are doing and conform to social values, is more effective than, for instance, education.27 If people around us behave as if they do not care about the environment, then our inclination to conform becomes a form of collective resistance. But social learning can be a powerful force for the common good.28 We have seen this happen with smoking, the use of seatbelts, pesticides, and many other examples. Twenty five percent of a population can affect social change.29
We need to decide whether or not we want to live in a world where capitalism promotes unrestrained growth, or do we want a sustainable environment? Can we look our children and grandchildren in the eye before they go to sleep at night, while we know what we’re taking from them? Or can we consider ways to be good stewards?
Every one of us needs to consider the impact of our decisions and behavior on the biosphere. We can no longer afford to ignore the natural world. The needs of Earth must come first.
The Covid 19 pandemic experience may already have resulted in some lifestyle changes. Despite the many negative impacts, researchers found that people reported a variety of positive aspects as well.30 Connection with family and friends turned out to be vitally important. There was less travel and more exploration of the places closer to home. People were spending more time in the kitchen and cooking from scratch. Even sourdough bread had its moment. Many people turned to gardening and even exercised their green thumb on window sills and balconies. Hopefully many of us are able to sustain the positive changes, or at least some of them. But it’s not enough.
Our house is burning while too many of us are still re-arranging the furniture and discussing which colors to paint the walls. Instead we each need to take responsibility, confront the urgency of our situation, and do something. Each of us has certain strengths and talents. This is the time to put them to use. We need to envision a future that is different from today − where we consume less, and where we do not define ourselves as consumers but as citizens. This is where hope resides.

Birgitta Jansen currently resides in British Columbia and is a managing editor of the Desert Report. She has written previously on a number of environmental topics and has completed a book about the October 2015 flash floods in Death Valley NP.


1. Will Steffen, “Anthropocene – Where on Earth Are we Going,” International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, Newsletter 41, with a YouTube Video, TEDx Canberra, Will Steffen, May 2000, Accessed: December 27, 2022
2. Wil S. Hylton, “History’s largest mining operation is about to begin. It’s underwater – and the consequences are unimaginable.” The Atlantic, January/February 2020.
Accessed April 10, 2021
3. Olive Heffernan, “Seabed mining is coming – bringing mineral riches and fears of epic extinctions – Plans are advancing to harvest precious ores from the ocean floor, but scientists say that companies have not tested them enough to avoid devastating damage.” Nature,” 16 August, 2019.
Accessed July 29, 2021; April 15, 2023
4. Geoff Dembicki, The Petroleum Papers – Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover up Climate Change, Greystone Books (2022)
5. Ibid.
6. Geoff Dembicki, “Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change,” Kirkus Book Reviews, September 20, 2022. Accessed: October 25, 2022; April 15, 2023
7. Leah C. Stokes, “Defiant Energy – How the American electric utility industry pushed climate denial, doubt and delay,” Orion Magazine, 2022, Accessed” October 18, 2022; April 15, 2022.
8. Sarah DeWeerdt, “Can Corporate Greenwashing Be Proven Empirically? Maybe.” Anthropocene Magazine, February 28, 2023. Accessed March 1, 2023.
9. David Anderson, Matt Kasper, David Pomerantz, Utilities Knew – Documenting Electric Utilities’ Early Knowledge and Ongoing Deception on Climate Change From 1968-2017, Energy and Policy Institute, July 2017, Accessed March 13, 2023
10. Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, Roy Schwartz, Smart Brevity – The Power of Saying More With Less,” Workman Publishing Company, (2022), p. 95.
11. Joel Bakan, The New Corporation – The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel, documentary, released September, 2020.
12. John B. Goodman, Gary W. Loveman, “Does Privatization Service The Public Interest?” Harvard Business Review, Analytic Services, November-December 1991.
Accessed March 2, 2023
13. Sarah E. Gollust, Peter D. Jacobson, “ Privatization of Public Services: Organizational Reform Efforts in Public Education and Public Health” American Journal of Public Health, 2006 October (10), 1733-1739,
Accessed March 15, 2023
14. Jane Mayer, Interview about her book “Dark Money.” Martha’s Vineyard Productions, (July 2019). Quote is at 18:55 minutes. Accessed February 1, 2023.
15. Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Doubleday, New York (2012).
16. Geoff Dembicki, “How Koch Industries, Fake Scientists, and Rush Limbaugh Invented Climate Denial,” Vice News, October 14, 2022. Accessed November 21, 2022
17. Will Kenton, Reaganomics: Definition, Policies, and Impact, Investopedia, January 10, 2023,
Accessed: February 23, 2023; April 15, 2023
18. Tim Lau, Citizens United Explained – The 2010 Supreme Court decision further tilted political influence toward wealthy donors and corporations. Brennan Center for Justice, December 12, 2019,
19. Joel Bakan, The New Corporation -- How “Good” Corporations Are Bad For Democracy, Penguin Random House (2020), p. 92
20. Ibid. p. 72
21. President John F. Kenney’s Inaugural Address (1961),survival%20and%20success%20of%20liberty.%22. Accessed:
22. Elizabeth May, Who We Are; Reflections On My Life and Canada, Greystone Books, 2015, p. 167
23. Interview with Elizabeth May (February 22, 2023), Sierra Club Desert Committee Desert Report, special issue May 2023.
24. Interview with Joel Bakan (March 16, 2023), Sierra Club Desert Committee Desert Report, special issue May 2023.
25. Joel Bakan, The New Corporation -- How “Good” Corporations Are Bad For Democracy, Penguin Random House (2020), p. 172
26. Ibid. P. 175
27. Sarah DeWeerdt, Which tool best coaxes climate-friendly habits: information, money, or social signals? Anthropocene Magazine (April 11, 2023) Accessed: April 12, 2023.
28. Sarah DeWeerdt, “How social learning can speed up or slow down climate action. The human tendency to look around at what our neighbors are generally doing and adhere to the social norms we observe can be a powerful force standing in the way of climate action.” Anthropocene Magazine (June 11, 2019), Accessed April 12, 2023
29. Kristin Houser, “How many people do you need to change the world?” World Economic Forum, June 12, 2018.,and%2C%20well%2C%20slightly%20frightening. Accessed April 12, 2023.
30. “In Their Own Words, Americans Describe the Struggles and Silver Linings of the COVID 19 Pandemic.” Pew Research Center (March 5, 2021). Accessed April 12, 2023.