With stories from her travels to five continents, environmentalist, activist, and author Joanna Macy invites her readers to a new way of seeing the world and their place in it. She tells of encounters with individuals who share very personal stories of sudden awakening, unexpected awareness, and the co-mingling of joy and pain. These stories give testament to Macy’s belief that even in the darkest moments of despair, hope and change are possible. Pass It On is a celebration of possibility, community, and imagination.
“Joy shines from every page of this book, the defiant joy of a person who knows full well how great the task is before us and who knows equally well that we are up to the task. Joanna Macy’s stories show what we are capable of at our best, when we act out of courage and compassion. They inspire us to rool up our sleeves, join with one another, and get on with the work of healing.”—Scott Russell Sanders, A Conservationist Manifesto
From Chapter 1 – A Look at Our Time from the Future
When we think seven generations into the future and then look back at our era from their perspective, what will we see? How will it touch us to know that there was a time before ours in which the people created an economic and social order that viewed the accumulation of money – capital – as the greatest value? That this allowed them to treat the earth like one big self-service store because they did not realize that the earth is alive? That this was a world order that granted the right to unconditional exploitation of “raw materials” – living beings and people – to anyone who has enough capital? That their ideology viewed the planet as inexhaustible and convinced people to believe that human beings could only survive with constantly increasing sales of goods? That it was a human race that managed to deposit vast amounts of harmful, toxic, radiating, and otherwise life-destroying substances on the earth, in the earth, in the bodies of water, and in the air where they will be distributed sooner or later throughout all cycles of life?
Yes, they will tell stories about this time. About us, the people of that era, their ancestors, their forebears, who refused to go along with this. Of those who – despite the initial feeling of being completely alone or just one of very few, despite the vehement defense mechanisms of the old system – followed their inner impulses and their intuitive sense for the intelligence of life and have not allowed themselves to be led astray. Who said to themselves and others: “Something is wrong” or “No, that can’t be healthy.” Those who risked questioning the unassailable voices of the experts. Who said out loud that the blood of the baby seals still sticks to the fur coats, even if it has already been washed off one hundred times. Who understood that nuclear power plants were only safe if they would run completely without errors; but that human beings make errors and need them to learn. Not to even mention the completely unresolved storage of nuclear substances for more than 250,000 years. Those whose stomachs turned in queasiness and felt a stitch in their hearts when they learned that grass-eating ruminants – cows and sheep – had been fed the finely-ground remains of their own species members as carcass meal – until BSE made the consequences of such actions visible for all people. Who did not approve that it was possible to offer sweatshirts and jeans so cheaply in the high-gloss department stores and super-supermarkets because people were treated like slaves at sweatshops in the Philippines or China and had to work for salaries of less than one dollar per day.
It is not necessary to continue this list. Anyone who lives in this age and wants to see and know is familiar with enough of these types of examples from the close and more extended living environment. Without much searching, we can all add dozens – if not hundreds – of stories. At the same time, the tales of horror are just one side of the coin. We could perhaps call the other side the stories of hope:
Despite the opposite prognoses, the elm tree – the Elm Dance named after it plays an important role in the second story – is still not completely extinct in Central Europe. The foresters assume that some of the trees have survived so long because they developed a resistance. They could form the gene pool for a renewed spreading of this fine tree in Europe and perhaps even in North America.
The Rhine River now once again has 42 species of fish living in it. Its water is cleaner than it has been in more than 30 years. When Joanna Macy brought her work to Germany in November 1986, so many toxins had just entered the river with the water for fire-fighting due to the recent major fire at Sandoz in Switzerland that it was practically dead from Basle to Karlsruhe. This is now 22 years ago. Today it is alive.
In the high north of Scotland, the vision of one single man was the impetus for the reforestation project of Trees for Life!, in which 150,000 Scottish pine trees have been newly planted since the mid-1980s. This species of tree had previously had such an old population – with most specimens ranging between 70 and 100 years – that it were threatened by extinction without the active cultivation of young trees. Close to 500 hectares of forest have once again grown here, composed solely of original native plants and including the now rare aspen. More than 1,000 voluntary helpers achieved this through their committed participation. Another area of forest – the subtropical rainforest in Australia that was saved from logging – plays an important role in the fourth story.
Small and large, sad and hopeful stories such as these allow us to design a picture of The Great Turning – of our era. Not a complete, all-encompassing picture. It’s more like a piece of the puzzle. But the more the pieces are put together, the more complete the portrayal is as a result. Only this fragmentary depiction of what is happening at this very moment is available to us today. Just the little events are the ones that we can report about. They inspire us and can serve as the guiding principle on the path into the future. This is why we tell stories in this book. They are about the events, the encounters with people, and the life of Joanna Macy. They are stories that have changed her life and her world. She has told them time and again in many of her seminars. So these stories have also changed the lives of other people and their world. They have become the stories of The Great Turning. These are exactly the ones that we can already tell today. Because we cannot yet tell the entire, complete story of The Great Change yet. After all, we are all still in the middle of it.