Getting to the Heart – Inspiring a Planetary Narrative Worthy of Our Species

Aug 1st, 2019 | By | Category: Environment/Sustainability

By Geoffrey Holland, guest writer for Transition Earth.

[image: Wikimedia Commons, Tesseract2]

[image: Wikimedia Commons, Tesseract2]

James Cameron’s epic 2009 movie Avatar is set in the 22nd century on the distant moon Pandora. At its core, Avataris a good vs. evil conflict between the indigenous Na’vi, who live in harmony with their living world, and an intrusive, technically superior force of human profiteers, who have come to Pandora to exploit its rich mineral resources.

At the time of its release in theaters, Avatar quickly became the highest grossing movie of all time. It was an audience favorite because it was highly entertaining and also politically charged with its message about unprincipled and unwelcome exploitation.

Avatar is a powerful example of movie art that is designed to entertain and inform audiences on issues that, for better or worse, are shaping the world we know.

More than ever, we need to be inspired by stories that reveal a future in which we face down adversity, embrace our common humanity, and accept our collective responsibility for preserving and restoring the living biosphere.

Here is how author and humanist, Riane Eisler puts it… “One of the great creative challenges of our time – critical if we are to continue our human adventure in an age when the old ethos of domination and conquest is increasingly dysfunctional, even potentially suicidal –  is to create for ourselves and our children images and stories of the sacred more congruent with a partnership than dominator social organization, images and stories in which giving and receiving pleasure and caring, rather than causing or submitting to pain, occupy center stage.”


Our task is to tell the story that lights the path to a better world.

~George Monbiot, Journalist and Planetary Activist


The Real Story isn’t Being Told

We have come to a monumental turning point in the evolution of life on Earth. If humanity continues to plunder our planet’s shrinking resources – business as usual – we are surely on course for a catastrophic reckoning.

The biosphere we all depend on is coming apart.  We are entirely responsible. Put simply, there are now nearly eight billion humans on Earth. That’s too many; too many people, and not enough resources. Moreover, as we continue to expand our numbers by about 75 million annually, our planet must provide food, water, shelter, education, healthcare and personal security for the equivalent of fifteen new cities the size of Los Angeles every single year.

As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, we are facing an unprecedented range of existential threats to life on Earth. Our atmosphere is seriously overheated and getting worse. We’ve got weather extremes. We’ve got widespread deforestation, deep aquifer depletion, collapsing ocean fisheries, massive top soil loss, and wildlife populations that are in freefall.

In so many ways, we are failing in our collective responsibility to take care of the only home we’ve ever known. That’s the heartbreaking reality. That’s the real story.


[photo: Wikimedia Commons, Sam Oth]

[photo: Wikimedia Commons, Sam Oth]

A Confusion of False Narratives

Humanity is trapped in a cultural cul de sac, molded largely by an extreme, corrupt brand of market economics that mindlessly puts money before the needs of people and planet. The entire framework of human commerce has been built on policy that prioritizes profit, while funneling nearly all the newly generated wealth to the few, who make up the richest one percent.

The current political system allows big banks, corporate interests, and the super-rich to use their wealth to buy elections for corrupt politicians, who then shape public policy and the regulatory landscape to favor their deep pocket benefactors.

The monied class also exerts its undue influence over the world’s public media. In recent decades, the biggest players in the print and electronic media have been taken over by a handful of large corporations, allowing them to shape public opinion to fit their self-serving agendas. Ninety percent of what we read, watch, or listen to is now controlled by just six media companies.[i]

Profit driven media enterprises do not depend on their readers, viewers, and listeners for revenue, they are beholden instead to their corporate advertisers, who aggressively leverage their marketing dollars to sell their products. It goes beyond advertising. The consolidated media, in order to please their big business customers, also shape their entertainment programming and their news coverage to encourage false narratives that favor business-as-usual for big money profiteers.

An example: Big oil spends massive amounts on TV and print advertising. Fossil fuel producers deny the existence of climate change as an issue, because corrective action against climate change is bad for their business. So, to keep the fossil energy giants happy and keep the advertising revenue from them flowing, big media downplays or flat-out denies the truth about climate change.  That’s good for the oil producers, devastating for the biosphere.

When bankers, billionaires, and the corporate elite control governance,  regulatory policy, and also the media that defines public opinion,  building voter support for an alternate, life-affirming vision for society becomes a formidable challenge.

Meaningful change requires reaching hearts and minds with fact-based truths that discredit the self-interest of the powers that be.  How does one affect change when most all the channels for influencing public perception are tightly controlled and manipulated to maximize quarterly profits?


What you have to do is get to the heart… And how do you get to the heart?…With stories

~Jane Goodall, Behavioral Scientist, Planetary Citizen


Life Imitates Art

Artists have been using their creative energy to alter public opinion since the beginnings of recorded history.  In 411 B.C., the Greek author Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, a theatrical stage play about the women of Athens denying sex to their men as a way to force the end of the Peloponnesian War.

Paintings, sculptures, music, essays, novels, every kind of fictional story: all have been employed by artists through the ages to influence public attitudes on every kind of cultural controversy.

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, shed critical light on slavery and the public attitude toward African Americans. Ultimately, this led to the American Civil War and to Lincoln’s ‘Emancipation Proclamation’.

More recently, celebrated feature films like Norma Rae, Coming Home, The China Syndrome, and Michael Clayton have drawn attention to the most implacable issues of the modern era.

The world we know as we pass through the early stages of the 21st century is in trouble like never before. We face a broad range of global scale existential threats. The entrenched economic and political systems that define us are failing. They are failing in so many ways.

The 19th century Irish playwright and raconteur, Oscar Wilde said, “Life imitates art, far more than art imitates life.”   We must take Wilde’s profound bit of wisdom to heart.

Like never before, humanity must marshal its collective creative energy in service to our planet and to the generations that will come after us. Artists of every persuasion must step up and illuminate pathways to a future that is worthy of the human species.  No time to waste. The need could not be more urgent.


Cordilleras, Peru [photo: Suzanne York]

Cordilleras, Peru [photo: Suzanne York]

A Fundamental Reordering is Required

Every human must embrace the idea of being a planetary citizen. It starts with gender equality, built on a commitment to dignity for all, and a shared responsibility to preserve and restore the life nurturing capacity of the Earth, the only home we have ever known.

Getting all the world’s people on the same page will be a tall order. The male dominant paradigm that has shaped human history thus far must be replaced by a broad commitment to gender equality, cultural cooperation, and the common good.

This is not ‘pie in the sky’. The path we are on is the road to ruin. If humanity is going to survive the 21st century, nothing less than fundamental change will do.


It is imperative that today’s activists – energized around questions of environmental, gender, racial, and economic justice – have a sense of not only what they are against, but also what they are for… over the long haul.

~Gar Alperovitz, Co-Chair, The Next System Project


We must inspire humanity on a broad scale.  The transition from business as usual to a society that will be life affirming and sustainable for generations to come cannot be left to evolve over the next century. It must happen in the next decade.

A particularly powerful way to engage the public mind and inspire momentum for positive change is with stories.

Getting to the heart is mandatory, and it must happen without delay. Let’s do it with stories: stories that reveal the world we must wish for and work for; a world in which dignity and responsibility are the common ideals: a world in which existential threats like climate change and biodiversity loss receive the unfettered attention they deserve.


 Geoffrey Holland is an Emmy winning writer/producer; the author of The Hydrogen Age; and a regular contributor to the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere.



Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.