Step Four: Take the First Steps (Be Realistic, Practical and Optimistic!)

How do we gain perspective? How do we gain a prospect from which we can visualize a beautiful, abundant long-term future beyond the obstacles? We need to climb.

For 40 years the magazine I publish, Mother Earth News, has started millions of people down the first paths of this journey toward a beautiful and abundant human future. The magazine publishes stories about sustainability achieved mostly through the medium of self-reliance. Mother Earth News teaches people how to raise their own food, how to generate clean, renewable energy and how to find joy in a simple lifestyle designed to conserve natural resources. This approach has made Mother Earth News the most widely read, popular and profitable voice for sustainability in the world.

My own life on our little organic farm is a reflection of the Mother Earth News approach. My wife and I grow much of our own food. We cut our own wood to provide part of our household heat. We’re not “off the grid” but we do use solar energy for electricity and hot water. We live on a healthy, pretty and copious patch of tall-grass prairie that provides sustenance for us and thousands of other species.

The farm also provides a prism through which my family and I can focus our larger aspirations for the planet. We might donate a few hours a week toward one worthy environmental cause or another, but we’re happy to spend hours a day working in our gardens and pastures. The time we spend on our treasured little piece of the earth enriches our affection for the planet as a whole. We’ve focused our daily attention on these 50 acres and in the process we’ve reinforced a conviction that we want to help make the entire planet healthier and more beautiful. That’s an exciting possibility. It’s the sort of project that should ignite the passionate human imagination.

Human beings could plan and manage this planet as a beautiful, abundant garden.

Once our bodies and our imaginations are engaged, the incremental change begins. Then it gets easier and easier to envision humanity occupying this planet–this beautiful, abundant planet–far into the future. We can climb on top of the immediate obstacles to a place where we can see the broad horizon of our destiny.


Climb Over the Obstacles

Most people talking about protecting the environment have trained their attention on what they perceive as looming disasters. As the evidence of habitat destruction mounts, the voices become more strident, “We have to stop living this way!”

The volume and urgency of these warnings make it more and more difficult to discuss positive outcomes. Imagining a positive vision of the future strikes the alarmed mind as a trivial distraction.

We learned a long time ago that we couldn’t attract an audience for our magazines unless we gave our readers tools they could use to improve the world personally. A backyard organic garden is the perfect symbol of positive vision and personal commitment. The gardener visualizes the short-term satisfaction of tending a lovely and productive little piece of the earth, and in the process preserves resources for humanity’s future. The gardens we describe in the pages of Mother Earth News make the world more productive and beautiful today, while they preserve resources and help sustain the world for the next generation. Our audiences come to us for ingenuity, creativity, inspiration and beauty: elements that enhance in their lives. We describe ways people can live more sustainably through personal initiative.

Our readers get a kick out of brewing homemade beer and wine. They generate their own power using the sun, the wind, and homegrown ingenuity. We think they make some pretty important positive contributions in the world. It’s obvious that they have a lot of fun.

In the same way that Mother Earth News readers have imagined, then realized, their gardens and homesteads, I believe we can imagine on a larger scale. We should picture our communal home, the planet, as we want it to be. We can visualize a global garden, as it were, that reflects human aspiration and the human aesthetic, complete with the profusion of life God put here.

We can plan a really, really big garden.