By Donella Meadows
–March 27, 1997–
On April 6 it will be 1000 DAYS TILL THE YEAR 2000!!! There will be press conferences and a global sing-along. Countdown clocks will be set ticking, aimed for the turning of the millennium.
(Purists will point out that the actual millennial change will occur on January 1, 2001. They will keep saying that for the next three years, while everyone ignores them. We’ve all been conditioned by car odometers; we know the historic moment comes when the 000s roll up on the dial.)
It’s already impossible, I hear, to get a reservation for December 31, 1999 at the world’s hot party spots.
I’m sure the media giants are making their plans too. Sixty-minute specials reviewing the history of the last thousand years. Talking heads speculating on the next thousand. Medallions, T-shirts and other collectibles. Special ads. Coca-Cola Brings You the 21st Century! That’s one reason for a 1000-day countdown, like declaring Christmas right around Halloween, to allow plenty of time for marketing.
I have to say, I’m dreading the hype. It’s dismaying enough to use a thousand-year event to have drunken parties and sell trivial stuff. It’s worse when you remember that the millennium is a non-event. Our calendar is arbitrary. The Chinese new year does not fall on January 1. The Persian year starts on the spring equinox. Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists do not key their calendars to the year of Christ’s birth, and our Gregorian calendar, which was not defined until the year 1582, got the year of Christ’s birth wrong. We’re getting excited about the year 2000 basically because we have ten fingers and toes, so we add zeroes when things hit 10, 100, and 1000.
Therefore my first reaction to the countdown is: Millennium schmillennium!
My second reaction is WOW! What an opportunity to glance up from our humdrum lives and take a good, long look at where we’ve been and where we’re going. What a fine thing to think and talk together with a THOUSAND YEAR perspective. What a chance to see ourselves in the great sweep of history, to be humbled by the thought of all the generations that went before, and to take responsibility for the generations to come.
Whatever year we pick, we could create an uplifting, transformative millennial celebration. Some serious groups will be vying with the unserious ones to do just that.
One of them is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which is about to launch a Living Planet Campaign — “designed to make the last 1000 days of this century a turning point in the worldwide struggle to preserve species and habitats.” They will have a press conference on April 3 to identify two hundred places on earth, which, if they were all protected, would represent “viable samples of every existing wild habitat on earth.”
WWF will encourage millennial gifts to the earth, which could be as simple as a household buying an energy-saving lightbulb or as grand as a nation protecting a virgin forest. Two gifts to be announced on April 3 will be a 3000-square-mile chunk of state land in Florida, to be donated by governor Lawton Chiles to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and a commitment by the president of Mongolia to protect at least 30 percent of his country’s biologically rich landscape.
Another organization ready to seize the year-2000 initiative is the appropriately named Millennium Institute. It is preparing a “Millennium Report to the World,” intended to be not a thick manifesto from a think-tank, but a compilation of information, dreams, and plans from all sorts of people, especially young people.
The Institute encourages groups — families, churches, friends — to gather every 100 days during the 1000-day countdown, not to receive ideas about the millennium from TV programs or pundits, but to discuss its meaning for themselves. The Institute is assembling some questions to ponder, timeless enough for a millennial perspective and timely enough to reflect this particular moment in history. Here are just a few (for more, check out the Millennium Institute website at www.igc.apc.org/millennium):
What stands in the way of a happy, creative life in the next century?
What does a new millennium mean in terms of traditions already in flux?
What kind of public and private commitments and actions are required of us, to shape the first decades of the next century?
Do our spiritual or communal traditions furnish us with the means to rethink the use of force (of any kind) in the light of a new millennium?
In a world where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, how can we resurrect kindness and generosity?
To what extent do we want to be incorporated into a global culture? How will large corporate structures of all sorts — economic, informational, religious, government — come to grips with their global responsibilities? Do we have at hand a global ethic?
Whom shall we call upon to lead us into the 2000s? Where shall we look for the new ideas needed to survive in the next millennium?
The more I think about it, the more I see that the opportunity here is for all of us to choose own moments to mark the millennium — not fleeting New Year’s Eves, but long moments during the years 2000 and 2001, to look backward and learn, to look forward and plan. The opportunity is to tune out the outside hype and bring up the wisdom of our souls. Don’t let anyone sell you millennial thoughts and dreams. Come up with your own.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1997