1. No demand is big enough
Contrary to its self-conception, Extinction Rebellion is not actually about climate change. The climate issue is, rather, the vehicle for the expression of a deeper yearning. Greta Thunberg and the climate strikers embody a refusal to comply with a system that is anti-life. “I will not go to school. I will not participate in this. I want no part of the program.”
The climate emergency gives form to an intuitive, inarticulate alienation from the project of civilization as it stands. It offers a focal point to identify as the source of wrongness. It channels onto one thing the revolutionary aspiration to change everything. But if we were to awaken tomorrow to the news that the science was mistaken and global temperatures have leveled off, the driving energy of the protestors would persist. That is because they recognize that the challenge facing humanity is not “How do we sustain business-as-usual using carbon-neutral fuels?” Business-as-usual is not OK, and switching fuels will not make it so. Like the anti-war radicals of the 1960s, like the anti-globalization protestors of the 90s, like the Occupy Wall Street occupiers, they do not aspire to modest reforms. They know that modest reforms do not reach deep enough. They recognize, whether consciously or not, that ecocide is a feature and not a bug of the current socioeconomic system. They know that we can do better than a world of unrelenting poverty, inequality, warfare, domestic violence, racism, and environmental destruction. And they know that each of these generates the others.
In other words, the issue is not whether our current civilization is sustainable. Do we even want to sustain it? Can’t we do better than this?
Speaking at the inauguration of the Berlin Extinction Rebellion camp last October, I hazarded a guess about what the movement is really about. What we really want, I said, is for humanity to hold nature sacred again. What we want is to move from a society of domination to one of participation, from conquest to co-creation, from extraction to regeneration, from harm to healing, and from separation to love. And we want to enact this transition in all our relations: ecological, economic, political, and personal. That is why we can say, “The revolution is love.”
Such a goal does not easily translate into politically articulable demands. Every demand I could make is either too small or too big. If it is politically conceivable, the demand is too small. If it is within the power and willingness of existing political authorities to implement, if it fits within the current political universe, it must not require fundamental change. At best, such demands alleviate a symptom or suggest a direction we might follow, a destination we might aspire to. At worst, they would have us play a diverting tune to accompany the world’s death-march.
If, on the other hand, we issue demands commensurate with the magnitude of the change we wish to see, then pray tell: of whom are these demands to be made? Do we imagine that the global industrial economy and its surrounding political apparatus are a freight train, and we can simply ask the engineer to throttle the engine? The political and corporate elites are as helpless as everyone else, subject to forces beyond their control and, for the most part, beyond their understanding. What we really want – the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible, and whose unrealized possibility will instigate new rebellion with each generation – is beyond the power of any authority to grant. That does not mean it is impossible, nor that we are helpless to serve its becoming. What it means is that the language of demanding may not be appropriate.
The fossil-fuel based system has enormous momentum. It is woven into every facet of modern life, from medicine to agriculture to transport, manufacturing, and housing. Every activist must understand that a demand to get off fossil fuels is a demand to change everything, and that this demand is impossible to fulfill. Its goal is not impossible; a change in everything is what we are here to serve. But it cannot be realized as a demand, because there is no one with the power to fulfill it.
Even the articulated demands of Extinction Rebellion are impossible for currently constituted power to fulfill. Look what happens when governments do so much as increase fuel taxes. Riots and protests around the globe, from France to Ecuador to Zimbabwe to Indonesia, follow hikes in fuel prices, and governments must either capitulate or send in the troops to quell unrest. (Usually they do both, since canceling the price rises cannot assuage the deeper unrest that they tapped into.) Since fossil fuels are integral to global society, to transition away from them entails society’s total disruption. It is not just a matter of replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind, and biomass, perhaps applying carbon capture devices and geoengineering technologies to draw down carbon and allow business as usual to continue. No. The intermittency problem, land use requirements, and limits to supplies of rare earth minerals make this infeasible. But even if we could continue business as usual, do we really want to?
By framing anything as a demand, we entrench existing political power relationships. We limit what we can achieve to what those in power can grant. We confer power upon those whom we hold powerful, and inevitably set them up as enemies when they fail to enact the ultimatum.
A demand implies a threat: “Do as I say – or else!” To make a demand, backed by the threat of force or at least the threat of inconvenience, that someone is unable to fulfill is to make them an adversary. Movements that do this tend to shrink over time, not grow. Alienated from the public they are trying to save and unable to achieve tangible results, they shrink into a self-righteous cadre of martyrs. We have seen the same pattern play out again and again. Inevitably, the police confirm the self-righteousness by committing some act of brutality in the course of maintaining order. The debate becomes about whether the police violence is justified, whether violent measures are justified in turn, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. The protests themselves become the issue, rather than what the protests are about. The protestors attempt to leverage each incident of police violence to shift public opinion to their side – we must be the good guys, because look how bad the government is. A media war ensues, a struggle to control the narrative. Within their separate media bubbles and social media echo chambers, each side becomes more and more convinced of its virtue and of the other side’s turpitude. In this way, both sides enact the archetypical drama we call war, adopting the age-old assumption that the key to solving any problem is to overcome an enemy. Progress is won through a fight, a struggle for domination. Can we not see that the same domination mentality underlies civilization’s ecocide? Another kind of revolution beckons.
There is a certain comfort in establishing a set of enemies as the key to solving a crisis. We replace a goal we don’t know how to achieve (changing everything) with one we do (toppling a leader, overthrowing a government, seizing political power). In this way, the illusion of power diverts our revolutionary energy onto a lesser goal. If the engineer won’t throttle the engine, why, we’ll toss him off the train and throttle it ourselves. Probably, like most revolutionaries, we will fail to seize control at all. In the unlikely event that we succeed and find ourselves in the engine room, we will discover we are just as incapable of throttling the engine as its previous occupant was.
None of this is to say we should just give up and go home. Let us trust hope. Authentic hope is not a distraction from reality, it is the premonition of a possibility. To reach it, we have to step outside conventional problem-solution vicious circle, in which each solution generates the same problem in another guise. The conventional diagnosis of the climate change problem is itself part of the problem, and so, therefore, are the solutions that come of it. Stepping outside of it, we may arrive at different demands and, more importantly, ways that address the crisis that lie outside the mentality of demanding altogether.
2. Exclusion and Carbon Reductionism
The incapacity of our leaders to make significant changes mirrors the incapacity of the public. I heard a story of some London protestors who managed to halt an Underground train. Doubtless, they were thinking that any inconvenience suffered by the passengers is nothing compared to saving the human race from extinction. Dramatic action is needed! Maybe a general boycott of all fossil-fuel transport. Well, the passengers were not supportive. One said, “Maybe I’m on my way to the hospital – have you thought of that?” Many were working class, commuting to jobs upon which their families depend. To a greater or lesser degree, most people’s lives are likewise wedded to the world-destroying machine. Appealing to personal virtue to persuade people to use less, burn less, ride less, is pointless when they inhabit a system that requires them to use, burn, and ride just to survive.
The disruptive tactics alienate people who suffer the disruption, signaling, “We are willing to sacrifice you to The Cause.” “We are here to save you – whether you like it or not!” In doing that, the protesters are creating in their public relations the same us-them dynamics that pertain to their relationship to the authorities.
Can you think of other contexts where some must be sacrificed, against their will, for the greater good? Where some beings are just in the way of progress? Where the freedom of someone is overridden without her consent? This is not to say that one must obtain the consent of everyone affected before initiating a protest action. It is simply to take them into account. To pause for a moment to see the world through their eyes, and to understand their experience of life. It is to embrace empathy. Empathy is unavailable when the fog of judgment clouds the heart.
Adding to public distrust of activists is the self-righteousness that is coded into appeals to personal virtue. If we hold ourselves virtuous for our activism and low-carbon lifestyles, and grant ourselves self-approval and membership in the ranks of the moral, we thereby cast others into the ranks of the immoral, the ignorant, the wrong. The more we douse ourselves in the perfume of virtue, the more we give off the stench of sanctimony. We would be more effective if, rather than holding ourselves apart in unforgiving judgement, we would seek to understand deeply the totality of the circumstances of those we judge. That is called inclusivity. It is the gateway to a revolution of love.
Much of the exclusivity of the environmental movement stems from the reduction of “green” to a function of carbon accountancy – a dangerous simplification that leaves out the beings, including human beings, who seem not to “count.” What is the carbon contribution of whales? Sea turtles? The tube riders? Homeless? Prisoners? Nightingales? Owls? Wolves? When will we learn that the beings we exclude end up being the most important of all? When will we learn that we are all in this together? This is not the kind of revolution where we sacrifice some beings for “the cause” of saving the world, it is one where we recognize that healing will come through valuing the devalued. After all, what has been othered, excluded, and devalued more than nature herself? To value nature’s beings in terms of carbon, a measurable quantity subject to the customary cost-benefit analyses, is not a very big departure from valuing her beings in terms of money. Everyone and everything left out of that valuation will come back to haunt us, because the truth is that all are important in maintaining conditions for thriving life.
What is devalued when we count carbon? What is not counted? Well, ecosystems for one. To scale up “green energy” technologies such as solar panels, batteries, wind turbines, and electric vehicles would require a vast expansion of mining. Does the reader understand what a major mining operation looks like? It isn’t an innocuous hole in the ground. Here’s a description of the Peñasquito silver mine in Mexico:
Covering nearly 40 square miles [100 square kilometers], the operation is staggering in its scale: a sprawling open-pit complex ripped into the mountains, flanked by two waste dumps each a mile long, and a tailings dam full of toxic sludge held back by a wall that’s 7 miles around and as high as a 50-story skyscraper. This mine will produce 11,000 tons of silver in 10 years before its reserves, the biggest in the world, are gone.
To transition the global economy to renewables, we need to commission up to 130 more mines on the scale of Peñasquito. Just for silver.
Similar mines are necessary to meet renewable energy’s increased demand for copper, neodymium, lithium, cobalt, and other minerals. Each takes a bite out of forests and other ecosystems, poisons water tables, and generates vast amounts of toxic waste. Each generates untold social misery to accompany the ecological misery, and a geopolitics just like that of petroleum extraction. One need look no further for an example than the whitewashed coup in Bolivia, which possesses enormous reserves of lithium that the ousted president, Evo Morales, had planned to nationalize.
The other main renewable energy technologies – hydro and biomass – are, when produced at industrial scale, perhaps even more ecologically horrific than mining, leaving dislocated people and destroyed ecosystems. This cannot be what we environmentalists have in mind: to convert Earth’s biota into fuel and her rivers into power plants.
Those who care about this earth, I beg of you: be careful what you ask for. Be careful of making the wrong demands – the too-small demands that actually change nothing and might cause more harm than good. Beware of the go-to solutions that your pressure and your urgency invite. Some of them may be solutions that exacerbate the problem, solutions that are acceptable to established power because they bear no threat to its foundations.
To be sure, fossil fuel extraction wreaks horrible damage to the earth and water, regardless of CO2. Maybe we need to shift the emphasis from carbon – which disallows fossil fuels but allows all kinds of other harm – onto ecocide, which disallows both and sets a new and very different standard for what counts as “green.”
It is time to take a stand for a transition more profound than can be encompassed in carbon metrics. What kind of change is required to know ecocide to be what the word implies – murder?
The deeper causes of climate change are identical to the deeper causes of most of the violence, injustice, and ecological harm on Earth. Some say that cause is capitalism, but the former socialist countries were just as rapacious as capitalist countries, if not more so. I propose that the root cause of ecocide is the world-story of modern civilization. I call it the Story of Separation: the story that holds me separate from you, humanity separate from nature, spirit separate from matter, and soul separate from flesh; that holds full beingness and consciousness to be the exclusive province of the human being, whose destiny is therefore to rise to domination over the mechanical forces of nature to impose intelligence onto a world that has none. The Story of Separation embeds capitalism-as-we-know-it. It scaffolds all of our systems. It mirrors the psychology that has adapted to those systems. Each – story, system, and psychology – perpetuates the others.
The first demand of Extinction Rebellion is that the government tell the truth about climate change, but does it even know the truth? Who is prepared to tell the truth that Earth is alive? That the cause of ecological degradation lies in the deepest stories that civilization tells itself? Who is prepared to tell the truth of what the crisis therefore asks of us – total transformation, an initiation into a new kind of civilization?
3. The Living Planet
A life initiation begins with a crisis that dissolves what you knew and what you were. From the rubble of the ensuing collapse, a new self is born into a new world.
Societies can also undergo initiation. That is what climate change poses to the present global civilization. It is not a mere “problem” that we can solve from the currently dominant worldview and its solution set, but asks us to inhabit a new Story of the People and a new (and ancient) relationship to the rest of life.
A key element of this transformation is from a geomechanical worldview to a Living Planet worldview. The climate crisis will not be solved by adjusting levels of atmospheric gases, as if we were tinkering with the air-fuel mixture of a diesel engine. Rather, a living Earth can only be healthy – can only stay living in fact – if its organs and tissues are vital. These comprise the forests, the soil, the wetlands, the coral reefs, the fish, the whales, the elephants, the seagrass meadows, the mangrove swamps, and all the rest of Earth’s systems and species. If we continue degrading and destroying them, then even if we cut emissions to zero overnight, Earth will still die a death of a million cuts.
That is because it is life that maintains the conditions for life, through dimly understood processes as complex as any living physiology. Vegetation produces volatile compounds that promote the formation of clouds that reflect sunlight. Megafauna transport nitrogen and phosphorus across continents and oceans to maintain the carbon cycle. Forests generate a biotic pump of persistent low pressure that brings rain to continental interiors and maintains atmospheric flow patterns. Whales bring nutrients up from the deep ocean to nourish plankton. Wolves control deer populations so that forest understory remains viable, enhancing rainfall absorption and preventing droughts and fires. Beavers slow the progress of water from land to sea, buffering floods and modulating silt discharge into coastal waters so that life there can thrive. Migratory birds and fish such as salmon transport marine nutrients inland, sustaining the forests. Mycelial mats tie vast areas together in a neural network exceeding the human brain in its complexity. And all of these processes interlock with each other.
In my book Climate – A New Story I make the case that much of the climate derangement that we blame on greenhouse gases actually comes from direct disruption of ecosystems. It has been happening for millennia: drought and desertification has followed wherever humans have cut down forests and exposed soil to erosion. Wouldn’t it be convenient to blame it all on greenhouse gas emissions, and continue to reproduce our material culture using renewable energy?
At the present writing, Australia is suffering unprecedented catastrophic heat, fire, and drought. Australia has also been clearing trees at the rate of 5,000 square kilometers a year. Again, wouldn’t it be convenient to blame it all on global carbon emissions?
The phrase “disruption of ecosystems” sounds scientific compared to “harming and killing living beings.” But from the Living Planet view, it is the latter that is more accurate. A forest is not just a collection of living trees – it is itself alive. The soil is not just a medium in which life grows; the soil is alive. So is a river, a reef, and a sea. Just as it is a lot easier to degrade, to exploit, and to kill a person when one sees the victim as less than human, so too it is easier to kill Earth’s beings when we see them as unliving and unconscious already. The clearcuts, the strip mines, the drained swamps, the oil spills, and so on are inevitable when we see Earth as a dead thing, insensate, an instrumental pile of resources.
Our stories are powerful. If we see the world as dead, we will kill it. And if we see the world as alive, we will learn how to serve its healing.
* * *
The world is alive. It is not just the host of life. The forests and reefs and wetlands are its organs. The waters are its blood. The soil is its skin. The animals are its cells. This is not an exact analogy, but the conclusion it invites is valid: that if these beings lose their integrity, the whole planet will wither.
I will not try to make an intellectual case for the livingness of planet Earth, which would depend on what definition of life I use. Besides, I’d like to go further and say Earth is sentient, conscious, and intelligent as well – a scientifically insupportable claim. So instead of trying to argue the point, I’ll ask the skeptic to stand barefoot on the earth and feel the truth of it. I believe that however skeptical you are, however fervently you opine that life is just a fortuitous chemical accident driven by blind physical forces, a flame of knowledge burns in every person that earth, water, soil, air, the sun, the clouds, and the wind are alive and aware, feeling us at the same time as we feel them.
I know the skeptic well, because I am he. A creeping doubt takes hold of me when I spend a lot of time indoors, in front of a screen, surrounded by standardized inorganic objects that mirror the deadness of the modernist conception of the world.
Surely the exhortation to connect barefoot with the living Earth would be out of place at an academic climate conference or meeting of the IPCC. Occasionally such events indulge a moment of touchy-feely ceremony or trot out an indigenous person to invoke the four directions before everyone enters the conference room to get down to business, the business of data and graphs, models and projections, costs and benefits. What is real, in that world, is the numbers. Such environments – of quantitative abstractions as well as conditioned air, unvarying artificial light, identical chairs, and ubiquitous right angles – banish any life except the human. Nature exists only in representation, and Earth seems alive only in theory, and probably not at all.
“What is real, in that world, is the numbers.” How ironic, given that numbers are the extremity of abstraction. With problems defined by numbers, the “realistic” mind seeks to solve them by the numbers too. My inner math geek would love to solve the climate crisis by evaluating every possible policy according to its net carbon footprint. Each ecosystem, each technology, each energy project, I would assign a greenhouse value. Then I would order up more of this one and less of that one, offsetting jet travel with tree planting, compensating for wetlands destruction here with solar panels there, to meet a certain greenhouse gas budget. I would apply the methods and mindsets that have grown up around financial accounting – money being another way of reducing the world to numbers. (The world of finance is another place where the numbers are what is real.)
Unfortunately, as with money, carbon reductionism ignores everything that seems not to affect the balance sheet. Thus it is that traditional environmental issues such as wildlife conservation, saving the whales, or cleaning up toxic waste get short shrift in the climate movement. “Green” has come to mean “low-carbon.”
In the Living Planet view this is a huge mistake, since the ignored whales, wolves, beavers, butterflies, and so on are among the organs and tissues that keep Gaia whole. By offsetting our air travel miles with tree planting, sourcing our electricity from solar panels, and thereby donning the mantle of “eco-friendly,” we assuage the conscience while obscuring the ongoing harm that our present way of life entails. We imply that “sustainability” means the sustaining of society as we know it, but with non-fossil fuel sources. That’s why established powers have so easily embraced the climate narrative I call carbon reductionism. Even the fossil fuel companies are OK with it, since it means that they can continue business as usual as long as we implement carbon capture technology and geoengineering.
The real threat to the biosphere is actually worse than most people, even on the left, understand; it includes and far transcends climate, and we can meet it only through a multidimensional healing response. Earth is approaching death by organ failure. We live, in the words of naturalist J.B. MacKinnon, in a “ten percent world,” the poetic statistic he uses to describe the decimation of life on Earth that began with the first mass civilizations and accelerated with the industrial era through to the present day. We have today maybe 10% of the whales that lived before commercial whaling. About 10% of the large predatory fish. Half the Asian mangrove swamps. Twenty percent of the Atlantic seagrass meadows. One percent of North America’s virgin forests, and half the number of trees globally. A 30% decline of birds in my lifetime, and a 50%-80% decline in insects. On and on goes the list.
It would sure be nice to be able to blame all of that on a single cause, i.e. climate change. Then we could operate in the familiar territory of reductionism. We would, in principle, know what to do. When the cause comprises a multitude – herbicides, insecticides, noise pollution, electromagnetic pollution, toxic waste, pharmaceutical residue, land development, soil erosion, over-fishing, forest destruction, aquifer depletion, apex predator elimination, and greenhouse effects, each synergistically interacting with the others – then there is no single solution. Not knowing what to do is uncomfortable. It is tempting to escape into the illusion of a single cause. But not knowing is a lot better than thinking, falsely, that we know.
4. New Priorities
With healthy ecosystems, elevated CO2, methane, and temperature might pose little problem. After all, temperatures were higher than today in the early Holocene as well as during the Minoan Warm Period, Roman Warm Period, and Medieval Warm Period, and there was no runaway methane feedback loop or anything like that. A living being with strong organs and healthy tissues is resilient.
Sadly, Earth’s organs have been damaged and her tissues have been poisoned. She is in a delicate state. That is why cutting greenhouse emissions is important. However, a Living Planet view invites a different ordering of priorities than the one that conventional climate discourse suggests. Many of them could translate into actionable demands and policies that governments, businesses, and individuals can adopt right now, with tangible, local effects.
First priority is to protect all remaining primary rainforest and other undamaged ecosystems, like native grasslands, coral reefs, mangrove swamps, seagrass meadows, and other wetlands. All pristine ecosystems are precious treasures. They are reservoirs of biodiversity, regeneration hothouses for life. They hold the deep intelligence of the earth, without which full healing is impossible. They are where Gaia’s memory of health remains intact. At the moment of this writing, the Amazon rainforest is under ferocious assault, and the situation in the second-largest rainforest, the Congo, is even worse. The third-largest, New Guinea, is also seriously threatened by logging and palm oil plantations. In the carbon narrative, these places are already important; in the Living Earth narrative, they are vital organs. If the carbon narrative serves their protection, then fine, but we must not propagate the notion that their value is reducible to their carbon storage.
Second priority is to repair and regenerate damaged ecosystems worldwide. Ways to do that include:
– Massive expansion of marine reserves for ocean regeneration
– Bans on bottom trawling, drift nets, and other industrial fishing practices
– Regenerative agricultural practices that rebuild soil, such as cover cropping, perennial agriculture, agroforestry, and holistic grazing
– Afforestation and reforestation
– Water retention landscapes to repair the hydrological cycle
– Reintroduction and protection of keystone species, apex predators, and megafauna
To perform regeneration effectively, we cannot rely on scalable formulas. Each place is unique. What works in one valley or on one farm may not work in the next. When we see the places and ecologies of this planet as living beings and not ensembles of data, we realized the necessity of intimate place-based knowledge. Quantitative science can be part of developing this knowledge, but it cannot substitute for the close, qualitative observation of farmers and other local people who interact with the land every day through generations.
The depth and subtlety of the knowledge of hunter-gatherers and traditional peasants is hard for the scientific mind to fathom. This knowledge, coded into cultural stories, rituals, and customs, integrates its practitioners into the organs of land and sea so that they can participate in the resiliency of life on Earth. Unfortunately, much of what goes under the name of “development” – even sustainable development – undermines their way of life and subsumes them under the global commodity economy. When development means integration into the global economy, the hard currency to repay development loans and import high-tech goods can only come through the export of natural resources, via logging, mining, and commodity agriculture. Thus, the first two priorities require us to reconceive the whole paradigm of development, along with its associated financial system.
Third priority is to stop poisoning the world with pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, plastics, toxic waste, heavy metals, antibiotics, electromagnetic pollution, chemical fertilizers, pharmaceutical residues, radioactive waste, and other industrial pollutants. These weaken Earth on the tissue level, pervading the entire biosphere to the point where, for example, orcas are now found with PCB levels high enough to classify the orca’s body as toxic waste. Neonicotinoid insecticides pervade terrestrial systems, leading to plummeting insect populations and, following them, declines in birds and the rest of the food web. In the oceans, the basis of the food chain – plankton – is under a parallel assault from agricultural runoff, chemical pollution, seismic surveys, and apex predator decimation. The soil in vast agricultural areas is virtually dead, mere dirt, after decades of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Huge tracts of land on different continents are routinely sprayed with insecticides in hopes of controlling disease vectors or invasive species. The earth’s biota is under constant assault.
The fourth priority is to reduce atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. Abrupt changes to atmospheric composition put more stress on global life systems that development, extraction, and pollution have already dangerously weakened. The ecosystems – in particular forests, savannas, and wetlands – that once anchored patterns of flow are severely damaged. Meanwhile, greenhouse gases have intensified the system’s thermodynamic flux, further disrupting atmospheric patterns and further damaging weakened ecosystems. However, even without elevated greenhouse gases, the massive killing of life would spell disaster. Fossil fuel emissions intensify an already bad situation.
If the reader is disturbed by my assigning greenhouse gas reduction to a lowly fourth priority, consider that emission reduction is an inevitable by-product of the other three priorities. For one thing, to truly protect and repair ecosystems would necessitate a moratorium on new pipelines, offshore oil wells, fracking, tar sands excavation, mountaintop removal, strip mines, and other extraction of fossil fuels, as all of these entail severe ecological damage and risk. To love and care for each precious part of this planet, we have to transform the fossil fuel infrastructure regardless of the greenhouse gas issue.
Furthermore, reforestation and regenerative agriculture can sequester massive amounts of carbon. Estimates vary widely as to how much holistic grazing and no-till organic horticulture can sequester, but top practitioners such as Allan Savory, Gabe Brown, and Ernst Gotsch achieve as much as 8-20 tonnes/Ha annually, while also equalling or exceeding conventional growers in terms of productivity, mostly without chemicals. Given that nearly 5 billion hectares of land are under pasture or cultivation globally, transitioning just 10-25% of it to these methods could offset 100% of current global emissions. Granted, not every farmer or rancher is going to immediately equal the success of gifted innovators like Savory, Brown, or Gotsch, but the potential is enormous. Furthermore, global warming skeptics can support these practices too for their beneficial effects on biodiversity, aquifers, and the water cycle. Healthy soil absorbs rainfall like a sponge, mitigating floods, and then via transpiration releases it over time into the air, extending the rainy season and transporting heat from the surface into the atmosphere where more of it radiates into space. Thus, it contributes to cooling and to resiliency in the face of climate change.
Paradoxically, we do not need to deploy the greenhouse argument to reduce greenhouse gases. The priorities listed above suggest a myriad of concrete, achievable goals of protection and regeneration that, added together, could surpass what the climate movement is calling for, but from different motivation. There are significant points of departure, however. The Living Planet approach rejects big hydroelectric projects because they destroy wetlands, degrade rivers, and alter the flow of silt to the sea. It abhors the biofuel plantations that are overtaking vast areas of Africa, Asia, and South America, since these often replace natural ecosystems and small-scale, sustainable peasant agriculture. It dreads geoengineering schemes such such as whitening the sky with sulfur aerosols. It has little use for giant carbon-sucking machines (carbon capture and storage technology). It looks with horror at the consumption of forests around the world to produce wood chips for converted coal-fired power plants. It is doubtful of huge bird-killing wind turbines and vast photovoltaic arrays on denuded landscapes.
To know Earth as alive is a step toward holding it sacred again. It is a step into reverence for all beings. Isn’t that what the climate uprising really wants to be about?
5. Debt and War
Reverence for all beings is the foundation of a revolution of love. Without reverence, we shuffle the cards without changing the game. Victim becomes perpetrator, perpetrator becomes victim, hate hijacks anger, punishment hijacks justice, defeat begets vengeance, and victory begets new enemies.
Reverence animates the four priorities I have outlined, and they do not and cannot stand apart from other dimensions of global healing. Any issue of social, political, economic, racial, or sexual justice – any restoration of the full humanity of those who have been stripped of it – would be at home among them, not as politically correct add-ons, but as structural components of the same edifice. None can stand without the others. Among these, however, there are two I would like to promote to special status, because they set the tone and template for all the others: debt, and war.
Imagine you are a country, say Ecuador. The world community comes to you in the form of a man waving an Earth flag and says, “Protect your rainforests! Protect your rivers, your wetlands, and your soil! The fate of the world depends on it.” Then he puts down the flag and pulls out a gun, puts it to your head, and adds, “However, you must keep the debt payments flowing,” knowing full well that the only way you can do that is by liquidating precisely those rainforests, rivers, wetlands, and soil. Refuse, and the punishment is swift. The international bond market abandons you. Your currency crashes. Transnational corporations and their nation-state allies regime-change you. The new government, celebrated as “democratic,” institutes austerity, removes barriers to ecological pillage, and is rewarded with yet more development loans.
None of this is happening due to the wickedness of bankers, deep state bureaucrats, military imperialists, or the cabal of illuminati and reptilian ETs that run world affairs behind the scenes. It is happening to serve a systemic necessity for economic growth. A monetary system based on interest-bearing debt requires endless growth to function, and generates endless pressure on all its participants to do something, anything, to bring more of nature into the realm of products and property, and more of relationship into the realm of services.
I was (sort of) joking about the reptilian ETs. It would sure be nice to identify something, or someone, we could battle and dominate to save the world. Conquering evil is the oldest solution in the book, a seductive solution, a false solution which veils complexity and mutes the discomfort of not knowing what do to. But if evil were in charge of the world, all it would have to do is install an interest-based money system, sit back, and watch mayhem ensue.
My book Sacred Economics is one of many that describe what must change for economy to rejoin ecology. A post-growth economics is possible that understands progress in terms other than growth, and wealth in terms other than quantity. For now, I will just mention a first step toward it, something we might, someday soon, demand: large-scale debt cancelation. Debt is familiar to every tube rider, and it is central to the functioning of the world-consuming growth machine.
The growth machine extends market relationships into every corner of life. In a market relationship, each party tries to get the best deal, while other beings become instruments of its own self-interest. The relational baseline is therefore one of hostility. Debt in particular is a form of power-over; as David Graeber says, behind the man with the ledger always stands a man with a gun.
The separation and domination inherent in debt-based economic relations takes extreme form in the phenomenon of war. The war industry consumes vast amounts of money, energy, and material, but the greater threat to the future lies in the fracturing of collective human will. To shift course toward world healing will require solidarity and coherency of purpose. If our creative energies and life forces are used up fighting each other, what will be left to enact this mighty transition? Our ship has been seized by a whirlpool. Maybe, if everyone pulls on the oars, we can escape it; instead, the crew fight each other on the deck as the ship careens toward its doom.
As long as war in all its forms rages upon this planet, none of the four Living Planet priorities will ever come to pass. When reverence is the source of the revolution, then the real revolutionary is the peace worker. War thinking generates a psychic climate inhospitable to reverence, because it dehumanizes the enemy and excludes from the circle of empathy any being that gets in the way of the war effort. Just so, modern economy has objectified nature and excluded from the circle of empathy any being that gets in the way of profit.
War thinking extends far beyond military conflict. Today’s intense political polarization is another of its expressions. Division into opposing camps, dehumanization of the other side, association of moral virtue with the war effort, belief that the solution to our problems will come through victory – all are hallmarks of war. If your political strategy is to inflame the public over the inexcusable, reprehensible people in politics, corporations, or the police, you are waging a war. If you believe the people on the other side are less moral, less ethical, less conscious, or less spiritual than you, you are on the verge of war. So yes, expose the actions that are killing the world. But do not attribute them to the perfidy of the actors, and do not imagine that firing the actors will change the roles.
6. Polarization and Denial
Earlier I referred to the controversial claim that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the present. I would like to revisit that, not because I think it is important to establish one way or another, but because it offers a window onto the aforementioned deeper problem of polarization, which freezes our culture into a holding pattern on practical every important issue, not just climate change.
Hockey stick reconstructions seem to show that today is warmer than any time in the past ten thousand years. On the other hand, skeptics assail the methodological and statistical underpinnings of these studies, and adduce evidence of early warm temperatures such as higher sea levels in the early and middle Holocene, and treelines hundreds of kilometers north of where they are today.
After several years of book research I am confident I could argue either side of the issue. I could, with extensive citations, argue that the Medieval Warm Period (now called the Medieval Temperature Anomaly) was not really that warm after all, and in any event mostly concentrated in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean basin. I could also argue, again citing dozens of peer-reviewed papers, that the anomaly was significant and global. The same goes for pretty much every aspect of the climate debate – I can argue either side well enough to satisfy its partisans.
Already the reader’s hackles might be up that I’m implying an equivalency between the two sides, one of which consists of unscrupulous corporate-funded right-wing pseudo-scientists who let their greed come before humanity’s survival, and the other of humble scientists of integrity backed by self-correcting institutions of peer review that ensure that the consensus position of science approaches ever closer to the truth. Or is it that one side consists of brave dissidents who risk their careers to question the reigning orthodoxy, and the other of groupthinking, risk-averse careerists beholden to the globalist agenda of rabid left-wing “enviros” and “greenies”?
The polarizing invective coming from both sides suggests a high degree of ego investment in their positions and makes me doubt that either side would countenance evidence that contradicts their view. They cannot even agree on what constitutes a fact. Each of the many sides, which range from catastrophist to alarmist to skeptical, seems to occupy its own reality tunnel. Subjecting any contradicting information to hostile scrutiny, each accepts with little question anything that reinforces its own position. Therefore, whichever side is wrong is unlikely ever to find that out. And that, dear reader, includes your side!
In the face of the extreme polarization of Western society today, I’ve adopted a rule of thumb which applies as much to warring couples as it does to politics: the most important issue is to be found outside the fight itself, in what both parties tacitly agree on or refuse to see. To take sides is to validate the terms of the debate, and to keep hidden issues hidden. What do all sides unconsciously agree on? What is taken for granted? What questions are not being asked? Could the ferocity of the debate be obscuring something more important which really needs our attention?
A meta-level tacit agreement in the climate debate is the reduction of the question of planetary health to the question of whether the planet is warming due to greenhouse gases. By pinning alarm over ecological deterioration onto global warming, we imply that if the skeptics are right, then there is no cause for alarm. In the Living Earth paradigm, there is cause for alarm, regardless of which side is right. Beholden to the runaway warming narrative, however, the climate movement must prove the skeptics wrong at all costs – even to the point of excluding evidence of historical warm temperatures, since these do not fit the narrative.
The alarmist camp is channeling into warming an authentic alarm at the anthropogenic deterioration of the biosphere, and the human condition that drives it. Something is indeed horribly wrong; something that implicates everything. Unfortunately, the environmental movement has largely accepted runaway global warming as a proxy for the all-pervading wrongness that is the true object of its dissent. In so doing, I fear that it has ceded sacred ground and agreed to stage the fight on difficult terrain. It has substituted a hard sell for an easy sell. It has substituted a fear narrative (the costs of climate change) for a love narrative (save the precious forests). It has preconditioned care for the earth on the acceptance of a politically charged theory that requires trust in the institution of science along with the systems of authority that embed it. This, at a time when overall trust in authority is, with good reason, on the wane.
As for the skeptics, I am afraid that the “denialist” slur is in many cases accurate. Whether or not there are valid criticisms to be made of establishment climate science, the skeptical position typically is part of a larger political identity that, in order to maintain its solvency, must dismiss every environmental problem along with global warming. Hewing to a position that all is well, climate skeptic blogs usually insist that plastic waste, radioactive waste, chemical pollutants, biodiversity loss, electromagnetic pollution, GMOs, pesticides, etc. are not a problem either; therefore, nothing needs to change.
Fearful of the profound change that is upon us, the climate skeptics are only the most obvious deniers. Perversely, the global warming mainstream perpetuates a kind of denial too, by upholding a vision of sustainability attainable merely by switching energy sources. The common oxymoron of “sustainable growth” exemplifies this delusion, as growth in our time entails the conversion of nature into resource, into product, into money.
Perversely, the dominant global warming narrative facilitates denialism by shifting alarm onto a defeasible scientific theory whose ultimate proof can only come when it is too late. With effects that are distant in space and time, and causally distant as well, it is much easier to deny climate change than it is to deny, say, that whale hunting kills whales, that deforestation dries up the land, that plastic is killing marine life, and so forth. By the same token, the effects of place-based ecological healing are easier to see than the climate effects of photovoltaic panels or wind turbines. The causal distance is shorter, and the effects more tangible. For example, where farmers practice soil regeneration, the water table begins to rise, springs that were dry for decades come back to life, streams begin flowing year round again, and songbirds and wildlife return. One can see all of this without needing to trust the pronouncements of scientific authorities.
Furthermore, while the sincerity and intelligence of most individual scientists is beyond doubt, as an institution science is subject to a collective confirmation bias that has repeatedly led it astray. Witness the recent collapse of two longstanding, nearly universally-accepted orthodoxies: (1) that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat cause arteriosclerosis, and (2) that evolution happens solely through random mutation and natural selection. (This was unquestionable dogma until horizontal gene transfer, epigenetics, and gene self-editing were accepted.) The public’s distrust in scientific authority may not be entirely unjustified, particularly when science, later revealed to be faulty, has so often been invoked to assure us of the safety of pesticides, GMOs, cell phone towers, and various toxic pharmaceutical drugs. That is not to say climate science is wrong; it is to caution against relying on public acceptance of it, when such acceptance is unnecessary from the Living Earth paradigm. The elites tacitly ascribe public resistance to science to irrationality and ignorance, offering patronizing remedies to correct them. Is the take-home lesson of climate change “We should have trusted the scientists”? “We should have listened to teacher”? “We should have believed what authority told us was true”?
Many on the Left hold science (as an institution) to be the last redoubt of sanity in an otherwise degenerate culture, a bulwark against a rising tide of irrationality. What if it is just as flawed as our other institutions? If it is dethroned as the final arbiter of right and wrong, how would we know ourselves as members of Team Good, and self-identify as the light-bearers of reason in a crusade against an ignorance that threatens the very world?
This is not a call to abandon science, but rather to return to its sacred source: humility. Freed of its institutional ossification, science would likely overturn many of the established dogma that its evangelists proclaim as unassailable truths. I am not the only one who has had experiences that science says are impossible nonsense, who has benefitted from healing modalities that science says are quackery, or who has lived in cultures where scientifically unacceptable phenomena were commonplace. This is not to say that the standard narrative of global warming is wrong. I don’t know that at all. It is just that I don’t know that it is right either. What I think is that it is hugely incomplete. That is why I have turned my attention to what I do know, starting with the knowledge that comes through my own bare feet.
That knowledge is the knowledge that Earth is alive. From the Living Earth view rise policies and actions that make sense whichever side of the climate debate is right.
7. Extinction and Purpose
The Living Planet view acknowledges an intimate link between human and ecological affairs. I often hear people say, “Climate change is not a threat to Earth. The planet will be fine. It is only human beings that might go extinct.” If we understand humanity, however, as the beloved creation of Gaia, born for an evolutionary purpose, then we could no more say she will be fine without humans as we could say a mother will be fine if she loses her child. I’m sorry, but she will not be fine.
The aforementioned idea of an evolutionary purpose, while contrary to modern biological science, follows naturally from a view of the world and the cosmos as sentient, intelligent, or conscious. It opens the question, “Why are we here?” and even, “Why am I here?” Gaia has grown a new organ. What is it for? How might humanity cooperate with all the other organs – the forests and the waters and butterflies and the seals – in service to the dream of the world?
I do not know the answers to these questions. I only know that we must start asking them. We must – and not as a matter of survival. Whether as individuals or as a species, we live for something, and if we neglect it then vitality, aliveness, ebbs away. We are not given life merely to survive it.
We are not given life merely to survive it. No organism on Earth merely survives. Each offers gifts to the whole. That’s why an ecosystem becomes weaker when any species is removed from it. Through the lens of pure competition, a species should be better off when its competitor is extinguished, but in fact it is worse off. Again, life creates the conditions for life. By this principle, humans are here to render gifts to the rest of life too; we are here to serve life. We as a civilization have long done the opposite. Nothing less than a total revolution of love, a great turning, will therefore suffice.
Accordingly, movements like Extinction Rebellion cannot, at their root, be about human survival. Its rhetoric speaks of irreversible tipping points, methane feedback loops, twelve years before it is too late, but I refuse to believe that this is what it is about. As I wrote earlier, if global temperatures stopped rising, the rebellious urgency would be no less.
The following scenario demonstrates vividly that the object of our struggle is not actually human survival. A more dreadful possibility lurks behind the proxy fear of extinction. Suppose we are able to continue converting Earth into a giant parking lot, strip mine, and waste dump. Suppose we replace soil with hydroponic farms and vat-grown meat cell cultures. Suppose we migrate our lives entirely into climate-controlled indoor spaces. Suppose we develop space mirrors, carbon-sucking machines, and sky-bleaching chemicals to control global temperatures. Suppose we continue on the course of the last ten thousand years, in which each generation leaves the planet a little less alive than the previous one. And suppose that, as for the last ten thousand years, humanity continues to grow in its measurable wealth. I call this scenario the concrete world, in which nature has completely died, replaced by technology, and we seem hardly to notice as we plug into nature’s artificial digital replacement. Here, the extinction is not of humanity, it is of everything else. I ask you, Is that an acceptable future?
The climate movement has made human survival into the main issue. That is a mistake. Here are three reasons why: (1) It reinforces the valuing of nature for its use to human beings, which is the same mindset that has long facilitated its despoliation. (2) Whether or not it will continue to be true, experience has so far shown us that humans will survive just fine as the rest of life dies – more and more of ourselves, less and less of everything else. (3) It is dishonest to make the issue human survival, when that isn’t really what motivates us. Suppose human survival on a dead world were guaranteed – would we breathe a sigh of relief and join the ecocide?
Extinction Rebellion is (or should be) about what kind of world we want to live in. It is about who we want to be. It is about why we are here and what we serve. It is about turning and standing in service to all life.
Why would we want to serve life? Unlike self-preservation, that desire can only come from love.
Let let us consider one more dimension of extinction. Above I posed a scenario in which nature dies while humanity survives. To even state this, though, implies the separability of humanity and nature. In fact, we are inseparable; we are nature’s expression. Therefore, we cannot actually be “just fine” when the rest of life is dying. It is not necessarily that we cannot survive as the rest die. It is that with each extinction, with every ecosystem and place and species that passes, something of ourselves dies as well. With the shriveling of our relations, we become less whole. We might continue to progress in GDP, in miles traveled, in years lived, in floor space and AC units per capita, in educational attainment, in total consumption, in terabytes, petabytes, and exabytes, yet these endlessly swelling quantities will only mask and distract from a ravening spiritual hunger for all the things they have displaced: connection and belonging, a familiar birdsong that is a little different each time, the smell of spring, the swelling of the buds, the taste of a sun-drenched raspberry, the grandfathers telling stories of a place that the children know well too. With each step into an isolation chamber of our own making, so sharpens our suffering. We see already the symptoms of extinction in ourselves, in rising rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, addiction, self-harm, domestic violence, and other forms of misery that no amount of material wealth can assuage.
In other words, the depletion of life on earth accompanies a depletion of our souls. As we destroy beings, we destroy our own beingness. No longer enmeshed in a web of intimate, mutual relationships, no longer participating in life around us, surrounded by contained, dead things, we become less alive ourselves. We become zombies, wondering why we feel so dead inside. This is the ultimate source of the protests. We yearn to recover life. We want to overturn the Age of Separation.
What do we serve? What vision of beauty beckons us? This is the question we must ask as we pass through the initiatory portal we call climate change. In asking it, we summon a collective vision that nucleates a common story, a common agreement. I do not think the story will be the old future of flying cars, robot servants, and bubble cities overlooking a befouled and barren landscape. It will be a future where the beaches are profuse with seashells again, where we see whales by the thousands, where flocks of birds stretch horizon to horizon, where the rivers run clean, and where life has returned to the ruined places of today.
How do we attain to such a future? I do not know, but I can say this: because the cause of the ecological crisis is everything, the solution involves everything too. All healing is part of Earth healing. If we are to issue demands, or perhaps instead, invitations, let us broaden them to include all in need of healing, even and especially those who seem not important: the prisoners, the destitute, the marginalized, the neglected places and people. Humanity is an organ of Gaia too, and Earth will never be healthy if civilization is not. The social climate, the political climate, the relational climate, the psychic climate, and the global climate are inseparable. A society that exploits the most vulnerable people will necessarily exploit the most vulnerable places too. A society that wages war on other people will, conditioned to violence, surely wreak the same upon the earth. A society that dehumanizes some of its members will always devalue nonhuman beings as well. And a society devoted to healing on one level, inevitably will come to serve healing on every level.
Any act of healing, however small, is a prayer, a declaration of how the world shall be. Can we connect with our love for this hurting, living planet, and channel that love through our hands and minds, our technology and our arts, as we ask, How shall we best participate in the healing and the dreaming of Earth?
Great essay and summative expression of your over all vision. Thanks again for the inspiration. In my own small way I am promoting the goal of ecological civilization and culture to my middle school and high school students at the public charter school I work at. I told them yesterday their generation’s mission is to heal the earth.
dennis okeefe says
The crisis is clearly beyond mankind’s ability to solve. It needs divine intervention but what to do with a humanity that has no faith in a sacred dimension to life? In fact, like an addict, when the bottom is hit, man in desperation will finally take that turn back toward “home”. Then and only then can regeneration begin.
Elisabet Sahtouris, Phd Evolutionbiologist & futurist says
Agree with most of what you say and laud you for saying it! Just puzzled by the apparent contradiction of saying we cannot stop the current econ/pol system but yet ask us to call for bans on the further exploitation of Earth’s ecosystems on which it depends. That seems to say we CAN stop the machine by preventing its expansion, which, by your own logic would stop it.
Glad you recognize how debt money forces the relentless expansion and consequent social destruction, but then say nothing about the growth of alternative currencies that can counter and gradually replace debt money (at least locally) without attacking it. So many working hard on that! I would add (to ending debt money) another thing not doable now, but could happen in a better future: NO land ownership; only leases demanding stewardship.
As for the Living Earth, you make no mention of all this concept’s pioneers, making it sound like a new discovery. Happy you endorse Savory’s work: he quotes me as calling humans a desert-making specie.
On Climate Change: yes, there were mini hot and ice ages from Roman through Renaissance times; Earth fluctuates that way. In the 1980’s Jim Lovelock told me to pray for the real Ice Age more or less due because we were in danger of flipping Earth into a real Hot Age. Personally, I accept the evidence that the latter is happening and unstoppable now (Earth has done them before); that adaptation is the best we can hope for as we do all the things you cite as good in this article. Even if the bulk of humanity does not survive, I believe enough will if we say YES to reverence for Nature; taking Her as our guide and teacher as in all of my own writings; uniting economy into ecology to bring about an Ecosophy: the Wise Society.
Linda J says
Much to chew on here, but it largely rings very true to me. Keep it up, Charles.
At the foundation of human beingness, the origin thought, the way of expressing into life, is a fundamental error. Teaching and dominating via ‘toxic shame’, from the first moments of life and subsequent control and teaching. We initiate and perpetuate the foundation culture, certainly in the west and all that we have touched, through religion and media programming, via fear based shaming as part of the teaching and controlling of the youth, i.e. next generation. Each generation building on the last. This is the base plan, the fundamental issue that if resolved, restores all others. Only then will universal love energy be able to express. All else is bandaids and politicking. If the foundation is love all else is love. And no harm can be done to the other, planet, earth, people, animals, all life is sacred. It starts at home. Nowhere else.
I am writing! Even as I doubt my ability.
Here is a current draft.
Powerful essay. I rarely find formulations of thought I am in such complete agreement and alignment with. One of my teachers called this civilization “the way of Separation” and I have found this to be very useful as an organizing principle, the truth of which has only deepened as I’ve gotten older. It is great to hear someone else come across this broad idea. I further appreciate the distinctions you have made regarding climate change approaches, and the importance of addressing the debt-based banking system driving the chaos. I have followed your work for a while, and appreciate the continued deepening.
I would say the next aspect that this essay leads to is HOW to get one’s personal economics in alignment with this. I have been actively pursuing Contribution Economics for years now (a k a Gandhi’s Parallel Structures, a k a Counter Economics, a k a Permaculture, a k a…) And still the money runs out before the returns on the service work scale up, and I end up getting some job to restart the cash-flow. In the past year, I also acquired debt in order to pay for holistic health care – expensive but absolutely needed – after falling through the system due to a work accident and lousy workers’ comp coverage, etc. Rents are also outrageous most places now. I bring this up not to personalize this, but because for any of the broader changes to take place, we need to be able to take care of ourselves and our basic needs. And for many of us, this has been a decades-long catch-22. Blessings and Gratitude!
Susan Butler says
Back in the early 70s I lived in a way close to what I think Michael would like: I joined a California open land commune, built my own one-room house out of salvage lumber and windows, and got on food stamps for income, which we called “federal grants in experimental ways of living.” I lived comfortably on $28/month in stamps because we had gardens, milk cows, chickens, and seafood from the sea, as well as wood for the stove. We shared what vehicles there were, and did the repairs ourselves. I was young and middle-class and was surprised by how little I missed luxuries like plumbing and electricity. (This was before the internet.) I had what I valued the most, freedom. I had plenty of friends around me and was part of a very exciting and creative social movement pursuing the values I cared about in a powerful way.
We can do this again. The closest mainstream thing today would be something between a co-housing community and a campground. Both of these are happening scenes already, and there are still intentional communities very similar to what I experienced scattered across the globe. It’s way cheaper to live in shared situations of many kinds, and better for people in many other ways too. One problem is our culture of violence that makes it hard for us to get along with each other. Non-violent communication was put forward by Marshall Rosenberg back in the 60s; and today, so many years later, is on the cutting edge of “experimental ways of living” in my view. We have to learn to get together now, smile on your brother, and love one another right now.
🙂 And thanks for yours!
Larry Gioannini says
The solution is in the making; reduction of the human population to that which can be maintained sustainably. It might be managed to minimize suffering by reducing the fertility rate but most likely it will be catastrophic. The above essay deals with secondary aspects of the primary problem of overpopulation.
Wow, Charles, talk about a beauty-love-truth bomb/balm! Feeling the full range of the call, bro!
As for next steps, a group conversational process? An invitation to envision that new world? A means of developing post-separation values and operating principles within a connected feedback system? A discussion of a transitional economic system, given all of your recommendations (and any others that could be made) have economic considerations underlying them?
Ben Ward says
Love the line. “The more we douse ourselves in the perfume of virtue, the more we give off the stench of sanctimony.”
Chris Wilson says
I haven’t been studying the situation for as long or in such depth as you have, but I’m in complete agreement, including the way you write about scientific ‘truth’. Your ‘concrete future’ scenario (where we abandon Nature and simulate bits of it artificially) sounds & feels to me very much like the scenario that Rudolf Steiner envisaged 100 years ago in his lectures on Lucifer and Ahriman, the ‘twin devils’, one of Light, the other of Darkness. His vision of Ahriman was that this cosmic Being would make us become so fascinated by our own ability to manipulate the material world, that we might forget our spiritual roots altogether and be dragged down into an impenetrable spiritual darkness. The transcripts of these lectures, in a book called Lucifer and Ahriman, are still available from the Steiner Book Centre, if you haven’t come across it I would recommend a read.
Thank you for reminding me, again and again, of the more beautiful world my heart knows is possible.
Please continue, I am listening. My heart is opening. My eyes are seeing. My hands are working the soil. I am beginning to heal.
Richard Welker says
Charles has added a much needed layer to the dialogue. The example below is why I think he is correct about the revolution is love.
Last night in Santa Fe, NM, 60 people attended an emergency meeting of the southside community. An asphalt company has filed a State permit application to move part of their facility from one side of the highway to the other where they have an existing plant, thereby merging their divided operation. The permit would give them more hours to operate, especially at night when most roads are paved. It would also streamline their operation.
The area where this operation is located is adjacent to a low to mid income residential area with many children, schools and working families. The residents are deeply concerned that they are increasingly becoming a sacrifice zone for expanding industrial activity: toxic fumes, increased truck traffic, gravel spills, water and air quality degradation, diminished land values, and environmental racism.
The asphalt company is heavily contracted with the city and county to pave streets. They argue that everyone needs roads and that in consolidating the operation, they will save money, reduce emissions and actually decrease net operations. They say their dispersion computer models show that they will not only be in compliance with local, county, state and EPA guidelines but that when measured from their fence line, on average, toxic emissions will be well below EPA “Standard.”
In an effort to justify their consolidation to the alarmed residents, the asphalt company presented a difficult-to -see slide show of projections, graphs, relocation charts, air quality dispersion models and compliance data. They indicateed the tacit support of the State Environmental Department and presented a line of 5 or 6 state bureaucrats responsible for processing the more than 100-page permit.
The meeting boiled down to this: “We” the asphalt company are justified in going ahead because we are in complete compliance with all regulations which we have just shown with our presentation. We are even moving our operation slightly further away from the residences, paving the roads to keep down dust and getting rid of our messy generators to go on line power.
“WE” the community, on the other hand, are deeply suspicious of the EPA , the state and their notoriously inadequate standards and enforcement. We smell the asphalt fumes, get headaches, have witnessed the dangerously driven semi’s spilling gravel on the roads, and don’t trust assurances that “YOU” the company, won’t wind up producing more emissions than you do now. We are concerned about our property values cut in half. We have lodged numerous complaints in the past that never get addressed despite assurances by the state that they must comply with the “standards.” and remediate immediately any violations. We feel alarmed that the company hasn’t addressed the slightest concern for our health because when we suggest they use the latest technology to capture toxic gasses, the company says that it will drive them out of business. Anyway, they say it isn’t required. The community wants the company to find some other place to put their activity.
The state and the company respond that despite growing residential development on the southside, the land adjacent is zoned industrial and there are no other places to put the company operations. Essentially, if permitted, the community is simply going to have to live with the asphalt companies operation.
This issue, like so many others we now face, represents the fact that our civilization has collided with itself in a hopelessly irreconcilable conflict. Every one has cars and needs roads. Roads are made of asphalt, which is made by heating extracted oil and mixing it with crushed rock, giving off toxic fumes.
Everyone also needs clean air, water, and sanctuary, a space free from dangerous machinery. But in our industrial based society, our life is increasing incompatible with the way we provide for our life. Thus, in one meeting, there is a split, a separation, the battle lines are drawn and a hopeless gap develops between the two polarities. There is anger, fear and blame. Suddenly, it is the corporation versus the community. Conflict metabolizes into war. But the truth is, we are all in this together.
This is to me, exactly the conundrum that the Revolution is Love is trying to articulate. I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t read the essay. Very profound indeed.
John Clancy says
In the beginning of this essay, Charles suggests that the language of demand may be inappropriate for bringing the More Beautiful World into being. By issuing demands that can’t be fulfilled because they require the dismantling of the basic structures of our society and the basic way we relate to life we make those in power into enemies when the demands go unfulfilled. Shortly thereafter, Charles stated the four priorities that we “should” take in order to abandon ecocide and social injustice and embrace regeneration and equality. I wondered how he was going to resolve this possible conflict. He did so, I think, when he suggested the word “invite” instead of “demand.” And though this may seem a distinction without a difference as well as wishful thinking, it reminded me of the oft told story of the mother seagull. Her eggs had been taken by the ocean on the outgoing tide. She so loved her children that she started emptying the ocean, one beak full at a time. All the other birds told her she had begun an impossible task, but the mother kept at it. Her love-fueled persistence inspired other birds to help her; soon there were many. The king and queen of the birds took notice, then the ocean took notice and returned the mother’s eggs to shore. I believe there are many avenues, including political ones, to manifesting the more beautiful words. I pray that all such actions become invitations to all.
Newton Finn says
I think that Charles and his readers/listeners will appreciate this excerpt from William James about a once-famous, now forgotten scientist/philosopher who, at the beginning of the 19th Century, also experienced and explained (to the extent that it can be explained) the living reality of Gaia.
Carlos B says
As part of a local XR group in Spain I listen to Charles words I can’t but she that we should move the focus from expecting the Government to take action to creating the sociopolitical conditions that make that action unavoidable for the power structures not to lose all legitimacy.
We need new texts, novels, fairytales, movies, series, parties, festivals, clubs, sports, cultural events and any human culture manifestation to support and deepen the new story, contributing to create the conditions to make the necessary changes.
Let’s start with what we have influence on: our friends, our family, our school, our colleagues, etc.
Let’s reach out for allies that help us feel sane and craft new spaces where we can all meet, one open hearts, share our minds, making this epic mission not only bearable but a nice and fun one.
Let me end with a reminder that we can only do this TOGETHER!
Carlos B says
Please edit my last comment and replace she with share.
Prof. Rupert Read says
Charles; this is an excellent and important piece. It makes some really good points of gentle critique and offers a fascinating frame through which to re-view XR.
There are however, as I see it, some problems with it that I’d like to draw to your attention:
>Your creation of a kind of equivalence between climate-deniers and climate-scientists is not legitimate. [This is also the main problem I have with your book on Climate.] I work alongside the world’s leading climate scientists, at the University of East Anglia. There is simply no comparison between them and the thuggish rabble of truth-allergic deniers who have tried to make their (and my) lives a misery, and who nearly drove my colleague Phil Jones to suicide.
>I don’t see your piece acknowledging the importance of a precautionary approach: such an approach already gives us most of what we need, without our having to rely excessively on the details of climate-science, a reliance which you attack. See e.g. https://fooledbyrandomness.com/climateletter.pdf .
You misrepresent XR in some significant ways:
>XR does NOT, unlike most previous movements, slag off individuals for not being virtuous enough; we do not do blaming and shaming, but we instead take precisely the kind of system-change approach that you want to recommend, an approach upon/according-to which we are all in this together. (See e.g. 1-3 minutes into this: https://youtu.be/hTY3W0dbq_s ).
>You don’t seem aware that XR >isYour criticism of anthropocentrism in ‘the climate movement’ is on one level quite justified, but on another level risks being ignorant of the need, if we are to appeal to more of the ‘iceberg’ of our potential support than just 3.5%, to appeal to a broad swathe of people some of whom are not much moved by nature or non-human animals. Some of this swathe ought to be / can be activated by appealing to their and their kids’ vulnerability. That isn’t an objectionable anthropocentrism; it’s just a pragmatism in the face of the emergency. It’s how we become broad-based and escape an activist ghetto. See e.g. https://vimeo.com/389093326 for THIS new story.
>Your beautiful widening of the lens to encompass all that we care about and the deep level at which the paradigm surely needs changing is music to my ears, and to Dee’s I bet, and to many others. BUT it risks obscuring the sense in which, in order to be an effective emergency-response, XR needs to be broad-based, and cannot risk relying focally on the call for spiritual transformation. I am right with you in that call [I’ll be teaching a course at Schumacher College, with Dee, in May], but again if we insist on such a spiritual approach from all in our movement, then our movement will fail. We need rather to build an overlapping consensus of those who are in this for a variety of reasons: a movement of movements. [See e.g. https://www.vladvexler.com/conversation-w-rupert-read-of-extinction-rebellion/ for some detail on this.]
Only then will we have a real chance of reaching critical mass.
Hope you find these thoughts and reactions (and links etc) useful; naturally I’d love to dialogue on them.
With thanks again for your powerful and much-needed voice; Rupert Read.
Bruce Bisset says
on balance i can’t decide if this is subtly nuanced denialism or just slightly confused pontification. certainly it would present as a sounder argument if you understood what XR was actually about, Charles, before you start slagging it. look up regenerative culture, eg.
Larry CHRISTENSEN says
I agree with much of what you write about especially seeing the source of our global and personal problems as believing in the story of separation that the universe evolved for us. It’s not our fault but now is our responsibility. This is an enormous problem to change and even if we save the climate/earth from changing so much that humans are no longer alive this issue in universal consciousness will continue as life continues to change and grow. Our efforts to change this separation believe should be at the heart of our efforts even if we don’t make it. That is because all of life is based in consciences and what is learned is never forgotten. What we learn together, and not just intellectually but more importantly experientially, is far more important that wether humans survive. We are life and life/universe will always survive since it never was born, never absent.
Mia Manners says
I grimaced for a moment, in fear, that you had become some part of the problem and not the solution….I once pushed for all things to be concrete in terms of saving the rain forests, eating organic, local and seasonal, running my own ‘Green’ consultancy…then something happened, and i realised I was part of the problem, and needed to do the work on Who Am I…I opposed XR for many reasons, least of all, the fighting aspect against the plebs…And now this essay has given me so much…a Healing , and a Big Remembering as to why life on earth is as much a part of all intracellular energetic systems of All universal aspects, bridging our divinity as children here in this dimension…You are a very wise man…
Brittany Renee Martinez says
This is a WHOLE truth. Like a ripe apple. My heart, mind, and body all melted together in the delight of this reading. What mastery to step outside of the fray and look into the conflict from a new dimension of understanding. This is the work of the prophet. To see the whole tapestry from a distance, while living the story on the cloth. Blessed be, Charles. May the gods carry your message on wings to all those fertile souls ready to hear this truth. May it bring healing and transformation to our collective consciousness. May you be blessed for your courage and your faith.
Barbara Vaile says
And here we are with the Covid-19 prompt to be local. Reclaim our attention. Time to think our own thoughts . . . about how this is improving our balance and how to best be with our precious personal energy..
Has anyone else been concerned that we are the only life form that does not feed itself — that we have organized systems on Earth to deliver to our mouths our bites?
We have managed to imperil most of all other life — we are living in a 10% world Charles says above.
If we all get better at loving right at home . . . Earth will heal. Keeping in mind that we are in it together. A moratorium on wars begun over drought and famine. . . Debt forgiveness. Love is the energy of the universe.
My mantra: There is enough for all to share.
Danny Shelton says
An interesting and useful read with many useful points. However, I have to say that I think you have misrepresented or misunderstood some of the core concerns and approaches taken by the majority of XR members. It feels like you may have spent a very small amount of time with members or at an action, and a much larger amount of time looking at how it has been viewed from a distance. As others have already commented a central focus of all XR objectives is the support and growth of a regenerative culture. I am yet to meet a member who does not understand this as a central requirement for any sort of meaningful transformation that will address the multiple planetary issues that we face. There is also a very widespread understanding that this is not simply a carbon issue but a relational issue. Your articulation of the separation narrative may not be replicated with the same level of elegance across the movement but it is without doubt fundamentally understood by a huge majority of members.
The chosen methods of interaction are imperfect as we live in and are part of an imperfect world, but again I think you misunderstand the focus on extinction; you paint it as an anthropocentric concern but again this is not at all reflective of my personal experience with members of XR. All of the members I have stood with and worked with understand that there is so much more being lost at this very moment. Saying that the movement is overly concerned with the utilitarian value of Earth and its biological systems is either a misrepresentation or a misunderstanding on your part. Ecocide is again a core tenant of the movement and many of us have been telling this story since Polly Higgins started it in earnest. Clearly radical transformation is required but that does not mean that imminent green house gas tipping points are irrelevant or ill conceived points to exercise in a comprehensive communication strategy.
Finally whilst I appreciate your framing of how we achieve change not through legitimising existing power struggles and find this useful in considering how best to proceed, at the same time there are powerful interests who are not yet ready to release their extractive structures whilst vast profit remains untapped in the ground. With this, and our understanding that love and connection are central to the changes that are need, I still cannot ignore the words of Frederick Douglass “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Charles, this essay touched me deeply, as you speak from that important place of the middle: the heart. Like your essays on Coronavirus and Conspiracy Theories you manage to create an authentic heart space without being equivocal. Your message is subtle, beautiful and inspiring: we are being asked to live in the uncertainty of the middle and to love being there. The Separation you speak of is so pervasive and divisive, and we so easily fall on one side or other, your solution of the all-encompassing synthesis of this division informed by love, will resonate with many people who are concerned with the extreme positions that are taken in the climate debate, ( and in fact in all debates).
I would say to all those on either side of the climate argument, listen to where your motivation comes from: is it from a place of love or a place of fear? The ‘climate denier’ who belittles the actions of young people like Greta Thunberg as ‘misguided’ or ‘manipulated’, the XR climate activist who believes ‘rage’ is ok (it’s in your strapline); both sides are acting in the less-than-full unconditional love zone that will be required for the future healthy development of people and planet. Charles, What you bring as a seed for future action is so inspiring. Thank you!
kamir bouchareb st says
kamir bouchareb st says
very good thank you
kamir bouchareb st says
good article thanks
kamir bouchareb st says
Andrew Macdonald says
Eisenstein’s ideas are great. What do to with them though is the “question”? Part of me wants to build a Manhattan-style project to make them fissionable, and then we could blow the world up with an atomic bomb of “love”. Of course building the reactors and infrastructure for such a project is an enormous task, but then I remembered that “natural” nuclear reactors, first postulated by University of Arkansas professor Dr. Paul Kuroda in the early 1950s have been discovered (their remnants anyway) and one of them found in the state of Gabon in West Africa, in the Oklo mines, operated for approximately 150 millions years, running like clockwork the whole time with a thirty minute reaction cycle – natural deposits of Uranium would react and create sufficient heat to boil off natural groundwater, which then seeped back into the fissures and “moderated” and cooled the reaction – imagine that? 150 millions years!
Anyway, natural nuclear reactions aside, dirty” bombs of love are probably the way to go. They are not as sexy as a big fissionable explosion, but in the long run may be safer and work faster. Instead of “explosions” we need to just think “contamination”. Let’s all get out there and contaminate the world with love and respect for our fellow beings and all life. If we think of love as a pathogen that is contagious (like a virus) then maybe we can infect everything and everybody in no time! Of course there will always be people who have built up an immunity to love, like our President, but I believe the vast majority of folks worldwide are susceptible to an infection.
kamir bouchareb st says
Rose Perkins says
I found the piece inspiring, although I have to confess my heart sank when I saw the admiring reference to Alan Savory. His work has largely been discredited, and perpetuates a harmful and misleading narrative that denies the major role that livestock plays in the destruction of the natural world. I’ve posted a link below to an article that’s a good starting point for a critical appraisal of his work. A word of constructive criticism – please don’t equate science with left-brained reductionism. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but this is the impression I’ve gained from reading some of your articles (and from your endorsement of Alan Savory who is essentially anti-science). Science done well (based on the principles of truth, transparency, accountability, openness to criticism, hypothesis building and testing) is completely compatible with the ‘beautiful world’ you envision. In fact, as a scientist myself, I believe it’s essential for it. https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2017-2-march-april/feature/allan-savory-says-more-cows-land-will-reverse-climate-change%3famp.
Rosemary Perkins says
Some more thoughts regarding the the role and value of the scientific process – it is open to criticism and our scientific knowledge is constantly evolving. The fact that some hypotheses are disproved is not a sign that science doesn’t work, but that it does. Whilst not perfect, science is one of the last bastions of truth that we have and we disregard and denigrade it at our peril. Having just published a critical review of a pharma-funded paper that was misleading regarding the harmful effect of pesticides – that was published by the same peer-reviewed journal that published the original article – I can assure that the system largely works despite it’s imperfections. As a scientist it is enormously frustrating to see non-scientists failing to understand this. Scientific consensus amongst experts who have spent their lives and careers studying a subject is one of the most powerful tools we have for understanding the world. I would never dream of challenging the consensus of the experts who have concluded that smoking causes cancer. Similarly, I would not dream of challenging the consensus of 98% of climate scientists who agree on the principles of anthropogenic climate change. That would be sheer arrogance – I know enough to appreciate how little I know, relative to people who have spent their lives studying it (and as an aside, there’s an interesting paper that found the small number of papers that differ from the scientific consensus contain fundamental flaws). Science is hard. Damn hard. With all due respect, have a little humility, and respect for the people who do it well. Humility, respect and love needed all round.
Rosemary Perkins says
Final caveate (yes I have been overthinking this – but it’s important). My previous comments may be taken to mean that we should never question science or the scientific consensus. Of course we should – as I stated, our knowledge is constantly evolving and openness to legitimate criticism is a fundamental component of the scientific process. But best to have a pretty darn good reason for challenging it – based on a deep knowledge of the field and the existing scientific literature. Not on ‘knowledge’ gleaned from online conspiracy sites. Yes, bias exists in science , but this where collective discourse, peer review and evidence is so valuable – we can challenge each other’s biases and conflicts of interest within the scientific discourse. As usual, balance generally the best approach. Link to our previously mentioned peer- reviewed paper doing just that: https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-021-00533-8