Most people have passed through some kind of initiation in life. By that, I mean a crisis that defies 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 pass through an 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. In my last essay, I argued that 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 would 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, allowing 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. 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.
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 Living Planet View
And in fact, 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 tiny 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 considered real in those places are the numbers – how ironic, given that numbers are the quintessence of abstraction, of the reduction of the many to the one. The data-driven mind seeks to solve problems 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 many to the one.
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 habitat 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 generates. We imply that “sustainability” means the sustaining of society as we know it, but with non-fossil fuel sources.
This is not to say that it is fine to continue burning fossil fuels as always. In reaction to my last essay, some people labeled me a climate denier or a tool of climate deniers. This is a natural reaction in a highly polarized environment in which the first lens applied to any person or position is “Which side are you on?” In a war setting, any information, however true, that is inconsistent with our side’s narrative must be rejected as rendering aid and comfort to the enemy. When both sides do that, the result is a binary choice that shuts out any alternative that may lie outside either pole and even outside the spectrum of opinion that the two poles define. Furthermore, shutting out conflicting data means that each side becomes impervious to growth, change, and truth.
Thus it is that the Living Planet view (as I interpret it) elicits hostility not only from the anti-environmentalist right but also from the global warming alarmist left – even though the left at least is temperamentally aligned with its premise. Their hostility originates in the implication that I will now draw out: that global warming is not the main threat to the biosphere, and that focusing on carbon emissions and clean energy is not the highest priority response.
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.
Are greenhouse gas emissions a problem? Yes. They put more stress on global life systems that development, ecocide, and pollution have already dangerously weakened. Here is a loose analogy: Imagine that Earth’s winds and currents, flows of temperature and moisture, and life-sustaining weather patterns are like a gigantic meandering garden hose, perforated with tiny holes to irrigate plants. Imagine that these plants have grown around the hose to hold it more or less in place. Now uproot those plants (destroy ecosystems) at the same time as you increase the water pressure dramatically (greenhouse forcing). Without the plants holding it down, the hose begins to writhe and kick and run completely awry, no longer delivering water to where it needs to go.
On the real Earth, the ecosystems – in particular forests, savannas, and wetlands – that once anchored patterns of flow into place 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.
Reordering of Priorities
With healthy ecosystems, elevated CO2, methane, and temperature might pose little problem. After all, temperatures were arguably (this is extremely controversial) 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:
First priority is to protect all remaining primary rainforest and other undamaged ecosystems. Particularly important are mangrove swamps, seagrass meadows, and other wetlands, especially on the coasts. These forests and wetlands are precious treasures, reservoirs of biodiversity, regeneration hothouses for life. They hold the deep intelligence of the earth, without which full healing is impossible.
The second priority is to repair and regenerate damaged ecosystems worldwide. Ways to do that include:
- A 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
- Protection of apex predators and megafauna
The third priority is to stop poisoning the world with pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, plastics, PCBs, heavy metals, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers, pharmaceutical waste, 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. Pesticides and habitat destruction are also causing a massive die-off of insects, amphibians, birds, soil biota, and other life, weakening Gaia’s ability to maintain herself.
The fourth (and still important) priority is to reduce atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. To a large extent, this result will be a by-product of the other three priorities. Both reforestation and regenerative agriculture can sequester massive amounts of carbon. Furthermore, 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. The Living Planet view also supports certain carbon-motivated proposals that have broader ecological and social benefits: rooftop solar, local diets and local economies, bikeable cities, smaller passive-solar houses, demilitarization, repairable rather than disposable goods, and reuse and upcycling. 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.
Paradoxically, we do not need the greenhouse argument to reduce greenhouse gases. By following the priorities listed above, we will achieve (and perhaps surpass) most of what the mainstream climate movement is calling for, but from a 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 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.
Polarization and Denial
In the preceding section, 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 a deeper problem that freezes our culture into a holding pattern on numerous issues, not just global warming. The deeper problem is polarization.
Hockey stick reconstructions seem to show the contrary to the Medieval Warm Period assertion – 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 then adduce evidence of early warm temperatures such as higher sea levels in the early and middle Holocene.
After a couple years of book research, I am confident I could argue either side of the issue. I could, with impressive research 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 impress its partisans.
Already the reader’s hackles might be up for 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.
In the face of the extreme polarization of American (and to some degree 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 participate in the ignoring of hidden issues.
A meta-level tacit agreement in the climate debate is the reduction of the question of planetary health to the question of whether temperatures are hotter now than X years ago. By pinning alarm over ecological deterioration onto global warming, we imply that if the skeptics are right, then there is no cause for alarm. So 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.
What is the motive to prove them wrong at all costs? With apologies to the right-wing climate blogosphere, it isn’t to further the diabolical plots of George Soros and Al Gore to implement a socialist One World Government. The motive is a well-founded alarm at the state of the planet. The alarmist camp is channeling into warming an authentic alarm at the anthropogenic deterioration of the biosphere. Basically, both sides have agreed to equate catastrophe with runaway global warming and to debate about that as a proxy for the larger issue of planetary health. In so doing, I fear the environmentalists have ceded sacred ground and agreed to stage the fight on difficult terrain. They have substituted a hard sell for an easy sell. They have substituted a fear narrative (the costs of climate change) for a love narrative (save the whales). They have 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 on the wane – and for good reason.
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 coherency, must dismiss every environmental problem along with global warming. Hewing to a position that everything is fine, climate skeptic blogs usually insist that plastic waste, radioactive waste, chemical pollutants, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gases, GMOs, pesticides, etc. are not a problem; therefore, nothing needs to change. Resistance to change is at the core of psychological denial. On some level, the woman knows she has cancer, but to admit that would require that she quit smoking. The man knows that his marriage is falling apart, but to admit that would require he stop working all the time. And to quit requires a further investigation into what drives these addictions.
So also with our civilization: on some level, we know that the way we are living – more, the way we are being – is destroying our health and our marriage (to the rest of life). We sense a growing unhappiness underneath our collective addiction to consumption and growth. And, we know that we stand on the brink of an initiation into an entirely different kind of civilization. A profound change is upon us, and, fearful of that change, we deny that anything is the matter. The climate skeptics are only the most obvious deniers, but 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. Instead, we can embrace the full metamorphosis of civilization and enter a world where development no longer means growth, where the abstract no longer precedes the real, and where the measurable no longer subjugates the qualitative.
One aspect of this shift is the recovery of non-quantitative ways of knowing, those beyond what we call scientific, data-driven, or metric-driven. Let me come out of the closet here: I do not trust climate science, nor the institution of science generally. Generally, I trust the sincerity and intelligence of individual scientists, but as an institution science is subject to a kind of collective confirmation bias mediated by its institutions of publication, grants, academic promotion, and so on. My distrust is also partly personal: I’ve had many experiences that science says are impossible nonsense. I have researched and benefited from healing modalities that science says are quackery. I have lived in cultures where scientifically unacceptable phenomena were commonplace. I have seen scientific consensus fail (for example in the lipid hypothesis of arteriosclerosis). And I see how deeply embedded science is in an obsolescent civilizational world-story. This is not to say that I know the standard narrative of global warming is wrong. I don’t know that at all. It is just that I don’t know it is right either. That is why I have turned my attention to what I DO know, starting with the knowledge that comes through my own bare feet.
The Living and the Local
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 to the area. This is visible without needing to trust distant scientific institutions.
The regenerated soil also happens to store a lot of carbon. Carbon is the atomic basis of life – the very word organic means carbon-containing. We may come to understand atmospheric CO2 levels as a kind of ecological barometer that tells us how successful we have been in restoring life to Earth.
Soil regeneration typifies the intrinsically local, place-based application of the Living Planet paradigm. In contrast, because numbers and metrics are generic – a ton of carbon here is the same as a ton of carbon there – conceiving the ecological crisis in the quantitative terms of CO2 levels encourages globalized, standardized solutions, which are evaluated in terms of their measurable carbon impact. One result has been widespread planting of ecologically and culturally inappropriate trees, which sometimes end up creating disastrous knock-on effects. The carbon stored in their biomass is measured, but not the carbon lost when they use up available groundwater and die thirty years later, leaving the soil barren and vulnerable. Nor do we measure the diffuse ecosystem effects that ensue, nor the pest management costs, nor the disruption of traditional livelihoods that drives urbanization. Such are the perils of metrics-based decision-making: we ignore what we choose not to measure, what is hard to measure, and what is immeasurable.
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 and through generations.
The depth and subtlety of the knowledge of hunter-gatherers and traditional peasants are 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.
Ritual and Relationship
One of the puzzles of climate science is the persistence of the Holocene Optimum – ten thousand years of anomalously stable climate that has allowed civilization to flourish. Science, as far as I can tell, attributes this basically to good luck. I have encountered among indigenous people a completely different explanation: that the rituals performed by cultures who were in a good relationship with the spirits of the earth maintained conditions conducive to human well-being. Indigenous cultures were in constant communication with other-than-human beings, supplicating or negotiating for ample and timely rains, mild winters, and so forth. But they weren’t merely praying for good weather, they also saw themselves as upholding the long-term relationships with natural powers that were necessary to maintain a world fit for human habitation. Some Dogon I once encountered told me that climate change is the result of removing sacred ritual artifacts from Africa and other places and transporting them to museums in Europe and North America. Dislocated and ritually neglected, they can no longer exercise their geospiritual function. The Kogi say something similar: not only must sacred sites on Earth be protected or the planet will die, but also we must maintain the proper ceremonial relationship to those places.
The modern mind tends to reduce such practices to helplessly superstitious prayers for rain. Our theory of causality has little room to recognize the efficacy of ceremony and ritual to maintain local or global climate equilibrium. I for one am prone to accept indigenous beliefs and practices at face value because I believe that the modern understanding of physical, force-based cause and effect has blinded us to other, mysterious layers of causality. But if you prefer to hold on to modern causality, modern ecology, and modern climate science, you might still validate the rituals of place-based cultures as inseparable from an entire way of life, which in mundane, practical ways included care for water, earth, and life. What motivates this care? It is respect for all beings and systems as sacred living beings. In that mindset, of course, one seeks to communicate with them.
The upshot is not that we should imitate indigenous rituals, but to learn the worldview behind them – the worldview that located them within a living, intelligent, sacred world. Then we will be able to translate that understanding into our own systems of ritual (the ones we call technology, money, and law).
To a primal part of my psyche, it seems obvious that human affairs affect the climate through vectors of symbol and metaphor. This intuition is not so far from the medieval view that social iniquity brought down God’s wrath in the form of natural disasters. As I write this the rain pours down on the farm; having filled all the culverts and basins, it is now breaching the swales, wreaking destruction, carrying off topsoil. Fourteen inches already and still it pours. Meanwhile, the American Southwest suffers record heat and extreme drought. The inequitable distribution of rainfall mirrors the unequal distribution of wealth in our society. So much here that one knows not what to do with it; so little there that life itself becomes impossible. Our culture too has its rituals: we manipulate the symbols we call money and data in the magico-religious belief that physical reality will change thereby. And it does – our rituals are powerful. Yet they bear a hidden price. As other cultures understood, to invoke magic for selfish ends inevitably brings disaster. Sooner or later, a deranged Earth climate will follow derangement in the social climate, political climate, and psychic climate. I may be projecting meaning onto noise, but 2018, a year of extreme polarization in human affairs, has also been a year of extreme polarization of temperature: heat in some places and seasons, cold in others.
What is a human being for?
The Living Planet view, by which I mean the conscious ensouled 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 questions, “What are we for?” “Why are we here?” and “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 by asking them. We must – not as a matter of survival. Whether as individuals or as a species, we live for something. We are not given life merely to survive it. 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 forms the nucleus of a common story, a common agreement. I do not know what it will be, but I do not think it is the old future of flying cars, robot servants, and bubble cities overlooking a befouled and barren landscape. It is a world where the beaches are littered with seashells again, where we see whales by the thousands, where flocks of birds cover the sky, where the rivers run clean, and where life has returned to the ruined places of today.
We live for something. We may not have a grand vision of human destiny to guide us, yet still an internal compass points the way. Following it means stepping into our care. Serving it, we feel, yes, this is why I am here. Maybe your care will guide you to conventional climate marches and the like, or maybe it will guide you to heal and protect a tiny part of Earth, or maybe to address the social climate, the spiritual climate, the relational climate – the health of the new organ of Gaia we call humanity. Some of these activities have no discernible effect on carbon footprint, yet intuition tells us that all are part of the same revolution. A society that exploits the most vulnerable people will necessarily exploit the most vulnerable places too. A society devoted to healing on one level inevitably will come to serve healing on every level.
I can now be more precise about the nature of the initiation I referenced at the outset. Its driving question is, Why are we here? – a key landmark of the maturation process into adulthood. We might, therefore, understand the present convergence of crises as an initiation into collective adulthood – the graduation of modern civilization into its purpose. This is not about survival; that is why the fear narrative, the cost-benefit narrative, the existential threat narrative does not serve the cause of ecological healing. Can we replace it with the love narrative? With the beauty narrative? The empathy narrative? Can we connect with our love for this hurting living planet, and look at our hands and minds, our technology and our arts, and ask, How shall we best participate in the healing and the dreaming of Earth?
Good essay. It makes sense that the environmental crisis can’t be reduced to focusing on the single issue of global warming/climate change due to carbon emmissions. Perhaps it’s become that way because the multitude of problems appear too hard to fight all at once, like a war on too many fronts. The powers that think they are love this, because it’s a distraction in a way. One that keeps everyone busy with an unwinnable argument. Sadly, all the arguments about the environment are equally unwinnable because, to those in ‘authority’, the only thing that matters is money, and any concessions they make are just little crumbs to shut up dissenting voices.
The problems are not too many. Actually, as you’ve pointed out, it’s singular: it’s the attitude held by the power-holders towards nature and our place in it. It’s too bad, Charles, that mostly you’re preaching to the choir. That’s not to say it’s your fault, or that you should stop. It’s that those who aren’t listening to this message, regardless of the source, are too invested in keeping things as they are. Unfortunately, they will not hear it short of a full-on catastrophe, no matter the cause, or causes, of it, just as you mentioned about the moot point of ‘proof’ about global warming. As long as we wait for them, the ‘experts’ and the governments, to come up with solutions, we really are doomed. Until the majority of humans can begin to take significantly effective, collective action themselves, the situation will not improve. That’s how I see it, anyway. I can only hope I”m wrong.
Dear Karin .
Thamks for your assumption – and yes you are wrong. Human brain is also a part of the overall net of breeings .. and thetefore part of a collective Transformation, which is taken part now!!! So good to meet real persons here . Live in Switzerland
Greetings marion Tiefenökologie @geistigesgaertnern
Lisa Fitzhugh says
What happens for me when I read your writing, listen to your podcasts or watch your short video asking for help for your new website….what happens is a surge of love for the effort, for the expression and what feels immanently hopeful. It’s so hard to watch the collapse AND read news and other source material that see no relevance in the immaterial. So on this day of September, a day before the fated 9/11, I read your new essay and climb more out of my fog, knowing that what I must do tomorrow is to seek out beauty and soil and wind and be present with what feels most alive in the massive urban crush of Seattle. The size and scope of this transformational crisis is overwhelming most days but you have reminded me to press my feet into the ground for now and remember there are others feeling as fragile, just as the earth is fragile, and our innate connection is the greater truth. Thank you Charles. So much gratitude for your restless, courageous heart.
Bill Pfeiffer says
yes, exactly. thank you.
Eid Heidi says
Thank you C.E.
There is a fresh current in this analysis of the environmental concerns we are reminded of every day by climate change slogans. This is a very important move that enables us to step over our narrow interpretations of the ecological degradation and our squabbles, even fierce partisan hostilities towards those who tend to think outside the party lines, and encourages us to dig to deeper levels, touching the spirit behind the idea of Earthly living beings.
Reading this essay helps me to clarify my thinking and formulate them more precisely in spite of my frustratingly confined linguistic parameters and it lifts my heart which happens when our own internal songs find resonance with someone else’s tunes.
….but….but….the political agendas seem to penetrate everything these days, the struggles – some legitimate, many created for the sake of dividing humans so that they can be ruled- degrade now the basic common sense and dignity of our humanity. Given the present political and moral-ethical climate my hopes in humans are dwindling and the only thing, apart from keeping the dreams protected for the right times, is divine intervention.
Human awareness is way behind of what is required here.
But very grateful for this essay, thank you Charles!
Thank you, Charles, for you help me to know the beauty and full potential of being human.
Daniel Biernoff says
Thank you Charles, I am grateful for your voice which so eloquently expresses and mirrors my thoughts and feelings. I am always reassured by knowing these are held by many and are a growing presence on the earth. Deep blessings
Troels Christian Jakobsen says
Thank you for reminding us, it’s not about survival, but a quest for existential meaning. Why are we here? What purpose do we serve? How do I want to take part in life?
André FRISAYE says
Thank you, Charles !
Sheila Williamson says
Excellent showing so clearly the pointlessness of polarised arguments which miss the point(!),that we are part of the biosphere which needs protection, restoration, healing. How has this escaped our notice for so long ? Looking forward to the book preordered today!
Wendi Goldsmith says
It is important to remind us that life matters. What is more powerful than life? It is self-organizing and regenerative: individuals learn, species evolve, and ecosystems adapt. Choosing living options will harness (or unleash?) this powerful ally. This week’s Democratic debates sensibly highlighted the need to prioritize climate change and offered “plans”. The contrast between “building machines that take carbon directly from air” versus “promoting regenerative agriculture and cover crops” was stark. After all, what is vegetation if not living “machines” that use the sun’s energy to convert atmospheric CO2 into biomass? In turn, biomass feeds society, feeds soil health, and feeds ecosystems of land and sea. Life wins out, logically, and also deserves our respect and reverence.
Nicolae Bulgaru says
“Whether as individuals or as a species, we live for something.”
Maybe you can say for what we live… and in the process you found a new religion or something.
I am not disagree with factual observation about most of the problems you rise but this line scratched my brain. Sorry!
Thank you for exposing alternative ways of talking and thinking around these difficult issues. I liked the text very much, and will share it with others.
I agree fully with the main conclusion of the text, but needed to do some more thinking regarding the image of the living Earth and who She really is — from the perspective of an open-minded earth scientist and permaculturist.
You indicated in the text that we humans are capable of destroying Her, or at least that “She will not be fine”. What does that mean? Maybe these two questions are appropriate: Will the living Earth die from the wounds She gets from humans?/Is the human being capable of destroying the pot in which it grows?
In my perspective, yes we are hurting Her, for sure. At the same time it also seems obvious, especially in these days, that her powers can easily be underestimated, while our own powers are easily overestimated.
Regarding our image of Her I think it must be noted that the human being has a limited ability to understand deep time – a well known fact by students of geology – which indicates that humans also have limited capabilities to understand Her past. For instance:
1) She has during eons experienced many encounters with extremely destructive forces. She knows them and have lived through them, but we might not even know the name of some of them.
2) Her vast experience of chaos and destruction has resulted in immense healing powers. We know that she has them, but still know very little regarding the details.
The core question here might therefore be: Why would She choose to die because of us, when She didn’t die during the many crises of the past?
As you indicated, Charles, She might have plans for us to become a very special tissue on the planet (and my answer to Her is already Yes!). So, it would not be surprising to see sadness, tears or even depression in Her — if She looses us. But what can we really know? Probably not much, aside from that Her own path might also be about initiation?
Max Girouard says
Jan, my thoughts exactly! 99.9% of all species are now extinct. Mother Nature plays the long game and when an asteroid the size of Everest hit the earth, wiping out much of the life here, it took time but it came back! It always comes back. Bacteria are already starting to eat plastic in the ocean.
Mother Nature will not shed a tear for us. We have sent thousands of species into the black hole and now, by our own hand, may do the same.
Tammy Jo says
My thoughts – there are more human beings than ever. In the past she may be able to regenerate. In the present the human “Organ” having grown to a point of great size and imlact has ..acted in a way that has made her more vulnerable. I greatly appreciate the likeness charles gives to humans being a child to the mother that if the child dies, the mother certainly., emotionally, and thus physicially and psychically very much so NOT fine. Were talking about a chronic condition that will not simply heal if we are gone like the temporary impact of an asteroid. These are good things to stary questioning and talking about and Im sure charles appreciates the input. Its a complex issue that will require the best of humanitys hearrts and minds to ..transform.
Jack Pedigo says
Thank you. Finally someone who sees reality. I am new to this site and am still feeling my way around. This is an area I have been active in for over 25 years.
The hardest paradigm to reverse is that of human separate from consciousness, lost in the “downstram” discussion ” of human separatee from Earth. If conssciousness wakes up to Itself inhabitnig in human forms, then It won’t miscarry while in the sleep of “humans being the owners of consciousness”. The metaphor of mother/child is good for the significance of an indiduation of consciousness in a human individual, and presumablly all the more so if that spreads to the collective, but falls apart in thinking the mother will just “carry on”. That’s because the latter is projecting separation of two separate individuals, instead of still One with individuation occurring withIN. The misdirection of seeing separate species as now extinct prohibits seeing those species as still being integral in this moment, not needed to be storied as failures or victims of humanity. The latter does have effects , as I have never read with such clarityy as Charles presents. But they are self-fullfilling effects within a limited story, and to reaize ourselves out of a “failing” story is necessary for a bigger picture to come in to view. Yes, the Universe is impervious to “us”, and maybe Mother Earth too, but that is what “they” want to extend into their creatiion, “us”. A narcissistic human species and a self-hating human species are mirror images that distract from a divinity or sacredness, that yes I still am growing to accept. I think finding Charles’ gifts are “evidence” for me of the willingness Life, as “me”, has been developing to live in this faith. It’s not the other way around, that proof will come first, because the “prooving” need is evidence of not being willing to accept.
I deeply appreciate this Mike.
Bringing about the beginning of an end to the habit pattern of dualism and separateness is vital; for then we can stand in direct contact with the non-separate ground of being from which loving action and healing emerge precisely because love and wholeness are fundamental attributes of the ground.
Perhaps initially the conceptual stance of wholeness (non-separateness) and then hopefully the direct non-conceptual realization of this wholeness in and as oneself, are one (among many) avenues of entry into an era of recognition and participation with this Living Planet.
You said –
“The misdirection of seeing separate species as now extinct prohibits seeing those species as still being integral in this moment”
How wonderful this insight truly is!
Mazu to Baizhang “What was that sound?”
Baizhang: “It was the cry of wild geese.”
Mazu: ” Where have they gone?”
Baizhang: “They have flown away.”
At once Mazu whirled and grabbed Baizhang by the nose.
Mazu: “You say they have flown away yet they are here all the time!!”
Merrilee Baker says
Thank you Charles. I love that I can now quote you (from this essay until I can read your book) as I attempt to open minds to taking action for the Living Planet. Since hearing that you spoke at the recent Pachamama Alliance conference I have wondered how your words can be embedded into the Introduction to Drawdown workshops I am doing. Paul Hawken says that most of the solutions in his book we would want to do anyway (socially just etc). However, he has supplied the science data and measured and mapped carbon. I feel that this is what many people want, and the information has been taken up and adapted to many situations. For me, I need to emphasise the living planet, the eco-systems (plastic out of oceans, diversity versus mono-culture plantations that kill wildlife etc). ‘Drawdown solutions’ are tropical forests, mangroves, wetlands, regenerative agriculture and educating girls but do also include solutions that may have detrimental effects. I love that you have come from a different place, the new story, the Living Planet where humans seek to understand their purpose and place and envision the love, empathy and beauty narratives. I look forward to receiving your book. In loving kindness, Merrilee.
John Morgan says
Beautiful Charles, I couldn’t agree more.
My current volunteer “job” is programming a low power community radio station. It is challenging to find good programming that doesn’t fall into the partisan war model on every issue. That model fosters a win at all cost approach that blocks honesty and openness to understanding. I am gratefully scheduling your podcasts on the radio.
Gary Alexander says
Another beautiful essay Charles. Thank you. The reduction of the Earth’s traumas to a debate about climate change is tragic. The re-ordered priorities you suggest are excellent. However, they require a humanity that has learned to live with the new story to implement them.
And that is happening too, started by those who are, as Karin says above, the ‘converted choir’ and growing rapidly. I regularly go to meetings of groups that are working on it: Transition Towns, ecovillages, permaculturalists, economic democracy, equality, localisation and so much more. This seems to be a time when these groups are beginning to see the need to join up. And a new infrastructure is nearly here that will facilitate and strengthen that joining, based on a localised, distributed internet, with ‘platform cooperatives’ to make it easy.
I think that joining and growth could happen very rapidly, once started, because it is about “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible”. People don’t have to understand it in principle once the converted choir get it started. They just have to feel it working, providing them with personal support, community and care for the Earth.
My own most recent, very small contribution is in a short pamphlet “A Partnership for People and Planet” (see it at https://tinyurl.com/p3pamphlet ), or for more by me, see earthconnected.net .
Todd Lejnieks says
So powerful, so beautiful and, to me, so true. I am crying, a deep well of knowing emerging from inside that we, I, all of us humans do have a purpose here. Our Mother Earth, our beautiful, loving mother, she grew us.
For a reason.
And we can, if we listen, if we dare, if we feel, if we can awaken into her dream for us, once again—and perhaps even more consciously and powerfully now—know that reason.
Thank you, Charles.
Thomas Atwood says
Thank you as always, Charles, for your prescient integral thinking, heart-based wisdom, and faith in our call to interbeing. May the example of your life and work inspire many more souls to embrace a Living Planet perspective.
“I can now be more precise about the nature of the initiation I referenced at the outset. Its driving question is, Why are we here? – a key landmark of the maturation process into adulthood. We might, therefore, understand the present convergence of crises as an initiation into collective adulthood – the graduation of modern civilization into its purpose. This is not about survival; that is why the fear narrative, the cost-benefit narrative, the existential threat narrative does not serve the cause of ecological healing. Can we replace it with the love narrative? With the beauty narrative? The empathy narrative? Can we connect with our love for this hurting living planet, and look at our hands and minds, our technology and our arts, and ask, How shall we best participate in the healing and the dreaming of Earth?”
Michael Mulligan says
This is superb. Rare sanity and inspiration.
Deeply touched by these profound, wise and sane words. Thank you Charles. For all that you are and all that you remind us.
It is through our vulnerable, open heart that our divinity rises up to meet us.
Deeply touched by these profound, wise and sane words. Thank you Charles. For all that you are and all that you remind us.
It is through our vulnerable, open heart that our divinity rises up to meet us.
Newton Finn says
“We live for something. We may not have a grand vision of human destiny to guide us, yet still an internal compass points the way.” This reminded me of a hauntingly beautiful song:
Stephanie Zee Fehler says
love this. thank you! I feel like environmentalism (i.e. caretaking our planet) has become Big Business, and the reduce/reuse/recycle, consume less, DIY ethic that leads to a smaller footprint on earth has really been forgotten/denigrated in favour of huge taxation schemes that only serve to make a few fat cats even richer.
Max Girouard says
Charles, you write so well and with so much feeling, something we hear so rarely, it sounds magical!
I feel your heart ache for this living planet and I commend you but you must be more forceful in your presentation. You must not hold anything back. You must pour your entire being into asking this question: Why are we so willing to extinguish our species? Raise your voice until you are crying out in the pain I know you are feeling! Make a video of it so we can all be there with you! You will have to show us your bare soul, crying for Mother Earth! If you cannot do it, I understand as I know I cannot.
Short of that, we need to turn our country and the world toward a Democratic Socialist society and quickly! We need to nationalize all fossil fuel industries, plan their phase out in an orderly fashion, turn all industrial capacity toward renewable energy, elimination of waste, especially toxic waste, and redesign our society to support everyone while supporting our life support system.
Here is a cautionary tale. Take a petri dish with new sterile nutrients, introduce a few bacteria, and the colony goes wild, growing from invisible to easily seen with the naked eye in just 4 to 6 days. Then a curious things happens, even though nutrients remain plentiful and conditions are unchanged. The entire colony suddenly collapses because the success of the colony has created waste, and with more growth, more waste until the entire colony drowns. From their perspective, they enjoyed the good times of plenty and congratulated themselves over how special and lucky they were. The party was good while it lasted!
The reality is our petri dish is a tiny ball of rock just 8000 miles in diameter. So small, the International Space Station whizzes overhead, circling every 90 minutes! And 99+% of all Life on this pale blue marble lives in a zone just 12 miles deep, that is from the tallest mountain to the deepest part of the ocean. We are the growing colony drowning in our own waste (think CO2, methane, plastic, trash of all kinds, pesticide residues, or anything that is not recycling). We are a global species with old hunter-gatherer attitudes, that is “Use up and move on”! We went from rocks to rocket ships in less than 10 thousand years and our societal consciousness is blind to the fact that there is no longer an “away”! There is no “us” and “them” anymore. There is only “us”! Pogo said it best: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
Those of us lucky enough to be alive today, the latest temporary occupants of Spaceship Earth, are not here for ourselves alone, always looking downward, engaged in our narrow selfish interests. When we raise our gaze, we can see that we are caretakers of our planet, protectors and guardians, keeping this place for all future humans that want to have a decent world to live in. We were given a Garden of Eden and we’ve turned it into a giant trash pile, filling the oceans with toxic poisons, plastic, cigarette butts, and all manner of waste, fouling our air, water, and soil, now tinkering with the DNA of life itself. The profit motive makes comfortable zombie beggars of us all!
We’re slowly circling the giant black hole of extinction and our current incompetence is making it worse. We need to completely rethink our purpose and aspire to a new reality, a new role, beyond consumption, to upgrade our hunter-gatherer operating system to that of competent global citizen. The simple truth is we must do this or we will fail in our most basic of duties, that of protecting our children and their children, etc. Never before in human history has the fate of our species and millions of others been so precariously in the hands of a few thousand (mostly) men.
Let’s cut to what is already happening right before our eyes: the permafrost in the Arctic is melting. That releases methane, which traps more heat, and the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. And you can easily see that creates a feedback loop!
The future will take one of three possible courses: A totalitarian state emerges, possibly killing most of the human population to quickly change course and avoid climate disaster, a world Democratic Socialist order, more aligned with taking care of our planet, including all living things or do nothing until it is too late (our present course).
Good Luck Charles!
Andy Baxter says
Max – exactly! No fairy tales will fix the chaos we’ve caused.
Wendell T Fitzgerald says
Charles, I think you are saying that there are approaches to the issue that are useless, invalid or at the very least off point to what you consider to be the most valid approach. If you are saying that, I would appreciate you saying so loudly and clearly so we know where you stand. If that is not what you intend, you must know that there are many people some I know personally who interpret what you are saying that way and that you are saying it with a broad brush of condemnation. If you don’t mean it to be interpreted that way, please set us straight. If you consider any of the things you mention in your article summed up in the last paragraph of your article, to be useless etc., I think you are making a mistake. The metaphysical and psychological implication is clear. Anything you determine to be useless and therefore of no value, not worthy of consideration is a reflection of something within yourself that you judge to be useless. Then it is projected out on others and the world. If this is where you stand you have made unnecessary enemies and you have belittled the open hearts of people who care deeply. Some people tell me to get out of my head and into my heart. Does this mean that anything that comes out of an educated articulate head is useless and safely ignored? If so, that does not seem very heartfelt or loving. After considering the admonition I have to say: where do you think what is in my head comes from? I would appreciate if you would make the distinction between people with heart and those without. There are many apparently without heart. That is obvious. On the other hand if you think that the folks who take the trouble to scientifically examine the impact of the many possible solutions and actions to take regarding climate change are not clear about their profound spiritual connection to the earth, all of nature, the entire creation, think again. Are we all to be invalidated? We need each other and of course we need your voice and your heart.
James R. Martin says
“This is not to say that it is fine to continue burning fossil fuels as always. In reaction to my last essay, some people labeled me a climate denier or a tool of climate deniers. This is a natural reaction in a highly polarized environment in which the first lens applied to any person or position is “Which side are you on?” In a war setting, any information, however true, that is inconsistent with our side’s narrative must be rejected as rendering aid and comfort to the enemy.” — Charles E.
I paused in my reading here to comment. I will read on and respond further, I’m sure.
Meanwhile, however, I want to say that I’m loving this essay so far. It says so much I’d say myself! I love the complexity and nuance of Charles’ Living Planet perspective, which is truly a breath of fresh air. And the social and psychological perspective Charles brings is equally fresh and invigorating, and true. “Which side are you on?” is more often than not nothing more than a perceptual and conceptual blinder — at least when the intentions of the participants in conversation are honest and sincere, Earth-loving people. The essay sparkles with intelligence and heart, for sure! But I’m afraid my comment from the earlier essay might be misconstrued as an example of … “some people labeled me a climate denier or a tool of climate deniers”. And this misconstrual of my words would be to take them out of the complexity and nuance of my intended communication. My point was simply that BOTH the Living World perspective AND the mainstream climate science tell us crucial truths about our world and our situation. In my view, we cannot understand our climate situation unless we understand BOTH of these perspectives. They are NOT in conflict with one another — not really. It is only the climate science perspective as divorced from the Living Planet perspective which is both false and crucially inadequate. But this does NOT mean that the mainstream climate science is WRONG. It only means that it is importantly INCOMPLETE. And I sincerely thank you, Charles, for pointing out this serious shortcoming in mainstream climate science(!). What we need, rather desperately now, is a merging of the Living Planet perspective, with all of its nuance, complexity and HEART (which is what Charles is bringing in spades!) with the mainstream climate science. What we decidedly do not need is to throw out either the baby or the bath water. We’ll be needing both.
But Charles’s remarkable, beautiful, true Living Planet perspective is precisely the corrective which contemporary science in general, and climate science no less so, so … deserves. We deserve such a scientific world view — a world view of radical wholeness — and heart. Which may very well be one and the same darn thing.
Thanks Charles! Much love (wholeness) to you.
Reminds me of the specialisation in the body of different types of “immune system” cells. We need all of the varying systems, not just one or another.
I know that I’ve a lot to learn from my cat, also.
Thank you yet again. You have given a coherent form to my incoherent (to me) reactions to the climate and environmental debate. Your words make me feel renewed in my purpose. So looking forward to your new book. Thank you for all you are doing.
curt hill says
thank you for this exquisitely beautiful and heart-felt essay. Climate change/global warming is symptomatic of how out of balance, out of “tune” we are with this living system called planet earth. Our home. I hear your cry, and I cry with you, for how we are systematically destroying our world and our killing off our fellow travelers. I am with you.
Brian Smyth says
Many thanks Charles. As always, you get to a level below -or above- the right-wrong, good-bad false and simplistic dichotomies. I look forward so much to the full book.
After reading the article I recalled a piece from Dr. Zhivago. “I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats – any kind of threat,, whether of jail or of retribution or of death – then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the self-sacrificing preacher. But don’t you see, this is just the point – what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has always been assumed that the most important thing in the Gospels are the ethical teaching and commandments. But for me the most important thing is the fact that Christ speaks in parables taken from daily life, that he explains the truth in terms of everyday reality. The idea which underlies this is that communion between mortals is immortal and that the whole of life is symbolic because the whole of it has meaning.”
Fear will not do it for us….only love…love of EVERYTHING and it is easy to love everything as it is so wonderful.
Andrea Robinson says
Thank you very much for your work , passion and education. I read most of the article, though like many of my other ‘creative’ friends have difficulty ingesting too many words. Not to worry! I am a lover of the Earth, a co-creative, and a Simplifier. I will take the time to create a visual graphic which outlines your List so that it can be taken in, and therefore directional.
In my opinion, Priority #1 is to first HAVE a relationship with this planet and the Self. I’ve found good rest and a calm rhythm create a space for this. It can be tough to have this calmness and inner spaciousness when one is in a frenetic state of ‘survival’ as you’ve said previously. Many have these energetic tools and are actively using them, tapping in, regardless of the storm of change that surrounds us. Others, do not have these energetic centering tools, do not have proper nourishment and rest, do not have the basic necessities and therefore the ‘bandwidth’ to grasp intellectual, philosophical and ecological concepts. In other words, I see the fatigue, and most people need the As Bs and Cs of how to help. Thank you for the bullet list!
I feel that part of my role is to line up with leaders like you, and that part of my own leadership is to be a bridge – someone who helps integrate the practice and application of said bullet list, through SIMPLICITY and also bring the higher teachings of simplicity. We both are here to illuminate and liberate. This week I’ve really been taking in your work, and it has really given me an extra boost of energized courage and inspiration! I’m stepping up to the challenges. I’m more than ready. I hope to meet you in person at the SAND event next month. (and hope those NC storms keep everyone safe from harm).
I was one of those who thought that the sooner we extinct ourselves the better for all other lifeforms on our planet until I read, “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.”
I lost my daughter two years ago, so I completely understand at a profound depth. Worldview deeply changed… Thank you, Charles!
Douglas Jay says
My own bare feet–my soles, if you will–know that climate change and global warming are happening. I’ve been paying close attention to my body, to the body of the earth around me, and listening to the embodied intelligence of indigenous leaders and folks as well. On a spiritual level, I feel the unrest of the psychic dimension of the planet, I believe.
I agree with the central point of this piece, and appreciate Charles’s perspective in his last two essays. We do need to move beyond carbon figures and see the living planet systemically. And his point about the tacit agreement of both sides to focus on climate is an interesting and incisive one.
As Katherine Hayhoe, the celebrated climate communicator, said recently in a talk–the same science that created airplanes and the cell phone has also understood climate change. We don’t deny airplanes, so why do we deny climate change?
Mainstream and establishment science has gotten things wrong in the past (the safety of ethyl lead, nuclear fallout, for instance) and is embedded in a limited worldview that denies spirituality and non-rational ways of knowing–I agree and understand. But still–does this mean that climate science can’t be trusted? That it is wrong? By taking the same sort of anti-institutional skepticism that climate deniers take, Charles is walking a thin line–and the same line that doomed the counterculture in times past when it went too anti-science and too magical thinking and lost its credibility. A better tack might be to dig into how to use science given its limitations, rather than doubting it too much away. And how to reform science in the new worldview and new story–what will be the new story of science and how will that help us to understand climate? The threads of that are in this essay–living systems perspectives and non-reductionism, and understanding better the relations between power and knowledge.
Sky Otter says
Dear C.E. : Concise, brilliant, hopeful, Your mom was right. Thank you, Sky Otter
I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environment problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy…and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation – and we scientists don’t know how to do that.
– Gus Speth, Environmental Lawyer and Advocate
The egocentricity experiment with human Design has run its course – its climax is our confluence of crises. Virtually all system solutions and ascension paths proposed by even the most enlightened among us fail to breach egocentricity’s stronghold. The forecast for our imminent extinction17 is well founded and arguably certain unless we become something new18. Metamorphosis is appropriate terminology here. Relieving humanity of egocentricity’s bondage by consensus is impossible. Political proposals are hopelessly impotent. It is now imperative that we develop metamorphic catalysts immediately – means and methods to efficiently transmute egocentricity and profoundly evoke our innate senses of interdependence and compassion.
Cindy Dixon says
What a gift to find and read this today, and so congruent with the ideas I’ve worked with for the last 12 or so years – that we must ask the question about the ultimate purpose of a human life, and of humanity collectively. That we are here at this moment in history for a purpose, to quicken the initiation/birth of a new higher kind of consciousness, both remembering our connection to all life and Earth and achieving an explosion of creativity and compassion. Thank you Charles.
James Cross says
Thanks for a fairly balanced approach not centered completely on Green House Gases.
I am not sure exactly what you mean by the Holocene Optimum. There is the Holocene climatic optimum but that refers to specific time period 5-9,000 years ago where global temperatures may have been higher than those at present and may have been primarily caused by Earth’s orbital dynamics.
Whether the current interglacial is unusually or abnormally long isn’t entirely clear. Rudiman’s Early Anthropocene Hypothesis suggests that we might have entered a glacial period several thousand years ago had it not been for human forest clearing and farming. Others think that the orbital dynamics are such that we would be still thousands of years away from the onset of glaciation even without significant human influence.
I am convinced human influence on climate and environment has been significant from the earliest farming communities and civilizations. The Medieval Warm Period follows directly in time the development of the Mayan civilization and the rise of large civilizations in the Amazon. The Little Ice Age comes on the collapse of those civilizations as their populations were decimated by disease. The modern warming period, which some skeptics like to consider to be a rebound from the Little Ice Age, comes with rebound of populations, farming, and the start of the Industrial Era before the massive influence of 20th century technology. I am not saying that human influence drove everything about climate change. Certainly solar and volcanic influences played roles. But there is an obvious feedback mechanism which probably has played a role: warm climate leads to productive agriculture leads to population growth which leads more agriculture which leads to more carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere which leads to warmer climate, etc On the opposite side, before the modern era, bad weather from volcanic eruption, crop disease, or human disease would cause populations to shrink, agriculture to shrink, and crop land to be reclaimed by forest and prairie.
Matt Colombo says
I look forward to your book! Thanks for the preview. I hope your work makes it out of the echo chamber containing those of us who already know you are right!
El Tucker says
Most unfortunate that you use Thomas Berry’s ideas without citing them even your titles. Berry wrote ‘The New Story’ in 1978.
Ben Mates says
The questions posed at the end of this essay have been a central part of Kabbalistic study for thousands of years. To partake of the fruits of that study, I respectfully and heartily recommend checking into a relevant and modern expression of the Kabbalah: B’nei Baruch kabbalah Education and Research Institute http://www.kabbalah.info/
Michael Brookman says
My understanding is of the desperate need to find the humility, the stillness within, that facilitates conscious connection, conscious participation with Life, the core of Being, wherein all wisdom, all guidance is to be realised. Like the biblical ‘prodigal son’ we’ve ignored our spiritual origins for far too long. NOW is the time to return to our roots, but free of all isms, thinking, rules, regulations will never ever enable us to find resolution.
Dr. David Mead says
Much appreciation for what should be dog-bollock obvious. But it is not to many due to the conditioning we have all been hammered with and which is being exported to the rest of the world.
What follows is the need to inspire and nurture people in order for us all to be able to experience and therefore choose another way of life.
Pushing for change is far harder than seducing for change. Seducing with community action and play, educating our children in natural outside places, experiencing each other as not consumers by first priority but as fellow travellers to love by the opening of our hearts, our imagination and our beautiful empowerment. The action to create a healthy way is to demonstrate the difference we feel when caring and sharing and having fun together. By respecting our true nature we may have a chance to respect the need to nurture our home.
Fahad khan says
I think if we complain to our past nothing new will come, but with this beautiful article, I can say we have to go ahead in future and save natural resources for our future generation. initiation into a living planet can be done by saving resources to the extent and accepting environment-friendly things like solar panel and wind power.
A very nice article with full detail.
Byron Carrier says
I am happy to stumble across your inspiring essay, Charles. I agree that the exploitation of life goes far beyond global warming and includes our waste, poisons, and cruelty towards animals and fellow humans. We free-born earthlings. Our American founders realized and actualized that, but our current government is being systematically perverted to keep on exploiting us and Life. When we learn to live with love, pleasure, and happiness, we will find ways to help Eden flourish better than ever. We’d have more salmon in the streams then when we Europeans got here, not less, as is the case. My life’s passion is to relate our innate goodness (our religious, secular, and spiritual natures to the policies, technologies, and underlying assumptions) to loving Eden and each other again (or anew). Please see my writings towards this at http://www.earthlyreligion.com, especially those essays and sermons regarding what is good.
James Martin says
Hi Charles –
My book-buying budget is limited these days. And I want to read the new Climate book. And it occurred to me that you’ve historically made your books available at no fee online. So I explored and found that your website says, “Online Book Version — Coming Soon”. Naturally, I prefer the printed page, and will eventually purchase a copy. In the meanwhile, I hope I can get stated reading it online, soon.
Carla Sakrison says
I posted your beautiful essay with the caption,
“Charles Eisenstein can just say it better than I can… try as I may:-)!”
So, so good:-)
Joseph Hyde says
Yeah, clearly we spend more energy DEFENDING our lives and our children’s lives AGAINST a society that Has taught us all to see each other as targets. Targets for exploitation. Targets for manipulation. Targets for consumption. I sometimes feel like a squirrel. Constantly foraging, always looking over my shoulder for a predator.
I wonder what it would be like to see the world as a wonderland of security and opportunity for all. It seems to me that as we approach an understanding of mutuality, we will begin to create this utopia. I like the word UTOPIA., as it sets an intention of interbeing and interreliance.
I also like the word, ENOUGH, as it implies an understanding of actual need, and the renunciation of excess. Which brings me to the topic of population. How much is enough? Is there a number that represents enough?
Yeah, that’s what I want to hear about from CE.
Population Control, how many of us is enough?
Dear Charles, I would like to hear your opinion on the question that has been looking at me more and more lately, waiting for a response from me – and I feel that I can not do something like it has done before – and yet I know that my motivation is clearly in the spirit of the living earth. I am very sad just when I think about it. I collect colored earth from different regions of Europe and reconnect it to pictures by laying them on a wooden frame with jute. In doing so, I let myself be guided by my relationship to the earth – but when my relationship is disturbed and sick – and when all the little creatures I collect with the earth die drying – where do I find the answer to what I’m really doing alive Earth serves. My pictures have received little attention from the people so far. I see an analogy to the view of the earth as an object. Gradually, however, the pictures get more attention and people around me begin to work towards being exhibited. You could say that is such a small problem – in this is reflected as in every other but all our problem – as in the small so in the big. I will let myself be guided by my feeling. At the moment I have collected earth for many pictures. I handle it carefully, use every crumb. The rest of the old picture I use the next new, no picture is thrown away. Maybe I can see it so that the many little creatures have become part of a new living form, because my pictures are alive. They communicate with their viewer. I think that it is primarily the Earth itself that communicates. I like your thoughts. They talk to me as if they came from a place that is familiar to me. Best regards Ute
What wonderful insights and vision. I love the way you present them. I especially appreciated the grounding in living ecosystems, the whole of Gaia, and the relevance of ritual.
I wonder however, what you think about the apparent urgency of climate change, extinctions, ocean health, etc. ? I am convinced that in order for a sacred economy to emerge, we must urgently direct all of our actions in some manner to reducing and removing the industrial growth (Joanna Macy) economy and resource extraction process, in one multiply-dimensioned, pluralistic effort with many authors, aspects and levels, It would be as a coherent vector of change. In so doing an ecological and life-sustaining, sacred economy can emerge. The power of each of us comes from all of us.
Thank you for shedding such an encompassing light on our current situation and reframing it so attractively. And yes, to overcome the behemoth barriers of such a vector, we will have to reach for a “we consciousness” and greater and more diverse expressions of our Love. Isn’t that All that there Ever Is?
Best wishes, from Geneva and Victoria, B.C.
I have seen just a bit of your work in the recent past, and I am glad to find you again. I enjoy your clear and balanced perspective on the importance of addressing ecosystem degradation and pollution, along with the psychological/cultural aspects of restoring human-Earth relations. I concur with your overall point of view, the priority of protecting the Earth’s organs, and I appreciate your emphasis on beauty, love, and holism. I think in the past few months there is much arising within humanity and begin to feel some possibilities for significant transformation. I feel there are many levels available to engage in supporting this evolution and healing, of which I will name four, which certainly overlap.
1) Indigenous populations have retained and regenerated powerful technologies, if you can call them that, for generating resonant fields – and these are woven with simple elemental ceremonies, songs, chants, prayer, intention, and relational awareness to outline a few aspects. Some tribes are willing to share with like-minded people from all walks of life who arrive with humble, mutual attitudes in order to create mutual healing networks and preserve essential cultural knowledge too easily lost amid inter-generational trauma coping and ongoing corporate assaults on Nature. There is also often some form of giveaway economy in cultures rooted in Earth-honoring norms rather than capitalistic ones. These are some of the factors contributing to Idle No More, Standing Rock, and like protective actions offering such inspiration in recent times. The very liminality these actions open up in the world provides a possibility of powerful emergent socio-political structures, all related to your question, “why are we here?”
2) There is a great need to do whatever we can to build the new society within the shell of the old presently, as the debt-based money system is collapsing of its own entropy, propped up by multi-trillion dollar bailout, fossil fuels, and warmongering. As the system collapses, every community garden and (again, as you know) gift economy and cooperative effort generates an abundance which can at least soften the ever-steeper landing we face. Studying Cuba’s survival post-USSR is iilluminating and points to the permaculture you advocate.
3) Beyond the permaculture you list, there are numerous new technologies developing, a kind of permaculture 2.0 with increasing subtlety and transformation potential. Fungi in fruiting, mycellial, and mycorhizal forms are primary regenerative allies, capable, as Stamitz fans like to point out, of regenerating life from previous mass-extinction episodes on the planet. Algae, hemp, biochar, compost in general, and humanure, are a few other simple relational approaches offering us massive opportunities for working with Earth’s processes to detoxify and restore habitat from very degraded areas, without the heavy labor of some of the more traditional landscape permaculture approach.
4) There is ample evidence of a permaculture 3.0, if you wish to call it that, which is subtler still and cuts to the chase in some ways. By this I am referring to resonant energy fields themselves, which offer tremendous potential for really developing transformational technologies on a quantum, alchemical level. These range from numerous over-unity and anti-gravity devices, to simple empathy work including restorative circles, to holistic healing and ancient yogic/chi practices, and more. These all connect to the Source dimension directly, which I feel humanity is being asked to now step up to as part of the very initiation you outline. This work of unfolding humanity’s full potential is daunting, calling for courage and a humble, grateful heart. In a profound sense, I feel we are being asked to purify our own individual lives and intentions of all violence in order to truly develop the capacity to handle these systems. Is it perhaps a prerequisite for joining the galactic community? Empathy, gratitude, sweat lodge, simple prayer, and other vibrational practices doubly bless us by supporting this field, along with supporting our own heart-centered presence – our personal capacity to maintain it. All the traditional and emergent wisdom I have connected to in my 55 years arrives at this growing consensus of perspectives.
Thank You and Much Love- Michael
Fahad khan says
planet is the only thing that we have in common. your Green and living planet initiation is good. I really appreciate it.
Kevin Ionno says
Years ago I read a book by Doug Boyd called “Rolling Thunder” about an American Indian of that name who was a medicine man. In the book, Boyd refers to certain non-ordinary occurrences that he experiences in Rolling Thunder’s presence. He also tells of a conversation in which Rolling Thunder describes the Earth as a living that is sick, much the way you do. Rolling Thunder referred to coming Earth changes as readjustments to throw off the sickness like a fever or vomiting .
Your perspective on life is very similar to the one I expressed in a guest sermon I gave last fall at the local Unitarian Universalist Church. For those interested you can find the text here: https://ionnosphere.blogspot.com/2018/10/seeing-life-around-you.html
Manoj Prusty says
The initiation of green and living planets is good. I really appreciate it.