What We Do to Nature, We Do to Ourselves

I'm in Paris now, preparing to speak tonight about climate change. It is a parallel venue, not mainstream, called Place 2 B, but even here I am afraid my message is going to be controversial. You see, I think there are deep problems with the standard climate change narrative, which has equated "green" with carbon reduction.

One obvious problem with that is that horrible things can be justified with CO2 arguments, or tolerated because they have little obvious impact on CO2. This ersatz 'green' argument has been applied to fracking, nuclear power, big hydro, GMOs, and the conversation of forests into wood chips for biofuel. Now you might say these are specious arguments that depend on faulty carbon accounting (is nuclear power really that carbon friendly when you account for the immense amount of energy needed to mine the uranium, refine the uranium, procure the cement, contain the waste, etc.?) but I am afraid there is a deeper problem. It is that when we base policy on a global metric, i.e. by the numbers, then the numbers are always subject to manipulation by those with the power to do so. Data can be manipulated, factors can be ignored, and projections can be skewed toward optimistic best-case scenarios. This is an inherent problem with basing policy on a metric like tons of CO2 or GGEs (greenhouse gas equivalents).

Secondly, by focusing on a measurable quantity we devalue that which we cannot measure or choose not to measure. Such issues such as mining, biodiversity, toxic pollution, ecosystem disruption, etc. recede in urgency, because after all, unlike global levels of CO2 they do not pose an existential threat. Certainly one can make carbon-based arguments on all these issues, but to do so is to step onto dangerous ground. Imagine that you are trying to stop a strip mine by citing the fuel use of the equipment and the lost carbon sink of the forest that needs to be cleared, and the mining company says, "OK, we're going to do this in the most green way possible; we are going to fuel our bulldozers with biofuels, run our computers on solar power, and plant two trees for every tree we chop down." You get into a tangle of arithmetic, none of which touches the real reason you want to stop the mine -- because you love that mountaintop, that forest, those waters that would be poisoned.

I am certain we will not "save our planet" (or at least the ecological basis of civilization) by merely being more clever in our deployment of Earth's "resources." We will not escape this crisis so long as we see the planet and everything on it as instruments of our utility. The present climate change narrative veers too close to instrumental utilitarian logic -- that we should value the earth because of what will happen to us if we don't. Where did we develop the habit of making choices based on maximizing or minimizing a number? We got it from the money world. We are seeking to apply our numbers games to a new target, CO2 rather than dollars. I don't think that is a deep enough revolution. We need a revolution in means, not only a revolution in ends.

In other words, what we need is a revolution of love. When we as a society learn to see the planet and everything on it as beings deserving of respect -- in their own right and not just for their use to us -- then we won't need to appeal to climate change to do all the best things that the climate change warriors would have us do. And, we will stop doing the awful things that we do in the name of stopping climate change.

Ironically, many of the environmental issues that seem unrelated to climate change, we are learning, actually do contribute to it. Take hydroelectric dams: they flood forests and wetlands, displace communities, and disrupt riverine ecosystems. But at least they provide climate-friendly electricity, right? Well, no. It turns out that dams and artificial reservoirs emit huge amounts of methane from the rotting vegetation that they generate, and reduce rivers' ability to capture carbon.

Finally, let us admit that our knowledge of Earth's climate homeostasis is quite rudimentary. While we assume that, say, digging gold out of a mountain has little effect on climate, other cultures disagree. A Brazilian friend of mine who works with indigenous tribes there reports that according to them, mining is a much bigger threat to the planet than CO2, because when metals are removed from the tropics and moved to the temperate zones, the planet's energetics are disrupted. Even taking gold away from a sacred mountain can have devastating effects. A Zuni man I met told me that they believe that the worst thing is to take so much water that the rivers no longer reach the sea -- because how then can the ocean know what the land needs?

Let us not be too quick to dismiss such ideas as superstitious fantasy. Time and again, indigenous people have proven that their "superstitions" encode a sophisticated understanding of ecology. While such ideas as "insulting the water" and "stealing the golden soul of the mountains" seem baldly unscientific, we may need to start taking them seriously.

I will end with a prediction. I predict that we will succeed in drastically reducing fossil fuel use, beyond the most optimistic projections -- and that climate change will continue to worsen. It might be warming, it might be cooling, it might be intensifying fluctuations, a derangement of normal, life-giving rhythms. Then will we realize the importance of those things that we'd relegated to low priority: the mangrove swamps, the deep aquifers, the sacred sites, the biodiversity hotspots, the virgin forests, the elephants, the whales... all the beings that, in mysterious ways invisible to our numbers, maintain the balance of our living planet. Then will we realize that as we do to any part of nature, so, inescapably, we do to ourselves. The current climate change narrative is but a first step toward that understanding.

There is a lifestream of my presentation at about 7:15 or so Paris time, which is 1:15 EST. it is part of a series of speakers, so it could be a few minutes earlier or later.


This blog post has been translated into Greek.


  1. Hello Charles,
    I stayed at Place 2 B last week and attended many of the talks there and also some mainstream events at le Bourget.
    I do not think your message is controversial at all. You address a huge blind spot for many of us. The underlying and overarching beliefs many of us have about who we are, our relationships to ourselves, each other and to the planet are indeed saturated with what you call the story of separation. You are so right that until we recognise the inherent interconnectedness and sacredness of the human family and our Earth and behave accordingly, we can make all the outward changes to the measurable we like but the problems will persist.
    It is heartening and inspiring to hear someone address the need to change the approach to change. It has to be from the inside out and from a place of love and recognition of oneness. Eventually we will learn the mysteries of the immeasurable, intricate systems in place in all of our bodies (physical, etheric, astral, mental, spiritual) , the planet and its kingdoms, the solar system, the galaxy and beyond. Until then please keep voicing for us these ideas!
    I am grateful for your work, thank you. It gives some balm to the heartbreak.

    • Thank you Charles for your blog and also thanks to Cherie. I appreciate your thoughts on how to view this Climate Change Conference.There was so much talk, and it left me unsatisfied, as if there was an avoidance of the real issue. you expressed beautifully. It makes a lot of sense to me, Thank you.

  2. Thank you Charles for this, as always, thoughtful post. I resonate with everything you say and would like to add just one thought of my own to this. I believe that we are so interwoven with the earth and the ecology of the earth that the most important thing we can do to restore her to health and wholeness is to restore ourselves to health and wholeness through a complete change of consciousness. This is a tall order, and it’s really hard at times to imagine that it could ever happen. especially within the time frame that it needs to happen. At the same time it is a hopeful thought – that if human beings can begin to truly know themselves as part of the earth, the earth and all of its life forms will be able to come back into balance.

  3. Twenty years ago, the movie Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics pointed out that monetizing everything slipped into normalcy during WWII when the British had to figure out how to win WWII.

    Their big oversight was to leave out 2/3 of human activity that, at that time and still today in most ways, was not monetize-able — parents taking care of sick children, civic involvement, community celebrations, the value of a person’s or a company’s reputation, to name a few examples.

    This glaring omission, which is still invisible in 2015, reminds me of a quote about education (replace the word ‘educationally’ with ‘economically’):
    “What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we’ve taught [counted] what isn’t worth learning [what isn’t worth being top priority]!”
    —Dr. Arthur Costa, CSU Sacramento

    Our reptile mind is still the default world view, with its Four F’s: Feeding, Fighting, Fleeing, and Reproduction. Fear of being left out is operative in all four areas.

    Most people function with more enlightened cerebral cortex type of thinking at least some of the time, where compassion and serenity can guide our behavior, but our lack of mutual trust still makes most of us resort to preemptive selfishness when we are frightened.

  4. Thanks Charles, it’s immensely helpful to hear you articulating this so clearly. I know in my heart of hearts that what you say is true.

    Perhaps there’s something symbolically important about the movement around the Paris summit, and specifically the Avaaz mobilisation and the agreement to radically reduce emissions. It’s a symbol of an intention, a symbol that the priorities are beginning to shift away from purely monetary concerns. So it’s at least in the right direction…

    But I know the love you speak of is the only way of truly achieving the radical shift that is needed. It leaves me with with the question, how can we do it? I guess that’s a huge unknown, which probably no single one of us has the answer to – we only each have fragments of the picture. I think it’s something about having faith in the small individual acts that collectively add up, and by praying for and being part of a critical mass of people waking up through undertaking their own work of personal transformation, which then, if genuine, cannot help but translate into a planetary shift.

    I think, for me, the revolution that you speak of is essentially a religious one, but religious in the broadest sense of the word. It’s the reconnecting, the reunion, the ‘one-ing’ (to use Julian of Norwich’s term for it) that we need to find our way back to what is true, what is real. By deeply knowing that we intimately belong and that each one of us is cherished and infinitely loved from before the beginning of time, we cannot help but then extend this knowing to every being and every part of the created universe pulsing with that One Love.

    Bring on the Revolution! I’ll keep chipping away at it in my own little patch. Thank you Charles for helping illuminate what is true, enabling us to stay aligned with the radical path to the More Beautiful World that we know is our true destiny.

    Norwich, UK

  5. Stemming global warming / climate change by referring to a single, one-dimensional parameter, atmospheric CO2 concentration, highlights a/the bigger problem in our world. That is, our substitution of real, rich, contextualised, embodied experience & feeling for abstracted, illusory, recursive & purely mental informational feedback loops. The mind has no capacity for proprioception, whatever it projects it then sees as ‘real’, this triggers further rounds of reactionary mental projection, ending up in not just primary but incalcitrant, even malignant, higher order illusory beliefs. Author Paul Levy refers to this as a (contagious) psycho-spiritual disease, names it Wetiko. Please see his book of the same name. I’m becoming familiar with his work & am trying to apply it to various situations in my life & the world right now. It’s fascinating. It makes ‘evil’ become a problem of (dis-) embodiment, that what is needed is for us all to incarnate more fully. Our ex-carnation in recent decades is the cause of all our modern (medical & social) diseases as well as the destruction of our earth.

  6. Hi Charles,
    it was as always a pleasure to meet you, this time again in Paris.
    To expore together further the deeper root causes of the crisis please watch for example this interview from Paris with Chief Phil Lane Jr. founder of the Four Worlds International Institute

    He represets the indigenous cultures at United Earth, a new platform intended to promote and facilitate a broader and more effective collaboration among the many concerned dimensions of global society. The ongoing goal is to inviting change-agents, grassroots leaders, organizations, inventors, like the crew from noomap, and movements from around the world who are interested in co-creating a wave of intentional unification–to move beyond words, into concrete and coordinated, unified and collaborative action everywhere on Mother Earth.


  7. Wonderful angle, Charles. May I just add my take: it is not so much a revolution of love that is needed – because as we see, most revolutions start out as change agents and then end up with the agents in charge, establishing another status quo hierarchy. Revolutions revolve – go in circles – not necessarily evolve.

    What I would like to offer is a rebellion of love. For the rebel is the individuated one, awakening. And this rebellion of love is something that can spread like a wildfire – a wildfire of awakened individuals. This is not a new idea. Here is the Zen Master and mystic Osho on loving earth:

    ” Be loving to the earth. Sow the seeds of love on the earth.The question is not for you to enter into some paradise in the skies. On the contrary, the question is how to transform this earth into paradise. It has all the potential. Just an awakening about the potential of the earth, about the potential of the people on the earth, and there will be no talk about any heaven or any paradise or any God. Man can become complete, fulfilled unto himself.This earth is our home, it is our mother.

    “The earth is searching through you for its own meaning. You are the highest evolved part of the earth. Have you ever considered? — your body is earth, your brain is earth, your heart is earth. You are the highest flowering, a great metamorphosis. There seems to be no connection between the earth and your eyes, but your eyes are nothing but the eyes of the earth. It is an effort of the earth to see. Your ears are an effort of the earth to hear the music.” – Osho

    • This quote moved me deeply. So it was a bit jarring when I found that Osho was a homophobic “sex guru” with a penchant for Rolls-Royces and the belief that disabled children should be euthanized.

  8. Thanks Charles,

    we should seek every way possible to transition away from fossil fuels. Oil is now still the most valuable good traded across borders, and seven of the eleven largest public companies in the world by sales are oil companies. Within ideological politics, coercive domination won the right to sell resources; under new non-ideological principles, resource sales need the people’s authorization. Once we know what property rights are justified, we can see which trade is really free. Resource revenues will then become the citizens’ money. These are not handouts; these are birthrights: Basic income and citizen shareholding. 

    A non-ideological approach will bring us to the understanding that a common ownership of the Earth requires that the international system should also work to meet the basic needs of all persons. Common ownership grounds a human right: the right of each person to have opportunities to meet his or her own basic needs. Common ownership requires that nations should be forced to pay into a global fund whenever they extract natural resources, with that fund being used to meet the basic needs of the world’s poor.

    The baseline should be that each person in the world has a claim to an equal share of the world’s resources. We should in the future see humans not as citizens of lucky or unlucky countries but instead as “cosmopolitans”—as equal citizens of a common world. Enabling peoples to control their fates and to grow together will make humanity smarter, and so better able to choose for itself the principles that might someday constitute a Global Citizenship. All this will require a systematic plan for society, with different requirements for different demographics and will be a combination of significant behavioral change, massive reductions of energy use along with new technologies.
    Yes, the discussion about climate change will come together with the introduction of fundamental new technologies http://youtu.be/Pv74bixlVd

    Berlin. Germany

    • Wow, thank you for your comment. It has made me realise that global citizenship is not only inevitable but also somehow an obvious and essential step towards healing people and planet. The obscene inequalities between the nations and the entrenched nationalism that has continued to fester since, well, who knows perhaps it’s a tribal consciousness thing, perhaps it was in part a reaction to the horror and violence of the world wars of the last century…. Anyway, it’s complex, and both racism and colonialism and imperialism are part of the pathology too. But rigid nationalism is so much a part of the story of separation. ( apologies for my poor grammar). I have a feeling that the waves of refugees streaming around the world desperate for a means to preserve their very lives, are not only raising important questions but also helping in the unravelling/dismantling of notions of separation. A natural corollary to that unravelling is that the planet’s wealth and abundance belongs to everyone. Of course!

      Thank you.

      Norwich, UK

  9. Thanks again Charles. It is curious how the gold in our bodies is naturally concentrated in our hearts and bloodstream. We certainly are better off letting it be than to try and extract it out from there!

  10. Being in compassion with the planet requires first that we are in compassion with our own bodies. Because it is only by being able to feel those more subtle feelings of love, appreciation, gratuitude – that we can then feel when they have been offended by something. If bankers, trawler fleet executives, boat designers, shipyard owners, trawler captains all felt love in themselves and for the world they live in (rather than greed or powerlessness to do anything other than what is demanded of them by their employer), they would be incapable of building and running ships that scoop up and put into cans an entire shoal of fish at one gulp.

    All the global climate change summit was about top-down action, and for anything to work at all there has to be something that arises from the bottom up. This spiritual sense of connection is not a out of yer head ecstatic trance, but is an embodied being-here-now. “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Everyone focusses on the enlightenment bit i the middle but every spiritual tradition started off with people who were/are far more embodied than the average westerner. Love capable of not being swayed by fear is an embodied state – it can only be felt fully when we are fully in ourselves. I have to agree with pretty well everything you write, Charles, and I wish I understood better how sufficient numbers of our society will gain that level of embodiment. In fact, it’s so big that I don’t really see a human solution to it, and prayer is really the only answer. Not that the world atmospheric CO2 and CH4 levels will miraculously reduce overnight, because that would allow us to continue as we are, and I don’t think that is an option either. But rather that the whole human race have love in their hearts for their fellows and for the natural world which they are a part of. The right actions will then arise from individuals and the people around them will support those actions because they will be able to feel that they are right.

  11. Powerful words, in full agreement. I’m trying to change the way we garden, and how the hort industry works, which currently is filled with irony — love plants, love nature and wildlife, but produce hybrids of plants by manipulating them for traits we find pretty but that wildlife (or soil life) might not find pretty. We need a new garden ethic, one that can be applied beyond gardens: http://monarchgard.com/what-we-believe.html

  12. Our Western way of live has taught that we and Nature are separate. But we are not. We are part of the Nature. If only more would understand, no Greenpeace would have to fight. But many of us live like in a dream of career and money. Time to wake up.

  13. THANK YOU to Charles, and to all who have posted… gives me some hope for humanity to see a civil, considerate discussion (vs. the angry vulgarity of so many online forums)… in particular i appreciate ANDREW,NORWICH : ” Love capable of not being swayed by fear is an embodied state – it can only be felt fully when we are fully in ourselves. I have to agree with pretty well everything you write, Charles, and I wish I understood better how sufficient numbers of our society will gain that level of embodiment. In fact, it’s so big that I don’t really see a human solution to it”… but then I wonder if we are indulging in the kind of “magical hope” that for example inspired the Native-American ‘Ghost Dance’ response to the genocidal European invaders? That did not work out so well– and perhaps there is a cautionary lesson for us. Perhaps the Mahatma-Gandhian method, which skillfully combined heartfelt idealism with pragmatic politics, may be more instructive? (altho admittedly it did not work out so well in the short term for him, nor longterm for India-Pakistan).
    I see “Deus ex machina” fantasies in a wide swath of good-intentioned folks;
    for example the THRIVE fascination with “free zero-point energy” as a key to future planetary happiness (as if the technology did really exist; and if so, had no ‘unintended consequences’ ). Certainly Charles, LizDay, etc here are correct about the Paris ‘CO2 as pollution’ ‘magical solution’ (even worse, the popular shortcut ‘Carbon as pollution’ — Carbon is the foundation of Life! and CO2 is the food of all Plant-Life!). Even more hard to imagine than a critical mass of ’embodied-feeling-wise’ humanity, is ones who can combine that with intelligent pragmatic political systemic solutions… a collective Gandhi++.
    [Just as a radical taboo topic: All the multitude of planet-threatening issues that command our attention (and fear), could be considered tractable given a 1000:1 reduction of human population, with relatively simple quality-assurance controls on that population; and a political compromise with the sociopathic elite families who currently dominate. Maybe not so pretty as magic, though.]
    I use ‘political’ in its broadest benevolent meaning. For example, to achieve the ‘critical mass’ of cooperating good-hearted folks, the category represented by Charles and most folks on this site, which might be called ‘Pan-En-Theist’, might have to cooperate with Theists and A-Theists, Avaita-Vedantists and Gnostics (rather than hope to ‘convert’ them). How to find a common ground for Method ? (assuming that Planetary-Life-Survival be the common ground for Motivation)… Yes, Andrew, please do pray!

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