John Oliver points out something I am repeatedly puzzled over, especially in the US media. Instead of reporting surveys as “one in four US citizens are wrong about climate change” or “don’t get climate change”, they say “one in four don’t believe in climate change”. And perhaps in the interest of creating drama and debate where there really isn’t one, they make it appear as if there is a debate to be had on that topic. The real debate is what do we do about it, and why are some dragging their feet? In other words, the US media play right into the hands of the corporations who think they have something to gain short term by confusing the debate. Shouldn’t the role of the media be to cut through that nonsense? Of course, the mainstream media is largely owned by the same who think they have something to gain by confusing the topic, so that may be a simple explanation of what’s going on.
Since I was a schoolboy in the ’80s, I have thought this whole debate is nonsense. It doesn’t matter if climate change is happening or if it’s human made (although there isn’t much doubt about either). We still have to shift from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy sources. We still have to dramatically change our economical system and thinking to take ecological realities into account. We still have to create systemic changes so what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals, corporations, and society – is also what’s good for life in the short and long term. We still have to change how we do transportation, waste, food production, and more. We still have to change our worldview and how we see ourselves in relation to the rest of nature and the Earth. There is no debate there. It has to happen. It’s a matter of our own survival. (Independent of the whole climate change topic.)
Spiritual emergencies happen at individual and collective levels.
A spiritual emergency is a crisis with a spiritual component. It may stretch and open us up to new ways of perceiving and being in the world. It may also be experienced as deeply challenging, requiring more of us than we thought was possible. And it eventually requires us to act from insight and love instead of from our old fear based patterns.
A dark night is a particular form of spiritual emergency. It may involve loss in many forms…. of situations, roles, hopes, dreams, and even fears. Old identifications are seen through or worn off. Wounds and traumas surface to be healed. To our conscious mind, it may seem that grace is lost and everything is moving in the wrong direction.
We are now collectively headed into a spiritual emergency, a spiritual emergency shared by humanity as a whole. We may even be headed into a collective dark night.
The Earth is going through major changes. We are about to face the consequences of our western worldview and how we have seen ourselves in relationship to Earth.
Ecosystems unravel. Large number of species go extinct. Water, soil and air is poisoned. There will be more frequent and more serious regional, and possibly global, water and food shortages.
And all of that is because we have seen ourselves as separate from the Earth, and the Earth as unlimited for extracting resources and dumping waste and toxins. We have organized ourselves collectively, in all areas of society, without taking ecological realities into account.
Facing the increasingly obvious and tangible consequences of this is, in a very real way, a collective and shared spiritual crisis. It forces us to re-evaluate our priorities. It requires us to examine and profoundly change our worldview and how we see ourselves in relation to the Earth, and to current and future generations of all species. It requires us to reorganize ourselves in very practical ways, so that what’s easy and attractive to do also supports life in a deep sense.
This spiritual crisis has already taken the form of a dark night for some, and it may do so for many more in the near future.
The Earth is merciless. It mirrors back to us our relationship to it in a very tangible way. And as with any spiritual crisis, and any dark night, this is also grace and an invitation to find a new life, to find a new way of perceiving ourselves and the world, and a new way of being in the world.
It’s 3:23 in the morning, and I’m awake
because my great, great, grandchildren won’t -let -me -sleep.
My great, great, grandchildren ask me in dreams
what did you do, while the planet was plundered?
what did you do, when the earth was unravelling?
surely you did something when the seasons started failing
as the mammals, reptiles, and birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
what did you do
“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”
Stern said he backed the UK’s Climate Change Act, which commits the government to ambitious carbon reduction targets. But he called for increased investment in greening the economy, saying: “It’s a very exciting growth story.”
Climate change is a huge risk, and a huge opportunity. It’s a crucial opportunity for us to reorganize our lives at all levels in a way that’s more life-centered, more aligned with ecological realities, and better for ourselves, our children, and all Earth life. As Nicholas Stern points out, in the short run, it’s an opportunity to grow green technologies and businesses that will be vital components in a more green economy.
Another recent article:
Glaciologist Jason Box is racing to figure out just how rapidly we’re pushing the 7 meters of sea rise level locked up in the Greenland ice sheet onto our shores.
Imagine a country where the majority of the population reaps the majority of the benefits for their hard work, creative ingenuity and collaborative efforts. Imagine a country where corporate losses aren’t socialized, while gains are captured by an exclusive minority. Imagine a country run as a democracy, from the bottom up, not a plutocracy from the top down. Richard Wolff not only imagines it, but in his compelling, captivating and stunningly reasoned new book, Democracy at Work, he details how we get there from here – and why we absolutely must. — Nomi Prins about Richard Wolff
This is a goal the power elite cannot comprehend. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and unfettered capitalism are natural law, some kind of permanent and eternal dynamic that can never be altered. What the elites fail to realize is that rebellion will not stop until the corporate state is extinguished.
– from Why the Elites are in Trouble, Grist Magazine.
I usually don’t write about politics, or really anything else than my own process (!), these days, but this one is too important to ignore. If our civilization is to survive and thrive, we need to restructure our society at all levels so what’s easy and attractive in the short term is life-sustaining in the long run (benefits ourselves, our families, society, ecosystems, and future generations). Removing power (especially political power) from corporations, and giving them a radically different context (laws, regulations, taxes, incentives) to operate within, is an essential piece.
But whereas in years past, it’s been weather that has caused a spike in commodities prices, now it’s trends on both sides of the food supply/demand equation that are driving up prices. On the demand side, the culprits are population growth, rising affluence, and the use of grain to fuel cars. On the supply side: soil erosion, aquifer depletion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, the plateauing of crop yields in agriculturally advanced countries, and—due to climate change —crop-withering heat waves and melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets. These climate-related trends seem destined to take a far greater toll in the future.
We do what’s easy and attractive, so why not work with it?
As a society, we have organized ourselves so what’s easy and attractive to do is often harmful for the larger social and ecological whole. These designs made sense when they were created, many of them during the industrial revolution, but they don’t make sense anymore. So instead, we can organize ourselves so what’s easy and attractive to do is beneficial for ourselves, the larger social and ecological whole, and future generations. We can, for instance, tax use of natural resources instead of work, and include the real social and ecological cost in the price of products and services. It’s not only possible, it’s essential that we do it.
As an individual, I can work with the same dynamics. I do what’s easy and attractive. For instance, as long as I believe (perceive) there is something positive in beliefs, I’ll go into beliefs. So here, I can inquire into the dynamics of beliefs and find what’s actually going on. When I see and feel the discomfort inherent in beliefs and contrast this with the comfort inherent in reality – in not knowing, no foothold, being experience etc. then I’m naturally drawn to the latter.
It is very understandable when we try to justify our actions. We are just trying to protect a particular self image, often as “good”, and to find acceptance from ourselves and others and fit in.
There is fortunately a very simple alternative, and that is to find a fullness of stories around what we initially may wish to justify. And to deliberately include both “good” and “bad” stories in a conventional sense.
This segment is especially interesting, highlighting our need to use our current petroleum-based energy to develop new energy sources, including fusion. If we don’t speed up our efforts dramatically, it will be too late before we know it. If we apply a great deal of human and energy resources now, we can create a smoother transition for ourselves.
This is also a reminder of why the global warming debate is a sidetrack. First, because there is universal agreement among climate scientists that (a) significant climate change is happening and (b) it is caused by human activity. (The ones sowing the seeds of confusion are not climatologists, and the campaign to create confusion is fueled by the petroleum industry, taking a cue from the tobacco industry.)
More importantly, fossil fuel is running out and we need to put a great deal into the transition right now. We can’t afford to wait, partly since we need the current petroleum resources to fuel the transition, and partly because we don’t know how much oil is left. We have to act on the worst case scenario. The consequences of making a timing mistake are too great.
They found it difficult to understand why, when soldiers were already provided with adequate protection goggles, there were still a high number of eye-related injuries. It turned out the problem was obvious: the goggles made them look – in their words – “like grannies”. Soldiers were issued with some new, cooler goggles created by designer Wiley X. Now they wear them all the time – even when they don’t need to. As a result, there has been a tremendous drop in the numbers of soldiers blinded in battle.
This can be applied to any area of life. How can we organize ourselves as a society and individuals in ways that makes it easy and attractive to do what supports life at all levels and over generations?
But before we cede the entire moral penthouse to “committed vegetarians” and “strong ethical vegans,” we might consider that plants no more aspire to being stir-fried in a wok than a hog aspires to being peppercorn-studded in my Christmas clay pot. This is not meant as a trite argument or a chuckled aside. Plants are lively and seek to keep it that way. The more that scientists learn about the complexity of plants — their keen sensitivity to the environment, the speed with which they react to changes in the environment, and the extraordinary number of tricks that plants will rally to fight off attackers and solicit help from afar — the more impressed researchers become, and the less easily we can dismiss plants as so much fiberfill backdrop, passive sunlight collectors on which deer, antelope and vegans can conveniently graze. It’s time for a green revolution, a reseeding of our stubborn animal minds.
– from Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too by Natalie Angier, New York Times
Albert Schweitzer had a good take on this: No matter what we eat, someone or something dies, so we are in debt to life. The question is, how do we pay this by back? How do we serve life?
When I make my own food, I try to eat local, organic and lower on the food chain. Although I do eat meat at times, and I will eat anything I am served by others. For me, it is more about quantities than absolutes. And I have tried to pay back through several years of work in sustainability (local, solution focused, partnership oriented, using guidelines such as the ecological footprint and The Natural Step). And now, more through offering free Breema bodywork and low-cost classes.
There is no need for us to try to justify our food choices, because no matter what we eat, we take life. But there is a need an invitation for us to make the kindest and wisest food choices possible, individually and as a society. What serves life best? What is delicious, nutritious, good for the local economy, good for ecosystems, good for future generations, reduces suffering as much as possible, and practical? How can we organize ourselves so these choices are also the easy, fun, and attractive choices? Many people work on this, and there are many good examples out there (such as CSA farms), so I won’t go into details here.
There is general agreement that GNP alone is a poor measure of how well we are doing. It is limited to measuring the flow of money only, whether it is used for wars or schools, and it leaves out many other factors equally or more important to our well-being.
A good index would probably include some of the following:
I watched the BBC fictional documentary Voyage to the Planets which reminded me of the bigger picture of space exploration.
It helps us see our planet from the outside, as a whole, as one ecological and social system, as the larger body for each one of us and humanity as a whole. It helps shift our awareness into a global sense of us, realizing that what we do to the larger whole is what we do to ourselves.
Us is no longer a group of humanity, or even the whole of humanity. It is the earth as a whole, with its complex ecological systems, species and individuals. In this sense, space exploration is one of the ways the earth brings itself as a whole, as one living system, into awareness.
Space exploration is also, in a quite literal way, how the universe explores itself. As Carl Sagan once said, we are the local eyes, ears, feelings and thoughts of the universe. And space exploration is one of the ways this universe, through humans, brings more of itself into awareness.
Space exploration is the first step in the Earth, as a living system, reproducing itself. It is the beginning of the birth of new living planets in our solar system, through terraforming of dead ones.
Space exploration is also the beginning of humanity as a multi-planet species, which is of benefit to our long term survival and would help this particular sense and awareness organ of the universe to hang around and evolve a little bit longer.
Although the episodes didn’t explicitly bring in this context, I thought the episodes were very well made. It made a possible future manned mission to several planets in the solar system seem sexy, gritty and real.
So why not do something similar with a sustainable, or thrivable, future? It could be a glimpse into a society where those forming it act from a global and ecological sense of us, in a very practical and real way.
It could be a society where what is easy to do, individually and collectively, is also what benefits the larger ecological and social whole. Shifting taxes away from work, and to what does not support the larger social and ecological whole, is a good start.
It could be a society where buildings and factories clean the air and water that goes through them, and produce food of its waste products. Where energy is produced cleanly and locally. Where communities are organized around humans and basic human needs, not around cars.
This is not an utopia. There are already many examples of each of these, and they could serve as models and be extended upon for such a documentary, serving as a guide for choices we make today, and making such a future a little more real for us.
New research suggests that nutritional supplements may, in some cases, lead to increased mortality rates.
I am sure that these supplements are very helpful in some situations, but it also is a reminder that there is no substitute for eating healthy, and that eating healthy in most cases is sufficient.
After all, we evolved for billions of years – counting our pre-human ancestors – eating whole organisms, and we have only had nutritional supplements for a few decades. Food contains nutrients in a form and combination that our bodies have evolved to make use of. So when it is available to us, it makes more sense to rely on varied, fresh, mostly whole, and less processed foods.
And if it is local (family farms, CSAs), and grown in healthy soil (organic, biodynamic), it has additional benefits. It tastes great, supports the local economy and ecosystems, and supports a healthy form of food production. And if we need an extra boost, teas and infusions are a good first choice before supplements.
Research has suggested certain vitamin supplements do not extend life and could even lead to a premature death. A review of 67 studies found “no convincing evidence” that antioxidant supplements cut the risk of dying.
Scientists at Copenhagen University said vitamins A and E could interfere with the body’s natural defences.
“Even more, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E seem to increase mortality,” according to the review by the respected Cochrane Collaboration.
A great little article at the Observer website by a friend of mine, about gardening and its intersection with community, ecology, spirit, politics and more. It is a reminder for me of my own passion for and immersion in that world some years ago, now faded into the background, but still there waiting to come more into my life again.
We know that the sea levels will rise, possibly 10 meters (30 feet) or more, and possibly within this century. (Greenland ice sheet=6.5 meters rise, west Antarctica ice sheet=8 meters, interglacial periods=20 meters rise – source: usgs), Even the early phase of this rise will have a major impact on many of the most populated cities and areas of the world.
At the same time, it seems that the implications of this is not taken seriously yet, including by investors (it will soon make much less sense to own property close to current sea levels), urban planners, insurance companies (who insures property that is more and more likely to be flooded), home owners (that great ocean front property may not be so attractive), and also politicians (having to deal with economical impacts of rising sea levels, including building dikes and rebuilding areas of cities on higher ground) and international organizations (having to deal with migrations and relocation of large number of people displaced by the rising sea levels.) And as with so many other things, it will impact those with less resources more. Wealthy countries and cities can stave off much of the impact through technology and engineering, but poorer areas do not have that option.
The top photo shows ice covering of the north pole in September 2005, which is the smallest ice cap recorded.
Manhattan if (when?) the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica melts.
I tried a simplified Ecological Footprint calculator again, and got a number that seems a little low. (From more comprehensive calculators I have used in the past, I suspect that the number may be more in the 10-15 acre range.)
How do you take small or large steps in your life to avoid unnecessarily leaving casualties in your wake?
For me, it means to look at the inner (attitude, heart) and the outer, the local and global, and then find and use approaches that appear good at all levels. The inner is my attitude and heart. The outer is my life, those close to me, my local community and ecosystem, the global social and ecological systems, and (not the least) future generations of any species. The local is the immediate results, and the global are the far reaching and long term results.
Dealing with such as complex situation, essentially embracing all of my own life and the life of the Earth as a whole, it is obviously a work in progress, subject to change with new information and new situations.
Often, it is not so hard as it may seem, and I also don’t expect anything close to perfection. Approximation is OK, along with moving in the direction of better informed and more deeply compassionate choices.
For my own inner life, I find many different ways of working with an open heart, including recognizing and integrating projections. The more I see how we are all in the same boat, the more my heart naturally opens – to myself and others. And the more I realize how profoundly interconnected all of our lives are, on many different levels, the more I am motivated to act in ways that benefit us all, including other species, ecosystems and future generations. A healthy social and ecological system, on local and global levels, is essential for my own health and well-being. My own self-interest and the interest of the larger whole are not so different.
In terms of a general guideline for choices, I have found the Ecological Footprint to be the most useful tool. What size land and sea area is needed to support my current lifestyle? The smaller my own EF, the more resources are (in theory) available for other humans, other species, and future generations. In the western industrialized world, our EF is typically four or five times larger than our fair Earth share, which is what is available to each of us if resources were divided equally among all humans, and some is left to other species.
Globally, we are currently using more resources than can be replenished by the ecosystems. In economical terms, we are living off the principal and not just the interest. This situation of overshoot seems fine for a while. After all, there are more money in the bank and we can support our lifestyle with it just fine (at least those fortunate enough to have access to the account.) But the less principal, the less interest, and the quicker the money are depleted. It is a long crash. For a while, it does not impact our life at all, or very little. But then, suddenly, it is all too obvious. And too late. As Al Gore said, we are like someone with homemade wings jumping off a cliff. For a while we are in the air and it seems that we are flying… until we hit the ground.
Back to what we can do in our own lives: there are several EF calculators out there, showing which areas of my life has the most impact on my EF. For most of us, it is air travel, and then the other usual suspects such as car use, food, and so on.
In EF terms, my guideline of finding solutions that appear good at all levels, becomes the question how can I increase my quality of life while minimizing my ecological footprint?
Some of the answers for me is to…
Try to reduce air travel as much as possible, by taking fewer trips, use train or bus whenever possible, and vacationing locally (lots of opportunities for that here in the Northwest.)
Reduce car use, by walking and biking (which gives fresh air and exercise) and use public transportation (which gives me a sense of belonging in a more real way to the community, and also an opportunity to explore projections sometimes.)
Buy used clothing (I can find high-quality and interesting clothes for far less money, the pesticides are already washed out of the fabric, and I don’t give my money to corporations that use sweatshop labor – which almost all clothing manufacturers do these days.)
Have a small house (takes up less space, less use of materials, easier to heat, less space to fill with things.) In town (so I can walk, bike, and use public transportation locally.) And share with housemates (which is often enjoyable, and also helps our personal economy.)
Eat locally produced food (supports the local economy, gives me a connection with the farmers, reduces energy needed to transport food, and provides me with me seasonal, fresh and vital food) and organic when possible (although local is more important.)
Eat mostly low on the food chain (it takes far more land and resources to produce meat than grains, fruits and vegetables.)
Try to minimize money given to large corporations, and especially those using sweatshop labor (buying used, fair trade, or make my own – such as furniture.)
All in all, these things gives me more of a real connection to my local community and ecosystems (by walking, biking, using public transportation, buying local, vacationing locally), it is good for my health (exercise, fresh seasonal food), and also gives me a sense of solidarity with people around the world, other species, and future generations. There is a sense of us all being in the same boat, on the same side – the side of supporting life.
Readings Erik’s post, I am also struck by how the guidelines for ethical living must change with changing times. In traditional Buddhist communities, their impact was only immediate and local. It made sense to focus on one’s immediate relations with humans and other species, because that is all there was (unless you cut down all the trees or did something else that would impact future generations.)
But today, our situation is very different. Our local and daily actions have a very real and significant impact around the world and for future generations. We can be nice to the local critters all we want, even buy fish and release them in the thousands, but it pales in comparison to the impact a large ecological footprint has on our global social and ecological systems.
Today, the global impact of our actions has to be taken into consideration.
A few days ago, a report(summary) exploring the economic impact of climate change came out, produced by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank.
The general links between ecology and economy are pretty obvious.
First, no ecology means no economy. Without the services provided by our ecosystems, there would be no humans around, and no resources for our economy either.
Beyond that, we see that the quality and health of our ecosystems are directly linked with the quality and health of our social and economical systems, in myriads of different ways. A healthy economy requires healthy and abundant ecosystems.
The abundance from our ecosystems is what feeds us with everything we need, and what feeds our economy as well.
With climate change, there are also innumerable more specific consequences for our global and local society and economy. Here are just a few obvious ones…
Rising sea levels
Most of the human population live near or at the coast, and this goes for most of the large cities as well. It will cost massive amounts of money to build dikes for protection, to repair damage from rising sea levels and storms, and rebuild further inland.
We are likely to see desertification of large areas in the equatorial zones, which means reduced food production there, and large scale migrations. Which in turn is a huge issue, also economically. Where will they go? Who will provide food and health care for them?
The oceans absorb CO2 and gradually become more acidic. If this continues, they will become acidic enough to prevent bone formation, which means the end of fish.
The weather will generally become more extreme, which means a need for stricter building and engineering standards, and also the need for more repairs, both of which are costly.
Food production is likely to decline, through desertification and extreme weather.
There will be mass migrations of people due to rising sea levels and desertification. They will need food, health care, and a place to live, which will be expensive and a source of conflict.
Climate related conflicts will most likely take many forms and appear at many scales. Who controls resources? What about those who abuse the commons for their own narrow self-interest? Who will feed and receive climate refugees?
Benefits of turning around
At the same time, there are innumerable benefits of turning around to a more sustainable, thrivable and life-centered way of organizing our society and economy.
For one, developing and producing more sustainable technologies can give a great boost to our economy. And there are many other benefits as well, such as cleaner air, oceans, land and food, an emphasis on local communities and economies, eating locally produced seasonal food, building denser and walkable communities, shifting more to public transportation, and so on.