7 02 2015

This is a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.”  You can read the entire chapter here, and buy the book here.

What, then, of the climate change activist who says, “Certainly, inclusivity, exposing unconscious racism and classism, giving voice to the marginalized, nonviolent communication, deep listening skills, and so forth are all worthy goals, but we are talking about the survival of our species here. We need to achieve CO2 reduction by whatever means necessary. These other things can come later. None will matter if we don’t stop the six or eight degree temperature rise that our present course entails. Therefore, to devote oneself to these things, or indeed to most social issues, is a bit frivolous.”

It may not be obvious, but this view buys in to another version of the Story of Separation, in which the universe comprises a multitude of independent phenomena. In it, an environmental leader’s neglect of his family or contracting of minimum-wage janitorial services has no bearing on global climate change. Quantum mechanics, with its collapse of the self/other, object/universe, observer/observed distinction, offers us a new set of intuitions about how reality works. I won’t say that it “proves” that by changing your beliefs or relationships you will remedy climate change. It does, however, suggest a principle of interconnectedness that implies that every action has cosmic significance. But even without sourcing that principle in quantum mechanics, we can get there simply by asking, What is the real cause of climate change? CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases, perhaps? Okay, what is the cause of those? Maybe consumerism, technological arrogance, and the growth imperative built in to the financial system. And what is the cause of those? Ultimately it is the deep ideologies that govern our world, the defining mythology of our civilization that I have called the Story of Separation…..

….Yes, my friends, the conceptual revolution we are beginning goes this deep. We need to rediscover the mind of nature, to return to our original animism and the ensouled universe it perceived. We need to understand nature, the planet, the sun, the soil, the water, the mountains, the rocks, the trees, and the air as sentient beings whose destiny is not separate from our own. As far as I know, no indigenous person on Earth would deny that a rock bears some kind of awareness or intelligence. Who are we to think differently? Are the results of the modern scientific view so impressive as to justify such arrant presumptuousness? Have we created a society more beautiful than they? In fact, as the example of the quantum particle suggests, science is finally circling back toward animism. To be sure, scientific paradigms that countenance an intelligent universe are mostly heterodox today, but they are gradually encroaching on the mainstream. Take the example of water. Emerging from the shadows of homeopathy, anthroposophy, and research by marginal figures like Masaru Emoto and the brilliant Viktor Schauberger, the idea that water itself is alive, or at least bears structure and individuality, is now being explored by mainstream scientists like Gerald Pollack. We still have a long way to go before anything like the sentience of all matter can be accepted, or even articulated, by science. But imagine what that belief would mean when we contemplate mountaintop removal mining, polluting aquifers with fracking fluid, and so on.

Whatever the mechanism—greenhouse gases, deforestation, or solar fluctuations—climate change is sending us an important message. We and Earth are one. As above, so below: what we do to each other, even to the smallest animal or plant, we do to all creation. Perhaps all our small, invisible acts imprint themselves upon the world in ways we do not understand.

music: Brother Martin and the Intangibles, “We Are Water,” “Molecules”  (“Molecules” can also be heard here, and both songs are on the Brother Martin and the Intangibles Facebook page, which you will find if you click the “Intangibles” link)


10 04 2010

And, while we’re on the subject of apologies….

Like many people, I spread the IPCC’s claim that the Himalayan ice sheet, which is the third largest on the planet, and the source for every major river in Southeast Asia, was likely to melt by 2035.  Well, the good news is, they now admit they were wrong about that–it will actually happen in 2036.

Just kidding!

Seriously, though, the official estimate for the demise of that ice pack is now three hundred years, which, geologically speaking, is hardly any different from twenty-five years, and in any case, the IPCC’s estimates have consistently turned out to be optimistic, compared to what is actually happening.  For instance, fossil fuel use, and consequent carbon release, has risen much faster than even their worst-case scenario predictions.

A slower dwindling of the Himalayan ice pack means that the billions of people who depend on the rivers of Southeast Asia for their water–from the Indus in Pakistan to the Yellow River of China–will be gradually parched rather than suddenly hung out to dry.  If the affected countries plan carefully, this could allow time for voluntary population reduction, social programs to obviate the perceived need for large families, transition to less water-intensive agriculture, reforestation, and other water conservation and ecosystem stabilization practices.

None of that will be easy, and even a coercive state like China has not been able to actually reduce its population, in spite of a fairly strict one-child-per-family law.  The alternative, whether reached in twenty five years or three centuries, is horrific–billions of people displaced by famine, failing surface and ground water supplies, and rising seas.  There will be population reduction and eventual return to some kind of equilibrium, but it will not be pretty.

In fact, it’s not pretty already.

In India, the “Green Revolution” replaced lower-yielding, open-pollinated dryland crops with hybrid crops that, given irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizer, produced higher yields.  While costs of these fossil-fuel based inputs were originally low, they have since risen faster than the price of the crops that demand their application.  In addition, since they are  planting hybrid seeds, farmers can no longer save seed from one year to the next, and are confronted with rising seed prices.  This has had several serious, unintended consequences.  Indian farmers, caught in a noose of rising debt, are committing suicide in record numbers, and record numbers of families are being forced off land they have inhabited for centuries, seeking the dubious shelter of India’s already swollen and out-of-control cities.  Meanwhile, the increased demand for irrigation water is drawing down India’s water table, causing wells and springs to go dry, sending more people out of the countryside and into the cities.  Last but hardly least, the dryland crop seedlines–and the knowledge of how to grow and use them–are in danger of being lost in the rush to grow green revolution rice.

The monsoon, which provides another big chunk of India’s water supply, failed last year.  This is not unheard of, and not necessarily connected to climate change, but it should serve to remind us that we have set things in motion that we can neither predict nor control, despite our conceit about our own cleverness as a species.  Can you say hubris, boys and girls?

And, speaking of hubris, let’s look at China, where the rush to industrialize has resulted in incredible, pervasive levels of pollution.  Even boiled water is not safe to drink in many locations, because it is apt to contain chemicals that cannot be removed by boiling.  Worse yet, China’s much-vaunted railway line into Tibet is likely to help China exploit Tibet’s vast, untapped mineral resources–which, given China’s abysmal environmental track record,  will result in toxic mine waste polluting the water supply of most of southeast Asia–while it lasts.

I wish I had something vast and uplifting to offer you at this point, but I don’t.  The reality of our situation is grim and sobering, especially for poor people in the second and third world, who are going to be bearing the brunt of the problems we in the first world have created with our exorbitant, exploitive lifestyle.  We have the luxury of time and energy to form garden co-ops and relearn low-tech grain farming and animal husbandry, blacksmithing and woodworking, and to adapt high-tech electronics to consciously conceived and executed sustainable lifestyles. Most of us have plenty of clean water available. We are not Indian or Chinese peasants or urban slum dwellers, facing poisoned water or none at all, lack of land and other resources from which to feed ourselves, or even a secure home.  It’s a blessing that we have blessings to count, and probably the best way to insure our own continued good fortune is to seek ways to share those blessings with whoever we can reach out to.   That’s not much, but it’s what there is.

(on the subject of corrections, I have been crediting “The Road to Hell” to Leonard Cohen, because somebody gave it to me on a CD that was otherewise all LC songs, and they sound somewhat alike…finally figured it out!)

music:  Chris Rea, “The Road to Hell”


8 03 2006

No matter how much b.s. the politicians sling, the planet’s climate just keeps on shifting. In the last month, it has come to light that Antarctica is losing forty-eight cubic miles of icecap per year, and the meltdown in Greenland is accelerating, which should come as no surprise—it’s one of the physical properties of ice to melt at an accelerating rate. If you’re looking at a cube or two in your drink, that’s no big deal, but when we’re looking at dumping more fresh water into the planet’s oceans, there start to be consequences. The Gulf Stream is slowing down, bringing colder weather to northern Europe—Scandanavia’s glaciers are the only ones in the world that are growing. England’s National Trust reports that much of that country’s seacoast is eroding at an alarming rate. In my wild eyed, fanatical opinion, this is an early result of rising sea levels and stormier winters. Actually, it’s not just my opinion—it’s been documented that storms in northern Europe are increasing in their intensity.

Meanwhile, Africa is suffering from severe drought, which is diminishing river flow and threatening both human culture and what wildlife remains, as the deserts expand. A massive sandstorm spilled out of the Sahara and buffeted the Mediterranian island of Cyprus. This has happened before, but last months sandstorm was far and away the most severe ever recorded. I have reported before on the increasing desertification of Portugal and Spain—birds native to the North African desert are now breeding there.

Rising sea levels and more serious storm surges can have a domino effect. The Sacramento River delta of northern California is already below sea level, and as vulnerable to levee breakage as New Orleans. It is also where the City of Los Angeles draws a sizable percentage of its water. Salt water inundation of the intake valves for L.A.’s water system could dry southern California right out of business.

But if pioneer climate scientist James Lovelock is right, losing LA could be the least of our worries. In his recent book, “The Revenge of Gaia,” he posits that, unless humanity takes immediate, drastic steps, the planet will pass a tipping point, and our current environment will topple, leading to a new stasis, much less friendly to human culture—the most quoted line from the book (which, honestly, I have not yet read) is that the human race will be reduced to “a few breeding pairs in the arctic,” which will, in his vision, be the only part of the planet still cool enough to support human life.

We here in America rarely stop to think about how wealthy and lucky we are. The World Health Organization says that human beings need about 12-13 gallons of water a day for proper hydration and sanitation. The average American uses about a hundred and twenty-five gallons. The British, whose standard of living is notoriously lower than our own, get by on only about fifty gallons a day, while inhabitants of many countries in Africa get by on two or three.

Those dirty Africans…why can’t they just take more responsibility for themselves, eh? Global warming’s their fault, with all their deforestation for cooking fires and slaughtering all the jungle animals for food. It’s not our fault, not our fault with our automobiles and air conditioning and electricity and international trade and oil wells and all. We’re driving full-tilt boogie towards a brick wall, but it’s not our fault. Nuh-uh. Nuh-uh. Uh-oh.

music: Taj Mahal, “Giant Step”

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