Creating climate change from within
A 1700 word article
Looking at the enormous upheavals in our financial system over the past two years, I feel a certain lack of shock. Whilst our leaders scrabble for solutions to this unanticipated crisis, prophets of all stripes have foreseen this coming: the crash of stock markets, the depletion of resources, food shortages, wide-spread armed conflict, environmental degradation and cataclysmic weather conditions have been foretold for millenia. The book of Revelations, Nostradamus, the Maitreya adherents on one hand. Schumacher in the 70s was writing clearly that peak oil was a reality. Indeed the ancient Maya had the date 2012 down as the end of this cycle of world civilisation. And so, here we are…
We have become so used to hearing stock phrases such as ‘climate change’, ‘the financial crash’ and ‘energy crisis’ bandied around that they have become a short hand. We do not think about either the terms or their implications – by taking us back to how we talk and think about what is facing us I hope to reframe these ideas, to give insight into what they might mean for us as a society.
Marilyn Ferguson, author of the best-sellling book, The Aquarian Conspiracy, says: “Whenever we name things, we structure consciousness. As we look at the great social transformation underway, we will see again and again that naming awakens new perspectives.”
Semantics can be about hair splitting. But this is not intended as cleverness for cleverness’ sake. When words become so habitual we become immune to their power. They become ciphers, and their inherent meaning becomes lost. Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements talks of how we dream our world into being. Each of us has our own dream of reality. The language and images which we both dream in, and use to describe these dreams of reality, if unconscious, mean that the dream is being shaped unconsciously, which we therefore have little control over. By bringing these words and images into the light of our consciousness, and bear witness to them, we become conscious of consciousness, mind becomes aware of itself. “Recognition – literally ‘knowing again’ – occurs when the analytical brain, with its power to name and classify, admits the wisdom of its other half [the right side of the brain] into full awareness.” The Aquarian Conspiracy.
This is the crux of the paradigm shift needed to truly address the issues facing ourselves and our world. For though there are large physical shifts happening in terms of the physical climate of our planet, they are, if we hold that we are responsible for climate change, as a direct result of our actions, which in turn are a direct result of our thoughts. What we think and what we say is the first change which then informs our action. In Buddhist terms one cannot have right action without right thought and right speech: all are interlinked. We cannot fix these issues with words – but our words give an insight into how we are seeing and why we are acting as we are.
‘Climate change’ and ‘the energy crisis’ are not just ecological problems ‘out there’ in the world at large but are both physical manifestations and also metaphors for our individual selves: as above, so below. As the Romantic poets and philosophers noted, the microcosm is always a reflection of the world at large, the macrocosm – two reflective pools, each referring back to the other. We are living in a cultural climate change also, not one purely based on our carbon emissions, but on something far deeper: our inner environment. Many of us are realising that we cannot continue to live as we have been, we need to change our cultural climate, and fast. We have been burning the candle at both ends, racing endlessly from one appointment to the next, always on the go, squandering our own energies as well as the oil and coal which fuel our buzzing lives. Not just the banks but we ourselves have been living beyond our means, borrowing to fund our excessive lifestyles.
As a culture we have become accustomed to always looking outwards. We point the finger, like Michelangelo’s Adam, out at God, or indeed our fellow human beings, rather than looking inwards for answers. It has been the ultimate myth, perpetuated by rulers and religions throughout history: we are powerless, the power and responsibility lies without, as does our salvation. We cannot solve the current problems facing us whilst still coming from a place of fear. For too long we have lived in a fear based culture: that is what has got us where we are. The perception that we are fighting an enemy is so ingrained and so our leaders look for precedents and guidance in our recent history, but find none. The old rules do not and cannot hold. We are trying to apply a materialist paradigm to solve a non-material dilemma: money, depletion of energy and unseen gases are all far more abstract than human combatants which we have fought for so long, or geographical territories which we have sought to conquer. And so our means and resources, indeed our whole approach must necessarily be different.
It might seem strange to refer to money as ‘abstract’ but the current crash is purely about these abstractions, the plummeting down of numbers on screens, the investments in unknown debts, speculation of potential gains. We cannot be pressurised, forced or guilt-tripped by tax, policy or rhetoric into the fundamental changes which are needed for truly sustainable living.
For too long the environmental message has just been another mental idea ‘out there’ taken up by a few, not an embodied philosophy for the majority. This is currently personified in the chattering media-induced frenzy to find someone to scapegoat for the financial crisis. Now is the time to hush that chattering voice within and without and find the still small voice of calm, to be able to identify the root of the problem: the depletion of our own inner resources, our own energy reserves, and create a climate of change from within. We do not have to fight or combat climate change when we approach it from within. This is not a war on anything. Instead we need to make fundamental adjustments to our assumptions and our modes of living, to make peace with ourselves and our environment.
This is a time of crisis we are told. But panic will not help the crashing financial markets. Only fearless action will. The Chinese ideogram for crisis means both danger and possibility. We must be aware of both as we consider the way forward. Those who were at home, embedded in the old system, whose values were those of material riches and wealth, are faced with a fear of the future which has no comparison in historical times. There is a great stripping away underway which is immensely painful for our large institutions and all of those who are reliant on them for their livings.
This is a time of the death of the culture as we have known it, but the of birth of a new culture, one of greater sustainability, meaning one which we can sustain and which can sustain us. As a culture we have tended to approach both birth and death with fear and trepidation, seeking to numb ourselves and deny the enormous learning of the spirit as it passes through these challenges.
During the early stages of transformation there is dissonance “sharp conflict between new beliefs and old patterns. Like the troubled society struggling to remake itself with old tools and structures, the individual tries at first to improve the situation rather than change it, to reform rather than transform” (The Aquarian Conspiracy). Coming from a culture dominated by money as the central force, there seems to be a belief within current political solutions that the more money that is spent on climate change, the more power we will have, that indeed, climate change can be ‘solved’ by buying and selling units of carbon on the global markets. But all the money in the world, every last cent could not buy climate change without the will of people everywhere.
There are, as Marilyn Ferguson succinctly discusses, potentially four types of change we as a society and as individuals can make. Change by exception which says we are right except for one or two anomalies, which we allow as they do not break the rule completely. This is the habitual reaction of most people, most of the time, it is least threatening for the status quo and for our own sense of rightness, and the identity of the ego which is tied up with that. Incremental change occurs bit by bit and the individual is not aware of having change, they are a passive recipient of change, this, I would argue, is how we have emerged into the full blown capitalist, consumer driven state which we find ourselves inhabiting now. Then there is pendulum change where black becomes white, the hawk becomes a dove, this change fails to integrate the old or discriminate the new, it is an unstable state, rejecting its prior experience and is essentially a going from one kind of half knowing to another. All of these explicitly avoid full transformation. Transformative, or paradigm change refines and integrates, it is not a simple linear effect, but a sudden shift of pattern.
What must happen and dare I say, is quietly taking root now is an inner revolution, a spontaneous paradigm change: one of embodied wisdom and transformation. Not changing our minds but a true change of heart and a new language with which to dream a new vision of a new world. Language must come from our knowing and our knowing is informed by our language. We are our environment, we are a small part of it, and it is a large part of us, we cannot separate ourselves from it: this is the paradigm shift which must occur, requiring us to embody environmentalism and the fundamental changes which are happening. We are being called to respect our environment in a totally new way: re-spect, to look again and see with our inner vision, and from this place we might transform ourselves and our world, living lighter on the earth, in ourselves and with each other.