Solar panels. Electric vehicles. Sequestration. Much of the dialogue around the climate crisis makes it seem as though we are talking purely about carbon math. Lower carbon emissions and we have the problem solved.
Here’s the thing. Carbon emissions and global temperature are the symptoms of the climate crisis, not the cause. And my great fear is that all the technological solutions in the world will prove inadequate if we fail to address the underlying root of climate change.
Disconnected. Individualistic. When we look at most of human society today, we see a picture in which so much of how we understand ourselves, whether as individuals or states or countries, is through focusing on what makes us distinct from some group of “others”. Our identities are built around “me” or “us” as unique from “you” or “them”.
And it isn’t just that we are distinct. We are also in competition. It’s not simply a matter of “us and them”, it’s “us vs. them”. We correctly identify that resources are limited. We have taken this to mean that we must be in competition over those limited resources and that the role of social systems, more often than not, is to protect our self-interest.
This “us vs. them” understanding of the world drove colonialism and imperialism. Wealth, land and power were accumulated at the expense of “others”, whether native human cultures or other native species. And this understanding continues today. As nations compete for the role of world superpower, power is often obtained by disempowering many “others” and human wealth and “security” are accumulated through pillaging and attempting to “control” the rest of the natural world.
Cracks in the system
But the systems of oppression and differentiation and the beliefs upon which they are built are beginning to crumble. Whether through personal discontent or national movements like New Zealand’s shift from a focus on G.D.P. to Gross National Happiness, whispers are everywhere, questioning the validity of “us vs. them”, exposing that thinking for what it is: faulty.
And nowhere are the whispers so loud as within the climate crisis, if we can shift from a focus on carbon and take in the full scope of what is happening. The false belief in separateness and the necessity of competition are at the root of climate change. The misconception that to succeed in life, one must obtain individual power, wealth and resources at the expense of others has driven us to exploit the natural world and the rights of other humans. The climate crisis and the many humanitarian crises the world over are the results of this exploitation and therefore the results of this false belief in separation and competition.
Beyond bandaids – building regenerative community
Truly addressing climate change consequently requires that we truly address this dangerous system of “us vs. them”. Simply slapping on technological bandaids without changing that belief system would be a bit like putting a cast on a broken leg without resetting the bone first. We cannot continue to seek wealth and power at the expense of “others” because that is just not how the world works.
Yes, resources are finite. And the only way to truly honor the complex system of finite resources in which we live is to fully realize how interrelated we are with all other living beings and to build a way of life grounded in respect for that irrefutable truth.
This is a tall order. It involves what many have rightly dubbed a “shift in consciousness”, which basically means we need to change our understanding of how the world works and our place within it. This shift will take time, as will rebuilding society to reflect the newfound understanding of our interrelatedness with all beings. We must continue to lower carbon as quickly as possible. It’s not an either/or. But as we employ the technological solutions desperately needed, we must also keep sight on the root of the problem. We must do the work of “shifting our consciousness”.
A welcome invitation
And here’s the thing. Deep down, I believe that many of us are longing to do this work. Sure, we might be scared that it will be uncomfortable. But let’s face it, many of us are not fulfilled by life as it is, by how it feels to live in an individualistic, competitive society. We long for connection and a more complete, less tenuous understanding of who we are and why we are here.
Rather than seeing the challenge ahead of us as a burden, or a terribly daunting task, my hope is that we might view it as a welcome invitation. There’s a bit more pressure behind the challenge than I might like, but perhaps that pressure is what is needed. In his pivotal book Climate, A New Story, Charles Eisenstein makes a compelling case that consciousness shifts when we connect to what is real. And there is nothing like a crisis to push us to make that connection. If we let them, moments of crisis strip away the false aspects of life, revealing that which is most important and most true.
This work takes deep courage and a willingness to be uncomfortable. We must be ready to let go of illusions of control and a need to be right. We must open ourselves to those previously believed to be “other” and be ready to learn in order to truly reconnect, building community founded on respect.
We must model this work for our children and we must be willing to let go of illusions of control over our children and let ourselves be taught by them. Young people come into the world deeply aware of the truth of our interbeing. This much is evident if I take just a few minutes to really watch my daughter and son. We can learn a lot from how the very young relate to the world around them and to each other.
We need to let go of excessive comfort in favor of enough for all. Is this going to be easy? No. Will it be rewarding? I really think so. Will everyone join in? No. But if we can do the work and inspire as many around us to do the same, my hope is that enough true community will build before the proverbial “poo” hits the fan and that these regenerative communities rise to meet the moment with compassion, grace and the deep healing required.