Asglobal heating speeds up, humanity can no longer assume to control our destiny. We can let that tough realisation sit heavily with us, but then breathe and redouble our commitment to life and love, no matter what the odds, opposition or outcomes.
Because the news is not good. One institute reports that the global average temperatures over the past 12 months have beennearly 1.3C degreesabove pre-industrial levels. Atmosphericcarbon concentrations keep growing, reaching levels not seen for3 million yearswhen the world was up 3 to 4 degrees warmer than today, sea levels were 20 metres higher and camels were ranging around the North pole. Just as unprecedented summer temperatures swept the Arctic, 16 climatescientists concludedin an academic journal that “the Arctic is currently experiencing an abrupt climate change event, and that climate models underestimate this ongoing warming.”
You may have heard all of that before. And heard the call to act before it is too late to stop disaster. But you may have also seen how the juggernaut of the global economy continues to drive us off the cliff, with its advertising and media handsblinkering us as we fall. Even the United Nations warning us that climate and ecological destruction hasmade outbreaks of coronavirus more likelyis ignored in the rush of elites to get us back to ‘normal’.
So if you haven’t felt like crying, you haven’t been paying attention; or perhaps you have been numbed like so many of usby our culture. Our hurt is not something to suppress, or seek a distraction from. Our tears can be a truth that we can integrate into our being. Then we can be honest with each other about the path ahead. Because it is a path of both despair and dedication. Paying attention fully to what is around us and in front of us, even though it hurts, is to be fully alive. As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” There is a calling we are hearing, to witness the beauty of life on Earth, even as so much is being lost, in the same way we would tend the bedside of a dying loved one.
Talking topsychologists, activists, and spiritual leaders over the past couple of years, both of us have heard about the fearlessness that arises from an acceptance that everything we take for granted might be impossible to save. Once we accept that anxiety and grief will be constant companions in this struggle, we can stay fully present to what is happening and respond accordingly. It means we do not grasp desperately at the latest idea of what might fix the climate and ecological emergency. Instead, we can help each other stay fully present to the difficult mess, so that we can try to reduce harm, save what we can and plant some seeds for what might come next. We have also learned that the greatest personal transformations come from staring into the abyss of loss, whether of one’s own health, the end of a relationship, status, or someone we cherish. Could our collective transformation be born of a willingness to fully face what we have done and what we are losing?
This outlook is not usual or welcome in ourdeath phobic western culture. The compulsion forpositivity and progressruns through every walk of life. It means that some people may even feel disgust or anger that others don’t share their view that the future can be better than today. Such feelings can be fueled by those industry sectors that see any mention of societal collapse as a threat. They do not want to dent the enthusiasm of prospective owners, insurers and regulators of theirmulti-decade business plansfor new power stations. It is a concern that the UK’snuclear industry visionof providing 40% of the country’s electricity by 2050 does not include any mention of climate change adaptation, despite being offered as a necessary response to the climate crisis. As such sectors often have thebacking of their governments, that is a huge vested interest ready to subvert the environmental movement by demonising anyone who thinks the worst case scenarios are plausible and should form part of our policy discussion.