We have arrived where we are because of a great moral and spiritual blindness in our culture, a lost connection with the eco-centric, biophilic, life-centering, life-cherishing, life-loving, life-sustaining values and practices that are today held chiefly under the guardianship of indigenous peoples around the world, but which are, thankfully, ever more rapidly entering collective awareness.
Christ in Glory, Architect of the Universe, ca. 1210, Vienna, Austrian National Library, Codex Vindobonensis, 1179, fol. 1 verso, ca. 1220-1230.
Now, a dose of realism: when it comes to climate change, we have a window for action, according to which experts you talk to, of four-and-a half years, maybe seven years, and at the maximum, until the end of this decade, the 2020s, to transform radically the way we produce energy and drastically ramp down our carbon emissions. We have to do as much as we possibly can, as soon as we possibly can, continually reinventing our imagined limits of what’s possible.
If we don’t achieve a massive reduction in emissions this decade, we pass certain tipping points and the whole climate system destabilizes; there’s no going back. Which means our extinction as a species, along with so many other forms of life. This is heavy stuff, if you really let it sink into your psyche.
And, yes, it’s possible to zoom out, to try to take a cosmic perspective, to console ourselves with the thought: even if our planet enters a period of climate chaos, in 100,000 years or so, the climate system will re-stabilize and life will start doing its thing again, with our remains as a pretty bizarre layer in the geological record. Humanity is not immortal; an infinite horizon has been never guaranteed us; some of us would always have to have been the ones to face our collective end.
But another voice inside says: “Not like this; not like this.”
I believe that within each of us there waits to be released a heartbroken cry for what we have done – for what we are still doing – to this paradise that surrounds us, to this miracle from which we emerged. And this cry is also for what we have done and are still doing to ourselves. Because the big secret that’s really no secret at all is that the exploitation and domination of nature is also an exploitation and domination of ourselves, for we are life, and our suffering is the suffering of life.
Martin Heade, Orchid and Hummingbird Near a Waterfall, oil on canvas, 1902, Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza Gallery
So, if we can, in the years to come, let’s use the tremendous psychological pressure we’re under – the pressure of the existential threat we face – as a catalyst for personal and collective moral and spiritual transformation. Let’s ask ourselves: do we want to be part of the life project or the death project? Shall we carry on with “business as usual,” caught up in fantasies of infinite growth, continuing in our role as life without care for life? Or shall we evolve ourselves, taking up life-sustaining values and practices, falling back in love with this world, becoming a form of life coming to the rescue of all life?
We are gloriously creative, inventive creatures, and we must unleash our ingenuity on the challenges we face. But, fundamentally, our first task must be to preserve nature, to let nature do its thing – that is, to allow the planetary ecological system to restore and heal itself. After all, it is the life-system, and not us, that has been holding global temperatures in the narrow range conducive to the development of human civilization over the past 10,000 years.
So let us collaborate with, defer to, and celebrate the resilience and adaptability of nature, which also lives in us. Let’s give nature a fighting chance, and, in doing so, give ourselves a chance.
We don’t know what’s lies ahead. We don’t know what end or fruition our efforts will come to. We don’t know if we’ll be able to turn the tide. But what can we do but try?
So, onward, in defense of life.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons