I have had to work at understanding the human disconnect, the human capacity to operate with a split brain – cognitive dissonance – where one part can understand we have a problem and the other part can ignore it and remain, if not unmoved, at least inactive.
Nothing has rammed this home as forcefully to me as this COP conference in Paris. It is what I expected but it is nevertheless still shocking to see. The COP is an expensive economic conference with the Business As Usual part of our collective brain strutting its stuff to out-shout, out-fund and in whatever ways possible, dominate the conference and the outcomes. It is simply seeking to maintain the status quo, to change as little as possible and that means to keep taking from the poorer countries and from the planet’s ecology.
A big part of this attitude of privilege that is meant to justify the exploitation is anthropocentrism.
“Thinking Like a Mountain” snapped me out of whatever anthropocentrism I had left when I read it in 2007. Written by Arne Naess, John Seed and Pat Fleming and published by New Catalyst Books, it’s relevance has never been greater than now with our ‘developed’ nations’ collective disconnect from the rest of the human population and the natural world which itself is clearly leading us into very dangerous territory.
At the same time ‘reconnect’ can lead us away from danger and into a world that embraces justice, reciprocity and cooperative thriving in a healthy biosphere of all life.
Naess, Seed and Fleming have created a collection of poems, artwork, meditations and essays to provide “inspiration and instructions for leading deep ecology work”. I came away understanding anthropocentric* thinking as an aggressive form of bias against the nature world in the same bag as racism, classism, sexism, agism and many other divisive, disconnecting and discriminatory ‘isms’. *anthropocentric: regarding humankind as the central or most important element of existence, especially as opposed to God or animals.
In a way anthropocentrism is the ultimate expression of denial that humans are part of the world of species, mammals, part of the animal kingdom and part of the interconnected web of life that all life including our own species absolutely depends on to survive.
It is for this reason that deep ecology speaks so strongly to me as a way of understanding the world.
This extract is from a review of the book …
This book’s title is taken from the 1949 SAND COUNTY ALMANAC, in which Aldo Leopold warned us that unless we attempt to connect with our ecosystem by thinking like a mountain, disaster is inevitable. Stated differently by Thich Nhat Hanh, we must listen within ourselves to “the sounds of the earth crying” (p. 7). Contributors to this 122-page book include, among others, John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming, Arne Naess, Gary Snyder, and Chief Seattle. John Seed recognizes that “nothing short of a total revolution in consciousness will be of lasting use in preserving the life-support systems of our planet” (p. 9). He reminds us that we are “part of the rainforest recently emerged into thinking” (p. 36). Joanna Macy observes that we touch the Earth by touching our face, by touching our brothers and sisters (pp. 60-61).
This thin book contains a mountain of deep thinking, including exercises designed to “help make us more conscious of our embeddedness in the web of life” (p. 80), and meditations to protect the Earth “from the blades of men unhinged by greed, prestige and authority” (p. 91): “Relax and breathe in, breathe in Mountain, I feel my rock-roots go deep deep down to where the Earth herself is very hot” (p. 80). Reading this book could change the way you think about your life. “When you think like a mountain, one also thinks like the black bear, so that honey dribbles down your fur as you catch the bus to work” (p. 39).
The full title of the book is Thinking Like A Mountain: Towards A Council of All Beings. In 1985 I participated in the second Council as part of a three-month immersion course into Sustainable Living held at Dharmananda and Bodhi Farm communities in the Rainbow region of northern NSW in Australia. This no doubt was part of what was at play when I contributed to the founding of the Sustainable Living Foundation fourteen years later in 1999. The book has been translated into other languages including German and Spanish and there have been many Councils held in different parts of the world in the interim. I joined another with my friend John Seed held in Melbourne at the Abbotsford Convent a couple of years ago. This has become a major thread in the research I am doing for my doctorate and it continues to inform and underpin my work and to motivate me to keep going.
And this is why I have adopted For all people, all species and all generations (a thoughtful phrase coined by Philip Sutton) as my sign-off message. This is the goal. This is the work. And it is also from this perspective that I have come to Paris.
I was asked to contribute to Place To Be by submitting something to the creation of the new story that is being so thoroughly workshopped here throughout these two weeks and that will continue after the COP is finished. Saturday’s theme is
In a nutshell the paper I submitted which can be found in the Resources and Tools page of my blog, discusses the nature and scale of the problem, current and future impacts of escalating climate change, the inappropriateness of the targets and an alternative course of action to the acceptance of 2º and overshoot. It touches on our choices, the Sustainability Renaissance, the Precautionary Principle and the need to establish an Emergency Mode for the duration until Safe Climate conditions are restored. When Emergency Mode is over, with a safe climate economy in place, we can flourish sustainably within a sustainable world and with prospects of an amazing future. We = all people, all species and all generations.
In it I do rail a bit about the fact that we didn’t have to find ourselves in this shocking situation. And it is shocking: the scale and gravity of the tragedy. My involvement in Safe Climate work is based on my refusal to accept that it has come to this and can’t be reversed. Those working in this Safe Climate Restoration field have been doing so for quite a while now. For me this focus has been central since late 2003 when Philip Sutton brought it to my attention. That he needed people like me to understand it made me realise I had a role to play. My need to have others around me understanding it is the same. We don’t need everyone knowing all the details and complexity of some of the science although we do need (nearly) everyone to get active and stay active and keep moving forward reducing emissions and pushing for change.
But we also do need some people understanding what is meant by restoring safe climate conditions and pushing for this specifically otherwise the crazy targets already in place will keep slipping and grow to even crazier proportions. I think it helps if some people understand what happens with global warming – even half a degree of warming puts island nations under the ocean. Since we already have one degree (+) what does this mean for these people? That’s a whole other discussion.
We need Transformative change to clean up and fix the mess and make the world better and safer and it’s in our hands. The thing is transformative change is already happening in the Solomon Islands and other atoll nations of the Pacific and Indian Ocean – but it’s the worst kind. And that’s in our hands too.
In the paper I also talk about how the measures that are needed in the rapid transformative change – Emergency Mode – are temporary and once the process is on track to restore safe climate conditions the human population can enjoy the prospect of flourishing once more albeit sustainably and equitably into the future so as to have a good future.
A set of Climate Rescue Action Tools was developed and brought to Paris on 100 USBs available for people with whom this resonates. The tools comprise Climate Code Red work including a précis of the book, 3 short movie clips, a discussion paper on Natural Drawdown of atmospheric CO2, a couple of graphics for this work and two pivotal brochures: RECOUNT – It’s Time to Do The Math Again and STRIKING TARGETS – Matching Climate Goals With Climate Reality. Please contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org
The greatest need right now is building the political will and some of this comes from doing good things like reducing our individual and work based consumption and emissions, going solar, contributing to food security and so on. And the global upsurge of energy and enthusiasm to find ways that are creative, engaging and often fun to do is one of the key take home messages from this time here in Paris around the COP21. (More on that later.)
But the bottom line is creating conversations and connections that can lead to a change in voting habits. We can’t get out of this fix until we have collectively bent the political process to serve the common good. It’s about long-term survival and also for many, short term survival and the reality now is that lives as well as property are already being lost. And since none of us are likely to put our hands up and say “I’ll go first” we have to vigorously defend the rights of those immediately affected as if they were our own brothers, sisters, parents, children, friends and neighbours.
And of course, on one level they are and I think this is the value that underpins the true meaning of global citizen.
Going further and dispensing with anthropocentrism this then extends to include all species as expressions of the life force that unites us all, even the very earth of the Earth herself.