In the current issue of Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell observes in “Hothouse Earth is Merely the Beginning of the End” that “our world is aflame,” and wonders if 2018 will be remembered as the year people woke up to what is really happening to our Mother. There is certainly a viral sense of alarm in the air, along with all the atmospheric smoke and haze. Goodell cites to a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene.” Catchy title, isn’t it? “A Global Heat Wave Has Set the Arctic Circle on Fire!” this summer of overheating “earth systems.”
What is the Anthropocentric Trajectory of our Earth System, according to the National Academy of Sciences, you may still be wondering? As Goodell sums it up: “even if we managed to hit the carbon emissions targets set in the Paris Climate Accord” – AS IF! (carbon emissions STILL accelerating) – “we still might trigger a series of accelerating climate-system feedback loops that would push the climate into a permanent hothouse state, with a warming of four, five or even six degrees Celsius.” Oh, is that all? you may reflexively wonder to yourself?
At 3.5C, most scientists agree that agriculture is no longer feasible. Here is a more thorough treatment of the impacts from each degree celsius of global warming. And because it rarely gets mentioned in the media, I am always compelled to remind my readers for perspective that there is a 30-40 year lag-time between carbon emissions and climate uptake, so that another 1C is already baked into the “earth system” — even as Trump the Terrible fiddles his Putinian phallus on the roof of his burning tower of ecocidal empire, barking out orders to build a wall to hold off the blue wave.
Tidal changes are certainly imminent.
The Summer of 2018 may be remembered as well for the 70-page NYT Magazine dedicated to how we took the wrong step years ago, due presumably to a flaw in human nature. The NYT is, of course, the official newspaper of empire, corporate controlled, and this flawed premise of the article by Nathaniel Rich, Losing Earth, was roundly criticized, most welcomely by Climate Goddess Naomi Klein, who pointed out that actually, Nathaniel, it was Capitalism that killed the Climate Movement, not human nature.
All of this is fine and good, I suppose, because certainly it is long overdue but still welcome that people are waking up to the truth. There can be no reconciliation with our mother until we bring awareness to what it is that has caused our falling out. But what really has my attention at this time of mass awakening are the moving, honest and sober musings by mother, theoretical physicist, and climate scientist Kate Marvel, an editor for the Journal On Being. Most recently, Marvel shared her thoughts and feelings as a mother of a young boy: “What do I tell my son? A monster awaits in the deep, and someday it will come for you. We know this. We put it there.” Earlier this year, in a piece entitled “We Need Courage, Not Hope, To Face Climate Change,” Marvel shared her own sense of fatalism in the face of climate trauma:
There is now no weather we haven’t touched, no wilderness immune from our encroaching pressure. The world we once knew is never coming back.
I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet. But the opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage, we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale and inevitability, binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere.
We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.
I also have become familiar with the questions about hope whenever I counsel people on the psychology of the climate crisis. I’ve come to realize over the years that when people ask me if there are any signs of hope, what they are really asking me for is a kind of excuse to go back to the blissful slumber of their conditioned lives in the seductively modern world. I really do not mean that to sound harsh – we all need to have coping mechanisms, and I take the position that denial of the reality of the climate crisis occurs across a spectrum, that it’s not an either/or issue. But hope is all about future projections, not present predicaments.
As Kate points out, there can no longer be any assurance of a happy ending. That window closed when we ignored the urgent call of scientists on the eve of Barack Obama’s first State of the Union to take drastic actions within the next 5 years. We have sealed our fate and the fates of all higher life forms on Planet Earth.
Hope is irrelevant.
What is needed along with the courage that Marvel speaks of, however, and what I really think people are alluding to when they ask about hope, is faith – something that is in relatively short supply these days. The appropriate psychological defense mechanism when we learn the truth of the climate crisis is not to shut down, but rather to have faith.
Obviously, I’m not talking about faith in happy endings. While I wouldn’t necessarily call this religious faith, either, you will notice that when a deeply religious person in the West is confronted with the irrefutability of our troubling trajectory, their normal response will be something like “It’s in God’s hands,” or “God’s will be done” or, rather disconcertedly, “It’s foretold in Revelations.” None of these is particularly helpful, but it does illustrate the connection I am referring to. What of those who (like myself) have no faith in an all-powerful Creator God? What kind of faith breeds resilience in the face of Climate Trauma?
I think what is called for in the face of the spiritual dimension of this unprecedented global crisis is faith in human nature. And I find that kind of faith to be in short supply due, in part, to the relatively recent reality of the Holocaust and the gratuitous use of nuclear arms on Japanese civilians, and perhaps in larger part to the pervasive cultural conditioning of the American Dream. People have more faith in their automobiles, their smart phones, and their accumulated wealth than they do in human nature.
But really – when you first wrap your mind around the horrific inevitability of accelerating climate trauma — the continuous assault on the biosphere that threatens us with extinction — it is experienced as an existential crisis, is it not? I mean, it IS an existential crisis, quite literally. But what I’m referring to here is more personal than that. It calls into question our beliefs about why we are here, how we got here, and what it means to be human in the Anthropocentric Age.
It quickly distills into a spiritual issue.
Where can we place our faith? We humans are mortal, death is certain, comes without warning – this body will be a corpse. Nothing new there. Every human alive today will be dead by 2150. Unfortunately, due to our hubris, most species will also become extinct in the not-too-distant future.
What we require is not hope. We require faith to get through the dark times ahead.
Courage itself is grounded in faith, is it not?
In my training as a spiritual counselor, I learned to view all psychological issues through the lens of trauma. Because when we experience trauma – in relationship to ourselves, our loved ones, or the world – all our past trauma becomes present. And so my whole focus of inquiry with anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances of their life is this: how strong is your spiritual container? Is it strong enough to serve as a fiery cauldron for personal transformation?
If it is, then let us get on with the difficult work, knowing we will be better for facing whatever traumas confront us with deepening awareness. But if not, then that is where your urgent work lies – examining, cultivating and strengthening the spiritual container that is forged through questioning your world view and striving for a higher perspective from which to view your life. Firing it up in the kiln of your own personal traumas until you start finding resolution there. And when it is strong enough to accept and hold the awareness of our collective trauma, then you can dwell in all the chaos as an agent of change, and plant seeds of light for future generations. If we try to skip any steps along the way, say out of reluctance to address our own deep woundedness, then we risk stumbling into an abyss of despair and powerlessness.
We have to trust ourselves. We need to have faith in human nature, accessed by getting in touch with our own true nature. That is not the source of our problem – it is the cure for all our problems. Nature is GOOD! We are NOT sinful “by nature.” That was a political idea propagated by Saint Augustine in the 4th Century to deliver unruly Christians to the Roman Empire. It has since been perversely resorted to as an excuse for every kind of human failing – from war to slavery to the subjugation of nature.
The truth is that human nature IS Nature. We and the world and all of life are one throbbing, pulsating, vibratory organism. Gaia.
Repeat after me: human nature is GOOD!
Isn’t it strange that we should find that so difficult to acknowledge?
It is ignorance of nature, and the pervasive conditioning of our egoic consumer culture, that are evil. It is our own separation from the natural world, and thus from human nature, caused and reinforced by cultural and political propaganda, that has led us inexorably down this road to perdition that is reflected back to us by our climate in crisis. It was Descartes who first propagated the poisonous idea that there is “I” in here, and everything else “out there.” Quantum physicists have proven him wrong many times over, even going so far as to posit that there are no things at all in the world – only relations. So while all our modern problems are rooted in separation from nature and worshipping things, all the solutions are relational.
It follows quite naturally, then, the “simple” solution to the climate crisis is for each and every one of us who are slowly or quite suddenly awakening to the truth of our present predicament to reconnect again and again at the deepest levels of awareness with the natural world, without freaking ourselves out over speculative futures none of which are certain, and with our own human nature, and to inquire within as to what it really means to be human in Age of the Anthropocene.
There are no easy answers. But morality demands no less of us. We are meant to pursue meaning in this world, not some vague notions of happiness.
Each of us must speak our own truth to power. We must bear witness first to our own suffering, then to the suffering of our beloved others, and finally, with our broke-open hearts, to the suffering of the world. When it comes to trauma, the cure is found close to the wound. Only this kind of healing can make us whole.