I recently returned from giving an Eco-audit Training involving practical classes on how to use water and energy efficiently and how to reduce waste. Why is it so hard to change behaviour, in spite of the avalanche of warnings about the climate crisis and habitat destruction? Our lifestyles are based on a false story of material entitlement for just one species – us. However, we live on planet Earth with its finite resources which we share, grossly unequally, with a rich non-human community of life.
Humanity needs a new story. An increasing number of thought leaders, and here I specifically acknowledge Eisenstein, Monbiot and Harari, recognise a common thread, namely that our shared stories about societies’ values and aims unite us and give meaning to our lives. However, some shared stories can also serve agendas for control. When we are honest, we know the socio-political stories of free market capitalism, neo – liberalism and communism have failed to serve the real needs of many societies and have come at a huge environmental and psychological cost. The same can be said for many of the stories translated from religious scriptures. Until humanity develops new stories that address universally accepted values based on human and planetary wellbeing we will remain trapped in stories with dysfunctional elements. We are also confused by contradictory stories such as the ones pushing for more material possessions and built in obsolescence (fashion) to keep the material economy growing while in juxtaposition we are frightened by stories of unemployment, resource depletion, species extinction and Climate Change. YES, we have reason to be very worried. Fear and confusion lead to apathy and denial. We need to counter the old stories of material growth with new stories that value connection, restoration, sharing and wellbeing for us and the Earth.
Humanity is crying out for a new story. Sadly, even religious texts, which many of us believe have a mandate for ethical behaviour, miss the essential truth that humans are part of, and not above, the web of life. Where are the reminders that humans need to live with care for all of creation, and within the limits of the resources provided by a healthy planet?
THE CHALLENGE! HOW TO DEVELOP NEW STORIES THAT INCLUDE THE WISDOM OF ALL CULTURES AND FAITHS.
Faith communities and spiritual leaders can play an important role by relooking at their scriptures and practices to spread a story of hope that is based on understanding the essential interconnectedness of all life. We need to recognise, relearn and internalise the reality that we are in an interdependent relationship with all of creation. And that a restorative relationship with creation, starting with our local natural environment provides food for body and soul. In 2015, Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato si started to retell the story of creation by acknowledging that humanity shares a “Common Home” with all life and that being created in God’s image does not give us dominion over the Earth.
The strongest message from the Climate Change crisis is this: YES humans are impacting the entire web of life and that humanity, and not the Earth, has the most to lose. Our lifestyles are directly linked to the Earth’s ability to provide resources and absorb waste. NOW is the time to rediscover and mainstream the stories from all cultures that speak of a balanced relationship with the Earth. While the quotes attributed to Chief Seattle about man being just a strand in the web of life – and what man does to the web he does to himself are well known, there are numerous references to the interconnectedness of all life from cultures around the world.
In the Abrahamic scriptures Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. If we continue with the dominant story that nature’s sole purpose is to provide for mankind, our smart technology, growing population and increasing material demands will get us expelled from the Earth as well.
For many, it is hard to link the causes and effects of Climate Change and habitat destruction to our own actions. This is not just the consequence of denial. The super sized scale of our environmental devastation coupled with urbanization and living in a digital world physically separates us from nature, leading to a disconnection between what we hear and what we experience. Even Climate Change is presented as too much science and too little human story!
No matter where we are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our common denominator is the need to belong. More and more people are learning that materialism is no replacement for belonging. A key to new stories is surely the value of co-operative human communities living with respect for all of life and in balance with nature’s ability to provide for our needs. The result! A shift to striving for materially simpler lifestyles based on well being rather than the one offered by the current human rat race with growing rates of suicide, stress related disease and escalating us and them conflicts.
Climate Scientists talk about a tipping point when heating and melting will trigger a multitude of natural processes that are predicted to be catastrophic to all life. Instead, we need a tipping point of belief in a story of hope built on understanding our dependence on nature. A story where Black Friday is about switching off industry lights and closing stores to spend time celebrating the entire community of life.
KimK Nov 2018