If you care about climate change, forget climate change

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September 18, 2011 by sgoobie

Forget climate change.

It sounds counter-intuitive.  Perhaps even reckless.  Why would anyone who cares about the planet, who shares concern for the devastating effects industrial activities are unleashing on our collective life support systems, who feels aghast at potential catastrophic loss of biodiversity and human livelihood – why would anyone who advocates for addressing climate change suggest that we simply “forget” this very phenomenon?  When time is of the essence, at the moment we are accelerating toward atmospheric limits, with a surging global movement whose activists are in most urgent need of support, why would a fellow advocate advise us to abandon the very matter for which we so passionately struggle?  Many would call this foolish.  Fellow advocates and activists might call this a stab in the back of all our hard work and ingenuity.

It is by no means to say climate change is fictitious, or unimportant, or unstoppable.  Neither is it to say we have lost the “fight” to industrial capitalism or that we need to give up hope for a sustainable future or that we bury our heads in the sands and trust solely in the capability of nature to rejuvenate herself.

Rather, to assert we step away from a focus on climate change is to suggest that the ends are not always achieved through the most literal means.  The staus quo tells us quite the opposite.  An exact, seemingly-rational approach to climate change entails that we directly match the ends to the means – a stable climate (meaning, a reduction in human-originated change) to establishing and enforcing limits on greenhouse gas emissions.  Such a program requires asking the question:  How do we reduce the use and waste of carbon?  This kind of program narrows its issues to familiar sanitized dialogues around energy, technology, agriculture, transportation, resource management and waste disposal.  It narrows its advocacy to bureaucratic intergovernmental agreements, to cap and trade of resources, and to modest green taxes.

Ignited by passionate provocateurs, from the moment climate change emerged to capture the attention of many around the world until now, we recognize that much has been accomplished.  Schools now teach about the science behind the greenhouse effect and the potential impact on human and more-than-human habitat.  Many concerned citizens have taken action in their own lives.  Countless sustainability organizations have arisen.  Worldwide summits have been held.  Climate change has drawn in both the young and old to become catalysts in new policy making and old policy breaking.

Still, we find ourselves on one side of an alarming abyss looking across in the darkness for a lasting solution to this global “problem”.  Still we find the mass media mired in a “believers vs. deniers” frame of storytelling, embellishing any doubt by reputable scientists of climate change evidence – which in turn fuels an entrenched backlash against carbon reduction initiatives.  Still we find many of the world’s nations – including those most historically responsible for emissions – bickering over who will take responsibility and how adaptation will be accomplished.  Still we find a citizenry who consider “doing their part” as little more than changing light bulbs, eating less meat, and driving hybrid vehicles.

Human change, not climate change

Thus we come to the question:  Do we continue in the present course, stubbornly persisting in the direct confrontation of the immediate causes of climate change?  Do we continue to hammer down the same nail?  Do we continue to use all of our creative energy to treat climate change as a “resource management” issue?  Will this be enough to bring us the end we need – that the planet needs?

To assert that we “forget climate change” is to say that we have at our disposal a different approach.  It is to say that through a fixation on the superficial causes of climate change – carbon, and excessive carbon emissions – we may in fact be asphyxiating the very movement we seek to strengthen.  To use a simplistic metaphor, it is to say that we may more genuinely tackle the problem of obesity in affluent societies not by merely counting and restricting calories but cutting to the systemic and sometimes emotional-spiritual hunger which food and damaging lifestyles are used to quench.

Instead of asking how we can reduce our carbon emissions, what might be the effect of asking:  What has happened to our relationship with the planet?  What if we asked, how can we rebalance our relationships in industrialized societies with the natural world?  What does nature mean to us?  Who are we as a society?  As a species?  Could we not accomplish more – more deeply and for a more lasting effect – by asking what has happened to the importance of creation in our daily lives?

If we were to forget climate change, and focus instead on human change – on what has grand shifts have occurred in our hearts – would this not in some future time in a certain but unpredictable way translate into deep, widespread, sustained, societal change, a depth of change up to the task of bringing balance to the extremist industrial ideology which has led to a destabilized atmosphere?

Of course, this sounds radical.  And it is – but not in the sense of extreme.  Radical can be defined by its linguistic origin as “going to the root of something”.  If we are to be radical in the earliest sense, then we need to consider going to the roots of climate change.  At the roots of climate change, we find neither climate nor carbon nor combustion – but ways of thinking which have lost their suitability to the physical conditions of the planet and to the spiritual conditions of one of her creatures.  We find a human mind in need of repurposing.  In this, the modern ecological thoughtprint demands our attention.

A step toward common dialogue

If we were to take a step back from the climate change conversation, we could in theory subvert all the pedantic arguments from deniers and sceptics to instead find a more useful common ground.  From the far left to the far right, we may not all agree on the reality of climate change, or on how to address this challenge.  But we can all find in our hearts and minds a sense that we in industrialized societies have lost an important connection in our lives.  We may not all agree on the physical impact of humans on the rest of nature, but we can certainly agree there is something amiss in our sense of life purpose.  If we were to truly forget climate change, then Do you believe in climate change? would be supplanted with the more productive Do you believe that our relationship with the natural world is suffering?  This is an inclusive conversation  which needs no science, no graphs, no empirical evidence.  It appeals to people of all political stripes and all belief systems.  It acknowledges the potential contributions of religions, of a multitude of disciplines, of parents and grandparents, of children, of indigenous people past and present.

Certainly, it takes courage to stand up for climate change.  But it takes even more courage to go beyond the discourse of climate change, to tackle underlying cultural wounds.

If we deeply, genuinely care about climate change and about the fate of the planet and about our own and  other species, then I dare to say our next step is forget climate change, the greenhouse effect, and carbon emissions.  As Dr. Martin Luther King once wrote: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Boldly, let us ascend.

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One thought on “If you care about climate change, forget climate change

  1. Ashley Webster says:

    Great article Stephen. Very thought provoking. Although I think I would end with “Boldly, let us descend” from our hubris. The point I think you are making is that we are not masters of nature. We have god-like impact but not god-like foresight. Our ability to “manage” nature is severely limited – better if we simply revere it.

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