Since the news of Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which was in large part thanks to the persuasion of twenty-two corrupt GOP senators who have been purchased by and subsequently advocate for the fossil fuel industry, I’ve been inspired by the rise of nations, citizens, states and cities who are so infuriated by this affront to humanity that they have since recommitted, loudly, to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. People are stepping up; true leaders are emerging. People are making it known that this injustice, this terrorist threat on all of humanity by 23 men, and those that linger in the shadows behind them, will not stand.
I see this as the silver lining to an otherwise obscene gesture. A waking up, by way of outrage, to the critical nature of stopping our anti-environment behavior, stepping out of determination and into immediate action. Climate change is no longer a partisan, religious or political issue, as people from every sect of politics and religion all over the world are rising up and saying, a clear and undeniable, “NO” to economics that fatally suffocate ecology. The Paris Climate Agreement just sprouted legs.
Goals and benchmarks like those listed in the Paris Climate Agreement are important though until there is a massive global grassroots effort to take action, such agreements cannot meet their full potential. Certainly, some communities are stirring and making positive change and hopefully this new momentum will ignite everyone else to join in.
Presence and Adaptation: Remedies for Climate Change
We need to consider climate action as a surfer considers a wave. The starting point immediately shifts and changes—what was true about the starting line in 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed, changed within months, maybe even weeks and will keep changing. Surfers understand that the skill of their sport isn’t merely in staying up on the board and reaching the shore with a smile. A surfer’s skill is in her ability to adapt to the constant flux of a wave. There are no expectations, just presence and adaptation. We must be adaptable, prepared for the worst and hoping for the best. We must be equipped with plenty of practical innovation focused on adapting to irreversible climate change as much as we are seeking to meet benchmarks that, we hope, represent the slowing of global warming. The Paris Climate Agreement accounts for adaptation, now we just need a big push towards implementation from neighborhoods to capitals.
We have some momentum now, thanks to the unusual spark of greed by a few corrupt people in Washington. The good news is that the 7.5 billion other people on the planet far outnumber them and we can make good on our commitment to save ourselves.
I see the two enemies of humanity being comfort and convenience while the two heroes are presence and adaptability. Every person on the planet can make their own personal shift from living in alignment with comfort and convenience to living aligned with presence and adaptability. The privileged among us can scrutinize our lifestyles, assess our contribution to the problem and make positive changes immediately. We can also make it possible for the less privileged to do the same.
I have concern about the well-intended focus on “saving the planet for future generations.” This phrase has been used a lot this week, in response to Trump stating his plan to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. There is nothing inherently wrong with it. It is a no brainer in my book. Of course, most of us don’t want to bequeath an inhabitable planet to the next generation. In other words, we don’t want to be responsible for the end of humanity. And while this notion of doing the right thing for the people of tomorrow is warm and fuzzy, research shows that people are motivated by instant gratification, even more than considering of the quality of life they will leave for their grandchildren. The future is hard to feel concrete about. How does a person take action today on the vague ideas of tomorrow?
The trouble with “doing it for the future” is two-fold. First, anytime we push change out into the future—the unimaginable, unpredictable future—we green light procrastination. We’re essentially saying that the issues are not great enough today—regardless of skyrocketing rates of cancer, mass extinction, asthma, dying coral reefs, melting polar icecaps, over population and limited resources, polluted water (to name a few)—for us to take action now. The human psyche hears this message about “the future” and slows everything down.
The psychological stages of change are critical to consider as we make advancements, personally and collectively, regarding climate change. The Paris Climate Agreement represents the determination stage (planning for action), while most individuals appear to wallow in the stage prior to it, contemplation. We know there is a problem but we’re not ready to make a commitment to take action. Contemplation is a necessary step in change, but humans tend to hang out there so long they miss critical windows of opportunity. It is in this stage where people have to challenge their addictions to comfort and convenience. Lingering in contemplation can put off determination and, subsequently, action by entertaining shame, self-pity, bargaining, blame or excuses. Effective contemplation ideally requires a limited window of time so as not to lose all of its insight and momentum. It never works out that way though. Getting to determination often takes years if not a lifetime.
The United States ranks number 2 in producing the world’s CO2 emissions and number 1 in daily oil consumption despite being home to only 4.3% of the global population. Globally, the people with the least power and privilege are experiencing the most devastating consequences of climate change while Americans are generally insulated from it (for now).
Trump can’t pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement until November of 2020 though he can refuse to honor the U.S. commitment of 3 billion dollars, of which the Obama Administration already submitted 1 billion [FirstPost]. And given that U.S. political leadership is uncertain, it is plausible Trump will not have the title of “president” by November 2020. So in many ways his threat is not an issue. At least, not yet. It is part of the Trump-brand show. But as I said earlier, the silver lining is how his symbolic gesture of greed and wickedness is motivating to anyone who cares about clean drinking water, their grandkids or not getting cancer. We cannot rest on our laurels about climate change, which, I am afraid, many countries who signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement have possibly done once the fanfare was over. The value of any such agreement is in the actions taken, not merely the signing of the certificate. A marriage license, for instance, without actively committed partners will end in divorce or worse, a deeply divisive feud.
The other issue of crediting the effort we take today to tackle climate change primarily for the sake of future generations, is that this well-intended reason discounts the value of life today. It implies that people alive today are sacrificial while tomorrow’s global citizens are innocent and sacred. This hints at a Jesus complex or at least, martyrdom. Doing and dying for the sake of others, never for our own wellbeing.
If we care about leaving a habitable planet to future generations, we must start caring deeply and without exception about ourselves in the here and now.
Healing the Planet by Befriending Ourselves
The self-destructive human behavior that fuels rapid climate change has everything to do with a lack of self-love and a deep, multi-generational fear of being present with our true nature. Even if we “fix” climate change and spare future generations from, well, not-existing, what wisdom will we have passed onto them? Will we simply teach future generations that they too can push the envelope of self-destruction to a tipping point, then pull it all back to a somewhat neutral state all by the skin of their teeth? Or will we pass on the wisdom we cultivate as a result of being on the precipice of our own extinction? Will we offer sage advice to the future along with a habitable planet? Because, without the passing on of wisdom, the cycle of destruction will just be pushed off to a later date—facilitated by a future generation.
The future needs us to love ourselves now. The future needs us to love nature. Our nature. The future needs us to choose our own health and wellness as the primary reason to take action in reducing (and ideally stopping) human-caused climate change.
Taking action for the sake of our own wellbeing offers immediate gratification in the reduction of disease, cancer, suffering, global conflict and terror. Approaching climate action from a place of self-love is the way we need to move forward.
Innovation alone will not save humanity. We need to infuse love into every action, every policy and every agreement we make.
What is happening to the environment, and to the living beings dependent upon her, is the result of comfort and convenience and the rejection of presence and adaptability. Of course, we adapt to the devastating changes comfort and convenience thrust on us, like obesity, disease and pollution—but this kind of adaptation is in contrast with evolution. The kind of adaptation we need is that of the skillful surfer who finds the flow in spite of the uncertainty of the wave. Adaptability without presence leads to self-destruction. Adaptation as a result of presence, leads to wellbeing and harmony.
So what does this mean for you, right now, as you read this article? It means the first thing you must do to take action against climate change is get quiet, turn off the noise (otherwise known as “the news”) and get in touch with your own nature. Those demons you hide from are the demons that fuel your desire for comfort and convenience. We all have them. Make a commitment to face them each day. Commit to bring them gentleness and compassion. Listen to what they have to say because they probably just need your love and attention. And start a dialog with your true nature, get reacquainted with the you that is not tempted by comfort and convenience or filtered through fear. Sure, that means we’ll probably have to deal with a lifetime of baggage, but that is the point. The planet can’t manage the baggage of 7.5 billion people.
Reacquainting with our Nature
Humanity’s self-destructive behavior is ultimately the result of humanity’s estrangement from our own nature. We cannot heal the planet while sacrificing, rejecting or ignoring ourselves. Greed happens when people feel deeply disconnected from love and mindless consumption happens when people are estranged from their true nature. We’re all trying to fill up on empty calories and the result is that we’re at war with ourselves, our neighbors and the planet.
What I propose is that we step out of the role of martyr and into the role of sage. We know what needs to be done to heal the planet but a gigantic portion of work on climate change has to do with healing our individual estrangements with our own beautiful, wise and abundant nature. It isn’t about intellect, education or privilege—we are all gifted with the same brilliant nature. And in fostering our nature, we not only heal the wounds of the planet, we preserve humanity. A more conscientious, conscious and unified humanity.
Be compassionate with yourself. Don’t give up hope too easily. Don’t condemn or shame yourself and stop blaming everyone else. We are all so wounded. We have vastly different stories of our wounds but the remedy is the same for every single one of us —LOVE.
There are good cases to be made why someone else is responsible for your pain—but telling those stories doesn’t do anything but keep you imprisoned. Sometimes justice prevails, but mostly it doesn’t. We make our own wholehearted justice then and we begin by unburdening ourselves from the past, taking our experiences as lessons learned, adorning our heads with crowns of wisdom and showing up in the world ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
I realize this article may be lost on the fiercely intellectual or those who pride themselves on being stoic and unemotional. I hope not. There is something profound in this idea for you too—reacquainting with your nature. Your messy, passionate, beautiful nature.