Reframing The Ecological Challenge

(This the 8th posting in the series on ecology)

This image is unsettling for me because I’m guilty of using plastic bottles to assuage my preference for carbonated water. This manufacturer responded to my request that they use a container that would decompose, saying their bottles are recyclable. I contacted our local recycling company and they confirmed that this was true. Still, I’m not happy about it. This photo was taken in a city park where a holiday was being celebrated.

One of my highly respected authors in the area of ecology, Rev. Sallie McFague, wrote “In  fighting  climate  change,  we  must  fight  not  only  the  oil  companies, the airlines and the governments of the rich world; we must also fight ourselves. We are the enemy: our beliefs about who we are and what we are entitled to are as much at fault as the institutions that control trade and war.” 

I was in accord with that point of view, especially the part about the perception of who we are— until I encountered Charles Eisenstein’s rejection of “reductionistic war thinking,” the paradigm of destroying problems, even if the problem is climate change. The language of war and destruction, he says, “is an extension of the culture of death, domination and control that has led us to the verge of collapse.” Instead, he invites us to adopt a framework of love which gives us permission to trust what is innate to us, namely “our love of life and our desire to save it.”

The language we use to characterize people, events and challenges matters greatly. Eisenstein’s comment brought to mind a string of war phrases: The war on drugs, fighting wildfires, battling cancer, defeating ISIS and so on. Indeed, the “culture of death, domination and control,” largely inherited, maintained and fueled by testosterone, has contributed to a society where winning  matters more than participating, competition supersedes collaboration and violence is generally perceived as the most effective way to win. Whatever the issue, the language we’ve been using, largely adopted from the media’s propensity toward sensational and confrontational news stories and soundbites, has fostered a climate of polarization rather than unification.

An example of how the paradigm of war is being sustained through polarizing language comes not only from Donald Trump, but also anti-environmental lobbyists, and not unexpectedly the CEO of the National Rifle Association who characterizes those who oppose gun legislation  as “socialists,” “elites,” and “legacy media,” saying “evil walks among us” and we’re in a “cultural war.” I notice that these are all undefined abstract terms that serve only to fan the flames of fear, insecurity and division.

High thoughts must have high language.

Aristophanes (Greek philosopher)

Polarization is built in to significant issues by virtue of duality—my view against your opposing view. But rather than framing the matter in the language of war and competition, which encourages people to take sides and respond forcefully, sometimes violently so they can more certainly win the dispute, there’s the option to frame it in the language of love. Okay, I know that sounds unrealistic, so how would that work and can it work in the real world? 

No matter the issue, what’s required are shifts in perception and attitude toward—

  • I have a strong point of view, but I will keep an open mind, willing to be convinced of a greater good for all.
  • We are not in a war, battle or contest. We will work together to find the best decision, ideally not one that is right for me and wrong for you.
  • Both our views deserve to be heard with equal respect and serious consideration.
  • Both our views need to be supported by facts and debated with sound reasoning.
  • Because we are in this together, an enlightened change of mind is highly respected.
  • Lacking facts, our guideline for decision-making will be the optimization of benefit and minimization of harm to all—people, environment, society, world.
  • Before deciding, we will investigate and openly share the positive and negative consequences  of our perspective in consideration of people, environment, flora, fauna, society and planet.
  • Once a vote is taken or an impartial judge decides, we will accept the outcome gracefully and move on.
  • Maintaining a friendly and respectful working relationship is more important than having things go my way.

Climate change is normal and natural. It’s been going on since the Earth coalesced, and it will continue until it’s subsumed by the sun in billions of years. The recent concern is that one dominant species has accelerated the rate of change—10 to 100 times faster than in the past 65 million years— to the point where the quality of life, perhaps even life itself, is threatened. 

Writing in The Weather Makers: How We Are Changing The Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, Tim Flannery, Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission of the Federal Government, reported “The Earth’s average temperature is around 60º F. A rise of a single degree will decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of species, and most probably billions of people.  In 2005, the time of that publication, atmospheric CO2 was 381 PPM. In 2019 it’s 7% higher. A 2017 study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters estimates that Earth’s climate will be 1.5º F higher as early as 2026—seven years from now. By 2050, the physical world and lifestyles worldwide will be dramatically different. The ways in which it will be different is the challenge of this and the next three generations.”

As a process, climate change normally proceeds at a glacial pace. Literally. As yet, the window of opportunity to undo the harm we’ve caused is barely open. Despite the fact that the change is occurring 10 to 100 times faster than in the past 65 million years, scientists advise that if we can reduce CO2 emissions and slow the process, even reverse the damage in some instances by reforestation, preserving wetlands and wildlife, preserving and invigorating soils, moving to organic independent farming, regulating fishing, air and water quality and so on, we could reach sustainability. Basically, what’s required is stewardship—letting nature be as it is, taking only what’s needed and will actually be used, reducing or eliminating single-use plastics, recycling what is discarded and cleaning up afterward. When the First Americans pulled up their teepees to move on, they left the land as they found it. The ancient Maya went so far as burying entire cities under rocks, rubble and weeds before they left, allowing nature to turn the land they used back into jungle.  

I’m encouraged by three trends. One is the rise of the feminine. We’re seeing it all over the world, in part because the domination and competition paradigms, inefficiencies, self-centeredness and power-seeking competitiveness of the masculine has become unmanageable and inequitable, even toxic. Another is the rapid proliferation of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) that are not waiting for governments to take responsibility for environments and the quality of life, instead, creating networks of empowered people who are innovating and leading the way to sustainability. In a previous post I referred to them as emergents. And finally, I’m encouraged whenever I see or hear about young people talking about the environment and what they’re doing to make a difference. 

  • Eleven-year-old Americans Gavin and ten-year-old Max Guinn co-founded the Kids Eco Club, a context for speaking in public about animal conservation.
  • In Dubai, teenager Adithiyan Rajan has spoken to over 3500 people about sustainable development. He writes newspaper articles, volunteers his time and money to charities. He has personally saved 50 mature trees, planted and nurtured 285 saplings of 20 different types. His recycling programs resulted in a reduction of 15.7 tons of GHG emissions, and he has helped change the minds of thousands of students to think and care for Mother Nature. He has won “The Diana Award” which is one of the most prestigious global awards presented for his outstanding & selfless contribution to the community and environment. His stated goal is to encourage social responsibility and sustainability.
  • In California, at age three in 2012, Ryan Hickman went with his dad to a recycling center to cash in some cans and bottles. The day after, he notified his mom and dad that he wanted to give empty plastic bags to all the neighbors so they could save their recyclables for him. They did. So did their friends, families and co-workers. Today, Ryan has customers all over Orange County. He spends a part of every week sorting cans and bottles from his customers, to get them ready for the recycling center.

And that’s just a small sample. While governmental houses are frozen in debate and political in-fighting, people all over the world are getting things done. There’s is not the language of war and competition, its the language of love, personal responsibility and collaboration.   

All living systems heal in true relationship. We need a deep revolution in how we relate to the rest of life—not as dominators of nature, but as partners in an evolutionary process that is much greater than ourselves. Only love can give us the kind of courage and willingness to offer ourselves to the more beautiful world we know in our hearts is possible.

Charles Eisenstein

Our language and nervous system combine to constantly construct our environment.

Francisco Varela

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One thought on “Reframing The Ecological Challenge

  1. Another thought provoking topic. So much to discuss. My thoughts on the first paragraph:
    – A lot of carbon is emitted in hauling around H2O.
    – Non-carbonated plastic water bottles generally will degrade in ~450 yrs. Most plastics in breaking down produce “micro-plastic” particles which are ingested by other organisms with a detrimental effect.
    – Sparkling water bottles have to maintain a high pressure and use at least 60% more plastic which is generally not bio degradable.
    – What happens to the Carbon in the bottle when it fully biodegrades? H2O and CO2.
    – Maybe plastics which do not degrade would be better as they would sequester CO2 while we figure stuff out.
    Want Sparkle in your water…Sodastream.

    Yep, It’s filled with complex dividing issues requiring conservation, sacrifices and the realization that the genie is out of the bottle and no matter what we do CO2 persists and marches on. No time to discuss the meat of your article, have to finish harvesting the garden and put it to bed.
    Thanks,
    Your long time friend and ex-roommate Paul.

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