What To Do When Your House Is On Fire

Responding appropriately to climate change

First—Be Aware Of What’s Happening And Take Action Immediately

From a whole-systems perspective, the key to managing complex living systems is to manage the parts in right functional relationship to each other. When this happens, the whole takes care of itself. With regard to climate, Earth is the whole and individual human beings are the parts—“members” of the Earth’s body. The proper function of members in a living system is to maintain their integrity—health, ability to communicate and collaborate with others, offer their unique contribution and make decisions that serve the growth and well-being needs of the whole as well as themselves.

The emergents—responsible individuals, activists, small groups and the worldwide network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s)—are already responding appropriately, despite the hesitation or failure of governments and many corporate leaders to lead.


What can I do?  

Shift My Perception

The highest priority need is a shift in perceptions. First and foremost, who am I? By virtue of being aware of ourselves, there’s a spark that makes us more than our bodies and thoughts. Its been observed that, within each of us are the archetypes of both devil (ego) and angel (soul). So we have a choice. Are my actions in tune with “The Force” or the “The Dark Side?” Is my being in the world making it better? Is what I do an asset or liability for myself, others and the planet? Do my opinions and prescriptions uplift and empower others? Or do they make people feel bad about themselves or humanity, helpless or less optimistic about the future? Am I choosing information and entertainment sources that uplift or confuse and depress me or my family? 

Another, critical shift in perception relates to how we view ourselves in relation to the planet—if we think of it at all. Am I simply a decades-long passenger, here for the ride wherever it takes me? Am I just playing the hand I was dealt at birth? Or am I an engaged member of a living system, doing what I can to take only what I need, clean up after myself and keep the house in good repair for others. These are the “Earth House Rules” articulated by Sallie McFague in A New Climate For Theology: God, the World and Global Warming. She reminds us that the Earth is a home, not a hotel.

Am I doing what I can to take care of it, especially the spaces entrusted to me? In Healing Gaia: Practical medicine for the planet, scientist James Lovelock demonstrated that the planet is a living system, an entity that possesses all the qualities that define life. Am I treating her—the Earth Mother in Native American parlance—as the source and sustainer of my life? All life? 

The paradigm of separation, fear, domination and competition have resulted in the blossoming of the human species—for many, but not most. That manner of thinking and acting has been so successful in creating wealth for the few in the “developed” world, it’s nearly impossible for financial and political interests to release their grip. It’s even hard for us to imagine a world no longer dependent on fossil fuel, nuclear energy, strip-mining, deforestation, ocean pollution and meat production. Yet that’s on the horizon, and it needs to happen soon—“it” meaning a 180º shift to the paradigm of unity, love and respect for each other, nature and the Earth. Clean and renewable technologies.

Like it or not, we are the generation of the shift. We will succeed together or our children and grandchildren will suffer serious physical, mental and emotional consequences, which in the near term (scientists predict two decades) is likely to threaten the survival of many and precipitate a serious reduction in the quality of life for everyone else.

Sixteen-year-old Greta Lungren said “We need to act as if our house is on fire—because it is!” When asked what she considered the core of her message, she said it’s for all people everywhere to engage in conversations about climate change. That’s key. The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing that  it exists.  

Vote For The Voices Of Empathy, Intelligence And Integrity

Another, perhaps the most significant, way to become part of the solution is to understand the beliefs and priorities of political candidates. What do they talk about most—the economy, jobs, energy, education, healthcare, etc.? At that level, every issue has one thing in common—money. To understand a person’s values, follow the money. What have been and continue to be their spending priorities and practices? And realize that none of the issues before us are going to matter in the long run, if we don’t first attend to the survival threats—the pandemic and climate change—that are calling us to responsible action on behalf of the whole system. 

There is still time to affect substantive change. What it requires is electing individuals of integrity—intelligent and wise truth-tellers and collaborators who understand the seriousness of Coronavirus and climate change, make them the top priority and commit to taking responsible action immediately. To safeguard the health of all living systems well into the future, difficult decision are needing to be made by all of us.

Given that there will be resistance, a crucial roll for the United States president and other leaders is to tell the truth, define hot-button and misunderstood terms like “freedom,” “socialism” and “rights,” affect a shift away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy sources, frequently convey scientific facts and consequences to the public and empower citizens to become engaged in conservation, recycling and sustainable energy. With a shift in perception and attitude, the challenges we face can become the catalyst that unites us.

Recommendations By Experts

Sallie McFague (Ecologian): A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming.She suggests a fourfold practice.

1. Voluntary simplicity

2. Focus on the needs of others

3. Cultivate the inclusive Self—expand the circle of caring to the world and everyone in it

4. Apply the above at all levels of activity, personal and public


Charles Eisenstein (Ecologist): Climate: A New Story. “Climate change is inviting us to forge a different kind of relationship, one that holds the planet and all of its places, ecosystems, and species sacred—not only in our conception and philosophy, but in our material relationship. Nothing less will deliver us from the environmental crisis that we face. Specifically, we need to turn our primary attention toward healing soil, water, and biodiversity, region by region and place by place… We must enact a civilization-wide unifying purpose: to restore beauty, health and life to all that has suffered during the Ascent of Humanity… If I were pressed to offer a universal solution, it would be to see and treat the world as sacred again. As my friend Orland Bishop says, the sacred is something that requires sacrifice; that is, it is something we value—and would sacrifice to protect—beyond its use-value to ourselves.”


His Holiness The Dalai Lama: The Universe In A Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. “Because of the profoundly interconnected reality of today’s world, we need to relate to the challenges we face as a single human family rather than as members of specific nationalities, ethnicities, or religions. In other words, a necessary principle is a spirit of oneness of the entire human species. Some might object to this as unrealistic. But what other options do we have?”


Brian Swimme (Cosmologist): What Is Enlightenment? Magazine, Spring/Summer 2001. “The solution to our crises: Reinvent ourselves, at the species level, in a way that enables us to live… not just with humans but with all beings—so that our activities actually enhance the world.”


Sarah VanGelder (Editor, YES! Magazine).“Small actions and choices can have major, although unpredictable, effects in determining what comes next. Among the possibilities is that the thousands of experiments and millions of choices to live more consciously will coalesce into a new civilization that fosters community, provides possibilities for meaning, and sustains life for the planet.”


Little Things Add Up

The following is a sampling derived from people committed to amending their lives in response to climate change. I offer it for consideration and with a tip of the hat to those who are already putting small things into practice.

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Fly less. Use video or phone conferencing for work meetings and gatherings instead. 
  • Travel by train or bus. On long distances, cars pollute more than airplanes.
  • Turn lights off, except when necessary.
  • Turn down the thermostat & wear sweaters in winter.
  • Set the summer-time air conditioner a little less cooler.
  • Shop close to home; ride a bike.
  • Car pool or use public transportation.
  • Make the vehicle you purchase a 10-15 year commitment.
  • Improve the energy efficiency of the house
  • Turn off the hot water heater while on vacation.
  • Satisfy wants less frequently than needs.
  • Purchase a vehicle that doesn’t burn fossil fuel.
  • Only purchase shoes and other wearing apparel when necessary.
  • Use existing materials of any kind before buying new.
  • Borrow books and videos from the library rather than purchasing them.
  • Never litter and pick up litter.
  • Wrap sandwiches and other short-use foods in recyclable paper rather than plastic.
  • Offer charitable contributions to NGO’s.
  • Drive the shortest distance between two points.
  • Turn off electronic devices when not needed for long periods.
  • Cut back on meat, especially beef.
  • Cancel subscription to a lawn care service—because it kills insects and worms.
  • Buy organic foods as much as possible.
  • Switch to ink pens or pencils, so not to use ballpoint pens.
  • Never throw waste into a pond, stream, river, lake or any other body of water.
  • Use fewer devices that require disposable batteries.
  • Learn a trade in the solar or wind technology industries.
  • When searching for a job, look into alternative energy companies.
  • Use cloth rather than paper towels.
  • Use natural cleaning products; ammonia or vinegar rather than Clorox.
  • Never purchase anything with real fur, animal skin or leather.
  • Use washable cloth rather than commercial diapers.
  • Use existing office supplies before buying more.
  • Mulch leaves in the Fall, don’t just throw them away.
  • Use a printer and copier only when necessary and recycle the cartridges.
  • Reading more; watch television less.
  • Hold off buying the next generation smartphones—or anything—until it’s necessary.
  • Recycle everything possible, and in appropriate ways.
  • Recycle metals that are no longer needed; don’t let weeds grow over them.
  • Use hand rather than power tools, especially not those that burn fossil fuel.
  • Ask for paper rather than plastic cups and straws in restaurants.
  • Borrow or rent tools rather than purchase them.
  • Reuse binders, folders and mailers as much as possible.
  • Reduce, ideally eliminate, single-use plastic bottles and other containers.
  • Take cloth bags to the grocery store.


Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw


The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.

Pope John Paul II 


You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.

Jane Goodall


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.


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