“We might not make it.” Hearing these words, I felt a wave of shock through my body. After 30 years of environmental and Indigenous rights activism, that phrase struck home like nothing before. Back in the 1990s I had heard Thomas Berry[i] say, I don’t think the human is a viable species.” Pretty outrageous then, it was meant to wake us up to the destructive path we were following, to change our story, our operating assumptions of constant growth and the illusion of progress.
But this was different. This was a training session about changing the story – a program in response to a request from the Indigenous people of the Amazon – to bring an Indigenous world view of reciprocity with the Earth and all our fellow species to the dominant, consumer culture. [ii], We learned how the opportunities for radical transformation were greater than the danger. Full of hope committed in action, we still had to face the possibility of failure.
I discovered that I love this world so much that it hurts. A lot.
In the process of leading these workshops I came even closer to the precarious position we are in as a species, while I deepened my contacts with my Indigenous teachers. Indigenous leaders had been saying all along that the Earth was seriously ill and would have to get rid of us humans in order to heal and, while I retained an irrational attachment to the continuation of the human species, it seemed reasonable that the Earth could do quite a bit better without us. The problem was that if we went, we would take a lot of the rest of nature with us. Still, our projected demise was some time in the future. I really did not want to face the possibility of human or any other extinction, although I knew it was happening at a great rate.
Then, another shock. In 2010 I came across material by two Russian scientists[iii] studying the source of methane release in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf[iv]. They realized it was coming from the shallow sea bed as well as the exposed permafrost. They were not at all happy with their findings – because if even one percent of the hundreds of gigatons of frozen methane are released into the atmosphere, the risk of a positive feedback spiral that would double the methane content of the atmosphere would initiate catastrophic climate change, and without summer ice protection it can happen within decades.[v]
Realization number three. Adding to the story of Mother Earth healing by getting rid of us humans, more recently I am hearing speakers like poet and elected chief Stacey Laforme speaking of Mother Earth, who has loved her children and continues to love us as she is dying. Mother Earth, the living being whose physiology is as complex as our own, upon whose well-being we are as dependent as a fetus in the womb, who provides everything we need to live, who protects us from cosmic radiation, feeds us, shelters us, even teaches us, is under severe stress. It’s not that far fetched – every atom of our being comes from the Earth. There’s no way around it, she is a living being and is our Mother. Conventional science is beginning to catch up to Indigenous knowledge. And that makes us related to every other being on this planet, from the bacteria, plants, insects to the largest mammals.
Perhaps we need to reflect on what we love about this world, what we risk losing, and what has already been lost. Imagine a place in the forest, or by the sea, or on a river bank that you loved as a child. Imagine the love you feel for sound of the birds in the morning, the fresh breeze carrying the scent of the evening flowers, the smell of the ocean, or any part of the non-human natural world. Allow yourself to feel that connection deeply. Now imagine all that you love diminished, paved over, polluted, dried up and disappeared. Allow yourself to feel the loss.
When Buddhist teacher Tich Nhat Hanh was asked what can we do, he replied that we need to open our hearts to be able to hear the sound of the Earth crying and allow ourselves to feel the grief of what we have lost and weep with her. For if we can allow ourselves to feel that pain, we will be able to act authentically from our hearts, and be able to communicate our new story to others.
We are beginning to allow our hearts to open. Science is indeed catching up to Indigenous thought – that the Earth is indeed a physiological, living and therefore sacred being. Alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations are forming everywhere. Indigenous peoples are asserting their rights, their cultures and spirituality around the world. Rivers and mountains are being granted personhood, when only as recently as 1929 were women in Canada granted the same honour.
And we are finding solutions. Project Drawdown[i] has analyzed hundreds of scientifically reviewed solutions to reversing global warming – removing carbon from the atmosphere – and ranked the top 80 in terms of the amount of carbon reduced, cost of implementation and the amount of money saved. All of them are in existence and proven to work. And all of them can be scaled up to pull carbon out of the atmosphere.
Rather than being a burden upon society and individuals, the actions we need to take to reduce global warming are all things we would want to do anyway, regardless of effect on warming. Empowering girls and women globally, reducing food waste, switching to a plant rich diet, using regenerative farming methods, as well as implementing the expected energy and transport solutions, all of which if applied generally will produce a more equitable, more breathable, more enjoyable, more prosperous world for all of us. Carbon reduction is a bonus. Furthermore, the money saved through implementation of these solutions is twice the cost – a 200% return on investment. So instead of pain and upheaval, we can create a better life for all of us, and bring our Mother back to life.
But we won’t do what we need to do unless we act out of our deep love for this world, for the forests, the waters the animals and the people too. We need to STOP what we’re doing and find the stillness to LISTEN deeply to the Earth and to our hearts.
We need to learn to tell this as a love story with Mother Earth as the central character. It can be a heroic story of salvation, or a deeply human story of compassion and healing. It can be told to doctors, politicians, parents, children and youth. It is our story – our love letter to Mother Earth.
David and I facilitate a Five-part Project Drawdown course: Solutions to Global Warming–Diving into Action. If you want to participate in a journey to radically shift your relationship to global warming, please reach out. I also facilitate Awakening the Dreamer monthly.
[i] Thomas Berry The Dream of the Earth, San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1988
[v] N. Shakhova and I. Semiletov. Methane release from the East-Siberian Arctic Shelf and its connection with permaf rost and hydrate destabilization: First results and potential future developments Geophysical Research Abstracts Vol. 14, EGU2012-3877-1, 2012; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3gVZniFHA4