Science has been aware for more than a century that burning fossil fuels causes global warming. It became big news thirty years ago, but we have not halted the progression. Now we are being warned that we are in “decade zero” and the continued burning of coal, oil and gas will precipitate the ultimate disaster scenario. But for the countless species that have become extinguished, for the victims of typhoons, hurricanes, sea level rises, floods, droughts and forest fires, the disaster is now.
The climate crisis is driving home to us that we can’t control Nature and we are subject to her authority and power, even though the geo-engineering lobby may imagine schemes and machines to maintain our assumed domination. In ancient Greece, this kind of flagrant challenge to the Gods was understood as hubris, but in this era, where we worship technology above all else, we bestow awards and prizes and great benefits on these schemers. In effect, we have accepted megalomaniacs as our leaders, and engineers as their advisers.
Have we always been so foolish and so selfish? Before we had amassed the power to poison whole eco-systems and vandalise the Earth, we perpetrated monstrous conquests upon each other and upon the natural world through slavery, warfare and plunder. This model of human society has continued unabated for centuries, during which time we have been incrementally, and painstakingly engineering the conditions for our own destruction.
According to some, this is the “wake up call” – the moment when we can turn this whole process around, and begin steering towards a just and fair world, where we live within our means, and begin to respect each other and our environment.
To put this in perspective, the success of this upheaval depends upon stopping the predominant socio-economic model in its tracks. Resources such as water, farmland, forests and oceans will be returned to local and common stewardship to create long term locally managed food security for all, predatory extractivism and militarism will be delegitimised, and resources currently locked up in private fortunes will be released to eradicate poverty. The quest for plunder will be replaced by the desire for Peace.
Although there are many millions of people on the Earth who are dedicated to this mission, and even prepared to lay down their lives for it, the ironic truth is that we are still hurtling in the opposite direction. Or put another way – Humanity seems unable to adjust it’s settings, even though we are on a collision course, and will likely destroy the very thing that we feel we must preserve at all costs – our precious civilisation. No single section of the population can be held solely accountable for this lack of common sense; the leaders, the industrialists, the bankers, the followers and the voters are all playing their part. Perhaps as a species, we have simply not yet evolved enough to “see the wood for the trees.”
The Birth of Consciousness
There is a story that is often told by psychologists and anthropologists and it goes like this:
Once in the dim and distant past, our impulses and drives were animal and uncomplicated. Like a herd of cattle, a school of fish, or a flock of birds, we had extra-sensory awareness, and we were all attuned to the collective purpose. We had evolved to function best in groups, like our evolutionary neighbours, the apes and canines. Each group member had a place, whether as a leader, a child-rearer, or a hunter; none were second-class, as each role was necessary, and therefore valued.
In this dawn of consciousness, personal desires served collective purposes, conflict was only briefly expressed and quickly resolved, and individualism was a thing of the future. It is often depicted as a period of greater psychological security, as we did not suffer from the doubts and uncertainties that arose later. Thus, we tend to look back at this glorious phase of our development as the age of innocence, as depicted in the story of the fall from grace, and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The development of individual consciousness differentiated humanity from the rest of the biological community, and much has been written about the price paid to achieve it. One version that is particularly insightful goes like this: In order to be individually conscious, our psychological link with the source was severed, and this has resulted in the delusion of separation. This casting adrift has manifested in a myriad of ways, including the search for meaning. The search for meaning is apparently not a high priority elsewhere in the biological community, and yet amongst humans, there is a cacophony of despair and it drives much that we value in the realm of art and religion.
The ego serves as a shield, providing protection against the overwhelming and apparently hostile reality outside of the self. It establishes a private residence, insulating us from others, and therefore from the whole cosmos. Within our ego-identity, the perceived experience of being alone and separate can develop into a personalised drama, which becomes uniquely played out in our lives, and arguably the primary cause of our suffering.
Spiritual teachers throughout the ages have advised their adherents and disciples that this self-protection is no more than a skin, and it can be cast off, allowing the individual to reconnect again with the source of all life, and to recognise that the feeling of separation is but an illusion.
In our culture one per cent apparently owns ninety per cent of the wealth and rules and norms have been established to protect these interests, even when doing so causes destruction to the majority. We don’t need to go far to find examples – farmland in Africa is expropriated to grow luxury export goods such as coffee and biofuels, whilst local populations starve from lack of land to grow staples; oil companies poison water sources to provide the world with more dirty fuel, and they are protected by laws and given tax incentives to do so.
Because this value system dominates in our current worldview, most people accept it unquestioningly. To go against it would be deeply unsettling. Commonly held cultural beliefs provides security, whether they are for the good of all or not.
At different times all the following have been accepted norms: human slavery, witch burning, child brides, genital mutilation, Sati (widow burning), ethnic cleansing, colonial rule and apartheid. Practices and thought systems that remain unchallenged for centuries can finally be upturned in a wave of collective realignment. The problem is that when change does happen, it is not necessarily linear and towards a better world for all: National Socialism arose in central Europe following a progressive phase in the 1920s.
The power of the group mind seems to easily overwhelm the resistance of most individuals and we are prone to go along with the norm, and do whatever we are told to do, even putting our own selves at risk. This lack of personal power to resist the mind set of the group gives a clear testimony to the fact that personal identity is frail when faced with the weight of the collective.
If we take the view that humanity is gradually emerging from the instinct realm of our animal origin, then the development of our personal ego structure provides only the first stage of this process of individuation. It allows for self-awareness, which is easily recognisable in young children, who are aware of their own needs, but have only limited awareness of the needs of others. In developmental terms, this gradual transformation and maturation of consciousness will allow us to collectively progress out of our childhood, towards a more mature fulfilment of our promise, as homo sapiens.
In this next iteration of civilisation, where self-reflection is added to the gift of self-awareness, social institutions – the pillars that define our civilisations – will reflect more developed attributes of consciousness, including appreciation, respect, empathy, compassion and service.
The Great Transition
The change that is required in order for us to live in balance on our planet will stem from a shift in collective consciousness. Currently, the right to consume, regardless of the impact or consequences, is held as sovereign. From the new more integrated perspective, the impact of our actions, on each other and on the environment, will hold sway over our personal desires. Selfish interests will be moderated by a shared desire for collective welfare.
However, the indications are that we are in the last minute of the final hour, and this wake up call should definitely be happening now. These are difficult times, full of illusions and passions. It is an era of misinformation and conflicting and reckless impulses. If we are to avoid the catastrophe, we must set a course that transcends the competing interests of these times. The collective goal should be food security for all, measured and appropriate use of resources, minimal waste, and social justice for all. That goal is best summarised by one word – Peace. It seems impossible now, because Humanity, each one of us, is embroiled in the turmoil.
Prayer for Peace on Earth
To make the transition to collective wisdom, compassion and the spirit of co-operation, we must be guided by the desire for Peace. The goal of Peace on Earth is the only true North. Peace on Earth will result from Inner Peace. We each have our part to play. May there be Peace. Deep Peace. Peace in the hearts of all. Peace that heals. Peace that transforms. And from this, may there be Peace on Earth, not just the end of hostilities, but a sustainable state of World Peace, where the urge for conflict is tempered by the love of Peace.