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Climate Perspectives: Grief, Addiction, Paradigm Shifts, and Cognitive Dissonance

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

This journey has been so full, already, while also filled with so many gaps, as well as tremendous awe and physical pain. I want to share 4 lenses there which I have been thinking feeling my way through as I walk our Majestic Earth...

1) Grief

There is so much to celebrate in modernity - all of our technological advancements. And, there is so much to grieve, so much loss of culture, community, so much colonialization and genocide… and so much destruction of entire ecosystems... regardless of how much or little any one of us sees or feels this on a daily basis, I think the majority of us feel a deep emptiness and a brokenness in the world, at least when we turn the lights off and try to go to sleep for the night... With so much to grieve, it is no wonder that's many are overwhelmed for a whole forest of reasons... it is not surprising that we see people and communities, and politicians and corporations, cycle through what psychologist have called the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bartering, Acceptance... In no way do I mean to minimize the political and profit motives that lead us to a lack of sustained serious action. At the same time, I think it is vital to also have perspective and empathy that these are also modes of emotional coping as well. In particular, I think that there is a way in which what we call Climate Denial… is actually a form of deep understanding of the truth over the seriousness of our situation - climate change, and the large-scale destruction of peoples and other life around the planet, require a complete civilizational transformation. The “denial” position, is a way of saying we are not at all ready or even able to consider that. On the other hand, a common response from democrats and even environmental activists, is that all we need to do is implements plan X, for example a carbon tax, and that will solve our crisis. This is a “bartering”, and a lack of ability to accept reality that no single plan or tax and will by itself stave off the worst consequences...

2) Addiction

Perhaps our inability to confront and respond to climate chaos appropriately, is a function not only of politics, greed, and grief, but also civilization scale addiction to: domination and abuse, technology and convenience, individuation and objectification of life other than our own...Let is look at the DSM criteria for addiction, simply substitute "substance" with the words oil, or technology, or colonialization … and all the ways in which we continue to perpertrate violence towards our kin in indigenous communities, people of color and in general non-Christian nations around the world...

- Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you're meant to.

- Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to....

- Cravings and urges to use the substance.

- Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.

- Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.

- Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.

- Using substances again and again, even when it puts you [or others] in danger...

These all seem to fit, in terms of our relationships with our smartphones, fossil fuels, systems of privilege and oppression, etc… Our lack of response to climate chaos is NOT just indifference, We are immobilized by our addiction to society as it is right now, and even the possibility something different, even if that difference is healthier by many orders of magnitude, feels impossible....

3) The next Copernican Revolution

While walking through NY, I passed by a statue in honor of Copernicus. It made me wonder what it might have been like in Europe around his time and how hard it must have been for his society to accept that the Earth is NOT the center of the Universe. He was telling people that their entire sense of the natural order was upside down... Moreover, there was no way for the average person, and by that I mean the majority of people to see for themselves whether the Earth revolves around the Sun or the other way around… We cannot surprised that the theories of Copernicus were not accepted easily. How similar these seem to the realities of climate chaos... It challenges us to overturn our understanding of human beings as the smartest creatures on the planet, capable making rivers run backwards, moving mountains and splitting the atom. Instead, we are a species which is in the process of committing mass suicide, as well as genocide. Where has our intelligence taken us? Just like in the times of Copernicus, none of these facts can be seen by the naked eye, and must instead rely on faith or rejection of other people, experts, scientists, elsewhere. How can we be surprised that there is so much in their shirt, resistance, rejection, denial, anger, fear?

4) Cognitive Dissonance & the Holocaust

In the beginning years of World War II, even as reports of mass graves and the horrors of concentration camps were beginning to make their way to Western Europe and the Americas... the world took a very very long time to respond, and to seriosly fight back. A big part of this was millennia-old anti-Semitism as well as very ordinary self-preservation and indifference... But even Jewish communities had a hard time believing the horrific scale of what was happening. How could that be?

We are in a similar situation today. The facts as they are, are just too horrific to be believed, and yet they are facts. you in the realities of Climate Chaos, the facts are plain and clear for everyone to see. It’s not a matter of some species dying, or some people dying, but the undermining of the ecological web of life and a stable climate, which is putting everyone’s life at risk. At the same time, most of us, most of the time, including myself, maintain a lackadaisical response – we change a lightbulb, or recycle. The wealthy might be a more energy efficient car. These are good and holy things to do, always! And the same time, by themselves, they can no more prevent climate catastrophe than duct taping windows shut and getting down under a desk could protect children from a nuclear strike during the Cold War.. There is a huge cognitive dissonance between the societal transformation that is necessary, and the suggestions for action that are being given.

When people ask me whether we can turn the tide on Climate Change, I tell them that this is no longer my question... My question is, given what we know, the scale of destruction and the time-scale... What are you willing to do? And how can you do that with as much kindness, compassion, and courage as possible?


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