COP21 A Year On: Rising Ecological Consciousness

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A year ago the Paris COP21 was signed and it went into effect on Friday. I remember the period well. At the time I was doing research at Schumacher College in Dartington, England, a world-renowned centre for ecological thinking founded by Satish Kumar. Even James Lovelock who coined Gaia Theory taught there. Many students were very fired up about COP21 and some even went to Paris to demonstrate. It was indeed an historic event; getting hundreds of countries to sign anything is difficult enough.

The critics suggest that insufficient is being done. A recent report by the UN Environment Program states that global ambition to limit climate change should “urgent and dramatically” cut 2030 emissions by another 25% to limit climate change to a 2’C rise vs the 1.5’C target in the Paris COP21.  The current accord will still end up with 3.4’C warming.

The NY Times write up this week focused on carbon taxes and trading, which is what many in government  would like:

“The financial framework, namely a carbon price or tax that would force industries to pay for the pollution they spew, has barely started to emerge. And while tens of billions of dollars of green bonds have been issued to finance environmental projects, these are a pittance compared to the sums required to make a difference.

“It’s not a question of billions, it’s a question of trillions,” said Ángel Gurría, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, speaking on Thursday at The New York Times Energy For Tomorrow conference in Paris.”

In fact, Washington state seems to be the first state that might pass a carbon tax. Wired wrote about it here last week:

The Unlikely Battle to Pass the Nation’s First Carbon Tax

Some people think that just focus on carbon is an oversimplification. In fact James Lovelock in his last book “Rough Ride to the Future” agreed that the focus was wrong. But entrepreneurs and vested interested sought to simplify the issue. Personally, I have nothing against entrepreneurs making money, but the focus is important.

Rockstrom’s Planetary Boundaries Model shows that climate change is not the only issue with Earth degradation. In fact, the collapse in biodiversity is perhaps a bigger crisis.

 

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This is why a more holistic approach is necessary. And centres like Schumacher College encourage this. Charles Eisenstein echoed this in the aftermath of the Paris conference last year:

“One obvious problem with that is that horrible things can be justified with CO2 arguments, or tolerated because they have little obvious impact on CO2. This ersatz ‘green’ argument has been applied to fracking, nuclear power, big hydro, GMOs, and the conversation of forests into wood chips for biofuel. Now you might say these are specious arguments that depend on faulty carbon accounting (is nuclear power really that carbon friendly when you account for the immense amount of energy needed to mine the uranium, refine the uranium, procure the cement, contain the waste, etc.?) but I am afraid there is a deeper problem. It is that when we base policy on a global metric, i.e. by the numbers, then the numbers are always subject to manipulation by those with the power to do so. Data can be manipulated, factors can be ignored, and projections can be skewed toward optimistic best-case scenarios. This is an inherent problem with basing policy on a metric like tons of CO2 or GGEs (greenhouse gas equivalents).

Secondly, by focusing on a measurable quantity we devalue that which we cannot measure or choose not to measure. Such issues such as mining, biodiversity, toxic pollution, ecosystem disruption, etc. recede in urgency, because after all, unlike global levels of CO2 they do not pose an existential threat. Certainly one can make carbon-based arguments on all these issues, but to do so is to step onto dangerous ground. Imagine that you are trying to stop a strip mine by citing the fuel use of the equipment and the lost carbon sink of the forest that needs to be cleared, and the mining company says, “OK, we’re going to do this in the most green way possible; we are going to fuel our bulldozers with biofuels, run our computers on solar power, and plant two trees for every tree we chop down.” You get into a tangle of arithmetic, none of which touches the real reason you want to stop the mine — because you love that mountaintop, that forest, those waters that would be poisoned.

I am certain we will not “save our planet” (or at least the ecological basis of civilization) by merely being more clever in our deployment of Earth’s “resources”. We will not escape this crisis so long as we see the planet and everything on it as instruments of our utility. The present climate change narrative veers too close to instrumental utilitarian logic — that we should value the earth because of what will happen to us if we don’t. Where did we develop the habit of making choices based on maximizing or minimizing a number? We got it from the money world. We are seeking to apply our numbers games to a new target, CO2 rather than dollars. I don’t think that is a deep enough revolution. We need a revolution in means, not only a revolution in ends.

In other words, what we need is a revolution of love. When we as a society learn to see the planet and everything on it as beings deserving of respect — in their own right and not just for their use to us — then we won’t need to appeal to climate change to do all the best things that the climate change warriors would have us do. And, we will stop doing the awful things that we do in the name of stopping climate change.”

My take is that if we go as upstream in an issue as possible, we can resolve all the problems. And I think this is our sense of connection to the land, or perhaps our sense of belonging. This is indeed a revolution of consciousness. Personally, I am quietly optimistic. The ‘solutions’ will come in many forms from changing our economic models, to technology (which is changing at a phenomenal pace – we are in a full on energy revolution) to individual behavioural change.

At the moment an epic battle seems to be taking place in North Dakota over a pipeline, the DAPL. Hundreds of heavily armed law-enforcement officers are lined up, and at times violently engaging, protestors. When I had coffee with Frijof Capra in Berkeley a couple of months ago, he said (whilst still sporting a Bernie Sanders badge) the this was an encouraging sign; indigenous people from all over North America were coming together. Interestingly, some time later Berie Sanders actually appeared at the native American spiritual site and said that the real thing that we can learn from the indigenous tribes is that we belong to the land. If we remember how we used to feel about the planet, we will naturally start making the right decisions.

Its been a long long road but things are changing.

I trace the beginning of the shift back Apollo 17 . Rather poetically at that time Earth through us, got to see itself. This was a revolutionary event in the history of Gaia;  when we got to see Earth, a magical alive place amongst millions of dead planets, a cord was struck. We also saw that this world was totally borderless, with no man-made lines called nations. Joseph Cambell mentioned this in his famous interview with journalist Bill Moyers, point picked up by my friend Simon Robinson and his wife Maria who noted it in their book Holonomics:

“According to Campbell, this moment marked the start of a new mythology and a new stage of consciousness for humanity, it brought the opportunity for more integration between people, as a result of the new awareness of our co-dependence, together with a greater care and connection with nature, resulting from our realisation of the fragility and finite resources. In this sense, it represented a unique moment, a sacred redemption made possible by advancing technology.”

Recently I went to see  Joanna Macy in Berkeley before she went in to semi-retirement. Her life work has been dedicated to ecology and buddhism. Her movement is called the “Work that Reconnects.” Like Fritjof Capra I think she is another important author at this juncture of human and Earth history. When she started out, she said no one had any interest in what indigenous people had to say. but now more and more people are interested in their wisdom. What I might do later is plot the evolution of the environmental/ecological movement.

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My prediction is that this ecological consciousness will continue to rise. Why am I confident of this? Because its already started as I have explained.

And because its innate. For most of history we knew we belonged to Earth.

In the coming weeks and months we will write articles all all aspects of Earth, from the technologies (Green tech) to the social to the spiritual. We are also planning some interviews and dialogues including Fritjof Capra the author of “Web of Life” and my friend Matthias Gelber aka Green Man, an advisor to the Asia Development Bank, an author and recently a judge of Miss Earth.

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