The Hopium of the Bamboo Toothbrush
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Please don’t hear anything in what follows that says “You should be doing this, or that”. I don’t even know myself what to do yet. But it has helped me to just express all this, and I had a ‘nudge’ that I should share it here. And I am genuinely curious…. about where you’re at with this whole thing.
Hardly anybody is a full-on climate change denier these days (except maybe a certain President). But the denial has become more subtle and nuanced.
Early June 2019 (my God, has it only been just over a month?) I stumbled upon some of the latest science about the climate crisis. I don’t know why – I was nudged or something. I’d known things were getting pretty bad, I’d watched Blue Planet II along with most other people. But I really had no idea. As is the case with the inter-web, one article, paper or talk neatly led me into the next.. and the next… and the next.
I was reminded of the title of Dr Jack Pransky’s book called “Somebody should have told us!”
I realise that, compared to lots of people, I’m late to this party. And yes, I have felt shame at sticking my head in the sand for as long as I have.
I think I had put the climate crisis into a box called “Yes, it’s bad, but I’ve chosen my path, and it’s not that…” Everybody has to listen to their own wisdom about whether and how to contribute, right? Whether it’s the Government, the scientific community, Greenpeace, the WWF, the IPCC, Elon Musk – the ‘experts’ will sort it all out.
My particular journey at the moment is about waking up individuals and small groups to the truth behind the human experience.
I’ve never been an activist. I have acted. But I’ve never really protested. I care deeply, but I’ve always believed that my contribution is about something more personal, or more spiritual, helping in a small way to bring about an increase in the level of consciousness.
I help people thrive! I don’t give them more to worry about. I don’t frighten people.
For the first week or so of my self-education, I found all the really bad stuff and spiralled down into the deepest grief, rage and despair I think I’ve ever felt in my life. I couldn’t think about anything else. I couldn’t talk about anything else. I couldn’t understand why ANYBODY was talking about ANYTHING ELSE.
How can you possibly give a flying **** about Brexit now?
What’s happened on Love Island? (not that I ever have, to be fair)
Whether Boris or Jeremy become the next British Prime Minister? It doesn’t make any difference – both of them perfectly willing to lie and continue screwing over the planet in the name of more growth, personal ambition, and we’ll-do-anything-for-a-trade-deal-with-Trump.
One of the biggest headlines screaming at me was “12 years to save the planet?” It’s a quote from Sir David Attenborough that you may have seen.
The lyrics to an old Bowie song “Five Years” kept rolling around in my head as the backing track to all this.
“Pushing through the market square, So many mothers sighing,
News had just come over, We had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, Earth was really dying,
Cried so much his face was wet, Then I knew he was not lying
I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies,
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TVs
My brain hurt like a warehouse – It had no room to spare”
My brain hurt like a warehouse. Yes, exactly right David.
I became a pain in the ass to everybody around me, in my desire to make sense of it all. Ross, my husband, got the brunt of it (of course).
“How can you listen to the Cricket world cup – you should be watching that video link I sent you about the latest scientific research on the 50-gigaton burp, or ‘pulse’ of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, which will release about 2/3 of the total carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era!”
I escaped to my garden sometimes and cradled flowers in my hands as I wept. I dug with my hands in the soil, and let it sprinkle through my fingers, and all I could hear in my head was the World Health Organisation’s prediction that we have 40 – 60 harvests left before soil quality becomes so depleted we won’t be able to grow anything.
I joined Extinction Rebellion, and volunteered on one of their projects. I will be in London as part of the Summer Uprising starting on Monday 15th July.
I made commitments to stop flying, to stop buying clothes, (God knows I already have enough clothes to last several lifetimes!), to stop wasting food.
I gave up red meat and dairy.
I booked a place on a 4-day course about Leadership and the Climate Crisis, which starts later this month.
I have watched 100’s of hours of YouTube videos. Each one more of a horror show than the last.
I became “collapse-aware” (open to the idea that this civilization is definitely doomed – and the only rational response now is to begin preparing for the very different civilization that may follow this one.) Professor Jem Bendell calls it “Deep Adaptation”.
I hosted zoom calls to talk about it.
I set up a new Facebook Group called “The Three Principles and Climate Crisis”.
I created a slide pack summarising the key information.
I devoured about a dozen books on the subject.
I wrote to several of my mentors and coaches, seeking clarity and wisdom.
Thanks to a friend on one of my zoom calls, I discovered the Transition Movement. More tens of hours watching YouTube videos about Totnes, Brixton, Bristol – all the other towns both here and overseas who are actually doing stuff. Really inspiring and hopeful.
I reached out to the “Transition” Group in my local village to offer to help.
I was deeply inspired by a TED Talk by Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay sharing his country’s mission to put happiness before economic growth and set a world standard for environmental preservation.
Of course, I very quickly saw that the climate crisis wasn’t the real problem – it is the consequence of a bigger disease. Neo-Liberalism. Capitalism. An obsession with economic growth. Selfishness, greed and apathy.
A growing disconnection with ourselves, with each other, and with nature.
A mental health crisis.
A spiritual vacuum.
That humans are having an unsustainable impact on Earth may have a become a familiar message – but it is still a difficult message to hear. It presents us with a complex challenge given our reluctance to face change.
About 15 years ago, environmental campaigner Gus Speth said he used to think the biggest problems facing the planet were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. He believed that within 30 years, good science could address these problems. But, he continued:
“I was wrong. The top environmental problems are an obsession with economic growth, selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
I started listening to commentators I’d never made much time to listen to before. George Monbiot. Rupert Read. Professor Jem Bendell. Russell Brand.
Jacques Peretti on the terrifying nature of corporate greed. The way consumerism and desire was deliberately created by the advertising industry back in the 50’s by cynically pushing messages at society that made us scared we weren’t “enough”.
The way big-tech has already destroyed any true democracy. (If you don’t believe democracy is dead, watch Carole Cadwalladr’s TED talk about how Facebook algorithms engineered the result of the Brexit referendum).
And all without meaning to. Innocent. Everybody is doing the best they can, given the thinking that looks real to them in that moment.
Perfectly encapsulated in one of the most recent Black Mirror episodes called “Smithereens”
And all this coincided with watching the recent Russell Davies drama on BBC called “Years and Years” – a terrifying Black Mirror-esque dance into a very feasible near-future.
I realise, too, that there’s a kind of ‘activist syndrome’. I’ve seen it in some people, and I’ve always disliked it. People who look for something out there to ‘fix’ because they feel there’s something wrong – wrong with us, wrong with the world. So, let’s take to the streets. Another variant is a kind of existential rage, a chip-on-the-shoulder, the equivalent of a 2-year old stomping their feet and yelling “It’s not FAIR!”.
And I honestly don’t feel this described me. I was happily pootling along, just sharing the love, honestly feeling joyful, peaceful and grateful (most of the time).
I have never been an activist.
But I am now convinced by the evidence that I have to do something, and that maybe peaceful civil disobedience and disruption is the best strategy to at least move this up the political agenda.
It already has, in fact.
The UK Government would never have declared a climate emergency as they did in June 2019 without the actions of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes begun by Greta Thunberg. Going right back to the suffragettes, and including the anti-apartheid movement and the civil rights movement – it’s probably the only thing that stands any chance of working. We don’t have time any more for a softly-softly approach.
But people who care, including me, have been using a subtler form of climate-change denial over the past few years. Tweaking and hacking our lives to help reduce our own personal carbon-footprint. All good stuff. The danger is, we stop there.
After all, we’re using our personal agency. We feel empowered. We no longer need to feel guilty because we’re doing the best we can. All the little things can make a big difference, right? It gives us hope.
Whilst I will continue to do these things – there’s a way in which it can just makes us feel better, without actually making much difference at all.
I call it the ‘Hopium’ of the Bamboo Toothbrush.
There’s a sort of rugged individualism here. Through decades of “personal development”, we have become addicted to the idea of me, me, me. The power of one person. To change the world, I must start with myself. This is really great when you’re talking about love, or kindness, or forgiveness. But I no longer believe it’s going to hack it with this issue. Our only real hope is coming together with collective wisdom and action.
Just 100 organisations are responsible for 71% of global emissions. Read that again. That’s Pareto on steroids! And it means that the palatable, almost smug, “I-re-use-my-coffee-cup” culture isn’t going to save us.
I’ve spoken to a number of friends recently who I love. Good, caring people. They tell me that taking action on climate change is just not their thing. I get it, I really do. After all, I was the same until about a month ago.
Their preferred flavour of cause is something different – raising money to cure cancer, changing the education system, tackling childhood obesity, transforming mental health, tackling unconscious bias or whatever it is. All great causes.
Or maybe no ‘cause’ at all – just getting on with raising a family, earning a living and being in Life the best way they know how. Completely understandable.
But, here’s the thing: If we don’t all wake up to the climate crisis right now, we will not be around to cure cancer or do anything else.
We often talk of saving the planet.
Don’t worry about the planet. The planet will be fine – at least until the death of our sun in 3 billion years or so. Global temperatures will change dramatically. The ice melt will continue. The biosphere will change. Species will continue to go extinct, and some will adapt to the changed conditions. New species will undoubtedly come into form and then evolve.
I’m really, really sad about the 200 species of wildlife going extinct every single day at the moment. But make no mistake:
It’s the human race we’re trying to save here.
Anyway, here we are – July 2019. I am calm again. I am still. The rage and the grief have passed, for now. I have come back ‘Home’. Ideas are beginning to emerge, and I trust that wisdom and clarity is playing in the background to help these ideas form into something… I don’t know what yet.
I don’t know anything, except Love is the answer.
I’m beginning to get a sense that my work in future might be about bringing people to a sense of clarity and calm – where they can be comfortable hanging out in the unknown. And we can have curious, kind, joyful, loving dialogue – where we don’t need to prove ourselves right, in order to try and make ourselves feel less petrified.
“There is an abyss opening up before us.
We need to be brave enough to look into that abyss… and only then will we know what to do”
I’d love to know where you’re at with all this.
If you are interested in learning about the latest science, and what has led to me making this the priority in my life, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll share it with you. Or give me a call on 01923 262278.
You are also welcome to join the growing community of people who are willing to “look into the abyss”, in order to see what they are called to do. Again, drop me a line.
When we admit that we don’t know what to do and allow it to be fully felt, a space can open for us to discover what we are on the other side.
I’m discovering that there is a way through the despair and grief that our thinking about this crisis can create: Community, Clarity, Wisdom and, above all, Love.
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