I write for folks who are near the point of deciding to go ahead and do something. My sense is that there are many of us out here who would "drop everything and throw myself into it, if only someone would show me what to do." This project puts out the best that I've been able to think so far, and I hope it will help get the ball rolling. I hope you will print this out and show it to your friends.
One day, in summer 2010, I decided it’s time for me to do something about “climate disruption." I hope some people will join me, who bring different skills to the project than what I have.
As I look climate disruption in the face, my goals for the human species would be:
That we handle any unavoidable upheaval with the least hardship for those upheaved.
That we take this opportunity to aim for the complete flowering of every human life and to invent cultures to support that.
My goals for the Earth would be:
- That humans do whatever we can to preserve the Earth’s ability to self-regulate temperature, rainfall, components of the atmosphere, etc.;
That humans do whatever we can to prevent the extinction of any more species, because all are part of the web of life and all are needed.
The first thought that occurrs to me is, "This is huge. We are going to need every mind on Earth if we are going to pull off any sort of survival scenario."
So everything I will talk about in this proposal will come back to:
How do we get six billion minds thinking brilliantly?
How do six billion people have to treat each other, to assure that our best thinking comes forward?
How do we get six billion minds on the same page?
In order to handle climate disruption, every mind on Earth will have to be thinking at her or his best.
As a culture, I'm talking about: We turn away from the "hierarchy" or "dominator" model of relating to each other, to a "partnership" model. I’m talking about: We recognize each person on Earth as having total, infinite value; as having the same right to exist, and to a healthy and meaningful existence, as every other person. To me this seems necessary to a good outcome.
And just because we "may" not be able to pull it off, doesn’t mean I have to personally set my sights any lower than the best possible result.
What my project is about:
The overheating (or overcooling) of Earth is an enormous event. It will have implications and repercussions everywhere – land and sea -- and for every person. There will be many things to figure out: not just “how to stop greenhouse gases” but also “how to feed all of us with reduced farmable land,” “how to arrange for peaceful migrations of entire populations,” “how peoples whose way of making a living has dried up or been flooded out, can make a living,” and other huge questions.
There will be many levels to think about. For example, the people of New York City may need to figure out where half of them will live if the sea rises into parts of the city. Some will turn their planning to boroughs, to city blocks, down to the residents of individual apartment buildings, so that all can relocate in a peaceful, orderly way. Others will negotiate with nearby or distant states for space to relocate to.
There will be a lot to think about, to make plans for, and to trouble-shoot along the way. All six billion of us will get to work on one or another part of the big picture.
The next question is, How do we get everyone on the same page, and how do we call on everyone's best thinking?
For the moment I am going to stick to what we can do in the USA. Other countries and peoples see things differently, and I am incompetent to speak for their point of view. However, I suspect that it will be encouraging to other peoples to see us taking this on.
Politics or culture?
As I look around the USA scene, this is a period where there is a lot of trying to do things by politics and legislation, which ends up dividing us in ways we don’t really have to be divided.
Really I don’t think we have a clue, at this point, what kinds of legislation will be needed. Before we can come up with technical and political "solutions," we have to get clear on what the questions are.
There needs to be a stage, which I think might be cultural, where we ease out of our overwhelmed numbness. We could begin to talk frankly and openly about the size of the problem and everything it means. Like, how many weekends have you spent talking and brainstorming with your friends and family -- with your neighborhood -- about climate disruption: how it could change the rest of your life, and how you're going to handle it together? Not so easy to do with such a big, hairy topic, right?
As I look around, I'm struck with the extent of the individualistic, criticizing, divisive mindset that our culture emphasizes, which is so out of step with the job at hand. For what needs to be done, we need a sense of "having each other's back," of openness and encouragement. How could we change the cultural emphasis towards embracing these qualities?
Another piece we could usefully consider is how far we have been manipulated into wanting more stuff (see www.thestoryofstuff.com). What if we moved towards a culture where the thing we most want is time for closeness and thinking together?
I think with culture we can get on the same page in a way the politicking cannot do – because politics always leaves part of the people feeling that their ideas were left out.
What do I mean by culture?
As I understand it, culture begins with ways that a group of people learns to act, so that they don't overuse the limiting factor in their local ecosystem. For example, if water is the scarce factor, it becomes a no-no to waste water, and the biggest celebration of the year will be when the rains come. Decorations on houses or clothing may include water symbols such as wavy lines meaning "river;" computer games and songs will include themes of appreciating rain, rivers, etc.
What kinds of things do we celebrate in our present culture? Does someone throw a party when they make their first million, or is the big party about reducing the carbon footprint of our household to zero? Do we sing mostly of sexual romance, or do we also sing of our romance with Mother Nature, of the special places, birds, kinds of weather we love the most? Do we daydream about winning the jackpot, or about getting together to fix a neighbor's leaky roof?
What if someone wrote an opera about the intense drama of saving a wetland? What if dance and skating routines had a theme of generosity, or of overcoming a challenge? What if a song crooned about sleeping under the Milky Way, or told the story of someone making friends with the least liked person in their school?
We could be celebrating in song and story the small victories of life, the qualities of our best friend, the fun of making or thinking something together. This is the sort of thing I have in mind when I talk about changing the culture.
What sort of culture might we need?
Returning to my first thought, we’re going to need the brilliant, innovative thinking of every human mind. There is so much to figure out that every mind on Earth will be needed.
We have one great (though often un-noticed) advantage: Already there exists, in the experience and minds of all the women on Earth, of the young people, of the elders, of the people of color, of the people impoverished by colonization and globalization – everyone whose thinking is usually ignored -- a huge reservoir of cogent observation and ideas.
This richness of thought – we ought not to continue wasting it, but ask for and use it. In any situation or gathering, it makes sense that we listen first to the ideas of those traditionally left out of decision-making. Given the situation, we can’t afford for their point of view to be lost, trivialized, or squashed.
We need all six billion minds. All are stakeholders. Whatever happens is going to affect each one of us, intimately.
My next thought is, “What if we were to rearrange the emphasis we put on the qualities of human beings?” Given that we need everyone’s mind, what cultural surroundings could make people feel they have something to offer? I think it would take a generous and delighted view of human capabilities. We could play with putting this view out into the culture, and see what happens.
Suppose we toss out rugged individualism, selfishness, and getting ahead of the Joneses. Right outside the window is my teenage neighbor, Dominic, walking down the street cradling a friend’s baby in his arms. His face flickers between “Oh my god, what if I drop this tiny creature!” and blissful, delighted adoration. Is not Dominic’s delight just as much a part of being a man as the rugged side?
Human beings can be described with many adjectives; some of them crush people’s trust in their own ability to think, while others encourage us.
Here’s a brief sampling, from the dictionary, of encouraging adjectives that are used to describe human beings: “Courageous, generous, open-minded, kind, musical, hopeful, connected, artistic, admiring, funny, agile, conscientious, peaceful, effective, joyful, passionate, communicative, wise, collaborative, affectionate, confident, aware, flexible, tender, committed, welcoming, compassionate.” And there are hundreds more pages in the dictionary!
So there would be a lot to play with, if we were to turn our attention to providing a good cultural backdrop for the flourishing of human inventive thought.
About being independent -- another value in our present culture: For a while, I was quite disgusted with our society and felt I didn't belong. I had a fantasy of going out and living in the forest, of removing myself from the money economy, of traveling from woodlot to woodlot under cover of night. But I kept coming up against the fact that I would soon be desperately lonely and would lack the survival skills of the Leni Lenape tribe who used to live around here. I would require a community out there in the woods with me! So much for going the "independence" route.
Changing the Culture
To my mind, the time is not ripe for political efforts or even for major technological fixes to Earth’s climate problem. The particular policies and technology that turn out to be most useful, may be quite different from what a few horrified scientists have been able to imagine on their own.
The whole picture is going to look very different as we start get all six billion minds on the same page and thinking well. The level of motivation will change dramatically. The sense of all being in it together, of being for each other, will give us a type of confidence that we're not used to.
It may turn out that there are ways for people to act that will handle the greenhouse-gas situation without needing expensive technical “fixes.” There may be immense efficiencies that we can harness in our food, energy, and transportation systems at all levels. (The local foods movement is a good example of what I mean.)
What I want to play with in my project is to give a nudge to the culture we live in. It might be possible to lean away from dog-eat-dog -- so badly outdated -- and towards a view where everyone counts. It might be possible to start floating some of those adjectives -- enough that people could begin to notice the times when those more positive qualities are there around them.
Recent accomplished changes
Cultural change has been happening already. Here are some positive changes in the North American culture since I was a child in the 1950’s.
- Back then, liking children for who they were was not considered of any importance, and many in the present adult generations grew up feeling not-liked. Now people often say, “I like you” and “I love you,” at least to family members.
Back then, affectionate physical contact was rare in many families. Now it’s part of the cultural wisdom that “We all need at least four hugs a day,” and in fact, in my family and among many of my friends, we do hug at least in greeting and farewell.
Back then, physical punishment and shaming were an approved part of “raising” children and of “keeping students on the right path” in school. Now it’s widely understood that praise works better than punishment, that physical punishment as well as humiliation interfere with the ability to learn.
Back then, if life threw you some curve balls and you were having a hard time keeping your head above water, there was “something wrong with you.” Now it’s understood that trauma is traumatic! Losses of loved ones; disasters such as Katrina and the Gulf oil spill; being clobbered by racism or male domination; and the destruction and stress of fighting in war, are recognized as reducing people’s ability to cope. It's recognized that it's not "our fault" we are having trouble, and that we may need assistance in recovering from traumatic situations.
Acknowledging Young People’s Fear
One thing that is only beginning to be faced is how scary it is to young people when they hear about the way human beings are causing climate disruption – yet what they see around them is that “the grownups aren’t doing anything about it.” It really is scary when the people you depend on seem to be paralyzed. What’s hard for young people to get is that the grownups, themselves, are numb with fear -- the unkind way of saying that is wholesale denial -- and therefore have not been able to act effectively.
My point is not that we should make a scary situation seem less scary in the news. Rather, my point is exactly that we go ahead and make the changes that are called for – that we make the real world not-scary, so much as we can.
We stop wars. (The USA, as a major fomenter of wars for corporate profit-making motives, could do a lot in this instance.) The very notion of war is hugely discouraging to children.
We do the things and provide the conditions that let “the grownups” become un-numb and start to function again.
We change the culture to admit that what’s going on affects everyone’s ability to act effectively.
We have fewer babies. Third world peoples would find it encouraging if the USA would take the lead in reducing the population pressure on the ecosystem.
Some Ideas for Changing Our Cultures
Songs and stories are excellent ways to invent and to spread cultural ideas. We can just begin, and we will get better at song and story writing as we go along.
I made up a little song, "Six Billion Minds," not the best song in the world but it's a beginning. I’d love for someone to pick it up, add verses, maybe give it a better tune, and then put it out there. You can hear the tune on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1r7vxOcZxA
“Six billion minds can think a bigger thought, together;
Six billion hearts can care a wider care.
Six billion wills can bring about a miracle;
Six billion voices and the Earth can sing!”
When I sang it for my neighbor, she disappeared into her house, came back out with her boom box, and played me a song she remembered from 30 years ago – “One Voice” by Barry Manilow (you can hear it on YouTube). Tears poured down our cheeks as we listened. This is the kind of inspiring song I have in mind. I’m taking suggestions for other songs that head towards "delight in human qualities, falling in love with Mother Earth, mutual aid, and hope."
Another song -- "Imagine" by John Lennon.
My greatest wish right now would be for an army of songwriters who will write little or great songs on many inspiring topics -- songs that are simple, catchy, and easy for anyone to sing along. Maybe you would make up a little good-night song for your child, about loving the Earth, and send it to me when you've got it worked out.
There could be songs about what happens when people act in harmony. For example, there is that moment when a basketball team or a rock band, though made up of individuals, suddenly “gels” and plays together brilliantly as a whole unit.
There could be songs about
--people coming up with new ideas;
--all sorts of people liking and being delighted with each other;
--working together toward goals of our own choosing;
--never again causing a fellow human being to be afraid;
--the moment when somebody finds her own courage.
Computer games, movies, comic books, and popular books could also play around with these themes.
Here are some first attempts at songs
(some are still lacking a tune)
"I am her Honey"
- I fell in love with Mother Earth one day
And she said, "I've been waiting for you, Honey.
Come walk with me in the cathedral of my forests,
Amaze yourself in my wide open spaces;
For I have a job for you --
I will give your life meaning
Like you never had till now.
I am the ground under your feet.
I will give you friends to think with,
All my creatures will cheer you on."
I fell in love with Mother Earth one day
And I am her Honey.
"About human goodness"
- Ev'ry giraffe is a perfect giraffe,
Every flea is an excellent flea.
Every fox is a wonderful fox,
Ev'ry bee is a good, good bee.
(strum) How about me?
"Every One a Teacher"
I had a teacher once
Who saw my interest in the world,
Who turned me loose to learn all I could.
She expected the best from me,
And I bloomed.
This teacher was no-one special --
Every one of us has it in herself
To ignite someone in some way.
For every one of us is needed.
"The Survival Song"
(Written when I read about the glaciers on Greenland melting. Greenland holds enough water to raise the entire sea level about 20 feet (6 meters) which would put, say, a billion of us out of a place to live. This one always gets a laugh, and that's what I'm after -- that release of fear.)
People are good at running from bears,
People are good at hunting mammoths.
Give us some flint and we'll make you a spear,
We can build a house that won't fall in on us.
So: Who'd'a ever thought that the way to survive was to
Love the Greenland ice cap!
People are good at making more people,
People are good at growing corn and beans.
We study the stars to sail the seas,
We can fix a broken leg or foot.
So: Who'd'a ever thought that the way to survive was to
Love the Greenland ice cap!
Overhauling Our Spirituality
I don’t see why we couldn’t invent new deities and ethics for this new situation in human existence. It would make sense.
The deities and ethics we have been using come from several thousand years ago, when the human population was much smaller and was no strain on the ways the Earth regulates its climate. Most of these old deities are characterized as judgmental, dominating, and sexist. Some assert that the job of humans is to rule the ecosystem – which any systems expert will tell you is impossible to do, not to mention dangerous.
These qualities in a deity or a code of ethics are a bad fit for the present situation. They are based on a derogatory notion of what human beings are like, and that is something we can’t afford right now. We need the very best support for human minds to think brilliantly, caringly, and on the same page.
What if congregations brainstormed among their members, to come up with attributes that a deity would need to have, to be relevant to loving care of the ecosystem and to including all six billion brilliant human minds.
We could have deities
- who are delighted with human beings as a valuable and integral part of Earth’s ecosystem;
who want us to transform our cultures to support creative, harmonious thinking and action;
who approve of and encourage us, who enjoy and like us for just who we are;
who embody kindness, generosity, fun, inclusion of everyone, and the deep connection of all living things.
Spirituality could be a feeling of oneness with all.
As a personal comment I want to add:
Let’s not overlook the possible relevance of a female deity, and of one who is partnership or equality oriented rather than dominance or hierarchy oriented. I yearn for the person I could have been, if the deity I heard about as a child would have been of my own gender. I would have grown up with a self-esteem, a confidence in my mind, and a generosity that I can hardly imagine.
I think folks will find such deities relevant to the situation we’re up against.
A Big Question
Several people have asked how I mean to deal with the fact that "people do horrible and hateful things to other people." I do have an idea about this, and I expect it will eventually become part of this project. My emphasis on nudging the culture is a first step towards making a tool available, that can effectively help people to overcome this tendency to act hatefully.
I've been part of a listening project for many years and have gotten to listen to over a thousand people (and each of them to me, in return) while we review our lives, our goals, our actions. None of us has ever come across an instance where somebody did something hateful, where it was not directly traceable to the person having been traumatized in a similar way in childhood/infancy.
Human beings are endowed with natural healing processes for various sorts of trauma, but such healing requires the presence of someone able to listen with total, aware attention. Most often, the adults around us who we might have wanted to listen while we cried or trembled, etc., were themselves too preoccupied by fear, lack of resources, etc. to do so. So the trauma went un-healed and stayed on in our mind as a sort of recording, which was prone to being played out at others once we grew up.
In the listening project, we've learned how to give each other the space to go back and laugh, cry, tremble, storm, yawn, etc. and actually heal or "clean up" the early trauma so that it no longer causes us to act hatefully in the present. The fun thing is that we have found ourselves more able to be innovative and compassionate, as we clean up more and more of those early traumas.
One of the first steps in being able to listen to each other in this healing way, depends on making at least a temporary agreement that human beings are good, intelligent, caring, etc. at the core, no matter how many layers of recorded trauma they are carrying around that make them appear otherwise.
Many people will spontaneously burst into healing laughter or tears when they are faced with total approval, warm liking, and deep interest in who they are. On the other hand, if the listener has any doubt about the talker's basic goodness, the talker can sense the doubt and the healing process stays locked up.
I have seen enough people make enough changes in their lives and actions that I am confident about the use of listening as a tool. I think it will be effective to assist the level of cultural change and of climate change that we may be looking at.
Getting On Board
I would love to have you join my project, take on some part of it that interests you, use the skills you have, and make it part of your life. In particular I need some people who could think about how to get it out there, as well as how to find songwriters, computer game designers, and others to begin actually changing the culture. I’d like for this thing to get so big that I can’t even keep track of it any more.
As an example, some of the skills I could turn to this project (besides writing) would be:
Imagination. Human beings are able to picture something that doesn't exist yet and take steps to make the picture become real.
Encouragement. Folks have taken my few words of encouragement and have gone out and done amazing things in tough situations.
A soft approach. Most often it works better to come in gently by the back door rather than confronting.
Respect. No matter how prickly someone may seem, if I listen respectfully it turns out that people are often doing their best to connect and be helpful, and do have something important to offer.
To sum up:
Earth is over-heating (or might flip to over-cooling) – a bigger problem than humanity has ever faced before.
We need all six billion minds, thinking “on the same page,” to deal with it.
For our minds to work the best, we need to have self-esteem and feel pleased with ourselves; we need to feel connected with others; we need to not be afraid.
Therefore, to have the conditions where everyone is able to think most brilliantly, we could invent and surround ourselves with a cultural atmosphere of liking, affection, approval, respect for one another’s ideas, and where people are not made afraid.
This page is an early draft of my project. I expect to rewrite many times over the coming year.
I would like to know, where do my thoughts connect with things you've already been thinking? As I hear from folks about what rings true, I can weed out the parts that don't fit so well.
Being that I am only a teeny bit less overwhelmed about climate disruption than you are, I could also use your blatant encouragement and wild enthusiasm.