The 72 Lessons Climate Change & Eco-Anxiety Have Taught Me About Life
How staring down the truth can set you free (even if it hurts)
(The following is adapted from a talk given at a wonderful event hosted by Michelle Carvill and Gemma Butler from the Can Marketing Save The Planet podcast - image courtesy of Anna Mullenneaux)
It’s all too easy to fall into doom and gloom at the state of the world. It’s equally important to not bury our heads in the sand nor fall prey to ‘hopium’.
Staring down the truth is much harder and in a world where it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what is true and who to trust, the challenge is ever greater and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
I’ve spent the last few years exploring the truth about climate change, working things out for myself and then trying to work out how to be of use in creating change.
I took the red pill, went down the climate science rabbit hole and ended up wishing I hadn’t.
I interviewed climate scientists, I interviewed segments of the public to better understand how climate messaging lands, I blocked bridges with Extinction Rebellion and I conducted research into Just Stop Oil to understand who they are and why they do what they do.
I’ve even been inside the AGM at Shell to get to know their shareholders and see how they view the world.
I’ve learnt from indigenous cultures and have been opened up and healed by their plant medicines in ways, as a recovering advocate of scientific positivism, I could never have imagined or believed only a year or two ago. They’ve helped me stare down the truth with more love in my heart than anything else.
I am just one person. One voice, with a family to look after - there’s the tension of wanting to fight in order to help them and everyone else, and wanting to pretend that none of this is happening so I can just focus on my family and play the current game as best I can, even though I know it is hollow and flawed.
I think we all rely on a certain amount of ‘soft denial’ to keep on going but I for one have certainly learned that the hard way. I was too all or nothing. Too impatient for change and desperately frustrated as a result.
There came a point where I just had to surrender - not giving up - but surrendering.
No more fighting, no more expectations, no more struggling.
Ironically, letting go seems to be the most positive act I could’ve made - I’m happier and this is rippling out into everyone I encounter and improving my relationships as a result.
The plant medicines awoke an awareness in me that all the ideas I’ve been struggling with are just that - ideas and they live inside of me. Ideas that hide from view a deeper, emotional world that is just a few steps away, that they represent.
These difficult ideas have taught me more about the nature of my own mind than anything else in my life.
They’ve shown me that we overcome our most difficult problems by expanding our conscious awareness and that expansion hurts. It stretches us to our limits and once done we cannot shrink back.
We learn, we grow, we see the world and ourselves anew.
We wake up to different ways of seeing and being in the world.
We adapt and evolve.
The biggest lesson of all in the problems we face is perhaps this: climate change and ecological breakdown are a lesson and a rite of passage as a species; an initiatory experience that we don’t really know we’ll make it through. Our survival depends on our ability to learn, grow and transform.
To adapt and evolve, consciously. This is a conscious shift. It is a choice that each one of us has to become aware of and make for ourselves.
So now, instead of falling into only complaint as I may have done before, I ask myself: “What is climate change teaching me? What are the lessons to be learned from it? How can I grow and change?”
It feels important to ask these questions.
And here are my responses - 72 lessons I’ve learned about life, myself and nature as a result of asking them.
If you’ve been feeling anything similar to what I’ve been feeling (unconsciously or not) some of these may resonate with you and if they do, I hope they make you feel less alone, less crazy and less likely to give up.
I hope they help you feel more grounded, more connected and more full of awe and reverence for the beauty of the world.
And by the end, I hope they reach out and tap your soul on the shoulder and encourage it to burn a little brighter.
These are the stories I choose to believe, that help me make sense of a world in crises and see instead the beginning of a better world.
Stories that make it a little bit easier to feel a whole lot happier, even at the end of the world.
Let me know what you think.
Information doesn’t change behaviour - emotion does
Everything I can do to help face our challenges is both entirely necessary and woefully insufficient at the same time
Emotion is more powerful than logic but we need both to address our problems
Living through a paradigm shift is scary, exciting, confusing, messy and inspiring
The future hasn’t happened yet
The imagination is a powerful thing. It can create suffering for a future that hasn’t happened yet, that is crippling and raw. It can create joyful visions too of a regenerative world, it just takes more courage
Honesty demands courage
Courage is found when we encourage each other, which is why community is so, so important
There is no silver bullet, no super hero ending and no one is coming to save us
Those who give up, suffer more than those who keep on going
Our crises are catalyst for learning and growth
Some kinds of learning and growth can expand consciousness itself, bringing into view entirely new ways of seeing and being in the world and the web of life
Nature is a 3.8 billion year old intelligence
Gaia Theory is real - the planet is a complex, self-regulating, self-creating, intelligent system
Scientists call Gaia Theory ‘Earth Systems Science’ in order to not spook their funders
Earth Systems Science and quantum physics represent a paradigm change in the history of science, a new way of seeing the world on a par with the Copernican Revolution of the 16th century when we went from being the centre of the universe to one of many planets orbiting one of what we now know to be many hundreds of billions of stars in hundreds of billions of galaxies
We still lock people up in the 21st century just as much as we did in the 16th century when it comes to tellers of uncomfortable truths
Fear, grief and terror can paralyse us or embolden us to sound the alarm with all we’ve got but they are useless for building the future
Each moment pre-paves the next. How we see and feel in the now, shapes and determines our future
Temperament is fate
The most powerful places I can put my energy and attention to change the world are inside me and right in front of me in every single moment
When I can’t escape my problems, when I can no longer run from my fears, when I finally find the courage to stare them down and let the feeling pass through me, they vanish
I am mortal
Everything living dies
Death is essential for all life
Death is a taboo that our culture really struggles with
Ideas that confer huge benefits to our survival at a small scale, can create mass extinction events at large scales
We can shape the planet
We are shaped by the planet
We are a young species with a lot to learn
We are powerful creators capable of far more than we realise
Just as an apple tree ‘apples’ the planet ‘peoples’
Everything is interconnected and of one shared source
We are nature
We are a way for the universe to know itself
We in the West have been born into a culture with amnesia for who and what we are and where we’ve come from. Indigenous cultures still remember and we should listen
I love my children more than anything in the world and they remind me that we need to rekindle the same pure, youthful, joyful energy that bursts out of them with life-giving love inside of us too
Everything is perfect as it is
Where my focus goes my energy flows and what I’m looking at and feeling grows - including the very things I don’t want. So see the good and let it grow, no matter what
Every reaction and response I have to the world needn’t be unconscious, it is always a choice in every single moment
In choosing my response, I choose my interpretation and I create my own reality
In my blood are the memories of what it takes to survive Ice Ages, to build civilisations from scratch and to live not only with nature but as nature
On the other side of climate change is an ecological civilisation waiting to be born
Love is the most powerful force in the Universe and is the root of all experience, ever present even if unfelt due to all the crap we let get in the way. Storm clouds merely mask the sun, above them it is always shining
Perception cannot be untangled from projection
What is within me colours and shapes my experience of the world
The world is a reflection of what is inside of us
The Western worldview is over
The environment is not a subsystem of the economy. The economy is a subsystem of the environment
I am not the voice in my head, I am the presence that hears it
That presence is pure consciousness
All experience of material reality occurs in consciousness
Consciousness is primary to all things, including my mind
As I am consciousness and consciousness is primary, I am not produced by my mind, I experience my mind
Likewise I experience my body, I am not my body
I am the energy at the heart of all things - the energy at the heart of all things is me
I am eternal and I am free
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed
No one ever really dies
Every ending is a beginning, every beginning an end - every hatching egg an act of creation and destruction
The Western world is ending
Consciousness and life are evolving
Something new is waiting to be born; a labour that may take generations to unfold
We are part of something bigger than ourselves
This is an inter-generational challenge
Now is an incredibly important time to be alive
It’s also an incredibly important time to wake up to who we are and what we have to do
This is just the beginning of a very long and very great adventure
I’m planting trees the shade of which I will never get to sit in
I have everything I need to find my way back home
I am you looking back at you through different eyes. Playing hide and seek with you across countless lives, calling you home, singing your name, longing for you to arrive
Every atom in our bodies wants us to know that they came from a star and that you are a moment of explosion, a thought and a dream, an instant and an eternity in the hovering sound of all time. Our old Gods may be dead but the Universe is not, it just got lost in all the names. We see it in the mountains, the oceans and the trees, in the stars above us and the animals around us of which we are very much a part.
In some we see the blue sparks of themselves light up in the spaces between the thoughts that make up the stories of their lives. We see the dynamo turn and the blue sparks fly, the gestalt magic from the spaces between from where the inanimate becomes animate and the formless takes form. This forgotten space is the reason we care, why we love and protect. It’s screaming to us from every star forged atom in us, from every leaf on every tree, “Peel back the plastic from your life” it says, "“regain the spaces that your parents lost, the ones they sold to bring you up. Remember us, live as us, look to the stars and wake up”.
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