Forest Fires and the drastic increase in Global temperatures may become the new normal. In my latest book – Our World is Burning – Essay 3: “Are We Stupid?” is timely.
Essay Three: Are We Stupid?
Oscar nominee Pete Postlethwaite plays the best role of his acting career in the film The Age of Stupid. The movie fast forwards us to the year 2055. Pete plays the sole character in this riveting film. He stars as an old man living alone in a world totally decimated by global warming. His location is the High Arctic. The film makes James Lovelock’s conclusions in his 2006 book Revenge of Gaia, seem prophetic. In an interview about this book, Lovelock provides a dire prediction for humanity: “Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”
The film character played by Postlethwaite is the curator of The Global Archive, a digital storage laboratory located in the Arctic. It is the last habitable place for humans on Planet Earth. The footage he views shows how global warming reached tipping points and runaway effects while at the same time humanity’s achievements are also saved for posterity. How could the human mind capable of such monumental achievements neglect the destruction happening to their lived-in-ecosystem? The old man shakes his head in disbelief whilelooking for an answer. The film gives us one – carbon based energy. Our addictive dependence to it is what propelled the downward spiral of devastation. The addictive process was enabled because we allowed the environment to become an extension of human egocentric needs and values, an ego-sphere rather than an eco-sphere. In this ego-sphere we consumed mindlessly of the global economy without regard for ecosystem balance or concern about creating inequality, poverty and ecosystem imbalance. Planetary care is not on this agenda, as the film graphically shows. We see the old man in the High Arctic watching archival video footage, carefully preserved from 2008. His stark question to the viewer is: “Why didn’t we stop climate change in 2008 when there was a chance?”
The director of the film, Fanny Armstrong, creates a montage from live news and documentaries saved from 1950 to 2008. The video record charts the steps taken by humanity into global devastation – devastating that is for human habitation and for all other species. In an artfully created mosaic, six real life characters play out the dramas of their personal stories. Their humanity and incredible stupidity are extant in this brilliant tapestry of human folly. What is so gripping is that we who view it are made to feel distinctly uncomfortable, because their shadows and myopia reflect our own. They arrive as a projection of our political and corporate leaders. After watching this film, we can no longer hide from these shadows. We are forcibly held to account. If we do not act now, this film then becomes our story.
Two Forks in the Road – Which One Will We Take?
“Failsafe’ is an engineering term used to describe a lever or stop valve that comes into play when a piece of machinery is just about to self-destruct. Phut! The lever comes down or the stop valve kicks in before the boiler blows up or the nuclear core melts down before inevitable destruction occurs. I talked about the Failsafe in Consciousness concept in my book, Failsafe: Saving the Earth From Ourselves,published by Manor House in 2008. It describes how consciousness expansion will be held back by a deliberately cultivated ignorance about better knowledge. That is, until the global ecological situation deteriorates to a breaking point. My thought was that this breaking point will then act as a catalyst, exposing such ignorance. At which point consciousness would be propelled into expansion, deliberation and change. My vision was a positive one, as I believed that humanity could create new structures and organizations. Out of these would emerge the radical solutions addressing the ecological emergency we all face. We have the knowledge to create this, but the obstacles that stand in the way are not technological. They are the attitudes, values and concepts that define the present dominance of corporate values, rampantly consolidated through “turbo-capitalism.” I argued that the necessary clarity to deal with the global environmental crises will emerge, once our thoughts, values and attitudes change and no longer sustain and feed our internal pollution. This is the radical internal climate change necessary to engage intelligently with the external climate change.
There is certainly global awareness, but also fear, about the future of Earth. The overwhelming terror of Gaia crashing down on us is unbearable. Many years ago in India I had an audience with Sai Baba. I was visiting this sage’s ashram in Andra Pradesh with an Indian friend. As he slowly walked through the morning gathering, to my utter surprise Sai Baba stopped in front of me. He spoke to me for quite a while. Somehow he knew of my commitment to environmental concerns. I remember very little of what was said, except for one sentence that blazed into my mind and stayed there. Sai Baba said to me that a transformation in human consciousness required 2% of the population to meditate on a daily basis. I have no clue about the knowledge source for his pronouncement, but I do remember vividly the “buzz” of energy in my mind and body when I heard it.
I translated this wisdom into a 2% option. If only I, and others, could encourage 2% of the people we knew to change their lifestyles to one of voluntary simplicity then the environmental crisis could be mitigated. If everybody did so, then the planet would remain habitable for all species. This would involve conserving energy usage, being aware of the effects of mindless consumerism and completing one eco-friendly action every day. This may seem naïve, but to me the 2% option was readily do-able and within the grasp of everyone. The end result of a transformed consciousness would lead to different questions being asked, with different solutions and structures created. There would be a new mindset to make the necessary decisions for change. This one statement from Sai Baba changed my thoughts about awakening. Not everyone has to “wake up” – just 2%. This spearhead would provide a catalyst, the strategic tipping point, for an immediate change in planetary care.
To make Failsafe in Consciousness a robust concept I identified three interconnected components:
- Innate Earth Wisdom,
- Counter Culture
- Tipping Points in Consciousness.
We do in fact possess innate earth wisdom. Ninety-nine per cent of our evolution as a species relied on a hunting and gathering. This adaptation known as foraging, is a strategy based on sophisticated ecosystem knowledge, integrated into harvesting patterns through a spiritual understanding of the world. That is still hardwired into our brain and I thought it was simply a matter of remembering what we already possess. My anthropological logic pointed to the retrieval of this mindset in order to activate the feedback cycle needed to prevent further degradation of the global ecosystem.
The modern-day counter culture pulled together the Ecology of Ideas from Gregory Bateson, Rachel Carson’s Ecology and the fostering of Gaia as a social movement through feminists, environmentalists, and the New Age beads and incense set. This unusual coalition established a broad consensus. providing a foundation for the new science of Eco-psychology. Bateson, a prominent 20th century thinker focused on the understanding of cybernetics and ecosystems, demonstrated how our modern context has rules that need changing. He showed how ecology is a set of interconnecting feedback loops that include everything. When we destroy some of the interconnecting loops, an ecology of ideas is created that reinforces other bad ideas. Bad, that is, for the health of the ecosystem and its components.
For the corporate world, Paul Hawken’s 1993 book The Ecology of Commerce led the charge of re-evaluating commerce and redesigning finance capital. The wisdom of natural design is built into Hawken’s call for a restorative economy, which an increasing number of manufacturers are implementing. This has prompted the emergence of a genuine environmental capitalism as opposed to the corporate “green-washing” that pervaded the 1992 Rio conference. Some corporations appear to be subtly changing despite the knowledge that shareholder interests come first. The new discourse in business uses terms such as sustainability, civic duty and corporate citizenship in annual reports and press releases. This new language form can be “gimmicky,” making it difficult to distinguish between the fake and the genuine. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is here to stay. It is now a component of globalization, endorsed by successive World Economic Forums held in Davos, Switzerland.
The present “buzz” about CSR paints corporations as protectors of Mother Earth. In many cases the green-washing public relations exercise provides a totally unearned image for corporations. Yet it cannot be dismissed as mere smoke and mirrors, as there is substance here. But could these initiatives be too little, too late? They are signs of change. Rock stars, government initiatives in Scandinavia, ground up responses from municipalities in the United States, green energy companies, climate crusaders in the corporate world, citizens’ willingness to change lifestyles – all taken together indicate that the tide could be turning. But can it penetrate the corporatization of our value system and therefore on the fate of our planet?
The restructuring of capitalism requires that social capital and community sustainability become just as important as profits. There needs to be an ethical structure of profit, providing a new direction for globalization. The present structure has caused so much destruction to the planet and its populations, so structures and mindsets are required to eliminate the control exercised by international finance capitalists. There will be no post environment economy for them to exploit! The mental shift to bring this about seems to be happening worldwide. Over two million groups, NGOs and foundations worldwide are addressing the issues of sustainability, ecology and climate change in a comprehensive manner. There is a natural mixing of social and environmental justice with peace issues, and global grassroots activism is restoring the earth’s capacity to endure. At the same time this social movement refreshes our own capacities to endure and change, as we are all intricately and intimately a part of Gaia’s ecosystem.
An immense global response by citizens will certainly elicit an equally massive government and corporate reply, as the bottom-up movement and top-down strategies for drastic change meet and integrate. There is not room in this global ecological emergency for separating into “US’ and “THEM” categories. We are totally interconnected whether we like it or not. We will all live together or we will all die together. An intelligent green ideology embedded in everything we produce and market is a means to bridge competing agendas. Our dependence on fossil fuels could reduce because we are aware of the deadly consequences of our addiction to oil and coal. The transition to a carbon neutral global energy system over the next few decades will be costly and require massive support from government and corporate leaders to initiate the second industrial revolution. Absolutely necessary to blunt the impact of climate change, it is a global industrial project that governments and corporations can bring about, supporting citizens. Climate change has certainly entered public consciousness but has to penetrate the corridors of political and corporate power. As global citizens we must find the ways and means to support the shift in consciousness at all levels of society to make this happen. Our future existence, and the existence of other species on Earth, depends on making a new beginning for all of us.
Tipping points in consciousness are about achieving a critical mass for radical change. Research clearly demonstrates we are not necessarily stuck with present mindsets, although it takes extensive and diligent internal work. Just as there are tipping points in the external ecology of Gaia, so must there be tipping points in the internal ecology of consciousness. Recent studies that use sophisticated MRI scans on the brains of Buddhist monks in meditation, demonstrate that long-term meditation practice rewired the chemical and physical structure of the brain. As a consequence, the rewiring promoted attitudinal changes in the direction of balance, harmony and happiness. New neurons and synapses are generated as a consequence of meditative processes activating memory functions in the brain. It is clear that meditation retrains the mind by changing our brain structure so that behaviorally we transform. These recent novelties of scientific collaboration provide good news. We are not necessarily stuck with the mind state that has created a devastated and discriminating world. This obvious conclusion is both encouraging and exciting.
This brings me to The Age of Stupid as a watershed film. You will not be the same after you have seen it. It is impossible not to be moved. I refer the reader to Failsafe’s Appendix I: Simple Steps to Empowerment, which provides an action plan for the global ecological emergency. The steps are:
- Take Action
- Get Up Close And Personal
- Reduce Your Ecological Footprint
- Guidelines for Business and the Workplace
- The “Big” Picture for The Future
- Science and Diversity
- Environmental Organizations
- Warning to Governments
If only we can get it right and get it right now!
The hopeful trajectory is that our diligent mindful engagement will change our brain structures to permit new paradigms of behavior to come into form. As cells in the ecosystem of Gaia it is as though humanity has aligned their neuronal networks with principles of ecosystem balance, ethics and responsibility. The critical mass has arrived and it amounts to a collective tipping point for our species. Once the negative mind is reined in then clarity and compassion able to provide the basis for how we can exist with the planet and with one another in a totally new way. This is what could happen if we “Begin It Now,”- the concluding words to Failsafe: Saving the Earth From Ourselves.
The right conditions have been created by our choice to cultivate different patterns within our minds. Thus consciousness expansion can no longer be held back as a radical internal climate change has taken place. We interconnect with a vast counter culture that, together, is no longer a minority. We become another light shining in the quiet revolution that has over two million organizations world-wide pursuing constructive change.
The Second Fork: A Failed Genetic Experiment
I underestimated, however, the lure and power of the second fork. Should a failsafe in consciousness prove to be unfounded, we are then faced with the likelihood that humanity is a failed genetic experiment. If we continue to turn our beautiful rivers into sewers, it is obvious that there is no place on Earth to support our present civilization. That too will join the trash heap collectively created by ignorant generations of humanity. If our collective consciousness is too slow to change to a culture of sustainability then there are drastic consequences to contemplate, which are starkly portrayed in the film mentioned above. Imagine an ancient ecologist on Mars studying a million years of earth history would note a parasitic infestation on Planet Earth that was not very intelligent. An intelligent parasite would ensure the good health of the host that supports it. And so the Martian biologist would factor in an inevitable elimination date for our species in her star-date log and may well view our civilization as a failed genetic experiment.
We may have to accept it as a potential reality staring at us from the very near future. Our present values and patterns of consumption are the architects of the present global ecological emergency and we remain ignorant of interconnectedness of the world. We are, in fact, our environment. It is our collective habits, thoughts and patterns that have created a flimsy, uncertain future for our species. Every authoritative body on the planet provides dire warnings to humanity about the effects of climate change. We have fixated on external climate change searchng for technological fixes. Yet climate change is merely the symptom and outcome of a maladaptive human mindset. It is clear that our current non-sustainable energy and economic systems are not working. However, policy makers who rush to find alternatives to fossil fuels do so without addressing the root causes of the problem. Pathological consumerism is the major behavioral manifestation of industrial civilization.
Because of all the warning signals, however, allow me to be starkly realistic. If the failsafe in consciousness does not kick in, the field is open for James Lovelock’s conclusions to take root. But perhaps after all the Arctic Circle may not be such a bad evolutionary staging point, as digital records, carefully preserved as archaeological relics, could provide clear guidelines for future civilizations to conduct themselves more appropriately with respect to the Earth Mother.
I conclude this essay with Dave Hampton’s passionate thoughts about this film (Resurgence May/June 2009: 66). “The Age of Stupid is not just a film that could change the course of humanity. I hope it will be the catalyst that gives us a second chance to create a sustainable future. I hope it will promote a mass collective awakening globally so that we are not stupid and that we choose life and reclaim our children’s birthright, the right to expect a future.” I have fourteen grandchildren. In the same vein as this film I wrote Failsafe: Saving the Earth From Ourselvesto provide hope and an action plan so that my grandchildren can enjoy a habitable planet. Should the adversity of Climate Change overwhelm humanity – then a different question arises. What will we choose as a paradigm of behavior?
Glance at the sun
See the moon
And the stars
Gaze at the beauty
Of the earth’s
– Now Think
Hildergard of Bingen 1098 – 1179