Leiden Law Blog

Healing the planet by changing the underlying story

Healing the planet by changing the underlying story

The Climate Report of the United Nations presented at the start of October 2018 says urgent action must be taken if we want to prevent global warming having devastating effects. In previous reports a rise in temperature of 2 percent was the limit and now it has been lowered to 1.5 percent. This is going to be discussed at the climate conference in Poland in December. In October Urgenda also won an appeal case against the Dutch state. The court agreed that the state wasn’t doing enough to cut down the CO² level by 25% in 2020. All these activities should be welcomed, but there are some important alternative views on climate change to be considered that reach beyond the usual emphasis on numbers, statistics, money and state responsibility. Let’s have a look at some of these.

Scientific reductionism

One alternative is expressed by Charles Eisenstein in his new book Climate. A New Story, published in September 2018. Although he agrees that climate change is a serious threat, he believes that bringing down the level of CO² is not enough: ‘Carbon reductionism sits comfortably within a broader scientific reductionism’ and this ‘rests on a more fundamental reductionism: that of the world into number.’ According to him, these reductionist approaches have been proven not to work and these ’failures of carbon-motivated policies have something in common – they emphasize the global over the local, the distant over the immediate and the measurable over the qualitative. This oversight is part of a more general mentality that sacrifices what is precious, sacred and immediate for a distant end.’

The Story of Separation

Eisenstein is not advocating that we stop with the conventional ways of dealing with climate change, but he considers them still expressions of what he calls the story of Separation in which ‘the dominant culture on earth has long imagined itself to be apart from nature and destined one day to transcend it.’ Within this story the policies to deal with climate change, like so many other policies, abound in control-driven ‘war narratives, war metaphors and war strategies.’ And according to him, this has a long history: it is‘a symptom of economic degradation, a process that goes back at least five thousand years and has reached its peak intensity today.’

The Story of Interbeing

Eisenstein believes that climate change is inviting us to create a different relationship between civilization and nature, ‘one that holds the planet and all of its places, ecosystems and species sacred.’ To realise this we need a new story, which he calls the Story of Interbeing (a term he borrowed from Thich Nhat Hanh). This is actually an ancient story as well that has been kept alive by indigenous people all over the world. It awakens a humility in us that is necessary to ‘open us to receive the teachings of indigenous people’ in which ‘humanity returns to being an extension of, and not an exception to, ecology.’ This story not only makes us participate in nature, reconnect with our living earth through love, but it also transforms our social relationships. In Eisenstein’s view all these – unquantifiable – elements are equally important to properly deal with climate change.

Belonging to the land

Another alternative view is expressed by Sharon Blackie, in her book If Women Rose Rooted from 2016. Inspired by Celtic tradition she focuses on the significance of our sense of belonging to the land and on the central role that women have always played in this. According to her, we are currently living in a Wasteland: ‘We have lost touch with the seasons which our ancestors had of being part of the natural world, of living in our bodies, embracing the cycles of the seasons, fully present in time.’ To heal this Wasteland we have to find out, like the wounded Fisher King in the Arthurian stories, what ails us: ‘What ails us is the dominance of the dry, wounded, merciless, over-extended masculine. What ails us is the loss and violation of the feminine. The quest for the Grail, then, is the quest to restore the feminine to the world. (...) The next stage is to bring ourselves into balance and harmonise the masculine and feminine qualities we all possess.’

The inner dimension

Blackie differs from Eisenstein in her emphasis on the important role that women have to play in this process of change. According to her, their contribution is essential to make the healing of the Wasteland possible in our time. They are more prone to hearing and answering ‘the Call to Life’, to start living an authentic life. But she emphasises that the contribution of men is important and necessary in this process as well.
When this inner change is realised, this will profoundly change the way we relate to the land around us. It will regain its sacred quality, become a living entity again that communicates directly with us. Then we will rediscover our sense of belonging to the land, of feeling rooted in the very place we are living, even if that is in a city.

Change

Actually, in a Dutch book about sustainability from 2015 the contributing authors also argued that climate change has an important inner dimension and that creating sustainability is not just a technological matter, but must be driven by a profound change of consciousness. In a similar sense, both Blackie and Eisenstein show that environmental waste and climate change are merely the outer manifestations of an age-old disbalance in our own being. And of course, when it comes down to it, in this the inner and the outer world cannot be separated. Eisenstein argues in this regard that ‘the environment’ does not exist – and has never existed – separately from us. Anyway, I sincerely hope that the growing number of ‘alternative’ voices that qualify climate change as an unquantifiable phenomenon are heard more often –and also get some attention, for instance, from the participants at the upcoming climate conference in Poland in December.

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