The pervasive lack of awareness and denial of the issues of climate change in Canada and in most developed countries, are disturbing to me. As President Macron of France recently said to the U.S Congress, "There is no Planet B". But what concerns me even more is that we only hear the bad news, which leaves us feeling paralyzed. We have been recycling and purchasing environmentally friendly products and we are told things are getting worse. The truth is, if we no longer drove cars or flew in planes, it still would not be enough to reverse the damage. This is because there is an even deeper problem, but if, as individuals, we can muster the courage to address it, together we will be a powerful force of change.
My husband, Ian, an ecologist, and I, a counsellor, have ongoing conversations about climate change and the psychology around it. By the latter I refer to what is driving humanity to participate in the destruction of the planet. Ian and I wonder how we are all going to live our lives in the near future as we increasingly experience dramatic changes in our landscape and everyday reality. We also ask if it’s still possible a tide can change that can result in us living in relationship with the natural world rather than exploiting and destroying it .
Going by current reliable research, we are at or past the tipping point of no return regarding sudden and dramatic environmental damage, but even if we were not there yet, it seems there is little motivation to change our habits. In fact, there is as much denial as ever. The University of Calgary is awarding environmentalist David Suzuki an honorary doctorate and the hatred and vitriol this has unleashed, not only toward Suzuki, but also toward the university president who wanted to honour his environmental legacy, is astounding. What is more incredible is the number of people here in B.C. who are more concerned about the cost of gasoline if there is no pipeline, than the future of life on earth.
A couple of days ago, I read an article in the Guardian about an acclaimed and now aged British architect and town planner, Mayer Hillman, whose view is that we are now at the stage where no individual effort such as recycling or taking transit instead of driving will make any difference. Since governments are unwilling to make the radical decisions needed, he suggests we are “doomed.”
Recently Ian and I were reminded of a novel we read as adolescents called On the Beach by Nevil Shute, first published in 1957. It takes place on the southeast coast of Australia after a nuclear blast in the northern hemisphere. Residents in Melbourne know it is inevitable the radiation and assured death will reach them and they deal with it in different ways. In our present situation, climate change has become the more imminent threat.
If you are still reading this, I commend you. This topic is frightening and sad. But there is hope, perhaps not hope that we will continue to enjoy the same world we know (when water levels rise suddenly as predicted, many of us who now live inland will be ‘on the beach’ literally), but there is hope of a new way. Perhaps things have to become even more dire before the new reality can be birthed.
And I do believe we need to continue to make our individual efforts – composting, living simply, riding bicycles, etc., because these efforts continue to remind us of the value of our dear planet. These small actions also help us stay awake, and this is essential.
The world population is in a kind of trance. Yesterday I came across an interview with Canadian physician and author, Gabor Mate, in which he discusses his theory of why we are in this trance and experience so much ‘resistance to reality.’ He believes it is due to dissociation caused by trauma.
Take the simple case of climate change, which is beyond controversy in the mind of anybody who is halfway rational . The human role in rapid climate change is frightening - the widening gap between icefloes in Antarctica, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising of the seas. What world do you have to live in not to be concerned about those things or not to recognize that they exist? 1
Call this “world” of the unconcerned trauma induced dissociation (as Gabor Mate does), denial, unconsciousness, childlike consciousness, or resistance to reality. Fritz Perls said we are pain phobic and therefore we live false and deadened lives. Many aboriginal cultures would call it ‘soul loss’. There are many ways to name it but it all boils down to the same thing. We are barely awake.
Near the end of his life (he died in 1961), Carl Jung was asked if he believed the world would survive. He solemnly and hesitantly answered that we just might squeak through if enough people become conscious, that is, awakened. Not everyone has to wake up. Only “enough”.
That is because consciousness/awake-ness connects with other consciousness. It is not an individual but a collective force. It is also contagious. When in the presence of an awakened individual, something is stirred in us. We experience healing (which means ‘becoming whole’). By waking up we can become part of a healing wave on the planet.
The opposite of ‘dissociated’ is ‘connected’ – connected to ourselves, others, nature, everything on the planet, and to the divine. This requires intention and work. As Gabor Mate says, “on a personal level it’s (becoming reconnected) a matter of deep self-work.” Maybe this doesn’t sound fun, but it’s a fascinating process that leads , not just to intellectual understanding that we are connected to everything else, but the experience of this oneness.
In truth, it is not us that wakes ourselves up. We can only do the work – we can cultivate the conditions for a life in which consciousness is more likely to occur. This is what I plan to blog about for a while, not because I am an awakened being who can give instructions to others, but because I have the intention of becoming a more awakened and alive individual myself, and I hope to be part of the new tide.
1 Jenara Nerenberg, June 8, 2017, Why Are So Many Adults Today Haunted by Trauma, Greater Good Magazine, greatergood.berkely.edu.