By George Shears
According to Wikipedia, the neologism, “ecocide” can be used to refer to any large-scale destruction of the natural environment. An early reference to it in 1969 described it as “the murder of the environment” and as being “everybody’s business.”
Clearly, this definition applies even more accurately today to the tragic impending ecological catastrophe that confronts all of us on Planet Earth. The prevailing view of this “murder” seems to be that we humans are perpetrating it collectively upon something separate from ourselves–namely, on our natural environment.
Given the basic ecological reality that I’ll present here, however, ecocide can be more accurately understood as a form of suicide–or at least of profound self-destructiveness. This is premised on the view that we humans are seamlessly interconnected with all life forms on earth and, therefore—whether we consciously recognize it or not–are actually one with our natural environment. To “murder the environment,” then, is effectively to destroy ourselves.
A strong argument can be made, moreover, that clear, experiential awareness of this intrinsic interconnectedness is very important–if not absolutely essential–in helping to reverse this rapidly impending catastrophe.
Applying Deep Ecology as a Corrective Strategy
Interestingly, this “deep ecology” view, as John Seed has called it, is nearly universal among all indigenous peoples, for whom harmonious unity with nature is regarded as self-evident and essential. Within this frame of reference, the idea of dominating, subjugating or exploiting nature makes no sense at all; rather, each part of nature is cherished as an essential component in the sacred web of life.
In the following short video, Satish Kumar, offers some further elaboration of deep ecology.
When the concept of one’s “self” is expanded accordingly, caring for and protecting all of nature is essentially equivalent to caring for and protecting one’s local self; conversely, within this frame of reference, inflicting harm on any part of one’s larger nature is understood as inevitably bringing harm to oneself.
Reclaiming Our Lost Sense of Oneness with Nature
Not surprisingly, since the agricultural revolution began around 10,000 years ago, the “civilized” (literally, “living in cities”) members of our species have become increasingly alienated from the natural context within which our hunting and gathering ancestors originally lived for the previous 190,000 years. Correspondingly, we’ve shifted collectively and markedly into regarding ourselves as separate from, superior to, and, therefore, fully justified in wantonly dominating/exploiting the rest of nature however we choose.
Quite clearly, this shift has been a necessary condition for the flowering of civilization as we know it and for the amazing progression of technology that it has entailed; at the same time, however, as a direct result of the seemingly blind and rapacious exploitation of our natural environment, this profound dissociation from our larger being has now brought us to the very brink of the most massive impending catastrophe that our species has faced in all of its recorded history—one that now ironically threatens to destroy the very civilization which it given rise to.
To become fully aware of this grim reality is much like waking up INTO a terrifying nightmare, instead of out of one. Since most of us have a strong psychological propensity to try to avoid and escape from all forms of pain, the reactions of denial, rationalization, and endless forms of addictive escape from this painful perception of our environmental predicament are readily understandable.
The same is true for the rage and despair that are likely to well within us up if and when we cut through these numbing defenses. Needless to say, all of these automatic reactions tend to add to the problem, rather than contribute to an effective solution.
In meeting this massive challenge, one of our most important adaptive resources may well be the fact that we are richly endowed with the same genes that allowed our hunting and gathering ancestors to develop a deep caring for, and harmonious oneness with, all of nature. The more we activate this precious internal resource, the more effective we are likely to be in helping to avert the impending climate change catastrophe that is clearly imminent.
In this regard, John Seed and Joanna Macy have created and developed a powerful experiential process in helping to access this intrinsic capacity for deep ecological awareness and understanding. They call it the “Council of all Beings.
People who participate in this process are first guided in “becoming” various parts of nature of their choice, such as animals, birds, insects, mountains, and oceans. Then, by engaging in an interactive dialogue together, they develop a deepened sense of their interconnectedness with all of nature, or with “all of our relations,” as Native Americans like to say. Through this simple and yet profound process, deep empathic identification with the lost parts of one’s greater nature are significantly restored.
Through this shift in consciousness, compassionate caring for all of nature tends to occur spontaneously and naturally, as we consciously broaden and deepen our sense of self so that nurturing and protecting ourselves, along with the rest of nature, merge into a coherent whole.
By operating from this deep ecology, reality-based frame of reference we are likely to be optimally moved to take the kind of wise and compassionate action that we and “all of our relations” now so desperately need.
Becoming Part of the Solution
Most of the scientists and leaders who are highly knowledgeable about global climate change and the minimal requirements for implementing effective solutions agree on one key point: Although it’s highly important that we all do everything possible to reduce our personal “carbon footprints,” these individual actions, by themselves, do NOT constitute a sufficient solution.
Along with these individual grassroots actions, massive corrective action plans must be quickly and cooperatively implemented by all of the nations of the world. Most urgently, these key interventions entail replacing carbon-based fuels (mainly coal and oil) with alternative sources of energy that don’t add further greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.
Tragically, however, these crucially necessary interventions are being strongly resisted by the governing bodies of developing countries, as well as by hugely powerful multinational corporations, all of which have a strong vested interest in maintaining the status quo. There is also a great deal of political opposition from individuals and groups that continue to believe in the face of massive contravening evidence that global climate change is not yet adequately proven or—even more outlandishly—that it is “a hoax.”
In view of all of the huge impediments to implementing effective solutions in slowing down or reversing global climate change, nearly all leading activists in this movement agree that an absolute necessary condition for its success is massive grassroots support and advocacy from a majority of citizens in all the democracies of the world. They argue very persuasively that nothing short of this will persuade legislators and other government leaders to take the bold actions that are required.
As a single example of such action, John Seed, has pointed out that if the top speed limit on U.S. highways were to be reduced to 55 mph, it would save around 1 billion barrels of oil per year—roughly what is now imported from mid-eastern countries.
Political reality being what it is, however, an initiative of this magnitude simply isn’t going to happen without the active advocacy of a strong majority of U.S. voters. This, in turn, will happen if and only if these voters clearly recognize the urgency of drastically reducing the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere and are willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes that such an initiative would entail.
Fortunately, there are now a growing number of excellent online organizations whose main mission is to foster the rapid development of this kind of strong grassroots support.
Here’s a list of four of them:
http://www.climateprotect.org/ (The Alliance for Climate Protection, whose main mission is to “persuade the American people—and people elsewhere in the world—of the importance and urgency of adopting and implementing effective and comprehensive solutions for the climate crisis.”)
http://www.repoweramerica.org/ (Repower America – This group, created by The Alliance for Climate Protection, “is the bold clean energy plan to ‘repower’ our country with 100% clean electricity within 10 years.”)
http://www.350.org (This global group aims specifically to mobilize people to stop the climate crisis by organizing local rallies on October 24, 2009 to call for a fair climate treaty when the nations of the world meet in Copenhagen in December of this year.)
http://www.1sky.org (This political action group “unites scores of groups and individuals in a collaborative campaign with a single purpose: Shifting federal policy in the United States towards the prosperity of a sustainable low-carbon economy.”)
A helpful experiential exercise in deepening our awareness of the crucial importance of taking this kind of strong action is to project ourselves into the role of a one of our children or grandchildren, who is living a few decades in the future. Then, while imagining as vividly as possible what life might be like for him/her, write a letter to yourself, that conveys some of the actions s/he might want you to take today.
The more we find ways to keep ourselves fully aware of the tremendous importance of overcoming the huge challenges that we face here, the greater our degree of success is likely to be. To give higher priority to other personal objectives at this point in time might be likened quite accurately to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
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