What Will It Take?

Just some thoughts, summing up the things I have been thinking and writing about recently.

The natural world, the plants and animals, rivers and seas and mountains and forests, are sacred, of value in and of and for themselves. For humans to use them, manipulate them, harvest them, harm them, abuse them, without any regard for their own value for themselves leads to grievous harm for us all.

Along with the other animals and the plants, the human is a product of Earth, and therefore part of a complex system of lives and feedback loops and relationships. The whole is more real than the part. Nothing can be understood, nor does anything exist, including the human person, outside of the system of relationships that constitutes the whole universe. There is no “self” or “soul” that is somehow separate from the intertwining of the whole. “Self” or “soul” or “spirit” is the dynamic intertwining of the whole.

Because we and all the plants and animals are aspects of the same life system, we should expect to find the qualities we most revere in ourselves also in the rest of the natural world. Intelligence, ability to communicate, self-awareness, deep feeling, awareness of others as others, and basic consciousness, the ability to have experiences, are present in us because they are aspects of the universe as a whole. It is not that humans are uniquely conscious and intelligent, it is the universe that is conscious and intelligent, through us but also through other life forms and quite possibly through inanimate forms such as mountains and streams and forests.

We are least ourselves when we perceive ourselves as separate from everything else, and therefore give ourselves license to destroy, to manipulate, to use according to our desires. We come most into ourselves when we perceive that we belong to a larger whole, not only belong to it, but are expressions of it, in no way separate from it. Thus we most fully honor our own lives, and the other lives that share this life with us. The non-human world beckons to us, even now as we wrap ourselves in layers of electronic media that feed us only our own thoughts. What we need is not more of ourselves. We need to be free of ourselves. The non-human world offers us this, but we have to take the time to listen, to observe, to learn, to be present. A simple encounter with a non-human life can change us completely.

The full realization of this non-separation is impossible to talk about because our language is inherently divisive. Language creates meaning by creating distinction. The experience of wholeness (which is slightly but significantly different from the realization of wholeness) is inevitably lost when we try to describe it.

The realization of wholeness or non-separation is simply recognizing that wholeness is the essential state of reality, regardless of whether it is being experienced that way. The experience of wholeness is temporary and fleeting, as is all experience. But wholeness remains even though the experience passes. One retains awareness of the truth of it even when it is not being experienced. The real can not be known. As long as we remain absolutely devoted to what we can know and experience, we remain out of touch with reality.

After several millennia of devotion to the thought world, and debasement of the real world, it is very hard for the individual human to break free of the grip that the mind-made world has on our sense of reality. There are ways, but there is no formula. Formulas are products of a mind that insists on reducing reality to that which it can predict and control.

The whole world is more alive and more conscious and more intentional and more communicative and more interesting and more integrated than humans have believed for a long, long time. Reawakening our sense of belonging to that rich world, which we must do if we are to survive the coming few decades and stop the slide into unrestrained destruction which is the current human trajectory, at some point requires an encounter with our essential no-thingness, what I variously have called our essential emptiness, stillness, or silence.

Emptiness, stillness and silence are words I have used to suggest this central realization, that our sense of existing as a separate entity is illusory. The only reality is the whole of everything together, and therefore any idea or image we have of ourselves is essentially “empty.” When this is seen fully, what follows is often a sudden, unexpected, unsought quieting of the mind. Silence. Stillness. Acute listening. I speak of silence and stillness, but emptiness and no-thingness and wholeness are probably more appropriate words.

The encounter with emptiness, with no-thingness, with wholeness, never comes predictably. But it does come when we are open to it. To be open to it, we must prefer reality to anything our minds can conceive. And since we are quite deeply devoted to the mind’s version of reality, we resist and resist and resist the arrival of the real, and we resist accepting our place within that reality. We insist on carrying on the sham of self-serving control and manipulation, and thus we ensure the destruction of the world.

The discovery of non-separation is life altering. One’s life can fall apart after its discovery, because one’s life and identity have been built on a shaky foundation of separation. One of the ways it alters life, or at least has altered my life, is that I feel an immense responsibility in the world. Every thought and action is shaping the world even as we are shaped by the world. My inner violence is the violence of the world. The violence of the world is made of our inner violence. The rapacious machine that is modern society is the manifestation of our inner state. It is a mirror held up to us. God help us.

There is no “them.” There is only us. All of us. Everything together. It is therefore no small thing for any one of us to clean up our own house, to find a way, any way, to stop judging and criticizing and hating and marginalizing and destroying. Everything we do in our own lives to be examples of wholeness, to live out the implications of non-separation, however imperfectly we do it, however badly we fail to do it; every little thing we can do to manifest wholeness in thought, word and deed, which requires deeply acknowledging our inner fragmentation, our stubborn belief in separateness; whatever we can do on behalf of wholeness robs the destructive machine of some of its fuel. For it is fueled by the division in each and every one of us. It is fueled by everything in us that has split off from wholeness and believes itself to be separate, superior, the master, the controller, the victim, the sufferer.

Death is part of life, natural, inevitable and not to be feared. Annihilation is something else, the death of life itself. We are bent on annihilation. Most of the lives we destroy do not sustain life. Most of it is not necessary for biological survival. Much of it is wanton, cruel destruction; self destruction. Most of the destruction only serves the phantom self, the self image, while it destroys the real. If we could get to a point where the only lives we take are for food, warmth and biological survival, that in itself would be an improvement. But I think we are beyond that now.  We need a psychological revolution, the realization of emptiness.

It would be a worthy goal of natural science, and of all of our human cleverness, to find all of the ways that we can give back to life, to enhance and encourage life in all its diversity. Our reason for being could be to increase diversity, to increase vitality, to support and affirm the beauty and the value of all of life, animal, vegetable, mineral, water and sunlight. We could serve the whole, which includes us, rather than serving ourselves, which excludes everything else.

Words and ideas are inadequate. We have run out of time. The Kingdom of God is right at hand, but we refuse to be embraced by it. What will it take? What will it take for us to allow ourselves to be embraced by reality? Not tomorrow. Not next year. Now. What will it take?

Is Silence Going Extinct?

As I noted in my previous post, we are just beginning to realize that natural soundscapes matter to ecosystem health, and that we have filled them with mechanical noise as if they don’t.

A new article on soundscape ecology was published yesterday in the New York Times, with some lovely audio recordings from Denali National Park embedded.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/magazine/is-silence-going-extinct.html

There is a very engaging lecture on this subject by soundscape recordist and ecologist Bernie Krause:

http://fora.tv/2009/09/22/Dr_Bernie_Krause_The_Great_Animal_Orchestra

We are looking forward to Krause’s new book The Great Animal Orchestra, which treats the subject of soundscape ecology in detail. It is due out next week.

My own recordings this week have focused on the red winged blackbird. Harbingers of spring, they are arriving about two weeks early this year and so may also be harbingers of a changing climate.

The Dream of the Old Man

This dream came to me somewhere around 1987 or 1988. I had been to Nicaragua, and was involved in many activist groups in the U.S., trying to stop the war. And I was frustrated by the tone of these groups. It was all about fighting for the cause, so urgent, so pressing. I tried at the time to get a few minutes of personal sharing time onto the agenda, but was told, we don’t have time for that. We have too much to do. Not that all these gatherings were so cold, but it was a real frustration for me, because my experience in Nicaragua taught me that it is indeed in being fully present to each other and to the whole movement of Life, right here, right now, that the salvation of the world lies.

Given the volume of anger and conflict in our world today, I thought it might be time to hear from the Old Man.

In this dream, the Old Man is the last to speak at a gathering of activists, mostly young, but some older as well. It is the beginning of the gathering when everyone present is giving updates about their projects, about everything they have been doing since the previous gathering, apparently some sort of annual event. He has been listening to all the others give their reports, and now it is his turn to speak.

I awoke from the dream, and immediately grabbed a tape recorder and settled back into a half-dream state to recreate the speech. I believe that this transcript is a very accurate representation of the words in the original dream.

It is perhaps worth noting that this dream came to me before I had significantly discovered the beauty and the powerful presence of the non-human world. I was a people person, and had not yet consciously realized that trees and mice and whales and seals and rocks and grasses and birds are people too, all equal partners in the sacred movement of Life. If I were to have this dream now, I think there would be a slight shift of emphasis, to include being present to the whole world, people, plants, animals, wind and water and soil. To the realization that there is one whole movement of Life, which includes all of us, and the answer to all of our questions lies right here, right now, in being fully present to and in this sacred movement.

But here is the Old Man himself, in his words.

***

It is good to be here. I’ve missed this gathering the past two years. It was three years ago I was here last. And I look over those three years and I ask myself, why did I miss this? What was I doing that was so important that I couldn’t take the time to enjoy being with you all? And I am wondering what was going on. How was I living that I couldn’t take the time just to be with you?

And especially now. You know, I’m very aware of… it’s good to be among these young people. And I’m very aware that I am getting old. And maybe this will be the last time that I can come here. And what was I doing with… losing time… what was I doing? What was so important?

And I think that since I have lived most of my life, I have something I would like to say to you young people. I am hearing you use words like “fight” and “the struggle.” You are angry. You are trying to make a point. You are trying to be heard. You don’t think anyone cares. You don’t think anyone is listening. And you are banding together in your anger. And you are finding strength for your fight.

As I look back on my life, I don’t think fighting is very important. They seemed important at the time, our battles. It seems like it’s the only thing that is important. We are hurting. Our friends are hurting. And we are just discovering how deep that pain is. We are just discovering how many people, and how much the people around us are suffering, and we are angry. And it seems as if no one could possibly have understood what we understand now, because if they knew, they would have done something! We must be the first.

And so we fight. We are angry and we fight. And we feel a deep frustration with those who are not joining us in the fight. And so we stake out our territory and defend it and defend it and defend it. Because now that is who we are. It is a piece of us. And By God! You better understand, because if you don’t understand this struggle, this suffering, you don’t understand me, and I want you to understand me.

I look back on my life, and I remember. I have had many of these times.

What I want to say to you is, don’t get to my age and look back on your life of fighting, of defending personal territory. Because you’ll stop and wonder, where was I? I was so busy fighting for my cause that I never really noticed the world around me.

We have been given to each other to love each other. And there is nothing more beautiful than that we spend time together, paying attention to each other, enjoying being together, delighting in each other’s presence.

That’s all there is. That is everything. There is nothing more complicated than that. And I can see in my life, I have spent so much energy fighting for causes and looking to make change that I have missed the beauty of simply being alive.

So I say to you who have your causes, your missions to accomplish: pay attention to those around you. Enjoy being here. Enjoy simply being alive. And be with other people simply for the joy of it, not because they are sisters and brothers in the cause or because they are people who can get you where you want to go. Just enjoy being with people, so you don’t reach my age, at the end of your life, and have to say “Where was I? What was so goddamned important that I missed the joy of being with friends, of being alive, of being simply here?”

Blowout

The Deepwater Horizon oil blowout is so upsetting that I have not been able to write about it. I can barely absorb the enormity of it. Which aspect of this mess does one focus on? The human lives lost? The oil itself? The risk of drilling deep wells (4 – 7 miles deep) in deep water? The impact on deep sea marine life, on corals, on turtles, on tuna, on dolphins? The impact on shore life, on pelicans, on marshes, on shellfish, on oysters? The impact on people who fish for their livelihood? The impact on people who love the marshes and used to go to them for solace, to connect with unspoiled nature? Does one focus on BP, Transocean, Haliburton, and the layers upon layers of lies and deceptions that continue to this day, but that one realizes are part and parcel of corporate life in the modern world? Does one focus on the political grandstanding and government incompetence and complicity? Does one talk about the way in which mega-corporations now influence every aspect of our lives, for who can resist a corporation that earns a couple billion dollars in profit every month? Does one talk about how our democracy appears to be in tatters? Does one talk about the shallow reporting and blatant propaganda and the way the government-corporate-security machine blocks real reporting? Does one talk about our own complicity, about our utter dependence on fossil fuels? Does one look for the droplets of hope in this sea of despair? This “spill,” this catastrophic blowout, touches everything, just as oil now touches everything. Can one write sensibly about everything, and the collapse of everything? The only meaningful response must also touch everything.

In 2003 I played a minor role in a much smaller oil spill on the southern shores of Massachusetts. I was a shorebird monitor working for Massachusetts Audubon when several hundred thousand gallons of fuel oil spilled out of a barge making its way through Buzzards Bay. Much of that oil came ashore on the sanctuary where I was working. I learned three things on the day when the representatives of the Federal and State governments and the “responsible party” showed up to “manage” the crisis.

First, we have no effective contingency plans for dealing with oil spills, so the response is “make it up as you go along.” Oil spills are chaotic and unpredictable. We could at least TRY to prepare, which we don’t seem to do at all. Having plans in place, and then following those plans would surely help a lot. BP and the Federal government both appear to have failed catastrophically on this score. But still, I did see first hand that oil spills have a life of their own, and the response has to be both highly coordinated and profoundly flexible, features not apparently built into either corporate or government bureaucracies. Features that are perhaps not fully achievable, which should give us extreme pause about allowing drilling to take place in deep water in the first place.

Second, ego rules the day. Everyone wants a piece of the action, wants to be in charge, wants to be the top dog, wants to stick it to everyone else. It’s hard to find anyone who really gives a damn about what’s happening. It’s hard to be in the middle of an oil spill and not become cynical.

Except, in the case of the Buzzards Bay spill, the people who were hired to do the actual cleaning up. Mostly ethnic minorities, probably not paid very well, many bussed in from all over the country, roaming the beaches in yellow hazmat suits in the hot sun, picking and raking and shoveling the oil into garbage bags. They were, for the most part, disgusted by the whole thing, and genuinely interested in the welfare of the plovers and terns who were nesting on the beach at that time (it was exactly this time of year – seven years ago on this day I was patrolling the beach, educating the cleanup workers about the birds, and updating my sketches of every nesting bird and the oil patterns on their feathers. We couldn’t capture the birds to clean them because that would mean abandoning active nests). Lesson number three: if you want to know what’s going on, don’t listen to the big shots. Listen to the men and women doing the dirty work (unless the Corporation has put a gag order on them).

I had taken the bird patrol job originally because I had been sick for a couple of years with something akin to chronic fatigue syndrome, along with debilitating heart palpitations, and I needed a quiet, healthy, outdoor job. I wanted, more than anything, to become deeply acquainted with the land and the sea, to open wide all my senses and become intimately familiar with one little stretch of coastline and all its inhabitants. I wanted to atune my life to the rhythms of the land and the sea, to orient my life to a Life deeper than myself, and deeper than the stressful human world as well.

Instead, an oil spill on my very first day on the beach, egos galore, chaos, stupidity and many, many sad oily birds, most of whom could not be saved, most of whom were probably never even seen. I left that job sick at heart, even more exhausted than when I went.

And now I see the same thing playing out on a much larger scale in the Gulf. We seem to be incurably shortsighted and negligent, even willfully destructive of the only home we have. We seem to have physical power — fossil fuel augmented power — well beyond the capabilities of our brains, certainly way beyond our level of wisdom and respect. I really don’t understand how short-term profit has managed to eclipse all good sense, but it has. The impression I have of the BP execs is that, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, “they’ve been lying so long they don’t know what’s real.” They are living in a delusional world. But in a sense they are just magnified versions of the rest of us. We have all been living in a delusional world. One in which we believed we could heap any amount of abuse on our planet home, could live for our self-gratification alone, and there would be no consequences. The Earth would just take it and take it and keep on taking it, indefinitely, infinitely, without complaint.

Well, the abused Earth had one too many holes punched in her and now she is pouring out her life blood.

It seems terribly clear to me that we do not know how to think about being part of a living world. We are pretty good at thinking mechanically. We’re great at inventing gadgets. We are amazingly good at spinning theories. We are lousy bad at understanding complex systems. There’s a reason for that. Complex systems — bodies, ecosystems, planets — can’t be understood. They aren’t linear. They aren’t predictable. Small changes create big changes. They adapt. They invent. One cannot control them or master them. If one wants to survive, one can only work with them, attentively. One must learn their rhythms and their ways more deeply than mechanical thinking can encompass. It’s like riding a wave. You can’t predict what it will do. You can only go with it and keep your balance. You need to “think” with your whole body, not just from the narrow confines of your left brain. You have to respect the wave you are riding. Try to dominate it, and it will teach you who the Master is.

Are we learning? Are we learning that we are not the master here? Are we learning that our planet home is beyond our control and comprehension? Are we learning that our planet is alive and dynamic and inventive and ever-changing? Are we learning that we have limited brains that can only see from a limited perspective? More knowledge is not going to save us. Only more humility. Only coming to a full understanding of how little we know — how little we can know — and learning to live sensitively in not knowing.

We are adapted to function at a small scale, at a community scale, where no individual is expected to know everything, and no individual has much power over anyone else. Maybe our institutions have become too big for any human being to manage. Maybe it is not humanly possible to behave decently within such monstrosities. Maybe we have created financial and corporate and government systems too big and powerful for our limited brains to handle, and we need to scale down, rapidly, back to the community scale that we can comprehend. At the very least, we need to figure out how to break the death grip that mega-corporations and financial institutions have on our lives, on our government, on our democracy. We must end the cycle in which the giant corporations get all the reward for unmanageably risky behavior, and the rest of us, and the planet, get all the pain. There is much more being revealed here than negligence on the part of an oil drilling operation.

“Not knowing” used to be the language of mystics. Now it is the language of survival. We need to accept how little we can know, and change our behavior so it is in harmony with our profound ignorance. We could use a healthy dose of caution. From a full appreciation of our limits, knowing how little we can know, comes greater attention to the life that is right at hand, and greater sensitivity to the possible consequences of acting out of ignorance. With “not knowing” comes attention, humility and compassion.

There is so much we can never know. We can never know the living truth that is the planet’s life. Our only hope for survival is the recognition that we are a part of that planet, and if we reach deep enough into ourselves and discover our essential ignorance, we can also find our essential inseparability from the home that is so much more than just a place we occupy. It is our body. We are part of it as much as blood cells are part of the human body. We are currently behaving like blood cells in rebellion against their host, a condition that cannot turn out well. That behavior will end. It will either end before the body collapses, or it will end with the collapse of the whole body. But end it will, because the part cannot attack the whole and survive.

We need to recover our rightful place within the natural order of Earth’s body and the deeper order of being in which even it is embedded. We need to recognize that our intellectual understanding of that larger body is, and always will be, partial, limited and distorted in most of its essentials. We must live with a deep appreciation of our ignorance. The way of “not knowing” is the way of listening deeply. It is the way of learning. It is the way of being fully present to life as it is unfolding. It is the way of respecting Life over self. It is the way of being open to the whole truth. It is the way of creative improvisation. It is the way of love. It is the way of Life itself.

A Sea Change

I have been wanting to write a piece about ocean acidification for several months, but it has not come together. Nor is this piece exactly what I wanted to write. But it seems to be the case that – horrible as the BP oil spill is – even this catastrophe is not leading us to take seriously the fact that fossil fuels are poisons, whether spilled or burned, and we need to stop using them. For me, the untold lives lost from this leak will have been lost in vain unless we learn this lesson. Oil, and coal, are poisons. We have to stop using them. Whether they visibly leak and spill on land or sea, or whether we burn them and make them invisible, they are deadly poisons.

We have an opportunity here to awaken at last from our oil-soaked dreams of unending wealth and gain, which have turned into a nightmare of unending disease and untimely death, for us, for the Ocean, for the whole Earth.

It’s no fun being so gloomy. But how are we ever going to change this situation if we don’t look in the mirror and see that we are what has to change? All of us. You and me. No exceptions. That might sound depressing, but it is actually empowering. Because it means change is in our hands, not someone else’s.

**

Spills and leaks are not the only way that oil disrupts the life of the Ocean. A much bigger threat to the Ocean – at least over the long term – is carbon-induced acidification. Despite a comprehensive article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker in 2006 (still available online) and a 2009 movie called “A Sea Change: Imagine a World Without Fish,” very few people know about ocean acidification.

The Ocean absorbs about half of all the carbon that is pumped into the atmosphere. It has been thought that this is a good thing. If not for the Ocean, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be much higher than it is, and we’d already be living in a much warmer world. But increased CO2 in the Ocean is leading to ocean acidification, and that could be even more catastrophic than global warming. The Ocean is not actually becoming acidic, but it is becoming less alkaline. In the past 250 years, average surface ocean pH has dropped from 8.179 to 8.069. That is a 28% increase in acidity (or decrease in alkalinity). We have believed that the Ocean, like the Atmosphere, is too big for its chemistry to be changed by our activity. We have been wrong.

The declining pH of the Ocean is already affecting organisms that are essential to the marine food chain: corals and pteropods. Lower pH inhibits these and other organisms’ ability to build calcium carbonate shells and bodies. As ocean pH continues to decline many essential organisms will be affected, including oysters and clams, shellfish, krill and many other forms of zooplankton, essential food for many species of fish, bird and marine mammal. One blue whale eats about two tons of krill every day. No krill, no blue whales. No fish. A severely diminished ocean.

It will take time for the Ocean to reach catastrophic pH levels, but the problem is it will take even more time for the Ocean to balance itself. If we were to stop burning all fossil fuels right now, it would take thousands of years for the pH of the Ocean to return to what it was prior to the industrial/fossil-fuel revolution, because of the extremely slow circulatory patterns of ocean currents. But we continue to burn fossil fuels, adding carbon to the atmosphere and the Ocean, at ever increasing rates.

We commonly hear now that to avoid the worst effects of global warming, we need to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% in the next 40 years. Hard enough to do that. But to avert the crisis of ocean acidification, it is probably not enough to reduce the amount of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. We have to stop it. Get to zero. Soon. Pteropods and corals are already showing signs of carbon-related distress. Any further decrease in ocean pH could have devastating consequences for the marine food web. As the Ocean goes, so go we all.

This needs to be our goal: eliminate all fossil fuels from our diet. As soon as possible. Say what? How is that even possible? Our entire economic system, how we work, how we live, how we move around, how we make money, how we stay warm, how we manufacture and ship all the stuff we need and want and throw away, how we light our homes and businesses, all is dependent on the energy stored for millions of years in decaying plants, dragged out of the ground and used up in the course of a couple of hundred years. Oil is our fuel of choice for transportation and heat. Coal is our fuel for electricity. Transportation, electricity and heat provide us with the kind of life we take for granted..

Our way of life is now so bound up with the burning of coal and oil and gas that such a change feels impossible. It is not simply a matter of stopping a habit. It means changing how we live. It means changing our politics, our means of living and moving around, the ways we do our work. Almost everything we do.

It is amazing, almost unimaginable, that a mere 250 years ago there was essentially no oil (except whale oil). There was no gas. Coal was known and used, but little. The world we consider unalterable and our birthright began less than 250 years ago with the invention of the steam engine. The carbon orgy really got going a mere 60 years ago, following World War Two, when consumerism became a way of life. Our lives now are so bound up with buried sunlight, our sense of who we are and what we need most essentially is so aligned with this particular way of living, that it is very hard to imagine doing without oil or coal or gas. But most humans have, and some still do. And so can we.

We cannot go backward. We know that. We cannot snap our fingers, turn off all the oil and gas wells, shut down the coal mines, and go back to the way we lived three hundred ago or even sixty years ago. We certainly can’t go back to burning whale oil. For one thing, there are now many more of us and many fewer whales. Three hundred years ago the human population was about six hundred million. Now it is nearly 7 billion. That ten-fold increase in population was made possible largely by industrial agriculture, which is also heavily dependent on fossil fuels. We can’t snap our fingers and suddenly start fueling our current way of life with windmills and solar panels and organic agriculture. We will need all of those, but adopting them will require big changes in how we live. Fossil fuels have made possible a way of life that I believe cannot exist without them. We have some tough choices to make.

Short of the discovery and wide implementation in the next few years of some new, clean and safe, nearly unlimited form of energy (none of which describes nuclear fission), radical change is needed. Unimaginably radical. Change at a pace and a scale humanity has never seen. How is such a change possible?

There are only two things I am sure of here. One is that as long as we think it is impossible, it will be impossible. Our only hope of achieving zero carbon emissions from fossil fuels is to devote all our creativity to the task. Eighty percent reduction in 40 years is a start, but not enough. We have to get to zero. Not just because of the carbon, but because of all the other ways fossil fuels poison our world and our bodies.

The other thing I am sure of is that the easiest thing that we can do, the fastest and the simplest and the least painful, is the one thing that most of us won’t even consider. Slow down. Live with less. Adjust our expectations. Simplify. Own less. Travel less. Share more. Experience more discomfort. Live more like the other animals, taking no more than we physically need and giving more back to the Earth. Accept that much of the “progress” of the last three hundred years has not been progress at all, it has been poison. Abandon the psychological need for more and more and more and shrink materially. Go back to using non-polluting technologies of the past that could still work for us now.

Among the modern technologies, the ones that seem to me most promising and helpful are wind and micro hydro, passive solar heating, ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling, and to some extent photovoltaic electricity. But there’s no way those are going to provide the power joy ride we’ve been on for the past 60 – 300 years. Scaling back radically has to be part of the solution.

Hard as that sounds, it requires no technological breakthroughs. We simply have to change our minds, which can happen in an instant. We simply have to accept that it is okay to do less. Alot less. We don’t have to be so busy. We don’t have to accomplish so much. It’s not good for us anyway. We can slow down. And then we can relearn manual skills that are rapidly being lost. I think the hard part is not the physical change, but the psychological change. Our sense of self has become bound up with carbon-fueled progress and speed, so what has to change is who and what we think we are.

In order for us to stop using fossil fuels, “who I am” cannot be bound up in owning a car or a big house, or a constant increase in income and possessions, or jetting around the world, or always having instant comfort at our fingertips, or instant communication around the globe*, or the instant gratification of driving to the mall whenever the mood strikes, or a calendar full of ten different activities in ten different places in one day. “Who I am” cannot be bound up in endless electronic and fossil-fueled entertainment. *[All the computers and all the server farms need to be manufactured and powered, and right now that takes a lot of fossil fuels – I recently read that server farms have now surpassed air travel as the single largest contributor to carbon emissions. At least Google, the owner of the servers on which this blog is hosted, is looking at wind power. Don’t get me started about Facebook.]

I don’t for a moment think it is likely that we will shift to a mentality, to a sense of “who I am” that is more like indigenous people who have lived in balance with their land for thousands of years, or like the great whales, who have lived in balance with their environment for tens of millions of years. That is a long way to shrink from where we are now. But I still maintain that that is exactly what we need to do, at least temporarily, that it is the only thing we can do fast enough, and that doing so now, when we have options, is a lot easier than waiting until the change is forced on us by an Earth pushed beyond endurance. And I still maintain that doing so is faster and simpler and more realistic than trying to fuel our current lifestyle with new forms of renewable energy, or waiting for some technological miracle to save us. We have to slow down. To accomplish less. To empty out our lives, to decide what is essential and discard all that is superfluous.

Maybe that’s just my bias. I’m a contemplative. That’s what contemplatives do. We try to whittle life down to its essentials.

But I don’t know why most of us are so resistant to this idea. It is not as if most of us really enjoy the stressful, accelerated, polluted, noisy, nonstop, war-ravaged, economically polarized, world that fossil fuels have made possible. It’s not as if most of us really benefit from it (did you make 6 billion dollars in the first quarter of this year, like BP did?). It is not as if we are all relaxed and playful and in love with our lives. It is not as if fossil fuels have made our world healthier and more vibrant. It is just that we have forgotten how to live any other way, and we have been conned into believing that this is how we want to live, how we must live. We have been taught to believe this is progress, that “more” is the meaning and purpose of life. But it isn’t, and it never was, and it never will be, and right now “more” is killing us, not just like a cancer, but often enough in the form of cancer itself, and it is killing the Earth and the Ocean.

The good news is that although the Earth is already greatly diminished, it remains resilient, creative, and abundant with diversity of life. It has great powers of healing and regeneration. It is beautiful and helpful and peaceful and supportive. That is the real world. That is what we are too. If we realign our sense of “who I am” with that world, the real world, the living world — the Earth, the soil, the Ocean, the air, the plants and the animals and the microorganisms, deep silence, the heart of everything, silent listening, watchful stillness, loving, uncompromising honesty — our lives will truly improve, will be less stressful, more peaceful, more enjoyable, more real, more beautiful, more adaptable, more creative. All of that comes from Life itself, and we cannot be that unless we are aligned with reality, with Life, the living truth which is alive within us and around us, always in everything.

Whether it’s oil spills or global warming or overfishing or ocean acidification, we tend to think that there is a technological or political solution that will rescue us – you and me – from having to change. I am suggesting that there is a solution, an earth-centered solution, but it does require us to change. It just happens to be a blessed change, a sacred slowing back down to an Earthly pace, that is quite possibly the very thing we are searching for in our heart of hearts.