Beyond Climate Fundamentalism

Recognizing that healing on any level contributes to healing on every level.

| Winter 2018

  • The mind that is steeped in Separation protests, “But it is true! None of these things are relevant if the atmosphere warms by ten degrees.” This belief depends on a world-story that does not recognize the intimate interconnectedness of all things.
    Photo courtesy of Adobestock / Freshidea

“Someday, Charles, you are going to have to decide if you want to be relevant.”

So said to me a prominent environmentalist after hearing me describe the diverse fields of my activity and interest. What he meant was something like this:

There is a shrinking window for climate action before irreversible feedback loops render human extinction inevitable. Therefore, the only relevant action you can take right now is to put 100 percent of your efforts into cutting greenhouse gas emissions as swiftly as possible by whatever means necessary. Your other interests are irrelevant. If we don’t implement a meaningful carbon tax soon, then the healing of the relation between the masculine and feminine won’t matter. Nor will saving the whales. Nor will ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Social justice, education, psych meds, holistic medicine, scientific anomalies, attachment parenting, community building, new economics, philosophy, history, cosmology, neo-Lamarckian biology, sacred plant medicines, nonviolent communication, plant intelligence, threatened languages, indigenous sovereignty, pansubjective metaphysics–none of the issues you write about matter unless they have a direct, significant, near-term impact on greenhouse gases. Once we’ve won that fight, we can turn our attention to those other things. So are you going to join the fight?

This pattern of thinking is called fundamentalism, and it closely parallels the dynamics of two defining institutions of our civilization: money and war. Fundamentalism reduces the complex to the simple and demands the sacrifice of the immediate, the human, or the personal in service to an overarching ulterior goal that trumps all. Disciplined by the promise of heavenly rewards or hellish punishments, the extreme religious fundamentalist shuts down his humanity in service to what his religion says God wants.

Disciplined by economic exigency, millions of people sacrifice time, energy, family, and what they really care about in pursuit of money. Disciplined by an existential threat, a nation at war turns away from culture, leisure, civil liberties, and everything that is of no utility to the war effort.

Anyone who is wary of these institutions might also be wary of the standard climate change narrative, which lends itself to the same focus on a universal cause and the same mentality of sacrifice to an all-important end. If we agree that the survival of humanity is at stake, then any means is justified, and any other cause–say reforming the prisons, housing the homeless, caring for the autistic, rescuing abused animals, or visiting your grandmother–becomes an unjustifiable distraction from the only important thing. Taken to its extreme, it requires that we harden our hearts to the needs in front of our faces. There is no time to waste! Everything is at stake! It’s do or die! How similar to the logic of war. No wonder, as a community organizer just told me, there is such hostility toward environmentalists among inner-city and other impoverished populations. They are the ones whose needs are ignored and indeed who are sacrificed first in the war effort.

1/3/2019 8:26:16 AM

I agree with your point, Charles, but only up to a point. Everything IS connected and we are most effective focusing on our passionate field, but to the degree of our ability, don't we also need to make as manor as possible effort for climate?

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