You may believe that meaningful action on climate change is impossible or that the window has closed, but I’m here to tell you that it isn’t and it hasn’t. However, it is drawing near and we must begin to act now. A recent study published in August 2018 reveals that we actually might have until 2035 to take meaningful action, after which we may not be able to avoid the worse effects. More on this later. What is essential to understand is that it’s still only too late if we give up and believe it is. In times of peril nations have swiftly come together to defeat a common enemy with great success. Isolated, disempowered, and discouraged we can do very little, but together we can move mountains. In fact, it only takes 10% of the population holding an unshakable belief for that belief to spread and become mainstream.
In this third and final installment of While Our World Hangs in the Balance I cover a few more points regarding how we ended up in this predicament and then we get to the exciting stuff . . . How we can get out of it and transform coal into gold, crisis into opportunity, separation into connection, and how to become the heroic planetary defenders that we so desperately need. This all includes setting an accomplishable goal and timeline for atmospheric CO2 and laying out strategies for getting out from under the cloud of hopelessness and denial in order to take meaningful action. As stated in previous sections, the struggle to overcome the threat of climate change is not a technological/scientific one but a social/political one that is rooted in individual human psychology. The tools and information provided here aim to address this. Be encouraged! You have the power to change how you respond to this threat and that affects everyone around you.
The Society We Live in and The One Waiting to Be Born
If as a United States citizen you feel disempowered because you believe your government is broken and no longer serves you, you wouldn’t be wrong, unless you are a powerful corporation or a very wealthy individual that is. A 2014 study published in the American Political Science Association found that public opinion has “near-zero” impact on U.S. law. The study, which looked at more than 20 years worth of data and compared nearly 2000 public opinion surveys to policies that became law, found that the opinion of 90% of Americans have no impact on the legislative process whatsoever. In other words, our government no longer serves the will of the people but that of the wealthy and powerful, otherwise known as a Plutocracy. If this were the case and we weren’t facing the biggest catastrophe in human history it would still be a very big problem, however we are in the midst of some seriously hot water beginning to boil and we have precious little time to turn things around. Action must be taken.
It’s more than a big deal, the very fate of our world hangs in the balance.
If our government is broken then what can we possibly do? Well, one thing elected officials do still pay attention to is getting reelected. Not sure if your vote matters? Just take a look at the 2006 leaked internal memo from Citigroup, the biggest bank in the world. They outline that even though the Plutonomy (the top 1%/them) control over 50% of the net worth in America, that one person still equals one vote. It clearly states that the democratic right to vote is the biggest threat to plutocratic control. This class is benefiting greatly from the short term benefits of keeping the status quo but ultimately they are taking down the ship we all live in and no one will be immune.
If a wave of shifting popular opinion sweeps the nation and makes clear that swift, decisive, meaningful action on climate change is the only way to secure enough votes, then it will likely happen. (As a side note: I believe number two on the agenda must be campaign finance reform so we can get big money out of politics and start to fix our democracy. But more on this in another post). If it seems like a daunting task to turn the quiet splash of climate change into the tsunami it must be, fear not. As mentioned above, it actually only takes a dedicated 10%, which in the U.S. is around thirty-two million people. A study published in Issues in Energy and Environment Policy (2015) found that 7 out of 10 Americans believe that there is solid evidence for global warming over the past four decades. This is up 7% since the survey began in 2008. So, why doesn’t U.S. policy reflect this? Put simply, the 70% isn’t speaking loudly enough. We aren’t organized. We are disconnected, and we feel powerless and hopeless, which is exactly how those currently in control want it. We aren’t putting our own elected officials in office and posing a real threat to reelection in the hearts and minds of incumbent elected officials. However, given the information above it would seem that the primary obstacle preventing real change is belief itself. Remember, only a dedicated 10% is needed to mobilize the rest of the believers and create a raucous that cannot be ignored.
If this series gives you nothing but a stronger belief that meaningful action can and must be taken now then I have succeeded.
Effective Change Needs a Clear Target and a Timeline
To understand the progress of climate change one must consider first and foremost the greenhouse gas CO2, which is measured as parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. When scientists first started consistently measuring atmospheric CO2 in 1958, the CO2 level stood at 316 ppm, which was only a little higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. Currently it’s at about 405 ppm. James Hansen, the renowned climate scientist, has stated that, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted . . CO2 will need to be reduced . . . to at most 350 ppm.” We passed this mark somewhere near 1990 and it will take a massive global effort of both dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emission and sequestration (pulling it out of the atmosphere) to return us to safe CO2 levels, but it can be done. Breakthroughs in CO2 sequestration are happening regularly now, from an amazing project in India that is turning CO2 into baking soda to an Icelandic study showing the successful storage in basalt rock, to the world’s first negative emissions power plants. The technology is catching up just in time. The target is clear; 350 parts per million. We have the means. Now what we need is public opinion and political will.
So, you may be wondering what the window for effective climate change action is. Well, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, a brand new study has found that if the world’s governments don’t reach the goal of a 2% annual increase in clean energy by 2035, then the window will close and we will hit a 2 degree celsius average temperature rise and the point of no return. If hit we would see the worst aspects of climate change come to life, such as coastal cities underwater, heat waves that kill tens of thousands, and extreme storms. It would be an earth very unlike the one we know and not one that supports life. For a little perspective, in about the last 20 years renewable energy sources only grew by 3.6%! If on the other hand we were able to hit a 5% annual increase in renewables this could push the window back another 10 years. The window is open but we are rushing towards the cliff like we will be magically saved. In truth we are the superhero’s we’ve been waiting for.
The Bigger Shift That Climate Change Begs
Of course the shift that must take place is not just a CO2 number. No it’s much bigger than that. In saving ourselves and many other species from the unprecedented global crisis of climate change we must also look at our relationship to one another and to the natural world, and reassess our responsibilities as stewards of this planet, our only home. As you may have heard, the literal translation for the chinese character for crisis is “crisis” = “danger” + “opportunity.” Climate change presents the greatest global threat humanity has ever faced and thus the greatest opportunity for positive change.
Every culture has a mythology, a story that governs and influences the direction of that society. For at least the past seventy years here in the United States it has been materialistic consumerism, which is rapidly spreading around the globe. Perhaps Victor Lebow an economist, retail analyst and author, said it best in his seminal 1955 paper titled Price Competition,
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns.”
We have played out this mythos and come to find that it does not lead to true fulfillment and in fact it’s conclusion is the demise of the life sustaining forces of our planet. Consumerism combined with unregulated capitalism as a guiding philosophy is not sustainable. We must now look to the creation of a new mythology for why we are here and how we are to behave as inextricably interconnected parts of a whole. I do not know what this guiding mythos will be. I do know however that it can emerge through the opportunity that the climate change crisis presents, and it may have a lot to do with listening to and respecting the wisdom of the natural world.
Becoming a Planetary Defender
If you are feeling scared, angry, or overwhelmed don’t be discouraged. This is an appropriate reaction to contemplating that your only life raft in the cold harsh desert of space is in peril. When denial is pierced it hurts and it’s scary. That’s why it’s there, to protect you from dealing with something too big to take in all at once. However, in this circumstance the coping mechanism of denial is working against our survival. Enough of us have unconsciously agreed to keep our heads in the sand while the storm gains strength around us that inertia is blindly moving us toward a cliff. If we continue to allow the fear to drive us toward denial and distraction and allow the righteous anger to wilt into hopelessness and powerlessness, then we are lost. The solution is not to deny these feelings but to be willing to feel and face them in connection and realize that each and every one of us is in this together and is in fact a very powerful being.
Though the numbing fog of denial and complacency has a strong pull, we must resist and collectively decide to stop taking the “blue pill” each morning. Instead we must do something to wake up and realize our own power. You might want to try saying to yourself,
“It’s not my fault. I didn’t create this mess, but I do share the burden of responsibility and it is my fight.”
How about giving it a shot? Feelings feel scary but they don’t actually pose us harm. If you want to try coming out of the anxiety of denial try a few simple things:
- Speak your fear and frustration to your friends and family.
- Let yourself get angry and scream if you want. Feel your power.
- Express yourself creatively. Write, play music, make art.
- Above all be willing to feel and express the thoughts and feelings in some way so they don’t get stuck and turn into hopelessness and resignation.
- Then when you feel a level of acceptance around our collective situation arising, reach out, and take action! Nobody can will their way to acceptance, but if you face the fear and the reality of what is happening with others you can come to a place of empowerment.
Congratulations, you’ve just taken the first step to becoming a planetary defender . . .
You Are a Powerful Being!
The truth is that we are all powerful beings. Powerlessness is simply the act of buying into the lie that external circumstances are too powerful to have an influence upon. It’s just not true, unless you believe it is. Why are superhero movies so popular right now? I would assert that it is arising out of our reaction to globalism and the perils that face our planet. We want to escape into a world where things are simple—good vs. evil, light vs. dark—and where good people have the power to stand up for what is right and change things for the better. Triumphing over evil feels good! Who wouldn’t want that?
Though reality exists in grays and can never be as simple as the Marvel Universe, we are in fact powerful beings, especially when we come together. And, not only are we powerful, but we all have a superpower—Love. Now, before you complete your eye role, take a moment to consider it. Love moves mountains, melts the barriers between the impossible and possible, opens doors where there were none, unites us, and creates and sustains life. Love is more than just a mere feeling, it is a force and it is at the heart of our very nature. Just like the good hearted and fairly cheesy Captain Planet show from the early 1990’s, when we come together not only do we create a superhero but we awaken to our individual superpowers as well.
If there’s one thing that I know from my time working as a psychotherapist it’s that, if you take away all the layers of fear, hurt, and pain, covering everyone, you find a radiantly loving being. Great non-violent leaders like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King understood this. These people were able to accomplish their impossible feats not simply because of the absence of violence. It was also the presence of something. This something, I believe to be love, or to be more precise, agape. Agape is one of several Greek words for love and it is used to point toward “the highest form of love” known as brotherly or divine love. Agape is unconditional love without fear, attachment, or discrimination, and I believe that human beings like Dr. King were able to fill themselves so full of this love that there was simply no room for hate or violence. This had an incredibly powerful effect that endures today.
This love resides inside each and every one of us and it is what connects all of us together. Inside a few atoms resides the potential energy to destroy entire cities. Why couldn’t the power to save the planet reside in each of us?
We are so much more powerful than we believe ourselves to be and when we link arms we can become and unstoppable force.
The Enemy is Not an Individual
Perhaps you are someone who honestly believes humanity has already made too many mistakes and that the slate needs to be wiped clean. If this is you, consider yourself lucky. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and watch it all happen. Or, you may think you can ride out climate change and the continued degradation of our planet largely unaffected. If so, I urge you to reconsider. We are all connected. Humans are intimately tied to the fate of all life on earth. Even our bodies and our health are directly impacted by the state of our earth. Gerrad Mullins, a gastroenterologist who studies the symbiosis of humans and bacteria puts it succinctly when he writes, “The ecosystem of human biology is part of the larger ecosystem on this planet. Healing our planet and healing ourselves are the same thing.” In one way or another, everyone is and will be impacted by climate change.
If you believe that at least one part of humanity and the millions of species cohabiting on earth along with us are worth protecting and fighting for, then you need to take action now. Become a planetary defender, whatever this might mean to you, and take one step toward transforming the crisis of climate change everyday. The enemy is not and must not be a specific person or group, otherwise we will remain stuck in the same mindset that created the problem and we will not evolve. Instead, think of the enemy as a mindset and a worldview based on fear, greed, denial, division, disconnection, and ignorance. These states of mind are the obstacles to love and the forces threatening to tear apart our world. Everyone who is a part of the resistance must stand up to the pull of these forces, not only in others, but in ourselves as well. We must shine a light on them, open to love despite them, and expose these contracted states for the lies that they are. We must choose another way by facing these states and saying with all our being “You Shall Not Pass,” for humanity depends on it.
Obviously, effective actions must also include a political element. If you want to become a planetary defender on the level of government then check out this excellent resource on how to organize grassroots political activist groups that have a real impact: IndivisibleGuide.com (Download their free guide to grassroots planning). If there isn’t already a group in your area to join that supports swift action on climate change, this guide gives you all the tools to create one.
Belief Is Everything
Essentially everything hinges on belief. Belief directly impacts the health of your body through the well documented and yet miraculous placebo effect. In more concrete terms, our entire monetary system hinges on belief. We agree to believe that a dollar means something and so it does. If enough people start to worry about a particular stock then the share price plummets, and if enough believe it’s going to rise and invest, it does. Climate change is no different. If enough people believe we can and should do something meaningful about it, then we can and will. However, there is a point at which even strong belief and action is no longer enough; a point at which our children and children’s children will be helpless bystanders to the catastrophe set in motion by their parents and grandparents. This point is fast approaching.
In the excellent Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, Dr. John Veron, the godfather of coral reef science, makes a plea to our generation for action:
“You’ve got no choice I’m afraid. You’ve got to keep at it. Because otherwise you’re not going to like yourself. When you’re old you’re going to like yourself much more if you can say ‘well I sure tried to turn that around and maybe I did influence people.’ And don’t let anything stop you.”
Do we want to be thought of by our kids and grandkids as the generation that could have done something to prevent the catastrophe of climate change but instead stood idly by while the window closed and the world plunged into chaos? I know I don’t.
The United States of America has a choice right now. Are we going to keep our heads buried in the sand, or are enough of us going to face reality and take action to become a beacon of light for the world leading the way for how we must evolve? Being the change we want to see in the world is easier said than done, but just because it’s hard does not make it impossible. There are many records of nonviolent movements and even armies made up of individuals who banded together to stop oppressive governments and organizations and who many times, despite overwhelming odds, won.
Ultimately humanity and the planet need a nonviolent movement that empowers individuals to come together to make a change. You can be a part of it simply by deciding you are. “I am a planetary defender.” I believe this movement is coming; it’s coming because it has to.
It is also important to remember that what we actually have on our hands is not just a threat, and if we treat it only as such, we lose out on a giant opportunity to change for the better. The challenge of climate change is presenting us with the question, “Can we work together on a global scale to transform nearly every aspect of human society?” If we accept this challenge, we can move towards a society based on interconnection, living in harmony with our planet, stable economies of renewable resources and clean energy, and an understanding that our commonalities are far greater than our differences.
Let’s not miss this grand opportunity.
It’s a narrow road ahead full of challenges and peril but we can thread the needle and avoid the crisis turning into catastrophe. Remember it’s all about human belief and the psychology of evolutionary biology. If you believe and take a stand against ignorance, fear, greed, and denial, and join hands with another to remember your inherent power, then the shift can occur.
May it Be So
If you are wanting to take action and are struggling to do so under the psychological weight and strain of our planet, you are not alone. You are in fact in the majority and there is help and support waiting. If reaching out to friends and family is not enough then please contact a mental health professional with some understanding of the magnitude of what is at stake and can assist you with overcoming the fear and paralysis and finding your true power for positive change.
I also welcome any questions, comments, or ideas about how to address the threat of climate change. This is by no means a comprehensive assessment. My aim here was to present an under-represented, psychologically-focused lens with which to view the problem. I believe this missing human element will be helpful in dislodging the stone that will break the dam. However, it is up to you and all of us, to take a step, however small, right now.
Thank you for reading.
Dan Entmacher M.A., LPC