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Spiritual Implications of Climate Change

by John Croft

As we move beyond the ten-thousand year Holocene interregnum of the last Ice Age, rather than returning to the cooler autumn and winter of the Pleistocene glacial optimum, we are racing towards a global summer unlike any ever before witnessed upon the earth. This summer of global warming poses the greatest spiritual challenge ever confronted by humankind.

Humans were a product of the Ages of Ice, a period where the light-reflective capacity of Gaia, the living planet, was maximized by the white mirrors of large fields of snow and glaciers across the north of the world. During this period London and New York were both under nearly a mile of Ice. But although the great northern forests were not there, the fall in sea level exposed continental margins to a depth of nearly 130 metres, and this now lost land, covered by living forests, was augmented by a colder sea and its flourishing phytoplankton. Life at this time flourished with a complexity and abundance never before seen. And in Africa, within this complexity of life from one species of bipedal chimpanzee was born homo sapiens sapiens, the supposedly doubly wise man.

With us was born a greater altruism, a caring for each other not possessed to the same degree by other animals. At the same time was born the potential of unspeakable cruelties, and a flexibility of choice of our own fate to a higher degree. Our abilities with hindsight and foresight, our flexibility with cultural learning, our long childhood and its need for socialization from parents and peers, and the immense power of prepositional language created a predator of a kind never before seen on Earth, from a Gaian point of view we were the master parasite. The effects were felt as they rippled throughout the biosphere. Everywhere modern man went, saw a collapse in megafauna, until we learned ecological wisdom and ceased being eaters of our own future.

Gaia, in whose body we reside, is immensely old ˆ nearly one third the age of the universe. As our sun reaches middle age, its heating has provided Gaia with new sources of energy, and has coped by burying more and more carbon, and creating an oxygen atmosphere, enabling more complex forms of life to evolve. Gaia needs this life, because in the fullness of time, the heating of the sun will exceed the ability of the Earth to cope, and unless Gaia can go to seed and reproduce herself creating daughter biospheres in the spaces between the planets and ultimately the stars, Gaia will die. It is for this reason that Gaia has been experimenting lately with individual intelligence.

The discovery of the fields of fossil energy, of the ancient sunlight buried beneath our feet gave the globalizing culture of western Europe, a technological edge over all other people on the planet and permitted an ego-locking individualism on a scale never seen before. Unlike earlier cultures we could destroy our local communities, subsidizing the costs of this loss with the hidden subsidy of Gaia's coal and oil. And so we have created the least resilient culture yet seen on Earth, a culture of such mind-boggling complexity, that it would be almost impossible to regenerate it from first principles. In a strange way we have destroyed or weakened all communities that link individuals, so that nothing now separates the globalised eternally growing economy and the isolated individual. The ultimate parasite is now engaged in the task of consuming the Earth itself, its own life support systems that underpin its future continued existence as a culture, or the life of its own future offspring.

The peril of our spiritual crisis, is that we have unleashed an irresistible force ˆ that of the human imagination and technological creativity, within what is an immovable object, the finite nature of the life of the planet itself, with a sense of complete
irresponsibility for the outcome. Something of these three has got to, and will, give way.

Climate change is now upon us. Human urban civilisation in the past
has always been fostered by periods of stable climate. For only then could we cultivate the food surpluses necessary to support the non-food producing classes of artisans and craftsmen, priests, healers, teachers, merchants, soldiers, artists and rulers upon which civilisations have depended. Looking at the record of the thirty one civilisations with which we have shared this planet demonstrates that civilisations seem to usually collapse during periods of rapid climate change. Food production is threatened, the elite struggles for declining surpluses get more vicious, and complexity unableto sustain itself, collapses. Dieing civilisations appear to be caught into a structural contradiction of their own devising, a mental trap of limited thinking from which they can only escape from through the rigor of a new Dark Age.

It is time that we awoke from the trap of industrial growth and built a society that is no longer a consumer parasite upon, but is rather symbiotic and synergistic with the life of Gaia as a whole. To do so in the little time we have left before Gaia decides that we human are as expendable as the dinosaurs is the greatest challenge that ever confronted humankind. It vastly exceeds earlier periods of culture change such as that when Greco Roman world views confronted the temple based cultures of the Middle East that spawned the great Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is of much greater significance than the earlier Axial Age introduction of monetarised and literate iron-age economies that gave birth to Buddhism and Hinduism in India, or Daoism and Confucianism in China. These were regional crises. Never before have we faced a global crisis of such magnitude and rapidity.

We must extend our ability to care, wider than it has ever been before. No longer is caring for oneself, one's family or community enough. Even caring for our nations, as we have done over the last 300 years is far too narrow. The crisis of global warming means we have to now care for a whole planet, and for every species of life we share it with. Humans need to start functioning as the thinking neo-cortex of the brain of Gaia, because if we do not do this we will become as extinct as the dodo, and time is running out. Through us Gaia seeks to en-soul itself. It needs to do so for its own survival. It is a task that is going to take all 6.5 billion of us to achieve, and require every skill and capacity of each one of us. Not to participate in this task is to risk suicide, and will weaken the ability of us all to make the transition to the Greatest Turning of history.

We live in an amazing time, a time that has been long in preparation and will never again be repeated. We stand at the pivot of history. Gaia herself seeks to have our species leave its adolescence behind and assume its responsibilities of adulthood. This task is going to take the harvesting of the gifts and wisdoms granted to us by all 31 of the civilisations of the last five thousand years. It needs the insights and abilities of all the first nations indigenous cultures of every continent. We need to distill the wisdom and insights of all sages, teachers, and spiritual students, swamis, gurus, prophets, saints and martyrs that have ever existed. Nothing can be left out, nothing can be forgotten ˆ we need it all.

Recently it has been stated that there is no alternative to Globalisation, but this is a globalisation of corporations and we are not yet global enough. We need to be truly aware of the needs of the globe as a whole, of the needs of the living body of Gaia itself. It has been said that we have arrived at the "end of history", but then we have been surprised to find history continuing and the end is not yet in sight. We have been proclaimed to be a post-industrial civilisation, living in an information age, and yet what we find, these are just points along a trajectory that began long before. We have to cease being human beings and start becoming to be human becomings. Our species is not yet human, as we are not yet humane enough. Our selfishness and greed is still too all consuming. Not yet have we harvested our full potential as a human species. Only then will we have arrived as the end of history. Only then can we start living in a post-industrial culture. We have become trapped in a cul-de-sac of our own devising, and as a result of the coming climate change we are being asked to restart our own evolution as a species, an evolution that has been stalled by 50 centuries of bloody struggles within and between civilisations. We have to start truly living, instead of sleepwalking our lives away, adhering to and living by the greatest moralities that we can. We are all of us pilgrims on this journey, no-one can be left behind. It will take sacrifice of some of our comforts, and may require us to give up some of the things we hold dear, so that others may simply live. It will take daily mindfulness of a kind we have hereto only dreamed of, and the building of communities of practice in all walks of life.

It is the spiritual second coming that we have all been awaiting, but of a kind not foreseen and not anticipated.




Contact the author directly: John Croft.


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