Crossing over from the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain range, fringed as it is with ranch, agriculture and prarieland, has been a revelation. The America of the mid-west is behind us. No longer is every other car a phallically monumental pick up truck (that I have to admit I’ve grown to love!) No longer is every other person a devotee of hunting, cowboy clothes or southern rock. We are now in cosmopolitan country again. Helena is beside herself with joy!
The landscape has altered as dramatically. Alberta is surprisingly hot and dusty at this time of year, but British Colombia is so generously carpeted with trees, lakes and rivers we suddenly felt as if we’d come home – a wilder, vaster version of home. Nelson, a town infiltrated by draft-dodging artist and activist refugees from the Vietnam-war-era-States, heralded a return to the West coast mentality we’d unconsciously craved during our roadtrip thus far.
Crossing over to Vancouver Island was like being afforded a glimpse back in time to an era of naturally abundant biodiversity – flora and flora in such plenitude I could almost imagine how it might have been before industrialisation, over-population and humanity’s disconnection from the ecosystems surrounding and supporting us.
On the wild, almost untouched west coast, near Uclulet and Tofino, we camped by the beach, picking our way across barnacled, driftwood-strewn rocks. Even here it was not possible to leave any traces of food outside your vehicle, for fear of attracting bears. Washing-up-water and toothpaste waste had to be emptied into the fire’s embers before sleep, ensuring all food particles be burnt out of the reach of Bears’ questing nostrils.
Growing up on the south eastern shores of Scotland I am no stranger to marine life. My father used to issue rewards down at the beach for whoever could bring back the largest crab and to sing plodding English hymns at bemused seals (he insisted that singing was essential to keep their curiosity peaked enough to maintain their sea-dog stares). But for longer than I can remember now I have not seen seals in the Firth of Forth and even crustaceans are scarce. So it was with bittersweet delight that I witnessed the vast sea anemones and starfish as big as my hand, the carpets of crab and kelp.
On one glorious day we took a boat trip out across Clayoquot Sound – a network of mist-shrouded islands, inlets and bays – and saw grey whales, sea otters, seals, all manner of birds and most thrillingly a humpback whale pair – mother and child – breaching the surface in spiralling leaps, their bodies pitching in the gravity-laden air and crashing back down onto the water’s surface with almighty spray. We even smelt their oily breath, carried across to us on on the clear sea air.
Experiencing this children’s book image of the seaside in actuality, that I had always considered a caricature, has done something to me. It has brought home, in such a simple way, the scarcity of animal life in our modern world. Not only has that portion of the coastline in Scotland I described lost so much of its life in one single human generation, it has suffered untold species depletion over the course of recent history. Camping in a country which still has large predators, such as we would have had in Europe millennia ago, makes this loss of wilderness very real.
I recently came across this freshly published study outlining new and terrifying data on the speed of human-induced species loss. Scientists are saying that we have entered a sixth mass extinction phase for life on Earth. It can be found here: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253
As a species we appear to be crossing a threshold…
In recent weeks I have been buoyed by the news reports from the frontiers of ecological campaigning. Helena and I have been listening to the weekly #KeepItInTheGround podcast detailing the Guardian newspaper’s efforts to encourage the Gates foundation and the Welcome Trust to “divest” from any shares in the fossil fuel industry. It is intelligent, honest, and self-reflective, if a initially uninformed, journalism explaining in layman’s terms exactly what we are up against. A brilliant introduction to where we are now. The pope’s pontifications and the G7’s agreed goals to secure a fossil fuel free future are huge wins against the complacency and climate change science-smearing obfuscation of the political and corporate worlds.
But the situation could not be more serious.
Nothing short of a revolution in human consciousness is required if we are to mobilise the level of global cooperation we need to accomplish the task of coming off hydrocarbons in time and reversing the impact that has already been done. We have to shift from our current fourth dimensional worldview – that we are all separate entities independent from each other and able to profit from another beings misfortune – to a viewpoint that lifts this veil of illusion and embraces the interconnectivity of all things. If we do that the motivation to face the music will arise of its own accord. If we do not we face severe, some say cataclysmic, consequences.
We are now in Ashland, southern Oregon. The heat is astounding, as well as stupefying. There has been a drought here and in California for years and it’s getting critical. I find it quite shocking to see the aridity and feel the heat. Is this what’s in store for us?
So I feel that it is time to make the shift. Time to address the obstacles within each of our own minds and hearts to recognising the urgency of the call to change ourselves and our societies. This is what I want to devote myself to now. Assisting that shift in whatever ways I can. It is the primary need of our time, if we are to afford later generations the opportunity to have their own challeges to face.
If you’re anything like me the thought of addressing this monumental challenge will raise strong emotions – hopelessness (there’s nothing I can do, it’s too big a problem), fear (help, we’re doomed and I don’t know what to do), grief (my heart is breaking at the realisation of what we have done and continue to do), rage (someone has got to pay). I’m sure there are plenty others. The outcome for me, and it would seem for the majority of society, is avoidance (too busy, someone else’s problem, whatever) and denial (ranging from “I’m not the problem, I recycle” to “there’s no point in the west doing anything – it’s all about China and other developing nations” to “human-caused climate change does not exist”). I have felt so overwhelmed by the magnitude of my own emotional responses, let alone the external task we face, that I often turn the other way.
So I want to set up a retreat/workshop specifically dedicated to helping us work through our deeply understandable psychological blocks towards engaging with these issues. And to come up with manageable, meaningful actions each of us can take according to our own consciences.
Although it seems we have no power to influence the global stage of multinational multi-billion pound petrochemical companies and the political puppets hamstrung by their campaign funders, or indeed our own collective consumer greed, it is entirely possible to work* on aligning our ethics with our actions, putting our own houses in order and exercising the avenues of influence that we each have.
*note I wrote “work on” rather than solve, because at this point there is no immediate, absolute solution. All that is asked for is a meaningful engagement with the question of how can I live more in alignment with my ethics and values regarding climate change?
I fail all the time – for the last two months I have been driving thousands of miles in an old, heavy van that guzzles gas. And I flew here in the first place. I’d say that unless I was living off grid, growing my own food and psycho-spiritually supporting the life forms around me, as well as assisting the wider shift in human consciousness, I would continue to be part of the problem. And this is exactly what’s so challenging about making this shift – we are all in it together, existing within a system that is reliant on the consumption of fossil fuels despite the fact most of us don’t want that.
I was greatly reassured and inspired by the permaculture course I attended at which I was reminded that nature is wildly abundant. The change required is not solely about restriction, backward technological motion into a Luddite idealism, though sacrifice and limitation will have to play a part in shifting the everlasting economic and energy consumption growth model we’ve been hiding behind for so long. The change called for is about aligning our systems with nature’s so we’re working together, not at loggerheads. If we can use our intelligence to design systems that operate economically, effectively and in concert with creation the shift will be phenomenal.
My invitation to us all is to spend some time – whatever time we can find – with our feelings about where we are as a species. No need to solve anything, just allowing ourselves to feel what’s in our hearts and minds. Next time I’ll talk more about permaculture and an emerging model of future scenarios that I’m finding remarkably empowering and liberating.