Why I am Afraid of Global Cooling


In the run-up to the publication of my next book, I’ve been monitoring sources across the spectrum of opinion on climate change. The other day I happened upon this piece, which describes recent measurements of ice mass and ice extent gains in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Greenland, along with cool surface and tropospheric temperatures. My heart sank. This is what I’ve been worried about for several years now as I’ve seen cracks spread in the global warming consensus.

Before I explain why I am worried about cooling, let me offer an opposing article, from Nature, stating that Antarctica is losing ice mass faster than ever, and another article predicting 10 degrees (Celsius) warming by 2021. For more dissonance, read this and this. Partisans of each side will no doubt hasten to explain to me how I’ve been duped by the other, but my purpose here is not to establish the correctness of one viewpoint over another.  Instead, I intend to illuminate something that gets lost in what has become a highly polarized and politicized debate.

Why on earth would I be concerned about global cooling? Given the dangers of global warming, one would think that signs of a cooling trend would be welcome news. Phew! Ecological catastrophe averted! Now we can go back to business as normal.

This is precisely my concern. Business as normal is ruining the planet – regardless of whether the climate is warming or cooling. Here are some of the changes that have happened just in my lifetime: Fish biomass has decreased by more than half.  The number of monarch butterflies has dropped by 90 percent. Deserts have expanded on every continent. Coral reef extent has declined by half. Mangroves in Asia have declined 80 percent. The Borneo rainforest is nearly gone, and rainforests globally cover less than half their former area. And all over the world, flying insect biomass has plummeted, by as much as 80% in some places. Have you noticed that there is less bug splatter on the windshield than when you were a child? It isn’t your imagination. This should be alarming whatever the trend in global temperatures – insects are crucial to every terrestrial food web. The insect die-off means the planet is becoming less alive.

None of the above can be directly attributed to climate change. Most are caused by “land use changes” and resource extraction. Forests have been clearcut. Mangrove swamps have been drained for development. Coral reefs have been blasted, bottom-trawled, and suffocated by sediment released by soil erosion and deforestation. Climate change may be an exacerbating factor, but it is not the primary cause (the reefs, for example, suffered catastrophic losses before bleaching was widespread). In the case of the insect holocaust, we also must consider the ongoing 90-year experiment we have performed by regularly dousing vast areas of land with insecticide.

It would be nice to attribute all ecological problems to a single, quantifiable cause – greenhouse gases. Then to be “green” all you have to do is use solar power and offset your emissions. Then, collectively, all we need to do to “save the planet” is to switch to carbon-neutral energy sources. Certainly, that would be technically challenging, but in principle, it wouldn’t require a fundamental shift in the course of development or humanity’s relationship to the planet.

Over the last twenty years practically every environmental issue has either been hitched to the climate change wagon, or relegated to secondary status. Issues like offshore oil drilling or forest conservation used to be about preserving the forests we love and preventing oil spills. Now it is:  “We have to stop drilling and clearcutting because... climate change!” Meanwhile, causes like plastic in the oceans or elephant conservation (which have little obvious relevance to climate change) become boutique issues, since after all what do they matter compared to the momentous goal of saving the world?

For at least twenty years we have been saying, “Stop the pipeline because it will contribute to global warming,” “Stop the tar sands excavation because it will contribute to global warming,” “Stop fracking because it will contribute to global warming,” “Implement soil conservation measures because exposed soil organic matter oxidizes into CO2 and contributes to global warming,” and so on. If it becomes apparent that global warming isn’t happening – or even if one can plausibly argue it isn’t happening – then these issues lose their grounding. Environmentalists might come to regret tethering so many issues to climate change. They might regret building the equation “green = low carbon.”

The skeptic websites I scan do not hesitate to use any sign of global cooling to discredit environmentalism generally. Their skepticism about global warming accompanies skepticism about biodiversity, toxic waste, plastic in the oceans, and virtually every other environmental issue. With a few notable exceptions, their message is basically, “Everything is fine! Those enviros and greenies hate progress and are concocting issues like global warming as a way to implement their agenda of totalitarian socialist world government.”

In most polarized debates, evolutionary truths are revealed by questioning the tacit agreements that both sides share. In this case, both sides agree to stage the fight on the matters of greenhouse gases and temperature. This agreement sucks the oxygen out of the room for any other issue. It also usurps the other, non-climate reasons for opposing things like fracking or pipelines – reasons that do not require adherence to a highly politicized and hard-to-prove scientific theory.

At one point I realized that every practice that one might oppose on climate grounds, I oppose for other reasons too. Pipelines leak oil and gas, tar sands excavation destroys entire landscapes, fracking contaminates groundwater, coal burning emits harmful pollutants, offshore oil drilling creates horrible oil spills. Even if global warming were a hoax, I would want to curtail them all. In a way the skeptics are right about me – I do have “an ulterior agenda.” It isn’t to implement a totalitarian one world government (sorry), it is to change fundamentally the human relationship to the rest of life. It is to consider, in conducting any human activity, how we affect the beings and places where we act. In testing navy sonar, it asks, “How will this affect the whales?” In building a pipeline, it asks, “How will this endanger the river?” In mining for gold in the Amazon, it asks, “How will this affect the forest and the people indigenous to it?” In developing new pesticides, it asks, “How will this affect the soil, the earthworms, the birds, the insects, the river, the estuary, the bay, and the ocean?”

Another article I read today describes efforts to save seabirds on the remote Lord Howe Island in the South Pacific. Marine biologists are there performing lavage on the chicks to wash plastic from their stomachs, often hundreds of pieces of it, that is preventing them from absorbing nutrition. The chicks are starving. I can think of no convincing argument that these painstaking efforts will mitigate climate change or bring any quantifiable benefit to humanity. But looking at the video of the tender rescue effort, I couldn’t help but feel grateful to the biologists. It seemed obvious to me that they are rendering Earth and humanity an important service. Who can say through what mysterious causal pathways their work will bear its impact? Who can say how the morphic field of care they stand in will propagate?

The skeptics accuse environmentalists of caring more about seabirds, whales, and spotted owls than about people. It may sound here that I too care more about the seabirds than about the economic benefits of cheap plastic, that I care more about “the soil, the earthworms, the birds, the insects, the river, the estuary, the bay, and the ocean “ than I do about human beings; that I would sacrifice jobs, sacrifice the “benefits of modernity,” and even sacrifice human lives for the sake of “the environment.” Voicing this critique, the Japanese skeptic Kunihiko Takeda says global warming is a hoax by those who want to “keep developing nations walking barefoot.” What he means is that if we stop expanding the use of fossil fuels, “development” will halt, and the benefits of modernity will be lost to the world.

In the end, this objection can only stand in a mindset of separation that sees human wellbeing as separable from that of all beings. The Story of Separation says: What happens to nature need not affect ourselves. I subscribe to a story which says the contrary: that self and other, human and nature, inner and outer, are not really separate. That everything that happens to the world happens, in some manner, to ourselves as well. That with every extinction, something dies in us. That with loss of biodiversity comes cultural and spiritual poverty. That environmental pollution inevitably coincides with the spread of moral, mental, physical, social, and spiritual poisons.

Besides, are we really benefiting from all that plastic? Are we happier than our grandparents for having plastic bags rather than cloth, plastic bottles rather than refillable glass, plastic drinking straws rather than paper? For that matter, is it so bad to walk barefoot? Is it so bad to be without cars, cheap air travel, broadband, air conditioning, abundant consumer goods, convenience foods, and cheap throwaway stuff? In the context of the current society built around these things, it is hard to be without them. If we take cars for granted, it is progress to have a nicer one. If we take roads for granted, it is progress to have a wider one. If we rely on digital communication devices, it is progress to have a faster one. The houses are built for air conditioning. The towns are built for cars. The pressures of life demand conveniences and time-saving technology. Exercising different choices as an individual consumer is not the whole answer. We need to explore forms of development and economy in which humans thrive without extracting more and more from the world.

The specter of global warming asks us to rethink the direction of civilization and the human relationship to Earth. No wonder many people want to deny it is happening. My point here – actually, my plea – is that whether or not it is happening, still, let us rethink the direction of civilization. Let us change our relationship to Earth. Let us explore a different conception of wealth, measured in relationships, not products, participation and not extraction. My fear is that a cooling trend will abort that inquiry. My fear is that it will quell what the idea of climate change has awakened: the disturbing realization of the mutual dependency of human and natural wellbeing. My fear is that it will sabotage our awareness that the welfare of the soil, the insects, the trees, and the whales, is our wealth too. It may not be the kind of wealth visible in GDP statistics. It may not register as an increase in kilowatt-hours of power consumed per capita, or miles driven or megabytes downloaded, or any of the other things we normally measure and count.

I think we already have enough of the quantifiable (although it is poorly distributed, a separate though deeply related issue). What we need more of are the things that are hard to quantify. The rising tide of suicide and depression in the developed world is not caused by shrinking residential floor space or lack of access to 4G cell service. It probably has something to do with the disintegration of community, the withering of connection, loss of purpose and meaning, chronic pain and unresolved trauma, unprocessed grief, ambient anxiety, and the other accoutrements of Separation. This point seems obvious here at my brother’s farm where I write this, because my life is rich here; rich in relationship to the natural world through my hands, my senses, my labor, and yes, my bare feet, and rich in relationship to the human world as well through shared labor, common purpose, and mutual reliance. And the point seems equally unobvious when I’m separated from all these things. In the busy world of cars and clocks and screens, faster and more of them seems like progress.

The richness of life around me enriches my own experience of life. That is the realization of non-separation. It is also the fundamental realization of ecology. In my book research, I confirmed again and again that climate science has, over the years, consistently underestimated the effect of biology on climate. While appreciation of carbon sequestration by forests and other ecosystems has grown, a covert geomechanical bias holds sway, seeing life as a hostage to random or manmade fluctuations in atmospheric components. A rival view, which I call the living planet view, holds that fundamentally it is life itself that maintains the conditions for life. Accordingly, the depletion of life is the biggest threat to the climate and the biosphere generally. Unless we stop degrading ecosystems, clearcutting forests, draining wetlands, decimating fish and land vertebrates, and dousing the land with insecticides, then even if we cut carbon emissions to zero, the planet will still die a death of a million cuts. There is indeed a horrifying crisis underway – and cooling will not signify that it has abated.

In the last ten years, science has gained a new appreciation of the ways living beings and systems affect temperature, weather, and climate. Whales transport nutrients from the depths to the surface, and from nutrient-rich feeding grounds to nutrient-poor birthing areas, allowing life to thrive there and ultimately affecting carbon sequestration. Ice-nucleating bacteria stimulate the formation of clouds that reflect sunlight and bring rain, where otherwise there would be heat-trapping haze and so-called “humid drought.” Forests generate a biotic pump that draws moisture-laden air from the oceans to the interiors; their destruction causes many of the droughts blamed on climate change. Healthy soils, grasslands, and wetlands absorb water that would otherwise run off, buffering against flooding (also blamed on climate change) and recharging aquifers that feed springs that nourish life through the dry season. A healthy climate comes from a healthy biosphere. Gauging health by temperature alone obscures this truth.

In the living planet view, no longer can we cut down a virgin forest here and offset the carbon with a tree farm there. No longer can we dam the Niger, thereby destroying vast wetlands, while assuring ourselves that the planet will benefit from the “climate-friendly electricity.” No longer can we convert the Carolina forests to woodchipping plantations (again for “climate-friendly electricity”). No longer can we blithely assume that some ecosystems or species are expendable. Why? Because they are the organs and tissues of a living Earth.

Will the planet warm or cool? I have no idea. Over my years of book research, I became less confident, not more, of the inevitability of greenhouse-gas-induced warming. Slowly, cracks are spreading in the dominant narrative. We could very well see cooling, or warming, or even both – worsening gyrations like a top spinning out, like an animal with organ failure that can no longer regulate its body temperature. Wild fluctuations in temperature and precipitation are inevitable as the living systems that maintain homeostasis lose their vitality.

Regardless of whether the planet warms or cools, the things we need to do to maintain ecological health are the same. The key words are conservation, protection, regeneration, and repair. Conserving forests, stopping pipelines, repairing ecosystems, regenerating agricultural soils, and so on will, as a side effect, reduce greenhouse emissions and increase biotic carbon uptake. But they do not rely on that result for their motivation. The motivation is to serve the flourishing of life – biological and human. This commitment should not depend on the trend in global temperature.

Comments

    • Perhaps for the earth to flourish we should think about the trillions of fish and animals we are killing to fill our stomachs. Methane is denser and more poisonous than CO2 and yet we continue to farm animals unnecessarily. No matter how much we cut back on using cars, aeroplanes, fossil fuels it won’t make as much difference as stopping methane in the atmosphere! If we are to celebrate life, which is not measured by saving humans as the most important being on this earth, then we have to view all life, all inanimate ‘things’ such as rocks, mountains and rivers as part of us. Saving the Earth is not about saving humans. Surely it’s about preserving this island in space for everything that exists here whether the human strain continues or not. How willing are we to take the steps needed to stop using the yardstick of humanness to measure the worth of something, to show true compassion to all. What are we really willing to do or give up?

        • Lia – I personally want my children to live in a world of peace and harmony. Isn’t that what every mother wants? The torture and murder of captive and raped animals is horrifying. I agree with Cameron, “if WE can catch it ourselves” then eat it. If you truly feel called to hunt and sacrifice an animals for your family, then so be it. But there is no necessity in that effort. I’d rather invest time in watering my garden. Thank you Carole and Cameron for your comments – I thought both of you were on the same page (i can’t tell the intent of Carmeron’s capitalization).

      • RESPONSE TO CAROLE WILDING: It’s the METHOD of farming. DEATH is required for LIFE. WE are HERE because of DEATH. BUT. THE LIFE DEATH CYCLE HAS TO BE MANAGED VIA NATURE. CURRENTLY, IT IS MANAGED BY HUMANS WHO ARE NOT PART OF NATURE…this has been illustrated with Yellowstone…the only thing you are right about is FARMED animals is the problem. Look to the Hadza. Meat-eaters but very rarely. That’s what our diet should be. Meat if WE can catch it ourselves….unfortunately, the chances of humans returning to nature are like 0%. People do not want to give up what they have now (a lot of things of necessary for today’s society). They would rather live with it and put a band-aid on everything…I could go on and on, but basically we are stuck in a cycle, an unnatural cycle…and it’s gonna take, what feels like divine intervention to save us (us being ALL life)…the best we can do individually is to keep learning, as Charles says, look at all sides (global warming vs global cooling) … there isn’t even a side here to choose. It’s in the MIDDLE.

  1. You are right on, Charles.

    I am just now writing for the umpteenth time about the fallacies of thinking that incremental changes and “offsets” can stem the ecological degradation of continue expansion of human consumption footprints. The thinking that drives the current economic system can’t see what it does to ecology, much less do anything about it.

    Are its proponents intentionally evil? No. Deluded? Yes.

    We want to keep the goodies provided by industrial overkill while preserving ecology too, and human minds will exercise every psychological trick to convince us that somehow this is possible, and that we are sane. There’s little grasp of ecologies as total systems , of which we are a part. So if we just fix one or two problems, the system of growth can keep going. We don’t know what to do without it.

    Once a month I host a teleconference group of people deeply interested in this problem. Interested in joining? I’m at doc@compression.org.

  2. Charles, I think you have a great idea, but are you aware of how many dozens of others, in one way or another, have tried the same thing, with complete failure as a result?

    I’ve made this case to dozens of folks attacking “climate change” – “let’s assume what you say about climate change is correct; not just the scientific view you present, but the motivations of those “promoting’ climate change, that they want to establish a totalitarian, socialist government. Wouldn’t it still be a good thing to have clean air, drinkable water, to avoid killing off millions of species, etc.

    Virtually every time I’ve written this, initially, there is total agreement, and within a few sentences, it veers back into the same kind of vitriol and refusal to listen.

    I believe that somewhere implicit in your assumptions is lurking a false equivalence. There are different views, but there are also motivated, delusional views. Good liberals/progressives/newly awakened spiritual folks have a hard time speaking of the latter.

    • With Life’s experiencce of addiction in/as me, I can testify to the extent that the illusion of “management” presents. To experience a aseemingly hopeless (understatement) situation reverse itself, turned out to be quite a privledge for me. Because of it, I can extrapolate from my recovery the lessons of “management” actually causing the problem. Even recovery from addictions is just a metaphor, because in applying this idea to an individual addiction, it can seem like management is workin for the “defined” problem of that addiction. Yet the parrallels are endless. The feeling of addicts that they have tried SO much SO long IS the seemingly hopeless situation, and there is a long hell where that is a self fullfilling prophecy.. It is the same for trying to fix the world, and “others”. Coming from the presumption that there are “others” who are like “this” or like “that”, some are realizing that it is just Life maintaining its addiction to being “separate” people. To see another as “them” and what they’re “like”, is going to reinforce it for them and “you” (for Life, actually). It may seem counter intuitive to not try to change others and their motivations, but that’s where the addiction metaphor has been a saving grace. It’s a miracle to have a “personal” experience of it, and see Life beginnng to use it for all (transcending the separateness of even “diagnosed” addicts). Charles does it eloquently. It doesn’t mean management doesn’t seem to continue to happen, but “doing” step 1 first eventually shows it’s truth even in the “story” of management. Step 1 would be admitting that Life is in denial about being One, and that the game of playing as separate selves managing themsellves and each other has come to show the inherent unmanageabilty underneath it. Let’s look for the motivation to be with another as ourSelf, before we look to changing their motivation. The separate self will testify to the immpossibilities. As a recovered drug addict, I can testify to the falseness of the “reality” of impossibilities..

      • Thank you for speaking to the real problem: the idea we cling to that we are NOT One and therefore, our separate and competing interests are the issue. True healing requires a shift from the material world to this essential truth. That’s a huge shift in awareness that often seems impossible given the way we normally think. But that’s just it, isn’t it? We think we can think our way through our egoic trance whereas we need to see our investment in the trance and realize what it is costing us. Then, and only then can we consider the alternative of acknowledging our shared interests both for selfishness and selflessness and the power to make a better choice in this moment.

  3. Absolutely right on! All of it. And I quote, “We need to explore forms of development and economy in which humans thrive without extracting more and more from the world.”

  4. Charles, this essay comes, for me, at the precise time I needed to ‘hear’ it. Again, for me, it is easily the most important writing I have been exposed to on the macriscopic earth issues facing us today,.
    To say “Thank you” for sharing your wisdom and your insights is so inadequate in the context of the critical nature of your subject matter but thank you, nonetheless!

  5. Your words so accurately and eloquently communicate what many in the movement for life are trying to describe. May many people far and wide read this essay.

    When you’re back in Asheville come see us at the UNCA market and try our nourishing bread.

  6. “This commitment should not depend on the trend in global temperature.” Nor should it depend on an extinction timetable. Whether our species has a week, a year, a decade, or a century remaining, let us act in the service of Life and Truth.

  7. Hello Charles. Certainly appreciate you speaking up about issues. As one whose mission is to bridge Oneness & the Commons like you, knowing whoever owns the governments, the money making machine, the destructive agenda of Nature & Humanity, we can still start gathering in our communities; building self-sufficiency. We can create shared resource distribution, ecological housing, scaled organic food production, shared transport & well-being….and without money as The Venus Project in FLA has blueprinted. Agreed climate change story has pulled humans together, yet it is a story conjured by those making millions off of it, when in truth, our Planet, with us following, is evolving within the cosmos soon enough, as the Indigenous & history foretells, so we don’t know what our future brings except history & research agrees with higher consciousness for the better. I say, listen to your heart, hear the compassionate call for your service here on the Planet right now, discern,discern,discern what doesn’t sound right, & start collaborating for the good of all. We’ve been lied to, programmed, for so long by those who want power over, that the heart within is our only true wisdom, yes? Thank you again Charles for speaking from you heart, & your courage from one of your Elders.

  8. Well said, as always. Thank you. I have some success with asking people what they are doing to insure theirs and their community/bioregion survival. What is needed for survival? A staggering number of people haven’t a clue. We take way too much for granted. On a lighter note, I’ve always been a huge fan of barefoot!

    • I can’t meet every issue in one essay. I go into the topic in depth in the upcoming book however.

  9. One question and one comment:
    1). What is an “evolutionary truth”? You use this term at the start of the essay but I’m not certain what it means. How is an evolutionary truth distinct from any other truth or fact?
    2). Perhaps the rising tide of depression and suicide is sign of the biosystem’s self-correcting capability. If humans are not nourishing the system, but are instead degrading it for all beings, then maybe culling the human population is not a bad thing from the system’s point of view. Maybe we need to de-stigmatize suicide and make it easier to access methods for assisted suicide, even for the non-terminally ill. That may conflict with your assertion that the depletion of life is the biggest threat to the climate and the biosphere. (By the way, this is not a sarcastic comment. I truly wonder if more volition about continuing or ceasing our own destructive lives needs to be part of repairing the system).

  10. Charles –

    I’m a very big fan of your writings (and speaking) so far. I see your voice as crucially important for our times, generally. And I agree with the basics of your Living Planet View. But I think you are also dangerously wrong in your overview assessment of the best available climate science. There are no real “cracks” forming in the global warming / climate change consensus. Anthropogenic climate change (global warming), resulting primarily from increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, is undoubtedly at least as great a risk and ongoing catastrophe as all of the other items you listed as violations to biospheric health. That these risks and catastrophes are intertwined and mutually self-reinforcing is also true. And it’s crucial to say so! And thanks for doing that!

    That said, the counter-consensus links/sources you pointed the reader to in this piece certainly do not pass the sniff test. As you are well aware, there has been a decades long, well-funded (by the fossil fuel industry) effort to raise doubts about the scientific consensus in climate science. The counter-consensus links you provided above are either directly or indirectly implicated in this fossil-funded effort to misinform and disinform the public, so as to perpetuate the notion that the consensus is on shaky ground.

    Unfortunately, the corporate-funded climate disinformation campaign, often funded covertly with “dark money,” remains vast and powerful — and active. They employ sneaky people and methods to appear to cause “cracks” in the very consensus we’re discussing here. Scientific results and studies are deliberately misrepresented by these people in order to dissuade us from taking the consensus as seriously as it should be. I recommend checking various counter-disinformation websites, such as https://www.desmogblog.com , to explore how we may be being deliberately mislead. It’s also worth a moment to use your favorite internet search engine to explore under the search terms “climate disinformation”.

    That said, you are completely right to encourage us to take care of Earth everywhere, in every detail, and not to neglect all other environmental and ecological concerns. All things are intertwined and interconnected. (Those words are synonyms, I know, but for emphasis I will use both!) To address the very real climate crisis, we must nurture life everywhere, just as you say.

    Warmly,

    James

    • Charles,

      James speaks my mind exactly. I believe that your voice about the need to see our interbeing and act with reverance for the precious life and life-support systems of our Living Planet (regardless of climate change) is very important. Indeed our failure to do so is what has led to the climate crisis in the first place.

      On the other hand, I’m deeply troubled that a thought leader like you would be swayed by false equivalencies between climate deniers and climate scientists.

      For you to say, “Will the planet warm or cool? I have no idea” is to capitulate to the fossil-fuel industry proganda machine.

      I urge you to read climate historian Naomi Oreskes’ “Merchants of Doubt” or watch the film by the same name to understand that the “polarization” and “debate” about climate science are deliberately cultivated by some of the same lobbyists who promulgated doubt about the dangers of cigarattes.

      If someone asked you, “Do you believe smoking cigarettes cause cancer?”, would you say “I have no idea, some scientists say it does and some say it doesn’t”? Or would you defer to non-tabacco industry scientists who have studied the evidence in depth?

      The point isn’t whether the earth is warming or cooling. The point is that its life support systems are under severe threat. Please don’t fall into the trap of throwing up your hands in the face of deliberately sown doubt. By doing so you undermine the crediblity of others in the movement to preserve the life-support systems of our one and only Planet Earth.

      Thank you for listening to my concern. I’m wondering if you are moved in any way by it?

      • I must agree with Linda and James, and I’d also chime in with don solomon above – OF COURSE it would be great if western industrial civilization could be persuaded to care about groundwater contamination, air and water quality, etc. etc as well as theoretically reachable ideals like a gift economy. But you see how far those arguments have moved the needle to date. No, the only argument that might wake up a few more souls is the one that’s right in front of us, fully documented by sound science: as a result of greenhouse gasses caused by fossil fuel exploitation, the earth is warming – unequivocally, rapidly, and irreversibly, with very grave and increasingly obvious consequences for the future continuance of our near and dear, deaf, dumb, and blind industrial civilization.

    • Thanks James, I fully agree with your point. One just has to google the name of the climate denier that Charles cites at the beginning of his post to see that he has not hesitated to lie and cheat, almost certainly, as you write, paid to do so… (e.g. . https://davidappell.blogspot.com/…/another-sleazy-photoshop…; https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/…/dangerously-l…/; https://blog.hotwhopper.com/…/denier-weirdness-crank-blog-p… , https://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-bet-for-charity-20… etc). I find it highly frustrating to still have to argue that climate change is taking place when the genuine evidence is so overwhelming!…. And yes of course all things are interconnected and we must nurture life everywhere. But when our house is on fire we don’t spend too long deciding whether the flames are real or not, or who started the fire, or anything else ! Now the planet is on fire. I’ve responded to another comment here, mentioning a climate expert who refuses to fly, despite participating to many conferences all over the world (but remained far more hesitant about the need to shift our diets in an interview 4 years ago, thus showing how we each have our blind spots as to what actions are most crucial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5XoLUtig2c) !

    • I will copy this reply into other comments along these lines.

      I thank you all for your frank comments about false equivalencies and having “forfeited my right to be taken seriously.” I am glad people are speaking their minds.

      I think these criticisms might be missing the deeper strategy here. Essentially what I am trying to do is unlock a stuck debate. In doing my book research, I was struck by an observation by Per Espen Stoknes: ““Long-term surveys show that people were more concerned with climate change in wealthy democracies 25 years ago than they are today. So the more science, the more IPCC assessments we have, the more the evidence accumulates, the less concerned the public is. To the rational mind this is a complete mystery.”

      Obviously something is not working for the environmental movement. The carnage over the last 25 years has accelerated. So one thing I am doing by citing skeptical websites (without the customary scathing disclaimer) is to signal to that camp, “I have read your material. I am not ignoring you.”

      I am trying to evade the polarizing lens that, if applied, would mean instant dismissal from climate-doubting readers. I think I can engage environmental interest in people who doubt climate change. And perhaps more importantly, engage people who avoid the issue because it just seems so hopeless and they’ve heard it all before. This is something I realized when a friend, a prominent environmental crusader, with huge publicity convened a climate meeting in his city and almost no one came except for a few Unitarians from his church. And soon after I published an article with “climate change” in the title and someone wrote me saying, “I almost didn’t read this article because it was about climate change and I’m sick of hearing about it…”

      So I thought, we need a different approach.

      However, I do think we have a difference of opinion that goes beyond strategy and rhetoric. I believe that while greenhouse gases add further stress to an already severely challenged system, the fundamental problem is direct ecosystem degradation (e.g. deforestation, wetland draining, soil erosion, industrial fishing…) Often, this view leads to the same things that the greenhouse-first view wants (such as banning fracking, stopping pipelines, ending mountaintop removal, etc.). However, there are other things that the greenhouse view supports that I think will worsen the problem. Such as geoengineering via sulfur aerosols. Such as massive biofuels plantations. Such as big hydro. Of course, ecosystem degradation and climatic change are mutually reinforcing. Nonetheless, a lot of things that we blame reflexively on climate change are actually attributable to other forms of ecocide.

      I don’t think we are going to change anything by ratcheting up current tactics of ridicule and alarm even more. It hasn’t worked. It isn’t going to work. If there were no other way, then I suppose we’d have to try, but there is another way. It is to engage another narrative frame for the environmental crisis.

      Climate change or no, there are good reasons to conserve forests, soil, wetlands, etc. From the Living Planet viewpoint, we don’t need greenhouse arguments at stop drilling, fracking, cutting, and so on. Why exclude and alienate those who question the consensus, when we don’t need to?

      Finally, I also hold to the other point of the essay. We could be wrong about warming. Or if we are right, a long-term warming trend could be temporarily overridden by solar fluctuations or other natural factors, making it appear we are wrong. Warming is a dangerous horse to hitch the environmental wagon to. Anyway, I do go much more deeply into these issues in the book.

      Charles

  11. I jumped into the Climate Change aspect a little over a year ago. Little did I know how much it would twine with reclaiming my soul.

    My phrasing now is that we are all looking for a Sense of Belonging and a Sense of Place.

  12. If reality is an agreed upon construct, then as people, like myself, no longer focus attention on the issue, it ceases to exist.

    The bigger tacit agreement is that human life should continue. If one comes to the conclusion that humans are a virus to the loving planet then their eradication is a good thing. And if reality is an agreed upon construct, then as more people participate in this world view, the more it becomes a reality.

    I have found peace in not thinking about anything beyond the here and now. Wishing for each days continued existence.

    But there was a time when I focused on humans finding purposed in evolving into something like the nervous system of the living planet (at a different facile scale). But reality is an agreed upon construct, and too many visualize death and destruction. So it must be. But, I don’t focus any attention on it.

    I have faith that the living earth will do what is good and right.

    …and an ice age, an artic hurricane, that quickly blankets the northern hemisphere in hundreds of feet of snow – would be poetic.

  13. Really welcome this, Charles. I have been suffering from confusion about what is really happening on global warning etc. but I KNOW we are hurting ourselves when we damage our world. We are it. Many thanks.

  14. Thank you Charles. I so enjoy, or should I say appreciate, your thoughts and insights. Of course you are correct. The destruction of all life systems, by “a thousand cuts” , is so insane and filled with so much delusion wherein we pretend to address core issues while ignoring the heart of the matter – our spiritual decay, decadence and despondency. We are connected and linked to all life systems, and it is our separation, alienation and false notions of self-sufficiency that must me upended, transformed and regenerated if we are to love our way into a new epoch.

    • I doubt that you are the same Kevin Anderson that I admire so much for taking personally much action against climate change? Kevin is a UK top climate expert who has for a long time now refused to fly – so attends conferences by train, boat – or skype – only? He very much agrees with you and Charles that we need a systemic approach but he also believes that each one of us should urgently walk our talk, as he does…
      Here is one example of Kevin’s blog: https://kevinanderson.info/blog/a-precis-of-my-take-on-our-collective-stupidity/. He is also on Twitter etc…

      • I trust your UK top climate scientist has also changed his eating. If one really believed that global warming is threatening humanity and the entire ecosystem (as I do, while also believing that Charles grasps the far bigger picture), then the first thing one would do would be to eat at least vegetarian, if not vegan. PERIOD. If one is not changing one’s eating in this relatively easy fashion, then one’s “concern” about global warming (and concern for nonhuman animals, as well, IMO), no matter how passionately expressed, is transparent BS. The same goes for cutting down one’s use of fossil fuels (like your climate scientist is doing), although stopping all use of them is too much of a challenge right now to justify being overly-judgmental. I’m going to check out the blog you reference, and thanks for bringing it to our attention.

        • Thank you Newton!! Eating vegan is easy, delicious, good for you, and good for the evironment. I wish I knew sooner!!

  15. Excellent! A beautiful and unifying article. We all need to come together to recognize ourselves as just one piece of the puzzle, not separate from or above everything else in the earth’s delicate and perfectly designed balance. I am certain I am no happier than any of my ancestors because of what we call “modern conveniences” and I minimize them as much as I can.

  16. Thank you, Charles ! For your eloquence, your insightfulness and your spirit of collaboration with all things of this world.

  17. “We need to explore forms of development and economy in which humans thrive without extracting more and more from the world.” – ues exactly. Thank you, Charles, for lending your voice to truths that have been buried in the chaos of our “modern” world … I bow to you <3

  18. You describe it so well. The fullness of how we can make real changes, if life forms and a living planet are important to us.
    My fear is that life ecology, is no concern to those who drive their big cars, wear fancy shoes and talk about things, rather than
    walk barefoot collecting their breakfast from their family farm and share life with birds and bees, brothers and daughters, in laws and
    a few outcasts.
    Thank you for your bold and brave conviction to changing our minds and planting seeds for a new model.

  19. “The only wealth is life.” – John Ruskin
    Thank you for articulating so very well the conclusions that I reached some time ago.
    If only we can abandon this death cult and embrace the living world around us will all be well.
    It really is easy to say no to all that cultural baggage. Trying to convince others is the difficult part.

  20. I resonate 100% to all that you have so elegantly articulated here, Charles. How I wish I knew how to induce EVERYONE to read it–or even 1% of people, for that matter. very sadly, however, those who are most in need of this powerful antidote to their ignorance are precisely the ones who are least likely to pay it heed.

    Just as is true of allopathic medicine, the strongly prevailing emphasis in our current cultural paradigm is on treating symptoms, rather than addressing their multiple root causes, most of which are lifestyle- related. It seems to me that the ultimate root cause of of ALL of the tragic trends toward ecocide is–exactly as you point out so cogently–namely the over-arching “story” (or, perhaps, even more accurately) the outright DELUSION that we humans are somehow separate from our entire biosphere.

    May this exceedingly wise and compassionate essay be a powerful wake-up call to all who abide in ignorance. I will do all I can to share it with others.

  21. Yes, and, complexifying the issue in regard to climate change, at this very moment, may be the final straw in overwhelming the masses ability to understand the simplest principles of climate science and ecology. The difference between the celebrated guru and the hung man is that the guru knew who to share his ideas with and the hung man tried to share it with everyone (thank you Stan Grof).

  22. What can one person do?? Here’s what: Quit wasting time, energy, and attention on polarized science/anti-science, liberal/conservative, corporatist/green arguments. Just (1) make compost — (2) plant something — (3) pee on the ground.

  23. I thank you for this, Charles. You are digging underneath the climate change issue to reveal the essence of the breakdown: the loss of our sacred connection to the whole of life. We are using and abusing like an addict with no awareness of our relationships or the consequences. There are so many tragic reasons to reorient ourselves to this larger web of “all our relations.”

  24. Your treatises regrading climate change and preserving the ecology of a healthy earth is the best I have read. I think many others will agree with your POV.

  25. IN these pieces most of the time I a missing the: so what shall we do? What is to be done? Stop everything? Stop something? What? And what not? And why?

    Another aspect I am missing is that of healing ourselves. Without healing ourselves, “The key words are conservation, protection, regeneration, and repair”, I am not sure we are capable of helaing the planet. We are the planet too. We have been wounded and exploited and driven half insane by some of our fellow human beings. We, many of us, still go to work most days and by working for those entities who do harm, we do harm too. To ourselves and the planet – for we are the planet too; But what are we to do? Walk out and live in the forests? Back to the land? If not that, then what? We have been on the land once upon a time, and from there we got to here. Who says that going back to that point is going to be different this time?

    “The motivation is to serve the flourishing of life – biological and human.” Human is biological, so there is not such thing as “biological AND human” there is only Life.

    I thinkone of the reasons why not much is being done by large numbers of peopoe and entitites, or not nearly enough, is because nobody knows what to do. What do you think? If we don’t want to be here, where do we want to be? And how to get there?

    And actually, is it true that ew don’t want to be here at all? I mean, life in the industrialised world is pretty cushy, I would say. Save for the insanity of jobs, commuting, traffic, pollution… there are restaurants and cinemas, there is fashion and sport, books and blogs, marriage and divorce, IVfFand surrogacy, machines that do almost everything for us (never mind us having to then go to the gym and walk on threadmills because we don’t walk to work or school), there are gays, and transpeople and blacks and whites and religious and secular, and efforts are being made to accept it all. There is fashion even for pets, accessories, consumer choice. Holidays and trips, high tech bicycles, self driving cars, electrical trucks, planes to fly anywhere we want. Ready made food, desserts and icecreams, burgers and salads, chocolate and coffee, biscuits and sugar, cigarettes and joints. Tens of thousands of items in supermarkets, everything seemingly available most of the time. So… life is… excuse my saying so, pretty good for a lot of people.

    So… in order to serve lif (with which I agree completely)e, what do we do with all of that? Remember, it is not just that we can buy it all, it is also that we work to produce it all, sell it, serve it, provide it. It pays for our electricity bills (whether green or not), it pays for our houses and clothes, our bills, our education and even our blogs. So… how do we get out of here, or do we want to get out of here at all? And where do we go to next?

    It is easy to say… oh, we just need love… Sure. It may be the case. But … what do we do actually in practical day to day life? What to abandon, and what to embrace. Why?

    I have thought about it a lot. The only place I arrived at that remained stable no matter how much I questioned it is: traceless economy. Produce whatever you want, go whereever you want, do what you must, but leave no trace behind. No trace at all. Every industry, every effort, every activity needs to go in that direction. No trace when mining for minerals, or producing the solar panels, or making ‘green’ whatever, no trace when producing food, not in air, water or soil. No trace when eating, or sleeping, or brushing your teeth. 50% of all research on this planet needs to go in this direction for the next century or so. The other 50% of research needs to go into working out how to clean the current mess up – all the chemicals, hormones and pills and paints and heavy metals, plastics and microplastics, and air pollution, the entire lot. This applies espeially to research within rich entities (for example Amazon) – I can see a lot of imaginative thinking there, so they have the brain power. They have the money. They need to lead the way.

    And all media outlets, thnkers, artists, film makers, photographers, scientists need to dedicate themselves to these subjects.

    I think that is the only way… what do you think?

    • Lots of discussion of all these things in the book. But I think that the living planet view naturally suggests a lot of on-the-ground actions. It is healing on every level, from the inner to the social to the land-based….

  26. the debate around climate change is driven by the very same agenda that exploits and rapes our earth – yes the earth the human and all beings are facing great cracks in the systems of sustenance of us all – there is not a one capitalist world view answer – there is no answer except to tinker around the edges with ‘solar alternatives ‘ etc and kid us all that something is happening. the change the real transformation is within us and how we perceive our role here on the earth – as part of it or as separate.
    as part of the whole we treat the whole differently – we hold respect and loving intentions towards the earth that feeds us and then the ‘answers’ required come from our own capacity to take responsibility and make changes within our lives . when we are in debate we know we are still in separation – the rest of us are having a sacred conversation ..
    with gratitude to you charles for your deep inquiry clarity and love

  27. Thank you for this wonderful essay. I am writing my next book about the connection between physical health, emotional health and a healthy ecosystem. Whether by accident or design, humanity has created a system that is failing to meet our authentic needs or the needs of Mother Earth. Every one of us has to decide whether we are consumers or stewards. Are we here to destroy Nature to satisfy our conditioned cravings, or are we here to care for ourselves, each other and our beautiful planet. Earth may be the only source of life in our universe, and we have been given the gift of life to experience its wonder. So what are we going to do with this precious gift?

  28. I appreciate and agree to a point that the fundamental problem of contemporary life is our deep disconnect and blatant disregard for all of nature — the birds and bees, the whales and flowers, the oceans and trees, all that lives and breathes and sustains us. Global warming is merely a symptom. But I would argue that an even more fundamental problem is our deep disconnect and blatant disregard for our dear selves, the heart and soul of us, and , so, our disconnect from our beloved brothers and sisters here on Mother Earth. May we all be called to do what it takes to wake up to our innate perfection, one or more of us at a time. As we do, we will come to understand that what we do for the earth and for each other we do for ourselves.

  29. Great essay. Everything connects. Or, as Richard Rohr likes to say…”Everything Belongs”.

    “In most polarized debates, evolutionary truths are revealed by questioning the tacit agreements that both sides share. ”
    I can see how this strategy or way of addressing various polarized issues can be very threatening and paradoxically yet frightfully enlightening to either side. Think abortion.

    What seems to happen, and, embarrassingly, it’s often happened to me, is that a genuine concern or a waking up to an issue somehow slowly or even suddenly devolves into an unannounced ideology that one feels the need to defend. The real concern or the genuine awakening process gets hijacked. I’ve noticed in myself and others the tendency to then come to the knee-jerk defense of the ideology (which of course isn’t considered an ideology by its defenders) which has somehow super-imposed itself over the original concern or the awakening thought process, suffocating it.
    This seems to have happened, to some extent, to both of the polarized sides of the so-called climate debate. An actual dialogue which includes openness to additional facts, new experience, and alternative viewpoints turns into a debate of dueling ideologies. And ideologies tend to dig their heels into their rigid points of view, to the point that defending the ideology becomes the main goal, replacing any real discussion of the initial concern or awakening thought process with endless attempts to make the other side look bad (and anybody not on your side of the ideological fence is considered to be someone from the other side) while trying to make your ideological side look good. Any attempts at growing or at an expansion of awareness comes to a halt. Whereas the original concerning issue often stimulated by the heart or the awakening thought process of the spirit seems to die a slow or sudden death, and almost becomes a forgotten memory consumed by the dominance and firming up of the ideology. And the result is stuckness of thought and the diminishing of empathy. Which can often lead to violence of language and action. Which tends to have a powerful and fear-inducing pull to one side or the other. To hang out somewhere in the vast middle where you can have a wider and freer view, movement, and experience is a tough place to be without coming under some type of assault from the extremes. You don’t make too many friends with either side of that bridge.
    But I’m convinced that it’s the intellectual and spiritual boundariless area where the best chance to get a more enlightened view and experience of reality resides.

    A bridge has no allegiance to either side.”
    ― Les Coleman

    Easier said than done.

    So, Charles, I congratulate you on your bravery. And thank you for your inspiration.

    • I agree with these insights. Our culture is under the influence of a dualistic meta-program that has us quickly take sides and believe that the problem will be solved by defeating the other side. It is war mentality. Sometimes, that mentality is useful and true, but rarely. We apply it to nearly everything. In a war, anything that doesn’t serve your narrative must be rejected, whether or not it is true. In the climate debate, each side says that the other is not even worth listening too. “They are paid liars shilling for the fossil fuel industry,” says one side, “Part of a coordinated disinformation campaign.” On the other side, it is, “Corrupt climate scientists competing for funding dollars and serving a secret agenda of Socialist World Government” or something like that. Now I think there is a shred of truth, or more than a shred, in both critiques. Yes, there are powerful financial interests who have a vested interest in denying the dangers of greenhouse gases. And as for Climate Science, while I don’t buy into theories about global conspiracies, I do see a lot of institutionalized confirmation bias operating in climate science (and in other sciences too). But my point is not that the two sides are equivalent. My point is that we need to change the conversation, disarm th polarization, and unearth the hidden assumptions that both sides share.

  30. Exactly! My Australian Aboriginal partner, Jamie Marloo Thomas, has created an Earth Connection Practice, Wayapa Wuurrk (which means Connect to Earth) based on the Indigenous knowledge & wisdom that kept his people & country Well for 80,000+ years because they lived in harmony with their environment. They had a relationship with everything in their environment, they didn’t see themselves above or below nature but as interdependent on it. We need to sit & listen to the Indigenous Elders of the world to learn from their wisdom to reconnect to our environment for Earth Mind Body Spirit Well-being. We hope that by sharing Wayapa with the world, we can help reconnect the disconnection.

  31. Thank you, Charles.
    I greatly appreciate your work and you sharing your gift with the world.
    I look forward to your upcoming book and can’t wait to read it.
    Global warming or not, we have been doing horrible things to this planet and it must stop!

    In my story, I believe that you should not be afraid of global cooling because I think it is coming and it will be the crisis that you talk about bringing the more beautiful world we all know is possible.
    You believe in non-separation and that we are all connected, I ask you to take it several steps further than earth and look at some of the electric universe theories that may put an end to dark matter.
    These theories also provide explanations about the role the sun plays, and specifically sun spots in our climate change and weather. I have spent a good bit of time researching the sun and it’s cycles.
    Some say we are entering a grand solar minimum. Historically this is followed by increased cosmic rays reaching earths surface, an increase in volcanic activity and a decrease in earth’s temperature.
    And if you look at the cycle of the sun and the rise and fall of empires, some believe there is a correlation. So global cooling may force us to stop what we are doing and reconnect, strengthening our communities and giving us the opportunity to create the more beautiful world.
    Perhaps this is how it has always worked and how the universe keeps things in balance?

    And your are right that our commitment should not depend on the trend in global temperature… it should be love.

    • I’m definitely aware of electric universe theories.I’m not 100% convinced by them but I do pay attention. I don’t believe in dark matter.

  32. Charles: Whilst anyone who cares about the life and beauty of the Earth would agree with your plea to nurture and protect it, in my view your article is irreparably marred by your attempt to give credence to the false suggestion that the Earth is already, or is about to start, cooling. Such suggestions are denialist nonsense.
    Frankly, anyone who headlines his article “Why I am Afraid of Global Cooling” and then goes on to link approvingly to the misinformation and global warming denial produced by the NoTricksZone website, has already forfeited his right to be taken seriously. That is a shame, because, had you omitted the nonsense you write about global cooling (and also what you repeat about the motivation of those concerned about global warming), then the rest of your message would be all the stronger.
    As it is, by lending credence to misinformers and deniers, you have demonstrated a serious lack of understanding of what is happening to the Earth.

    • From Charles:

      I thank you all for your frank comments about false equivalencies and having “forfeited my right to be taken seriously.” I am glad people are speaking their minds.

      I think these criticisms might be missing the deeper strategy here. Essentially what I am trying to do is unlock a stuck debate. In doing my book research, I was struck by an observation by Per Espen Stoknes: ““Long-term surveys show that people were more concerned with climate change in wealthy democracies 25 years ago than they are today. So the more science, the more IPCC assessments we have, the more the evidence accumulates, the less concerned the public is. To the rational mind this is a complete mystery.”

      Obviously something is not working for the environmental movement. The carnage over the last 25 years has accelerated. So one thing I am doing by citing skeptical websites (without the customary scathing disclaimer) is to signal to that camp, “I have read your material. I am not ignoring you.”

      I am trying to evade the polarizing lens that, if applied, would mean instant dismissal from climate-doubting readers. I think I can engage environmental interest in people who doubt climate change. And perhaps more importantly, engage people who avoid the issue because it just seems so hopeless and they’ve heard it all before. This is something I realized when a friend, a prominent environmental crusader, with huge publicity convened a climate meeting in his city and almost no one came except for a few Unitarians from his church. And soon after I published an article with “climate change” in the title and someone wrote me saying, “I almost didn’t read this article because it was about climate change and I’m sick of hearing about it…”

      So I thought, we need a different approach.

      However, I do think we have a difference of opinion that goes beyond strategy and rhetoric. I believe that while greenhouse gases add further stress to an already severely challenged system, the fundamental problem is direct ecosystem degradation (e.g. deforestation, wetland draining, soil erosion, industrial fishing…) Often, this view leads to the same things that the greenhouse-first view wants (such as banning fracking, stopping pipelines, ending mountaintop removal, etc.). However, there are other things that the greenhouse view supports that I think will worsen the problem. Such as geoengineering via sulfur aerosols. Such as massive biofuels plantations. Such as big hydro. Of course, ecosystem degradation and climatic change are mutually reinforcing. Nonetheless, a lot of things that we blame reflexively on climate change are actually attributable to other forms of ecocide.

      I don’t think we are going to change anything by ratcheting up current tactics of ridicule and alarm even more. It hasn’t worked. It isn’t going to work. If there were no other way, then I suppose we’d have to try, but there is another way. It is to engage another narrative frame for the environmental crisis.

      Climate change or no, there are good reasons to conserve forests, soil, wetlands, etc. From the Living Planet viewpoint, we don’t need greenhouse arguments at stop drilling, fracking, cutting, and so on. Why exclude and alienate those who question the consensus, when we don’t need to?

      Finally, I also hold to the other point of the essay. We could be wrong about warming. Or if we are right, a long-term warming trend could be temporarily overridden by solar fluctuations or other natural factors, making it appear we are wrong. Warming is a dangerous horse to hitch the environmental wagon to. Anyway, I do go much more deeply into these issues in the book.

  33. Charles:
    Whilst anyone who cares about the life and beauty of the Earth would agree with your plea to nurture and protect it, in my view your article is irreparably marred by your attempt to give credence to the false suggestion that the Earth is already, or is about to start, cooling. Such suggestions are denialist nonsense.
    Frankly, anyone who headlines his article “Why I am Afraid of Global Cooling” and then goes on to link approvingly to the misinformation and global warming denial produced by the NoTricksZone website, has already forfeited his right to be taken seriously. That is a shame, because, had you omitted the nonsense you write about global cooling (and also what you repeat about the motivation of those concerned about global warming), then the rest of your message would be all the stronger.
    As it is, by lending credence to misinformers and deniers, you have demonstrated a serious lack of understanding of what is happening to the Earth.

    • I will copy this reply into other comments along these lines.

      I thank you all for your frank comments about false equivalencies and having “forfeited my right to be taken seriously.” I am glad people are speaking their minds.

      I think these criticisms might be missing the deeper strategy here. Essentially what I am trying to do is unlock a stuck debate. In doing my book research, I was struck by an observation by Per Espen Stoknes: ““Long-term surveys show that people were more concerned with climate change in wealthy democracies 25 years ago than they are today. So the more science, the more IPCC assessments we have, the more the evidence accumulates, the less concerned the public is. To the rational mind this is a complete mystery.”

      Obviously something is not working for the environmental movement. The carnage over the last 25 years has accelerated. So one thing I am doing by citing skeptical websites (without the customary scathing disclaimer) is to signal to that camp, “I have read your material. I am not ignoring you.”

      I am trying to evade the polarizing lens that, if applied, would mean instant dismissal from climate-doubting readers. I think I can engage environmental interest in people who doubt climate change. And perhaps more importantly, engage people who avoid the issue because it just seems so hopeless and they’ve heard it all before. This is something I realized when a friend, a prominent environmental crusader, with huge publicity convened a climate meeting in his city and almost no one came except for a few Unitarians from his church. And soon after I published an article with “climate change” in the title and someone wrote me saying, “I almost didn’t read this article because it was about climate change and I’m sick of hearing about it…”

      So I thought, we need a different approach.

      However, I do think we have a difference of opinion that goes beyond strategy and rhetoric. I believe that while greenhouse gases add further stress to an already severely challenged system, the fundamental problem is direct ecosystem degradation (e.g. deforestation, wetland draining, soil erosion, industrial fishing…) Often, this view leads to the same things that the greenhouse-first view wants (such as banning fracking, stopping pipelines, ending mountaintop removal, etc.). However, there are other things that the greenhouse view supports that I think will worsen the problem. Such as geoengineering via sulfur aerosols. Such as massive biofuels plantations. Such as big hydro. Of course, ecosystem degradation and climatic change are mutually reinforcing. Nonetheless, a lot of things that we blame reflexively on climate change are actually attributable to other forms of ecocide.

      I don’t think we are going to change anything by ratcheting up current tactics of ridicule and alarm even more. It hasn’t worked. It isn’t going to work. If there were no other way, then I suppose we’d have to try, but there is another way. It is to engage another narrative frame for the environmental crisis.

      Climate change or no, there are good reasons to conserve forests, soil, wetlands, etc. From the Living Planet viewpoint, we don’t need greenhouse arguments at stop drilling, fracking, cutting, and so on. Why exclude and alienate those who question the consensus, when we don’t need to?

      Finally, I also hold to the other point of the essay. We could be wrong about warming. Or if we are right, a long-term warming trend could be temporarily overridden by solar fluctuations or other natural factors, making it appear we are wrong. Warming is a dangerous horse to hitch the environmental wagon to. Anyway, I do go much more deeply into these issues in the book.

      Charles

      • Charles: You point to the observation of Per Espen Stoknes concerning changes in public attitudes to climate change over the years. Irrespective of whether that observation correctly or adequately represents what has really happens with respect to public opinion, his conclusion that “the more science, the more IPCC assessments we have, the more the evidence accumulates, the less concerned the public is” is a wholly inadequate and misleading assessment of the cause of any such changes. That conclusion completely ignores the huge expenditure by fossil fuel companies and associated industries to produce misinformation and doubt about climate science (Naomi Oreskes’ “Merchants of Doubt”). See, for example: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-018-2241-z
        or
        https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-fossil-fuels-lobbying-usa-transport-renewable-energy-environment-a8452941.html
        To conclude that a purported drop in public concern about climate change has resulted from the publication of scientific assessments from reputable bodies, rather than as a result of vastly greater funding for campaigns creating misinformation, confusion and denial, is absurd. Yet that is the absurdity upon which you base your rationale – your “deeper strategy” – for citing what you (inaccurately) refer to as “skeptical websites”.
        By appeasing such sources of misinformation you are not helping the causes about which you clearly, and rightly, feel so strongly, concerning general environmental degradation. Indeed, I’m afraid it appears to me that you have partly succumbed to the misinformation of the “skeptical websites”. How else can your proclamations, “Why I am Afraid of Global Cooling” or “long-term warming trend could be temporarily overridden by solar fluctuations or other natural factors”, be explained? There is NO support from scientific evidence and theory for any prospect of global cooling or for solar fluctuations overwhelming the warming trend caused by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: suggestions that there are are themselves misinformation. Those claiming that there is scientific reason to believe that we are due to experience global cooling are either lying, or are misinformed.
        There is perhaps some justification for the concern that attention given to climate change issues diverts attention from other pressing environmental issues, but surely that has to be balanced with the realisation that many of the measures to combat and mitigate global warming – re-afforestation, soil enhancement, protection of coastal wetlands and mangroves, reduction in meat consumption, energy conservation, reduction in coal mining, oil exploitation, fracking and oil tar extraction, more efficient use of resources etc. are all measures that have other beneficial environmental impacts as well as reducing carbon emissions. Concern about climate change is, or should be, a major source of added impetus to combat environmental decline.
        When it all comes down to dust, the question has to be asked, “is it right, whatever the motivation, to give credence to lies and misinformation?” I believe it is not. But is that not what you are doing?

        • Slioch, as another reading person here I cannot answer the questions directed to Charles, but a few thoughts still come up from this “outside” perspective.

          As someone who has, for a long time, thought that climate change was just another vehicle to pull money from our pockets, via gadget sales (a/c anyone?) & commodification of air (yays, carbon tax 😛 ), and as someone who later became of the opinion that McPherson is right, as far as the science is concerned, and as someone who understands that the missing element that turns climate information into climate action is love/care, I have been attacked and shrugged off and ridiculed many times over; first as a denier, later as a doomer, now as an unscientific esotericist. So during each stage of development I felt misunderstood, not taken into account and altogether alienated from being part of the solution.

          Until recently, I have to say. Charles makes a very good case that the faultlines which seem to separate us are basically irrelevant for the task in front of us. For that purpose the basic points need to get mentioned along with their origin. We also need to take people’s concerns seriously if we want them to hear our message, no matter which “side” we are on. “Giving credence to misinformation”, less cynically expressed, is deep listening to what moves a person underneath, and connecting to that. Only then can we hope to reach common ground.

          What do we gain from insisting on “I am right and you are wrong”, on the other hand? Does it help the climate? Is it convincing to the “biased” person? Will anybody change their mind by getting ignored, ridiculed, or alienated? Do we, after decades of heated discussions and an ever expanding body of scientific data, see significantly more climate action happening?
          The separation into right vs wrong, true & informed vs lying & misinformed etc creates the same kind of conflict that drives the age old war of culture vs nature which resulted in rampaging ecocide.
          Even from a utilitarian point of view this strategy does not work out.

          So let’s not insist on who got the facts better. Let’s connect on a level where we are more similar to each other: as humans, as living beings, who are equipped with a sense of love for and connectedness to our neighbours.

  34. I also ”subscribe to a story which says the contrary: that self and other, human and nature, inner and outer, are not really separate. That everything that happens to the world happens, in some manner, to ourselves as well. That with every extinction, something dies in us. That with loss of biodiversity comes cultural and spiritual poverty. That environmental pollution inevitably coincides with the spread of moral, mental, physical, social, and spiritual poisons.” And: ”we could very well see cooling, or warming, or even both – worsening gyrations like a top spinning out, like an animal with organ failure that can no longer regulate its body temperature. Wild fluctuations in temperature and precipitation are inevitable as the living systems that maintain homeostasis lose their vitality.” I specifically talk to my friends about the health of the human economy as part of life in terms of a patient on Intensive Care, being given extra strong medicine in the hope it will give a shock of revitalization. The Earth is running a fever because of this species out of control voraciously abusing its natural wealth while increasing rapidly in number and leaving toxic waste behind, comparable to a metastasized cancer. Climate change, including wild gyrations of weather due to global warming is just one of the many crises (though the most dangerous one to current life forms) life on Earth and human society now faces. The fresh water crisis and habitat destruction till now have a far more detrimental effect on hundreds of millions of people than climate change, again, till now. The financial crisis of 2008 (the first one, the next one is just a matter of time, in fact overdue imho) was comparable to a seizure that was temporarily stabilized by a large injection of quantitative easing, which paved the way to new side effects as different as even larger inequality, huge ebbs and flows of capital in and out of developing countries with gyrating currencies and low interest rates that allowed for an insolvent fracking industry in the USA to get finance. In that sense we have already entered collapse as larger parts of nature and human societies gyrate out of homeostasis. I hold Charles Eisenstein very high, but I doubt the title of this essay, however, is very effective.

  35. I have come to the same conclusion.
    In 2004 or 2005 (don’t remember while writing) I was editing a documentary about global warming. The year after I went to a symposium for scientists from all over the world on Greenland and did interviews with them, the local population and filmed the melting glaciers. I felt shaken for many years to come about this development. And struggled with how to convey this in a way that could actually affect people to make changes in their life that would help the planet – not just from warming but from all other kinds of anthropological devastation as well.
    I have also read opposing theories and reports, disturbing as they may be. It is really hard to be sure about what is true, especially if you are not a scientist and if you don’t have time to study and compare reports carefully.
    For the last decades I have only felt sure about one thing: the fact, or theory, or belief that earth is warming and that it is caused by humanity has a beneficial effect on our behavior. The endeavor to stop global warming has side effects that are paramount for life on our planet.
    Thank you Charles for writing this so clear. It’s very helpful.

  36. Hey everyone, I want to add one more thing before I move on. It seems that a lot of people were upset about my linking to “climate disinformation” websites without the customary scathing preamble. I tried to explain why I engage these views in another comment. Here I want to add, in case there is any confusion, that I am NOT saying that greenhouse gases are benign. I believe we face an urgent ecological criss and that greenhouse emissions are part of it.

    Where I differ from the climate mainstream is that I think the threat greenhouse gases pose is that they increase the thermodynamic flux through a complex system that is already stressed to its breaking point. That means that the danger they pose is independent of whether we can measure global warming. Climate sensitivity in the scientific sense of the term could be very low, and we still would face a crisis because that extra heat drives fluctuations in wind and ocean currents and therefore in precipitation patterns. The system would not be so fragile if the forests, wetlands, etc. were intact, but they are not, they have been degraded and destroyed over centuries. To some extent, millennia. Slo we have a perfect storm — the governing and regulating mechanisms, such as the forest biotic pump, are degraded at the same time as the challenge has intensified.

    All right, I’m going to write another piece laying out this argument more carefully. Again, to reemphasize the point of this essay, if we do see obvious warming, then it is easy to raise alarm over the environment from within the standard narrative. But we could just as easily see wild gyrations in temperature and precipitation accompanied by (possibly) little change in global average temperature. If we make the whole conversation about temperature, we are in a vulnerable position. Yes, we should cut emissions, but even more important is ecosystems. That is true even if the warming skeptics are right. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter if they are right (about warming). We still have reason for urgent action. Let’s not cede the ground of the debate to questions of temperature. Typically the skeptics argue, “Warming isn’t happening, so we don’t have an ecological crisis after all.” That is an utterly false conclusion and we have no need to cede its warming-centric premise. Plus, by doing so we open the door to disastrous geoengineering schemes. Warming could happen and probably will, but as I will continue arguing, we should not make it the centerpiece of the debate.

    Charles

    So contrary to one of the commenters, this is not about “appeasing” the deniers. It is about approaching the ecological crisis from a whole-systems perspective.

    • “All right, I’m going to write another piece laying out this argument more carefully.”

      I’m looking forward to reading this.

  37. Yes, the main goal is having the integration of humankind into the biosphere be positive and life building instead of negative as it is now. I believe the presence of humanity with love and wisdom can become a source of greater life in the biosphere. Indeed humanity with that love and wisdom working with nature could bring the biosphere to a place of beauty and life that the biosphere without human input couldn’t attain!

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