Climate Conscious
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Climate Conscious

Balance, Respect, Cooperation, Hope

Principles for a fairer, more environmentally responsible world

I’ve been on a bit of a musical and philosophical journey over the last twelve months.

It’s now getting on for a year since I released my debut single, Wake Up The World. This piece sparked off an exploration of how I see the current state of the world, particularly from a social and environmental point of view. Along the way, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one going through this process. There’s a wider movement of change that’s encouraging people to look at the world we live in with fresh eyes. I explored this shift in the zeitgeist in my second single, New Wind. I’ve also realised how much fear and anxiety we’re all living with, especially in these times of turbulent change, and I examined this in my most recent single, Inner State.

But now, looking back at Wake Up The World nearly a year on, it strikes me that the core message still holds true: that we’d all be better off living in a society founded on balance, respect, cooperation and hope. Here’s why:

Balance

It feels like the different factions that make up our society are becoming more and more polarised. Our culture likes to organise things into bilateral opposites. Everything has to be divided into a choice between two options: right and left; rich and poor; men and women; urban and rural; us and them. Our role in this society is to choose our sides and that then defines who we are.

However, this is a decidedly unnatural way to organise and interpret ourselves and our lives. Everything else in nature works on the principle of balance, and natural forces ensure that this equilibrium is maintained. If anything gets out of balance then there are always corrective measures built into the system that will restore the stasis. This can be seen in any complex system in the natural world, from the way that population numbers are maintained in a thriving ecosystem to the way that our bodies maintain health.

So what makes us think that the values that govern our lives should be rooted in rigid dogmatic principles? Politics, certainly in most western, industrialised societies, is now firmly entrenched in a face-off between “left” and “right”. Each side is so absorbed in trying to ensure that their arguments prevail so they ultimately win power that there doesn’t seem to be any space for anyone to step back and consider what might be the best way forward for everyone. If they did then they might just find that there’s plenty of common ground, values and ideas of merit on both sides of the political spectrum.

And this is exactly the challenge that has been laid down by the Covid pandemic and, on an even larger and more serious scale, the ecological and climate crises. These are universal, global challenges and they require universal, collaborative action and solutions. There is no individual person, party or nation that has all the right answers and can fly in and solve these problems. They are the symptoms of sicknesses in the extraordinarily vast web of interrelated complex systems that make up our planet. The cures will require us to engage with these systems in an holistic way and find ways forward that will work for the system as a whole.

Personally, I believe that younger generations now coming through are starting to reject this bilateral view of the world. This is why we are currently witnessing such a revolution in attitudes to race and racism, misogyny, gender fluidity, sexuality, social justice and many other areas of modern life. The world is so much more nuanced than we’ve been encouraged to see it. We need to embrace the rich diversity of life and design systems that will enable everything (human and non-human) to flourish.

Respect

What this will require is a complete change of mindset in the way that we interact with the world around us. We’ve all been conditioned to think of ourselves as separate, autonomous individuals and this has resulted in a prevailing narrative that portrays human beings as fundamentally self-serving competitors in a ‘survival of the fittest' evolutionary world. We’re supposedly disconnected from everyone and everything else and must compete with others, making use of any resources we can, to improve our lives for our own benefit and comfort. This is the story of the last few hundred years, particularly since the Enlightenment.

However, this story is now being proved to be wrong. We are actually all fundamentally interconnected beings, not only at a human level but at every other level of creation. We’re all connected to each other, every other living being on the Earth, the air, the water, the rocks and even other planets, stars and galaxies in our universe.

This is in line with the wisdom of all ancient traditional cultures across the world. But it is also now being proved by the latest cutting-edge scientific discoveries and thinking. The work of Dr Jude Currivan beautifully expounds the latest theories of interconnectedness that are emerging in the scientific community. For far too long, the worship of scientific facts and rational proof has become a quasi-religious dogma on which our understanding of the modern world is founded. And this dogma has created a prevailing perception that the world is made up of a collection of separate entities, all jostling for space and resources for no explainable reason. That’s a pretty bleak worldview. No wonder there are such high levels of mental health issues in modern industrialised societies!

What Jude Currivan and other scientific researchers are now showing, however, is that everything in the universe is made up of recurring patterns, relationships and purpose. We see the same patterns between elements at an atomic and molecular level that we see between planets and stars at a cosmic level. The way galaxies develop in terms of density of matter is mirrored in the way cities grow in population density. The distribution in the severity of earthquakes across the world (in terms of frequency and strength) exactly matches the distribution in the severity of human armed conflicts (in terms of destruction and deaths). We are now starting to produce scientific evidence for what ancient human cultures have known for thousands of years: that we are all connected, with each other and the natural world, and that there is organisation, purpose and consciousness behind those connections.

And if we are all connected, all part of a common whole, then we should surely treat the other parts of that whole with respect. That means respect for each other but also respect for every part of the incredible miraculous world that we live in. After all, if we’re all part of a larger whole then if we bring disharmony to another part of that whole then we are ultimately harming ourselves.

Cooperation

Now, I’m not suggesting that competition is somehow unnatural or unhealthy, an outdated impulse that we need to eradicate from human behaviour. Nothing could be further from the truth. Competition is a vital and fundamental part of our makeup that produces immense benefits for both ourselves and the world we live in. It’s part of who we are and what we do.

But it’s not all we are, very far from it. Our success as a species owes a lot more to our ability to cooperate than it does to our ability to outcompete one another. We’re certainly not the biggest, strongest, fastest or most ferocious animal on the planet. Perhaps we’re the most cunning, but the attribute that sets us apart and has enabled us to dominate the world is our capacity for cooperation on a massive scale and, furthermore, our ability to do so with others outside our own family group.

Cooperation is a fundamental part of our biological makeup. Jonathan Haidt, in his seminal book, The Righteous Mind, describes humans as “90 per cent chimp and 10 per cent bee.” The “bee” element refers to what he calls the “hive switch” which is our “ability to transcend self-interest and lose ourselves in something larger than ourselves.” This switch seems to be triggered by a special situation where the wellbeing of the group is suddenly considered more important than our own individual needs. Haidt cites a variety of situations where this can occur, from soldiers risking their lives for each other in battle to collective, ecstatic singing and dancing to a feeling of such awe in nature that individuals have reported suddenly becoming aware of their own part within a greater whole. What these situations have in common is a strong sense of shared purpose amongst the participants that triggers the hive switch in them. The ensuing experiences are often described as some of the most profound, meaningful and fulfilling moments in these people’s lives.

If we could just trigger this “hive switch” on a larger scale in relation to the climate crisis then this could be the catalyst for galvanising humanity and focusing the energies we need to solve our problems and make the changes we need to make. But what that will require is to get past the fear, the shaming, the doom and gloom, and really fire up people’s imaginations, properly enthuse them, and make everyone feel that we can do incredible things if we all work positively together.

So, given the importance of cooperation to human beings, why on earth would we design systems of society based almost exclusively on competition? The modern capitalist system is based on a “Me First,” individualist culture that teaches us all that we’ve “got to be the best, better than the rest.” The resulting society is completely dysfunctional, careering towards self-destruction and climate disaster with massive inequalities and huge mental health issues, including amongst the supposed ‘winners' in the system.

We need to change the narrative. We need to put cooperation back at the heart of our cultures, balance it with a healthy and controlled degree of competition and develop a respect for all the other inhabitants and entities on this planet (both human and non-human).

Hope

Hope is perhaps the single most important ingredient in bringing about widespread positive change. Human beings need hope in order to strive into the future with confidence. Without it, we all find ourselves living in fear, and currently too much of the world is operating from a place of fear — fear of Covid; fear of climate change; fear of economic or social collapse; fear of ‘the other,’ whether that’s related to nationality, race, gender, politics or any other group that we choose to identify with; even fear of ourselves, and what we might find if we step off the treadmill, block out the distractions and actually take a look inside and ask who we are and what we really want. Ultimately what we’re all afraid of is the unknown.

But the unknown is exactly where the opportunities lie. If we can just flip everybody’s fear over and transform it into hope then the future can look amazingly exciting rather than paralytically scary. What a privilege and a thrill it could be to live through a time when we create a whole new world order using everything that humans have learnt over many thousands of years. To be part of an era when human beings merge their incredible advances in knowledge and technology with a renewed stewardship of Earth’s natural resources and a newfound respect for one another would absolutely remarkable. And it is possible if we can move from a place of fear to a place of hope. Give people hope and we’ll make things happen. Give people hope and we’ll unlock a brighter future.

Gratitude

If there’s one value that I would add to the list above, in light of what I’ve learnt over the last year, it would be gratitude. This is a recurrent theme in the wisdom of Indigenous cultures across the globe. For many thousands of years, humans lived in union with nature, mindful of our place within the ecosystem and thankful for the gifts that mother nature had bestowed on us. It is only in the very recent history of the human species that we have convinced ourselves that we are somehow separate from each other and the world around us. And that every other entity in the world is to be interacted with for our own benefit.

There are now shamefully few Indigenous elders left in the world. Over the last few centuries their cultures have been decimated by the descendants of white Europeans and their narrative of separation from nature and isolation of the soul. But now our world is crumbling because of that narrative and we need to listen to the wisdom of the Indigenous elders.

What they seem to be saying, whether they are North American, South American, African, Asian, Australian, Polynesian or from any other corner of the world where an Indigenous culture has managed to endure Western colonisation, is that humans have lost their sense of place in the world. We’ve lost our connection with each other. We’ve lost our connection with nature. We’ve lost our sense of humility, that we are part of a bigger whole. And we’ve lost our sense of gratitude for what we have and the wonder of life.

If we truly appreciated these things and lived our lives from a position of gratitude then the world would be transformed. We would see the benefit of balance in our lives. We would respect our place in the world and the role and value of every other living being around us. We would work together with each other and our environment to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future. We would have confidence in what we were doing and where we were going and that would give us hope. And for all this, we would be eternally grateful.

Thank you for reading this and engaging with these thoughts.

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Bringing people together from around the world to discuss solutions to the climate crisis and to build a collective vision for a better tomorrow.

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Faron Sage

Faron Sage

Socially-conscious writer & musician exploring pressing issues at the heart of 21st century life. Check out https://faronsage.org - music for a better world!

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