“Are you alone?” Ida asks Jake Gittes, who’s played by a young Jack Nicholson. He replies “Aren’t we all?”. Deep. This is, of course, a quote from Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown. Nicholson, who plays an investigator finds himself in dark and seedy Chinatown, where the crimes include murder and incest. However, this is all overshadowed by the menacing control that the wealthy exercise over the town’s people, mainly through the control of the town’s water.
Initially drawn into Chinatown to investigate a case of a cheating husband, Gittes finds himself uncovering a larger conspiracy to buy up San Fernando Valley by depriving the orange growers of water. Chinatown was a compelling depiction of the greed and evil of the wealthy elite. Laced with deception and corruption where the idealistic are doomed for failure it is far from what is popularised as the American Dream. The idea of this corrupt world where the powerful prevail and the weak suffer seems like it’s a made for screen movie where the underdog is backed to eventual triumph. However, it’s closer to reality than you think.
Environmental activist Vandana Shiva, lovingly referred to as the ‘Ghandi of Grain’ is one of the most prominent voices in the anti-GMO movement. For those who are not familiar, a GMO is a genetically modified organism. These are plants, animals and organisms that have been modified in a laboratory to produce disease and bug resistant qualities, amongst others. While this can seem harmless and in theory a great idea, GMOs are said to aid in the development of cancer and climate change. Some GMOs are reportedly worse than others. In fact, some studies suggest that they have no ill effects at all. But, when looking at any research about anything, we should be mindful of who is providing the funding.
Shiva works tirelessly to promote biodiversity claiming that it could benefit local and global economies by increasing output and local income. In her book Oneness vs the 1%, Shiva argues that through globalised farming methods we are destroying soil quality and our living eco systems. Shiva also highlights the otherwise unpublicised ‘biopiracy’, which is the patenting of living life forms such as plants. Explaining that this control over seeds has meant that many Indian farmers have been forced into debt due to the lack of alternatives because of the monopolies these large companies execute. Poor soil quality, due to the introduction of chemicals, has meant that many farmers now have been pushed to suicide as they have no viable alternative. Shiva’s fight for seed freedom could be mistaken for a Roman Polanski film as it highlights corruption that is so often overlooked by the systems we create. You can’t help but be enraged. However unless there is a united effort you may as well “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown”.
In 2015 it was revealed that ExxonMobil scientists were briefing their executives since the 1970s that manmade global warming was real and that the main cause was burning fossil fuels. Climate activists created the hashtag #exxonKnew. This exposed a cover up spanning forty years that involved the allocation of millions of dollars on “public relations campaigns to confuse the press, the public and policymakers about the dangers posed by burning fossil fuels” writes Mark Hertsgaard for the Guardian. Hertsgaard writes that one planning document stated the aim was to “reposition global warming as theory, not fact”. As Hertsgaard lists the crimes committed by the oil companies from displacing and killing people across the world, the damage to the biodiversity and ecosystems, devastation of agriculture in already struggling areas of the world and of course the inhabitability of the planet resulting in uncertain futures for anyone who was born in the last decade, it leaves you wondering, why did they lie? Chris McGreal, who writes also for the Guardian, states that in “1979, an Exxon study said that burning fossil fuels “will cause dramatic environmental effects” in the coming decades. “The potential problem is great and urgent”. Surely these tycoons have children and grandchildren and people they care for. Surely someone couldn’t put their personal gain above the benefit of the survival of our species, right?
Human beings have the capability of turning a blind eye to anything. Short terms gains coupled with a distant threat of disaster create the perfect storm. Literally. The idea that a small group of people could put personal profit ahead of the planet seems to unthinkable, but it’s true.
So why don’t we care about climate change? This question really puzzles me, as human nature dictates that we are designed to stay alive. Thanks to pop psychology we are all familiar with the instinctive fight or flight response. Well, more recent research actually suggests that it’s fight, flight, freeze and… attend and befriend, but that’s way less catchy. Freeze, as the name suggests means that we just do nothing in the face of danger. If you, like me, live alone, you’ll be familiar with the terror of hearing an unfamiliar bump in the night. Likewise, attend and befriend is the instinct to make friends with our attacker, so that we will appeal to their batter nature and they will spare us. This may seem irrelevant, but it’s not, mostly. We all deal with threat in different ways and this manifests in all situations. It could explain why most of us know about the danger, believe that its happening and yet we are doing nothing about it.
David Ropeik, formerly of Harvard school of public health says that the research on the environment we are being shown lacks the ‘me component’. Stating that “nobody wakes up in the morning and looks at the longterm climate forecast… They ask what the weather is today, where I live, and how’s it going to affect me”.
The public were first made aware of the potential effects to the planet in 1988 when former Nasa scientist Jim Hanson announced his findings at a US congressional hearing. Since then emissions have continued to soar causing untold damage.
The stark reality of what is happening across the world is frightening. IN one video introduction to the Climate Crisis, made by Extinction Rebellion, the presenter dove into the overwhelming scientific evidence, they paused to address the very real need to grieve as the enormity of the information sinks in. Grieving practises are generally reserved in our culture for a loved one, so the idea of applying it to our planet, is a little confronting. I assume in retrospect because the implication is that our home is dying.
I’m using the word home deliberately, as it’s emotive. People wax lyrical about the meaning of home to them. Whether you’re Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Kevin McCallister or Michael Buble, the idea of home is important to us as it provides a safety and retreat from the rest of the world. The idea of home is different from our environment, it is a place where we belong. An attachment to a place which we call home eases a sense of longing within us. The ecology movement encourages us to develop an attachment to a place and to belong somewhere. This of course is not in the modern industrialised sense, but in the sense of community and a sense of identification with nature, as we often view our home as separate to the planet that it’s rolling around space on.
A home fulfils our most deep desires for security and shelter. Linked to our base Chakra, this need is viewed as our most primitive. Viewed in this way we can see the importance of a home and how its acquisition and our identification can shape our personality. A home too can have a personality, needs and wants of its own, as well as influencing our likes, dislikes and our views of the world outside of our boundaries. A place we inhabit and its naturalness interacts with us through weather and growth. As the cities creep into the country-side we often see the urbanised battle with nature and the natural world. The trimming and lawnification of the roadside banks represents a need for control over the creep of time. Our need to control our external worlds becomes reflective of the lack of control over our internal ones.
The High Court in Uttarakhand recently passed legislation stating that the Himalayan mountain ranges, glaciers, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, jungles , air, forests, meadows, dales, wetlands, grasslands and springs are living beings and legal entities with rights. There is a widespread belief in India that the Himalayas are living things, with many great peaks housing various temples named after deities. Believed to be the home of Lord Shiva, the mountains are believed to have a spiritual and cleansing energy. In Indian mythology Mena and Himavat are said to be the personification of the Himalayas and parents to Ganga, the river. The river Ganges rises in the Himalayas and is considered by many to be the epitome of Hinduism. Believed to purify one’s sins, millions pilgrimage to her banks each year.
The Ganges has become to victim of extreme pollution due to agricultural activity, sewage and industrial waste. The pollution of this river is said to be responsible for one third of the deaths from water-borne diseases and eighty percent of diseases, as many residents rely on the river to bathe in. The river has been proven to be thick with cancer-causing metals and poisons. In recent years billions have been invested to clear it, but sadly, despite its reverence, people feel little will be done. Priest Ashok Kumar stated glumly “The Ganges is our mother. There won’t be any future if she dies”.
In 1912 the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg, killing over 1,500 people. It became one of the most famous ships in history and etched into everyone’s minds thanks to its epic immortalisation on screen. What made this ship so interesting was not just because it was dubbed unsinkable, not just because it was said to have been foretold in a Morgan Robertson 1898 novel The Wreck of the Titan, but because the iceberg that the Titanic struck had drifted further than icebergs generally were known to drift. In fact, in pre-global warming times ships bumping into icebergs were somewhat unusual. Now, it’s becoming increasingly common.
Not only do the increasing number of icebergs knocking randomly around our sea put the serenity of our cruises in increasing risk, but every time a burg calves it changes the habitat of many artic animals. Most notably, everyone’s favourite white bear has been particularly inconvenienced. The polar bear, like many snow loving animals, in recent years have been them displaced. This puts them into closer proximity to people than they would prefer. Sadly, for these refugees who been dubbed “the poster child of climate change” by Dr Peter Molnar of the University of Toronto, it is now suggested that they will be completely wiped out by 2100.
The idea that polar bears are being forced to rummage through the bins of northern fast food joints is proving to be more of an inconvenience than an immediate concern. This is because we don’t think it's that important. That our concerns are more important. The idea that we are the only important living organisms on the planet - is terribly incorrect.
Our soil is also the thin layer of nutrients that covers our Earth. This tiny layer is responsible for growing all of the food that we consume on this planet and funnily enough, before we came along with all of our advanced agricultural practises, things grew just fine. Vandana Shiva stated that English botanist Sir Albert Howard arrived to India in 1905, to introduce his methods of agriculture. Upon his arrival he was shocked to discover sophisticated Indian farming methods that had sustained their agriculture for the last millennia. Howard complied a doctrine of his learnings called The Agriculture Testament, which spoke of the law of return and similar systems that encouraged biodiversity of trees, crops and animals on a farm. The idea is that the farm naturally creates the nutrients that are required not only for humans, but for the other species on the farm as well. The Earth naturally performs the law of return. We can see this in the natural fertilising properties that plants and animals have. Mechanistic Reductionism views the earth as a machine and ecology is now proving what farmers knew for the last ten thousand years.
The damage to our planet is happening on all fronts in the name of commercial expansion and economic growth. Biodiversity is being destroyed at a rate that we will never understand. The high cost of chemical farming has trapped many farmers in debt, as we have said, but they also have had a detrimental impact on our health. Pesticides are linked to hormone problems, Alzheimer's and cancer, as well as acute poisoning. People would be uncomfortable to know that the poisons that Hitler used, were repurposed, rather than destroyed, and are now used widely on our crops and agriculture. I don’t know what’s weirder, the fact these chemicals were used to decimate a whole population, less than a century ago and they are now being monetised en masse. Or that chemicals used in one of the greatest atrocities in history are now used on our food.
Seeds have recently become hot intellectual property. Vandana Shiva created seed banks, to preserve and promote seed biodiversity in her area. Shiva believes that recycling organic matter on the farm is one of the best weapons we have against climate change as the key to our climate is in the soil. Our productivity eclipses the creativity that the earth naturally holds. Climate resilient crops are being bought up by patent hungry companies, who aim to replace them with GMO products instead. This form of agriculture that is based on commercially beneficial science has created disease on the planet. It has led to seventy-five percent of our water systems being destroyed, seventy-five percent of our soil degraded, ninety-three percent loss in plant biodiversity, forty percent contribution to climate change and only for thirty percent of the food we eat.
Shiva believes that power must be evenly distributed throughout localised organisations. At the moment it is centralised and kept away from those at grass roots level. Stating that scarcity, competition and fear is the atmosphere of the capitalist environment, Shiva too believes we need to move to an era of abundance, sharing and co-creation which shapes our governments and democracies.
Fostering a reverence and a responsibility to the earth and all living beings will enable us to resist trying to control other species and our environment.This is the goal of Shiva’s movement. Likewise the Deep Ecology Movement is credited mainly to Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher who had a deep commitment to nature and non violence and believed that through deep ecology one can improve the quality of their life. Understanding early that the modern model of industrialisation threatens the planet’s systems, Naess believes that turning to the wisdom traditions will aid us in improving communication with each other, thus improving lives. Heavily involved in the structure of Norwegian society, Naess is locally adored for the equality and quality of life that Norwegian people enjoy today. Similarly to Shiva, Naess believes that problems with the planet are not just global, but exist at a local level as well.
The principles of this movement are simple which you can find detailed in The Ecology of Wisdom, where his personal philosophy, Ecosophy T features. This is his doctrine of ecological self realisation. They involve adopting an ecocentric world view, that values the Earth for the entity it is and not its resources, exploring the root causes of the ecological issues that we are having and our relationships to it and understanding that as humans we are all capable of identifying with the Earth and this in itself is a type of self development. These fundamental ideas lead us away from the isolated sense of Self to a universal and participatory world view that would not only benefit the planet but the individuals personal wellbeing. Naess believes that all living beings have equal right to live and thrive and that our self realisation is dependant on one another, just like the planet’s ecological systems. Symbiosis maximises our potential for self realisation as a whole and increases our potential to transcend little by little everyday.
This is where transpersonal ecology and psychology collide, as we can form an appreciation for both as being mutually beneficial. Essentially it is a call for a sense of self that encapsulates all of creation. According to Naess the challenge ahead lies in our choices and our ability to unite in the protection of the Earth and one another, or face our destruction. Changes to how we live, our values, institutions and our way of living are necessary but this requires a shift in society as it views development as the accumulation of material things.
Coming from Norway, Naess explained they name themselves after their farm or home place. The farms have characters and personality and are seen as living beings. Naturally Naess developed a deep love of the mountains, like the yogis have with the Himalayas and believes that ecological self that it is almost metaphysical. One ends up developing a sense of self that extends beyond the confines of our physical body, to the place where we are living. Naess feels that this sense of Self is developed as a result of maturing and that, while it does not diminish the ego, it encourages us to be less self centred. Identification shifts from survival to the needs of our home and community. Joy comes not from material consumption but from natural arising through harmony with nature.
It would be remiss of me to speak of Arne Naess and not mention that his son was married to Tina Turner. And, of course not explain that Norway is the eighth largest exporter of crude oil in the world. Research conducted by Kari Norgaard and cited in Marshall’s work on the attitudes of the Norwegians to climate change produced interesting results. Norway has a cultural identity, that of a small and humble nation that is steeped is myth and nature. Norway is both at the forefront of the climate movement yet are one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Norgaard believes that every Norwegian has a vested interest in their denial of climate change and have therefore put it outside the norms of their “norms of attention”; these are the topics of conversation that are acceptable and in keeping with the cultural identity. I feel this is an important element to address, although I still believe in the validity and purpose for which Naess speaks.
Naess says that in today’s society we do not identify with each other and the land and we could learn a lot from tribal cultures. Native American culture believes in living in harmony with nature and non interference with other traditions. Nature is intrinsically related with life, society and spiritual development. Shamans utilise the wilderness to engage in deep reflection to attain enlightenment. Vision Quests, isolation and starvation are all utilised by a Shaman to discover their life’s purpose. Sometimes, although this is mainly associated with Native American traditions, a Shaman may call on Spirit Animals to aid on their journey to self enlightenment.
The world has been largely conquered with over half of the Earth’s land occupied by housing and agricultural land. Surprisingly there are roughly 100 un-contacted tribes across the world with the majority of them in the Amazonian Rainforest. I am fascinated by these tribes as the idea that on the same planet as us and yet are untouched by society. Their isolation will have aided in a development of a worldview completely unlike ours. It’s amazing, I think you’ll agree, and they should be protected.
In recent years these tribes have come under increasing threat. Deforestation as a result of the 2020 fires and increased demand for agriculture has put these tribes’ simple way of life at risk. Many of the fires are believed to have been set intentionally by land grabbers and ranchers that require the space for animal agriculture and soy plantations to feed increasing demand from the West. Much of the soy that is grown here is not to feed us. It is grown to feed the food that we eat.
Un-contacted tribes live isolated from the outside world, relying completely on the forest and nearby waterways. Both have come under serious threat as a result of the recent fires which could have resulted in many being displaced from their homes and communities. One such community are the Awa people who live on the Bananal Island in Brazil. Once covered in forest, Bananal Island lost eight percent coverage as a result of the fires and today over 1,000 cattle are grazing this reclaimed land.
These tribes find themselves in the same position as so many animals which have been displaced as a result of deforestation. Despite only covering thirty-one percent of the earth’s surface, forests contain eighty percent of the biodiversity on the planet. Deforestation means that animals lose their habitat, their ability to find food and puts them in a vulnerable position living closer to people. Many of the animals that rely on the forests to live are critically endangered, such as the Orangutan, which shares 96% of our genes, Chimpanzees, Mountain Gorillas, Giant Pandas, Pygmy Sloth and Sumatran Rhino. Sadly these tribes and animals, since they don’t participant in our society seemingly don’t have the same rights to the land and their homes that we have. Neither do the trees that have been growing on this earth long before you and I were born. In saying that, climate change and the extraction of our resources are uprooting people from their homes and displacing millions.
Nature makes our existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions that are essential to our collective evolution. Community life depends on the well being of the planet, as does all of humanity. The global resources are finite and we should feel united in a common concern, as this effects all of us. Something has gone wrong that it doesn’t even factor into the awareness of most.
As a species we have all of the technology and resources to ensure a certain standard of living for all people, so that there is a humane and democratic world that doesn’t damage the planet.
The wisdom traditions such as Taosim, Buddhism, Shamanism which identify with nature could aid us to develop a deep reverence for all living beings. Cultivating the idea that the Earth has rights and we have an the obligation to care for her will not just benefit the planet, but benefit ourselves and future generations. Separation from ourselves, as we have seen, becomes insecurity and greed. This in turn reduces everything to pure data, meaning that we cannot cultivate connection with the world around us. It is imperative that we make connections that enable all of life to flourish and doesn’t deny the rights of others to do the same. Contemplating a world outside of ourselves will liberate us from our wants that can be so frustrating and dependant on the whims of society. Getting more and wanting more is not sustainable as the earth’s resources are not finite.
Naess suggested that one of the main problems with finding a remedy to our ecological crisis lies in how we communicate with one another. This subject/object dichotomy lacks a mutual language that makes the value proposition of two parties incompatible. A developer and a conservationist could look at the same forest and, due to their opposing realities, be incapable of grasping the other’s conscious experience. To the conservationist, he sees a forest that is a place of quiet and a home to wildlife. Whereas a developer sees a cluster of trees that would not be disrupted by the installation of a new road. One has to realise that the declarations of the characteristics we give to nature is descriptive, subjective and imaginary. They are not representative of the concrete characteristics of the objects themselves. They are internal and abstract structures that are more to do with how we view the world. Our description of the world cannot be described as its concrete contents. The object looks different depending on the perspective of the observer.
Warwick Fox gives a description of developing ecological consciousness that is akin to the experience of a seasoned meditator, “it is the idea that we can make no firm ontological divide in the field of existence”. Indeed meditation can cultivate an ecological consciousness. This is has been documented across the great traditions such as Buddhism, Taosim and Native American cultures. A deep meditative questioning will guide us to a self realisation, that as it develops, allows us to identify with other humans and eventually the non human world. We identify with the intrinsically Buddhist approach that all creatures have a right to live and parts of the whole. This is known as Biocentric Equality. Our wants expand from our obvious needs and extend to a fulfilment from the cultivation of a relationship with the environment and developing a healthy spiritual life. Positive non-violent movements are taking place like Shiva’s, such as the Chipco movement, that acts against deforestation in India. Likewise, fifty one year old monk Tasha Dorji has planted over five and a half thousand trees alone in Trashigang, just because he thinks that it is a good idea.
The Tao believes that there is a harmony and balance in nature and the universe and the industrial revolution has damaged the universal equilibrium. Unlike the material world that relies on technological advances to fulfil our human needs, the Earth provides simply for what is required for our spiritual growth. Natural resources are becoming scarce, which is calling for an evolution beyond technological development. Furthermore, most everyday people do not understand the systems that have been put in place to serve us and many feel that the abundance of possessions one has equates to an anxiety over how one can maintain them. Many are opting for Voluntary Simplicity, which involves consciously choosing to have fewer possessions and cultivating happiness outside of the confines of material terms. The constant hunt for abundance can leave many jaded, lacking satisfaction, enrichment and purpose. However, the opposite is shown to be true for those who consciously choose a simpler life. This movement creates a real evolutionary possibility in terms of spirituality and has potential to rectify some of the growth issues that caused this problem.