The ecological crisis is doing what no other crisis in history has ever done — challenging us to a realization of a new humanity.” Jean Houston
What does this new humanity look like? Is it a George Jetson style future with hybrid cars travelling on elevated monorails to paperless and wireless offices? Or is it a world where we can look at each other across a fence, or across species, and recognize our essential connections? Hopefully it’s a combination of both.
A lot of people are making an effort. Communities around the world have experimented with bike sharing systems over the last couple of decades. Abandoned bikes are refurbished and painted green. Bike stands are erected at strategic points around town along with a notice explaining that bikes can be used and left at any authorized Green Bike site. It’s a great idea that has run into a little snag. People keep stealing the bikes. The fleets of bikes disappear faster than they can be replaced. Many communities have abandoned the scheme because of the cost of replacing stolen bikes.
This dilemma is a parable for the environmental movement. Until there is a change in consciousness that reminds us that we are all in this together, and that stealing from another person or plundering the earth, is effectively stealing from ourselves, no green scheme will make any lasting difference. Until we have sustainable consciousness, no ecological program will ever be sustainable.
This is a profound spiritual tension. It’s part of the realization of a new humanity. Making green mainstream is the easy part. Creating a green consciousness is a much deeper challenge. But it is worth the effort, or should I say it’s worth the effortless effort. Once you tap into this connected consciousness, a perspective that includes all living things, as part of an evolutionary context, there is enormous care, but little struggle.
Over the last twenty years, the response to the ecological crisis has gone through many different stages. Each of them has involved this tension between creating superficial change and effecting lasting change. My earliest memory of the ecological crisis was around the hole in the ozone and dreaded aerosols. It was all fear and doom. Aerosols were used to scareosol to death. Then the focus shifted to recycling. Suddenly, the relatively easy process of dumping our trash in a bag and taking it out back became a science of its own. It felt like you had to be a chemist to know what plastic to put in which bin. Then the focus shifted to green consumerism, sustainable development, renewable energy, and hybrid cars. At each step along the way, there has been a sense of crisis and struggle that has eventually given way to mainstream acceptance. Where are we now? Eco-sensitivity has entered the mainstream.
This is awesome, and necessary, but it would be even better if the change took place as much on the inside as it has on the outside. Sustainable change requires both changed light bulbs, and it requires an inner light bulb to glow with the motivating realization that everything is related. Sustainable change requires both recycled materials and it requires waking up to the incredible realization that everything is part of one cycle of life and death. Change is the nature of life- all things change, but nothing fully dies. It just moves into another cycle of life and rebirth. This thought sparks a level of humility that could truly make a difference to the earth. As Carlin said, “the planet isn’t going anywhere. We are.” We can certainly damage the earth, but the greater damage will be to humanity and the greatest damage will be to our spirits and not our bodies. Our shortsightedness is already catching up with us. The earth will continue with or without us.
Religions are also getting serious about environmental issues but a quantum shift in consciousness is now needed. Green projects are some of the rare opportunities for conservative and liberal religious groups to work together. This is an awesome development. It would be even better if religions shifted the focus from the hereafter to the here and now, and sought a fresh realization of heaven on earth. Part of a sustainable consciousness is the understanding that the earth is a single, connected, living system, of which humans are a part. Recognizing this unity in diversity is good for your soul because it prevents you from becoming arrogant and superior which is likely one of the root causes of the ecological crisis.
Sustainable consciousness involves the delicate balance between enormous care and little struggle. Enormous care, because the small and large changes you make in your life DO make a difference. Little struggle because you know that the earth is a living system on its own journey of death and rebirth. To quote Carlin again,
“I don’t worry about the little things: bees, trees, whales, snails. I think we’re part of a greater wisdom than we will ever understand. A higher order. Call it what you want. Know what I call it? The Big Electron. The Big Electron… It doesn’t punish, it doesn’t reward, it doesn’t judge at all. It just is. And so are we. At least for a little while.”
Carlin was a prophet. At least he addressed one half of the equation- the humility and little struggle. Just don’t lose sight of the enormous care. One day we might look back and see that small practical changes like canvas shopping bags and small changes in consciousness like the realization of oneness have truly changed the world.
This earth day, remember that you are a part of a higher order, an incredible whole, the big electron, intimately related and significant. How could you not live with enormous care? Your actions make a difference. At the same time, respond without struggle, for you are part of an unfolding process that is infinitely larger than you or your efforts.