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Collective Consciousness and Climate: Change the Story

humanity-navigating-the-universe

Humanity learning to navigate the universe. Credit: Johannes Plenio

Man-made climate change is a symptom. To understand the cause of it, we must first understand something invisible, fundamental, and powerful about our species.

We must become aware of humanity’s superpower.

History tells us that we, homo sapiens, were somewhere in the middle of the food chain for most of our existence. Insignificant – about as impactful as jellyfish. Contrary to popular belief, it was not our big brains, tools, or mastery of fire that brought us to the top – no, our fellow human species (and yes there were several) had those things too.

What it was – what makes us special, is our ability to imagine, create, and believe in ideas that have no basis in reality. Think: nations, religion, corporations, money.

As Yuval Noah Harari says, “We can create and believe fictional stories. And as long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms, and the same values.”

This ability to collectively believe in ideas, to create stories and fictitious entities that we’ve never seen, touched or smelled allowed us to cooperate flexibly with countless numbers of strangers so that we could work together towards common goals.

This is our superpower.

It’s the collective stories we tell ourselves and believe in that makes us so powerful. It’s the stories and ideas we’ve made up and built upon for centuries that not only allow us to organize and cooperate but are the very foundation of the society we’ve built over time.

Remember that. Our stories were the blueprint, and are now the foundation for the society we’ve built.

Here’s a quick parable to segue into why this matters:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”

The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

As David Foster Wallace explained, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

Society’s “water”, the most important reality to be aware of today is this:

We live in a world built on the stories and beliefs of the past. And that world – the system we live in, does not work anymore.

We know this because the laws of nature are telling us that it is impossible to continue living on Earth as we do today. The conditions that make civilization possible are disappearing before our eyes.

And we only have a small window of time to tell new stories – to rebuild a new system that can support us.

To get on the right track, we must first see the water. We must be conscious of where we stand, why we’re here, and where we need to go. That means identifying the root of the problem and taking action to correct it.

So what exactly are society’s stories that led us astray?

 

1. The widespread belief that we are separate from, and better than, nature.

You don’t have to know much about history and science to know that this belief is inaccurate. Yet, it is ingrained in the fabric of our society – it’s even in our dictionaries.

We, by definition, are nature (a part of it anyway).

We are made of stardust, just like everything else in the universe.

And we are biologically related to all other life on Earth. We are all a family.

Everything is interconnected. We depend on a stable climate and other life to flourish. To think otherwise is not only wrong but dangerous.

Take your own body for example. Did you know that 90% of “your” cells aren’t human? We rely on countless other species to function every day (just as they rely on us).

And so it is with society. Whether we realize it or not, we need a healthy biosphere to survive and thrive. We cannot do it alone.

Nature, our environment, is our life support system. If we believe we don’t need nature and are willing to pollute and destroy it, we are only harming ourselves.

It is time to become more conscious of this interdependent reality and code it into future systems.

 

2. Profit and corporations > people and planet

This one’s simple. Somewhere along the way, we got lost.

Today, short term profits matter most. We value GDP and quarterly earnings over people, health, education, and justice.

We’re told the economy matters more than the people’s wellbeing it’s supposedly an indicator of.

We created money, government, and corporations. We made them so that they could serve us – not the other way around.

It’s time for a new story where these fictitious entities actually do serve the people.

 

Climate change is the symptom

It’s the symptom of not seeing the water we swim in every day. It’s the symptom of old stories gone wrong.

To fix it, we need a massive uprising in collective consciousness and active citizenship.

You and I are the last ones with a chance to do anything about the climate crisis. We have the opportunity to save millions of lives and create a safer, healthier, and more just world.

But changing the narrative and stopping global warming will require a heroic effort by millions and millions of people.

Lucky for us, as society’s stories and values begin to change, heroes won’t look like they used to.

They’ll look like you do.

 

 

This post originally featured in the What on EARTH?! sustainability newsletter.

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