“The major problems in the world,” Gregory Bateson said, are in “the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”
More and more, I’m seeing people that are grappling with the climate challenge pursue this kind of Batesonian inquiry.
The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.
Paul Hawken, in conversation with Joel Makower at last month’s GreenBiz event (video):
We have to ask ourselves — and I really mean this — is climate change happening to us or for us. Because if it’s happening to us, then we’re victims. And if we’re victims, that means that some other part of humanity is “other,” and we’re cut off.
And that is not what life teaches us. What life teaches us is that our destiny — and, literally, who we are — is absolutely inseperable with all living beings. And that in there is the grace and the beauty and the insight with which we can create transformation.
It doesn’t mean you ignore the data, it doesn’t mean you whistle past the graveyard of the science. It just means, as Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful though you know the facts.”