Climate, Consciousness and Action

Given the intimate connection of their lifestyles to their ecosystems, indigenous peoples who live on lands close to uranium mining, gas drilling and other sources of pollution are most vulnerable to climate change, destruction of biodiversity and livelihood.
10/03/2013 10:00 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Released on Sept. 27, 2013, the latest Assessment Report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reaffirms anthropogenic global warming to be "unequivocal", calling for "substantial and sustained reductions" of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, studies by many other scientific bodies warn that due to global warming we are likely to see more environmental catastrophes in the future, such as severe drought, torrential rain, violent storms. earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions in the years ahead. The worsening situation compels us to raise our consciousness and engagement toward ecological sustainability.

Climate change is already taking a human toll. Given the intimate connection of their lifestyles to their ecosystems, indigenous peoples who live on lands close to uranium mining, gas drilling and other sources of pollution are most vulnerable to climate change, destruction of biodiversity and livelihood. Indigenous communities in Alberta, Canada, for example, fear that extraction of tar sands and the building of the Keystone XL pipeline will contaminate groundwater, pollute the air, and create massive health problems.

Time and again, governments have failed to impose the environmental and social criteria necessary for environmental sustainability and human well-being, which have been ignored in favor of unbridled economic growth. Military activity is also responsible for a large proportion of natural resource consumption and environmental and social collapse. The military's heavy use of jet fuel is a major source of carbon emissions worldwide, and the Pentagon, estimated to be the "largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general," is exempt from all international climate agreements, including the Kyoto Protocol.

At the root of the climate crisis is the disjuncture between the exponential growth of the market economy and the lack of an equivalent development in ethics and morality. Our challenge today is not merely political but social: we must examine how we conduct ourselves personally and collectively toward the environment and towards each other. Climate change, sustainability, and well-being are in fact ethical issues, which demand a transformation of consciousness and action from domination to partnership.

Domination is based on a psychology of dualism, which cultivates the mistaken belief that the self is entirely separate and in opposition to the other. Today, "ego consciousness" and its ethics of individualism, domination, and competition is the driving force at the personal level as well as at the societal levels of nations, ethno-religious groups, and in how humans relate toward other animal and life forms. Philosophers and activists across religious faiths concur that this myopic consciousness is leading to massive destruction of the environment, widening economic disparities, and social conflicts.

The essential foundation of sustainability and well-being, however, is not a mindset of competition and domination, but of unity and partnership. The alternative to ego consciousness is a universal consciousness based on a psychology of interdependence. This higher consciousness understands the other, be it human or non-human, as an extension of the self, and the well-being of self and other as inherently interdependent. It contributes to an ethics of generosity, compassion, and partnership towards the other including the future generations. The need now is not so much for all individuals to reach a universal consciousness, but for more and more individuals and society as a whole to focus on our moral and ethical values instead of our worst fears and insecurities.

The partnership paradigm helps us to transcend the dehumanizing effect of excessive interaction with technology, materialism, and bureaucratic regimentation. It helps us tap into the essential equality of all human beings over our diversity and differences. The desire for this kind of planetary solidarity lies within all of us, even the most disillusioned. As they watched the heartbreaking images of the Asian tsunami in December 2004, Hurricane Katrina, and other environmental disasters, many people felt compassion for the suffering of the other and a greater human closeness and unity. Our challenge is to bring this consciousness into everyday life. It is in this sense that the crisis facing the world is fundamentally personal and spiritual more than political or intellectual.

Recently the world has seen an unprecedented wave of environmental activism. The activism of indigenous people of Alberta against the Keystone pipeline in particular is grounded in the wisdom and compassion of partnership. The activism of environmentalists and residents of the states along the path of the Keystone pipeline in North America is putting pressure on the political elite and has already caused several delays in the pipeline. Indeed, the shift towards a sustainable and ethical path of development comes from heightened consciousness of the reality of ecological collapse and greater political engagement and empowerment of ordinary people.