Today I was with old friends Catherine and George Cisneros of Urban15 in San Antonio, discussing the changing environment and the future of man. It was an important conversation, and I want to memorialize it here in my journal.
Earth is at a critical turning point, and therefore so are we. To be specific, we are reaching the climax of a very complex extinction event, the end of what I think could safely be called the Anthropic Interglacial. We spoke about Ferdinand Braudel’s epic masterpiece, the Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II, which chronicles the way changing weather affected human affairs in the region. We also discussed the climax of the Roman Empire, and how it was that a volcano that erupted in Nicaragua in 536AD led to the final collapse of the pagan religion and the disintegration of the Roman state in the western Mediterranean, and how all of this relates to what is happening now.
For the previous 300 years, the Romans had endured a series of plagues and barbarian invasions that the empire could not control. The pagan gods were seen as powerful protectors. After all, the empire had come about through their worship. Those gods were real to those people, and their power was unquestioned. Until the state built a series of roads, people began to travel as never before, and disease to spread in ways that had previously been unknown.
Man, interacting with his environment in ways that he didn’t fully understand, was bringing a catastrophe on himself.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The last straw came when the volcanic eruption led to famine. The next thing that happened was that the old Roman religion collapsed. It was replaced by Christianity, which in those days was functioning much like militant Islam does now. The old culture was destroyed and along with it centuries of human learning.
We must not let this happen again. But we are in a very similar situation, with one difference. In our secular world, there is no new religion to replace the old. Instead, when things like famine strike the developed countries, there is going to be rage and with it chaos. When people who have never known hunger begin to starve, they get mad. Furious.
An example is France in the 1780s. It was the most developed and most prosperous country in the world. There hadn’t been a famine in France in generations. The economy was managed by a prosperous and educated middle class. But then a persistent period of drought came along and people to whom starvation was inconceivable began to starve. The French Revolution was the result.
We are in a climate crisis, and it is just a question of time before it disrupts our economic life in some fundamental way. It could be drought, earthquakes, volcanic activity, fires, storms, floods–the list of dangers is long.
The question of the day was, ‘what is to be done when the crisis comes?’
It wasn’t a discussion about survivalism or other relatively useless practices, but rather about how to approach it as a community rather than as a series of warring tribes, in this case desperate ones. In other words how do we face the crisis co-operatively rather than competitively?
Historically, we have had little success with co-operative life. When we are asked to live this way, tend to lose our motivation. “To each according to his need, from each according to his ability” is a beautiful idea.
If only it worked. But there is a missing component that has made all the difference: it is love. Without love of the other as the self, community can never reach the level we need it to reach if we are going to surive. Instead, you get the grim reality of things like the brutal attempts of the communist states of the 20th century to force people to work without invidual incentive.
Real community does not suppress the individual, it celebrates the individual and the place of the individual in the whole.
We are entering a time in which individual welfare is going to be absolutely dependent on community welfare. If we don’t live co-operatively, in the end we are not going to survive.
Some people will continue on for a while. Some are already planning their retreats. This is why wealthy Americans own property in places like the high plains of central South America. Places like Paraguay are going to be sheltered from much of the chaos, at least for a time. It is also why so many people have been buying property in New Zealand that the government has put serious restrictions on foreign ownership.
But climate change is going to be a worldwide affair. There won’t be any real hiding places. For example, the last time there was a sudden temperature spike such as could be on the point of happening now, it was caused by the release of huge quantities of methane gas that are stored in hydrates along the continental shelves. The hydrates melt when the water temperature around then exceeds 47 degrees Fahrenheit. As the oceans continue to warm, this will inevitably happen. When it does, the centers of most continental land masses will become too dry to support farming, and many areas will be too hot for human beings to survive.
Under such circumstances, people are going to be literally beside themselves. Frantic. Clawing for safety wherever they can find it. Eating whatever they can get.
Or maybe not. Maybe there is another way. And this is where the great message of the visitors comes it—always remembering that we are all “them” and they are all “us.” Talk about communities: the community of consciousness is universal, and intelligent life is its leading and guiding edge, and we are all part of that.
Their message is that human beings have souls and physical life is about making them strong. And how do we do that? We follow the ancient and universal dictum that lies beneath the trappings of all the major religions with their rituals and their politics: to live by love, compassion and humility, but without the power games that characterize organized religion.
In our everyday lives, we are aware of the needs of others. Some of us deny those needs and others try to help. But in the time that is coming, more will be essential to our survival. We are going to have to go beyond simply accepting the needs of others. We are going to have to love the needs of others with the same fervor that we love our own.
When I am hungry, I love my hunger. I strive to satisfy it, and if I can’t, I will eventually become desperate.
In the past, that sort of desperation isolated us. In the coming time, it is going to have to bring us together as never before. We are going to have to see the needs of others as part of our own need, and learn to live in a state of general love for others that is exactly the same as our present love for ourselves.
I cherish me because I am all I have. To survive as a species and save our home—our only home, we have no other and no other will be given to us—we are going to have to expand our hearts to include everybody else and ultimately all other creatures in this equation. I cherish me because I am all I have, yes, but I also cherish us because we are all we have.
It was a beautiful conversation and, I suspect, the beginning of what is going to become a critical part our effort to save this miracle of a planet and all who live upon it.