Tao and Climate Change

The other day a colleague was wearing a badge about supporting ” Climate Change” and I flippantly commented that I was a sceptic. later on reflection, I was forced to reconsider that statement and I wrote this  to her: 
“I am more a sceptic than a denialist in actuality – Climate change is a fact  – it always has been!
 I am currently reading Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and he documents the visible evidence of the changes that have taken place over immense spans of time and as well as those that happen very suddenly and cause immense shifts to  topography and climate on a vast scale enough to wipe out hundreds of species through natural causes, volcanoes, earthquakes etc, as well as devastating changes to landscapes also on a vast scale caused by mans indiscriminate clearing of forests and the unwitting introduction of alien species in South America – this in 1832!

My skepticism relates not to the incontestable fact that we as a species have overrun the Earth and caused the massive changes that we now see to every square centimeter of the Earths surface, in space and in the oceans, but that like a virus, that even though it is aware of its effects in killing its host it will too die, is unable to stop itself from fulfilling its nature, which is to expand at an uncontrollable rate till all its food is exhausted!

if  you read Collapse by Jared Diamond – the story of the civilizations that have come and gone like the Easter Islanders, The Mayans etc all appear to have perished from exhausting their sources of food and thus survival.
Or the evidence as documented by Landscape Architect Casey Brown of PREx in his Rome scholarship of 47 economic crashes from Roman times through the Renaissance  up to the present day including the great depression etc and in all civilizations –  caused, in his view,  by reckless land speculation and the exhaustion of productive cultivatable land in Roman times, due to its sacrifice for short term profits – he postulates that this behavior is innate in humans and is key to their survival to date – but at various times it results in the near complete loss of the civilisation and its plunge into cronic chaos before it is able to rise from the ashes once again and reach even greater height of booms and their resultant  accompanying deeper bust!   Terragrams – Casey Brown of PREX
I have no belief in our ability individually or as a collection of individuals in a civic society, be it a city, a nation-state or collectively as “the Earth” to effect any major changes to our innate nature – which is the maintenance of our “selfhood” this is the holy grail of all our endeavors – “what’s in it for me” all talk of securing our future for “our children” etc is negated when put to the test – they come to nothing compared to saving ourselves from pain and suffering or satisfying our need for comfort and our greed.

In any case the idea that “we” decide anything is refuted by current neuroscience ( read Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eaglemann to learn the latest insights of Neuroscience about who, or whom, we really are )  as it is by all eastern philosophies in the words of John Gray ,  Prof of European Thought at the London School of Economics  (in Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and other Animals)  ” We think our thoughts express our decisions. But in nearly all our life , willing decides nothing. We cannot wake up or fall asleep, remember or forget our dreams, summon or banish our thoughts, by deciding to do so…. Our acts are the end points in long sequences of unconscious responses . They arise from a structure of habits and skills that is almost infinitely complicated. Most of our life is enacted without conscious awareness. Nor can it be made conscious . No degree of self-awareness can make us self transparent.”

We seek the “good life” endlessly and at all times – we are fixated on the gap between what is and what ought to be – unlike the Taoists of China who see no gap between is and ought – to whom the good life comes from acting spontaneously – which to them means acting dispassionately  on the basis of an objective view of the world. In this view ..”the common man cannot see things objectively, because his mind is clouded by anxiety about achieving his goals. Seeing clearly means not projecting our goals on the world; acting spontaneously means acting according to the needs of the situation.”says Gray. In the words of Chuang-tzu: ” I enter with the inflow, and emerge with the outflow, follow the Way of the water, and do not impose my selfishness upon it. This is how I stay afloat in it.

So what can we do in the face of our mortality? As I see it , if we are aware of our insignificance in the face of a large forces that move Kings and presidents and the common man, the wind and the water, then acting locally by dispassionately observing  the forces as they act , by looking as far as possible with a “macro-scope” at  these forces at play, by practicing and honing our ability to remain in balance , we will be ready to act when the opportunity presents itself – thus the paradox of action is, to paraphrase words of Stephen Covey “the more we are in control of our selves (in control means relinquishing desire to control the external world and reducing the impulsive behavior of responding to the stimuli of the world)  the greater our influence will be in the world! The right action or inaction will present itself to us according to our ability and influence.
I believe that , on the whole these are not large scale actions like climate change seminars or the actions of politicians or bureaucrats , but more local actions that affect us at a much smaller scale as I once saw written on a wall in Woodstock “If everyone helped his neighbor- who would be without help
I have yet to live up to this simple precept – I am too busy with my demands on the world and lost in anxiety that my desires will not be met.
So if in this world there is something that moves you to act- and with reflection you can’t avoid acting – and ideas stream out as to what it is we need to do then  go for it – otherwise waiting, observing and contemplating are also actions that are worthy of the Tao.
I hope this stream of thoughts, that your comment on climate change made me voice, has not bored you and if it did, I hope you stopped reading long ago – I had fun writing it.”

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