Climate Revelations

Art: Jim Nollman
Art: Jim Nollman

ONE DAY, a man named Walter Bennett walked into my Aspen, Colorado, office holding a laptop. He was in his mid- to late fifties, with a graying crew cut, wearing khakis and a button-up shirt. He looked like, and described himself as, a west-Texas redneck. His younger (second) wife accompanied him, saying little. As we chatted, Walter mentioned that his daughter had just given birth to a baby boy — a grandson. Walter reminded me of the aging, Cheney-esque board members I’d been hoping would die off so we could actually start doing something on climate change. But that was exactly what he wanted to talk about. He set down his laptop and hooked it up to a projector.

“Do you mind if I show you this presentation I’ve prepared for my senior management?"

“No problem,” I said, thinking, Get me out of here. This is going to hurt.

I’m a climate guy. I work for a ski resort, Aspen Skiing Company, where my title is “sustainability director.” In theory, I work to address all aspects of the resort’s environmental impact, from weed control to cage-free eggs, from taking calls about new technologies to handling attacks about what a bunch of hypocrites we are. It’s fun. I enjoy it. But, to be brutally honest, I don’t care that much about those subjects. Twenty years ago, I took my first course in climate science. The news I read today is essentially the same. And I believe two things: First, to quote ABC newsman Bill Blakemore, “climate isn’t the story of our time; it’s the only story.” Second, it seems obvious that a ski resort should both care deeply about climate change and also be in the vanguard of solving it.

Because my job is high profile, people often ask to meet with me about climate, sustainable business, and the environment. That’s what Walter Bennett was doing. Walter works for Stihl (pronounced “steel”), the German chainsaw manufacturer. We have a partnership with them. They support free-skiing competitions, and we use Stihl saws on our mountains to cut trails. I didn’t expect much from the meeting. After all, we’re talking about a chainsaw manufacturer here. But after Walter got his projector set up, he clicked a button and proceeded to blow my mind.

He had prepared an hour-long multimedia event on climate change, complete with country music overlays, video clips, and charts and graphs, that rivaled any presentation I’d seen from experts in the field, nonprofit heads, and climate PhDs. It got the science exactly right, the challenges, and some of the solutions. Walter’s goal was to convince Stihl that it should begin to take action on climate change, in concert with its efforts to develop cleaner burning chainsaws and other power tools.

When Walter was done, I sat in silence. Finally, I asked, “Walter, if you don’t mind my asking . . . what was it that moved a self-professed west-Texas redneck to care about climate change at all, let alone try to change an entire corporation’s perspective on the issue? You don’t really fit the mold of someone who would do this.”

Walter said: “Holding my grandchild — holding that little baby in my hands. . .” His voice trailed off. I thought he was going to cry.

WALTER’S EXPERIENCE, I believe, is being lived throughout the country, throughout the world, because climate change is a threat the likes of which our society has never seen. Unlike some earlier predictions of doom from environmentalists (the population bomb, for example), this one has uniform scientific agreement. Climate change is happening, and it will get worse. The best science — represented by Rajendra Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and James Hansen at NASA — tells us we have to act in the next few years to cut carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by midcentury, or the planet will be unrecognizable by end of century.

And yet, somehow, we don’t seem to be able to engage this monster adequately. While Aspen Skiing Company has developed a worldwide reputation as a green company, our energy use keeps increasing, despite herculean efforts to reduce it. Not only are other businesses struggling in the same way, but also most of the nations that signed the Kyoto Treaty are missing their targets. Why? Because our society is entirely based on cheap energy. We can’t just retool it overnight. Solving climate change is going to be a bitch.

Given the extreme challenges we face in implementing solutions — whether trying to make mass transit work, fixing the problem of existing buildings, building enough renewable energy to power our operations, or driving federal action on climate policy — it’s worth asking the question: what will motivate us to actually pull this off? How will we become, and then remain, inspired for the long slog ahead? Because this battle will take not just political will and corporate action; it will require unyielding commitment and dedication on the part of humanity. We need to literally remake society.

We can intellectualize the need for action all we want, but in my experience, in the end our motivation usually comes down to a cliché: our kids and, for want of a better word, our dignity. The journalist Bill Moyers has said, “What we need to match the science of human health is what the ancient Israelites called ‘hocma’ — the science of the heart. . . the capacity to see. . . to feel. . . and then to act. . . as if the future depended on you. Believe me, it does.”

Moyers, who is an ordained Baptist minister, taps into something positively religious about the possibilities in a grand movement to protect the Earth. Climate change offers us something immensely valuable and difficult to find in the modern world: the opportunity to participate in a movement that, in its vastness of scope, can fulfill the universal human need for a sense of meaning in our lives. A climate solution — a world running efficiently on abundant clean energy — by necessity goes a long way toward solving many, if not most, other problems too: poverty, hunger, disease, food and water supply, equity, solid waste, and on and on.

Climate change doesn’t have to scare us. It can inspire us; it is a singular opportunity to remake society in the image of our greatest dreams.

WHAT ARE THOSE DREAMS? The concept of an ideal society has been a core element in human thought for all of recorded history. In 1516, Thomas More wrote about a kingdom called Utopia off the coast of the recently discovered Americas; in doing so, he brought the concept of an ideal society out of the realm of religious faith and the afterlife and into the world of the living. For centuries, that utopian ideal had been called by different names but had always existed in some other world: the Garden of Eden, Paradise, the Land of Cockaigne. More’s idea that such a place might exist here on Earth was radical, but it came from the same yearning for meaning and betterment that has always driven human beings to new heights. One of the great and hopeful concepts of human history, it carried itself into the present: from the settling and then founding of America and all its promise; to the vision behind Kennedy’s City on a Hill and Johnson’s Great Society; to Martin Luther King, who said that he might not get there with us, but he had seen the Promised Land.

The absence of that vision is despair.

Barry Lopez has written, “One of the oldest dreams of mankind is to find a dignity that might include all living things. And one of the greatest of human longings must be to bring such dignity to one’s own dreams, for each to find his or her own life exemplary in some way.” This longing is a fundamental aspect of human experience. In my work, I see it on a daily basis, in people like Walter Bennett, in the hundreds of college graduates looking for work in the field of sustainability, in people all over the world.

Recently, I received the following e-mail from Bob Janes, an Alaskan tour guide I had met in 2007:

Greetings from Juneau, Auden,

. . .My interests are being drawn more and more towards the global warming issue (whose aren’t?). I am able to involve myself both personally and in a business capacity now and into the future, but am definitely in the dark on a specific course . . .

Do you believe one can actually find a way to earn a bit of a living in this emerging (crisis?), and at the same time go home at night and let the kids know that something good is being accomplished? My business sense tells me there are many grand opportunities, but the field seems to be a tempting invitation to intrusive species and interests. What is reality? What will stand the test of time?

When you get a chance, Auden, could you drop me a line with some thoughts and possible information links . . .


In a note dashed off after work or between tours in the mayhem of a busy day, Bob was asking some of the most basic, consistent, and profound questions humanity has struggled with. And when I tried to pinpoint exactly what Bob was talking about, I ended up with words that didn’t square with the biology background I have, or the empirical perspective the field of sustainability and climate has historically followed. The words I found to describe Bob’s goals came from the religious community — words like grace, dignity, redemption, and compassion. And it occurred to me that the environmental, political, and business worlds, in their discussion of climate change and its solutions, have been missing something fundamental.

There have been scores of books published on climate change and sustainable business over the last two decades. Most come from the secular academic or left-leaning environmental community, or they come from the free market–crazed economists at right-wing think tanks. It’s either pure science or pure economics. Few of these books address the broader, seemingly glaring point that no such holistically encompassing opportunity as climate change, nothing with so great a promise to achieve universal human goals on so large a scale, has been offered up since the establishment of large, organized religions between two and four thousand years ago. The vision of a sustainable society, with its implications for equity, social justice, happiness, meaning, tolerance, and hope, embodies the aspirations of most religious traditions: a way of living at peace with each other, the world, and our consciences; a graceful existence; a framework for a noble life. Most religions originally evolved to meet a basic human need for community, understanding, and mission. Religion, in its original intent, and the sustainability movement seem to be sourced from the same ancient human wellspring.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many have come at sustainability, and in particular the climate struggle, with an almost religious fervor? And that many prominent leaders of this movement — leaders like Al Gore, Sally Bingham, Bill Moyers, and Richard Cizek — are either ordained or educated in theology? Indeed, many critics of environmentalism and the current climate “crusade” point out the avid, zealous enthusiasm behind the movement, as if to say, “What a bunch of wackos.”

But religion has been one of the most important forces shaping society throughout history. If there are some very clear parallels between the goals of most religious traditions and the goals of a sustainable society, how is it possible to talk about huge philosophical issues that cut to the core of human desire — like climate change, which threatens the very nature and existence of life on Earth — without talking about . . . God?

MY INQUIRY into religion and climate change began through conversations with my friend Mark Thomas, who was at the time studying for a degree in theology at Berkeley. Mark once said, “To think God is some old guy sitting in a chair, you’d have to be insane.” As a member of no religious practice and a lifelong atheist who always felt religion was absurd, the idea was liberating to me. I was guilty of viewing religion in the most simplistic terms.

When I talk about religion, I’m talking about its core founding principles, not what seems to be the bulk of popular modern religious practice in the U.S. As Bill McKibben has pointed out, in America, the evangelical agenda prominent in politics — with its unwavering focus on gay clergy, same-sex union, and abortion — has very little to do with the original teachings of any religious faith, let alone Christianity, despite the fact that roughly 85 percent of U.S. citizens call themselves Christian. He notes that three-quarters of Americans think the line “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible. But Ben Franklin said it, and the notion actually runs counter to the founding ideas of most religions, which focus explicitly on tolerance and helping the poor.

At the same time, the American religious community — even the most unmoored element — is on board with climate action. Leaders typically cite a biblical mandate regarding stewardship, describe Earth as “God’s creation,” and note Jesus’s commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” I believe this represents the beginnings of a seismic shift back toward core principles in religion, not contemporary distractions — a shift toward the original, more humble aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and away from making tax cuts permanent. In a way, this makes sense. As we move out of an unprecedented age of abundance and back into a world of scarcity, we are going to need these ideas of tolerance and human dignity that help people work together and coexist peacefully. We are going to need these ideas to solve climate change.

The sustainability movement, too, is arguably seeing a shift toward “core principles” in the sense that we’re less focused on the microscale and the individual (recycling, paper or plastic, self-righteous SUV-hating) and more focused on the collective (solving climate change as a social, economic, spiritual, and environmental effort).

To get a sense of what might be happening on the leading edge of religion — and how this evolution might relate to the climate struggle — I contacted two young progressive religious thinkers: my friend Mark Thomas, now Director of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care at Providence Hood River Hospital, and Rabbi David Ingber from New York’s Kehilat Romemu congregation. I asked them about Lopez’s “dignity that includes all living things.” In the process of listening to their responses, it became clear to me that Thomas and Ingber had a particular definition of “God” that informed their whole worldview. Further, it had nothing to do with my simplistic understanding of the idea of God. Let me explain.

Two distinct concepts of God have existed in parallel since the origin of religion. Theologian Marcus Borg explains them: Supernatural theism, he says, imagines God as a personlike being. Panentheism, however, “imagines God and the God-world relationship differently. . . . Rather than imagining God as a personlike being ‘out there,’ this concept imagines God as the encompassing Spirit in whom everything that is, is.”

Both Thomas and Ingber used this latter definition, what Father Thomas Keating, a leading thinker on the subject of contemplative prayer, calls the “isness” of the world, or “isness without boundaries.” In fact, after conversations with Buddhist leaders, Keating came to a description of God they could all agree on: “ultimate reality.” In this context you could also define God as what Lao Tzu called the Tao, or, simply, “the sacred.” Similarly, the Talmud says of God, “He is the place of the world; the world is not His place.”

When you talk about God as ultimate reality or the sacred, and if you see religion as a way of relating to the world in a dignified way — a broker for grace — then the religion discussion becomes much less charged. Nobody’s trying to get you to believe something ridiculous. Instead, we’re simply talking about a philosophy of living.

In response to my question about Barry Lopez’s “dignity,” Ingber and Thomas both described a faith that has the goal of bringing the natural world into harmony with people, bringing the divine to everyday experience. As Ingber writes, “Religion seeks (at its best) to illuminate our eyes, that is to actualize our capacity to realize, apprehend, see (with the eye of Spirit) that there is nothing but G-d, everywhere, now and always.”

The idea of the divinization of the world — of our lives — is a powerful and unifying concept tying together religion and the climate challenge. It means that it doesn’t matter what direction we come from; most people, religious or secular or something in between, can agree on common goals. An atheist might be envisioning an ideal society running on renewable energy, and others might have the same vision but see that as the true meaning of “God’s will be done” on Earth. Heaven must look like a sustainable society.

And yet, for someone like me, the question is, how do you talk about religious ideas, or use words like “grace” and “redemption” and “compassion” in a business context, which is all about return on investment (ROI), net operating income (NOI), cash flow, and year-on-year growth?

Aspen Skiing Company is a good case study. In 1994, our mission, though unstated, was to make money by selling lift tickets. That’s not very inspiring. Our incoming CEO at the time, Pat O’Donnell, tapping into the idea that people’s lives are, ultimately, a search for meaning, suggested that people won’t happily come to work each day to make money for the bossman. Instead, we needed a set of guiding principles that would be based in values, not profits, though business success could certainly become one of those values. What resulted was a core mission for the company that sounds radical to the point of froofiness: “We provide opportunity for the renewal of the human spirit.” Come to work to do that, and suddenly things change. Your mission as a company begins to evolve. We’re more successful than ever, but that’s in part because we’ve begun to see ourselves, and our mission, differently. Perhaps our role, in part, is providing safe, gratifying work to members of the community, creating fulfilling jobs about which people can be proud. Perhaps business can be graceful. If that transition is happening in one corporation, it can happen in others.

And the business community is indeed slowly moving in this direction. It started, in part, with books like Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce and his and Amory and Hunter Lovins’s Natural Capitalism. Their argument was that capitalism is wonderful, but it has never been practiced. We’ve always discounted the value of the natural (and human) world and the costs of our impacts on it. Making the costs of air pollution, climate change, and fisheries destruction part of the business equation — and recognizing the true value of the natural resources we use as feedstocks — would in fact be a divine act: it would mean the business community finally seeing not just the bottom line but the entire world as sacred. It would mean seeing the dignity of the world, the harm in damaging it, and the vision of a sustainable future.

It is there. It has always been there. Can we see it?

THERE IS A MOVEMENT within many religions called the contemplative tradition. Contemplation, or contemplative prayer, is a form of meditation, the goal of which is to cultivate an understanding of and relationship with the divine — the life force, the ultimate reality of the world. That ultimate reality might be a dignity that includes not just all living things, but all things. Father Thomas Keating has called the entire contemplative tradition simply “a long and loving look at what is.” He’s now eighty-five, and living at the St. Benedict Monastery in Old Snowmass, Colorado, not far from Aspen Skiing Company’s slopes.

I decided to meet with Keating, a leader in this field, because the practice of contemplation is in effect the same thing as the practice of trying to solve climate change; both are an effort to pursue the divinization, the making sacred of the world and of ourselves. That’s couched in religious terms, but pagans like me might simply call that state of grace “global sustainability.” It’s the same idea, though markedly less poetic.

You could argue that the world today is utterly missing the clarity Keating’s contemplation is meant to provide, and that’s why we haven’t moved more quickly on climate change. You couldn’t get farther from what Keating calls a “radical participation” in the reality of the world than, for example, Star magazine and Us Weekly. Those magazines — just like a public obsession with sports or video games — simply take our attention off what matters. If the public at large needs a clearer view of the world, so do businesspeople and politicians, who both base decisions on short time frames — quarterly reports or election cycles that are meaningless without any kind of broader worldview for context.

To someone who asks, “I want to establish a relationship with the divine. Can I come to your monastery?” Keating might reply, “You can have that relationship anywhere, and should.” My conversation with Keating reminded me of the many phone calls I get from eager, young, well-educated college graduates who desperately want to get into the “sustainability field.” My response is that given the scale of the problems, every job must become a sustainability job. So one approach is to look for ways to turn your own position into one that addresses climate change. If every job doesn’t become a climate job, we’re not going to solve the problem. Even if you work for the worst of the worst — let’s say it’s ExxonMobil — we need people inside the beast. We need moles. And there isn’t a job in the world that doesn’t somehow influence the changing climate.

My forays into religious thinking revealed to me, above all, a desire within humanity to live in a dignified world. This is Walter Bennett’s vision while holding his grandchild; it’s what Bob Janes aspires to when he warms up his truck each morning in Juneau. Their urges, hopes, and desires are the deeply rooted, very powerful forces that have been part of human experience always.

This is a hopeful concept: maybe humans are hard-wired to durably engage, participate in, and relish the challenge of solving climate change, because it offers us a shot at just this dignity.

And maybe something even better: maybe we can’t help but do it.

Auden Schendler is the sustainability director at Aspen Skiing Company and lives in Basalt, Colorado. His book Getting Green Done will be published in February 2009.


  1. Well done, Auden.

    Don’t know what God is, but I know that I experience a strong (if often elusive) pull towards action from something greater than me that I call God. Compels me to bust my ass to leave all our kids a world that works.

    My religion helps me feel that pull and find the guts to act on the pull more often.

    Glad to hear of your journey in these areas. Now leave your keyboard behind and reduce the carbon footprint of those big ole chairlifts!

  2. Spirituality, Climate Change, today’s failing economy, the here and now.

    It doesn’t get any more relevant than this. Your writing ties together what I teach in my classes: that *everything* is connected. Dealing with issues that are bigger than we are forces us to contemplate the larger than life, the desires that draw us to leave this world a better place for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. That’s the kind of perspective we need if homo sapiens sapiens is to remain on earth. But then perhaps this is part of an evolutionary shift towards a more earth conscious homo sustainabilis?

  3. This thoughtful article has the potential to begin reframing “sustainability” to make it more accessible to a much broader range of folks;the potential to bridge the scientific and the moral/spiritual approaches to the problem; the potential to contribute to an emerging wholistic paradigm that is needed to shift our way of looking at the world so we can help make the planet safe for humanity before Nature makes the planet inhospitable for humans in order to preserve itself for other beings.

  4. I LOVE this article! I am an environmental scientist and a member of TAO, the Temple for Jewish Renewal.In March 2009 we will be hosting a GREEN event for a little known rabbinic observance called Birkhat HaChokmah, the Blessing for the Sun, which occurs once every 28 years. We are inviting religious leaders in the community to speak about reverence for Life and the Earth. Auden is so right-on: we need to recognize that humanity cannot exist without this planet and WE need to take care of THE WHOLE to survive. Let’s work toward Homo sustainabilis!

  5. I wish the solutions to humanity’s problems were as easy as getting religion involved. Unfortunately we are the the cause and only solution to our continued search for security. War is our greatest disaster, and religion has been too much a part of the cause and not the solution. We may only change our way of being one individual at a time. Reform seldom works in human activities. It is breaking from the past and trying something entirely new that creates real change.
    May I suggest a discussion between J. Krishnamurti and Ivan Illich as reported on pages 301 through 307 in Pupul Jayakar’s Krishnamurti: A Biography, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986: ISBN 0-06-250401-0. Official biographer.

  6. With human population projections indicating that the human community will have 9+ billion members by 2050, perhaps it is time to open discussions here and elsewhere about the profound implications of a 40% increase in the human population in the coming four decades. After all, the frangible biological systems and finite resources of our planetary home make clear to a sensible observer that a planet with the size, composition, and ecology of Earth cannot indefinitely sustain the unbridled increase of human overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities.

    Now for a question: Is it reasonable to conclude that the unbridled increase of the clearly visible and distinctly human global overgrowth activities we see overspreading Earth in our time cannot be sustained much longer, much less indefinitely, secondary both to Earth’s limitations and humankind’s “feet of clay”?


    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  7. Straight balderdash in this non-essay.
    1. Skiing is not “sustainable.” It’s a destructive, class-bound, heedless practice.
    2. Amory Lovins is a pro-corporate, Reaganite fraud. Paul Hawken is another guru of greenwashing. They are snake-oil salesmen at best.
    3. If this dude is an “atheist,” then I’m the King of England. When you start whimpering forth irrational terms like “God,” then you are already turned and captured. Where’s the proof for anything, anything at all discussed by these titled, learned savants? Two recent monumental books on atheism by Jack Eller will help anyone unsure of what atheism has to offer.
    4. Ah, to live in a fantasy world where you can grease the wheels of consumer capitalism and call yourself “sustainable.” You want to know what’s truly “sustainable” in this world? The production of bullshit. The mountain just keeps on growing.
    5. Please, spare the world more earnest “for the kids” claptrap. The American supersystem is fraying badly now, for you and most all the others living now. It may come as a shock to some people, but there are actually consequences to remaining ignorant and deluded.

  8. We continue to live in a capitalist country with a very rooted power structure which advocates a world view (profit is the motive for action, for life itself) that is antithetical to creating a sustainable culture, While we are trying to get ourselves to that sustainable culture, the concept of a double bottom line (or triple) can be useful. A capitalist endeavor, or profit making one, can also set out to enhance the life of the community, or to move sustainable goals forward. We who are outside of the profit making world (I am a teacher) can demand that corporations attend to more than profit, that they contribute to our collective well being as they make their profit. We have a great deal of power to move them if we can learn to use it.

  9. Albert Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems at the same level of thinking at which we created them.” I’ve used that quote in my activism for years, but came to the conclusion that is was not quite on the mark. It should say “We cannot solve our problems at the same level of “consciousness” at which we created them.” Our thinking comes out of our consciousness, our awareness, our values. I’ve worked on many issues over the years. I was once asked if I could choose just one what would it be. I answered it would be consciousness, that would solve the others. Activist/poet John Trudell says, “We should think clearly and coherently and take responsibility for our lives.” Sounds like consciousness to me.

    In the book Natures End, there is a great line near the end. “You have to understand the striving of the earth itself-it wants consciousness.”

  10. A little silly from where I sit, just another example of the old saying, “Most people don’t look up until they’re flat on their back.” Or at least think they are.

    No, God is not just another resource to be so easily manipulated. In the words of Wendell Berry:

    “I think the conservation movement unwittingly helped to drive a wedge between us and our land by implying that we could live most of our lives in circumstances that don’t quite suit us—doing work that doesn’t suit us, work that makes us say, Thank God it’s Friday—and then somehow, on vacation, go to a national park and reconnect with the natural world. But of course, that’s not a connection.” —Wendell Berry (Interview, “On the Natural Order of Things, World Ark magzine, Jan./Feb. 2008 p. 19)

    Nor is the human spirit so easily “renewed” as by a trendy weekend on the slopes.

    The article is not much more than a “feel-good” excuse to continue to pursue the bottom line.

  11. Do we really need someone to tell us more flapdoodle? The “left” and the “environmental movement” is dotted with folks who strive to beatify themselves while all around them burns. This does not mean that these teachers and activists are “responsible” for misery, but they must look at the minute dimensions of their own lives, be humble against the terrible power of the supersystem, and keep, above all else, ignoring cranks like me who adjudge them culpable for not having the cognitive strength to stare at the looming beast. Now, back to the spiritual drum circle, folks – sustainable away!

  12. “Utopia,” from the Latin, means “not a place.” More coined its English usage. The title suggests that “such a place” can exist only in the imagination, and not, as Schendler interprets, “here on Earth.” Schendler also fails to note that the “New Island of Utopia” isn’t exactly utopian. Every household in the shimmering republic owns two slaves.

    Did More think that a more humane society would always remain twinkling on the horizon of what “might be?” I don’t think so. What “Utopia” should remind us of, though, is that utopias are always “imagined.” They are not real promised lands waiting for discovery on the other side of an ocean. We should then consider who is imagining these utopias, and for whom. Is the envisioned “sustainable world” a utopia for corporate executives or subsistence farmers, for Stihl or for forests? Is it a utopia for Utopians or for the Utopians’ slaves? Whose “spirit” is being “renewed” by Aspen Skiing Company? While an appeal to a common “human experience” can be uplifting, it can also gloss over the systemic power relations that lie at the cool heart of capitalist exploitation. It is a powerful ideological tool and we must be wary of who is wielding it and for what purpose. We must always keep in mind that “sustainability” is not an objective set of scientific laws, but rather a socially constructed and contested concept.

  13. Pursuing argumentation towards these subjects, and living through these arguments is what we have as humans. Let us continue to argue and think on these issues.
    Then let us act in ways we feel demonstrate what we have learned.

    Thank you all for the discussion.

  14. The major problem is that there is a pervasive mindset of MORE – more growth, more money, more things, more security. Somehow by having more stuff, that will give us greater security but we’re just consuming ourselves and our environment until there will be grave shortages on a global scale. The attitude that everyone can have a (bigger) house and more stuff needs to change.

    Unfortunately, then economies collapse and everyone panics, becomes scared and fearful for their survival. Tough problem to say the least.

  15. Well done. Just a couple of comments. All the great “religions” of the world would rather have us seek the “God up/out there” because it sustains their existence. The really true spirituals (a la Joseph Campbell), who have been around for centuries but not necessarily tied to a particular religion, have always told us that the divine resides within us (and all around). The challenge is to help people experience the divine. Only then, will we be ready to take the radical/revolutionary steps needed to save ourselves, our animal friends, and this planet.

  16. From libertarian spiritual-but-not-religious Oregon: THANK YOU for articulating the basic tenets of the sort of “nature spirituality” that permeates this region.

    Now a word of caution: if past is precedent, these dying forms of theistic religion won’t go gentle into that good night – they’ll do as much human and environmental damage as they can in order to sustain themselves. The story of the earth as good, as home, as parent, as sacred, has always been in conflict with the dualistic story of good faraway heaven/spirit vs. evil here-&-now earth/flesh. In short, expect violence in this transition.

    But don’t let the violence dissuade or discourage you from the vision of a healed, whole earth. Go deeper into whatever religious tradition, philosophy, or theoretical orientation that best represents this vision for you. Plumb its resources. And let the struggle itself be “tikkun” (Heb. mending of the universe) for you, for your friends, for your enemies, and for all things.

  17. Hmmm…for me, Mr. Schindler has evoked here less of a significantly greater awareness of the so-called divinization of the climate change issue than he has the phenomenal capacity of people and corporations to rationalize their unsustainably distructive personal, industrial and commercial activities.

    First clue in his piece: “I’m a climate guy. I work for a ski resort.”

    Translation: I make a living helping to rationalize and greenwash a business that makes a profit from shearing off mountain forests, destroying vital habitat and burning fossil fuels so humans can slide down hills on snow.

    Just that same ole lipstick and pig thing again, I guess.

    But as a wise friend of mine would tell Schindler after reading his piece: just remember, you gotta live in your own skin.

    Man, we are so much more screwed than we even think we are. But at least it’s clearer than ever who’s doing the screwing – need I even say it?

  18. The main point I was trying to make in this article is that solving climate change offers humanity an incredible, all encompassing opportunity to achieve meaning in our lives. We haven’t been offered such a holistic shot at something we all crave since the creation of big religions. This is good news, because maybe that visceral drive for meaning will fuel the broad climate action that’s needed. That was the only point I was trying to make.

    My essay wasn’t a defense of corporations (or of the existence of God) or a defense of my work. I find it naieve and simplistic for people to say “you work at a ski resort, so shut up–you’re a hypocrite.” We don’t have a magic want to outlaw skiing, flying, expensive dinners, the American lifestyle, etc. and since we couldn’t draw the line anyway (you can’t ski, but you can fly…no, actually you can’t fly, but you can ride a taxi…the Japanese lifestyle is ok but not Americans…ban Americans!) we have to fix the whole system in which we live so that whatever you do–ski or subsistence farm–isn’t damaging to the climate. In the process of fixing the whole system (carbon taxation is part of a big fix) eventually skiing and flying go away, but in the interim, we do the best we can. Let’s fix the whole enchilanda, instead of unrealistically whining about how all business needs to go away, since it’s mostly destructive, or only people from “virtuous” businesses or occupations have the standing to talk. That’s so tired and so naieve because we’re all hypocrites anyway.

  19. Thanks for the article. Every job must be sustainable … the ski lift operator, person skiing, and especially men and women involved in vacation/entertainment businesses. With each person’s commitment, time, work and our new collective “consciousness” and “spiritual” relationships due to global climate change, human impacts and consequently, adaptations, are becoming apparent to all. If we imagine a world with sustainable ski resorts as well as beachfront properties for another example, we can adapt. Generally, it is renewing and connecting for city dwellers to visit the mountains, forests and oceans. Why do people go on vacation anyway? We can have abundance, prosperity and recreation in a sustainable way. I hope vacations and recreation will change/adapt as necessary in the coming decades. With workers like Mr. Schindler, recognizing the Spiritual on Earth, it will.

  20. First, thanks to Auden for actually reading these comments. Most essayists, in my experince, refuse to engage criticicism, or act mortally offended when confronted by anonymous agitators.
    His defense is not quite enough, though. 1. “Naive” is not spelled with an “e.” 2. His first sentence is bizarre. You don’t “solve” aclimate crisis, you only lessen its devastations, and in case he needed reminding, economic inequality and genocidal militarism has been around all his life, and only gotten worse. The drive for “holistic” thinking is arrogant piffle – we are all small ants, operating in a gigantic supersystem that absorbs. To say so is not “naive” or “hypocritical,” and those epithets are sad. Yes, we are all hypocrites in the west, because we profit in innumerable ways from depredations of the corporate best, just some in more direct ways, like the egregious Amory Lovins.
    No one wants to shut you up, Mr. Schendler – they just want to to examine yourself a little closer, make better arguments, and stop using nonsensical terms like “god.” Is that last term that got “naive” so lodged in your mind?
    Still, you did a great service in trying to sort through some of your contradictions in print, and so you should be commended.

  21. Does anyone have the feeling that our communication, here and now, appears to be convoluted and confused because many too many of us do not yet recognize that the family of humanity literally lives within a modern version of an ancient edifice, the Tower of Babel. But the new leviathan-like, distinctly human construction is not made of stone, but instead built out as a “house of cards”. This colossal, artificially designed structure is noticeably pyramidal in shape, duplicitously organized as a patently unsustainable pyramid scheme, and named the global political economy.

    For the people who are the primary beneficiaries of such a scheme, the global economy is effectively an object of idolatry. Nothing else really matters. These people are the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us. They could not care less about the natural world, life as we know it for the children and future generations, the integrity of Earth. You can readily recognize the idolaters as the leading, self-righteous elders of my “Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation”. Endlessly consuming and hoarding resources as well as power-mongering are regarded as religious rituals.

    Nothing in this missive is new, I suppose.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  22. It’s a very good question – who benefits from us slashing at one another the way we are? Who benefits from us not being able to talk to each other across the divides of religion, economic or political philosophy, or occupation? Sure as hell ain’t me or my beloved places on this planet.

    We’d all be better off listening and asking questions, IMHO, than in taking easy shots at one another’s vulnerabilities. I’d urge us to talk as though our lives actually depended on it.

    For my part, as a Christian theologian, counselor, musician, writer, hiker, biker, and backpacker, I’m much more interested in hearing how and why people NOT like me are invested in the vision that Auden articulates.

  23. In the online version, Barry Lopez is quoted but not referenced. So from what work of Lopez was the quote?

  24. For me this article and discussion has raised many interesting issues. Not least is Schindler’s questioning of the nature of divinity/God/the divine/the sacred. I have made an intensive study in recent years of the thought of Gregory Bateson (biologist, anthropologist, psychologist, systems theorist, student of animal comunication and finally environmental thinker)who came, as a”fourth generation atheist” in his last years to see “the sacred” – “Call it God if you will!” as BEING the ‘going on’, the evolving inter-related process of life in ALL it’s forms. This great process is itself the divine. I think this insight is vitally important to us all at this time – and this is the core message of my recent book,’Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty and the Sacred Earth’ – more info on my website:

    Bateson’s insights are close to those of Schindler and others here – close, I think, to a recognition of a path towards a reverent sanity and the possibility of ‘saving’ the Earth.

  25. It’s a tough debate with theists, who persist in semantic delusions. Now, whatever Gregory Bateson was or was not, he can call the “on-going process” the “divine,” whatever that is supposed to mean or be, or he could have left it alone as “the on-going process.” He could have called it “chocolate,” he could have called it Francis Collins – what do I care? Without proof (I am a proofist, by the way,) all you are doing speculating, furiously, and rehashing nonsensical terms, pedantically. The natural world will remain awesome and spectacular, whatever you or some dead theorist think about it, but the only place we will ever have contact with the imaginary supernatural is in our firing synapses. Why is that so hard to understand?

  26. Merry Christmas. As a “religious professional”, I was honored to comment on Mr. Schendler’s article. I think it’s a good article that attempts to help more of us understand each other and appreciate our myriad reasons for caring about the climate crisis. And it’s appropriate, on Christmas eve, to reflect for a moment on the Christian doctrine of Incarnation–the notion that the physical and material world is infused with Divinity and therefore of profound dignity and importance. I think we’re all talking about the same reality if we approach it biologically, theologically or spiritually. This planet, this climate, this Life we are all living really matters here and now. At our best, we can inform each other to more dimensions of the reality in which we live . At our worst, we reduce and dismiss each other’s perspectives in a battle of egos. Many of the comments here posted delight in lambasting Mr. Schendler for paying any consideration to a theistic orientation. While I and billions of other planetary citizens could be so categorized, I caution all of us against such rigid fundamentalism (yes, fundamentalist atheism is alive and well in our discussion) and the hubris it breeds. Today’s born-again atheists, fresh on the scene to thousands of years of thoughtful theological dialogue, delight in reducing God to a simplistic, magical and idiotic concept convenient to their own refutations. Granted, many people of religious faith do hold simplistic concepts, often demeaning and destructive to our human community. But just as many find in their faith profound inspiration to serve, to help, to love. Sacred tradition orients us to the unity of which we are all a part, interdependent and connected. None of us are “saved” unless all of us are saved. We need one another and the natural world, of which we are a part, if we are to discover what it means to be fully human. This is what the mystics tell us. One great challenge of our human condition is to live with consciousness of both what is and what could be. I have admiration for those who hold up the vision of possibility, though the temptations of this path are self-righteousness, arrogance, rigidity and bitterness. What is more difficult is to reconcile the two. The name of that game is compromise. That’s how things get done–in steps. This is what Mr. Schendler is doing. He’s working for change from the inside out. And guess what–the “evil” business world (from which we all benefit every day) is listening, which, to my view, holds more weight than those who throw stones from the sidelines. You can have your fundamentalist, apocalyptic, superior eco-atheism. The rest of us will keep on working to make incremental change in dialogue with the realities of both environment and business. We may never get “there”. In the end, it may be too little, too late, but the alternative approach is too alienating to have traction with those who turn the screws.

  27. Thank you to Mark Thomas for a personal sermon infused with the sonorous weight of the great Divinity (I apologize for not capitalizing It).
    1. I like that that you have us all dealing with the same reality.” Okay, fine, let’s pack it up, we’re all done, nothing more to be said, thanks for seeing it my way.
    2. Oh, there is more? “This planet, this climate, this Life we are all living really matters now.” Great to hear such atheistic confirmation – but why the capital L in life? Humans, escecially “religious” humans, have shown a terrible disregard for life. War, the Inquisition, the Crusades, on-going economic inequality – theists have displayed the reverence that accords them a capital L?
    3. The word “fundamentalist” was retired as epithet, though it has its roots in theism. The wrod rankles these folks, so they need to throw it back at others.
    4. “Born-again atheists” – another religious term superimposed on people who live without religion. How can they be “born-again” if they did not get ceremonially dunked or re-emeerge form a mother’s womb?
    5. No one will deny that a minority of religious people do good, profound work. They are allied with an irrational, historically destructive practice, and they perform their acts of charity with ulterior motives.
    6. “None of us are ‘saved’ unless all of us are saved.” Fine – then the game is done. Our western consumption patterns result in untold deaths from the supply of our goods. Religious feel-goodism that yearns for utopia obscures the very real horrors that are perpetuated by our supersystem.
    7. If Mr. Schendler is “working for change from the inside out,” he better up his salary demands. No, seriously, folks, if the change is not coming, but is being managed by the same corporate-profit driven barons that see greenwashing as another advertising gimmick, what is he really working for? Empty platitudes – does the American way of life really more of that? Are we supposed to keep on congratulating ourselves as we are the exceptions of humanity?
    8. “Thousands of years of thoughtful theological dialogue” – I guess I missed that part. Now comes the final question- will our “atheist” hero, Mr. Schendler, find a home amongst his new-found friends, who have thrilled to see their formulations become his? If so, at least I tried to keep the sustainability-caped crusader on the straight and narrow.

  28. If the next generation does not do better than the leaders of my “Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation” of elders has done to protect Earth from reckless environmental degradation and resource dissipation, then I cannot even imagine what the future will look like for those who are alive 40 years from now. The “pale blue dot” may not be so beautiful a place to inhabit in 2050, I fear.

    Our children will do better; but first they will need to understand that the patently unsustainable overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities which their elders so adamantly and relentlessly advocate will have to be forsaken….soon. Accepting human limits and Earth’s limitations, and behaving accordingly, could be a goal worth achieving.

  29. Auden Schendler’s spiritual awakening, as profound as it might be, suffers from the same narrowness of perspective that has led to all our current crises.

    He says, “the concept of an ideal society has been a core element in human thought for all of recorded history,” yet misses the broader time-frame of human existence on earth. For millions of years, the human species lived in Paradise, the Garden of Eden from which we imagine ourselves expelled. In fact, we turned our backs on the Garden at the same time we invented mono-theistic religion (and sedentary agriculture) with its notion of innate sin that denies that it was our choice to sin (separate from the divine).

    And he speaks of “the same yearning for meaning and betterment that has always driven human beings to new heights.” That yearning has been the desire to return to the Garden – not to rise to great heights, but to sink back into the earth which birthed us. But, because we’ve abjured and denigrated our Mother Earth, we have had to invent a Utopia or heaven somewhere else, somewhere beyond Life.

    “Most religions originally evolved to meet a basic human need for community, understanding, and mission.” Religions were invented as an attempt to recreate what we walked away from: communion with Life, the easy understanding of our role within it, and our duty to serve it.

    Schendler suggests that “two distinct concepts of God have existed in parallel since the origin of religion” – supernatural theism and panentheism. In truth, the latter was the timeless gestalt of humanity, while the former is an impoverished attempt to replace it.

    He goes on to say, “we’re simply talking about a philosophy of living…a faith that has the goal of bringing the natural world into harmony with people.” Yes, we long for a way of living that we abandoned at the start of “history”, but the equation is reversed. It is not about bringing the natural world into harmony with us, but rather about returning us to harmony with the world.

    Finally, Schendler offers, “Their urges, hopes, and desires are the deeply rooted, very powerful forces that have been part of human experience always.” The experience of wholeness and primal connection that we now long for – and that is the key to creating a sustainable culture – have degenerated into mere “urges, hopes, and desires” precisely because we have neglected the root of human experience in favor of the easy (and often rotten) fruit.

  30. No, Auden, we don’t have to talk about God in order to talk about climate change. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s not necessary.

    Nor do we *have* to talk about forcing governments to come clean about the UFO phenomenon…but we certainly should.

    We need presently classified technologies to be released to the public. And we need global birth control availability to curb overpopulation, especially in the world’s poorest, already overpopulated regions.

    We don’t need God. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t behoove us to talk about him (or her), but to overspiritualize the issue of climate change is, frankly, a vapid bourgeois distraction and appeasement of first-world consciences.

    Believe it or not, there really are people who have enormous power over your lives. Please, don’t let them fool you into thinking that it’s your fault that they’ve forced the planet to maintain its fossil fuel dependency for so long, and that the way to fix the bind we’re in now is for you to kick the sentimentalism up a notch.

    So long as Dick Cheney walks this planet as a free man, homo sapiens sapiens is not really serious about its desire to remain on Earth. Que sera, sera.

  31. Doug,

    I happen to also believe that our government is hiding its UFO project, and that the CIA killed the Kennedys and MLK, and that Cheney orchestrated 9/11.

    But to say “there really are people who have enormous power over your lives” is the ultimate conspiracy theory.

    Nobody has any power over my life. I don’t grant it to them. How sad for you that you believe you’re helpless.

  32. It may be news to some folks but we have not seen a general warming trend for more than a decade and the data shows that the effect of CO2 is minor compared to other factors. If you want to do something about the future of your kids a good place to start would be to think about wasting scarce resources to fight problems that are not material and to start concentrating on high payback activities.

  33. mjosef–
    Well said, delusion and ignorance will not save the human race. As Dennett has pointed out, “the belief in the belief in religion” is dominate, and “liberals” enable the fundamentalist wingnuts.
    A rudimentary understanding of thermodynamics and evolutionary biology would dispel most of the delusions proposed here, but leave the poor people screaming in a fetal position as reality gradually came into view.
    Extraterrestrial morality and Psychopathic Space Daddy’s make even children blush.

  34. This has been an interesting change of pace for me. Usually I’m tracking online eco-religious blogs in which religious fundamentalists make hash of the mystical voices within their traditions. To see the same thing happening within an eco-scientific forum, with a hard-line secular-atheist doctrine taking apart the theorists and dreamers within its ranks, causes me to heave a deep sigh of regret.

    I’ll add one more thing to this conversation and then I’ll sign off.

    Paul Shepard, in “Nature and Madness,” also makes the claim along with many in this forum that monotheistic religion (along with most every aspect of civilization down to agriculture) has led to the distortion of a human psyche that co-evolved within a natural – not domesticated – ecosystem. As a counselor seeing addiction clients there’s something compelling about this for me, the way in which various disorders can be traced back not just to distorted marital, social, or family relationships, but also a distorted relationship with the natural environment. The themes are generally the same – lack of empathy, lack of appropriate personal boundaries, objectification of the other – and their source, according to him, remains our own attempts to focus on our own needs at the expense of the ecosystem of which we’re a part.

    Part of the recovery journey for many who struggle with addiction is the recognition of an other – something outside oneself – as the center of one’s universe, not oneself or one’s own belief system. Whether that something is a god/higher power, earth, life, death, whatever, this recognition leads to healthy recovery in part by helping the addict reprioritize their objectives in favor of their significant relationships rather than their own needs, wishes, or desires.

    Consider the possibility that no one in our present society – addicted (I use that word intentionally) to MORE MORE MORE – can recover a healthy relationship to the environment until they have acknowledged that relationship as more important than their own needs. If it’s a symbolic construct, so be it. If it’s “sacred,” so be it. The behavioral marks of self-restraint, empathic care and concern, and sustainable use of resources will function as whatever proof you may need that an ultimate reality of some sort is necessary for our species’ long-term survival on this planet.

  35. We live in a society comprised largely of a mindless mass of advertising-driven consumers brainwashed to not think for themselves. Slaves to the American “dream” of more stuff and larger homes, they work endlessly to buy more bargains and bigger cars, without thought or care for where those things come from, or what is destroyed to make them, as long as they are “cheap.” Respect for human life and animal life, indeed for the life of the planet, is mirrored in Black Friday tramplings at Wal-Mart, an analogy for the state of the world. No matter what the cost, we want it. Christian songs decry saving trees and the earth, but we must save the babies. They don’t explain what will sustain all those babies, or that they will need clean water and air, and a safe place to grow up. They say the earth doesn’t matter, because Jesus will be coming soon. The Jesus I know wants us to care for the earth, so that we can in turn, be sustained until His arrival. He has the welfare of the entire world at interest, not just current Christians. Ironic, isn’t it? We can posit all we want. If all of us don’t do our part very soon, Paradise is going to be totally paved over with parking lots that flood and won’t grow food, national parks that have become gaping mining holes and wasted cattle feedlots, surrounded by dying oceans. I am not here with any answers-I just know that we are all connected, and that we must each think about what we are doing-for the planet,and ultimately for ourselves.We have the capacity to slow the changes, and perhaps even to reverse them. If we don’t, God help us all.

  36. I am thankful for this article, the many comments, and all the authors.

    My journeys in life – in meditation practice, in bodywork, and in the sustainability/ green building field, all affirm what Mark Douglass has come to through working with addicts; it’s all about relationships. Life is lived in and with the world, NOT in our heads.

    We can argue atheist/ religious, liberal/ republican etc. all we want… but can we borrow a needed ingredient from a neighbor? can we sit in silence in peace with a friend or family member? do we know what the blue jays are telling us about the deer and bobcats and coopers hawks from their songs and alarms and silence?
    are we familiar with our watershed and freshwater source and do we use our water with constant respect for its precious purity? do we know who made our clothes and from where the materials came? do we know the edible and medicinal plants in our local area and how to heal with them? can we hold and comfort a friend or family member in times of sorrow, knowing that life is full of all joy and sorrow, life and death, all that is and ever changing?

    Right relationship with all things offers a rich life experience, one full of joy and sorrow and life and death, but aware of the truth in all that is. I find more and more that religion and science and common sense are in agreement that everything is connected. As people are inspired to take action that reduces carbon emissions, people will work together, locally. My intuition is that through building healthy relationships – with one another and our local, regional, and global ecologies, we will heal ourselves as we heal the earth.

  37. Many too many economic powerbrokers have been playing “the only game in town” the way everyone “in the know” has been participating in the construction of a global, leviathan-like “house of cards” called the global political economy.

    Can we share an understanding of the many attacks on Earth and climate scientists by saying loudly and clearly that their assailants’ activities are venal efforts to spread garbage and junk science, based upon nothing more or less than the duplicitous promulgation of ideological idiocy?

    It appears that the many arrogant and hostile efforts toward Earth and climate scientists are for the sole purpose of shoring-up and building trust in a con game; to support the most colossal pyramid scheme in human history…..a modern version of the ancient Tower of Babel. Only this modern ‘edifice’ is an Economic Colossus, one not made of stone but rather built out of filthy lucre as a house of playing cards. The entire game is a patently unsustainable, gigantic ruse perpetrated by a tiny, greedy minority of outrageously conspicuous consumers who are recklessly consolidating and relentlessly hoarding great wealth and power.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
    established 2001

  38. I love the essay. We don’t have to agree on the best language for describing the divine. But we do have to get atmospheric CO2 capped at the lowest and safest level. And that means saying good-bye to fossil fuels, as swiftly as possible. Which means we (we humanity, we the local ski lodge, etc) we need an A to Z energy technology agenda that will remove fossil fuels from every application that now uses them. Ski lodges – will they stop using natural gas for heat? Ski lifts – will they be powered exclusively by wind or photovoltaics? Company vehicles – will they be non-gasoline? Spare rooftops – will they host PV panels? What’s the company’s timetable for achieving a zero carbon footprint?

  39. In his article, Auden notes the important point of focusing on sustainability regardless of your job, even if you need to be a mole to do it. That is an important point for the environmental community to remember. Encouraging the pursuit of a just livelihood is often less of a priority for the environmental community than policy advocacy or consumer education, but considering a corporation or organization’s culture is created through the connections between employees, it is important to remind people that just eating and consuming green isn’t enough if they’re ignoring the realm where they might have the most power to make a major change for the better: their jobs.

    I recently wrote a short essay on pursuing a “Just Livelihood” for World Watch Magazine where I discuss this more–including what happens if you have to play a “mole” role. You can read it here:

  40. Steve,
    How about instead of that folderal you talk about (zero cap this and stop fossil fuel that), we stop skiing? And stop expanding skiing resorts? We are nowhere along the road to stopping anything, and we have a diversity figurehead con artist spewing “clean coal” drivel, so why this cheerleading?
    Eric – so once again, we let all the big things, the fat-cats, the large scale destruction go, so people can feel bad when they try to be a “mole” on their stupid jobsite and get shitcanned. Think it won’t happen?

  41. Choosing to embark on another fool’s errand and to relentlessly “stay the course” until a colossal ecological wreckage is precipitated.

    If it turns out to be true and real that the global economic and ecologic challenges presented to the human family in our time are primarily the result of the gigantic scale and fully expected unbridled growth of worldwide consumption, production and propagation activities by the human species, then it is plainly untrue to suggest that human beings can make no difference now with their efforts to ameliorate these human-induced and -driven conditions.

    Unfortunately, we have ‘experts’ among us who have widely reported, of all things, that what is required of the human community now is “to have the courage to do nothing” in the face of the daunting challenges. This is purely music to the ears of the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the absurdly enriched ‘talking heads’ in the mainstream media who are intent on doing nothing more or less than protecting their wealth, power and privileges. Nothing else matters to them.

    The family of humanity will soon enough stand up and speak out loudly and clearly to those who maintain the status quo because the very future of our children and life as we know it is in eminent danger, even in these early years of Century XXI.

    Any problem or condition the human family can cause to exist is a situation over which human beings have at least a modicum of control.

    For example, what is to keep people from consuming fewer resources…..and sharing them with those less fortunate? What keeps large-scale producers of stuff from “right-sizing” their organizations…. and making them sustainable? What prevents a human being from making a decision about bringing offspring into the world? These are distinctly human choices. Ours and ours alone to make, I suppose.

    It is supremely ironic but the horrendous leadership provided by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe in my “Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation” may have inadvertently pushed the real issues of our time to the front of the world’s stage. Were it not for the colossal mistakes of such woefully inadequate and remarkably selfish leaders, the dire circumstances of the current situation presented to the human family by the explosive growth of global human overgrowth activities would not be so easily seen or understood by all of us.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
    established 2001

  42. “Choosing to embark on another fool’s errand and to relentlessly “stay the course” until a colossal ecological wreckage is precipitated.”

    That dog won’t hunt because in the 1970s the experts told us that governments had to do something about global cooling and the Population Bomb folks were warning us of massive starvation, including millions in the US by the year 2000.

    The fact is that these ‘experts’ were empty suits that did not understand that you cannot use linear models to predict the outcome of non-linear processes.

  43. I think that if the world allows Israel to bring about the genocide of the Palestinian people we will have enough proof for discrediting the religions of the world. What hope would there be that we will care if the continent of Africa becomes a huge desert as Wangari Maathai warns us will happen if we do not stop global warming soon??

  44. provocative pithy piece. a clarion call to those who are willing to challenge their assumptions to hear it. rock on.

  45. Very well said, as usual, Auden!

    That a self described, life-long atheist can make a compelling argument for God and religious-like practice, gives me hope that we can all see benefits in ideas we have shunned in the past in working together toward climate change solutions and a global sense of grace.

  46. “Unfortunately, we have ‘experts’ among us who have widely reported, of all things, that what is required of the human community now is “to have the courage to do nothing” in the face of the daunting challenges. This is purely music to the ears of the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the absurdly enriched ‘talking heads’ in the mainstream media who are intent on doing nothing more or less than protecting their wealth, power and privileges. Nothing else matters to them.”

    ‘Economic powerbroakers’ tend to push that something be done because that is how they make more profit, particularly when governments line up to subsidize activities that consumers would not choose to pay for. The bigger problem are the individuals whose compensation comes from jobs that promote the need for governments to ‘do something.’

    In the 1970s I remember the people who were screaming for government to fight global cooling because we could not afford to wait for a crisis to develop. (This was the time when we had the prediction that millions of Americans would be starving to death by 2000 by Paul Ehrlich and the population bomb community.) Now a similar group of people are calling for government to spend precious resources and lower our standard of living so that it could fund programs that will reduce CO2 emissions even though there is no credible evidence that CO2 is anything other than a minor greenhouse gas and the satellite observations show that its effect is so small that the predicted equatorial mid-troposphere warming cannot be measured.

    What gets to me is the arrogance of the AGW as it ignores the scientific evidence and tries to push a political agenda that makes no sense to any rational human being.

  47. What I appreciated most about the article was the author’s openness to the whole notion of God or the Power Greater Than Ourselves or the Divine Creativity or the Source of Meaning, or whatever name is used for the unnameable.

    As a former student of hers, I’d recommend to the author the work of theologian Sallie McFague, who has been reflecting on such matters in print for more than 20 years. Especially applicable to the present conversation is her latest book: A New Climate for Theology – God, the World, and Global Warming (Fortress Press, 2008).

  48. I do know what God is, from a fundamentalist perspective, and I believe there isn’t much commitment to an ethical perspective in regard to nature. Aldo Leopold and Rod Frazier Nash argued that nature has rights (ironically, mankind has argued that it has natural rights) which should be honored, lest wildernesses perish from the face of the earth. Humans are changing that surface indisputably.

    Regarding religion, how troubling it is, for instance, that American Pentecostals are so different than their British counterparts, in that reasoning is the main British point of contention, whereas American Pentecosts rely on emotionalism that, in my view, blinds them to social and environmental needs.

    We need clothing, food and shelter, and as Jesus put it, even God takes care of the sparrows. But we also have non-material needs: education, leadership, music and natural spaces to connect with our body’s origin, the earth. There needs to be yet another organization that seeks to mend the rift between those who don’t see the need to sustain the planet, and those who do. There’s common ground here in the fact that we walk it. The earth may fold up like a blind at the end of days; we may be going to Hell in a handbag, but until then, we should fight to rescue it, and its living people residing in Hades-like conditions due to our consumerism.

    That’s my unapologetic rant.

  49. Message from an environmentalist: In this time of dire threat to life on Earth, we do desperately need people to connect their religious and moral senses up to climate crisis. Churches, religion, can help powerfully with our environmental crises. Much of Auden Schendler’s article is good in this respect.

    However, it is seriously misdirecting to readers because of the underlying slant caused by his employment by the Aspen ski corporation. Downhill skiing is very damaging to the environment. Here’s a hint of the underside of where’s he’s coming from:

    “The sustainability movement, too, is arguably seeing a shift toward ‘core principles’ in the sense that we’re less focused on the microscale and the individual (recycling, paper or plastic, self-righteous SUV-hating) and more focused on the collective (solving climate change as a social, economic, spiritual, and environmental effort.”

    The principle of de-emphasizing the individual, and emphasizing the collective is being seriously misused in telling people not to worry about getting rid of their SUVs but to focus on some nebulous, large scale action by the collective. Why is he denigrating people who criticize SUVs as “self-righteous”? Somebody should find out where all of Aspen’s customers come from every year and tally up the fuel used in the plane trips and the SUVs. Another example:

    “Unlike some earlier predictions of doom from environmentalists (the population bomb, for example), this one has uniform scientific agreement.”

    Schendler apparently has yet to see that there have been people in the world sensitive enough and intelligent enough to see the danger of climate change years ago, before there was “uniform scientific agreement,” before scientists had to give us a 5-year ultimatum if we want to to save the world. They’re called environmentalists. And he hasn’t learned his lessons well at all. Maybe he should be listening to them about population too. Then there’s his company’s slogan:

    “We provide opportunity for the renewal of the human spirit.”

    I know very well the cleansing power of skiing. But unfortunately the time is here that we must see that we don’t have to buy an SUV or fly to Aspen to do it.

    I do believe with Schendler that there is a problem in the world, in that many of those on the laudable path of departing formulized religion have not yet come to a deeper, higher model of existence, something beyond morality that would engage not just their minds and hearts but their spirit as well. Has Schendler himself found it? I don’t think so. His message is: Keep skiing with us, we’re environmental without being environmentalists. The only natural conclusion to his article would be to tell people we have to stop doing things like flying and driving long distances and buying SUVs to ski, for the sake of our children.

  50. Great article. I’ve felt the same way for a long time.

    Religion/spirituality and morals have to be in this equation. Like, seperation of church and state is a great idea and I’m completely for it, but at the same time you can’t have (nor should you want to have) a government without morals and ethics. Business is the same way, we’ve made this seperation in ourselves, saying religion for Sundays, worldliness the rest of the time. But that’s all wrong. Thoreau said someting like “a corporation has no morals. But a corporation of moral men is a moral corporation,” and I think that makes a lot of sense.

    Religions, whether you go with the pantheistic view, or the “supernatural theistic” view mentioned in the article, all say “the sacred” is central. Either it is the source and sustainer of all existence, or the center around which it is all secondary to, respectively.

    So spirituality isn’t just some detail in life, something to list along with your hometown and field of work. It’s meant to be the absolute center of your life, out of which all those things come OUT of.

    In Buddhism you refocus (as an enlightened being) to live that way. Jesus himself said so, saying (in his lilies of the field sermon) to find God first, then everything else will be taken care of.

    Our whole economy is spinning out of control because it isn’t centered. And it isn’t centered because WE aren’t centered, in our selves.

    It all comes down to each of us as individuals. “We” can’t do anything, but you and I sure as hell can.

  51. Auden, you ask what will motivate us to meet the huge challenges we face. How will we “literally remake society?”
    I believe there is a another force in the world that is widely recognized, but has hardly been mobilized in the search for a better response to the environmental and social justice issues of today’s world and the looming struggle against the possibly devastating impact of climate change on the future of human life on Earth: humanity’s spiritual—not religious—connection with the natural world. Most of the time, it’s a link we’re barely conscious of.
    I think we need to make it conscious. I think we need to bring ‘nature’ into our lives more often, into our cities and suburbs and living spaces however large or small they are. As much as we need protected areas for ecological communities of plants and wildlife, we need protected areas for humans where people can make a conscious connection to the natural world. Small spaces set aside for peaceful contemplation of the world we live in and the world we’d like to see in the future.
    With established religions, we look back to an anthropomorphic, superhuman god whose basic values are admirable but whose management of world affairs is capricious, unpredictable, and inconsistent. We’re offered the harsh choice of eternal bliss or eternal fiery damnation. The truth is frozen in the distant past, in one text whose meaning is interpreted only by church leaders and cannot be questioned. With established religions, there’s too much concern with who will be “saved” and who won’t be. So much attention to why one set of believers is superior to all the others. So much importance given to why non-believers must be converted or destroyed. So many contradictions, so many interpretations, and so much hatred, conflict, and suffering spread throughout the world.
    One of the most common arguments for religion says that without it there’d be nothing but murderous anarchy in the world. Well, we’ve got religion, and we’ve got murderous anarchy in many parts of the world. What we don’t have is peace and love. What we don’t have is tolerance. We don’t have a world full of compassion and generosity. There’s no doubt that religion provides something very useful and comforting. By promoting the idea of life after death, the idea of heaven and hell, religion takes on the role of an all-powerful parent who is going to reward the “good” people and punish the “bad” ones.
    But we have to move beyond the issues that divide us to the issues that unite us. The focus should be on our relationship with other people and the planet. How we establish that relationship should be the core of the belief system of the various religions. Take away the supernatural divine personage. Who needs it? However that change occurs, the universal element of human spirituality can be the driving force for the massive change required in our world view. And this is the truly ironic part: the framework of established religion, if stripped of its intense focus on supernatural salvation, could be the vehicle for change in a way that regionalism or nationalism or even internationalism can’t be. Human spirituality ‘operates’ on a global scale; it is even more widespread that religion.
    An interesting starting point for discussion of how to mobilize human spirituality can be found at which asks, on the Community page, three large questions:
    How can we find a way to a realistic view of humanity which recognizes that we are part of nature, not above or separate from other forms of life?
    How can we develop a spiritual attitude towards the very things that give us life: the land, water, air, and all other organisms and creatures that represent global biodiversity?
    How can we work towards acceptance of a guiding principle for all our actions and policies based on the common good of everyone, not the benefit of the few?
    It sounds like an impossible dream, and change is uncertain and hard. But the alternative to a spiritual change is an apocalyptic battle for survival, whether global warming comes sooner or later. If we can make a personal, spiritual connection to the natural world, we may begin to make spiritual and practical connections to people of other nations and cultures. We will find it easier to make changes in our everyday life, in our consumption habits, in our reduction of wastefulness, in the spread of conservation practices. Lives may be simpler, but they could be richer and more fulfilling for everyone.
    Gordon Fisher

  52. Doing the right thing with our planet and our life in the name of God may work now, but it hasn’t in the past.

    In fact, romanticized faith in God has kept us from accepting full responsibility for our impact on each other and for the trashing of the planet.

    The touted anthem “In god We Trust,” suggests that: 1.) It will all work out in the end as we are mere sheep and God or Allah will not abandon us. 2.) An Armageddon (Divind or artificial), or Rapture, is inevitable and ultimately will purify us before Paradise. Silly us.

    The choice however is ours. We can create heaven or hell on earth now. Assigning salvation to God alone is to neglect responsibility for our individual and collective self. For the most part we have chosen to denigrated ourselves like foolish children rather than celebrate life with responsibile thought,labor, and bliss.

  53. I’m glad that Thomas Joseph has raised the point of ‘responsibility,’ something seriously lacking at a time when so much attention is paid to our ‘rights.’ Responsibilty is one of the most daunting burdens we take on when we abandon religious belief. Can we (humanity) make the transition from infancy and ignorance (and multiple gods) through adolescence (with one all-powerful divine personage) to adulthood which means taking resonsibility for our own actions and not passing it off on a parent figure, e.g., the all-powerful divinity who (for religious believers)is responsible for everything that happens, good and bad?
    I’m also happy to see that a good number of contributors to this discussion, e.g., Melissa, Bill, Gordon A, Mark D, Jane, Noel, and Lauren understand the value of a spiritual connection to the natural world and see it as an important element in a better future.

  54. Thanks, Auden, for sharing with us what I name your authentic introspection. My experience of authentic action is that it results in 2 polar opposite responses despite the fact that both appear to me to be, themselves, authentic.

    The first appears to be from an inner resonance to the authentic act coming from what Carl Jung named the Self.

    The second is a demonization of the act. Once again, in the language of Jung, it is an externalization onto the authentic person of some of that which is being rejected by the demonizer within him/herself.

    Unhappily, it seems clear to me that mjosef and a few others have chosen the demonization of your ideas over the engagement of them. And, in the case of mjosef, the writer isn’t even willing to use her/his full name–thereby minimizing his/her own accountability. Furthermore, I note that demonization is the opposite of the holistic response the demonizer calls for.

    As a recovering addict, I understand that demonizing/shaming/blaming game for what it is. I’ve certainly done it enough myself.

    Auden, are you familiar with enantiodromio?

    It was named by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. It posits that all of life inherently has the capacity to become its opposite.

    Enantiodromio is regularly demonstrated in the world when a person or group begins doing the opposite of what he/she/it originally proclaimed. Early Baptists paid terrible prices fighting for the clear separation of church and state based upon their foundational belief than no one needs an intermediary between her/himself and God. They were vehemently anti-clerical. They and the Unitarians, Pietists and Universalists were in the most radical wing of the Reformation. O how they have changed.

    Of course, the opposite result also occurs. Those who once advocated terrorism in Northern Ireland are now among the peacemakers.

    I’m bringing this idea up because it is at the core of my optimism about climate change.

    As the developed world has, for almost 2 centuries, powered itself by the profligate use of ever less expensive fossil fuels, a huge energy has been created within Western culture for conservation and minimizing the use of energy. I believe that your essay recognizes that turn.

    The best examples I can point out of this on the macro cultural level are what has happened twice in Russia. First in 1917 and then again in the late 1980s, an absolute authoritarian regime was overthrown with very little violence. For those who question my inclusion of 1917, a careful review will reveal than the Czar was overthrown with very little violence. The violence was in the resulting fight between those that had succeeding in overthrowing him–the Whites (Minsheviks) and Reds (Bolsheviks).

    Russia’s experience provides a great caution because, in the first instance, it reverted to an authoritarian government and, today, it appears to be doing so again.

    Our task in meeting the challenge of climate change s to alter the character of our culture. That can only be done if we, also, change individually. Remember, my changing my personal behavior exerts pressure on our entire culture.

  55. Having a screen name is within anyone’s rights. Who cares what my “government” name is? How would that affect the discussion in the least? Plenty of pseudonyms have been used by very upstanding people, and in a society where religion has enormous economic and cultural weight and advantages, a little distance is probably a good thing.
    As for the other ideas, “my changing my personal behavior exerts pressure on the entire culture” is the definition of solipsism. Have you considered that you are just one life form with a limited shelf life, of utterly no consequence to nature except that which you can establish? As for the other theories, what sociological validity do you ascribe to them? There is a natural world of real causes and real effects, and the longer we dither with nonsensical piffle about optimism and “spiritual healing,” the more suffering we will engender. Again, let’s go visit Australia and see how the dying kangaroos are heartened by our talk of imminent cultural changeover.

  56. The Epilogue of my book: A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness:
    The new question for philosophy is not what we’re here for , but what we’re here as . We’re here as mammalian vertebrates endowed with high performance brains and nerve-jangling sensitivity. During the last ten thousand years we’ve come from merely staying alive to all but dominating our surroundings – only to see our survival threatened by that domination. We can produce perfect sheep from scratch (including a sheep soul), but we can’t govern ourselves.

    In tribal times, the other was to be feared if unknown to friends and relatives, who could settle disputes. Once reconciliation was entrusted to outside parties, men relinquished the freedom to think for themselves and be responsible for their acts to all-powerful external authorities. When a single all powerful God replaced nature gods, the aggressor’s otherness was likened to that of the supreme other, resulting in permanent fear of every other.

    A supreme authority was required to protect early humans from nature and each other, and to force them to share that pro-tection. Whatever the religion, the decision to believe in God was the most decisive act humans committed with respect to internal authority, and the link between external authority and security defines the impossible dual nature of God, and everything that fol-lows. When the deity fails to prevent evil, men believe it is punishing them, and turn to external authorities for relief. In a stunning ex-ample of unintended consequences, having inserted the deity, the absolute, between Yin and Yang, outside the Tao, instead of mora-lity being identified with the oneness of life, it became authority, outside it.

    Although all religions try to show men how to be, each is drawn to the great questions of existence from the perspective of an absolute entity. Seeing a sunset in a beautiful landscape, many people say: “There must be Someone up there for all this to exist,” while others say: “How wonderful to be here, to see all this, to feel all this. There can’t possibly be anyone up there. it’s obvious that all this simply is.” God told Moses: “I am he who is”, but belief in his power transformed the unknowable into a bearded old man sitting on a throne making sunsets. Modern man established a personal relationship to God, and a few centuries later, the most severe religion in the world, Calvinism, led to a frenzy of Having.

    Thousands of years of religion have been unable to fulfill the needs of humanity, and today we are overcome by the wondrous machines we have invented but cannot control. The foreign world of representation called God ricochets back to us each time we contemplate the other, resulting in endless wars. Instead of think-ing he (or she) who is, we should learn to think simply is , or tat tvam asi , where there is no God, but the sacred is the Whole of which we are a part.

    The Whole is 1 and 0, Yin and Yang, mass and energy, waves and particles. The third element of which the Egyptians and quantum physicists speak is not an authority outside ourselves, but the con-science of an on-going process, in which, through counter-bal-ancing, what we see as two alternatives, are resolved into one. At present our economic edifice could bring humanity all it needs, but in a culture that attributes greater value to having than to being, instability becomes an uncontrollable dynamic. To maintain a stable state, the city we build must preserve the rule of Ma’at – or cooperation with the Gods. This means using our inner freedom to tend toward order, recognizing that order is inseparable from disorder. Although it aspired to immobility, the Egyptian religion knew that, like perfection, immobility – or entropy – equals death.

    Marx’s saying about religion is more meaningful when quoted in full: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sen-timent of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” I translate this to mean that life is diffi-cult, and order/disorder is disquieting. Knowing that if you cannot always Have everything, at least you have God’s love, makes life – and death – easier to bear. Having no concept of ourselves or others as part of the Whole, and having abandoned our internal authority, and thus our individual responsibility, to the closed systems built by external authority, we have no idea how to respect the requirements of the open system which is our environment, and which includes other humans. We have no concept of freedom as a part of ourselves because we do not properly value consciousness. Freedom is seen as an external good, a thing which we use to enjoy the world out there, instead of an inner state. Mind having overrun intuition, we trust leaders to take us somewhere, but they fail because there’s nowhere to go.

    There’s nowhere to go when Life is not part of our immediate external environment, but a thing that we possess, and which we’re willing to risk to obtain other things. Eventually we realize that things are not part of the self, and that they do not replace being. But by the time we realize that the self is all we have, it’s too late. Left bare by the disappearance of our immediate external envi-ronment, we confront death as the ultimate negation. In the final humiliation of over-medicalization, which turns the self into a thing, we die unto ourselves long before we cease to breathe.

    It’s not so much because man is repressed, as Marx and Marcuse thought, as dispossessed of his immediate external envi-ronment, that he fears death, taking refuge in things. In the Middle Ages, when everyone lived in small communities, death meant separation from the things that were part of our immediate exter-nal world. Gradually, we and our things have become separated from the greater whole, and this has made death an intolerable prospect.

    The religious stance that makes it so hard for us to accept death is not the only one possible. Now that we have a better grasp of nature, we can say that God is to order/disorder what idols were to monotheism: an uninformed belief. When God is another name for order/disorder, religion (order) counterbalances man’s inse-curity (disorder), also known as ‘the Devil’. In reality the existence of slightly more matter (or life, or Yang) than anti-matter in the universe, confirms at the most basic level that disorder occurs more often than order, requiring constant efforts to counterbalance it, as the Egyptians intuited.

    All pantheists have known that belief in multiple gods leaves men’s internal authority intact, and is more consistent with respect for nature than monotheism. Spinoza suggests that a god of the wind or rain is simply an anthropomorphic version of scientific fact. The Indians did not have an omnipotent God, yet they felt respon-sible both toward other humans and to their habitat.

    Rites and temples were a way of allowing men to communicate with that which they could not see. Eventually, convinced that the invisible didn’t exist, men abandoned the rites and destroyed the temples. But we can only deny the gods if we retain their message: that, as part of nature, we’re not totally free.

    There is neither ‘destiny’ nor absolute freedom ‘given by God’. What we call destiny can be modified at every moment, influenced by our internal authority – or freedom – which is itself affected by the indeterminism that constitutes life. At all times the rich have been unhappy, but at present, in our part of the world, where we are all more or less rich, unhappiness, more related to
    Having than to Being, tends to be mental rather than physical. Sickness is cured almost perfectly; there remain unrequited love and the desire for power. These two areas of suffering can be more or less reasoned, depending on individual ability to see that one love will be followed by another, and that the results of a competition are never final. Only the loss of a loved one cannot be reasoned: the pain is as deep as the joy of his/her presence, because life and death are One.

    Loving and suffering are part of the Whole which simply is. Pain is like a low cloud, the clap of thunder; but between storms, there are the sun, the stars. Great happiness is brief, but pleasures (which we are wrong to call small), are offered every day. Recognizing them may be a question of education to the Self, not in opposition to the other, but as part of the Whole. We can neither do away with Evil, nor retain happiness. Even believing we can substantially trans-form the ego through self-help is to deny that it is part of the order/disorder of the world.
    Selfishness inhabits each of us when we renounce being for having. But since we are one with the cosmos, we are one with the other; we’re both part of disorder, and that’s why we create pro-blems for each other. We can never find peace, because peace equals death. To assuage the hurts, we need to understand that the other is also entangled in the web of disorder, and treat him or her with the love, tolerance and respect due each living thing. Because we are part of a Whole which is both this and that, nothing can enable us to ‘be’ happy, that is to experience happiness durably. In a world made up of enfoldings and unfoldings, there can only be moments of happiness, as well as of unhappiness – a pain as sharp as the feeling of joy. Most of the time we experience the perpetual, indeterminate movement of the reed that bends with the wind, or what François Jullien calls “the in-between”.
    The challenge of the 21st century is not to enable everyone to buy more and more things, but to organize our lives holistically. What differentiates us from plants and animals is auto-referentiality, and the flip side of the ability to see ourselves is the obli-gation of responsibility.

    When men were at the mercy of nature, they needed one or even several Gods to protect them. Now nature is at man’s mercy, and only a transformation of man’s linear, dichotomous, culture, can enable him to understand that he must respect the circle, that he cannot continue in a straight line, dominating ever more perfectly his environment, because through bifurcation and dissipation, that path could be fatal to humans.

    Once aware that our actions are no more externally free than those of the universe, but that our consciousness is free, individuals, and groups in which authority is minimally delegated, should be able to reinvent the circular organization of life that preceded monotheism, and find the necessary rituals at the per-sonal, local and international level, to deal with otherness and be with the Whole. Such a transformation must come from each of us as a manifestation of our inner freedom, and from inside the very edifice that supplanted the non-dual cultural orders

    Since the Renaissance, Western culture has glorified know-ledge: we do not like to see books burned, we do not like to see truth hidden. But problems arise when we believe that knowledge equals truth, or that it can overcome order/disorder. As the only living creatures to know that we know, we need to be aware that at most knowledge brings us closer to our goals.

    Quantum mechanics, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, do not so much contradict Cartesian logic as modify its meaning: “I think therefore I am”; i.e., since the observer affects the thing being observed, I exist through cognition and autopoiesis as an inherent part of the universe, not outside it as an independent spectator. Hence there is no need to aggress the Other because he doesn’t think the same thoughts I do. We’re both part of one consciousness, as is the entire cosmos, made up of indestructible particles in end-less combinations. Internal freedom is an intrinsic element in a universe imperishable in essence and impermanent in form, that of information.

    Conscience, responsibility and emotions emerge from the fundamentally undifferentiated Whole, and they’ve led us to the chimeric idea that we can dominate It. But if our very existence was inevitable, if we were not put here by some outside, Divine will, then clearly, when we seek to dominate our environment, we destroy ourselves. Pursuing marginal benefits ad infinitum, we behave as though we were outside of Nature, despoiling the Whole to which we belong. Politicians call for ever more growth, in the hope of resolving the problem of exclusion. But growth can only achieve that if we share. Listen now to Stuart Kauffman:

    If science lost us our Western paradise, our place at the center of the world, children of God, with the sun cycling overhead and the birds of the air, beasts of the field, and fish of the waters placed there for our bounty, if we have been left adrift near the edge of just another humdrum galaxy, perhaps it is time to take heartened stock of our situation. We have presumed to command, based on our best knowledge and even our best intentions. We have presumed to commandeer, based on the availability of resources, renewable or not, that lay readily at hand. We do not know what we are doing. All we can do is be locally wise, even though our best efforts will lead to our transformation to utterly unforeseeable ways of being. We can only strut and fret our hour, yet this is our own and only role in the play, Weought then play it proudly but humbly.

    According to the Taoists, thinking about the speed of time or the course of events is equivalent to stepping into a windstorm, which can not be calculated. We are in that windstorm, and the more we try to hold on to the present moment, the more the objects of our desire, simple happiness or the elimination of terrorists, escape our grasp. If the wind were to stop blowing to enable us to get hold of it, it would cease to be the wind.

    In his presentation of the Taoist canon, the French scholar Etiemble, echoing Sade, declares: “If peace is to ever win out over war, it will not be thanks to the aphorisms of the Tao Te Ching, but because reasonable men, who do not dismiss intelligence, will have substituted to the order of waste – that of nature – and to the order of death – that of God – an order which is against nature, but legal and moral. An intelligent order, that which precisely Lao-Tzu repudiates”. As a product of the Enlightenment, Etiemble could not understand that peace will never win out definitively over war, no matter how intelligent we are, because order is inseparable from disorder, and we cannot permanently get the upper hand over what is. Hence, modern Taoism acknowledges that each of us should participate in the life of the city, not in order to raise some, or others, to the summit, but for the purpose of tending toward order. Not the conservatives’ law and order, but order-in-tension-with-disorder; not rigid order that seeks to impose the strongest, but Claude Jullien’s order as part of the oscillation of the Whole. Neither Jacobin absolutism, that transforms tending-toward into battling-for, nor kleptocracy, which nullifies participation.

    If we believe only in transcendence, we cannot have faith in the inner freedom that would allow us to take on responsibilities left for too long to God. Working to preserve the Rule means implementing an inclusive, open politics, rather than one that is ex-cluding and closed. In this deep sense Taoism is to the left of Judeo-Christianity. In its non-differenciation with respect to the other, it implies solidarity even when it does not intervene to transform tending-toward into combat. For a modern Taoist, acceptance means having an ideal, a goal, but being able to let go when one has done what one could, knowing that the change we seek will occur inevitably – as will eventually and just as inevitably, its opposite.

    A morality that is not based on an implicit worship of nature eventually destroys all of nature. The absolute nature of being relates to life in all its forms. It situates being above having, which sooner or later implies destruction of life. Codified law and the public morality upon which it rests are outside ourselves. Our need is for inner morality and law, to trace the limits of our external freedom. Our education in belief, in hope as magic, rather than in reason as a moment in the process of order/disorder, hides being, leaving us open to the promises of external authority and its deceptions.

    Evolution and self-organization tell us there are no definite answers, and quantum theory shows that there is a level of reality to which we do not have access. But synchronicity reveals the identity of mind and matter, and the theory of implicate and explicate order tells us that although there are no separate parts to the universe, there is always a third alternative that brings together opposites, what we know and what we cannot know.
    What we cannot know is that-which-is. It is sacred and beyond understanding. When we try to control the ultimate reality of the universe, we change it in unforeseeable ways, betraying our obligation to Ma’at. The problématique, therefore, is us, and the path is both very broad and very narrow. We need to know that muddling through is a question of attitudes rather than rules or laws, wars or treaties. As we weigh on the endless process of life, we need to remember that disorder has neither party, sex, nor territory, and that ‘salvation’ for the world lies in the understanding that nothing can ever be final.

  57. Great Article. I agree that the change we need is something that must be as deep as a religious realignment of our stance toward the world.

    However, I am skeptical about a one size fits all solution that focuses on religion. It’s tough for me to hear the word God without thinking about the vengeful God who is willing to condemn souls to Hell for all eternity just because they hadn’t heard of Christianity, or formally declared that Jesus was their personal savior. That side of God and religion are deeply distasteful to me. It strikes me as arbitrary & unjust – adhering to bureaucratic rules rather than spiritual principles.

    I appreciate the second sense of the word God that the author talks about. That all-pervasive spirit, the place of the world – that makes perfect sense to me. It inspires me on a daily basis. Why does it have to be the same word?

    I wish the author could have written from a perspective of fundamental inclusion. I wish he could have said more clearly “here is one of the many ways we might approach the change we need.” It strikes me that we need something that touches principles that lie below and before the thinking structures that divide us. Maybe this is asking too much.

  58. Great article. I’m wondering if it is possible to get a copy of Mr. Bennett’s presentation – assuming it is in some format like PowerPoint. I would love to see it.

  59. I can’t believe how people fall for all of the AGW crap even when the evidence is against CO2 driven warming. The simple fact is that the climate of our planet changes and what we are now seeing is part of the natural cycle. Yes, CO2 emissions matter but they are immaterial when compared to most natural factors and can be safely ignored. Our world used to be warmer as recently as the Medieval Warming Period, which was the time of prosperity that was responsible for all of those great cathedrals that we admire so much. It was a time when Vikings could grow crops on land that is still under permafrost and when Chinese orange orchards were hundreds of miles north of their current positions.

    Our climate changes mainly because of changes in solar activity and changes in orbital characteristics and while sustainability directors and activists may have good intentions the negative effects of using the power of government to regulate voluntary human actions that cause no harm to others are dangerous to human society.

  60. Vangel,
    You need to get caught up on the facts. See Hansen on the comparison with previous, natural warming cycles.

  61. I know I’m way too late on this comment, but I’m also two issues behind in reading…this is by far the best, practical and realistic approach to the spiritual importance of environmental action I have read in some time.

    I have always considered myself what I call a “simple Christian.” it matters little to me whether Jesus of nazareth walked on water; it matters alot that he tells me part of my job is to see that people HAVE water…I don’t need immaculate conceptions and rising from the dead to see the essential truth for living well can be learned from the Sermon on the mount. And that sermon says all life is god; all life is ‘of god'; all life is good.

    Mr. Auden has come to the realization late that many people of faith aren’t caught up in the stuff we have made of religion. We just know there is a higher reason for us to live and a greater truth that can be fulfilled in our lives.

    thanks for a terrific article.

  62. I am on one hand very sympathetic to this article and also annoyed by it. There is no doubt that in order for the sustainability revolution to continue and blossom that we will have to work with religious people of many/most stripes. Like E.O. Wilson, Auden believes that there is something luminous and practically numinous in nature and right they are. I think, though, that there is a distinction between that numinous quality and an actual supernatural presence within it which brings me a bit closer to the annoyance.

    The overlapping of nature and the supernatural creates a Spinozan god, a god of nature who is hardly transcendent. That god seems quite impersonal and not much like the god of the Bible or Koran at all. The association made between any one religion and this ineffable ground of being or however one might want to amorphously define god is to deform the god that many Christians, most notably the overwhelming number of creationists among us. While it is a nice definition that can hardly offend an atheist like Wilson, Auden, or me, it is not the god of most people. It is an intellectualized god.

    I also think it is an error to try to collapse moral philosophy and religion. Religious traditions all contain moral philosophies but not all moral philosophies contain religions. There is a great deal in the Christian tradition that impedes action on climate change. One need only look at Worldview Weekend or Acts and Facts to see this.

    We may all want to live in a dignified world, but I find it hard to accept that someone called by their faith to deny climate change is actually able to work meaningfully toward that more dignified world.

    But Auden is right. We must work together and recognize the panoply of religious experience and work especially well with those with whom we can share a love for the great diversity of all life.

  63. Another climate revelations?

    At the crux of all our discussions in the Orion community, two groups of people make their appearance.

    In one group, we recognize the “people of the economy” who have managed to institutionalize the ‘goodness’ of greed and arrogance associated with their idolatry of wealth consolidation and the power to continue accumulating filthy lucre. These people will uniformly say that their drive for economic growth and the power wealth purchases is not only good but also primary. They make it crystal clear that the protection of the Earth from industrialization and big business is secondary. In the other group, we have “people of Earth’s ecology” who see, as you do, that the preservation of the Earth needs to be primary and the growth of global economy secondary because there can be no such thing as a manmade economy without the resources and ecosystem services the Earth, and only the Earth, can provide.

    The Earth can get along quite nicely without the Masters of the Universe and their idolatrized global economy; but I do not think anyone can sensibly argue with the point that the economy cannot exist without a planet to provide for its viability. Even so, both of us recognize that there are many ideologues who do voceriferously argue that the human economy can exist independent of the Earth. I call it “money for nothing” thinking of do-nothing people. We also know that these ideologues are the very people who actually produce nothing, but end up with most of the world’s wealth. In our time timorous emasculated, absurdly high-paid “talking heads” in the mainstream media support this perverse situation. People who are actual producers lose their jobs, health care, pensions, etc while the Masters of the Universe, who produce nothing, walk away with millions of dollars in neatly packaged “golden parachutes” into carefree lives of effortless ease.

    As I see it, this is a problem. The institutionalized power of a few million selfish people who currently organize and manage the global political economy {for their own interests primarily} is much greater than the power that belongs to the billions of people who have very little wealth but hold a priceless vested interest in the preservation of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by our children and coming generations.

    The struggle today between the “haves” and the “have-nots” — between the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe and the people these masters call simpletons — can be likened to the Biblical confrontation between Goliath and David.

    Let’s make no mistake about it. The duplicitous, avaricious Masters of the Universe among us are a modern representation of Goliath and the people these masters have dubbed simpletons, the ones who are honest, transparent, productive and accountable for their actions, are living examples of the courageous David.



    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
    established 2001

  64. It appears to me that a social transformation of a hard to imagine kind, a radical transformation not witnessed by anyone now alive, is in the offing. Perhaps powerful human forces of sensibly-directed “intentional will” and emotional contagion, engendered by a deliberative dialogical process and embraced by the family of humanity, will lead to a rapid paradigm shift and a new, more reality-oriented set of humane {to replace profane} social values. When the new way of thinking about the world we inhabit and better social values are reasonably mobilized and become ubiquitously evident in the self-limiting actions of members of participatory democracies {to replace the conspicuous over-consumption activities of the selfish leaders of governing oligarchies}, I expect the family of humanity will find its way from the profane values and unsustainable lifestyles of the elites, such as we see today, to a sustainable future world order on this sacred Earth.

  65. I don’t know which emotion I feel more strongly: anger at people like Auden whose views of religion have been so ignorant and dismissive for so long; or shame at myself and my fellow believers for giving religion such a public face unattractive to Auden or anyone else. I think shame wins out.

    Congrats to Auden for the courage to explore unfamiliar territory. I agree that climate and most sustainability issues are spiritual at their core, because they challenge us to answer bedrock questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is the relationship between us and the natural world?

    Thanks for a great article.
    Gary Gardner

  66. Thank you, Auden. A question:Can you tell me, now, in 2012, whether your friend was successful in having the impact he wanted on Stihl’s senior management? And two suggestions. One,to look beyond the IPCC’s long gradual bunny slope toward disaster,starting here And consider including Lynn Margulis’ work and Gaia theory in the helpful community of spiritual thinking you have gathered so effectively in this article.

Commenting on this item is closed.