The FUSEE street team, Madeline Cowen and myself, have been hard at work here in the north of Scotland, at the venerable Findhorn Foundation intentional spiritual community. We are here for the Climate Change and Consciousness conference, and we are a bit more than halfway through. Record-breaking Earth Day temperatures were followed immediately by a twelve square mile wildfire, threatening a nearby wind farm. A pall of smoke hung over Findhorn on Tuesday, and fire was on everyone’s mind, if not their lips. Our mission, aside from adding our voice to the chorus, was to bring more balance to the discussion of wildfires, as nearly every presenter used the language or visuals of wildfire destruction in their presentations to paint the dystopian future of runaway climate change.
On Saturday and Sunday we heard from Bill McKibben from 350.org, as well as Vandana Shiva, the tireless warrior from India, opposed to Monsanto and their franken-seeds, as well as her clear call for renewing the soil holistically, rather than with nutrients, herbicides and pesticides derived from petroleum products. In addition to Monsanto, Shiva took aim at Bill Gates, as an example of our modern corporate heads who “move like gods” among our weakening heads of state.
On Sunday we heard from Christina Figures, the Costa Rican diplomat, who pulled together the 2015 Paris Agreement which was widely hailed as a remarkable achievement. When asked what she thought about politicians globally pulling away from climate issues, including President Trump taking the U.S of the agreement, she reminded us that this was a small group of world leaders, and with solar power costs now lower than most fossil fuel electrical power generation costs, decarbonization is inevitable. With many U.S. states and cities affirming their commitment to the Paris accord, hers was a powerful message of just how insignificant Trump’s actions are. It’s simply a pity that the U.S. won’t prosper from the coming changes in how power is produced. We could have been in the forefront of solar panel development and sales, but we have conceded that ground to China — protecting the gas, oil and coal companies is a continuation of “fossilized” thinking, as Vandana Shiva put it.
On Monday morning, we heard from other luminaries in the climate movement, like Charles Eistenstein, who promotes a more holistic living planet worldview, and who has, on occasion, taken exception to McKibben’s goal focused on a single metric, ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. But both seemed more in alignment than ever before, with the new broadened focus of the Extinction Rebellion, that has been concurrently shutting down streets in London and elsewhere. Focusing on mass extinctions, including possibly that of humankind, the Extinction Rebellion fits more with Eisenstein’s priorities found in his new book, Climate: A New Story. In order of priority, he called for:
1. Preservation of intact ecosystems, which aligns well with FUSEE’s aim or keeping fire intact as an ecosystem process where possible
2. Restoration of degraded ecosystems, also in alignment of reintroduction of fire through prescribed burning or natural fire management
3. Stop dumping toxins in our waterways and oceans… and a “distant fourth,”
4. Stop greenhouse emissions.
After all, some of the first extinctions of the new Anthropocene age, in which we live, were fire-dependent species. This began in North America, as fire was systematically excluded after the beginning of the 20th century. Eisenstein implores us to “ask what the earth wants?” As we here at FUSEE know well, in many remaining wild places, the earth wants fire. In these places a fire excluded is simply a fire deferred, with the subsequent fire likely to be more severe.
On Monday afternoon, I had a chance to be interviewed by the conference’s live Facebook team, along with Sally Ibbotson, a local Qigong master and Findhorn resident, and one of the event’s most popular keynote speakers, Angaangaq Angakkorsiaq, an indigenous elder from Greenland who was selected as a “runner” for his people to be an emissary when his people observed, as early as 1963, that the “Big Ice” was melting. His mother sent him to the white man’s world to “melt the ice in their hearts.” His message was strong and clear. “It is too late. Why did you not listen?“ Nicknamed, “Uncle,” this man was one of the warmest and most sincere I’ve ever met. From our interview onward, he met me with a hug and smile.
Tuesday’s focus was on the large youth contingent, and like the indigenous message, some bits were difficult to hear, but their demands and fears were made crystal clear. We heard from Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, teen environmental hip-hop artist and co-plaintiff in the Juliana vs. U.S.A. climate case, slowly making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Tuesday’s live online interview featured, Maggie Filor from Australia, whose home burned down when she was eight years old, along with two other young climate activists.
In all, the scope and breadth of the conference has been staggering, especially for those exposed to the urgency and scope of the problem for the first time. Workshops have been offered from a wide variety of presenters. From Jem Bendell, whose 36-page essay on his way out the door of academia gained him more notoriety than an entire career of writing and teaching trying to save capitalism, to the guy that literally wrote the book on intergenerational climate activism.
Over and over, the question was asked or considered, Is this a “fight” or a “struggle?” In a spiritual community of peace, like Findhorn, where many feel change begins from within, the use of aggressive language is problematic. But all the speakers seemed in agreement that we, as in all species, are in a fight for survival….a fight against wealth and power. At FUSEE we discourage the militarism and aggression that fuels the “war” on wildfire, but that arises from the dualistic worldview in which humanity stands apart from nature. If there was any message delivered by this conference more than that we are in a struggle, it was that the cause arises from this errant worldview. Every speaker stepped up and said, in one way or another, we are one with nature, but our need to express dominance has clouded our connection, attempting to replace what was lost with shallow materialism.
This conference seemed to be very timely with the increased awareness of climate catastrophe from all of the lived experience of those experiencing fires, floods, drought and hurricanes. The movement has been electrified by the emergence of sixteen-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, who has continued to thoroughly crush the adults in the room at the U.N. and Whitehall. Add to that the growing student walkouts, like the one I joined surging through the streets of Galway, Ireland, right before St. Patrick’s Day. All-in-all it seems we have nudged open Overton’s window on climate and the building of broad coalitions is now underway – and if not, I’m quite certain the youth will pick up stones and shatter Mr. Overton’s window altogether.
Stay tuned for our final installment as we wrap up the conference at the end of the week. MB