This essay, Of Horseshoe Crabs and Empathy, will give you a glimpse into some of the pathways I've been exploring as I research my new book. I'm using the word "research" here in a very loose sense. On the one hand, yeah, I'm reading hundreds of articles and scientific papers. However, one of the themes of the book is a critique of the conventional approach to policy-making, which gives primary importance to measuring and quantifying impacts. We need to access other ways of knowing -- not to the exclusion of the quantitative way, but not secondary to it either. Therefore, my "research" also involves a lot of sensing, observing, and listening, both to that which is outside me, and to my own emotional responses. These pluck threads of intuition that connect seemingly disparate phenomena.
This book is similar to Sacred Economics or The Ascent of Humanity in the scope of the research that is required to congeal and substantiate the thesis. It will probably take another year and a half. I am resisting my urge to haste, which is born of my growing awareness that the standard climate change narrative is impotent to support real ecological healing. I see the world careening further and further out of balance and I want to do something about it. It hurts, what is happening to the horseshoe crabs, to the Amazon, to the rhinos, the mangroves, the sea grass, the tuna, the Monarch butterflies... Oh, but we don't need the Monarchs as long as we stop emitting carbon dioxide, right? A pity for them, but we'll be fine. Right? Right? Wrong. But that is what the carbon narrative suggests, and that is how it tends to shift environmental priorities. In the mentality of carbon accounting, you could pave over the last Monarch wintering ground, and as long as you offset the loss by planting a forest somewhere else, you could claim zero impact.
One thing I'm trying to substantiate in my research is that we do in fact depend on the Momarchs, the crabs, the rhinos.... That the pain I feel upon their demise isn't just sentimentality but comes from an existential loss, the gouging out of a chunk of my being. And, that land, sea, and atmosphere are a giant, living organism whose health will inevitably deteriorate when its organs -- ecosystems and species -- are destroyed. Climate isn't some machine that you can fix like an internal combustion engine by altering the mix of gases that goes into it. It is in constant communication with Life.
When people ask me what this book is about, I am hesitant to say "climate change," because then they think they know what I'm going to say -- something on the spectrum from denialism to alarmism to catastrophism. What I'm saying though is off that spectrum entirely. I describe climate change as a symptomatic fever. Out of the matrix of causes, our society finds the one that fits most easily into the existing worldview and relationship to nature, and attacks that one. Just as we do with terrorism. With crime. With drug addiction in the War on Drugs. With disease.
We have got to practice another way.
So I'm going to stop saying the book is about climate change, which implies that one can isolate that from everything else. The climate reflects everything that is happening on this planet. So really this book is using climate as a window onto a process of change that encompasses everything. A typical book on climate change says, "Here is what is happening and here is what we should do about it." This book is different. It will visit that place, yes. It will go into some nuts-and-bolts about things like seagrass sequestration capacity and regenerative agriculture, even about greenhouse gas emissions, but it will disassemble these threads and use them to weave a much broader tapestry that includes the accelerating transformation of consciousness, society, and the mythology of civilization.
It isn't my tapestry; it is something being slowly revealed to me through my daily efforts to see it. I glimpse it as through a shifting fog, seeing now one part, now another, sometimes vague and sometimes clear. Through many conversations, I know that others are seeing the same tapestry, and we help each other make out the parts that were hidden from our individual vantage points. Especially useful in developing my sight have been my episodes of frustration, despair, and overwhelm. These are what make me drop the ways of seeing that got in the way. I can see enough now to know that this tapestry conveys not only an understanding of the current crisis, but also ways of responding to it. Some of these are "on the map" of conventional environmentalism, suggesting a shift of focus, strategy, languaging, and tactics. Some of the responses, though, are entirely off the spectrum of what we know as ecological activism. My hope is that you will find yourself on that tapestry, and realize your passion for, let us say, local food, prison reform, racial justice, or herbal medicine is part of the healing of the climate.