Collective Consciousness and Climate: Change the Story
Man-made climate change is a symptom. To understand the cause of it, we must first understand something invisible, fundamental, and powerful about our species.
We must become aware of humanity’s superpower.
History tells us that we, homo sapiens, were somewhere in the middle of the food chain for most of our existence. Insignificant – about as impactful as jellyfish. Contrary to popular belief, it was not our big brains, tools, or mastery of fire that brought us to the top – no, our fellow human species (and yes there were several) had those things too.
What it was – what makes us special, is our ability to imagine, create, and believe in ideas that have no basis in reality. Think: nations, religion, corporations, money.
As Yuval Noah Harari says, “We can create and believe fictional stories. And as long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms, and the same values.”
This ability to collectively believe in ideas, to create stories and fictitious entities that we’ve never seen, touched or smelled allowed us to cooperate flexibly with countless numbers of strangers so that we could work together towards common goals.
This is our superpower.
It’s the collective stories we tell ourselves and believe in that makes us so powerful. It’s the stories and ideas we’ve made up and built upon for centuries that not only allow us to organize and cooperate but are the very foundation of the society we’ve built over time.
Remember that. Our stories were the blueprint, and are now the foundation for the society we’ve built.
Here’s a quick parable to segue into why this matters:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”
The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
As David Foster Wallace explained, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”
Society’s “water”, the most important reality to be aware of today is this:
We live in a world built on the stories and beliefs of the past. And that world – the system we live in, does not work anymore.
We know this because the laws of nature are telling us that it is impossible to continue living on Earth as we do today. The conditions that make civilization possible are disappearing before our eyes.
And we only have a small window of time to tell new stories – to rebuild a new system that can support us.
To get on the right track, we must first see the water. We must be conscious of where we stand, why we’re here, and where we need to go. That means identifying the root of the problem and taking action to correct it.
So what exactly are society’s stories that led us astray?
1. The widespread belief that we are separate from, and better than, nature.
You don’t have to know much about history and science to know that this belief is inaccurate. Yet, it is ingrained in the fabric of our society – it’s even in our dictionaries.
We, by definition, are nature (a part of it anyway).
We are made of stardust, just like everything else in the universe.
And we are biologically related to all other life on Earth. We are all a family.
Everything is interconnected. We depend on a stable climate and other life to flourish. To think otherwise is not only wrong but dangerous.
Take your own body for example. Did you know that 90% of “your” cells aren’t human? We rely on countless other species to function every day (just as they rely on us).
And so it is with society. Whether we realize it or not, we need a healthy biosphere to survive and thrive. We cannot do it alone.
Nature, our environment, is our life support system. If we believe we don’t need nature and are willing to pollute and destroy it, we are only harming ourselves.
It is time to become more conscious of this interdependent reality and code it into future systems.
2. Profit and corporations > people and planet
This one’s simple. Somewhere along the way, we got lost.
Today, short term profits matter most. We value GDP and quarterly earnings over people, health, education, and justice.
We’re told the economy matters more than the people’s wellbeing it’s supposedly an indicator of.
We created money, government, and corporations. We made them so that they could serve us – not the other way around.
It’s time for a new story where these fictitious entities actually do serve the people.
Climate change is the symptom
It’s the symptom of not seeing the water we swim in every day. It’s the symptom of old stories gone wrong.
To fix it, we need a massive uprising in collective consciousness and active citizenship.
You and I are the last ones with a chance to do anything about the climate crisis. We have the opportunity to save millions of lives and create a safer, healthier, and more just world.
But changing the narrative and stopping global warming will require a heroic effort by millions and millions of people.
Lucky for us, as society’s stories and values begin to change, heroes won’t look like they used to.
They’ll look like you do.
This article is spot on… and it’s just begging for a sequel! History has shown that changing collective consciousness takes time, which is the one thing we don’t have at our disposal. How do we speed up our collective transformation.
Great way to look at the core issues of why we, (humans and planet = one we), are where we are.
Thanks Glen – glad you appreciated it!
Nicely put Ryan – I’ve read some Harari, too – and the words you quoted remind me of a political commentator Caitlin Johnstone who argues likewise. In any case we are all connected – and this Covid-19 proves that we are all one human species to start with (no one who has more things or more money or more power is any more protected against this virus) and that in the same way we are part of the broader living creatures spectrum – an environment which can no longer sustain the selfish greedy exploitation it has been undergoing. It has to stop. Good luck as you promote this common sense thinking – a respect and love for our world and our brothers and sisters within it.
Great article, well carved out.
Fantastic “at the root of the problem” article and the one I have been thinking most about because at the end of the day, what matters most is action – most of which is driven by unconscious behavior (habits) which is driven by the un-examined assumptions (cultural stories) we have bought into. This of course begs the question where are the greatest leverage points for telling this new regenerative story? Do we have the right trusted tools and media outlets in our arsenal to do this at the scale of getting everyone on the same team to co-create the better world we are envisioning? If not, should a new company or set of companies be created to help serve that purpose but to do it in a fact-based, scientifically proven but fun and approachable way? Could the water be exposed as the illusion that it is in a non-threatening way that invites people in vs. reinforces their biases and fears? I think so….
Love it Ryan, succinct take.
There’s a bravery required to challenge systems, so thank you for hosting something like this. Cos when there’s a few of us at work it’s no longer fearsome or lonely, it’s fortifying. cheers Bro 🙂
Thanks Baz – and so true, well said!
Great article Ryan. Very well written.
Great article Ryan, Is the follow-up article out yet? Eager to read it.
Would love to get some academic response to the idea of vapour saturating the atmosphere with more H20. In the chemical industry the process is called “scubbing” the environment. But its simply overdosing the ambient environment with water vapor, which removes chemical vapors and the concentrate is then bled away to manage in a safe way.
I already know it will take a lot, a magnanimous amount of steam generators, (no problem – our faithful Star produces +5000 times more energy in a day than all of humaity can ever need – e-v-e-r-y day it shines) I already know it will require a lot of money, (no problem), I already know all the setbacks. I’m not interested in any. I just wish to know, if we had the resources to ‘scrub” the atmosphere with (adequate amounts of) steam generators. would it be enough to remove enough C02 to cause a reversal to planet ‘heat-up’?
Thank you Veer!
No, no follow up article on this one yet. And unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to your question! All I know is that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Hope you dig into it and keep researching though – so much to learn and do to tackle this!