Ecology and Consciousness: What Must Be Done

Pennaceous epidermal growth of Meleagris gallopavo, detail. Photo by author.

There are the things that must happen. Then there are the things we want, the things we believe, and the things we do.

By “we” I mean virtually everybody in the civilized world. This is the collective “we”: not merely a number of individuals, but their sum. A “we” with its own path, in which solitary efforts contrary to its direction are of no material account. A “we” whose existence is a fact quite apart from our thoughts or our emotions about it, or indeed from our very perceptions of it, which are so often inaccurate.

What must happen is no mystery. Consumption must decrease, and decrease drastically, in the interest of a liveable ecology.

Many specifics follow this general principle. We must use less water, land and fuel. We must reduce our manufacturing, our construction, our energy production, our mining, our transportation and our farming. Wasteful or inefficient practices must cease entirely. War must end. We can no longer afford an economic system that requires constant expansion. Further, we cannot sustain any “economy” in the modern sense of that concept.

These facts are fundamental. Any choice made as if they were not is against our own interest. People can debate whether this is also a case of ethics, morality or justice, but what’s beyond argument is that collectively we are making self-destructive choices. Our behavior is ecocidal and ecocidal=suicidal.

The “we” is a self-reinforcing social structure from which very few free themselves. Certainly not those that are nominally in charge, who are not better or smarter or more aware. They don’t have superpowers and they are not the master manipulators some would make them out to be; indeed, in that they have not mastered themselves, they are masters of nothing real. Their power reigns over a very narrow province, and only tenuously. That can change.

The things that must happen are known by all of us, at least on some level. Our lives are integrated into existence on Earth 100%, and its life is our life, its senses our senses, its pain our pain. Just as any sound within earshot is picked up by our ears but we consciously focus on only one or a few at a time, so the voices of life on the planet reach us. We can ignore or misconstrue them, but we cannot claim plausible deniability.

Not on a planet where a beetle uses infrared senses to detect forest fires over thirty miles away and then flies there en masse to lay eggs under the bark. Or where a treecan abort the developing seeds in its own pollinated ovaries in order to kill caterpillars eating them. Or where a butterfly returns to the birthplace of its great-grandparent though it has never been there.

We are here on this planet. Therefore we are part of the web of existence along with everything else. Our alienation from that reality exists only in a way of thinking, not in the conditions of our actual existence. We are no less connected than we have ever been, regardless of our technics. What’s going on is that we are trying to banish ourselves to a strictly delimited place in our own heads. That’s culture-making and it’s a disease.

It would be as if a leaf claimed it wasn’t part of the tree. That would be delusional.

But that’s where we are.

This isn’t about being misinformed or uneducated. One can be well-informed and highly educated and not escape delusion to any degree. In fact, that’s usually the case. The institutions doing the informing and educating are chief purveyors of delusional thinking. And that’s one that really does trickle down.

Put another way, among the individuals who make up our collective “we,” virtually none of us have liberated ourselves from our wanting and believing, so inevitably our doing goes against our own interest.

This is quite the conundrum. At least from the viewpoint of our own delusional mindsets. From a perspective of integrated wholeness, it is immaterial: merely an attitude to lose, like dust on a leaf that’s easily rinsed off by rain.

Change in the world takes many forms: the explosive force of a volcano, the gradual wearing down of rocks by waves, the invisible process of photosynthesis in a forest. The collective “we” can similarly shift with sudden violence, sustained pressure or silence and subtlety. It is all possible in any moment, and—over enough time—it is all inevitable.

We know what we must do: cut back or die. Will we? We will see.

In the meantime, as individuals must live the hell out of life if we’re going to get anything out of it at all. Not in terms of what we make or buy or accomplish, but in terms of seeking authenticity and the ineffable. This search is a vital necessity under any circumstance, regardless of time or place. It’s the only way home.

Kollibri terre Sonnenblume is a writer living on the West Coast of the U.S.A. More of Kollibri’s writing and photos can be found at Macska Moksha Press