How Ecological Limits and Sense Making Can Inspire a Shift in Consciousness
By Kate Kheel
Though we humans have indeed been slow learners, many have now come to understand that exponential growth cannot be maintained on a finite planet.
For millennia, there was little change from one generation to the next. Civilization evolved at a slow and steady pace. But about 200 years ago, the industrial revolution changed everything. With the advent of coal and other fossil fuels, and the subsequent development of electricity, we gained exponentially more power and energy than a team of oxen or group of humans could offer. This provided a multiplying effect on competition and consumption, and we very willingly stepped into the excess offerings. And yet as we all know, fossil fuels are finite, and extraction and burning wreak havoc on the environment.
So-called renewables being promoted to replace fossil fuels, are not in fact renewable. Yes, the sun and wind are “renewable” as they don’t run out, but the minerals, metals, energy, and other resources needed to produce wind turbines and solar arrays, are anything but renewable.
Most economic growth is about commoditization. Taking from nature, altering the taking, assigning value, and then bringing the end-product to market. The more commerce there is, the more resource extraction there will be, and the more fossil fuels will burn causing further degradation of our ecosystem. And with ever diminishing resources and energy, global instability increases, and so too, the likelihood of more war.
The supposed “need” for ever more stuff, an average 3% growth in GDP, ever more connectivity, devices, apps, data-intensive videos, and AI, all to the backdrop of ever ticking quarterly reports to shareholders that must show profits at all costs, are propelling us toward a future that is truly anti-life.
The truth is, the underlying raison d’être for our technological expansion, enabled by fossil fuels, is the pursuit of power, profit, and so-called “progress” at all costs, fostered by a deep disregard and disconnect from the natural world, and the wanton dismissal of the fact that we too are nature.
Many governments and international institutions by and large support big corporations through policies and subsidies that prop them up while disadvantaging local and indigenous communities and businesses. With the help of these policies, a single corporate-dominated world market has emerged that, not only dictates economic policies, but shapes world views, blurs the lines between government and the private sector, threatens Earth’s ecosystems, and has the world teetering on the brink of nuclear war. And yet the push for global economic growth continues, unabated, and we succumb to what energy expert, Nate Hagen, dubs the “mindless, energy hungry super-organism.”
And “thanks” to Big Tech, this energy hungry super-organism is now on steroids.
Extraction, mining, exploration and “national security” extend to all corners of the Earth, down to the pristine, ancient ocean floor teeming with life, and out to the moon, Mars, and beyond. Manufacturing and communications happen exponentially faster, and e-waste as well as other forms of waste accumulate commensurately.
A quick glance at tech’s fast-moving evolution from just the last 20 years shows
- 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, and now 6G…and on.
- The introduction of WiFi which largely replaced safe, energy efficient, fast, and reliable wired internet connections.
- Smart phones, that have taken up residence in most pockets and minds, and according to the UN are more numerous than toilets.
- The internet of things (IoT) where every “thing” place and event is connected 24/7 to the internet.
- The internet of bodies and minds with implanted chips; the internet of military things for combat and warfare; the internet of space (outer space); the internet of underwater things (aka smart ocean) and the internet of “me,” where we are monitored, surveilled, and shaped. Many of these IoTs include upstream or downstream biometric markers such as facial recognition technology, iris, fingerprints, heart rate, gait, gestures, and facial expressions, all of which become fodder for AI.
- “Smart oceans”, where a cacophony of communications comprised of a vast network of interconnected sensors, sonar, laser, fiber, autonomous and remote-controlled vehicles, submarines, torpedoes, drones, robots and more, is now being unleashed into the underwater world, imperiling millions of species for whom the ocean is home.
- And satellites… thousands littering the skies and tens of thousands more planned. These will add yet more space debris and pollution, increase the likelihood of misconstrued “first acts of aggression”, and render critical infrastructure such utilities, banks, and hospitals, highly vulnerable to devastating cyber-attacks.
- And now Metaverse is being promoted to entice people to relinquish the little time we have left to reside open-eyed and for real in the natural world. Metaverse allures with true-to-life sights, sounds, smells and even touch.
- Finally, the US military, along with some other countries are “profiting” handsomely from the digital revolution. Their aim: to connect all branches of the military into one lethal, AI-controlled, connected system of war.
In what has aptly been called green-washing and/or ethics-washing, we are being sold a technological future we are told will meet the daunting challenges of our times. Yet, sadly, there is little truth to this myth, and instead, we are blindly being led down a path that will destroy nature, to supposedly save Earth. A Catch-22 of cosmic proportions.
According to Nate Hagen, in the US each person uses about 100x more energy than we need, and in Europe, about 50x, and that to live comfortably, households need only use a tiny fraction of the energy we currently consume. Yet we are led to believe otherwise. And we succumb, to the tune of a steady decline in overall happiness and well-being. And, except for these last two years due to covid, GDP growth marches on unrelentingly year by year in some countries, while in others, millions are living in dire straits, with starvation and disease their known reality.
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We all know intuitively what brings happiness and what is just distraction, passing time, empty consumerism, and entertainment. Yet here we are — entrapped, in a world-wide web of techno-consumerism gone rogue. No one is to blame, yet much is to be corrected. And likely the corrections will not happen with the systems, beliefs, values, and norms we now have in place.
The global crises we face now are complex and deeply intertwined. They involve a confluence of many different streams — from an economic system that locks us into perpetual growth, to our complex innate psychological make-up, discerning and defining what the “good life” is, respecting, repairing, and living within Earth’s means, etc. Using our rational minds and data alone may not be sufficient to help us find solutions that address this panoply of challenges without causing new and further damage.
Many sense we are at an epochal phase shift, a pivotal moment in time; and that our globally interconnected civilization may be nearing a point of collapse or a profound change of direction.
Societies are built upon beliefs and values. So, for a new, more life-affirming civilization to emerge, our beliefs and values must shift.
As individuals, in feeling into our next best step, we may find our finest guidance by turning inward and coming to understand our own unique mind and heart.
Here in the West, we spend most of our lives focused outward, learning how to navigate the world around us, all the while carrying around a heavy load of unconscious internal emotional baggage of assumptions and irrational beliefs. If our arena of focus and growth were to change from peering outward all the time, to noticing and sensing our inner world, starting with our breath, heartbeat, then emotions, pain, blockages, motivations, yearnings, and imagination, we might just begin to clear away some of the debris that has obstructed our vision and confused our actions for so long; and that has perhaps contributed to our remaining complicit in a dysfunctional civilization.
In exploring and sifting through our inner terrain, we may discover a new treasure, contentment, that aligns ever so sweetly with a simpler life, and one that coincidentally uses less of Earth’s resources and exogenous polluting energy. We may find ourselves attracted to the simpler joys of life: relationships, walks in nature, music, dance, or just imbibing the beauty of the natural world, and coming to taste satiety, the sweet point of just enough.
Inner focus may better help us find our unique contribution
One day when I was out walking, my attention was drawn to a neighbor’s lawn. It was crispy clean and manicured, like a crew cut on a young boy’s head. Not a weed or wildflower to be seen. Nothing to interrupt this homogenous display of conquest and control. “Odd,” I thought to myself, “this looks so unnatural.” This parcel of land would host a forest teeming with life and biodiversity had it not been cut down to size and dowsed with who knows what chemicals. There would be different plant life, insects busily foraging, pollinating, and breeding, and a supportive network of mycelium underground forming pathways for the strong trees above to share and care for one another.
It then occurred to me that we humans have manicured ourselves in much the same way. Our customs, norms, and education cut us off before we even know or manifest who we are, who we can become, and how we will contribute to the family of life. Besides the loss of so vastly much potential and living spirit, as a monoculture, we humans leave ourselves open to infestation from pests, such as Monsanto, Big Tech, Big Pharma, and the Military Industrial Complex —something that, if we maintained biodiversity, psycho-diversity, affect-diversity, and Essence diversity, we could perhaps avoid.
Life resides in the spaces between
We, and all life, are not separate inanimate chunks of matter, but rather we are the patterns that emerge from the interconnection of trillions upon trillions of systems. Our brain, our mind, is not comprised of a head full of neurons, but rather emerges from the energies, patterns, and connections between the neurons. A forest is not a collection of trees, shrubs, and dirt sharing a parcel of land. It’s the intricate interconnection between the decaying leaves on the ground that fertilize the nutrient dense soil beneath, the elaborate network of mycelium, and the generously cooperative root system underground. A forest is the worms, the termites, the fungi, the excrement, the growth, and decay – all escorted through time by the cycle of seasons.
Without interconnection, there is no life. No existence.
Yet the worldview many of us have grown up with is one of separation. We have been taught we are separate and outside of nature. And that we are separate from one another as well.
Lacking the foundational understanding of life as the fractal flourishing of patterns and systems, we default into what author and visionary Jeremy Lent describes as the “hedonist treadmill”, catapulting us toward seeking “more”, “bigger”, “faster”, “newer,” and yet never finding contentment from just enough.
The greater our intrinsic interconnectedness is felt, lived, and embodied, the greater the harmonization and coherence of the systems, patterns, and vibrations of life. And the greater the likelihood we will find our way home.
But do we have time to work on our inner world when there is so much yet to be done to address the current state-of-affairs? Much in the same way that light illuminates our path in the physical world, so too, clearing the blockages and shadows of our inner being will help illuminate our path and inform our relationships and actions going forward.
What do we truly need for well-being?
21st century consumerism tells us we need all sorts of things: shower curtains, toilet lid covers, rugs, night tables, a panoply of tech devices, and on and on. But do we?
What do we really need for health, comfort and meaning for all. Earth Codes offers an initial framework.
All living beings need guaranteed access to:
- Living Soil
- Healthy Water
- Vitalizing Food
- Fresh Clean Air
- Physical and Emotional Safety
- Comfortable Shelter
- The conditions needed for all to manifest their unique Life-enriching potential
In a world where we are content with just enough, most goods and services would likely be produced locally or at the regional level. Some of the genuinely useful goods and services we have become accustomed to from our exaggerated fall into global consumerism could be kept, but just what we truly need, and no more, and always to the backdrop of thriving local communities and businesses.
The other day I read about a community in Louisiana. Apparently, a school there was experiencing an increase in violence and in-fighting among the students. Security guards were called in to “keep the peace”, but were ineffective, and the fighting continued…. Until one father called a meeting with some other dads to see if they could help in any way. They decided to form a group — Dads on Duty. Every day during school arrival, lunch time, and dismissal, one or more Dad was present. The dads got to know the kids, and the kids got to know and trust them. That’s local living. That’s human scale living. And that’s what we and our 21st century children so desperately need and long for. We don’t need or want a world of stuff, tech, data, and monitoring.
Recently, I heard a talk by Lyla June that was so deeply moving I found myself weeping. For years, I have grappled with the question, what role do we humans play in the exquisite web of life? Termites, bees, fungi, and all living beings except humans seem to have a role. Are our gifts for conceptual thought and imagination an anomaly of nature, an evolutionary tag along or “left over”, no longer serving life? In this talk, Lyla June explained how our creativity can serve to enhance habitats and to encourage the growth of all life systems. How we can work with the land, be Mother Earth’s partner in life, instead of dominating her and others while profiteering. We too belong. We too have an ecological role that involves living within Mother Earth’s processes — protecting and enhancing all life.
When we understand ourselves as part of nature’s cosmic grand inter-connected being, we rely on and need one another. We are on the same team, and feel invested in our team’s successes, failures, and challenges. For the team’s success is our success, and the team’s challenge is our challenge. We instinctively reach out to help teammates. For wherefore goes another, therefore go I. We want our team – ourselves and all life – to heal and to thrive.
Unfortunately, at this moment in time, our sense of inter-dependence has largely been uprooted by the insatiable appetite of the global economy. The metaphorical umbilical cord that connects us to Mother Earth has been severed. We are being corralled into cyber space and becoming ever more dependent on technology, stuff and services to meet our every need.
There is no universal code of right action for us all, for nature never has a single answer. We all have a different set of life circumstances, gifts, and challenges. As the happenings of the world permeate our being, we evolve. Our intuition percolates as new ingredients seep in. And we may just find ourselves guided toward the response that feels right for us — Moment by moment, issue by issue, encounter by encounter. We need just open our hearts and listen deeply.
And bit by bit, the structures that have defined and confined our lives will melt away and become the compost of lived experience that provides needed nutrients as a new civilization emerges from the debris. A civilization that embraces our interconnectedness with all living beings, and one that truly cherishes life’s diversity.