But action doesn’t depend on what might happen. The authors of Savage Grace want us to do the right thing, regardless of what occurs. In their previous book, Return to Joy, the authors advise seeking not “happiness,” a Jeffersonian goal, but a state closer to such virtues as equanimity and compassion, plus resistance to evil and devotion to service.
“Only a god,” Heidegger famously said, “can still save us.” An atheist would disagree, but I think that on this one, the atheist would be wrong. While we might not need a new religion, we do need a new sense of the sacred or an awakening of the most ancient one: a sense of awe, wonder, and respect for something greater than us. What could that something greater be? There is no need to theorize about it. What is greater than us is the earth itself—life—and we are folded into it, a small part of it, and we have work to do. We need a new animism, a new pantheism, a new way of telling the oldest of stories. We could do worse than to return to the notion of the planet as the mother that birthed us. Those old stories have plenty to say about the fate of people who don’t respect their mothers.
“Something inside me broke somehow,” he said. “I thought, ‘This isn’t working. We’re totally fucked. The machine will go on until it’s killed everything or collapses or both. But the wild world, justice — I still believe in that. What can I do with that?’ ”
Talking honestly about what is fueling this era of serial disasters — even while they’re playing out in real time — isn’t disrespectful to the people on the front lines. In fact, it is the only way to truly honor their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims
This culture tells us that humans are selfish and greedy. It says that we are nothing more than individual islands of ego floating in a sea of chaos. It is the Great Myth of Separation that takes many forms. We’ve seen it as humans apart from nature, reason divided against emotion, body separate from mind, one tribe distinct from another. This mental tendency to categorize the world according to its separations is the root cause of illness in the world today.
I went to Tillerson’s ranch in Bartonville [Texas]. I pulled up in front of his ranch, a big, big horse ranch. In front of the gate to his ranch, there was this big sculpted metal globe. It looked like someone took a carving knife to it and the whole upper part of the globe, along these uneven serrated edges, opened up into this gaping void, and I thought, Wow, that is symbolic. Here is Tillerson’s globe and it’s a world whose apex has been systematically shredded. It was quite a metaphor.
In other words, failing to halt the advance of climate change—to the extent that halting it, at this point, remains within our power—means complicity with mass human annihilation. We know, or at this point should know, that such scenarios are already on the horizon. We still retain the power, if not to stop them, then to radically ameliorate what they will look like, so our failure to do all we can means that we become complicitin what—not to mince words— is clearly going to be a process of climate genocide. How can those of us in countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions escape such a verdict?
We are close to the point where the Earth will tip over and start rolling by itself, ending the short Anthropocene. After which humanity will be turned back into an observer of changes in Earth Systems, rather than a remaker of those systems. The need for rapid changes in the way that we run our societies, and the acceptance that the old geographical and climatic certainties may rapidly change, is needed. The thought that we can simply geo-engineer our way out of trouble may be proven to be the naiveté of a still young civilization.