Commentary: Climate change and consciousness shift

Robert C. Koehler

Commentary: Climate change and consciousness shift
October 03
12:15 2019

By Robert C. Koehler

Climate change: It feels like the approaching End Times.

But it’s the secular version thereof, which means that humanity is responsible for both its cause and — if possible — its transcendence. All we need to do is change everything about the way the high-tech, global society functions in the next dozen years, in the process countermanding a political structure completely committed to (and profiting from) the status quo that’s creating the problem in the first place.

And modestly complicating the scenario is the fact that there’s no universal agreement on the changes that are necessary to maintain Planet Earth in a livable state, for humans and most other life forms. Are the necessary changes technical? Are they political? Are they corporate? Are the billionaires the ones responsible or are ordinary people, as they heat their houses, drive to work and stare into their cellphones, also participants in the looming crisis?

There is a climate change movement growing, led by the upcoming generation — the ones whose future may be stolen. Do I have a right to feel hope in this movement, or is hope of any sort merely a cruel illusion and the punchline of dystopian humor?

I fear these questions are the unspoken preamble contextualizing every attempt to address climate change. Certainly they are for me, in all my helpless ordinariness and non-expertise. The life I lead is woven into the problem, even if I also shake my fist at it and demand real change. But all this said, I still feel the need to set my life aside for the moment and look at the melting polar ice, the rising temperatures across the planet, the horrific fires and ongoing deforestation, the increasing intensity of tropical storms, the displacement of the planet’s poorest people, the insanity of ongoing wars and the cowardly refusal of most political leaders to address or even acknowledge any of this.

Is there some way to embrace a hope for change — for survival — that doesn’t dismiss (or worse, simplify) the difficulty we face? How can I be a participant in both the matter at hand and its transcendence? This may be a place to start:

“Our world is in crisis. Life itself is under threat. Yet every crisis contains the possibility of transformation.”

This is part of the vision of the Extinction Rebellion, which is calling for an international rebellion against climate change on Oct. 7. I repeat these words: “… the possibility of transformation ….” This is bigger than protest. This is bigger than wind farms and solar panels. This involves every last one of us, and not simply as donors making financial contributions to the cause. Transformation means a collective shift in consciousness, or what I call participatory evolution.

How does consciousness shift occur? I think it occurs millions, or perhaps billions, of places at once: in large, media-saturated movements all over the planet, and in quiet, personal epiphanies.

The planet is alive. Hope begins here.

Some years ago, I quoted these words of awareness of the Arhuaco people of northern Columbia: “When you go to dig your fields, or make a pot from clay, you are disturbing the balance of things. When you walk, you are moving the air, breathing it in and out. Therefore you must make payments.”

As you walk, you disturb the balance of things, so walk softly — live your life softly — with awareness and gratitude. What if this is what we were taught as we grew up? Perhaps as humanity grows up, this is what it must teach itself.

Our guiding principle needs to be that the only form of truly clean energy is less energy.

Another way of saying this is there are things that matter more than infinite growth and control over the planet. One of these is awareness —not merely of the complexity of nature and the complexity of being human, but of our connection to the planet and to one another. Perhaps it takes a climate crisis to get us to understand that our home is the whole planet and we’re all in this as one.

This is the possibility of transformation. We’ll either live together or we’ll die together.

Robert Koehler (, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. He is the author of “Courage Grows Strong at the Wound.”

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