Gaian Reconciliation?

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself —Leo Tolstoy

PreambleTo be endowed, as many of us are, with the capacity for caring viscerally about the welfare of the more-than-human world – the wounded bird, the beached whale, the forest staked out for the fellerbuncher – is no bad thing. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Either this form of caring about the more-than-human world had survival value for our ancestors, or else we’re left wondering how such a pervasive emotional response – called Biophilia by E.O. Wilson – could have taken hold in the first place.

Here my aim is to take this capacity for caring about the Living World and play it forward. In effect, this offering is dedicated to the proposition that Biophilia is now set – or not – to have survival value for organized human civilization as a whole. The only question is whether we who are alive today are willing – or not – to step up to the urgent need for Gaian Reconciliation.

But first I need to set the scene.

First Approximation


e live in a time of uncertainty, a time of restlessness, of divisiveness, a time when just about the only thing we can all agree on, sadly enough, is that the world as we know it is going to Hell in a handbasket.

But which handbasket are we talking about exactly? That depends. For some of us, it’s the handbasket of rising totalitarianism. For others, it’s the handbasket of deepening tribalism. For others still, it’s the handbasket of technological take-over – or of economic collapse, or of pandemic, or of climate change, or of world war, even all-out nuclear war.

Curtis Björk

Seven different handbaskets to Hell, and all of them in need of concerted action. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that this way of summarizing the threats to human thriving is flawed, seriously flawed – just as most other lists of this kind are flawed. The problem is this: that if climate change is apples, then the rest of the items listed are oranges. For climate change is a Gaian construct, and operates at global scale, whereas totalitarianism, tribalism and the rest are human constructs, and operate a much smaller spatial scales. Indeed, there’s an important sense in which these latter are contained by climate change, at least insofar as it can catalyze their worst outcomes.

This last point bears repeating. Briefly, I’m suggesting that climate change is much more than angry weather, and will in time likely amplify the adverse impacts of most if not all of the major threats currently facing humankind. I’ll refrain from rehearsing the mechanisms involved, which are truly the stuff of nightmares. Suffice it to say that environmental instability continued long enough must sooner or later destabilize the geopolitical order of the world.

I go on about this to make the point – as emphatically as I dare – that climate change is not, as so often portrayed, just one existential threat among others. Instead, it’s the existential threat, the threat of threats, the existential threat that amplifies all the other existential threats and is therefore most likely by far to bring human civilization to its knees.

And I go on about that to make the further point that all of us have as many excellent reasons to care about, to do something about climate change as we have reasons to be in love with life: the child in one’s arms, the shadows in the forest, the swallows of the air, the bees on the heather.

This brings me, finally, to say a thing that needs finally to be said once and for all. Two things actually. First, that it’s time to recognize profligate greenhouse gas emissions for what they really are: a source of evil in the world, the new original sin. And second, that it’s time also to accept that climate change will never/can never be resolved by government initiative alone; that the Climate Crisis this is a societal crisis whose resolution, if there is to be one, must involve all of us a citizens.

There’s really no getting around it. It’s not up to our elected government but instead to you and me, as individuals, to step up to a new kind of relationship with the Living World – a stance calculated to help sustain the world’s capacity to sustain us. In this we no longer have a choice: either we act now out of love and respect for the world’s beauty and grace, or we act later out of fear and horror. The only other alternative is, or so it seems to me, no alternative at all: simply to party till it’s over.

Bleak? Maybe. Daunting? Certainly. But as for daunting, surely there are worse fates than to be alive at a time when the tang of personal quest hangs heavy in the air, a time when breathing deep can instill purpose and meaning. And besides, what’s to stop us from living the life of Riley in every other imaginable way than wanton greenhouse gas emissions?

So what’s to be done then, and how where to begin? As for the latter question, and reducing the complexities to simplest calculus, probably the best place to begin is by learning to pause at each decision point and ask the following simple question: Which of the options available available to me – A, B, C or D – contributes most to/undermines least the capacity of the Living World to sustain human civilization into the long term? Get in the habit of asking and biding by this simple question routinely, day in and day out, and soon enough the path to upstanding Gaian citizenship will begin to reveal itself – this for the very excellent reason that you’ll now qualify as a Gaianist – a rare quantity in western culture these days.

At societal level, the path is much steeper, and much longer. Yet hope, says David Orr, is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up. In this fourth Edgewood Offering, we’ll discuss an as-yet-unimagined process I like to call Gaian Reconciliation, a process that aims to gentle western society from its current status as a culture of more to a culture of enough – what that could look like, and what each of us as individuals can contribute to its eventual realization. As I hope to show you, the people who are most qualified to get the ball rolling are the very people within whom Biophilia – a love for the Living Earth in its own terms – stirs deepest. People, unless I’m much mistaken, like you.

Next up: Lichen Revival