Process Philosophy and Global Climate Change
Please remind me again, what's the problem?
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global temperature rise of two degrees Celsius or more (which is precisely what climate campaigners are hoping to avert) would likely lead to more frequent droughts and crop failures across Africa, Asia, and Latin America; batter coastal regions with flooding and stronger storm surges; and aid the spread of infectious diseases.
How about food supplies?
Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially undermining crop production and driving up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar, scientists have found....more
Is it too late?
Our efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, urgent as they are, will have little effect over the next 50 years. Changes during this period have already been set in motion by past greenhouse gas emissions. Limiting greenhouse gas emissions will only affect climate change in the long-term (beyond 50 years). So we must learn to adapt to the changes in climate that will occur over the next 50 years....more
What can we do?
Practical steps are listed in the column on the right, along with links to organizations that can offer more detail. These steps include lifestyle simplification, using our talents and energies to help build transition towns, spiritual renewal, political engagement aimed at helping elicit a global power shift, and thinking in fresh ways. The fresh thinking entails a paradigm shift from mechanistic thinking to organic thinking. It is already beginning among those who find themselves believing that the well-being of life on earth, and the stories of human beings and other living beings, are more important than things that are numbered, measured, and weighed.
What kind of paradigm shift is needed?
We are in the midst of seismic cultural change. In the old paradigm, priorities are shaped by a mechanistic worldview that privileges whatever can be numbered, measured, and weighed; human beings are pressured to adapt to the terms set by their own creations. Macroeconomics, geopolitics, and capital are glorified. . . . In the new paradigm, culture is given its true value. The movements of money and armies may receive close attention from politicians and media voices, but at ground-level, we care most about human stories, one life at a time.”
Is global climate change the only important issue?
For a child who is hungry, the most important issue is food. For a man being tortured, the most important issue is freedom from pain. For a woman who fears being raped, the most important issue is freedom from fear. For a father who is grieving the death of his child, the most important issue is hope. There is no need to prioritize concerns in ways that neglect the particularity of human suffering and, for that matter, the suffering of other living beings. Global climate change is best understood as a reality that affects many, many lives simultaneously. If we think of our world as a republic of stories, then global climate change is an overarching plot which invites us to be concerned with all the stories. The very ways of thinking which have led to global climate change, so neglectful of the republic of stories, are part of the ways of thinking which simultaneously encourage violence, injustice, and war. The need is for a paradigm shift and for the building of local communities that are creative, compassionate, equitable, participatory, and ecologically wise, with no one left behind.
What is the Transition Network?
Transition Network is a charitable organisation whose role is to inspire, encourage, connect, support and train communities as they self-organise around the Transition model, creating initiatives that rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions. Ultimately it’s about creating a healthy human culture, one that meets our needs for community, livelihoods and fun. We’re here to support you. We run events, conferences, trainings, blogs, webinars. We produce monthly newsletters, books, films, guides, tweets, and more, all with the intention of best supporting those around the world who are doing Transition.
What is 350.org?
350.org is a global grassroots organization working to shape the cultural response to our environmental challenge and apply pressure on political leaders to support clean energy and climate solutions around the world. You can learn more about it by viewing the power point. It was co-founded by Bill McKibben, featured in the video below.
Some of the rapid changes we face in our global climate are irreversible. They are 250 years in the making, beginning with the industrial revolution in Europe; and according to NASA they are unprecedented, given the last 10,000 years of the earth's history. The consequences of these changes, as explained by NASA, are enumerated in further detail at the bottom of this column. Climate change is the new normal.
What is the cause of these changes?
Ninety percent of scientists agree that the changes are caused by a burning of fossil fuels (coal and oil) and, to a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and urban sprawl. The effects are further exacerbated by an unwillingness of rich nations to reduce emissions, and by over-consuming lifestyles of middle-class and affluent people in developed nations. Justice would dictate that people in these nations would be those who bear the burden; but, unfortunately, the most deleterious effects will be felt by those not responsible for it: the poor and powerless.
What can we do?
Despite the injustice, there is no time for inordinate hand-wringing, only for an actual conversion, a turning around, so that people can live in new ways. In the words of Rosemary Radford Ruether, we need to undergo a conversion to the earth, so that the well-being of life on earth, not ever-increasing economic expansion, is the guiding principle of our lives Here are some steps we can take:
Commit Ourselves to Creative Frugality: We can adopt a healthier and more resilient lifestyle at home and in the workplace, in which we live lightly on the earth and gently with others. If we live in the United States, we can reject the old American dream of a big house and a new car, and adopt a new American dream of creative simplicity in community with others. See The Center for a New American Dream.
Help Develop Transition Communities: Wherever we live, we can help build post-petroleum "transition" communities that are compassionate, equitable, participatory, resilient, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind. It can be a lot of fun.
Work on Inner Transition: As we work to help our community become a "transition" community, we can also remember the importance of inner transition, recognizing that there is a need for solitude as well as togetherness, for a renewal of the heart as well as a renewal of the world. This inner transition involves thinking in fresh ways (see below) and also feeling in fresh ways. It lies in being present to the heart and mind.
Engage in Political Action for Structural Change: We can campaign against the fossil-fuel industry (350.org.) and corporate powers which elevate greed to a virtue and denigrate compassion, and for a global power shift in which local people are empowered to make decisions that affect their lives. If we belong to an Abrahamic religious tradition (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) we can understand this engagement as an embodiment of the prophetic impulse, which critiques the principalities and powers, and works toward an alternative social order.
Explore Fresh Forms of Thinking: Imagine the world as it can be: a community of communities of communities rather than an aggregate of competitive nation-states. Recognize that the world is a republic of stories not a collection of facts, and that every person has a story worth hearing. Imagine further that the animals and plants have their stories as well, as do the mountains and rivers. Indeed think of the universe as a whole as an evolving republic of stories, filled with creativity and subjectivity, in which we are small but included. If you believe in God, try thinking of God, not as a being among beings presiding over the universe as property, but as the sacred whole of the universe itself: a single Life in whom all lives unfold, and whose very desire is for a flourishing of life on earth.
Will it work? Time will tell and there is no guarantee. The future is influenced but not predetermined by the past or even by God. But if we are to live our lives meaningfully we can do our best to do what is best, and not be overly attached to the idea that things must work out as we hope, or it is not worth the effort at all. It comes down to Seizing an Alternative in three ways.
Is a global power shift really possible?
Relational Power is More "powerful" than Unilateral Power
Whitehead's philosophy can help with the paradigm shift by offering six foundations for new and more ecologically-minded civilizations.
Perhaps most importantly, his philosophy (1) invites us to appreciate the primacy of relational power over unilateral power, prioritizing modes of interaction with one another and the earth that are mutually enhancing rather than dominating. In process philosophy even the divine reality -- even the divine Mind -- operates through persuasion not coercion, dependent on the powers of others for a fulfillment of its purposes. We live in a world of inter-being, says process philosophy, and our only hope is to live lightly on the earth and gently with others.
Process philosophers argue that one of the tragedies of western modernity, including industrial societies, is that people in power have consciously or unconsciously felt justified in their impulses toward dominating the earth because they believed they were imitating an autocrratic divine power. Thinking that God was in full control of the world, they tried to be in full control of the earth, deeming themselves overlords rather than stewards and kin.
Moreover, so process thinkers propose, some among the engineers of earth domination were guided -- or, better, misguided -- by images of an apocalyptic end to the world, after which only the righteous would be enjoy the fruits of grace, and the old world, including the plants and animals, would be left behind. From a process perspective such destructive and non-relational habits of thought are part of the culture that helped give rise to industrial societies and their current effects: global climate change.
The alternative is to recognize that human beings are part of, not apart from, a greater web of life, drawing from the more ancient wisdom of indigenous traditions; to understand that cooperative power is more enriching than dominating power for all involved; and to realize that the very Eros of the universe -- the very calling of God -- is for humans to live with respect and care for the community of life, as flesh among flesh on a small but gorgeous planet.
Five Foundations for a New Civilization
If relational power is one of the first answers to the question Why Whitehead?, there are at least five more, well articulated by John Cobb in Five Foundations for a New Civilization. According to Cobb in Five Foundations for a New Civilization, Whitehead's philosophy can help us (2) move from a conventional morality that neglects the poor and powerless toward a more compassionate approach to life where no one is left behind; (3) move from a sense-bound empiricism to a more radical empiricism that takes account of our feelings, memories, hopes, and intuitions concerning the beauty and importance of life; (4) move toward a more relational understanding of the self where we understand ourselves as persons-in-community not egos-in-isolation; (5) move beyond an anthropocentrism that finds value in human life alone, neglecting the value of other forms of life; and (6) move beyond we-they thinking toward a sense of world loyalty that takes the well-being of life as our guiding principle. In addition, for those among us who believe that the universe is enfolded within the space of a divine Mind (see below) it can help us understand that we are beckoned, by the very reality of God, to choose life as our guiding ideal. For a more complete explanation of the value of Whitehead's thought, see Seizing An Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization.
Is there a role for religion?
The world's religions all have resources that can help. The addictive lifestyle of consumer culture contradicts the core teachings and practices of almost all the world's religions, and many of the world's religions encourage a sense of respect and care for the community of life. The need is for people who are affiliated with the religions to take advantage of their resources; to be honest about their shortcomings; and to recognize that the well-being of life, not the well-being of religion, is their aim. Toward this end they need to move past the we-they thinking that has too often permeated their cultures. The common good of the planet, not the parochial good of their institutions, can be their guiding principle, and with this in mind, they will have the freedom to explore new forms of thought and practice even as they build upon wisdom from the past. Inspired by the needs of others and the realities of global climate change, religiously-minded people can live the better lights of their traditions, humbly learning from others and sharing with others, for the sake of a greater whole. All of this is possible; see The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology.
More facts, please...
The current and future consequences of