Climate despair vs. action: A false choice?

(By Kritee Kanko) Some of you might have seen the New York magazine’s haunting cover story on climate change and how soon the planet will become uninhabitable for human life. This article has received more than 2 million reads within a few days. It was a major media outlet and created a storm of factual analysis, criticism and discussion in the climate scientist as well as activist communities!

 Ying and Yang: They flow into and      don’t exist without each other!

As someone who works with the poorest of farmers in Asia on multiple issues related to climate, water and food, the article didn’t have surprises about what would happen if we didn’t change the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. And yet, I myself had to stop and breath deeply many times while reading this long article.  It is a good compilation of what we are up against: how human health/physiology, food and water needs will be affected as the planet heats up and which parts of the world will drown/simmer away in heat or get engulfed in chaos by what time. It will break your heart.

Supporters of the NYMag article (Example: Vox) said that it created a sense of urgency and spoke to population way beyond the usual circle of climate activists. Vox article said that it is okay to talk about how scary and freaky Climate change/chaos is even if it makes people depressed and grieved (for a while). No scientist has been able to create such a widely read article on climate, so why not celebrate this article?

One the other hand, the critics of this article (Examples: Washington Post and Ecowatch) said that NYMag article created a doomsday scenario that doesn’t inspire or motivate people to take action. They said NYMag article creates despair and it is not the right framing. A better framing would have been talking about the opportunities for action; and pointing out the best course of action!

Both groups make practically important points. And I will not get into debate about scientific facts here. But lets talk about spiritual implications of this debate for us practitioners and teachers of Ecodharma (aka sacred, contemplative or spiritually rooted) advocacy!

The line between a resolute sense of urgency verses despair is thin. It takes some kind of spiritual practice and community to hold this paradox; and emerge with clear strategic and collective action! Our Ecodharma elder and Buddhist Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, through her fabulous “Work that Reconnects” workshops, has taught us that facing our despair is crucial AND that the despair can be transformed. We should not turn away from despair: Joanna teaches us to face it fully because it can’t be bypassed. If our grief is bypassed, it creates blockages, numbing and ineffectiveness elsewhere. Emotions have an evolutionary role. They make us move and act. If you have ever been to an effective Joanna workshop, you might have even wailed in sorrow related to the social-environmental or economic injustices. But people attending the workshop don’t stop at allowing despair. When the process truly completes itself, we transform the despair/anger/confusion into clarity and action with the help of a wise community and our spiritual practices.

So, there isn’t a choice between despair and resolute action. This is an ongoing koan (paradox) that needs to be continuously transformed with skill and care.

We hope that you will join us in creating momentum for such transformations within local, national and international participants at our new Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center!

So, what is bothering you about our ecological predicament? Perhaps you can let it break your heart and then let it transform into clarity, courage and compassionate action until it breaks again?