Earlier this year the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. This is an alarming development for it represents the highest levels found on earth in millions of years.
I mentioned this at one of our regular UVic meditation meetings and one of the students groaned and said: “We’re screwed.”
The reality of global change is not new to young people. In high school science classes and now in university courses they have learned that the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been steadily rising due to human industrial and fossil fuel activity and that this is contributing to rapid global warming. Already we’re seeing the deadly effects of climate change in the form of rising seas, wildfires, flash floods and extreme weather of all kinds, and passing 400 PPM is an ominous sign of what might come next. Scientists tell us that the intensity and frequency of major climate events will only increase and that it will it will impact every aspect of human endeavor and the life of our planet.
So what does a young person do when confronted with a global climate crisis? What does anyone do?
Perhaps some suggestions from my spiritual tradition may point the way.
First, an inner transformation is called for that re-connects us with the nature of who we are as human beings on this earth. The Christian spiritual tradition, drawing from its Judaic origins, teaches that all of nature is sacred and imbued with the creative impulse of divine presence. “All the Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” the Psalms tell us, and the natural human response to the magnificence and wisdom inherent in nature is respect, love, awe and reverence. We are encouraged to cherish and respect the rich diversity of life and to celebrate the beauty and wonder of the earth. We are called to recognize that we are members of one family of life and to have love form the basis of all our relationships with one another and with nature. Many people express this aspect of spirituality by being in nature, or through gardening, or with scientific curiosity exploring the amazing intelligence manifest in life.
Secondly, the Christian tradition encourages us to be bluntly honest with ourselves and recognize that we fall far short of that love and that we have become alienated from ourselves, from one another and from nature. Instead of being motivated by love, we are often controlled by fear and greed. As a species we have set up systems of domination and exploitation, in the name of progress, that cause widespread poverty and increasing devastation of nature. What the Christian tradition calls for is a transformation of consciousness. It invites us to shift focus off our egoic concern and self-preservation. Instead it calls us to recognize our profound link with all beings and that their well-being ought to be the centre of our concern. This is nothing less than an invitation to a spirituality of compassion.
Thirdly, the tradition calls for action. “To live simply so that others may simply live.” To work with others for the healing of the earth and preservation of the abundance and vibrancy of life on earth for future generations, human and nonhuman. To build a world in which affirms the importance of justice, right relationships, frugality, humility and reverence for life and nature.
In short, what is called for is both an inner and outer transformation. We are invited into an inner spiritual transformation that renews our right relationship with the Sacred Reality in which we live, move and have our being. And we are called to outer action that stops the destruction of the earth and creatively builds capacity for a sustainable future.
Is it too late to make this change? Are today’s natural and human disasters signs of much worse conditions to come and can we only helplessly watch and suffer? Or can we as a species make the necessary leap in the evolution of our collective consciousness to give shape to a more compassionate relationship with all of life? The students I work with live out of this hope, and many are taking action now, both spiritually and communally, preparing for this future.
Originally appeared in the Times Colonist on July 24, 2013.