So said distinguished author, Ursula K Le Guin, at the (US) National Book Awards in 2014. She could have pointed to Charles Eisenstein as an example. His latest book, Climate: A New Story, clearly sees through the fear and obsessive technologies of today. Although the sub-title is A New Story, the story he presents is really a re-newal of an old old story – one of beauty, love, and connection.
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through the fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being.”
Saying the word “climate” today is bound to get attention. It is a rallying call for those fighting for policies to avert climate change. It is an anger-inducing word to those who claim that humans have little or no impact upon the climate.
Perhaps this is why Charles Eisenstein used the word in his title – it grabs attention.
And therein is the catch. Climate change, and especially the call for renewable energy, is lent too much attention he suggests. Not that he denies the impact that humans have upon the climate, but that focussing on climate has four unhelpful corollaries.
First, it gives priority to cutting emissions and replacing fossil-fuels with renewable energy, at the expense of other (sometimes more fundamental) environmental concerns.
Second, it shifts the debate to one of numbers and measurement, thus leaving out quality and what is worthwhile, yet unmeasurable.
Third, it shifts attention away from things of beauty, love, and connection. These are what he claims will empower and encourage us to work with and for nature.
Fourth, it puts us all on a war-footing. The “enemies” of climate change activists are deniers, big business, procrastinating governments, fossil-fuel investors, and even apathetic public. Of course, these “enemies” fight back with think-tanks, radio commentators, media moguls, and conservative politicians.
In many ways Eisenstein contends that it is the fourth of these that is the most alarming – because it feeds upon (and is fed by) the Story of Separation.
Eisenstein makes a compelling case for separation as the core to understanding our current malaise. Not only are we separated from one another, we are also separated from nature, and even our own selves.
Unfortunately, those fighting against climate change do so from within the very paradigm that has brought us to the brink of climate disruption.
Eisenstein would have us turn our attention elsewhere. We must get out of the “us versus them,” right/wrong, “good versus evil” paradigm we have found ourselves in.
We must re-prioritise love, beauty, and caring.
But, Eisenstein warns, “people cannot be frightened into caring.”
That is a key observation. Frightened people either withdraw (flee), or put up defences and fight back. Others will simply freeze – unable to do anything and end up in a hopeless morass of despair, futility, or perhaps trauma.
A Bigger Threat
Throughout the book, Charles Eisenstein notes that the biggest threat to life on earth is not CO2 emissions – it is the loss of forests, soils, wetlands, marine ecosystems, grasslands, rivers, mountains. It is the loss of beauty. In many ways, ironically, these are the losses that result in more and more emissions.
We must heal he says. And that includes healing ourselves. “Individual healing is the same as ecological healing,” he writes. Both are important, both need to happen. One cannot happen without the other.
So, the Story of Separation needs to be put on the shelf and a new story brought out and told.
A New (Old) Story
The title of this new story Eisenstein suggests, could be The Story of the World That Helps Us Know She Can Feel.
It is a simple story, one easily told. It doesn’t rely upon numbers or data; it simply relies on what our hearts know – things like beauty and love.
Eisenstein’s final chapter is titled A Bridge to a Living World. This book is one of the building blocks of that bridge.
Get a hold of it, read it, and fall in love again.