I often feel in awe when out in nature.
By just being there, I start to get curious. How did all this beauty get to be here? What keeps my heart beating? Where was the air in my last intake of breath four days ago? How do thoughts and questions like these arise in the first place?
Sometimes my head is so full it has no space for beauty and awe. It’s what my old philosophy teacher described as “too much thinkery thunk.”
When out on a fairly regular walk in the Buckinghamshire countryside a few months back, my close friend Paul and I got locked onto a thinkery-thunk topic of epic proportions. It concerned how nature had changed during our lifetimes and how the climate now poses a threat to our very existence.
To me, Paul is a bit of a polymath. He is a skilled weaver together of different narratives from many different fields of study. His weaving makes large, complex issues much simpler to comprehend.
On this occasion, his story had entwined these strands: changes in the size of the world’s population, great inventions that precipitated the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, the loss of biodiversity, the science of permafrost, ice-cap erosion and ozone depletion. History got a look in too. If the French Revolution heralded in:
- Liberty: it gave us the excesses of Capitalism
- Equality: it led to the failures of Communism…
…Paul concluded Fraternity – sisterhood, brotherhood, community, or a shared endeavour based on mutual trust, responsibility, and care about the things we hold in common – was our only hope.
Climate change is here.
As time passes and the seasons roll by, the catastrophes increase for humans both in different locations around the world and humankind as a whole.
I’ll be frank.
The irony of talking about how nature could destroy us whilst being in its awesomeness wasn’t lost on me. It had a depressing effect.
And it spurred new action.
I gave up meat for example. I use public transport more to reduce the miles travelled by car. I now have a bicycle. I joined groups interested in the environmental crisis and its implications. I’ve begun wondering whether governments have what it takes to move at speed and at scale to address what’s needed. I’m in conversations that suggest networks of people across the globe are more likely to tackle what needs doing faster and more ingeniously. I’ve been introduced to the idea that we humans can be a net positive to nature, a concept that goes beyond net zero.
What’s fascinated me about this journey is it changed the story in my head. I lived in one where I felt separate from nature. It was there for pleasure. It could be conquered: so I thought. The labels “climate-change denier” and “it’s too big a topic to handle” applied.
It doesn’t feel that way anymore. I’m part of nature. Of it, not outside it. To harm it is to harm me, you, and every other sentient being.
Paul was inspired to take a different route. He wrote a book.
His thesis is we’ve adapted naturally to the idea of leadership and followership throughout history. It’s helped us get stuff done. But, with potential extinction looming and time running short, we need to re-examine the dynamics between leaders and followers for these times. We especially need to engage with the role stories play in determining what we attend to and make a priority. Science and facts alone won’t cut it.
He sees wherever we humans commune – families, online, businesses, governments, political parties, etc – as an opportunity to create a new, shared narrative.
Poignantly he begins the book with this fact: babies born last year (2020) during the pandemic will be 80 by the year 2100. If you have or know someone with a young family, he asks you to bet on the kind of world they’re likely to inhabit as they grow older. Irrespective of the issues you take a lead on, or those you’re a follower of, or whatever story about nature and the climate you live from in your mind, it’s an eye-opening exercise to do and an awesome book to read.
To find out more see Paul’s new website.