Causes and Solutions for Climate Change: The Point of Return

Abstract from a talk by Satish Kumar at the Gaia Foundation in November 2009. Written by Stephen Frank.

Satish Kumar is the current editor of Resurgence and founder and Director of Programmes of the Schumacher College. He also founded The Small School which is part of the Movement for Education on a Human Scale. Satish Kumar has been a Jain monk and a nuclear disarmament advocate. His most notable accomplishment was the 'peace walk' of over 8,000 miles he untertook with a companion in 1962 to visit the four main capitals of the nuclear-armed countries - Washington, London, Paris and Moscow. Along their way to Moscow they met two women outside a tea factory. After explaining what they were doing one of the women gave them four tea bags and a message to deliver to each of the leaders of the four nuclear powers, "When you think you need to press the button, stop for a minute and have a fresh cup of tea." This further inspired their journey and became, in part, its goal: as chronicled in one of Satish's many books, Path Without Destination, they eventually delivered a 'peace tea' to each of the leaders of four of the nuclear powers. Satish Kumar insists that reverence for nature should be at the heart of every political and social debate.

Global warming is not really the problem, says Satish Kumar, but a symptom of the problem. The purpose of all government, all business, all trading systems - everywhere - is to manage the economy. However, the system of economics we have created is disconnected from ecology and precisely because it has no connection to the natural world, it has become a destructive force. We consider the world out there, nature out there, all for our use and our benefit. We think we are separate from nature, a superior species that owns and is in charge of nature. We own the land, the animals, the forest, the rainforest, the rivers, the oceans and because we consider it all our property, we think we can do what we like with it. We can take all the fish we want from the sea, we can dump anything we want in the rivers. As 'rulers of the world' we think everything can be sacrificed to the benefit and for the benefit of human beings.

But are we not born? And if we are born, do we not die? And isn't this what happens to everything in nature? So how can we say we are not nature? Like everything else in nature we are made from air, earth, fire and water. All the elements that make nature make us. There is no difference. We are therefore all connected, all related, we are all nature.

If we were to change our world view from this separation, this dualism, this disconnection that nature is out there and we are separate, here, and make it an holistic perspective and say we are all nature, we are human animals, then we can further say that because we are nature, what we do to nature we do to ourselves. Then, if we pollute the rivers and the oceans and cut down the rainforest and put animals in factory farms, we are actually doing these horrible things to ourselves. We are part and parcel of it. This, Satish believes, is the fundamental shift we need to make. He asks: if the rain was not there, or the sunshine or the soil or the air, would we be here? We exist as a result of all the elements of the earth. The earth is; nature is; the environment is; the ecology is; therefore I am. This is the fundamental shift we need to make from the Cartesian ego-centred philosophy - I think, therefore I am - which is still running whole western world and which leads to our separational, dualistic point of view. The moment we move away from this separational world view, this ego-centric world view to a relational world view, then we change the paradigm from being ego-centric to being eco-centric. Shifting from an ego-centric to an eco-centric point of view would be the equivalent of making a quantum leap because we would no longer say, my interest or the national interest or the American, British or Chinese interest, but our interest. We would say, we are in this altogether, we are all related, we are one. Not I think, therefore I am - but the earth is, therefore I am; you are, therefore I am.

A lot of our environmental movement, Satish feels, is driven by fear. But fear is not going to lead us anywhere. The shift has to be from fear to love - love of the rivers, love of nature, love of beautiful flowers, love of birds singing - if we love the songs of the birds, we will have no Silent Spring. In an eco-centred world, loving our neighbour as ourselves is the equivalent of loving nature as ourselves. Satish believes that nature will reciprocate this love and will provide us with everything we need. Because nature is abundant. We are all neighbours. The rainforests that we cut down, the rivers we pollute - they are our neighbours. Love nature as thyself - that is the message.

It is estimated that there are 84 million species in nature - of which the human species is just one. All the other species upon this earth - 84 million minus one - are fed, watered, sheltered and looked after. They get born, they die, they live in harmony without any president, without any Tesco or Monsanto, without any parliament and without any man-made laws. Instead they follow the laws of nature and the patterns of the universe. How are all those species fed and watered and sheltered and looked after? Nature is abundant. The fear of doom and gloom and scarcity - that we will have nothing to eat and the lights will go out and we will be cold, and all that - is a creation of the economists. In nature there is no scarcity. The sun gives us more energy in one single day than all the reserves of fossil fuel upon this earth. And still we worry about warmth. If you planted a single small brown apple pip, the relationship between the soil, the water, the earthworms, the sunshine and the gardener would produce a tree and hundreds of apples within a few years. The economy of nature is greater than all the economies of all the chancellors who have got us into so many billions of pounds of debt.

We have created an economic system based on continuous, unlimited growth. But because the planet is finite, limited, this unlimited growth is gobbling up the planet. Nature is cyclical but we have a linear economy - we extract resources from nature, use them for our human purposes, then throw them away in landfills. Extract, use, throw away. Extract, use, throw away. Continuously! But now the landfills are full. However, if we don't have growth, the belief is that the economy will fall apart and we will have unemployment. The government cannot bear the idea of recession or 'no growth', because then we will not only have unemployment, but no taxation and the government in debt. So we have a double bind: with growth, the climate and the planet are in jeopardy; without growth, people are in jeopardy. What kind of economy have we designed! If we have no growth, we believe we will go backwards. No! The economy should be a dance. When we dance we go neither forward, nor backward, but around, enjoying ourselves. So, we should have an economy which is enjoyable like a dance and which is completely energetic, but going neither forwards nor backwards. Nature is cyclical and we now need new economists who will design a cyclical economy.

The economic system which is producing the catastrophic global warming and climate change that we are beginning to experience is not God given. It is only 200 years old. We designed it and now that we have found that it is not perfect, let's change it. At the moment the world view is that technology will solve our problems and that nature is stupid. Economy is good. Economy is wise. Ecology is useless. Unless we change that, we will not take the right decisions. If we have courage, then we don't need to suffer. Suffering will only occur if we are cowards, if we are blind, if we close our head and our heart and our eyes and we don't face the situation boldly. But if we can just shift this fossil fuel based economy to a renewable energy economy there will be no need for suffering on this level. What was designed by humans can be redesigned by humans. We have a responsibility to take care of the earth and take care of our resources - they are not simply resources, they are our real wealth.

Big, big changes have taken place. Nelson Mandela was in jail for 27 years. Then, apartheid came to an end and he became president of South Africa. When Satish went to America in 1964 he met Martin Luther King. After that he went to a restaurant. But it was a segregated restaurant and he was thrown out at gunpoint. In 1964 black people in America had no vote. Today we have a black man and his family in the White House. When Satish walked through Russia, the iron curtain, the communist party and the red army were symbols of enormous power. Today all that has disappeared. The Berlin Wall has disappeared. Things have changed, can change - changes can take place. So let's not be disempowered or feel discouraged. Let's be inspired, let's be optimistic, let's have hope. Yet hope is not quite enough: with hope, with courage and with action, we can change the world.

In nature there is no debt. You could multiply the one example of the apple pip turning into an apple tree and producing an abundance of fruit with the countless gifts of nature. Yet we have become so narrow-minded, so mean spirited in the way we run our economy that we are scared - scared to death. We are afraid that there may not be food on the shelves of Tesco or Sainsbury. But it is not Tesco or Sainsbury that provides the food. We need to remember the key. We need the land, the soil - those vital two, three inches of topsoil. If that soil was not there, there would be no Tesco, no Sainsbury, no Monsanto, no economy, no economics anyway. Nothing would be there. So, stop being afraid. Just love nature. And relate to nature. Enjoy nature and we will have everything we need.