Life appears to be coming at us fast. From increasing tension and armed conflict to the re-shaping of the global energy-resources map and the progress in AI – our eco-systems are morphing in front of our eyes.
Two decades ago when Earth Champions ran its first programme with Nelson Mandela in Australia, it felt as though we were almost speaking a foreign language. Climate change had not made the headlines back then. Now it feels as though we have our faces pressed against the lens of reality. And the view is not good.
We have gone from a sense of ‘we still have time to sort this, now let’s get back to business as usual’, to an upsurge of competition for green resources that is reshaping geopolitics and trade. In the US there is a “greenlash” among voters who regard climate-friendly policies as an elite conspiracy against ordinary people.
With all this going on we most certainly have shifted from the ‘we still have plenty of time’ attitude to full blown eco-anxiety, with what seems like no time at all to calmly and strategically plan for a sustainable future.
Why? Because we were too busy looking the other way.
So what now? If we are to inspire collective action against the structural forces underpinning climatic and environmental change, we need to change our narrative.
Author Paul Kingsnorth explains this well pointing to what he calls “the myth of progress”. Kingsnorth believes we have been telling ourselves a dangerous and fictional story of economic progress in which everything must continue to grow, expand and increase. Now we are seeing the rise of climate catastrophes unravelling this story, exposing instead an environmental crisis.
Its not just about stories, but this is where we should start. According to Social change specialist Jem Bendell the climate crisis is the result of how far our human psyche has, in western society, become divorced from our natural habitat.
Bendell reiterates that our inability to see ourselves as part of Nature has damaged both our environment and our spirit, arguing that a large part of what we are dealing with is this disconnect.
Does this sound too philosophical? I believe that we must, each in our own way, examine the story we have been telling ourselves for years and decide whether it tallies with the world we are living in.
Back in 2005, and still in Australia, environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht created the term ‘solastalgia’. This was based then on the emotional impacts of large-scale coal mining on individuals’ wellbeing in New South Wales, Australia, where he is based.
In 2015, this term was included in the medical journal The Lancet as a contributing concept to the impact of climate change on human health and wellbeing. Just last year it was published in the United Nations 2022 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Since launching, 483 global Earth Champions have stepped up to offer sustainability solutions to their communities. They have embraced the notion that their surrounding landscapes are not neutral backdrops where human activities unfold. They have fully understood that their living environments are relational, vibrant and nested social-ecological systems.
The faster we share this notion – inspired by environmental philosophers, and experienced by every day humans – the faster we can heal ourselves and the planet. Both are intertwined.