In his book Dangerous Years, David W. Orr investigates what has brought us to the point of ecological collapse and how, yes, we must change our economies and governments--but also nothing less than our hearts.
The way we got to this point was not through the heart. "As a nation we grew rich from the proceeds of violence done to people brought here as slaves and to displaced Native Americans," Orr writes. "Some benefited by doing great violence to landscapes, soils, forests and wetlands. Violence was implicit in the extractive economy that prospered by wrenching wealth from the Earth and people alike. Violence was also present at the founding of science. Francis Bacon, the founder of the Royal Academy of Sciences in London, once described the scientific method as putting 'nature on the rack and torturing her secrets out of her.'"
That this violent and unthinking way of life no longer works, if it ever did, is evident to great minds and open hearts. Einstein, who was a vegetarian toward the end of his life, believed that a problem cannot be solved with the same sort of consciousness that created that problem. Martin Luther King Jr. famously believed, like Gandhi before him, that only love can drive out hate; only light can drive out darkness. To take on a system, you have to interact with that system with a transcendent system.
We imagine that we will be able to stop climate change before it gets too bad. Government planners and businesspeople are thinking in decades when the time scale for action has to be years, if not months. All indications are that the climate system works something like a dynamical system. It is so complex that patterns build on each other in surprising, non-linear ways. We must consider the entropy of the system, which if not checked will increase and we won't be able to contain it. Astonishingly, this may already be taking place: temperatures in the Arctic are 36 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal.
Some think the necessary changes to heal our planet are already in formation. One such change is known as the power of one. Tom Friedman recently wrote about this in his column at the New York Times. While he wrote about the increasing power of an individual to change much larger systems, I'd say the reverse holds too. The power of one individual changing their habits, when multiplied by the millions, also carries great power.
One of the most impactful things an individual can do to end the cycle of violence against each other and the planet is to forgo meat and animal products. Scientists estimate one-third of greenhouse gases come from agriculture. The impact on climate change of giving up animal products is huge. But the impact on the very violent lifestyle that causes climate change is even bigger.
Tolstoy noted the link between violence on all levels. "As long as there are slaughter houses there will always be battlefields," he wrote. A society built on violence cannot be a beacon for peace. Only a society that abhors violence and understands its cyclical causes can change the way we behave. Even Nietzsche believed that "the deeper minds of all ages have had pity for animals."
In order to explore if you are up for the challenge of stopping the killing of more than 1 billion animals per week, and thus protect our climate and change the neural network of humanity, check out this incisive Ted talk by Melanie Joy.
If you aren't, you can at least eat less meat or get it from places where animals are treated as well as they can be--and from people who raise animals sustainably. It's worth noting that meat is now recognized as unhealthy anyhow. There are also other ways to get involved in fighting the climate crisis, such as donating to environmental organizations or joining a local chapter of 350.org
Time is running out. The climate is drastically changing before our eyes. We have caused it. We must stop it.