This year’s hurricanes, floods, and wildfires were closely followed by the dire Fourth National Climate Assessment issued by 16 US agencies. Closer to home, Steve Graham recently wrote a piece in The Loop that talked about probable repercussions of climate change here on Vashon and suggested that we restart the Vashon Transition Town group, a lifestyle change project intended to make us more resilient in facing our uncertain future (and why I started writing this column years ago). Greg Wessel wrote an opinion piece in the Beachcomber where he said we would have to start doing a lot of things differently if we were to seriously address our climate crisis. In both messages, I inferred that they were talking about culture and lifestyle changes, not just more of this and less of that. All of these things suggested to me that finally we are becoming aware of the gravity of the situation we are in and may be ready to truly embrace the scope and depth of the changes that will be required of us.
We all live in a world of givens and assumptions that are so basic to our life that we may not even notice them. Some of mine were first questioned when I worked in the third world in the Peace Corps. Seeing a culture and lifestyle so different from our own was enough for me to understand that many of my givens were arbitrary cultural norms, not absolute truths. I saw people happily living without or with much less of many of the things that I considered essential. On the other hand, they had cultural norms in place that made their lives superior in many respects to ours. They had community support systems, and a long history of self reliance and individual resourcefulness that put them much more in control of their lives than we are. Don’t get me wrong— first world technology, selectively applied, is beneficial for these third worlders. The difference is that they had not had the basic ability to live on this Earth bred out of them and we mostly have.
If we are to consider big changes, it would be very beneficial to really understand another concept that comes up a lot, especially here in “The Road to Resilience.” That concept is paradigm change. I think that a big part of our difficulty in addressing most of the serious problems we are facing today is that we are considering only a nip and tuck here and there rather than a whole new garment. Weatherizing our homes, subsidizing affordable housing, driving less, and recycling more are not paradigm changes. Considering what values should drive our economic system, how we live, who and what we depend on, why we need to go anywhere, or what we truly need and where and how we can get it are questions that, if truly and deeply considered, will lead to paradigm change.
We began long ago considering the ideas that will lead to a paradigm shift. The so-called Copernican Revolution in the 16th century was the beginning of a paradigm change that we are still working on today. It was the beginning of our journey of realizing that human beings are not the be-all and end-all and absolute center of the universe. Copernicus proposed that the sun did not revolve around the Earth but the Earth in fact revolved around the sun. Physics and astronomy were revolutionized but, more importantly, it was the beginning of our understanding that the universe was not made exclusively for us. When that understanding becomes inherent in how we relate to the world, we will have completed a paradigm shift.
A corollary to that paradigm change is the sense that all beings are connected and equally important. Our current ancient paradigm is that we are all separate beings in competition with each other to aggregate wealth and power. The ultimate result of that is monarchy, and we still mostly have some form of aristocracy running the world. The beginning of the paradigm shift from that was when the idea of democracy was imagined. When we ratified our Constitution, we set down our intention that the many would rule. Our conception of that was limited to landed white men in the beginning, but we have slowly expanded that to include more of us. When we understand that wealth and power must be shared more equally by all beings human and otherwise, rather than aggregated for the few, we will have completed another paradigm shift.
Deciding to quit exploring for new fossil fuel reserves and committing to leaving 80% of known reserves in the ground will be a sure sign that we have committed to paradigm change. As Naomi Klein postulates in her book, This Changes Everything, operating in the new paradigm will answer for quite a few of our problems.
(NOTE: Last issue, this column was a casualty of the pre-Thanksgiving publishing crunch. My column for that issue received the title of the column in the issue before. That previous column, “Money, Money, Money,” was about money in politics. The last column was supposed to be titled “Hope For The Courts,” and was about the hope that the courts would eventually force the rest of government to address the climate issue. If you passed it up because you thought you had read it already, check it out as it has a message that I think has been overlooked. You can find it online at vashonloop.com – Columns>Road to Resilience>Hope For The Courts.)