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What kind of ancestors do we want to be?

On Monday, the IPCC published part of its long-awaited Sixth Assessment Report, “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis”, which you can read here. The report confirms what has been common knowledge for many years now: that major and irreversible changes to the climate, affecting all parts of the globe, are underway now and that swift and drastic cuts in emissions are needed now if we are to have any hope of keeping the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

This comes on top of the International Energy Agency’s recent assessment that all future explorations for new gas and oil deposits must be halted immediately as part of a transition to net zero by 2050.

I was relieved to see that the BBC News app on my phone carried the IPCC’s report as their first story on Monday. But by Tuesday it was gone, superseded by the Taliban’s advance. In fact, I couldn’t find it on their first page. This is where our rapid news cycle doesn’t serve us. Long-term global crises are rarely short-term news. Maybe this reflects our broader preoccupations as a species. We tend to learn to adapt to, live with, ignore long-term threats that we don’t know how to address. Perhaps that’s how we got into this crisis in the first place.

Is there hope for us? It depends, as I say in my book The Burning House: a Buddhist response to the climate and ecological emergency, out later this month. If you’re treating it as an emergency, there’s hope for us. If you’re not treating it as an emergency, there’s no hope for us.

But hope in what? Supernatural intervention? A mysterious reprieve from the laws of nature? We humans created this crisis. For most of the time we didn’t realise the impact of our collective actions. However, now we’re becoming aware of them, so it’s up to us to sort it out!

The basic question is: what kind of ancestors do we want to be? Could we be the ancestors who planted trees whose shade we probably won’t live to enjoy?

I do have a kind of hope. I have confidence and trust in a broader perspective, our connection with vision, our emotional response to our ideals. I have confidence and trust that the climate and ecological emergency has the potential to awaken us individually and collectively to Enlightenment.

The climate and ecological emergency has shown us the consequences of our collective amnesia. It’s as though a giant mirror has been held up to us. Naturally, we find looking in this mirror very unpleasant. It goes against the way we want to see ourselves and the way we want others to see us.

We can wake up to the truth of interconnectedness: that things emerge in dependence upon conditions, and that actions have consequences. Even if we ‘solved’ the climate and ecological emergency, we would still be faced with the greater problem of meaning – what to do with our lives.

In an emergency, we can trust in emergence. How we respond now is crucial; it will provide the template for future responses. Acceptance, compassion, cooperation and empathy will lead to different outcomes than aggression, competition, blame and denial.

I suggest that you take your ‘best’ aspirations and engage in social action based on them. If you have the impulse to benefit society or benefit the world, nurture it and act on it as best you can. Whatever the outcome, doing this will certainly change you, and that is the start of the change you want to see in the world.