Reviewed by Marilyn Freeman
In most of the world it’s not the skeptics that are the biggest obstacle to climate action. It’s the indifference of the general public and the political class. As long as normal routines continue, people will not be persuaded to take meaningful action. People cannot be frightened into caring about what scientific predictions say could happen 20 to 30 years from now. The real motivator will be something local, something doable, something personal.
Author Charles Eisenstein aims to reframe the discussion around climate change. In fact, he doesn’t like that phrase at all. He prefers ‘climate derangement’ because the climate crisis is caused primarily by the derangement of ecosystems worldwide: the draining of wetlands, clear cutting forests, soil erosion, the poisoning of the air, water and soil with chemicals, interruption of the water cycle and so on. Climate health depends on the health of local ecosystems everywhere.
What I appreciated about this approach was its holistic nature. The earth and its systems are compared to a human body. Take a little piece of the liver, a little of the heart, a morsel of brain and slowly, but eventually, the entire system breaks down and death occurs.
Ecosystems are rife with non-linearity – symbiosis, positive and negative feedbacks, autocatalytic loops, trophic cascades – and homeostatic feedback mechanisms are how the planet maintains an environment hospitable to life. What we’ve forgotten is that humans are part of the system, not external to it. The planet does not exist solely for our purposes. Our worldview holds other beings as less sentient; beasts are beasts, dirt is dirt, all undeserving of empathy and only to be valued in monetary terms. In other words, even if we cut carbon emissions to zero, if we don’t reverse the ongoing ecocide on a local level everywhere, the climate will still die a death of a million cuts.
Eisenstein says that we must go right back to our foundational systems, stories and psychologies of our civilization. A shift in our mythologies is more than a cognitive shift and much more than a switching of societies to a zero carbon fuel stock. Every aspect of society, the economy and the political system must come into alignment with a new story. Eisenstein draws attention to Indigenous philosophy as a guide to a new direction.
This is a complex and very rich book. It combines science, philosophy, economics and psychology. In the last chapter, Bridge of a Living World, Eisenstein outlines 17 policies and changes to work for. He suggests picking your passion as no one person can work on all of them but, importantly, all are within reach right now. Jewish philosophy has a concept called “tikkun olam”. It means “to heal the world”. Climate: A New Story is exactly what this is about. It has a place of importance on my bookshelf.