Spirituality, Hope and the Future of the Planet
Transcribed from a talk delivered by Guy Dauncey
First Unitarian Church of Victoria
April 20, 2008
Well good morning everyone, and thank you for inviting me to come and join you here. When I was cycling up Interurban Road to get here today and snow was melting into the creek, which was rushing along by the edge of Interurban, and the fawn lilies were sort of bursting out everywhere... You know we live in such a miraculously beautiful part of the world here.
I must admit if you’re a cyclist, you also notice the incredible garbage along the roadside - the toss-away McDonald’s stuff that’s been thrown out. If you’re a motorist you don’t see that, but if you’re walking or cycling you really see the disgusting garbage that we leave. So there’s a duality to my theme here, which is the incredible need for us to be grateful, and appreciate the wondrousness of this planet we live on, and to pull a piece out of the prophet Job and say “what a shit-awful mess we’re making of things!”
Whenever you go before the divine, you’re supposed to bring your heart clear and empty, and one way to do that is to show gratefulness ‘cause it gets the ego out of the way. Another way is to honour sins. I mean there’s a good old-fashioned tradition in the Catholic Church of honouring sins, because if you come and you’re holding onto that and you’re not honouring what you’ve done that’s bad and harmful and wrong, your heart can’t be open to receive grace, to transmit prayer, to be clear in any kind of giving. It’s a precondition of that contact with the divine to have that openness.
Some of the things we do are willfully obvious and blind. Others of them happen at a distance. And the analogy I found myself working with recently for us humans on Planet Earth is very similar to that of a child. When a baby is born, for the first year and a half or year of its life it lives in this world of yes. Its parents give it everything. It gets unconditional attention, love, the breast, the sleep, the food; it’ll do whatever it wants, and we say yes to it all the time.
On Planet Earth, for the last ten thousand years here, ever since we stopped being hunter-gatherers and started being settled agriculturalists, we have taken everything from the Earth. We’ve taken the topsoil, we’ve taken the forests, we dump our waste wherever we want it just as a one year old does and we expect Nature to clean up just as Mother cleans up. That’s the world you expect as a one year old. And you live in a world of abundance, and that’s how it should be for a one year old! That’s what you need, ‘cause you’re ignorant of the ways of the world. You don’t understand how it all works. You look up at the adult world and it’s a mysterious thing, just as we look up at the stars and it’s a mysterious thing.
Then there comes that period when you’re beginning to become a bit more important, as a two year old. And you think “oh, I’m getting good ideas now, and I’ll take that and I’ll take this and I’ll take that” and your parents say “no, no! Put that down!” and “Put that back! No, no, don’t go there! Don’t, watch that!” and all that. That issue comes in and the child is entering the world of no, no, stop, stop; you all know that.
Now if the child is allowed to go on living in a world of yes after it’s crossed the barrier of no, and its temper tantrums are indulged, you’ve got a miserable eighteen years of parenthood coming up! And that child has got a miserable life coming up, because it grows up thinking it can always live in a world of yes. Everyone owes it everything it wants, whether it’s the forest, the water, the land, the fish; it’s entitled to take it.
The grim truth is that of the world’s major large fish - the tuna, the cod, the sharks (which have been around in our oceans for probably some six to eight hundred million years) - in the last fifty years, we’ve eliminated ninety percent of them. And by the year 2015, in about seven years time, a lot of them are going to be extinct. Because our fishing fleets are using modern, fancy equipment, we’ve taken the world of the endless yes to the depths of the ocean. We’ll grab every single thing we can.
An analogy I heard is that, if you have the Plains of the Serengeti in Africa, and you took two big tractor-trailer type vehicles and put them a kilometer apart and put a net between them, and you drove across the Plains of the Serengeti and put everything into a great big pile - all the lions, all the antelope, all the trees, the bushes, the shrubs, a big pile - and picked out the ones you wanted and left the rest to rot, that is what we’re doing on the floor of the ocean with our trawling practices. So that we can fill our shops with fish, and our cat food and our dog food with fish, and stuff like that. That’s what trawlers are doing on the bottom of the ocean, ‘cause we have no legislation at all that guides what happens outside territorial waters.
It’s the same with the forests. (This is the Job in me coming out now.) You know, we’ve taken most of the old-growth forest on Vancouver Island - gone.
We’re treating the atmosphere like it’s just this invisible thing up there. The reality is that our carbon-dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels - and we take fossil fuels for granted, even our candles here, unless they’re beeswax... That flame you’re looking at is ancient sunlight that’s two hundred million years old. Because the oils used to make the candles are the fossilized remains of forests that grew two hundred million ago, that stored sunlight from the sun, locked it up as carbon and became coal and oil and became candles. You’re looking at the sun that shone two hundred million years ago, in the release of that little flame.
And whenever we drive a car, that’s the energy we’re using. Every single year, we use a million year’s worth of ancient sunlight! All the heat over a million years is being put back into space.
And the blunt reality of that is that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere, which is absolutely essential for us to have warmth and existence... Mars has no atmosphere, no carbon dioxide; it’s minus one hundred and eighty-three degrees Celsius at night, on Mars, and plus ninety-three Celsius in the daytime. So like, you don’t want to live on Mars in a hurry. But on Planet Earth we have this wonderful atmosphere, thanks to carbon dioxide and water vapour and methane gasses which create the right temperature.
But you put more carbon dioxide in there - ‘cause you’ve taken the energy over two hundred million years gathered in fossil fuels, and releasing them in two hundred years - you get a rise of CO2 levels from 285 parts per million, which is pre-industrial, to 385 today, to 450 by the year 2030.
The last time the Planet Earth went through the 450 parts per million barrier, (which is when it was cooling down fifty million years ago), at 450 parts per million, Antarctica became ice. So when we go the other way, past 450, Antarctica becomes water again. And there’s enough water locked up in Antarctica for an eighty-meter sea level rise.
Richmond is at sea level. Bangladesh is at sea level. Shanghai is at sea level. I’m talking eighty-meter sea level rise. And that’s within thirty years, that we’ll pass that threshold. It’ll take several hundred years for the melting to take place, of Greenland and Antarctica and stuff like that, but if we don’t change our behaviour that quickly, that’s what is coming for the future of this world.
And the scientists say they can’t get over that threshold point. James Hanson, NASA’s top climate scientist, said the threshold we need to aim for is not 450 parts per million, it’s 300 to 350, which is lower than we are at the moment. So we’ve got to cut back on all our fossil fuel use right now, and find ways to farm differently and forest differently to absorb the carbon back into the soils and the forests. We have a very, very practical, immediate agenda to cease using all fossil fuels by the year 2030. And it’s possible and doable - I’m not going into all the details ‘cause I have other things I want to share now.
But one of the very practical things you can do as a church (‘cause your biggest carbon footprint as a group here, without doubt, is your traveling to get here) is to do a benchmark, and say “here’s how many car trips we have in April 2008; let’s reduce that by 20 percent by April 2009, by 40 percent by 2010, by car-sharing.” By setting up a site on your website, anyone who’s willing to offer a ride or needs a ride can use a Google Map - a little Google Map symbol for everyone who’s willing to offer a ride or can share a ride - you can look at the map and see who lives nearby, click on the button and it tells you the phone number... to sort of collectively reduce that footprint. And then by doing so, show how every other church in North America can do the same. When we do something innovative, it becomes a torch for everyone else and becomes a beacon for everyone else.
There’s a major conference of the churches in British Columbia happening a week on Monday, “The Fate of the Earth”, in Vancouver, which Campbell’s going to be speaking at, and all the Sikhs and the Christians and the Buddhists and the Muslims and the Jews are all gathering together to look at global climate change. Saying “what do we do, as spiritual congregations?”
Now moving to the larger theme here, before I put that Job piece aside, ‘cause I can go on... Job can get quite a grip and there’s a lot that Job wants to say. But, if we look at the history of our religions, it’s interesting: almost all of our major religions have a story, which says that the Earth is a terrible place of pain and suffering and woe, and that if we just pray enough, or buy enough indulgences, or confess enough sins or meditate enough, we can escape Earth, and get enlightened and go to Heaven. It’s a standard story! Even the Hindu faith, when you scratch it hard enough, that’s what it’s saying. The four ages of God, the four ages of Earth: the Golden Age, which degrades to the Silver Age, which degrades to the Bronze Age, which degrades to the Age of Metals, and there’s a great conflagration, a massive terrible disaster and everything gets destroyed and the world is made new again.
These religions were made, you know, two thousand years ago before anyone had any concept of “progress”, of “science”, of “development”, the fact that you can overcome patriarchy, overcome slavery, overcome child labour, overcome misery, overcome all that stuff. And since the Renaissance, we have had a new vision that actually, we can achieve miraculous stuff on this planet. And every generation since the Renaissance has hoped that their children will live on a better Earth. Our parents put up with terrible grinding work so that their children would have better lives.
For the first time now, we’re the first generation where the children are actually going to have a worse life, ecologically and materially speaking, than we are, ‘cause there’ll be less of everything - unless we go through this crisis and change things. Because every crisis is also a crisis of opportunity.
The key piece in here for me is actually our modern understanding of what evolution is all about. Because our science (which is our story to these days), our scientists are really telling us that evolution is a random bunch of genes trying to reproduce and going nowhere, doing nothing. It’s formally and officially random and meaningless. That is the formal, official science of evolution.
My evolutionary theory includes the work or Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo, and it’s that the whole of our consciousness is evolving toward a greater divinity. There’s a deeper unfolding, which I call the process of “syntropy”. All of life seeks wholeness. It’s a very profound thought.
Now have you ever found a human who says “I wish I had hemorrhoids!” Or “I wish I had a lousy marriage!” You will never find a human with negative ideals. Why is that? Why are we all programmed with a positive vision, with a hopeful vision? Why is that?
There’s something profound, biologically, because... science is not just about the material world. And very soon this great merging is going to happen, of science and spirituality. When science understands that, yes, consciousness is for real, that consciousness touches the world of the greater wholeness where prayer is operational, where meditation works, where healing is clearly something that works, and that we’ve got to understand that and link these things together.
Then we can start looking at our future. Then we can start thinking - well, if on Planet Earth, we accept the nature of our two-year-old tantrum process, and accept the need for limits, the world of no, and accept that we need to manage the fish carefully... And by the way, we discover that whenever we create a marine reserve which is totally off-limits to fishing, the fish recover very quickly, and you can fish sustainably on the perimeters of the marine reserve for our needs. Not necessarily for our greed, but for our needs.
And when you farm organically, there’s enough food on the whole planet. When you stop eating meat, there’s eight times more food, because every kilogram of beef requires eight kilograms of grain to feed it. There’s no need for any food crisis in the world if we simply stop eating meat. And if you’re worried about the healthiness of that - I’m sixty years old; I’ve been vegetarian for forty years; I ran ten kilometers around Elk Lake this morning and then cycled up here and back.
I’m healthy; I’m strong on a totally vegetarian diet. And I don’t get sick, at all. (Helps being self-employed because no one pays you to get sick, but that’s another story!)
There’s an abundance available to us, if we cooperate with Nature. An abundance on the material level, and on the spiritual level. It’s like when the two-year-old discovers the joy of cooperation with its parents, you discover “what a wonderful childhood I can have!” What wonderful things we can do together, when we cooperate together. There’s always fighting, and saying “mine, mine,” grab, grab, from the world of scarcity - when you think there’s not enough, you’ve got to grab it all.
When you look at the world of alternative energy, you say “how do we operate a whole planet with no use of fossil fuels?” I’ve done all the numbers, I’ve examined the whole thing; there’s a thousand times more energy than we need, when you take solar voltaics, solar thermal in the world’s deserts, wind energy, super-efficiency, deep-rocks geothermal energy, tidal energy, hydro power; all done within ecologically appropriate means. There’s way more energy than we need. Including totally enough to run our vehicles on electricity, as well as to use far more busses and transit and cycling and ride-sharing and stuff like that.
The numbers add up just fine, and there are companies showing that it works out. I mean, Catalyst Paper, the one that runs the pulp mills, has reduced its CO2 emissions by 71 percent since 1990. There’s a small town of Gussing, in Eastern Austria, where the whole town has reduced its carbon footprint by 93 percent in just fifteen years.
It’s just a matter of applying our mind with a positive approach to say “ok, how do we do it”? How do we systematically stop using carbon fuels, farm organically, forest sustainably, fish sustainably, and live within the limits of our Earth? And then turn our brains around so that instead of seeing the environmental message all the time (which is like “humans are a disaster, we’re a cancer on the Earth, we’ve got to stop doing this, we’ve got to stop doing that”, you know, it’s all negative, negative, negative), see it as a cooperative vision of where we’re going.
Once we get over this two-year-old tantrum crisis and learn to cooperate with Nature, to do green chemistry instead of toxic chemistry, eliminating cancer, and asthma, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (all of which come from our relationship to our lousy food and our toxic chemicals getting into our bodies) - all that can be gone! We can get back to healthy living for a good, hundred-year lifespan. We can live within the abundance of Nature. And then, start asking the fundamental, deeper questions. Like, “ok, now that we’ve got over that crisis, what are we going to go for our next ten million years on Earth”? We’ve been walking around on two legs for seven million years quite successfully; why shouldn’t we have another seven million years? Planet Earth doesn’t go supernova for five billion years!
There’ll be historians around a million years from now, looking at this little crisis we went through with the age of fossil fuels, when we suddenly got the knowledge of science and technology and fossil fuels all at the same time, and what did we do with it? Did we use it to just indulge ourselves on flying to Hawaii, and getting a bigger truck, and a bigger house, bigger television and everything? Or did we use it to do a transition; as a takeoff process to enable us to become a world entirely in harmony with Nature; as a baseline for a happy childhood? So we’re just about to enter our childhood on Planet Earth. As to what adulthood might mean, that’s so far beyond us, it’s like asking “what might God be?” Why should we begin to know that?
But here’s another thought. The fact that every single one of us is alive today, with fingers and eyes and ears, is 100 percent proof that if you go back through your ancestors, right back through the human chain to the primate chain, to every single form of existence there’s been - every single one of your ancestors has had successful nookie and produced a new generation. Without failure! Not a single one of our ancestors failed or else we wouldn’t be here. We have a genetic heritage that runs back, unbroken, to the very first bacterial cell division. Unbroken! It’s a phenomenal thing to carry in our beings.
The fact that each brain has one trillion - a thousand billion - brain cells in it is because Nature took that long to evolve such an incredible thing. And my belief is that every single step of the road, every cell was conscious. Even the atoms were conscious.
I’ll wind up with a much bigger thought here now, because we’re about to have a whole rediscovery of the integration of consciousness and spirituality into the nature of science, coming out of the interaction with healing and the way we know that healing works on our bodies. One of the interesting things here is around quantum theory, where it says there are positrons and electrons. Electrons have their causal origin in the past, but positrons have their causal origin in the future. No one’s got close to finding them yet, but we know they should exist. And the reason we haven’t found them yet is that all consciousness, everything that has consciousness, everything we do has its causal origin in the future, through intention.
Every one of us set an intention to come here, and we acted on it and here we are. Everything we do is set on intention set in the future. And that may be the very nature of consciousness and spirituality in the atom itself, that it’s always moving. That’s how time is created, is we have future intentionality.
When we have negative intentionality we will get pain and suffering and grief. You have negative thoughts about yourself or about the planet, that’s what you manifest. If you think you can’t win a soccer game, you’ll lose it. To be a beautiful choir, you’ve got to visualize that clear ringing note, those harmonies, and know you can do it.
As a planet, we absolutely have to visualize that clear, ringing, harmonious future, ‘cause in the process of science and evolving consciousness, that’s how it happens. When we can visualize it clearly, we can move toward it and make it happen. If we visualize fear and disaster and things going wrong, we get immobilized! The people who are systematically denying climate change, the oil companies, are as harmful as the environmental communities who are stuck in negativity and defeat; who say that “the corporations are to blame, the government’s to blame, we can’t do anything”, and feeling hopeless and defeated.
Can you imagine Churchill feeling that way in 1939? I’ve been reading Churchill’s memoirs of the World War II and the analogies are really close. Because in 1939 Hitler had occupied the whole of Europe because no one had done anything about the Rhineland or the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, or about anything else, and let him do that stuff. The home army in Britain didn’t even have a rifle to hold!
The only thing the British had going for them - Hitler wasn’t even invading Britain - the only thing Britain had going for it was an absolute determination that they were not going to put up with that bully thug Hitler. They were not going to let him do that to the world. And there’s a point in Churchill’s memoirs when he first became Prime Minister, after Chamberlain handed over, he said to his Cabinet, “look, we’ve got nothing here apart from our own determination to go the whole distance and get total victory”. And he said in his notes “if I’d said anything different, they’d have tossed me right out the window”, ‘cause his whole Cabinet was so fully behind him.
We’re not quite at that stage yet; we’re in 1935 equivalent when it comes to these global ecological crises. Most people are still in denial, still thinking it’s not going to happen, we don’t need to change. And it’s really, really serious. And yet out of that seriousness comes a whole new vision. Out of World War II came labour rights, came the welfare state - ‘cause after World War II they tossed Churchill out and brought in the first Labour Prime Minister, Atley, who brought in the welfare state.
So out of this upheaval comes a new vision of who we can be and what we are. And it’s really important not just to leave it to the ecologists who have just a narrow scientific basis and don’t include the spiritual dimension. ‘Cause it’s that understanding of how spirituality works that we get the power of our deepest vision from, and the power of our ability to manifest the beauty in our human interaction with the world that Nature has in its own interaction with the world.
So please ask your transportation committee to get organizing on ride sharing. Tell other people what you’re doing. And hang on to that deep belief that we’re going somewhere amazing on this planet. It’s not just an ecological disaster; this is the bumpy road we’re coming to. And we’re heading toward an amazing, amazing transformation.
Thank you very much.