In 1989 I read an article in ORION magazine written from the perspective of the year 2036: “The Case for the Pain of Whales—a Futuristic Fable.”

It described the years leading up to a time when the entire world caught on to and understood the pain that animals feel when subjected to scientific research. And because of that understanding, that deep connection, our consciousness changed. Our actions changed.

The article opened my eyes to an expanded understanding of our interdependence with every living creature on this earth. And the premise was that it takes a certain number of people whose consciousness has been changed to then actually create the climate for a complete paradigm shift. In this fictional future, this swift change in consciousness then led to many more people taking up the causes of inhumane treatment not only of animals, but also of plants and the earth.

It was so hopeful for me, that I have clung to the idea that if enough of us work for environmental justice, the rest of the population will follow. At that time, I had an unrealistic conception of what percentage of the population would be needed to effect a paradigm shift, because according to my calculations it should have happened at the latest in 2010.

As each generation reaches adulthood it has a more profound grasp on what is at stake with climate change. My generation, coming of age in the early 1970’s, fought passionately for a new conception of our obligation to Gaia, our Earth Mother. That was a completely new concept (or the revaluing of an ancient understanding) to my parents’ generation. We opened their eyes. We had a consciousness that went beyond theirs. And the same can be said of the subsequent generations.

What precipitates such a transformation of thought and then consciousness for an individual? Crises, accidents, births and deaths create soul and body wounds that allow the light of consciousness to come in. Suddenly we realize that we can do something. We look for people who think the way we do, coalesce around an issue, become agents for change.

In this instance we fall in love with the earth and our place in it. If human relations were without love, the earth would become ‘a bleak and barren desert.’ Without awareness of the interdependence of all life, love ebbs away. Without love, there is no hope. Without hope, we lose the will to act. And if we don’t act now, if we remain paralyzed by the enormity of the calamity at hand, it will be too late.  

So it is for the baby-boom generation to heed the words and actions of the younger generation who are fighting for their very existence at the forefront of climate justice. It becomes a spiritual quest; a faith in our children and grand-children to lead us forward—shining the bright light of activism on the path we must take. We hear their panic. We boost their voices with our voices. If their cries for our attention vibrate deep enough in our souls, we can assure future generations that we cared enough about them and their home to curb our materialism, reign in our greed, and end our isolationism.

This is how we want to be remembered—as the generation that turned its attention towards the entire planet and not just our place in it. We loved you all enough to act. 

And then we will have the critical mass to effect the paradigm shift that helps us to comprehend  the pain of whales—of all living things—and to connect equally with all life.

Ann-Elizabeth Barnes has been living in South Egremont, Massachusetts since 1981. She has a BA in Natural Science from Simon’s Rock College of Bard. She has written two books on African American historic figures of Berkshire County and is working on a third. She homesteads with her husband, Richard Meyers.