Of course, the climate, the climate, will be just fine. Fine for whatever manages to abide in it. It is a life-abiding, and human-abiding climate that is slipping through our fingers now. Organized, cumulative, culture-bearing, human life. So well predicted when we were young, and now right here on display almost everywhere you look. It is not Mother Earth doing it. We are. And as with all behavior, letting this most precious of all structures slip through our fingers roots in the nature of our minds and hearts, and that nature is consciousness.
September 1962 I entered the eighth grade and took one of the first Earth Science classes ever taught in New York State. Mr. Albert Gregonis introduced us to a book, published that same month, by Rachel Carson, her ground-breaking Silent Spring, that propelled the environmental movement. Some 40 years later, Discover magazine would list it as one of the 25 greatest science books of all time. Naturalist Sir David Attenborough thought it stood alongside Darwin’s Origin of Species as the books that have most changed the scientific world.I read it. I got it. I was appalled. I was changed.
Carson died 55 years ago, on April 14, 1964. Our population more than doubled since then and wildlife cut in half, the spring we fear is no more the silent one, but the roiling one—hot air, dry air, wet or combusting air, rising, melting, flooding. And Oh, the hurricanes!
Five years before Silent Spring, psychologist Leon Festinger gave us A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance that names the pain we feel when two mental pieces do not fit. He is your own loving father, but women are coming forward about him. Your work is 30 miles from your low-carbon cabin in the woods that you can only get to in a guzzling pickup truck. It hurts. Like pressing down on a jigsaw puzzle with that piece you think just has togo there. “They didn’t cut this right!” You bend the cardboard to make it work. But because you do know you’re wrong, it hurts somewhere behind your eyes. And when the child says, “That’s wrong, Dad,” you stand up spewing words not meant for the kids and kick the table. You all try to pick it up, but so many pieces have slipped away, you chuck the whole thing out.
Festinger saw that we actively struggle to reduce the pain of cognitive dissonance. One famous trick, of course, is to look the other way. Another: head in sand. Another: denial. Like the bigtime commercial chemist in the 1960s who wrote, “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.” He called her “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature.”
We need to watch ourselves from a distance to steer clear of such bogs of consciousness. That’s one of the ongoing benefits of sitting each day to meditate. Head up, eyes inward, watching us. Watching from a distance, as songwriter Julie Gold says God is doing.
As for me, when I sit in that place, I see an infinitely complex Global Egg we cannot unwind ourselves from. Here is a poem I wrote in 2003:
I can only participate!
My finger prints on everything.
No way I can remove the stain.
I drive. I buy. I eat.
And when I do, I whip and rape
People I will never meet.
Every step my body takes
A thousand other bodies break.
A global egg so intricate
My finest moves are all mistake.
I can only participate. The hardest and the sharpest “inconvenient truth.”
But I also participate in balance. And that is why I stood up here tonight. To hug us all as we keep our heads out of the sand, going into another dear springtime, remembering Rachel Carson and Leon Festinger now watching us from the Silence. From a distance. From inside of us.
“From a Distance” by Julie Gold, 1985. Recorded in 1987 by Nanci Griffith. Major 1990 hit by Bette Midler.
Ted Phelps lives in Valatie, NY and is a frequent “IWOW” writer/performer at Deb Koffman’s Art Space in Housatonic, where he offers short stories, memoirs, poems and essays. Ted is also a visual artist, working often in new digital media (tedphelps.com). A meditation teacher since 1972, he designed the Natural Meditation method presented free online since 2000 at naturalmeditation.org.