Molly Young Brown: Anthropogenic Climate Disruption and its Moral Challenges

All roads lead to Rome for me these days, Rome being the looming catastrophe of global climate change/warming. Journalist Dahr Jamail, in a series of in-depth articles on the subject, more aptly calls it “anthropogenic climate disruption”. “Anthropogenic” places the responsibility where it seems to belong, on the shoulders of humans with our shortsighted addiction to fossil fuels, money, and consumption. “Disruption” means this is not ordinary change, but something well beyond the normal cycles of planetary systems.

As Naomi Klein documents in her recent book, This Changes Everything, the underlying systemic dynamics that are engendering climate disruption also give rise to most if not all of our other major crises: income inequality, financial breakdown, racism, colonialism, war-making and militarism, weapons production and sales, threats to democracy at home and abroad, air, water, and soil pollution and depletion—and on and on. Making the radical changes needed to mitigate climate disruption will also go a long way toward resolving these other crises.

Most of us know what changes are needed, but feel helpless to implement them. We can (and do) limit our consumption, recycle, etc, but if we live in a first world country, we cannot help contributing to resource depletion, pollution, and climate disruption just by going about our daily lives. That is because our economic, political, and social systems are unsustainable, no matter what we as individuals do.

So we find ourselves faced with a profound moral dilemma. No matter how much we want to live in harmony within the web of life on Earth, our “Industrial Growth Society” looks the other way, looks to profit and power rather than the common good. And our choices at the ballot box, in the workplace, at the market, and even in our homes are severely circumscribed by the hegemony of this economic system.

Even after years of reading and writing about this issue, it is still very difficult for me to grasp how pervasively destructive to life this system is. This is partly because nearly everyone around me accepts it without much question, assuming it is basically sound (while possibly needing some reform). We assume, implicitly or explictly: “Of course we need food and other goods to purchase and use, and agribusiness and the trucking industry provide them to us. Of course we need jobs, and welcoming an extractive industry to town is a great way to provide them. Of course we need to travel to conferences and vacations, and airlines take us there. It would be good to use more solar and wind energy, but that will take a few years to come on line, and meanwhile…”
How do we comprehend that our whole way of life is unsustainable, that it is killing life on the planet at an increasing rate, that it is taking humans over the precipice of near-term extinction? How can this be?
The evidence is before us in reports from climate scientists all over the world. The Industrial Growth Society has already set in motion a number of self-reinforcing feedback loops involving methane release, melting of Arctic and Anarctic ice, thawing of permafrost, forest fires expanding in acreage and intensity—among many others. For a more complete list, see here.

Meanwhile, our corporate controlled media keeps us in the dark about all this, because the real news might decrease sales and profits. This censoring creates another self-reinforcing feedback loop: if we don’t know the extent of our peril, we won’t change our behavior to avert it. Nor will we prepare ourselves psychologically and spiritually to meet the enormous challenges ahead.

What if we face up to our situation and accept at least the possibility of near-term human extinction? How then shall we live?

We cannot foresee or prescribe what genuinely adaptive actions we will need to take in the face of radical climate disruption and the chaotic conditions that will accompany it. What constitutes adaptive, effective response will depend on the particular slice of chaos affecting each of us, and that will be unique for each person, family, and community. We can only develop our readiness to cope adaptively, to have a better chance to emerge from the chaos with integrity and love. Psychosynthesis can facilitate this, expanding our consciousness while activating our will.

Assagioli’s understanding of the will in its three aspects (strong, skillful, and good) can help us examine our beliefs and unconscious choices, discover more encompassing perspectives, and make better choices for ourselves and our communities. Piero Ferrucci’s book, Your Inner Will (2014), offers understandings and methods for developing qualities of will that can contribute to our readiness, qualities such as freedom, plasticity, mastery, courage, integrity, and especially resilience.

We can also align with Transpersonal Will, which I like to think is the Will of Life itself. Beyond our own rather limited consciousness and will, we can open ourselves to the larger currents and promptings of Transpersonal Will in all our choices.

The practice of “disidentification” can help us express our deepest values in our actions, instead of getting caught up in the melodrama of the moment. Disidentification can help us take a larger view of radical changes in our life conditions, and respond more flexibly and creatively to them.

Psychosynthesis can help us see clearly and simply what is, with objectivity and acceptance. We can then create a vision of a more sustainable society, confront whatever beliefs or habits are getting in our way, and choose to develop whatever skills and qualities we need to move through them. No matter what lies ahead, a transformed society or near term extinction, psychosynthesis can help us live with integrity, wisdom, and love.
We must first, however, overcome our comfortable denial and squarely face the fact of anthropogentic climate disruption and all the other destruction our economic system is wreaking upon Earth. What is the value of a psychology that fails to address our planetary peril?

Molly Young Brown

Molly is a psychosynthesis teacher, trainer, guide and author. She studied with Assagioli in 1973 and runs programs and workshops in North America and Europe. Her books include:

The Unfolding Self: Psychosynthesis and Counseling, 1983 (Revised edition from Helios Press, September 2004), and Growing Whole: Self-realization on an Endangered Planet, 1993), (Revised edition, 2009, Growing Whole: Self-realization for the Great Turning)

For further reading:

Carolyn Baker and Guy McPherson, Extinction Dialogues: How to Live with Death in Mind. (Next Revelation Press, 2014)

Piero Ferrucci, Your Inner Will: Finding Personal Strength in Critical Times (Tarcher, 2014).

Dahr Jamail, “Climate disruption dispatches.”

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, (Simon and Schuster, 2014)

Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects. (New Society, 2014).

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In without Going Crazy (New World Library, 2012).

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