I tried to leave a message, but it appears my answers were too long! :)
What would it feel like to live in a world that — spiritually, psychologically, philosophically — meant something different?
I’m not sure how to answer this question. I’m tempted to just skip it altogether (lol). It seems to me that life is inherently transient… no circumstances are permanent. In just a few moments, the world is already a radically different place. A child has died in New York, a lion has tackled its prey in Africa, and a few hundred thousand neurons have sent electronic impulses through the tissue of my brain. I guess it depends on your perspective, but it seems to me that each moment gives birth to a different world.
How has climate change affected your “moral imagination?” And, in turn, how has it also changed the way you live your life on a day-to-day basis?
I think that over the past several years, my growing awareness of changes occurring in the natural world has made me slow down and pay more attention to my connection with the earth. However, rather than focus on the ominous forecasts of global catastrophe, I have come to believe that it is more useful for me to imagine the opportunities this moment may hold for my generation to mold its own destiny. Human beings are by no means helpless observers in the circumstances we now face. The apocalyptic warnings being proselytized by many of the most outspoken environmental advocates remind me of the words of Alfred Edward Housman, one of my favorite English poets. In one of his poems, he lamented… “I [am] a stranger afraid, in a world I never made.” I do not believe that we are strangers to this earth. The very cells that make up the fabric of my being may have once lived in the roots of trees, the feathers of birds, and perhaps even the emaciated body of a child in Africa. I am not just a creature on this earth; I am a creature of the earth.
I believe that the task that humanity is confronted with now is to change the way we are living so that our children and grandchildren can also have access to the wonderful resources the natural world provides. In our preoccupation with industry and materialism, we seem to have forgotten the fact that we are just as integral a part of the natural world as the trees that were harvested to manufacture our dollar bills. Thus, unless we choose to live in a way that is sustainable and harmonious with the other living systems of the earth, we will indeed suffer the serious consequences environmentalists like Bill McKibben warn of in the future.
Do your family, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds factor into this understanding?
In terms of my traditional family, I don’t think my immediate relatives had too great an influence on the tenets I hold regarding climate change and sustainability. Growing up, my mother enjoyed gardening, but we certainly weren’t a family of environmental advocates. Likewise, as an American, I’ve grown up in a culture that promotes materialism and the myth that human beings are somehow separate from the “natural” world. When I decided to switch to a vegetarian diet, my family and friends were extremely discouraging of my decision. I received responses like “It’s too expensive!” and “You’ll never get enough protein.”; not unlike the voices that echo in the internal dialogues I think many Americans have with themselves when they consider adopting more sustainable lifestyles. If anything, those early experiences encouraged me to develop a practice of inner-reflection and contemplation. I learned that no solution is a simple one… there are no easy answers. I developed a capacity be comfortable with and even embrace the most difficult questions… an ability I think may be of great benefit to me as I ponder an increasingly uncertain future.
I think my spirituality has evolved right alongside my concern for the environment. I am only twenty years old, so in many ways the “spiritual background” you refer to is still developing and only in its infancy. I grew up in a very non-traditional, open-minded protestant church. My pastor introduced me to the teachings of not only the Christian tradition, but also writings from Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and the other Abrahamic faiths. As a result, my beliefs are sort of an amalgam that may only fit in that oh-so-cliché category “Spiritual, but not religious”.
I suppose that fundamentally, I believe that love is the essential element of life. I believe that it is the essence of love, what religious traditions have personified as God, Allah, Brahma, etc, that will heal our wounded world. My faith in love has endowed me with a deep veneration for and devotion to the earth. I don’t have a sense of separateness from the force that impels my heart to beat and the one that sustains the life of the dandelion outside my window. As I’ve watched the precious gifts of the earth progressively disintegrate over the past several years, my own alarm seems to be driving me toward action. My spiritual reflections have allowed me to accept and embrace the fact that I am kin to every sentient being on this earth. As such, I believe that my life’s purpose is to act as steward to the earth and all of its creatures.
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