Out of the Deepest Darkness

[By: Moshe Givental]

The facts of Climate Change are hard to swallow, if it wasn’t for the community of Marchers who welcomed me in, who made me family, I don’t know if anything I “learned” this summer would have really stuck. It’s natural to turn away turn away from things that are scary, from facts that have the potential to turn our understanding of life upside down and inside out. I would go as far as to say that if you’re not terrified, you’re actually not getting it. You see our arrogance, the idea that we are the center of all life and could do whatever we want with everyone and everything else naturally led to our arrogant treatment of life around us. From the treatment of people whom we consider “other” and therefore feel free to exploit and abuse to our treatment of the rest of life on the planet and the planet itself as just another thing to be plundered in the name of the advancement of our country, wallet, God, or some other cause, the development of our societies has run increasingly amuck.

In the U.S., especially if like me, you are white and at least middle class, and then it’s easy not to see the consequences of our actions. It’s easy not the see the mowed down forests and mountaintops, poisoned rivers and lakes, and most all the air. We don’t live in “those” communities and we either don’t have to deal with “those” problems, or when we do we have the money to fix them for the moment. Whatever doesn’t seem fixable, we assume it’s not fixable yet. After all, no one could have predicted the speed at which technology has developed in the last century, least of all the processing capacity of computers, which keeps doubling. We keep finding more and more oil, more coal and more gas. Those silly predictions of running out haven’t come true, so we think there’s no problem. We don’t live in “those” communities where that oil, coal, and gas are extracted, and so the increasingly extreme and dangerous processes involved in their extraction and the devastation they leave behind don’t touch us, or at least they don’t hurt us, we think.

So most us don’t even realize that we’re in denial. All of my friends accept the reality of Climate Change. They all know the debate is a hoax. They support the “issue.” The problem is that this acceptance, and the fight against the deniers, has made it seem like “acceptance” that Climate Change is a “problem” has made it seem like we’re dealing with reality. However, we’re not. Our acceptance, our recycling, our changing to more efficient lightbulbs, and even our hybrid cars are no more dealing with reality than duct taping windows in the face of nuclear disaster (the government approved strategy during the Cold War).

The reality is that Climate Change is not a problem, and it is definitely not a problem in some faraway place in some soon but far away time. It is here in the ongoing droughts in our southwest and in the Middle East (i.e. Syria), today.  It is here in the hurricanes of Katrina and Sandy and hundreds of others that are more frequent today than they have ever been. It is here in the rising levels of water that are swallowing islands. It is here in the increased cases of contagious diseases as mosquitoes are able to survive the winter in more and more places and therefore carry infectious diseases farther and farther each year. It is here in the melting arctic and glaciers. It is also here but we can’t yet see all of it here, because just like alcohol, it takes a while to feel the effects, so we keep drinking and drinking, and digging and digging, and burning more and more fossil fuels. We have a lot of money and a lot of technology and we have adapted really well, so we assume that we will continue to adapt well as things get worse.

What we don’t realize is that Climate Change doesn’t happen gradually, it moves exponentially. As the glaciers melt, they release methane which is at least 50 times as bad for global warming as carbon. They also decrease the surface area which reflects light back out and that dark earth revealed underneath them soaks up more and more heat. This is just one of many examples of the fact that in the not at all distant future, even when we stop burning fossil fuels as climate disasters become impossible to ignore, we will have already set in motion processes that will continue the heating by themselves. Also, like that drinking analogy, even we stop, even without those secondary processes, we will have 20-30 more years of increased poisoning and warming of the atmosphere from what we will have done up until then.

Our ability to read these facts, to hear of these facts, to talk about these facts, and still not really get it, and still only put up a lackadaisical fight or no fight at all, is natural, but scary. It’s scary because it’s putting not just our lives in danger, or the lives of our future children and grandchildren in danger, but putting the lives of ALL HUMANITY and all complex life in danger, in this, in our and not some far off, generation.

I do this too, I do it all the time. I did it while I was on the march. When a beautiful 9 year old, whom I’ve come to cherish and adore, ran up to me with a piece of trash in her hands and tears in her eyes, pleading, “Moshe, Moshe, protect me, save me, they are destroying my world [with this garbage].” Somehow, I don’t know how, I was able to disconnect, somehow while I responded with the appropriate compassion, care, and a hug on the outside, I made it into a joke in my mind. After this child walked away, somehow the memory I formed in my mind was that she was play acting. Somehow I thought to myself, maybe she was “practicing” for a protest; to get it across to “other” people just much our way of life was littering destroying not just our planet, but also our lives. How did my mind make this disconnect? How was I able to respond compassionately, maybe appropriately, but somehow change the story in my mind so that I wouldn’t have to break down and cry together with this girl?

I don’t know how I did that, but I did, even as I was thinking about how we all do this and trying to face reality. But it’s scary. So I’m still working on it. I still miss my family, the family I made on the March. It’s scary and it’s poignant. What we do now actually makes a difference. We have the capacity of turning towards reality, of turning towards the truth, over and over again. If we have the ability to destroy entire ecosystems, who knows what we could do? I don’t think we can rebuild worlds, but who knows what we can do. Who knows what gold we could find if we have the guts to dig into the darkness we have all created. My spiritual tradition teaches that it is out of the deepest darkness that we can mine the deepest light. Who knows?!