Technologies of the Mind and Technologies of the Heart
We’ve all read the numbers, and heard the forecast: 350 ppm of carbon, 3 meters of sea level rise, or 3 degrees Celsius. These numbers buzz around our heads today as Trump announced his decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Agreement. Billions around the world are angry, even Americans are shocked by the blatant denial of sound science.
I am a student of science, a firm and well trained believer. I’ve been working for climate and environmental justice think tanks and grassroots organizations for my entire career. I’ve buried my head in the stacks. I’ve published policy reports. But I am wondering what impact those reports have had, those reports on complex local forestry management climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, are they even useful at the negotiating table? And what do the numbers on the page inspire in the 300 million Americans who may or may not read about them at all?
Especially in this moment of great fear, knowing that the average American (including our own President) does not read scientific reports, what compels me to go to work every day and fight for climate justice?
The movement. The movement does not rise from the mind, from analysis. The movement is supported by science - and sometimes stands in the name of science itself - as we saw with the unprecedented March for Science a few weeks ago. We must honor and respect the knowledge science gives us in helping us to better understand the world we live in and the damage we are doing to it.
But I’m still left with the question: if we have known the science of climate change for years, why have we not moved the needle? The science tells us we need to act now in order to avoid catastrophe, in order to ensure a liveable climate for our great grandchildren. Why then are we not compelled to truly change, to throw ourselves into the fire of action?
The task of tackling climate change has been too often confined to men in suits with security clearance passing data back and forth. More and more I am looking beyond the theories of change, to cultures of change and the recipes for sustaining and mobilizing good culture in service to a just and sustainable world.
This is what is potentially so exciting about the climate justice movement: the time when scientists and social justice warriors have equal reason to join as one team. It requires technologies of the heart to move a nation.
After all, the climate crisis is a spiritual crisis. As Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes in his book Spiritual Ecology, “Our collective forgetfulness of the sacred in creation is beginning to have an effect as irreversible and catastrophic as climate change. In fact one could say that this outer, physical predicament is a reflection of an inner catastrophe - a catastrophe that is even more disastrous because we remain unaware of it.”
The solution, therefore, must be foundational at the root of our cosmology, our ontology, how we see our self in relationship with each other and all beings. When looking to progressive social movements over the past one hundred years, I notice one through-line, one technology that sustained them all - the spiritual technology of music.
The Call for Movement Music of the 21st Century
What awakens the spirit of every man, woman and child more than music?
The Industrial workers of the early 1900s changed the words of well-recognized hymns to sustain them in the picket line. The champions of the civil rights movement used song to lift people’s spirit and develop common language for resistance. Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Marvin Gaye, Joan Baez, Sweet Honey and the Rock, all wrote songs of freedom that the people still sing. We even still sing “Old Lang Syne,” the songs of wars come and gone. The Climate Justice movement in the US is largely missing this culture, missing the song leaders.
Where are the songs that help us feel this crisis in our bones? What are the songs about the rising tides, the drought that came and stayed, the last river dolphin? Where are the songs of the murderous heat wave, the trees that forgot when to flower, the winter without snow? Where are the songs of when we removed a mountain for a lump of coal, the legends of when we became more powerful than geology itself?
What are our songlines in this time of climate chaos - the songs that call us to battle and navigate us to peace, the chants that bind us together, the lyrics our great grandchildren will still utter, if not our own names?
There is a Role for your VOICE in this Movement
I’ve been a singer my whole life, but that’s largely been confined to the evenings, doing gigs after sunset when I get back from work at this nonprofit or the next. But I’ve started to sing in the daylight, singing as work itself, eliminating the distinction between work and play, between performance and ceremony.