Presenting: Uncertainty and Possibility—Meeting the Climate Future
About this episode
What happens when three wise women get together? Just an incredible series of new, mind-blowing conversations, that’s all.
In this week’s episode we are THRILLED to bring you an edited version of the AMAZING ten-part video series Uncertainty and Possibility -Meeting the Climate Future featuring Buddhist teacher, Roshi Joan Halifax; writer/activist Rebecca Solnit and of course, our own remarkable Christiana Figueres.
Recorded by our friends at Upaya Zen Centre earlier this year while the three women were together in person, please do be sure to check out the full series in its entirety!
During the course of these discussions, Roshi Joan, Rebecca and Christiana go deep on topics ranging from personal reflections on climate grief, to how to be present to the current climate reality, to how we can rewrite the current narrative of the anthropocene. We guarantee you will leave this conversations with a deepened understanding of the transformation, both personal and systemic, required to meet the challenges of the climate crisis.
Huge thanks goes to the team at Upaya who recorded these interviews and kindly allowed us use of their audio, and to Roshi Joan Halifax, Rebecca Solnit and Christiana for the rich conversation.
If the episode leaves you wanting to hear more from these wonderful women, you can download the previous Outrage + Optimisms episodes where Roshi Joan Halifax and Rebecca Solnit feature as guests.
Please remember to send in your questions for the Listener mailbag episode we are doing at the end of October. Either submit through our social media channels or email: email@example.com
NOTES AND RESOURCES
Upaya Zen Centre
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Ten-part Video Series
Video Series: Uncertainty and Possibility—Meeting the Climate Future - Upaya Zen Centre
Roshi Joan Halifax
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Rebecca’s organisation Not Too Late co-founded with Thelma Young Lutunatabua.
Learn more about the Paris Agreement.
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Tom: [00:00:12] Hi friends, it's Tom here and welcome to this special episode of Outrage + Optimism. With Christiana and Paul away in Plum Village this week, we have chosen to air a different type of conversation on today's show. As regular listeners will know, we often host incredible conversations on the podcast between the three of us and innovative leaders from the world of business, finance, technology, policy, climate activism and more. Hopefully bringing you our listeners a sense of where meaningful progress and momentum is being built towards solutions, as well as where deeper change needs to happen. It is in considering of this space of deeper change or mindset shift that today's conversation between three very wise women, Roshi Joan Halifax, Rebecca Solnit and Christiana Figueres takes place. This has been recorded in Upaya, Roshi Joan Halifax's Zen Training Centre in Santa Fe, New Mexico, earlier this year while they were all together in person. The result is a series of ten short video conversations named 'Uncertainty and Possibility - Meeting the Climate Future'. During the course of these discussions, Roshi Joan, Rebecca and Christiana go deep on topics ranging from personal reflections on climate grief, how to be present to the current climate reality, and how to rewrite our narrative of the Anthropocene. What you will hear is an edited version of these conversations, so be sure to check them out in full. The link will be in the show notes and huge thanks goes to the team at Upaya who recorded these interviews and kindly allowed us to use their audio. And to Roshi Joan Halifax, Rebecca Solnit and of course Christiana for the rich conversation. If the episode leaves you wanting to hear more from these three women, you can download the previous Outrage + Optimism episodes with both Roshi Joan and Rebecca in two different episodes where they feature as guests, links again in the notes. So it only remains for me to say please enjoy. Send your questions for the listener Mailbag in a couple of weeks, and we look forward to seeing you soon. Bye.
Christiana: [00:02:38] I realize that, I first came to climb it because of loss. I then came to spirituality because of loss, and I'm now deepening my practice because of loss and the grief around loss. And that golden thread hadn't been, so evident to me until recently. So I came to climb it when I was a very young mother. I was astounded to find out that this one little species that was endemic in Costa Rica that I had fallen in love with as a teenager no longer existed and that it had gone extinct.
Rebecca: [00:03:32] Was that the frog?
Christiana: [00:03:33] The golden frog. And when I wanted to take my daughters to experience this miracle, it was gone. And I was just so impacted because that is not the terms of reference for a parent. And I just felt, oh my God, I received a healthy planet with an amazingly wonderful biodiversity presence of so many non-humans, non-human species. And now I'm turning over a planet with less species. If I have personally witnessed the loss of one species, that means that there must be many other species that are disappearing. And I just thought that that is just not acceptable to me. It is not acceptable. So I started walking myself into what on earth is going on, and I found out it's climate change. I up until then, I hadn't even known that there were scientists working on this.
Christiana: [00:04:41] This was in the early 90s. And I said, so who's working on this, who's going to be addressing this issue. And very soon I found myself in UN negotiations as a Costa Rican representative and worked in that capacity for a long time. Because of the pain of loss, because of the planetary loss that caused planetary pain and personal pain. Then as I was working on this, and I was just so focused on the loss of nature, integrity, the laws of human quality of life. And I was just very focused on, so how do we, quote unquote, solve this. And that consumed me for so many years. Then I went in 2013 after taking on the responsibility for the negotiations, I went into a deep marital crisis that ended up in terminating my marriage. And that was the second loss. That was such a loss to me because I had convinced myself that I was in the perfect marriage, the perfect family, you know. And I thought, that's going to last forever as long as we're alive. And when I experience that loss, then that's when I gratefully discovered Buddhism, I discovered the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh that honestly saved my life. And I worked with those teachings until I had come back to a certain state of stability in my own personal life that supported my professional work, which was the negotiation of the Paris Agreement.
Christiana: [00:06:40] And today, let's say as of the past 2 to 3 to 4 years, I have been so deeply aware of another loss, and that is the loss of faith. The loss of faith, especially of so many young people who just do not believe that they have any future. So many young people who have decided we're not going to have children because we don't want to bring children into such a painful world that is degenerating and they don't want to do it to their children, to their would be children. And they don't want to put more human pressure on their resources. And that loss of faith, that loss of joy, that loss in the confidence of the human and the shared non-human experience on this planet, was it just hit me like a 4x4. Again, another loss. And so I remain committed to this because I'm not accepting that loss is the end of the story. I have my feet firmly in the mud of loss, and I don't think that we can deny any loss because then we do grief bypass, right. Oh well, it's okay because we're going to fix it. We're going to put, I don't know, solar panels or we're going to put wind turbines or and all of which is true.
Christiana: [00:08:27] And there are many technologies now that are helping us to address this. But if we are not absolutely conscious and not just conscious in our heads, but conscious in our full being of the loss that we're experiencing, that we have caused, of the grief that has taken over the global mood then we don't have any ground to stand on. So to me, standing in that loss is the foundational capacity that we have. To have the opportunity, although not the guarantee, to transform that grief and that loss. So why am I here? Because of loss. There are many injustices in this world, all of which need addressing. But climate has an internal ticking clock. This is the decisive decade, and science has been abundantly clear that we need to be at one half the current level of global emissions by 2030. So I can certainly relate to despair because it just seems like such a huge mountain to move within every day, a shorter period of time. I firmly believe that human rights, poverty, injustice, gender inequality etc etc. All of those issues need addressing, and none of them have a deadline, after which it's going to be very difficult to address.
Roshi Joan : [00:10:25] And they all intersect.
Christiana: [00:10:27] And they all intersect.
Roshi Joan : [00:10:28] Around the issue of climate.
Christiana: [00:10:29] So that's the challenge. The challenge is to put our arms around this increasing complexity in decreasing amounts of time.
Roshi Joan : [00:10:39] So how do you see that being done?
Christiana: [00:10:42] The first thing that I think is very clear and both of you have spoken to it, is not to huddle up underneath our blanket or sheet or whatever and say, can't do it. And so to me, the first step is to really figure out what is our mindset. How are we turning up in the world, how are we doing ourselves. And Rebecca has written, I don't know, copious books about hope, and I just chose the word optimism. But we're talking about the same thing, right. And so to understand that, what we need here as we go out of the gate is a positive, constructive mindset that allows us to harness everything that I have inside, that you have inside, that you have inside, because it's going to take all of us. So it really is absolutely critical to ground ourselves in a positive, constructive searching mindset of what else is out there that we can bring to bear on this. And it's not simply about sitting in a chair or, you know, just lying in bed going, okay, well, I hope somebody is going to take care of this. No, no, no, no. It's about rolling up your sleeves, right. It's about getting into the mud, standing in the mud really deeply and therefore giving it our all. And I think we all agree on that, that this is not it's not an irresponsible giving up or denying the science. Let us please, before we finish this session, let us please acknowledge that science has just told us that we are witnessing temperatures that have not been on this planet in 120,000 years, 120,000 years. And then that really makes you think like, okay, so are we playing Monopoly here. Are we playing Monopoly or any other game with life as we know it on this planet. And we know that life as we know it is not necessarily going to be the life that is in the future.
Roshi Joan : [00:13:04] Even in the next decade.
Christiana: [00:13:05] Even, well for sure not in the next decade. But still, it is a call to our sense of, if we're here right now, what is it that we bring to bear. And it's not just about technological fixes. It's about who we are, values.
Roshi Joan : [00:13:29] Human values.
Rebecca: [00:13:32] We need both. It's a kind of physical and spiritual thing, things that go together. And, you know, I find renewables incredibly exciting, but it's far from all we need. And if I may interject, one thing I find really dismaying is that there's a kind of peasant fatalism among, a peasant fatalism among the upper middle classes, a sense that the future has already been decided. I run into it over and over. I had somebody at a climate talk I give say, why should I engage in something where I don't know the outcome. And my head exploded, it's like, well then you would never have children, go on a date, talk to a stranger.
Christiana: [00:14:15] Get in your car, go for a walk.
Rebecca: [00:14:18] Yeah. And so I think that's one of the really destructive frameworks. And the idea that it's too late is that the future has already been decided. I got really deeply involved in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which was like a lot of our climate crises we're seeing now, not just a natural disaster, racism, environmental injustice. The physical infrastructure decided on by the social hierarchy left a lot of people to drown and be stranded in New Orleans when 80% of the city went underwater because the levees failed from a category four, not a category five hurricane even. But what happened the next day is there was bumper to bumper boat traffic of people who own little fishing boats and pleasure boats, etcetera, trying to get into the city.
Christiana: [00:15:06] To help.
Rebecca: [00:15:07] To rescue people who were stranded on roofs and freeway overpasses, etcetera, and blistering humid heat with no food, no water, no clean clothes, because many of them had swum through the oil industry's filthy waters when a lot of that poured into the kind of mess. And that's the spirit in which I think we always have to live. We get our boats in the water. If you don't put your boat in the water, you can't rescue anybody.
Rebecca: [00:15:31] You're not going to rescue everybody. You don't know if you can rescue anybody. But you know, if you don't try, you definitely can't. And so with climate, people want it to either be we can save everything or we can save nothing. And another framework I run into is thinking in absolutes. Either everything's fine or we're all doomed. And that grey area, which is where we've always lived one way or another, where you can't save everything, but you can save something and nothing is more worth doing, I think is one of the things I really try and convey.
Christiana: [00:16:02] Absolutely.
Rebecca: [00:16:03] And so it's these kind of absolutist all or nothing good or evil, perfect or fatally corrupt, you know, that there's all these sort of binaries. I think of Suzuki Roshi and the expert's mind is one thing, but in the beginner's mind or any, but also that it's we always talk about the black and white and it's almost it's a full colour spectrum and you see things that complex that it's full colour rather than the black out or the white out of perfect or grotesquely wrong. And so it's just really I feel like a lot of what I'm doing is trying to liberate people from paralyzing, constricting frameworks to let them feel hope, feel their own strength, feel possibility, feel connection, feel engagement. And what I see with a lot of the groups I'm involved with is that we're all trying to build on ramps for people to become engaged because we need civil society. We need the climate movement to become more powerful than the fossil fuel industry. And I think that it's partly literally about political power, but it's also a battle of values, which is why this is also about what our friend Joanna Macy calls the great turning. And I see those values changing. We're not waiting for something to start. We're in the middle of it. It is changing. It needs you know, we need more and faster. But it's happening. And that's where a lot of my excitement comes from that can coexist with grief and anxiety.
Roshi Joan : [00:17:43] Going a little bit upstream to what we've been exploring, the issue in relation to uncertainty I think is really important to touch into. You know, how do you create the kind of faith, hope, confidence, security in a world which is characterized by not just normal uncertainty, but by radical uncertainty. And where the changes are happening at a much faster rate probably than ever in human history in any case. Even fast revolutions not having the sort of scale of impact that we're experiencing now. And so, you know, part of the process for me is really what can one do to actually create the sort of confidence not in the future, not in hope, but in uncertainty prevailing.
Christiana: [00:18:45] In today?
Roshi Joan : [00:18:45] Yeah.
Christiana: [00:18:46] In what we're doing today?
Roshi Joan : [00:18:47] Yeah.
Christiana: [00:18:48] Rebecca is the master of that.
Roshi Joan : [00:18:50] All right Rebecca.
Rebecca: [00:18:51] People wrongly believe that they've lived in some kind of stability and certainty. The world has always been changing, nature, you know, species have been continually evolving. We've had relative stability for 10,000 years in terms of climate. But uncertainty itself feels like something that's really hard for people to deal with. I think it's less hard when you realize it's where we always were and always will be. Certainty is, you know, is not behind door number two. So that's been interesting to me, the way people want the future to be decided, that they don't want to engage with things whose outcome is yet to be determined, because in that uncertainty is freedom. We're making the future in the present. You can look to the past and see how the best things in our lives now are something somebody made in the past. They fought for marriage equality, for women's rights. They fought for environmental protection. I spent most of my life hiking and loving places that were protected because people took action so they didn't get developed. There's a wonderful little meme going around saying everybody believes those stories about you alter one tiny thing, you kill one butterfly, you know, a million years ago and the entire future is altered. But why don't we believe that there's one little thing we might do now that could alter the entire future. Why don't.
Christiana: [00:20:13] For the positive.
Rebecca: [00:20:16] In a positive way. So I want people to recognize uncertainty is freedom, because otherwise we live in some kind of predetermined hell and have no power that we're making the future in the present. It's a horrific responsibility, but it's also an incredibly exciting opportunity.
Roshi Joan : [00:20:33] It's also the case that there is nothing that is certain. And how do you actually cultivate the capacity to live with radical uncertainty since everything is impermanent, everything is uncertain, and the tendency to grip, to try to fix and fixate things is what causes suffering and greed, hatred and delusion. I'm always dancing with this question of why is, since uncertainty prevails, why don't we come to terms with it and actually be curious about it and be in this sort of field of surprise. And the word that we shared just a few minutes ago was possibility. The possibilities are phenomenal, both on the positive side and also on the toxic side, the negative side. And you know, one other point that I want to just bring into the conversation, and that is the issues around the victim narrative. You know, if we feel that we are victims of the system, our agency is completely abandoned. And it is really in a certain way, again, to understand the sense of incredible possibility and responsibility in, you know, as we meet an emergent, uncertain world, moment by moment.
Rebecca: [00:22:10] One of the things that happens with climate is people saying that, you know, humanity, all of us are the problem. A very few people benefit from the fossil fuel industry, from climate chaos, who are immensely powerful in erecting obstacles to what the great majority of people want, which is climate action, a safe world, a long future, a good relationship with nature. The great majority of people on Earth are also not the problem. A farmer in Bangladesh is not the problem, you know, a Bolivian potato growers definitely not the problem. And so I think there's also this interesting thing where there's humanity as a whole, but there's also in terms of beliefs, values, commitments and benefits we're really fragmented. And some of us have benefited hugely. And they've tried to convince us all that we're all benefiting and we don't want anything to change. And change means loss. And what they're doing now is some of the loss that you're grieving, it's producing extinction damage, record heat, forced migration, climate refugees etc. And so I just always want to distinguish that the great polls show that even in the US and the UK, the great majority of people want to see climate action. We're constantly being told that climate action means sacrifice and that we somehow live in a wonderful age of abundance. But we don't live in a age of abundance of confidence and hope in the future and age of feeling good about our relationship to nature or even time to relate to nature. We don't live in, literally in an age of abundance for the huge proportion of people on earth who are of.
Christiana: [00:23:56] Of justice, of distributional justice, health.
Rebecca: [00:24:00] Yeah. And we're seeing in so many ways, including in the global North, capitalism figure out how to impoverish the majority even more while they profit even more. And speaking as somebody who lives in Silicon Valley, which has eaten my beloved San Francisco alive, and seeing the corrosive horror of all those billionaires who can't stop grasping. So that's just my footnote for the word 'we'.
Christiana: [00:24:23] Yeah, no good point.
Rebecca: [00:24:24] I'll stop there.
Christiana: [00:24:25] Good point.
Rebecca: [00:24:26] Yeah, thank you.
Roshi Joan : [00:24:36] So we're back.
Christiana: [00:24:38] Sorry, did we totally digress from your plan?
Rebecca: [00:24:41] How are you enjoying this roller coaster ride?
Roshi Joan : [00:24:43] Actually, a lot, but I want to get back to the question that you brought up, and that has to do with the victim narrative and, you know, how to actually transform that. I'm curious, as two storytellers, how you see transforming that narrative because it is, you know, deep potentiating possibilities that are really generative in terms of the future.
Rebecca: [00:25:12] One thing that's been so striking to me, I've done a lot of feminist work, mostly about violence against women. We often tell a victim narrative where once you're a victim, that's all you are, once you're broken, you just lie around in shards. This idea that you're somehow destroyed. And so I don't want to say people aren't victims because a lot of us have suffered horribly, but that something terrible happening to you doesn't have to strip away your agency, your genius, your strength, your capacity. One of the things I love about your work and I think it's partly just sort of a different generation from, you know, that you have that great toughness, which is, you know, brings you to talk about post-traumatic growth, about, you know, we both love Kintsugi the Japanese art of repair, where it's not that we're going to pretend the bowl never broke. We're going to celebrate that after it broke, it became something even more beautiful by gluing it back together with golden glue. So it has these seams of gold. So I just want the victim, I don't want a victim narrative that says something bad happened to you now you stop.
Rebecca: [00:26:18] I do want room for people to acknowledge your suffering and to acknowledge that that's not all they are. I wonder if part of it comes from an idea that I think is very popular in white America, that we're supposed to be happy all the time, which, and nothing bad is supposed to happen etc. That there are all these myths of like, you know, having it all, being completely happy, being worry free etc. That doesn't acknowledge that life is mostly kind of difficult and, you know, magical, surprising, amazing, full of things to love and wonder at, but also absolutely harrowing and overwhelming a lot of the time. And it will, you know, and that the alternative to risk is not venturing out, not living. And you know, the alternative, that to avoid loss is often to avoid life altogether. And so there is this sense also of suffering as failure in this culture when Buddhism, I think, has been a wonderful corrective for more and more people in the west, which is like, hell yeah, they're suffering now, let's do some things with it.
Christiana: [00:27:30] Frist, when I was growing up, I felt very deeply that I was the victim of a very abusive mother. Then I went to the next chapter of that and felt I am a victim of my former husband. And, you know, I can add to that. And the the real aha for me was the Buddhist teaching of the two arrows. That to me was such an aha. Because as you.
Roshi Joan : [00:27:58] You should share.
Christiana: [00:27:58] Yes. As you say Rebecca life happens, right. And that's the first arrow because we're all subject to things that happen that are not peaches and cream and we're all in suffering mode. I don't know if constantly, but frequently. The question then is, do you stay with that arrow only or do you produce your own second arrow and wound yourself constantly one and second time and third and fourth time. And it is that second arrow of self wounding that is the most pernicious. It is not what happens to us in life. It is our story or our lack of choice, our lack of freedom to choose a different reaction to what happens that makes the difference between a life that of course deals with all of the challenges and is then also a generative life or an experience that is only degenerative. Do I produce a second arrow or do I actually go out with a very different, with more compassion.
Roshi Joan : [00:29:19] You know, I need to interrupt because actually we, the three of us and many, you know, enjoy a certain kind of privilege through education, through the colour of our skin, through our life experience and so forth. And, you know, when you're, for example, in the Himalayas in certain areas and you realize the notion that you have a choice is not even in their vocabulary.
Christiana: [00:29:52] That you have a choice around what Roshi?
Roshi Joan : [00:29:56] Choosing say, you know, a path forward that is characterized by hope or faith or by a sense of generativity or possibility. And, you know, or again, going back to my experience of working in the prison system, on death row and maximum security and encountering many individuals who have lost hope. They've lost any sense of a future. They've lost faith in anything. And the notion of there being a choice for some of the people that I worked with in that setting is just so far from their world.
Christiana: [00:30:41] It is far from their world. But it doesn't mean Roshi, that it is impossible.
Roshi Joan : [00:30:46] No, I don't say it's not possible.
Christiana: [00:30:48] Because, you know, if it is impossible, then we live in post traumatic syndrome eternally.
Roshi Joan : [00:30:54] Right.
Christiana: [00:30:54] And that's the piece that, you know, I'm trying to figure out. How do we get out of that.
Rebecca: [00:31:02] I think also of the Pacific climate warriors, who are the climate activists associated with 350.org in the South Pacific where many of them face the erasure of their nations by sea level rise and their wonderful motto, we're not drowning, we're fighting. Because they found a lot of people in the global North were patronisingly treating them as doomed peoples. And so Fenton Lutunatabua, I think coined who's a native Fijian, coined that wonderful motto, which I think is very connected to my own sense of hope, which is like, we will not surrender before it's absolutely necessary, and actually we won't afterwards either, you know. And so we're not drowning, we're fighting. And I see that spirit often among the desperate. I saw that among the Zapatistas. I see that among the Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers in Florida fighting for, mostly undocumented, fighting for their rights and beating the biggest corporation to the United States. So I just want to like throw that into the mix.
Roshi Joan : [00:32:04] Yeah, but I also, I keep turning toward those who experience themselves as deeply disenfranchised. And, you know, I just cannot turn away from those communities, those individuals. And, you know, my own curiosity and I say that word, it doesn't sound respectful enough. You know, it's curiosity that is characterized by deep concern is, you know, when you're you know, as so many young people are experiencing today, there are young people who are just doing incredible work in relation to the climate issue that we are you know, the three of us are focused on. But there are at least as many, if not more young people who feel, you know, there is no future.
Christiana: [00:32:54] I totally take on your concern and take it further Roshi is, in so many young people that I encounter who are not in post-traumatic syndrome, but in pre-traumatic syndrome because they take the projections of science that are projections, a linear line from where we are now to where we could be in the future as though, that scenario that science paints for 2050 or for 2100 is inevitable. That's not what science is saying. Science is just saying, look, if you continue business as usual, this is where you can be. But there is another road. But so many young people and not so young people take those scenarios of the future as the only possible outcome. And therefore they're already in pre-traumatic syndrome because they feel they don't have any agency about it. This is it, they're cursed, they're doomed. Which comes back to your point, Rebecca, about actually, that's not true. The future that we're going to have is being written right now, and that is where we need to take our decision, make our choice about how do we want to impact that future. It's not that the future is already written and therefore we give up and we start grieving already today. We grieve for what we have lost and we take everything to write today, the future that we want.
Rebecca: [00:34:26] Exactly, exactly. The Wobblies used to say, don't mourn, organize. And I keep saying we can mourn and organize.
Christiana: [00:34:33] And organise.
Roshi Joan : [00:34:33] Thank you.
Christiana: [00:34:34] Yes, exactly.
Rebecca: [00:34:36] And so we're looping back to engaging with uncertainty, is being ready to meet what arises, which I think is again something Buddhism tell us.
Roshi Joan : [00:34:44] And taking nothing for granted.
Christiana: [00:34:46] Nothing for granted
Rebecca: [00:34:47] Yes, including good friends.
Roshi Joan : [00:34:48] Yeah, that too.
Rebecca: [00:34:49] And good conversations.
Roshi Joan : [00:34:51] So I think this is a perfect moment for a break.
Christiana: [00:34:54] Good.
Roshi Joan : [00:34:54] Wow.
Roshi Joan : [00:35:05] So Christiana and Rebecca, we're in the lived experience of the climate catastrophe crisis or whatever it's being called right now. I would be really appreciative, Christiana, if you would just give us a sense of, you know, what is happening at this point vis a vis the climate.
Christiana: [00:35:31] Other than disaster?
Roshi Joan : [00:35:34] Exactly.
Christiana: [00:35:37] Well, in a nutshell, science has been abundantly clear that the current level of yearly greenhouse gas emissions is unsustainable and that we have to not only peak emissions, but decline to one half of where we are right now by 2030, which is why this decade is called the decisive decade. Why is that so? That is so because we know that a maximum temperature rise of 1.5 degrees over what we had during the industrial age is the maximum temperature rise that we could have and still have a possibility of being able to adapt to the changes that that brings and still be able to more or less, maybe less than more protect the most vulnerable, which for me is the most important here. And the fact is that we are already somewhere between 1.1 and 1.2 degrees above. So we have to squeeze in under that door and truly be able to have our emissions. It is no exaggeration to say that climate change is the mother of all injustices. It is unjust when you think about what the global North has done in the past versus what the global South is suffering now, it is unjust when you think about what our generations and previous have done versus the generations that are being born and will be born.
Christiana: [00:37:25] It is unjust with respect to socio economic standing because those who have a higher income have automatically a higher level of emissions and don't really experience the consequences because they can buy themselves out, where those who have negligible emissions are the ones that are suffering the most. It is unjust from a gender perspective because honestly, who has taken all the decisions in the past thousand years. It's men. And there is abundant literature that says that women and children, especially in developing countries, are the ones that are most affected. So and you can go on and on and on about the injustice. So not only do we have a scientific situation here that is an emergent situation. We have a biodiversity and non-human situation that is degrading the web of life very quickly. Well known as the sixth mass extinction. And we have this human situation that is so unjust that it is painful to even think about it.
Roshi Joan : [00:38:45] That's quite the summary. And, you know, from the point of view of a Buddhist practitioner, you know, what comes up for me is how we understand our responsibility, how we understand the importance in vis a vis justice of accountability and also how we adjust, if you will. And I think the word adjust in terms of a justice and what really interests me is how we can go on with the old program in the way of just not recognizing both the short term and the long term consequences. And what do we have as a skillful means to transform the views that have us so phenomenally self-centred. And I think in this regard, you know, Buddhism and other religions, you know, and other philosophies, but I can only really speak as a practitioner. This notion of a separate self, you know, is like the main toxin.
Christiana: [00:40:01] The myth.
Roshi Joan : [00:40:02] The myth. Yeah, it's a myth, but also it's the reality that people believe in, so to speak. As you say, it is a myth, but it's like it's substantial izing it of this sense of separateness. And there are fascinating urges now, you know, that are part of the psychosocial continuum that are becoming more apparent. And that is a kind of urging toward community, toward connection, toward care. You know, these three C's community connection, not just connection with each other, of course that but also with the natural world and also with our sense of responsibility toward all beings and things. As you say, this is not just the suffering of human beings. This is the suffering of all species. And so, you know, the transformation of view necessitated by the criticality that we're experiencing now, one hopes, so to speak, thank you, Rebecca, also, you know, my own work on hope, one hopes that that profound transformation of you happens quickly so the behaviour, the values and behaviour that follow from the transformation of you can unfold. And that's the thing, you know, so appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings on interbeing, you know, understanding that we're not separate from the atmosphere that we breathe.
Roshi Joan : [00:41:42] We're not separate from the currents in the ocean. We're not separate from the forests that give us the gift of oxygen. We're not separate from any species or thing. And yet, you know, this effort toward defining and defending the self is so radical, particularly in this capitalist society that now is global, global capitalism. It has, you know, an enormous impact because it's feeding, if you will, the very tendencies within our own sort of lesser nature, so to speak, toward greed and hatred and absolute confusion or delusion. You know, I was thinking about the pandemic as a precipitant of connection. It's kind of an odd view. But in other words, you know, there was such isolation during the pandemic. And part of what we recognized was the pandemic, which was an actual artifact of a time of an era and really catastrophic. It pointed to our lack of connection on one level and our hyper connection on another. It pointed to the function, negative function of isolation within our own social context and the need for connection, relationality, the importance of it. And at the pre-conscious level, there is this kind of rising up of.
Christiana: [00:43:24] Yearning, a yearning for connection.
Roshi Joan : [00:43:26] Yearning, yeah.
Rebecca: [00:43:27] Yeah, one of the things that was striking in the pandemic was all the ways people found to connect because of that incredibly deep desire to not be alone. And in Italy, people stood on their balconies and sang together as a safe way to sing together. I know people in the city of Berkeley who did something similar, everybody just stood kind of in front of their house and made music together, socially distanced. But even before that, as the surgeon general of the United States keeps pointing out, it's his main focus, we have another pandemic of loneliness, capitalism, Silicon Valley technology, a lot of other things have really pushed us apart. And so what's really interesting to me that I think has bearing on the climate crisis is there is a deep yearning for life to be different. People want to be more deeply connected, and some of that can come through climate solutions. In the UK, they're talking about 15 minute cities. We should live in a way where everything we need is 15 minutes by foot or bike. There's, on the one hand, a deep recognition that we were never separate, starting with our biology. The fact that, you know, the body that each of us occupies is actually a community of many species of bacteria and microorganism. You cannot live for more than a few minutes without inhaling this beautiful atmosphere created by plants so long ago and maintained by them. You cannot live.
Christiana: [00:44:53] Or food.
Rebecca: [00:44:55] Or water. Yes. And again, and in a more conscious way, you cannot live without community. And so none of these things are separate, you know, so just in so many different ways. I see that yearning. I see people reaching for it. I sometimes see people building it in great ways with intentional communities, new ways of connecting etc. But I think it's not separate from the climate crisis. And the solution is not separate from the climate crisis. I'm a person who gets extremely excited about renewables just in that we have the solutions and that we didn't 20 years ago and it's changed so fast. But I think on the one hand, we don't only need material technical solutions. On the other hand, I think to really embrace those solutions, we need another kind of thinking where we make our decisions based on the benefit of the whole, and that's something in many indigenous worldviews is just so normal. You're making a, even to make the most practical solutions work, we need these transformations of imagination. And the good news is that both of them are happening, but both of them need to be bigger, stronger, faster and.
Christiana: [00:46:12] Deeper.
Rebecca: [00:46:13] Deeper, yes.
Roshi Joan : [00:46:14] Bigger, stronger, faster sounds very top down too.
Rebecca: [00:46:17] Yeah, but I see here in a sense and I feel often that we're in a race between the deterioration of the physical condition of the planet as described by scientists and witnessed by those of us living with fires and floods and extreme heat and bizarre weather, and sometimes in many parts of the world, famine and the growth of a climate movement, the transformation of consciousness and the growth of alternatives for how we live, how we make our energy, how we get around etc. Because I also think that we have to imagine abundance differently, it's been imagined as owning lots of stuff, using lots of stuff, going lots of places. At the same time, that that's part of us being really poor in social connection and feeling connected and embraced by human and non-human communities. So I feel excited about the transformations underway, but anxious that they're not going fast enough and deep enough to respond to what is also going very rapidly and feels like it's accelerated a lot with the underlying El Nino this year, which is the physical crisis.
Roshi Joan : [00:47:34] Yeah.
Christiana: [00:47:34] So I think what we're saying, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think what we're saying is that without wanting to minimize the very painful, destructive negative consequences of climate change or of the pandemic. That we can think of, both of them, climate being the constant challenge as a gym for humanity, where we're being invited to strengthen many muscles that we have lost track of. The one that we're talking about right now is the muscle of interconnection, of solidarity, of relationships that in this race to benefit myself, to appropriate myself to have this and that. In this terrible trajectory that we started thousands of years ago of separating ourselves from nature, we have also separated ourselves from each other. So I would love to hear both of you speak to the relationship between personal understanding, personal transformation and systemic change. So what is the relationship here between who we are, who we understand ourselves to be, how we turn up in the world, how do we understand our relationship with nature and with other living beings on this planet. And how does that then evolve into systemic change. Because we need both. But how would you verbalize and unpack the relationship there across the levels of the system?
Roshi Joan : [00:49:38] It's a really powerful question because in fact, bringing one's attention to one's own subjectivity can reinforce our sense of separate self. And that's one of the traps, the shadow pieces in, you know, vis a vis practice, but also just looking externally, that's also how we have operated. We look out there and we don't understand the relationship. There is no outside and inside per se. It's a continuum. You know, I can say as a Buddhist practitioner, the experience of training the mind to actually settle down and not sleep but awaken, so to speak, so that I can see things more clearly. And part of that seeing, this deep seeing allows me to see that I'm not separate from any being or thing. And also part of that seeing is this constant process of correcting course because, you know, we all come off the rails all the time, you know, our feet of clay or, you know, they are on all of us. We all have, you know, issues related to the self, the defining and defending of this separate self, which really is coming out of fear and our aversion toward or fear of mortality and finiteness. And I mean, the irony is that, well, I so appreciate what Thay said, you know, a cloud never dies. That, you know, there's no such thing as the end per se. Even our own species, which could come into absolute collapse in relation to what's happening in the climate world, which is not separate now from the social world actually never has been.
Roshi Joan : [00:51:39] But here it's really dramatic, that connection. And how does one arrive at that realization and then from that, respond to a world with a sense of genuine love and care, understanding that we have actually brought upon ourselves this catastrophe, that, you know, we're not separate from El Nino. We're not separate from the Gulf Stream, we're not separate from each other. And I think practice is a powerful means for exactly that realization through stabilizing our mental continuum, familiarizing ourselves with our own illusions, so to speak, not being a toy of them, but recognizing the biases and the illusions that give us this sense of a separate self. And then to come into a place, you know, it's in a way choiceless awareness where we are just in this moment as it is interconnected without any sense of self and other. But there's another process that I think we're in, and it's crisis. It's like a kind of global shamanic crisis that we're in, having a kind of breakdown of multiple systems. And from the point of view of complex adaptive systems, it's kind of important to understand that systems that break down and learn from the breakdown process reorganize themselves often at a more robust level. So my deep sort of broken hearted hope, if you will, is for us to, as you so powerfully did in the beginning of our conversation, which is to touch deeply into the grief to recognize how the role of fear, to recognize how our clinging creates more suffering for ourselves and others.
Christiana: [00:53:56] Your answer to the question how do we bridge between personal transformation and systemic change.
Rebecca: [00:54:03] Years ago, I did a lot of research on how people behave in disasters. It was partly in response to Hurricane Katrina, where the myth, which is not just a myth specific to disasters, but a set of assumptions about human nature amplified something that was already a disaster and made it far, far worse. The myth was that human beings are basically cowardly, selfish, venal, criminal etc. And it justifies authoritarianism. But what actually happens is disaster sociologists have shown us in disaster is that most people are what they call pro-social. They're deeply empathic, deeply engaged, often incredibly courageous and creative in rescuing each other and recreating the systems of survival. And that's become much better known. And there's these underlying assumptions and how we organize society about human nature. And they often remain that people are basically selfish, which is, you know, the other face of loneliness of like, I have nothing in common with you, I owe you nothing, I don't care about you, which is part of how you get lonely. Reading accounts of people in the Mexico City earthquake of 1985 and actually talking to some people who'd been through it and reading earlier accounts is not just that people behave well, that they take care of each other, that they become remarkably communal and remarkably creative and remarkably courageous. We could call those the three C's, three other C's, but that they find this extraordinary joy in the last place you would ever expect to find it.
Rebecca: [00:55:41] Your city is in ruins. Lots of people have died. You've lost everything. You find this shining joy. It is so astounding. The Twin Towers in New York City were towers of capitalism, a very ideology of selfishness and competition. And yet a paralyzed quadriplegic was carried down 69 floors by his co-workers, a paraplegic accountant. They did not abandon him. Nobody panicked, nobody stampeded. Everybody was incredibly gracious and helpful and made room for each other. That joy speaks to what we really want. We want deep connection. We want belonging. It almost felt like what people had was a kind of sudden awakening of Buddhism as a discipline to become awake. This was like being shaken awake, like an earthquake can do to you. Suddenly you no longer worry about the past or future. You live in an intensified present. You have everything in common with the people around you. You're experiencing the literal non separation. With the earthquake that collapsed, my house also collapsed your house. And we have to figure out how to get the people in the third house out together and maybe build a soup kitchen, as people tend to do, or some improvised shelter. And so people really want, they want meaning, they want purpose, they want connection, they want community.
Rebecca: [00:57:03] They want agency. They want a voice. That's who we really are. And disaster shows us that. So I think creating the counter narratives that let us fulfil our deepest personal needs also creates a society that can address climate, can address loneliness, can address violence, can address inequality. It takes a huge amount of advertising and promotion and propaganda and lies to tell us that we're separate. You know, and what's amazing to me is even the people invested in that. And one of the people I interviewed was a Morgan Stanley banker, high level executive. A lot of people like that did not operate like capitalists when the towers collapsed. They operated in this deeply communal and empathic way. And so I think that that is kind of what I've got an answer to that question. And that's not what I expected to find when I started by looking at the 1906 earthquake and was shocked to find stories of joy and kind of almost euphoria over and over of people breaking out of the disaster of everyday life, which is meaninglessness, isolation, alienation, work that isn't purposeful, doesn't serve your, you know, your highest goals. And so that for me has been a real torch to sort of plunge into these dark times.
Christiana: [00:58:26] I have to say, however.
Roshi Joan : [00:58:28] Okay.
Rebecca: [00:58:30] Okay.
Christiana: [00:58:31] That that human nature, it's interesting that we call it human nature.
Rebecca: [00:58:36] Yeah.
Christiana: [00:58:37] Human and nature together. But that characteristic of human nature that you research and you saw there, Rebecca, was in response to what I would call an acute emergency situation, and that when we have those acute emergency situations, the Twin Towers, a earthquake, a flood. Then the best of human nature comes out. And it is a confirmation that that is where our innate roots are. But the question is, can we stay consistent with those roots in the face of a chronic emergency, not of an acute emergency. Because climate is a chronic emergency, this is an emergency that is going to be with us for many years. It is not that the Twin Towers fell.
Rebecca: [00:59:36] Absolutely, I do have an answer, it sounds like.
Roshi Joan : [00:59:38] Well, I would just say that the human dilemma is a chronic emergency in a certain way.
Rebecca: [00:59:45] Everyday life is a chronic emergency.
Roshi Joan : [00:59:47] Everyday life is a chronic emergency, as you say. But the magnitude and scale of and also the longevity, the potential longevity of this situation, what Rebecca is talking about in terms of the crisis, you know, of these natural and human disasters like war, that's a human created disaster from the get go.
Rebecca: [01:00:12] Yeah, no, I said that a disaster, a sudden disaster is like it shakes you out of your slumbers. People suddenly wake up to their own capacity, to their deepest desires and their deepest joy. It's like Buddhism has been dumped on you in a way, but most people fall asleep again. And I think that's partly because we don't even have a language for these desires. We don't talk about them. This is not the version of who we are that advertisers, you know, are going to sell you, that you're going to hear about from many places. And so that was one of the big questions for me when I did this work was. What keeps people awake. The answer is you need a discipline of awareness, which is exactly brings us back to Buddhism. What I discovered in disaster is those desires that I think lead us in wonderful directions. And that capacity for sudden awakening, even if it doesn't last, that does tell us something about human nature, contrary to what almost everything else tells us. And so much of the lack of belief we can do. What climate requires of us is a lack of faith in other human beings because we have this grim, rather cynical view of human nature. So I think all those things are part of the work we have to do of offering people joy, beauty and abundance, reminding of them of their own deepest desires at their best, and finding disciplines to keep us awake in the ways that keep us not separate.
Christiana: [01:01:52] Here's my hypothesis. We see two parts of it are actually real. The third is a hypothesis, the third component. We see, especially this year, that the runaway negative impacts of climate change are on an exponential curve because they are driven not by yearly emissions but by the concentration. So the effect is cumulative. The concentration of gases in the atmosphere, hence the impact on the cryosphere, on land, on oceans, on forests is on an exponential curve and we're witnessing that. Do we agree on that?
Roshi Joan : [01:02:40] Oh, yes.
Christiana: [01:02:40] Okay. We have one exponential curve of the negative consequences. We have another exponential curve that we are beginning to see that is not quite as evident because bad news sells better than good news. But if good news sold at least as well as bad news, we would all be much more aware of this other exponential curve that is the technology exponential curve where we now have that solar is cheaper in 96% of all geographies than coal, oil and gas. Wind coming up the same, batteries, just price of batteries has gone down 80% in the past ten years. Electric vehicles. All of these technologies wind, solar, batteries and electric vehicles, all of which seek to reduce the emissions from the economy that we have right now are on an exponential curve. So let's call that the exponential curve of technology. All very well and good. We have to continue to invest in those and other technologies.
Christiana: [01:03:53] But now we have been talking today about a third aspect of this that should also be on an exponential curve. And my hypothesis is maybe it is. Maybe the third exponential curve is the growing realization that we humans are having, that in fact, lo and behold, we're not separate from nature. We're not separate from each other, we're not separate from myself, that all of this is interconnected and that in the realization of that lies the seed of innovation, human nature. It lies the field of opportunity to not just fix climate as though that were the only thing that we should be doing. It is huge and I've devoted my life to it. But it is not everything that we have to do, honestly. Right underneath all of that, as we've been discussing, is. This is the opportunity. That's why I call it climate is the gym in which we go to strengthen this muscle. And I don't know how it is for you. Or maybe it's just because we operate in our own little bubbles. But it does seem to me that there is an exponential curve of attention to these issues, which for me is the software. It's not the hardware. The hardware is often going great, but the software, which is where we do get the long term effects, where we do answer chronic emergency, not just the immediate emergency, not just the acute, where we actually can come back to ourselves and understand that we have an ancestral, long, long, long ancestral habit energy, habit mode of thinking, habit mode of being that would tell us that we are separate from nature, from ourselves and from each other, which is fundamentally, as you have pointed out, as science points out, not the case.
Christiana: [01:06:20] The technology exponential curve is occurring because there is intention behind it. It doesn't just occur and the human nature, exponential curve of understanding how we do have what it takes to face this and much more has to be intentional. We can't just react to an earthquake and go and save my neighbour and then go back to my previous modus operandi. Right. We have to be intentional and consistent. The discipline of practice. It is not about just one day yes and one day no. And that's the difficulty, because that discipline is the one that is hard to elicit and that's where your beauty, joy. And what was the third?
Rebecca: [01:07:17] Abundance.
Christiana: [01:07:18] Beauty, job and abundance is the food for that intentionality, right. That's the food that keeps us going and that feeds then the consistency that we need. Because if we're only focusing on the negative, we're never going to get there. But if we feed it with constant daily recognition of beauty, joy and abundance, which is there, all we need to do is look for it and express it, then we have an exponential curve that meets the others. So that's my little exponential curve hypothesis.
Roshi Joan : [01:07:56] Well thank you.
Rebecca: [01:07:57] I agree with it completely.
Roshi Joan : [01:08:00] You know, recently I was in Dharamsala, wonderful conference with young people from around the world, young, compassionate leaders. And the organizers asked the participants, these wonderful young people to craft one question for His Holiness. And actually the questions were fairly consistent know, young people from Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Americas, South, Central and North, Europe and so on. And there was a consistency, which was I am experiencing helplessness and futility. How do I get over it? And it was, you know, these were all these remarkable, brave, very articulate, precious people. It was so wonderful being with them. And His Holiness had a consistent response throughout. The cure for futility is care and altruism, compassion. And, you know, and my own work in this field of compassion, developing this heuristic map of compassion and then really going into the neuroscience and social psychology, recognizing, you know, looking at the science, not just, you know, philosophical and religious texts per se, or collecting, you know, the amazing anecdotes from the kind of people you were talking to Rebecca. It's fascinating because what I learned from the science is very positive, which is, you know, those who receive compassion benefit actually those who give compassion are compassionate. There's all kinds of interesting neurochemical responses, you know, including the enhancement of our immune system for those who are compassionate and those who witness compassion are morally uplifted and they want to be compassionate.
Roshi Joan : [01:10:16] So it's like a quadruple win in a certain way. And I think we're, you know, again, looking at these two paths, one is talking about the chronicity of the climate issues and that, you know, it's so easy to fall asleep, so to speak. You know, it's I mean, everything around us is telling us to do the wrong, not everything, but lots of things around telling us to do the harmful thing, the wrong thing. And they're saying this is what will make us happy. And it is a decommodification of the self and the deconstruction of the self that happens within the context of practice for some, I won't say all, but for some. And it is that daily process and that that's the power of practice because you're attending to what is arising in the present moment, including your own delusions. And I remember years ago when I was first practicing with Thich Nhat Hanh, he would talk about the life of the Buddha and Mara, you know, the sort of devil death showing up. Well, Mara is really a state of mind. And instead of rejecting Mara just outright or ignoring Mara outright, Thay made this wonderful kind of invitation.
Roshi Joan : [01:11:43] Well, hello, Mara. I know you. You know, it's like having this kind of transparency to one's own delusions. Say, oh I get it. And also living in the context of community where there's feedback, sometimes abrupt, too straight forward where you are saying, wow, you're in a trap right now. Of that you we call it inzen being tied up without a rope of your own construction and it's causing harm. So again, coming back to care, connection and community, these sort of three dimensions which are interconnected and the value of practice and also of living by vow. These are the same issues that we're addressing here as we touch into the climate is, you know, what are our values, how does our view of reality feed into those values and those values, you know, promote or conduce to behaviours that are either healing or harming to recognize the burdens and the benefits of how we're living and to be intentional about shifting toward the benefits and away from the burdens coming down to this issue of the commodification and reification of the self, which is like the sort of major toxin that all of us are subject to, to greater or lesser degrees. But practice is about addressing that toxin and transforming it.
Rebecca: [01:13:27] In a way, I feel like the conversations we've been having are about two things habits of mind and how to change them and how often that means changing the story. I wonder how you see that in terms of stories already changing stories. We need to change the stories you're tracking as the stories that address climate change.
Christiana: [01:13:49] Changing the story is, I think, at the heart of what we can and all should be focusing on. Because for such a long time we have told ourselves the story of how complex this is because it is intersectional and it does address so many of the global and national challenges that we have. We've been telling ourselves the story that it's too expensive, that it's too late, that most people won't want to make the changes that are necessary. And so we have been confirming for ourselves a story of paralysis, meaning that we are convincing ourselves that paralysis is the only option. And I really question whether that's factually true. It's simply not true that we don't have the technologies to do this. Yes, we will be developing other technologies in the future, but we have all the basic technologies to begin to successfully and quite importantly, bring down emissions right now. And those technologies are commercially viable and they can be distributed everywhere. It is also factually not true that this is going to be so expensive that no one can afford it. The fact is that in most cases over the lifetime, we're actually going to be saving money. It is also factually not true that this is in the interest of the few. This is actually in the interest of most people. So if you just look at the bare facts, you understand that actually we're riding the wave of possibility and the way to accelerate the wave of possibility, because we do have to get to speed and scale much quicker than we are right now, is to feed, ride the wave of possibility with our internal convection and who we are.
Christiana: [01:16:12] As we were just discussing. I think the story is changing from one of competition to one of collaboration, from one of impossibility to a story of possibility, not of guarantee of success. And that, for me, frankly, is the most difficult part that I have had to let go of because I started working on climate change with the very stubborn, absolutely iron cast conviction that we had to guarantee to future generations that they would not be negatively affected. And I lived and worked for many years with that conviction. I have since, thank you, Roshi. I have since learned that that's not possible, that we cannot guarantee success. Because it's out of our control. We have to give up this thought that we can control everything. But I have also learned that just because it's not a guarantee doesn't mean that we give it our absolute all while we're here. And to understand that the three of us and everyone else listening to this and partaking of it, we are the ancestors. This is it. We are the ancestors of all future generations. Hence, the responsibility is squarely on us. Whatever we do now will fundamentally decide what the quality of life of at least seven generations after us is going to be. So our responsibility is paramount, and it's not a responsibility to do any guaranteeing, but it is a responsibility to turn in the direction of where we're going toward one of more stability, more health, more biodiversity, more justice, just a more stable planet.
Roshi Joan : [01:18:22] And more love.
Christiana: [01:18:23] And more love.
Roshi Joan : [01:18:26] I feel that the story can only change when we change our view and.
Rebecca: [01:18:31] Aren't the view and the story kind of the same thing?
Roshi Joan : [01:18:33] Well, not really, because in a way the story becomes the artifact of the view. And the story is really important because it influences society and individuals within society. I mean, story is just this powerful vehicle either of paralysis or transformation. And it's recognizing the power of story, like the power of myth, understanding that these stories which are promulgated across our social media and which we also get colonized by in a certain way, there has to be a decolonization of stories that breed futility. And it's to understand also those stories are based on how we view reality. And that's the thing I keep coming back to, view meditation action, view is what is producing the stories. And if our views are distorted because we haven't stabilized ourselves to be able to look really deeply at the roots of suffering and the roots of possibility and being free of this, the entanglements that have caused so much harm in the world. You know, so then our actions either burden the world or benefit the world. Burden ourselves or benefit ourselves. And so I actually see know prior to story's view. But in fact, stories do affect how we view things.
Roshi Joan : [01:20:16] So, you know, there, you can't say one is separate from the other. And that's a view. Instead of falling asleep, going numb or consuming in the name of happiness, to actually understand that that doesn't produce happiness at all. It just produces more greed. More and more individuals are really turning toward, you know, who am I, really. Profound existential questions where those questions are not separate from the natural world and producing, you know, a kind of movement across the planet. I mean, you know, millions of people are in, in a certain way, a positive existential crisis produced in part by the pandemic and in produced in part by the climate catastrophe we're in. And it's, as you two say, so clearly again and again. It's an incredibly powerful opportunity to shape a future. And Thay's book, 'For future to be possible', such a powerful title to shape a future that is viable not just for the 1%, but for the 100%. And you know, Rebecca, you've talked about this. I'd love to hear more from you about this very vision of the future.
Rebecca: [01:21:40] Yeah. And one thing that I find reassuring and bring up regularly is we don't know what the year 2073, 50 years from now is going to look like, and people get very anxious about that. So what I find reassuring, because I'm something of a historian, is looking back and saying in 1973, we could not imagine 2023. And there's definitely a lot of bad things, including rising authoritarianism and climate more than anything. But in so many social ways, so many ideas have progressed so much that I think a lot of the ideas of individualism and separateness that were so dominant then have really deteriorated. You know, that there's still a kind of archipelago of them, but being overtaken by a kind of rising sense. I think I'm just using a sea level rise metaphor, but forgive me, a rising sense of non-separation as reality and as the way we want to look at the world. I mean, 50 years ago, rights for queer and trans people, for women, for people of colour and native rights movement was just really getting underway in this country. It was a radically different place. And so one of the reasons I think people are also so anxious is that they believe that they lived in a stable world that's been destabilized, but it was never stable.
Rebecca: [01:23:09] Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who founded the Zen Temple I studied at, was once asked like, can you boil Zen down to one sentence. Some student asked him in the 70s and he said, yeah, everything changes and change has been continuous. But I think the hardest thing for a lot of people to imagine, partly because all we see in movies is rugged, individual violent heroism, not collective power. And we also see constant dystopia, not utopia. In some ways, the present is better than the past. In some ways, the future we make could be better depending on what we do. And climate. I think a lot of people are looking things for what they can do and aren't being given good recommendations about what to do. I think a lot of people don't know they have the power they have to do things. We often speak as though we need to begin tomorrow. The project of making the world better. It would be easy to say we need to start changing the stories. But I think what I'm saying and what you are saying and you're saying is we are in the midst of changing the stories. They have changed profoundly and in ways that are incredibly exciting.
Rebecca: [01:24:20] We need to change them a lot more. We can see the backlash with the far right misogyny, authoritarian ism, racism, climate denial. But it is a backlash because I believe that they can do a great deal of harm. I also believe that they're losing. They're not the ocean. They are the flotsam in that ocean. And there's often people say, oh, the right is paranoid, but they are correct that they are embattled, that they are losing. And what they're losing most of all is the battle of the story. They're losing the stories that they were counting on, and they're scared. And that's exciting and encouraging. So and so we're in the middle of an extraordinary revolution, not the revolution of the old stories we had that are just regime change because the regime can change without changing very much else, whether it's our agriculture or our inner lives, we're in the midst of a much bigger, deeper revolution that's changing everything. But as Christiana reminds us, it needs to accelerate and fast because changing the story and changing the energy infrastructure are not separate. And they're happening together. But bigger, deeper, faster is where we need to go.
Christiana: [01:25:51] I've been tracking the reaction to climate change, as you can imagine, for decades, and I categorize the reactions to climate change in four large groups. One is those who deny the science, deny the effects. And honestly, I don't, I used to try to talk some sense into those people. I don't waste my time anymore just because it is so ludicrous. Then there is a second group that worries me deeply, and that is the indifference group, that to me is more pernicious and more destructive. In fact, even more irresponsible than denial. It is the indifference.
Roshi Joan : [01:26:44] It's apathy.
Christiana: [01:26:45] It's apathy. This doesn't have to do with me. This is about someone else. It's going to happen anyway after my lifetime. Really, just go outside and see if that's true. But that indifference of I will be able to either protect myself or exempt myself or buy my way out of it or.
Roshi Joan : [01:27:05] Buy my way out of it. Get off the planet.
Christiana: [01:27:06] Yeah, that indifference to me is something that I really have a very hard time embracing. May I be very upfront about that. Then there is the third group, which is the doom and gloom group, and I actually get very excited about that group because there's so much energy there. There's so much energy, there is so much power and passion way down here in the gut. Right. That I just think like, wow, that is a potential that can be unleashed toward good. It's the indifference when you don't care. That's really worrisome to me. But those who understand and many times these are people who have actually studied the science, are very, very fluent, very knowledgeable, really, really understand and have fallen into the dark box of doom and gloom. That, to me is the compost out of which much good can happen. So to me, that's the most exciting group of people because there's so much potential there that has not been cared for, that has not been harvested and further fertilized. So that's the the group that I'm actually most excited about. And then, of course, there's the group of us, and I'm sorry that I'm not most excited about us, but that's the group of people who have already decided to take action.
Christiana: [01:28:49] It's very difficult for people who are not used to thinking and acting systemically. What I mean is at all levels of the system at the same time, and understanding that what is present at one level of the system is present at all levels of the system, and that by impacting any level of the system, you're impacting the whole, that kind of thinking is not necessarily accompanying all of those who want to take action. And so to make that very evident and unpeel that and show how every single person can take and I'm just using action as a proxy word, can engage with the world in many different ways. I would actually not be able to write a comprehensive list of what any person can do because the list is unending, thank heavens. Right. Which means that out of a limited list, I and you and you and anybody else can choose the 10 or 20 or 30 things that make more sense to me, that I'm more passionate about, where I think I can have more of an impact. But across those four buckets, what I am grateful and very excited about is that I do think that there is a growing scale of people who are in buckets three and four, and that's where the gold is, right. That's where the value is in buckets three and four that I don't see as mutually exclusive at all. I see them as actually complementary to each other.
Rebecca: [01:30:38] And does four include the people who want to see climate action believe it can happen but can't find their place?
Christiana: [01:30:44] Yeah, absolutely.
Rebecca: [01:30:46] Because I feel like everything in the mainstream tells people that individuals have no power. I, you know, etcetera. That doesn't give them things to do except the personal virtue of dealing with your climate footprint, not participating in systemic change. We get very few stories of how the world actually gets changed. And one of my pet peeves is the plethora of superhero movies and versions in which heroism is essentially the ability to inflict and survive violence. And that's how you save the city, the maiden change, you know, stop the bad guys. Et cetera. And that the way the world actually gets changed is usually by much less macho skills of being able to cohere a group, motivate people. Incredible stubbornness because a lot of change is going to take years to decades. And, you know, I kind of keep your eye on the prize clarity about who you are and what you're there for. And so I feel and this again, brings us back to story that people are given so few stories, you know, about the fact that we have power, about how the world gets changed, about how many times grassroots groups, coalitions, civil society has triumphed over bad government, bad corporations, etcetera. And so changing, you know. So I feel like part of activating people is giving them these stories of their own power. And so when you see the whole train of events, you see that it begins at the grassroots, in the margins, in the shadows, and that the powerful people who decided the world should be different were not the people in the centre. They're the people on the edges. And ultimately the people in the centre obeyed them.
Christiana: [01:32:37] In all fairness, I do see that they're not, all media, but I do see some channels in media really stepping up to the challenge. And it just comes to mind, Time in the United States, The Guardian in the UK and Netflix, just to name three. But there are many more who have finally decided enough is enough. Enough is enough of only covering the bad news or in fact the lies that were being told by climate deniers and who really are stepping up in a very, very courageous leadership position among the the media industry to say, right, we need to get on the right side of history here and we need to exercise our influence over the reading or the viewing public and be able to give the facts as they are and inspire with stories.
Rebecca: [01:33:42] I'm a Guardian columnist, so in some sense, I am the media and I totally agree. The media has gotten a lot better. The Washington Post and a number of other major newspapers now have pretty good climate coverage, though it tends to focus more on bad news than good news, which is usually very incremental. It's not the dramatic thing that happened yesterday, but, you know, the exponential curve of something that's or, you know, or the technological breakthrough or it's, you know, changes of consciousness that only show up in surveys and polls and voting patterns and things like that. So I think they've gotten better, but I still feel a real lack of good examples of how the world gets changed and how much power they can have. To participate because of superhero stories, because of the news story will tell you the powerful people made this decision yesterday, but not the people you don't know are powerful spent 15 years getting to the point where the powerful essentially just had to, you know, ratify a changed worldview, a change story.
Roshi Joan : [01:34:50] But I really, you know, apropos of this, want all voices at the table. You know, I want those who are morally outraged. I want, you know, the protest, those people who actually are telling the story of doom and gloom and also threat and blame are those voices are really important at this time as well as, you know, the voices of moral injury, you know, of feeling, the sense of shame that I've been contributing to the problem. And there's deep self-blame. I want that voice at the table. And also, you know, I remember going to see the film about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro. And he was talking about moral apathy, you know, and you were saying this is actually, in a certain way the group of the privileged, the group who have chosen to opt out or or ignore, but they're not so far from those associated with denial and addiction. You know how we're covering up something. And part of, you know, our work has to do with, in a certain way, surfacing or uncovering the patterns that have produced, the sense of disengagement from, you know, like it's not going to affect me or it's going to affect me in a way that there's no sort of weak low, there's no exit out of this path.
Rebecca: [01:36:15] Or I can't affect it, which is the other side of that coin that I worry, I find the doomers alarming because they've convinced a lot of people it's too late. There's nothing we can do. We don't have the solutions. And that huge amount of angst, grief, rage, anticipatory grief, I think is really often based on a misapprehension of the circumstance, a sense that the future has already been decided rather than that we're deciding it now so stories can live.
Roshi Joan : [01:36:48] All of those voices in a way are a misapprehension.
Christiana: [01:36:51] Didn't we start this whole conversation with uncertainty.
Roshi Joan : [01:36:54] I think we did.
Rebecca: [01:36:55] We did.
Christiana: [01:36:55] We did.
Rebecca: [01:36:56] And here we are again.
Christiana: [01:36:57] And here we are drawing the circle complete about how do we embrace uncertainty.
Roshi Joan : [01:37:04] As a reality, that is our lived experience.
Christiana: [01:37:08] As a reality yeah, and as the field of opportunity.
Rebecca: [01:37:11] And possibility, maybe we should end with a full circle that brings us back to the radical uncertainty that is also radical possibility that all of us in the present engage with to make the future.
Christiana: [01:37:27] That's it.
Roshi Joan : [01:37:29] Hey.