Green Books, 2006, 256pp
Reviewed by Ian Mowll
Some people in GreenSpirit may have heard Stephan Harding speak at the 2004 GreenSpirit Annual Gathering – when we totalled up the feedback from participants he got a record 55/55! Everyone enjoyed his talk. Why? Perhaps because he spoke with well grounded knowledge and also with passion and inspiration. There is a big difference between someone who simply reports on facts that they have learnt and someone who has connected with the ideas at a deeper level. Stephen has obviously delved into the depths of Deep Ecology giving him the fertile ground for his ideas to flourish. So, it was with keen anticipation that I looked forward to reading his new book Animate Earth and I was not disappointed. The book is rooted in strong scientific understanding and it is also laced with experiential exercises to help the reader to connect with the ideas in a meaningful way. For me, the book fell into four parts:
The book elegantly describes how we can deepen our connection with the Earth; indeed, all through the book, the Earth is described as Gaia – a living being. Included in this section is a Jungian model of viewing the Earth in four ways: thinking, feeling, intuition or sensing. Stephan points out that the current scientific model in our culture unhelpfully over emphasises the thinking function. We need to integrate feeling, intuition and sensing to gain a holistic approach to Gaia.
This is a fascinating account of many different Earth systems. In particular the cycle of carbon between the atmosphere and the Earth and the resultant effects on climate change. Further aspects are also considered such as cells and microbes – I am left with feelings of awe and wonder at the intricacies and complexities of life.
This section provides a rather frightening view of the state of the planet and its possible future. There continues to be growing evidence of climate change and human impact on the Earth’s systems. Stephan points out that, once we experience a relationship with the Earth, when wounding Gaia we wound ourselves, both physically and psychologically. However, the long term response seems also to be about adapting to change. As Stephan says: “..stable climate is a myth. The Gaia into which our species emerged is a wild, complex, dynamic being, subject to sudden shifts between multiple semi-stable states”.
Stephan describes this from a Deep Ecology perspective; he provides 8 points of the Deep Ecology platform as created by participants at Schumacher College in May 1995.
Finally, Stephan says in a Schumacher-esque way: “…the real change has to be an inner one…even the most brilliant technological solutions could lead to disaster if they are not used by wise human beings”. It is here that I believe this book makes such an important contribution. There are lots of books in our wider society full to the brim with the thinking function. But what is needed is more feeling, sensing and intuition bringing with it wisdom and a holistic response. This book helps the reader with stepping stones along the path from conscious understanding to a deep connection with the living Earth.
For anyone who wants to learn more about Deep Ecology, or who wants a stronger connection between the scientific and the spiritual, I would have no hesitation in recommending Animate Earth.