North Atlantic Books, 2018
Reviewed by Ian Mowll
Charles Eisenstein’s central theme is that we are part of the living Earth and that our industrial society needs to change right down at its roots for the planet, humans and most life-forms, to have a chance of survival. To achieve this, we need a new story; that we are all part of the living Earth and if we damage the Earth, we damage the living systems on which we depend.
None of this is particularly new to GreenSpirit readers. But what the author does so well is to unpack this idea and, with well researched content, apply it to our world.
One of the key challenges, he asserts, is that our society is driven by traditional scientific methods and therefore it seeks to research and then fix anything that is quantifiable. This is one of the reasons that climate change has become so high profile rather than the loss of species. Climate change is, relatively speaking, easier to measure than many other environmental challenges. However, living systems are complex and interdependent; they can be hard to quantify and when they experience problems it can be difficult to find simple, effective solutions. Furthermore, no part of a system can be understood in isolation, it needs to be seen as part of the whole – the whole is greater than the individual parts. We need to deal with Earth systems in their totality rather than individual aspects. Therefore, maintaining eco-systems such as virgin forests is important for many reasons – not just carbon capture.
It is good to read that Charles Eisenstein seeks to understand and, at times, engage with climate change deniers. He realises (as I have often thought) that they are not all ‘bad’ but have different values. He points out that ultimately, my belief in climate change is based on trust and my own ‘mythology’ about the world, rather than it being 100% objectively true. Earth’s systems are too complex and the models that are used may leave out a great deal, particularly things that are hard to measure. I should say here that Charles Eisenstein strongly believes in climate change and that we have to act fast to deal with it, he is simply saying that our society uses reductionist, measurement approaches to deal with complex systems which is not always appropriate.
He also points out that corporations are symptoms of the economic system we have – the causes of corporate destruction go deep. As someone who has worked in corporations, I agree with this – the vast majority of people working for corporates are trapped in a system rather than unconsciously bringing havoc to the world.
To deal with the environmental crisis, the author says, we have been seeking a change of mind when we really need a change of heart. We need to hold Nature sacred and we can’t scare ourselves into compassion. An example he gives is taking care of a child. No amount of parental quantifiable standards will replace love, and if the parent does not love the child, it will not thrive.
This book is a truly wonderful articulation of our need to connect with the planet Earth and see ourselves as part of one living system; I thoroughly recommend it.