Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
How can we restore our planet to health? From replenishing biodiversity to enforcing legal protection, Salt asks the experts for their opinions on managing the Earth’s health in a critical time. Welcome to the seven-part ‘Stopping the Sixth Extinction’ series.
First up, consultant, and trainer of co-active coaching Nick Kettles looks at ‘Innerperneurship’: healing ourselves to heal the planet.
Have you ever considered whether we perceive Earth is suffering because that’s actually how we feel? That our sense of urgency for the ‘fragile’ Earth is actually a projection of our own deep sense of loss: that the institutions and way of life we have invested so much faith in, are in fact crumbling and no longer systemically sustainable?
The denial of this truth is no doubt a main driver in those who continue to cling to the comforts of the current paradigm rather than face up to the existential unease posed by the twin threat of climate change and mass extinction.
However, what if it was also a flaw in the plan of those who are aiming to help? That by continuing to avoid our own deep sense of loss and accompanying unease, we will continue to subtly blame others for the mess we are trying to clean up and in so doing risk alienating them further? Extrapolate this premise one step further and it behoves us to also consider how this makes it more likely we’ll position ourselves as the hero or heroine of the piece, riding out to save the fair maiden Mother Earth from her suffering.
When we do this, we perpetuate the perspective that the Earth is subject to our will – arguably what got us into this mess in the first place. Humanity is in charge. Humanity caused the problem. Humanity will fix it. Humanity has misused the Earth’s resources, now humanity will redistribute them more fairly
If we don’t take the time – advocates and deniers alike – to consider that who we are being in relationship to our cause is as important as what we are trying to do to create a better world, the risks are high.
“Our propensity as a race to fight and squabble over the Earth’s natural resources, suggests that even if we do overcome the challenges of peak oil for example, we’ll simply project our internal malaise onto something new, such as who owns the sun’s rays or world’s water supply.”
Our appetite as a race for self-reflection is not great, and yet it might be the new beak we have to grow to sustain the conditions in which the equitable world we hope for, can flourish. The bottom line is creating that world is reliant on our ability to create more equitable interpersonal relationships, and that process begins within.
Taking responsibility to look within and face our existential fears is not easy – we’ve been finding different ways to anaesthetise them for millennia. Yet, facing the great unknown is the first step in beginning to know myself as a differentiated individual, and learning to feel safe with that.
And just like the allegory of Plato’s cave, when we face up to the shadows cast from the unknown, we might be surprised to find not more fear and loathing, but our own innate sense of wholeness, as posited by humanistic psychology. Therein, it’s more likely we’ll find that what we seek is to live a life of meaning and purpose where my contribution is valued as I value others’ contri- bution, rather than simply acquiring more stuff to fill the void.
This is, arguably, a far better perspective to assess our interdependence with the Earth: one where focusing on self is not selfish, but in fact the doorway to belonging, to our fellow voyagers and this magnificent third rock from the Sun.
Assured in the knowledge that we truly belong, would we then act less from fear to rescue a dying planet, and instead seek to celebrate our common humanity and home, by seeking to preserve nature and nurture its full expression? I hope so.
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