By conference convener, Stephanie Mines, Ph.D.
Ever since we first publicized the conference, Climate Change & Consciousness (CCC19), we have fielded questions like, “Why consciousness?” and “What’s the connection between climate change and consciousness?” This post offers a partial response to such questions.
When humans are confronted with an overwhelming threat, the dominant outcome is activation of an adrenally driven survival response. Dr. Peter Levine was one of the first to document this primitive brain behavior in his best-selling book, Waking the Tiger. Following extensive research into the human stress response, Dr. Bruce McEwen coined the term, “allostatic load,” to describe how the neuroendocrine system becomes destabilized when threat appears.
Climate change is undoubtedly going to present the most serious allostatic load that most humans will ever face.
I have been tracking the pathways of shock and trauma through the human nervous system for forty years. The subtitle of my book, We Are All in Shock: How Overwhelming Experience Shatters Us and What We Can Do about It, summarizes my trajectory. I believe that responses to the shock of climate change will not necessarily follow the accepted norm of simply triggering human survival responses. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that, on the contrary, climate change can catalyze an expansion of consciousness.
Yudith Nieto, for example, lives in the shadow of an oil refinery in Texas and she and her entire community suffer the consequences of toxic exposure. She uses her impassioned voice to tell the world that we must refuse to tolerate the excesses and abuses of the oil industry. Yudith is not only speaking out for herself and her family, she fights for the rights of all marginalized peoples. “I stand with other…communities impacted by the fossil fuel industry,” she says. Yudith is not ordering from the old menu of flight or freeze. Instead, she elects strategic, purposeful action to empower people who have been victimized by corporations that ravage land and life. She joined 350.org and organized her community to participate in the People’s Climate March in the US on April 29, 2017.
A massive forest fire in Montana and then Hurricane Katrina similarly transformed Jay Toups from a 9-to-5 information technology executive into an environmental activist. “Everyone has to have their own carbon epiphany to decide, once and for all, not to be victims of this oil addiction death sentence,” he says. Jay managed to survive Katrina within an inch of his life. The day after he made it out, he quit his corporate job. He observes, “I use my own grief as fuel…as the world churns and burns, I get stronger.” Jay Toups harnessed his creativity to build an alternative fuel company, Bioroot Energy. He devotes himself to educating people about clean fuel sources. “Every issue that is presenting itself on the planet right now is carbon related. The most profound shift in our time is a shift in our understanding and use of energy.”
These examples illustrate how ‘I’ can become ‘We’ in response to the threat of climate change, challenging all of the research about trauma and shock. An entirely new story is being written for the human nervous system.
Shock and trauma have historically caused painful isolation. Victims are often excluded from social interaction due to stigma. They tend to bond with the shame that is projected onto them and either hold back from society or become marginalized outcasts. With climate change however, people who have been silenced by racism, abuse and poverty are pushing back alongside farmers, scientists, attorneys, physicians and parents. These compassionate unions have rarely been forged previously, because never before has a threat been so global and formidable, yet so personal.
Climate change is an ecumenical cry from the Earth, being heard wherever people are listening. It is Nature’s way of advocating for all Her creatures. And it is wedded to the ascent of human collective consciousness. As a victim of toxic algae growth and choking water supply caused by pollution in the Florida Everglades has said, “I want to reweave the tattered web of life for all creatures on this planet.” This kind of compassionate human response is what we mean by the subtitle of CCC19, ‘Our Legacy for the Earth.’
The conference, Climate Change & Consciousness, will amplify this trend toward increased human creativity and resilience. Instead of responding from our animal brains that get mired in memories of previous threat and habituated to the past, we will collectively revitalize our cortical (executive) and neo-cortical (visionary) capacities and infect one another with transformed consciousness.
Join us in Findhorn, Easter, 2019!
Note: If you would like to start now to cultivate your creativity and resilience join CCC19 convener Dr. Stephanie Mines in the workshop, Essence and Empowerment, at the Findhorn Foundation, beginning September 2, 2017.