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Paul Hawken on Helping Our Planet Heal Itself & Ending the Climate Crisis
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Paul Hawken on Helping Our Planet Heal Itself & Ending the Climate Crisis

Paul Hawken on Helping Our Planet Heal Itself & Ending the Climate Crisis


It can be easy to become demoralized, even apocalyptic, about the state of the planet. Paul Hawken, an entrepreneur and activist believes we have less to worry about than we think. Hawken claims that we can end the climate crisis within decades if we work together. His new book is here Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One GenerationHawken presents a model of climate activism which places life at center of all actions and decisions and prioritizes interconnectedness. After all, writes Hawken, “the most complex, radical climate technologies on Earth are the human heart, head, and mind, not a solar panel.”

In a recent episode Life as it is. Tricycle editor-in-chief James Shaheen and co-host Sharon Salzberg sat down with Hawken to explore the Buddhist teachings that underpin his approach to activism, particularly the power of reverence and community for long-term activism, because, as Hawken says, regeneration is “something we should always be doing. It’s not as if once we are successful, we can go back to destroying the world.” Read some excerpts from the conversation below, and listen to the full episode here.

Unrealistic goals are important

Although it might seem impossible to end the climate crisis in one generation, I believe that we need unreasonable goals. If we have reasonable goals, they’re reasonable because we know how to do them. We need goals that we don’t know how to reach. When we don’t know, that is when imagination, creativity, innovation, and breakthroughs happen. 

Climate scientists have previously stated that even though we stop emitting greenhouse gases, there would still be decades or centuries of warming. A report released last August stated that warming will begin to decrease as soon as greenhouse gas emissions peak. In other words, we know the direction we should be heading in, and if we get there, we’ll be able to achieve something that makes sense for the future of civilization and the future of humanity.

Disconnection and repair

Global warming is caused in part by deep disconnection. This includes disconnections between people, humans to each other, between humans and nature, and between humans and nature. We’re fragmenting nature itself, and we see this with the poisoning and acidification of oceans. Regeneration is about repairing these fractures and putting the broken strands back together. We know scientifically that the way you heal a system is to connect more of it to itself, whether it’s an ecosystem, an immune system, or a social system. In other words, all the pieces are there, and what we’ve got to do is reconnect them.

Reverence is a result of the ability to see our connections with other forms of life. Suzanne Simard, a great Canadian scientist, spent many years studying forest networks, interspecies cooperation models, and other aspects of human nature. She coined the term “mother tree” to describe trees that support seedlings throughout the forest through underground fungal networks and connections. Her male colleagues, who saw the forest primarily as a competition, pounced upon her. The trees live in community and support one another. Each morning, I see approximately 25 redwoods trees as I look out my windows. They are always there for me to admire as I walk by. This is community.

Reverence is the act of being awake to your true nature. It’s the realization that life is amazing, and every living being is our sibling. You can’t have that experience looking at a screen. Although you can be prompted to have an event, the real experience of connectedness is found outside. If we stay inside, we’re missing this extraordinary beauty that’s here on Earth, in people, in places, in creatures, in plants, and in ecosystems. The beauty is enough for you to weep.

The healing properties of weeds

Chemicals like nitrate were used for fertilizer by companies in the 20th century with the advent of industrial agriculture. These chemicals were also used in bomb making. Utilizing fertilizer allowed companies grow bigger and greener plants quicker. However, fertilizer also produced weak plants which attracted insects. Farmers needed to apply insecticides. Because the plants were very short-rooted, weeds started to grow and began to compete for resources. Farmers began using herbicides andglyphosate. All of this contributed greatly to the degrading of farmland and a host other problems.

Now, if you look at a field of degraded land and you study the weeds that are growing there, you’ll see that the weeds are trying to heal the soil. Canadian thistle, a deep taproot that can sprout up to replenish the soil’s mineral deficiencies, will grow to help. You’ll also see amaranth and pigweed appear, each of which is an indicator of the earth trying to heal itself. If you start to pay attention in this way, then you’ll begin to see how life creates the conditions for life. That’s what it does. It does this in so many ingenious and creative ways.

Find joy and take action.

It is easy to get demoralized about the current climate. I often refer to the Wendell Berry quote, “Be joyful, though you’ve considered all the facts.” We have so many facts to consider. You can choose despair or joy and see this life, which is a gift, as an offer. The way I look at it is that we’re being homeschooled. Our education never ends. Every day we are being educated by the earth. The first lesson is to align with biology.

People ask me sometimes, “What should I do?” I say, “I have no idea what you should do. But you do.” Look at the amazing, complex variety of ways in which you can be effective and engage and make change. Find the one that makes you smile. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn more about a particular animal or region. Perhaps you are passionate about a particular community or population. Find what makes you come alive, and that’s what you should do. That’s how we can end the climate crisis together.

Read more excerpt from Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation here.

More information about climate change from the Tricycle archive

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