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Getting Real About the Planetary Crisis

Groundhog was so right this year! Spring interrupted Winter mid sentence. The planetary crisis that has been tugging at our shirts for decades just reverted to a sledgehammer. In this part of the world, Spring has been like a smiling assassin, delighting us with frighteningly unnatural weather. If you want to understand the depth of the problem, you need only look out your window.

The naturalist Thoreau journaled in detail in the mid 1850s about nature and the change of the seasons. He kept record of more than 300 species of flowers and birds. On May11, 1853 he recorded his first sighting of the blueberry flower. Over the next few years, he noted that the blueberry first flowered in mid May. In recent years, the first sighting of the blueberry was in mid April. This year, blueberry flowers were sighted on April 1. Since the 1850’s April temperatures in the area where Thoreau lived have warmed by around 5 degrees, and the flowers are budding 4-6 weeks earlier. Maybe most significantly, a quarter of the species that Thoreau wrote about in the 1850s no longer exist.

The early Spring this year has created many challenges ranging from minor inconveniences to game changing variations. Flower shows cancelled, people unprepared for allergies, premature visits from insects, tardy bees arriving too late for pollen, surprise frosts wreaking havoc on fruit crops…..

More significantly, global warming is a big part of the unnatural extinction of species. Many of the other causes relate to human mindlessness as well, such as over population and aggressive development. To deny the cause is to deny the problem.

If you take an honest look at the problem, it’s hard to ignore the role of our human lifestyle in creating the crisis. But what do you do about it? Is guilt or regret an effective motivator? Can we force ourselves to change our lifestyles, or is this just a band aid on massive scar?

It’s hard to sustain changes that feel like band aids? The motivation quickly wears off if the choice is between the status quo that is comfortable and changes that feel token. The motivation has to be deeper than habit, guilt or fear.

Thoreau takes us a step deeper into the attitude (consciousness) behind our lifestyles. He talks about a “realometer”, where you strip your life back to its basics, to its simplest point. Maybe for some of us this point is rock bottom where you become disillusioned with all the things you thought were essential to who you are but turn out to be fading pleasures. Its then that you see reality as it is. You realize what is most important, what lasts, what is illusory and what brings you greatest contentment. You see beyond the media’s portrayal of a successful life, beyond society’s pressure to conform, to the essence of things.

As Thoreau said,

The question is not what you look at, but what you see…. See beyond the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance … to a hard bottom.

In practical terms, this looks like a shopping list that includes more than the basic questions such as,

“Do I need this item now?” And “Can I afford this item now?” The realometer takes you deeper to include questions such as, “What hunger am I really feeding with this item?” And “Who else is affected by this purchase?”

The realometer measures your carbon footprint in the broadest sense, and gets at the soul of your footprint; how mindful you are of the steps you take and the affect they have.

The planetary crisis has been clear for years now. Green has gone mainstream, and yet the problem remains. The realometer reminds us that until we truly “see” the underlying cause of our need to control, dominate and over consume, we won’t make significant change.

Early Spring is a reality check. Expensive, or scarce fruit this summer, may be our first reminder of a full blown stop payment on the check we hold in trust for future generations. Our children and grandchildren may end up confronted by an account, to borrow Martin Luther King’s metaphor, with insufficient funds and dangerously depleted resources.

The good news out of all of this is that if we let the realometer take the pulse of our priorities, we will actually become more fulfilled people living more meaningful lives. Inner peace will be the byproduct of making peace with the earth. It’s a win/win.

In the next pieces of this series on putting heart into earth care, I offer two different motivations to live a deeper shade of green.

Getting up close and personal with nature.

Take a step back and seeing a broader perspective.

Then in the fifth piece I offer a metaphor for persevering when it all seems futile.


Originally published on

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