Climbing to a Whole-World View

Issue Date: 
January - February 2010
Volume and Number: 
Volume 10, No 1
Author: 
Louis Cox

Quaker Eco-Bulletin
Information and Action Addressing Public Policy
for an Ecologically Sustainable World
Volume 10, Number 1
January-February 2010
Climbing to a Whole-World View
Louis Cox
AT the UN Climate
enough to keep pace with
Summit in
changes that are rapidly
BeFriending Creation editor
Copenhagen in December,
unfolding on a global scale.
the world community
In order to meet these new
labored to limit global
challenges, human con-
greenhouse gas emissions
sciousness must rise rapidly
to what many climate
to still higher levels.
scientists believe is neces-
A whole-world view
sary to head off the worst
The idea of raising
effects of harmful climate
consciousness brings to
change. Representatives of
mind one of my favorite
industrialized and less
late-summer outdoor
developed countries were
destinations, the top of
able to resolve some
Camel’s Hump, the second
differences, such as verufucatuib and how costs would be
highest peak in Vermont’s Green Mountains. I have a good
fairly apportioned. The conference ended not with the treaty
view it from where I live about 25 miles to the west. Ascend-
that had been hoped for but with a set of nonbinding pledges
ing the west face doesn’t require special climbing equipment,
as a basis for future negotiations.
just sensible shoes and clothing and several hours of clamber-
Most of the analysis leading up to this conference
ing over and around slippery rocks and fallen branches that
focused on the more obvious hurdles, including: 1) narrowly
litter the steep, eroded trail. The higher I climb, the farther
defined political and economic interests that keep some
and wider I can see—and the more I am reminded of my
nations from seeing how their needs are bound up with those
connection to the rest of the world.
of the entire planet and 2) the well-organized, industry-
On reaching the treeless, wind-swept summit of Camel’s
funded “climate change denial” lobby that has been very
Hump, I am greeted by a uniformed conservation agent, who
effective at feeding doubts about the
is sent up there every day during the
seriousness of climate change and
 “It’s time to begin to focus on the
hiking season to answer questions
bringing the financial clout of the
big picture.” —Yvo de Boer, top UN
and make sure hikers stay behind
fossil fuel industries to bear on
climate official at the Climate Summit
barriers that protect the fragile
political leaders.
alpine vegetation. Some restrictions
This Quaker Eco-Bulletin is about
are needed because most individuals can’t appreciate the
a less obvious but important challenge to reaching interna-
cumulative damage that would result from allowing thou-
tional consensus on the climate issue—one that has been
sands of visitors (many with dogs and children) to run loose
largely overlooked by the mainstream media. That has to do
at the top.
with differing worldviews or levels of consciousness. States
From Camel’s Hump on a clear day I am able to look
of awareness are seldom discussed by the media because they
down over a lush landscape of mixed forests, farms, lakes,
cannot be measured directly and are difficult to talk about.
and steepled villages. But all is not well down there. Still
Yet our fundamental sense of who we are and what kind of
recovering from the extensive deforestation from colonial
world we live in the end holds the key to how we respond to
times through the early 20th century, this beautiful and vibrant
fundamental problems. Will we choose to remain in denial,
land is being ravaged again by urban sprawl and other ill-
apathy, and confusion, or will we choose to act with wisdom,
considered development. And yet another, more serious,
foresight, and courage to change course in time?
threat to this fragile environment has arrived at the state’s
There is no question that we humans already have the
doorstep—human-induced climate change. Higher-than-
potential to make difficult and transformative changes. Our
average temperatures have already started to disturb ecologi-
species survived several close calls with extinction because
cal relationships. For example, migratory birds are arriving
our ancestors responded to changes in geography, climate,
sooner in the spring and are heading south later in the fall.
and other threats by gradually climbing several rungs up the
Over the past 20 years, the time between the last spring frost  >>
consciousness ladder. But wisdom is not evolving fast

and the first fall frost has been growing longer and longer. This may be good for
Quaker Eco-Bulletin (QEB) is published
gardeners, but the trends are very worrisome when the accelerating rate of change
bi-monthly by Quaker Earthcare Wit-
is projected over the next 20 years.
ness as an insert in BeFriending Cre-
To the west I can see the setting sun mirrored in Lake Champlain. For genera-
ation.
tions there were ice boat races every winter on the frozen lake, and some daring
The vision of Quaker Earthcare Wit-
souls would even drive their cars the ten miles across to New York. However,
ness (QEW) includes integrating into
beginning about 15 years ago, the lake has ceased freezing solid enough for
the beliefs and practices of the Society
anything but occasional ice-fishing near the shore.
of Friends the Truths that God's Cre-
And as I scan the horizon, I also notice a purple streak of photochemical smog
ation is to be held in reverence in its own
starting to obscure the views of New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the east and
right, and that human aspirations for
New York’s Adirondack Mountains to the west—a reminder of the countless jet
peace and justice depend upon restor-
engines, smokestacks, and tailpipes all over the planet that are spewing many tons
ing the Earth's ecological integrity. As
of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. Even a consciously “green and
a member organization of Friends
clean” place like this is, after all, affected by what happens in the rest of the world.
Committee on National Legislation,
QEW seeks to strengthen Friends' sup-

Different visions of the future
port for FCNL's witness in Washing-
From the high vantage point of Camel’s Hump, I can see the central spine of
ton, D.C. for peace, justice, and an earth
the Green Mountains heading north into Canada and south into Massachusetts.
restored.
Some ridges are being studied for possible commercial wind power. But this and
QEB's purpose is to advance Friends'
other renewable-energy/conservation proposals remain on hold while Vermonters
witness on public and institutional poli-
wrestle with different visions of their energy future. Supporters see wind as a
cies that affect the earth's capacity to
practical way for the region to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and to produce
support life. QEB articles aim to inform
fewer greenhouse gases. However, this idea has run into a buzz saw of protests
Friends about public and corporate
from those who see wind turbines as blights on the landscape.
policies that have an impact on society's
Off to the southeast, next to the Connecticut River, sits Vermont Yankee, the
relationship to the earth, and to provide
state’s only nuclear power plant. No longer able to market their product as cheap,
analysis and critique of societal trends
the plant’s owners have been promoting it as low in carbon emissions. Trying to
and institutions that threaten the health
capitalize on growing concerns about climate change, they are asking the state to
of the planet.
re-license this 40-year-old facility, one of the oldest in the country, for another 20
Friends are invited to contact us about
years.
writing an article for QEB. Submissions
I have attended public hearings and read many letters to the editor in which the
are subject to editing and should:
supposed advantages and draw-
• Explain why the issue is a Friends con-
backs of wind power and/or
Our innate capacity for seseing the
cern.
nuclear fission are passionately
world as a whole will atrophy if it is
• Provide accurate, documented back-
argued. These often-heated
not nurtured and guided, especially
ground information that reflects the
exchanges tend to bypass each
when we are young. This should be
complexity of the issue and is respect-
other and keep the public conver-
ful toward other points of view.
the foremost goal of education.
sation at an unproductive low
• Relate the issue to legislation or cor-
level. People on opposite sides of
porate policy.
these contentious issues assume that policy decisions are decided on a combination
• List what Friends can do.
of “hard facts,” “logical reasoning,” and emotional appeals. Accordingly, they may
• Provide references and sources for
devote a lot of time and energy to gathering poll results, expert testimonies, and
additional information.
studies conducted by private “research” institutes, which tend to support whatever
QEB Coordinator: Keith Helmuth
conclusions their clients happen to be looking for.
QEB Editorial Team: Judy Lumb,
One side claims that wind turbines on scenic ridges would destroy the tourism
Sandra Lewis, Barbara Day
industry while invoking images of piles of dead bats and birds at the bases of the
E-mail: QEB@QuakerEarthcare.org
towers. The other side counters that wind power is a no-brainer when it comes to
Website: <QuakerEarthcare.org>
competitive cost and low vulnerability to terrorist attacks. One side argues that
failure to re-commission Vermont Yankee would lead to blackouts, increased
Projects of Quaker Earthcare Witness,
unemployment, and a less competitive business climate. The other side cites
such as QEB, are funded by contribu-
reports that this problem-prone plant has been linked to a higher incidence of
tions to:
leukemia in children living in the area.
Quaker Earthcare Witness
There is probably a measure of truth in most of these claims. But most people
173-B N Prospect Street
who tune into these debates can tell that all the verbal jousting is mostly about
Burlington VT 05401
securing funding, permits, or votes, not moving everyone closer to the truth. Few
minds or votes are changed.
2
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 10:1 January-February 2010

The reality is that a person chooses to believe or empha-
vigor. Thus the dilemma of specialism is partialness or
size certain facts or reasons and to dismiss others according
meaninglessness, on both an existential or daily-living level
to whether those points seem compatible with that person’s
and at the level of coming to grips with reality or truth.”
existing assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, or overall worldview.
E.F. Schumacher makes a similar point in A Guide for the
We all have such deep-seated, complex, and largely uncon-
Perplexed: “What we have to deplore ... is not so much the
scious internal “maps” to help guide us through life. But if
fact that scientists are specializing, but rather the fact that
we are ever to unite around the climate change crisis, we will
specialists are generalizing,” that is, confusing the part with
need new rules of engagement that encourage everyone to be
the whole, the simplified map with the infinitely complex
open about their own worldviews in the public discussion.
territory they represent.
Worldviews and levels of maturity
Diversity within unity
In the July-August 2006 Quaker Eco-Bulletin, Keith
Apprehending the basic unity and wholeness of all that
Helmuth, Judy Lumb, Sandra Lewis, and Barbara Day say
exists is not about uniformity or unanimity, however. A
that modern Western society seems to be slowly moving away
healthy whole-world view also reflects and promotes the
from an industrial-age worldview that sees the natural world
inherent diversity and creativity of human and natural realms.
as a kind of machine. Many people are recognizing the folly
Consider the richly varied ways of being human around
of patterning organic processes, such as education, medicine,
the world and throughout history—the astonishing range of
and farming, on industrial systems. A small but growing
substances people classify as edibles, even delicacies; their
number seem to be evolving toward an ecological conscious-
many forms and styles of marriage; their highly varied child-
ness, rediscovering Earth as a living, evolving organism and
rearing practices; the rainbow of customs, folkways, stories,
themselves as part of it.
dialects, and rituals. This incredible diversity of thought and
Continuing humankind’s
behavior is an essential quality of the
Forging a common appreciation of
transition to a whole-world view
human family—like all healthy ecosys-
Earth as a commonwealth of unique
will be crucial to meeting the
tems, a store of wisdom, resilience, and
and interdependent ecosystems
twin threats of human-induced
future possibility. That is why most
climate change and the imminent
must be as much a part of our sur-
attempts to impose uniformity and
peak of global oil production. If
vival strategy as analyzing factual
unanimity (as in the cases of indigenous
the industrial mind-set continues
evidence and logical argruments
peoples who have been systematically
to hold sway, particularly among
stripped of their cultural heritage) have
our leaders, precious time and resources will be squandered
been so destructive.
trying to engineer short-sighted and counterproductive
On the other hand, societies sometimes have moved to
“solutions.” Appropriate technologies—solar, wind, etc.—are
ban certain customs or practices, such as slavery and traffick-
a necessary part of the transition. But we must not be lulled
ing in endangered species, in the interest of the general
into believing that we can simply invent our way out of this
welfare. In the same way, we are now compelled as a global
crisis. Our first order of business is to restore a sense of
society to take bold, united action to stop global climate
place, a sense of purpose, and a sense of our relationship to
change for the sake of our common survival, phasing out
the commonwealth of life.
coal-fired power plants, mandating energy-efficient transpor-
Outgrowing worldviews or paradigms that are seriously
tation and housing, halting the destruction of the oceans and
out of touch with ecological reality is only part of the chal-
rainforests, and ending perverse incentives for converting
lenge of sustainability. We also need longer-term perspectives
land from food crops and rainforests to bio-fuel production.
and increased ability to appreciate others’ points of view. This
It is imperative that we move quickly to harmonize
is part of what characterizes a mature adult’s thinking.
economic systems with Earth’s natural processes, stabilize
Modern society—largely through its political, economic, and
human population, and end our reliance on unsustainable and
educational institutions—seems to have arrested its collective
unsafe power systems. Forging a common appreciation of
development at a level of maturity that is inadequate for
Earth as commonwealth of unique and interdependent
today’s complex issues. Narrowness of vision and short
ecosystems must be as much a part of our survival strategy as
attention span are reinforced by vested interests who gener-
analyzing factual evidence and logical arguments.
ally don’t want the public at large to think critically or plan
Iconic NASA photos of Earth from outer space, com-
for the seventh generation.
pletely innocent of political boundaries, may have marked the
General outlooks on life are narrowed further by over-
first moments of humankind’s great awakening to its true
specialization. As Joseph R. Royce explains in The Encapsu-
identity as a global family. But special interests are always
lated Man:
trying to turn us back into passive consumers. “Weather Eye”
“The dilemma of the specialist as truth-seeker is that he
television broadcasts help millions to decide what clothes to
has not seen much of the universe from the black bottom of
wear tomorrow, but they don’t consider it their responsibility
his nicely furrowed rut, but he proceeds to proclaim his
to show let the public see dust storms in China, shrinking
world-view anyhow and, in many cases, with considerable
polar ice, or fires ravaging the world’s rainforests.
>>
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 10:1 January-February 2010
3

Lower and higher levels of being
equality. The majority seem to fall within the middle range. A
In A Guide for the Perplexed, E.F. Schumacher says,
realistic goal is to nudge the average person along that
“Our task is to look at the world and see it whole....One
continuum, not to try to transform everyone. That work
way of looking at the world as a whole is by means of a map,
begins by changing ourselves. Others may decide to change
that is to say, some sort of plan or outline that shows out-
because of us, and still others may change because of them.
standing landmarks, as it were, which you cannot miss, or if
We don’t aim for a majority, only a “critical mass,” which
you do miss them, you will be left in perplexity.”
might be relatively small. As Margaret Mead once said, all
Schumacher explains that problems involving inanimate
great movements in human history can be traced back to
objects tend to be solved over time because consensus
thoughtful, dedicated action groups. They are the catalysts
converges around the most effective materials and methods.
that help to mobilize the unfocused majority.
But situations that involve living systems, including humans,
What can Friends do?
always present moral dilemmas that we have to grapple with.
What can we Friends contribute to the spread of a whole-
These dilemmas generally give rise to divergent theories,
world view, one that honors diversity, improves our chances
philosophies, and interpretations.
for ecological survival, and helps us to fulfill our higher
A common response these days is to shrug and say, “To
purpose as a sacred Earth community?
each his own” or “It depends on who you ask.” But post-
As Quakers we are already working for peace, justice,
modern relativism is a cop-out. One of the greatest contribu-
ecological sustainability, and international cooperation when
tions to Western thought was Socrates’ discovery that seem-
we support the work of Friends organizations. But being part
ingly contradictory ideas can be reconciled, through dialogue,
of the Great Turning is also a personal calling that we can’t
at higher levels of thinking. Schumacher goes on to say. “The
pay others to carry out in our name. There is much that we
loss of the vertical dimension from today’s philosophical
can contribute as individuals in our homes, Meetings, and
maps means that it was no longer possible to give an answer,
communities, starting by elevating the discussions of current
other than a utilitarian one, to the question, ‘What am I to do
issues that we find ourselves in.
with my life?’”
He says we need a “turning around, a metanoia. This
O Try to “re-frame” a divisive issue to a whole-world
then leads to seeing the world in a new light, namely, as a
perspective. If a discussion focuses excessively on only
place where the things modern man [sic] continually talks
one side-issue, such as dollar costs or health risks, remind
about and always fails to accomplish can actually be done.”
others of the proverb about “straining out a gnat while
swallowing a camel.” Emphasize that it is the big picture
CAN we actually learn to “look at the world and see it
that counts—the overall balance of concerns, what
whole,” as Schumacher urges? That can be accom-
benefits everyone. Ask whether a proposed action would
plished when we understand that the world “out there” is
be reasonable if everyone acted that way or whether it
intrinsically whole and that every atom of our being is one
would bring harm and injustice to future generations or to
with it. Fixed concepts and categories are only the intellect’s
other species, who have rights, too.
attempt to freeze and dissect the living organism of reality.
O Bow out of heated discussions in which people are simply
We depend on discrete bits of sensory data to perceive and
showcasing their opinions and show little interest in what
solve problems, of course, but our brains are also “pre-wired”
others know or believe.
to convert these signals back into an intuitive grasp of the
O Practice “friendly persuasion.” Don’t back people into a
whole, a “gestalt” in psychological language. I see this
corner by trying to prove them wrong. Invite those with
whenever I drive through the old covered bridge near my
strong views to explain how they arrived at their positions,
house: Even though the bridge is sided with vertical boards,
but don’t try to embarrass them by insinuating they are
at a slow forward speed my eyes automatically reassemble
prejudiced or uninformed.
the slices of daylight coming through the cracks between the
O At public events don’t enable the media to sensationalize
boards into a complete image of the world outside. Every ray
and oversimplify controversies. State your convictions
of light is a hologram, a window into the universe.
quietly, simply, and honestly; if that doesn’t make the
However, our innate capacity for seeing the world as a
evening news that’s probably for the best.
whole will atrophy if it is not nurtured and guided, especially
O Encourage more right-brain thinking in policy-making and
when we are young. This should be foremost goal of educa-
problem-solving, and use inclusive language consistently.
tion. Addressing the ecological and social challenges ahead
O Shut off the television and get outdoors. Get to know
will require clear-headed, holistic-thinking people. Life offers
someone who sees the world differently. Participate in
no guarantee against error, but we are more likely to move in
cultural exchange programs.
the direction of higher consciousness if that is our goal.
O Support bioregionalism and other alternative programs
There are nearly seven billion people on the planet, and
founded on holistic principles.
their outlooks on life appear to vary along a continuum—
O Encourage schools to foster creativity, civic-mindedness,
from those preoccupied with short-term personal needs to
and critical thinking. O
“world citizens” who are dedicated to peace, justice, and
4

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