Monday, November 26, 2007

Benefit of the Doubt

Since 9/11 the United States has spent half a trillion dollars combating terrorism to safeguard our nation. Now a greater crisis presents itself: the destruction of our planet. The recent United Nation's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Report released on November 17th urges immediate action. "The Synthesis Report" is the final IPCC report after five years of study concluding that global warming is "unequivocal," temperatures have risen 1.3 F in the last 100 years, and that human activity is largely responsible for warming.

More alarming is that we must act immediately. "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late," said Rajendra Pachauri, head IPCC scientist and economist. "What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment."

Why should we quickly respond? This report documents the following: about 20 percent to 30 percent of all plant and animal species face the risk of extinction if temperatures increase 2.7 °F; by 2020. Seventy-five (75) million to 250 million people in Africa will suffer water shortages. Residents of Asia's large cities will be at great risk of river and coastal flooding. Europeans can expect extensive species loss. And North Americans will experience longer and hotter heat waves and greater competition for water. More GHG emissions could bring "abrupt and irreversible" changes, such as the loss of ice sheets in the poles, and a corresponding rise in sea levels by several yards.

Most Americans do not understand what is happening. A tipping point is occurring regarding climate change. This means conditions are getting worse then first reported. Some scientists have stated that even this IPCC report could be out of date as new data continues to come in. There is an alarming amount of new evidence coming from science. For example, there has been a faster than expected increase in industrial development in China and India. Economic growth has stimulated more coal burning than was assumed when this study was first done. Global emissions, largely human based, have grown 70 percent from 1970 to 2004. Eleven of the last 12 years have been the warmest since 1850.

The IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, said that since the IPCC began work on its current report five years ago, scientists have recorded "much stronger trends in climate change," like a recent melting of polar ice that had not been predicted. "That means you better start with intervention much earlier."

Given this information can we give the benefit of the doubt to this issue of climate change? Is this crisis the most pressing one facing us? It is safe to assume that we determine the fate of our very future. Let's not err!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Food- Thoughtless or For Thought

Today there is a cost for our rich harvest of food. We enjoy foods from the four quarters of the world, yet we have little understanding of the impact from this daily Thanksgiving. When things are out of season, we can go to the other half of the globe to supply us. Also for this abundance of fruits, vegetables, diary products, grains, fish and meats we expand enormous amount of energy and waste. Because of this bounty we are robbing Peter to pay Paul.

A revolution in social consciousness is happening among tens of millions of Americans. Buying organic food is just one of the signs. The average American spends several thousands of dollars on food consumption, which is roughly 9 percent of our gross national product amounting to almost $900 billion dollars. With this astronomical cost in mind, it is important that the United States become more efficient with its processing, packaging, and transporting of food.

And, there are other forms of enormous waste in how we handle our food consumption. One third of all solid waste consists of food packaging. A typical family discards 10 to 15 percent of their food purchases in the form of packaging. Food travels on the average of 1,400 miles before reaching those eating it. Just think of the carbon price we pay to send our food this far?

Meat is a perfect case in point. Not only the amount of water to raise grains in order to feed animals, but an additional millions and millions of gallons of water are polluted by these farm animals that are raised to be dinner. Added to these problems in producing meat products for human consumption are the antibiotics and hormones used to protect the animals from disease (thereby protecting humans as well) and to quicken the process of animal growth.

Another problem caused by the way we make our food production comes from the use of chemicals, additives, preservatives, pesticides, and herbicides intended to kill weeds, insects and other pests. All these measures have dire impact on human health and the health of our environment. The cumulative affect is difficult to calculate. One example alone: Pesticides cost US farmers $4 billion annually to use, are estimated to cause $2-4 billion in health and environmental damages, including an estimated 20,000 cases annually of cancer caused by pesticides.

Some Americans are responding to this crisis by buying food locally and in season. Also, people are buying food in bulk. Citizens are demanding more organic food. Organic farming has become an $8 billion dollar a year industry with sales growing 20-25 percent per year.

We are seeing here in the Shenandoah Valley an emergence of this kind of change. Growing local, more organic food is greatly expanding. The future of how Americans become more conscious of their connection to food means the quicker we are going to help our earth. Americans spend roughly 15 percent of their disposable income on food while compared with Europeans who spend 24 percent of their money.

One web site cites the following

"In terms of global emissions, agriculture is believed to be responsible for 25% of CO2, 65% of methane and 90% of nitrous oxide emitted. Modern processes such as use of machinery over man and animal power, global trading and increased use of fertilizers and other so called "agro-chemicals" has already made agriculture an energy intensive process in the developed world and is still in the process of doing the same thing in the developing world."

Thousands of scientists say we have to reduce our carbon emissions in the next several decades up to 80 percent. If the U.S. can accomplish this level of reduction, we may well become an example of such frugality to China and India, two countries that are quickly becoming leading users of carbon and food. Our agricultural systems are tied closely to our energy and transportation systems and integrated with the overall food-processing industry. We have to quickly make ingenious plans on how we can best do more with less.

We as a nation can make a difference in changing our agricultural production if we explore our agrarian roots and then find the right context to plant for our future. Time, resources, oil prices and climate change will all play their part.

Another key factor will be how well we can work together, and not separately — a critical issue for our future agricultural prosperity. Success can only happen if we create the proper vision. We have to omit certain luxuries we had in the past. We have to get real and be truthful if we are to pass on an agricultural legacy that will sustain an otherwise growing population of hungry people. Skillful choices will have to made, and much effort will be required so that we can face up to what we will have collectively identified as right choices for the good of all.

We have a crisis on our hands, and we have to generate new ideas about food intake and healthy diet patterns. We have to eat less, plan more, and be ingenious. This kind of awareness is not just food for thought; it is as much about being aware of how thoughtless we may be about our future food.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hope with Less vs. Hopeless

To sustain ourselves each day we may plant seeds of hope. Doing so, offers us the power to refresh ourselves from the mental despair we daily have to endure. There are many threats to our world. There are many ways we can be destroyed. Whether it is widespread avian virus killing billions, or an asteroid destroying us, there are numerous possibilities threatening our demise. Whatever the future brings, we have one profound choice regarding ourselves. Either we can be self destructive, or we can be constructive. We are at a crossroads of fostering either hope or despair. If we are to perish as a species, we can face our demise with either grace or cowardice. Believing that we are here for a limited time can be fundamental to how we can lead a happier life. I believe if we can decide to use less, make less, and be more harmless, then, even when we do exit this earth we can leave as guests who gave this place more love then what was here when we came.

2500 United Nation scientists warn that carbon emissions must end in seven years to avoid killing as many as a quarter of the planet's species as a result global warming. This Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Prize along with Al Gore, cites that a 3 to 4 degree increase in temperature on our planet represents a matter of life and death to humans and as well as most other living things. These scientific findings are terrifying. They are real possibilities pointing to vast and significant devastation of a wide variety of communities on Earth. Now the question is, can we humans rework our industrial, agricultural, transportation and human processes to cool things down?

We are now in our second planetary climate change era. We know the earth is unstable, and we may experience again what happened 55 million years ago when the planet had its first climatic crisis. Our planet has experienced mass extinction before and it is happening again. We are now realizing that we have met the enemy, and it is us. We need to make concerted global actions, and change the way we as individuals live. The most powerful thing each of us can do is to change our lifestyle and become more graceful.

There is no question that our planet is warming, and as our population explodes, so will our problems. If we can learn to do more with less,we will begin to adapt. Less is the mantra. Less stuff, less worries, less hurry. We are just at the tip of a melting iceberg impacting human souls for a long time. Billions of us are attempting to survive on a few dollars a day. Over a billion people do not have potable water. Yes our past history has been filled with tremendous adversity and unstable weather patterns and events.

Technological solutions will only work if they are complemented by human action in slowing down carbon emissions. We lose the war on waste when we grow out of control. We have to grow up and learn that we can only win the battle by conserving.

What is involved is a shift in perspective that some people find very difficult to do. You can argue that our exploding human population might be considered a positive thing, that with more minds we have a greater possibility of solving our problems. But this is a fallacious argument. A mind set of fighting fire with fire is only rarely successful. It usually just produces more flames. We need to understand there are no simple solutions. More with less is about addressing the issues of population planning. Promoting worldwide birth control addresses a fundamental question, "when is enough too much?"

Creating hope with less is about focusing into the cause of our problems. Developing a solution is complex and difficult because we have to change our culture and our personal habits in many different ways.

Why are these solutions so difficult and complex? First our culture is based on more, not less. Also, we have created an almost invisible addiction to consumption. The way we live is has become ingrained in our brains. We have become habitual in the way we consume. Changing ourselves will inevitably cause us to feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Resistance will be formidable.

Cultural change is something that does not occur easily. Why? Altering personal beliefs and behaviors just does not happen overnight. We are hard wired animals, and to adopt new behaviors requires practice that does not quickly happen. So to change our way of living in accordance with new understandings requires many alterations to be inplace and aligned. Deep change is what is required before such a shift can happen. Individuals with radical ideas are the instruments that revolutionize civilizations.

What is also frightening is the reality that most people tend to rely on others to do what is needed doing in crisis. Relying on the government, elected officials, corporations, and the rich to rescue us, is a perspective beginning to be questioned. And there is a prevailing naïve view that anything man made can also be easily undone. Just as believing that technology will solve our problems so too is this perspective that our salvation will come from our leaders, without much individual struggle and effort on our part a naïve idea.

Some Christian's view the "rapture" as a prospect for saving the "good people," thus removing our troubles is also a notion that must be questioned as perhaps a too simple and easy response. Also, the New Age movement suffers a similar fallacy, believing that some Future Being will show up and give us the answer. One thing is if for sure, if we do not each attempt to save ourselves by using less no one else will.

Hope Comes from Asking the Right Questions and Becoming a Change Agent

The challenge for changing our culture comes most exacerbated by the American Dream mentality, the "American Way of Life." Strong societal pressure defines a way of life. Our democracy has become a"deadocracy" because "we" the people have become "they" the people. Freedom is lacking because Americans have fallen asleep to the concept of responsibility.

We must begin to live with less in order to practice a more sustainable way of life. This is not an especially new idea. People have been doing it since ancient times. Such earth-based wisdom is what we need to return to. And we are better equipped today in understanding how we are all interconnected, a part of a greater web of life in which all things as sacred.

Can we awaken to ways that are nurturing and healing, rather than controlling and punishing? Are not humans and the natural systems inter-penetrated and interdependent, and not separate? Can we develop a synergistic lifestyle combining cultural, religious, and economic systems into a sustaining of abundance in our natural environment?Failing to protect this world for future generations and all of life,we will go insane, falling into a state of permanent hopelessness that will destroy us as if we were infected by a psychological virus. But if we can grow the new thinking to the point of a critical mass of people filled with hope and determination, we can achieve the new way of viewing the world, and thereby maintain a future for human populations well into the future.

Hope is powerful idea. Without our new world-view, everything deteriorates. Each one of us acting in concert can alter our culture. Our governments or our corporations cannot accomplish this. A grass roots prescription is our only real hope. Less is more. Ingenuity and creativity are seeds for our future. We have to get out of this book of "status quo" and experiment with many solutions in innovative ways beyond what we know.

We must shift from a culture of "information" to one of "wisdom." The wisdom we apply to the issues of practice and sustainability will come about when we act out of the inspired idea of the sacredness of all things.

We have a choice. We can give up, and believe our situation is hopeless, or we can exercise hope and practice living with less. No matter the outcome the only thing that matters is what each one of us does with our life. We have the ability to create our own heaven or hell depending on how we relate to all things. We use them either in a sacrilegious or sacred way.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Uniting Heart and Mind

Let us celebrate a new stage in our journey Oneness. We are at the point of merging our creative and rational aspects. Our very spiritual survival is at stake. As we become more intimate with our surroundings and ourselves we can experience a richer level of wisdom. Integrating the intuitive with the logical self is a life-long challenge.

There are many times when how I feel and what I think are in conflict within me. Sometimes I get far too deeply into my head, and forget to have my feet touching the ground. Bridging the right brain with the left brain is a balancing act.

Recently a friend posed a challenging question to me: "How do you market clean water to the public in some tangible way?" This inquiry raised many insights for me. How do you take something that appears to be no more than an idea and reframe it into a physical act? People may not be inclined to save water until they run out of it. Waiting to the last second to do something, is being reactive. To be proactive we must constantly reexamine our relationship to our world. The mysterious puzzle we call life, is about seeing all the intricate connections and the ways we all can re-connect.

It is remarkable to observe the emotional issues of what water means to different people. How do we reconcile our feelings about clean water with our rational side? For example, the situation of four consistent years of fish-kills here on the Shenandoah River where I live, upsets me at deep level.

At such times, simply for the sake of self-protection, I am apt to divorce my emotions from affecting my rational mind. But when I bury my feelings, it hurts later. Our minds are tricky. Think about how we rationalize and intellectualize out of a very complicated defense system. We have spent years protecting and fortifying our egos.

Making our dreams become reality is difficult when our heart is in one place and our mind is in another. In Eastern cultures, heart and mind are one. The very root definition of courage comes from this union. A true awakening into the nature of our mind is the only way for us to become liberated from our manipulating ego-response mechanism. This is a huge challenge, which sooner or later, before we die, we must confront. The thought of death, with its matching emotions, can do much to get us to the bottom-line of what is truly important. Facing the issue of death is such a humbling and purifying experience. Attempting a deeper examination in regard to our mortality, helps to transform personal attitudes.

We are a society filled with information; but this does not necessarily translate into much of a vision. Yes, we have also sorts of knowledge; but this does not mean we are wiser, just better educated. For me, nothing substitutes life experience. At the present I believe the people of this country are awakening to how they feel, and are attempting to integrate their feelings with their minds.

Venturing into our psyche requires an extraordinary effort. It takes courage to explore below the surface of things and go deeper into areas were the average person might not feel comfortable. A shift in this journey comes when we can awaken from our fears and allow a sense of compassion to come forward that will lead us to greater self-actualization. Once we feel whole instead of feeling separate, we know then that our brain and our heart have aligned.

Today, it seems our society is moving faster and faster. Increased population and more technological development; has caused overwhelming pressures. Many things from economic pressures to simple daily challenges are overwhelming people. Also, we have become a heady society, spending most of our time in our minds and less time feeling what is going on in our bodies. This shift is a source of much of our suffering and self-destructive tendencies. When we lose sight of out true self, not only do we become blind but we delude our very soul. Such delusion can cause serious mental breakdown and disease.

Where or when does the surf meet the turf when it comes to balancing our intuition with our rational mind? We have become a society addicted to facts and science in one sense, but in another how we feel truly rules us. If we begin to foster great insight we will find a treasure chest of new ways to view our world and how we can relate to it. Such exploration—better observing what is going on—can lead us to a harmonious understanding of how everything is interconnected, not disconnected.

We are at the threshold of new possibilities when we can find new approaches to merging our hearts with our minds. This holistic process brings us unity allowing us more balance and greater peace of mind/body. Keeping our creative and rational selves separated from each other causes much suffering. See for yourself whether this is true. Check within and sense if things are disconnected and have no relationship with each other. This is the ultimate inquiry.

Why unite our hearts with our minds? All of us want to belong and we long for ways to become more intimate. Does not everyone want to feel alive? Merging together our creative and our rational sides makes us whole, not fragmented or compartmented. Everything in life is interdependent and connected in some way, shape or form. Simply, this venture comes down to loving oneself and knowing that all things are one and the same. Finding the One in all things instead of the sum of the parts takes practice. We live in a culture that promotes individuality, independence, and many concepts that divide instead of join.

It takes boundless heart to make this journey of integration. And it requires one to be vulnerable, allowing one to tamper with one's defense shield. However, if we can find the inspiration and intention of our passion, we can shed light on the darkness that haunts us. As Shakespeare said, "Cowards die many times." I say, "It is time to remove ourselves from fear of death. It is time to fully live life!" Some would say two brains are better then one. This notion brings to mind a phrase from E.E. Cummings, which I choose to paraphrase – "benighted states of hysteria."

May you become more intimate discovering your integrated self and celebrate the joy of this journey. Courage becomes evident only when we quiet our mind and listen to our heart. Let us connect the "h" from the end of the word earth with the "h" in front of the word heart—"eartheart"—since they are one and the same!