Speaking for myself, when I read such things I experience rage, grief – and shame. At times I’m ashamed to be a member of a species which, gifted this wonderful planet with its abundance of treasures, uses it with such contempt – like someone who, inheriting a baroque palace, burns the furniture to keep warm and uses the priceless carpets as a toilet. And the rage is also about my impotence to do anything about it, knowing that these problems would persist for centuries even if we stopped producing plastics today – which is far from the case. On the contrary, with 3D printers we’ll soon all be able to produce our very own plastic gewgaws and trinkets at home to add to the existing mountains. And then, because I don’t like feeling impotent rage or helpless shame, I let it go; my attention goes to something else – something in my own life, perhaps – leaving behind a residuum of guilt, a little private emotional garbage patch if you like.
And none of these emotions is helpful; they won’t help to resolve the planetary crisis any more than they help to deal with other crises: collective or individual alike. When we experience rage, shame or guilt in relation to someone our response is to blame and reject them – i.e. to project the hateful feelings onto them. (Alternatively, for some of us, to buy the guilt and to wear it like a hair shirt or a ball and chain.) And exactly the same thing happens in a social/environmental context – look at the hatred and negativity which was directed at Al Gore for ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Guess what, we don’t like inconvenient truths, and we tend to shoot messengers who bear them.
Or others – and many active environmentalists fall into this category – are consumed with guilt and with the burden of the knowledge of what we’re doing to our planet, and it’s this that drives their actions. Whether or not the actions themselves are helpful, the attendant emotions certainly aren’t. We only break out of the cycle of guilt and shame through love and forgiveness – of ourselves, of other people and of the planet itself.
Let’s allow ourselves to tremble with love and wonder at the beauty of what still remains, let’s celebrate and try to propagate that love, and let it drive our actions – all of them. We naturally cherish and care for what we love – and Gaia includes and embraces all the people who live on the planet and their states of mind as well as the whales and seabirds, the phytoplankton and the trees. It’s not an easy way out, quite the reverse – love if anything is a tougher discipline than hatred and projection. But it’s the only way that we can bring about change for the better, change that lasts.