Often we’re like fish in water. Because it’s continuously all around them, there are stories about how fish aren’t able to recognize the environment in which they live. For us, rather than not seeing the water all around us, we’re often unable to see the assumptions that shape our lives.
How we see the world affects everything. It influences what we do, what we value, and how we define a good life. It is also the basis of our cultural institutions, including our economy, our medical system, and modern sciences like biology. Like fish in water, we’re swimming in a sea of assumptions that are everywhere and affect all parts of our lives. Because they are all around us and permeate throughout our culture, we often accept without question our shared beliefs.
It is these assumptions and our views of the world that are the deeper causes of our rapidly warming planet. Virtually everything we hear about climate change is from our usual, western perspective. Most of the discussion about the crisis of global warming focuses on external issues: calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration, buy and eat locally, and challenge continuous economic growth. These remedies are undoubtedly important, but if we were to look at climate change from a different vantage point, we can see how what is happening in the environment around us is also happening within us. In particular, we can understand that the severity of climate change speaks to deeper and more wide-reaching philosophical and spiritual issues.
The essential importance of stepping outside of our usual view of the world to look at the climate crisis is that the transformation we now need requires us to see clearly the consequences of our personal and cultural beliefs. Maintaining the usual perspectives about what signifies a life worth living, how we view nature, and how we treat sickness will continue to lead us down the same path we’re on. This path has not only lead us to a place of dramatic climate destabilization, it has also had similar, deep-reaching effects on all aspects of our lives.