Our explosive industrial growth was made possible by cheap fossil fuels, but we have reached their horizon of efficacy, beyond which their rising costs and toxic side-effects will overwhelm us. So if we are to have a future at all, it must be one based on energy efficiency, intelligent technology, and sharing--not on endless growth and greed.
Looking over this passage got me wondering: is a Gaian economy even possible? That is, can we ever hope to create or evolve an economy based, not on endless growth of production and consumption (and therefore, of pollution)--not on the "invisible hand" of competing self-interest--but on "energy efficiency, intelligent technology, and sharing"?
This is, of course, an old, old question--but the present, glaring contradiction between our Glomart economy (based on endless growth of production and consumption in pursuit of short-term self-interest) and our finite, Gaian world makes it once again an urgent question to consider.
Does our basic human nature--our innate urge, shared with all other species, to eat, survive, and reproduce--doom us inexorably to an Easter Island future, a hideous feeding frenzy where we compete bitterly and relentlessly with each other to commandeer and exhaust the existing nonrenewable resources, rather than using those resources to create a cooperative infrastructure for renewable energy? Or can we actually learn to plan more intelligently for a sustainable, post-fossil fuel, steady-state economy where, as Shakespeare put it, "distribution should undo excess, and each man have enough?" Is an economy based on sharing, on planetary stewardship, and on voluntary reduction of per capita energy use even possible?
The odds weigh heavily in favor of the former, I'm afraid--a hellish future of accelerating climatic turbulence and drought, collapsing ecosystems, endless resource wars, societal and cultural disintegration, corporate tyranny, and marauding, predatory gangs roaming the blasted landscape and killing everyone in their path, set against shrinking islands of fiercely defended wealth and privilege...not a future I would wish on anyone.
Nevertheless, let us assume--if only for the sake of argument--that an alternative is possible. Buddhist teachings remind us that the present is all there is--that the future--any future--is always just a mental formation, and that the causes and conditions of the future always depend on what each of us chooses to do in the present, just as our present conditions are the direct consequences of causes and conditions in the past--including all the choices made by all our ancestors. If, in fact, the seed of the future always lies in the choices that we make right now, what can we do, starting this moment--to plant the seed for a better future, regardless of what others do, and whatever else happens?
Imagine then--and here goes my sustaining fantasy, yet again--that a self-replicating Gaia movement were to take root, analogous to the rise, in the past, of Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity--all massively culturally transformative events that started with a single visionary.
The Gaia movement would be rooted in a practice, easily taught and easily replicated, that brought immediate relief from stress, but also laid the foundation for serious dharma practice, within the cultural frame of reference of each practitioner--not so much a "new religion" (which would be seen as a threat to existing religions) but rather as a practice that is compatible with all existing authentic religious traditions. (By "authentic" I mean compatible with the universal Dharma--the awareness of our "inescapable network of mutuality"--despite their own religious identity politics).
So this new Gaia movement would be based on the following Principle, Precept, and Practice:
- PRINCIPLE: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."--Martin Luther King, Jr.
- PRECEPT: "Take care of everyone, and abandon no one. Take care of everything, and abandon nothing." --Lao Tzu.
- PRACTICE: Breathe, Observe, Let Go; Be well, Do good work, Keep in Touch; Learn, Teach, Heal, and Create.
The Gaians--those first initiates in the Gaia Movement--would develop, within themselves, the skills necessary to promote this "seed" concept among adherents of many different religions. Each religion could give it their own name; for Buddhists, it is "Dharma Gaia;" for Christians, it could be called "the Mustardseed Project" after the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jews could associate it with the Hebrew concept of Tikkun--healing the world. And Muslims could likewise integrate it with their own Qur'anic traditions.
As the movement grew--among Gaian Buddhists, Gaian Jews, Gaian Hindus, Gaian Christians, and Gaian Muslims--communities of practice might form that engaged in whatever forms of praxis were appropriate to local conditions: Satyagraha for those who face oppressive political conditions; labor organizing among those exploited by corporate tyranny; negotiation and peacemaking; political advocacy where possible; and above all, ongoing community-building, gardening, education, and ecological protection and restoration.
What form might the resulting Gaian culture take? It is hard to say, of course, but ideally it would be decentralized--a loose association of bioregional communities, each developing cultures, political systems, economies, and technologies appropriate to their own bioregion.
Is such a thing even possible? Once again, transformative cultural movements, starting from a small seed, have happened before throughout human history; there is no good reason why they can't happen yet again. The alternative, for me, is unthinkable--however likely. And that is enough to reinforce my determination to pursue this vision of a Gaian future for as long as I draw breath--for it starts, indeed, by drawing breath: breathing, observing, and letting go...even of my own mental formations about what a Gaian future should look like... The present, after all, is all there is.