Spirituality and Climate Change
Spirituality and Climate Change
Kevin Rudd, when Prime Minister of Australia, declared that climate change was a great moral issue. He was reflecting a commonly held idea that the ethical dimensions of survival—of humans and other species—is of core importance to those who value their spiritual life. Spirituality, however defined, is crucial to the issue of ‘life survival’, which is central to the issue of climate change. The survival of life forms on planet Earth, both human and non-human, is eventually what climate change is all about. It is a concern that transcends faiths or religions, but touches on the core of human spirituality.
In Western culture many people think of themselves as valuing the spiritual, but do not identify with religion in its ritual and dogma aspects. For these people, the distinction between spirituality and religiosity depends more on the context of contemporary definitions and understandings. For example, some people who are deeply and profoundly spiritual are ready to express love for their fellow humans (and love for other species also). In addition they take seriously their own place and obligations in this world.
Spirituality involves knowing oneself and knowing about oneself. It involves the search for meaning and identity. The essence of spirituality is the search to know our true selves, and to discover the real nature of consciousness. This quest has been the foundation of all the great spiritual teachings, and the goal of all the great mystics.
Throughout the history of humanity it has been said that the self we know (i.e. the individual ego) is a very limited form of identity. Ignorant of their true selves, some people place greater emphasis on their vocation as a means of identifying their personal identity.
In keeping with their particular belief some volunteers align their goals with the changing needs of the environment so as to pursue their role in the world, but with a false sense of identity. Thus, once more these people fall into a self-created trap of "self-centeredness".
Behind this identity is a deeper identity often called the "true self". True self is described as the essence of consciousness. Although our thoughts, feelings and personality may vary considerably, the essence of our minds remains the same. Each of us is unique in our own special way and the values we learn in earlier years remain imbedded in our minds with the same sense of "I". This feeling of "I-ness" is the same for everyone.
When we discover in ourselves this deeper sense of self we are freed from many of the fears that plague humanity unnecessarily. We discover greater inner peace that does not depend on events and circumstances in the world around us. As a result we become less self-centred, less needy of others’ approval or recognition, and also less needy of collecting possessions and social status. The freedom thus gained makes us happier, healthier and more loving and giving. Many spiritual teachings described this feeling of one-ness as "self-liberation" and “self-actualisation”. In simple terms, spiritualty is giving of one’s self without expecting anything in return. It is for this reason that the affection between a mother and her child is considered one of the purest forms of love — in other words, spirituality.
Secular spirituality emphasizes humanistic qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, responsibility, harmony and a concern for other. These aspects of life and human experience go beyond a materialist view of the world, without necessarily accepting belief in a supernatural reality or divine being. Spiritual practices such as mindfulness and meditation can be experienced as beneficial, or even necessary, for human fulfillment without any supernatural interpretation or explanation. Spirituality in this context may be a matter of nurturing thoughts, emotions, words and actions that are in harmony with one’s belief that everything in the universe is mutually dependent. This stance has much in common with some versions of Buddhist spirituality.
A more modern definition of spirituality exists whenever we find ourselves struggling with issues about how our lives fit into the greater scheme of things, or when we do not find specific answers to our to questions on the practice of prayer and meditation. We encounter spiritual issues also when we wonder about where the universe comes from, why we are here and what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by the values of beauty, love and creativity that reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world. An idea or practice is “spiritual” when it reveals our personal desire to establish a felt relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life.
Activism is the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. Activism can take a wide range of forms for example:
 It can involve the use of direct, often confrontational action, such as, a demonstration or strike, in opposition to or support of a cause;  Activism reflects the desire to create a new conceptual framework, a world view, and values that will make a sustainable, equitable future possible;  Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change (Free on line Dictionary).
Many people are now making a conscious shift to this way of life. They comprise people who choose to reject contemporary lifestyles and priorities, and place more emphasis in enhancing personal relationships in their lives and their communities in order to make a contribution to nature, the environment and ecological sustainability.
Volunteering, thus, is a window for these people to give back to the community from which they believe they have gained something. There are benefits gained by some volunteers who unexpectedly experience a long-lasting spiritual feeling during their participation as tourists. This explains the importance of maintaining the element of spiritual experience in tourism.
In this connection, the volunteer experience is particularly beneficial to welfare development work organised by secular NGOs in marginalised and disadvantaged communities in Asia and the Pacific region, such as
• Public Health
• Social Science
• Political Science
• International Relations
• Economics, and
This observation becomes more evident when the volunteers themselves acknowledge that they have never been exposed to any written knowledge or literature on the subject of religion or religious terms; nor have they heard any particular words describing spiritual terms by which they could identify their feelings of meaningful spirituality.
It also becomes clear that spiritual experiences are complex, intimate and personal. Researchers therefore may need to develop meaningful relationships with subjects based on mutual trust if they are seeking to identify particular experiences rather than general spiritual experiences.
Activism’s political cutting edge lies in its sense of empowerment and in its collective identity, unity, and mutual support. It has been described as the largest social movement in history.
According to Eckersley (2008) this movement is not hierarchical and it does not operate in terms of a manifesto or a doctrine. “Metaphorically speaking, it is humanity’s immune response to political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation” (Eckersley, 2008, p. 39).
Activism is thus an adaptive response, closely associated with the drive for sustainability. “There is a real and increasing possibility that global warming, resource depletion, increasing world population, disease pandemics, technological anarchy, and the geopolitical tensions, economic instability, and social upheaval they generate will create a nightmare future for humanity in this century. Avoiding this fate will depend critically on the stories our scientists create to make sense of what is happening and to frame our response” (Eckersley, 2008, p. 39).
Rapid and Rising Change in Australia’s Future
An important feature in relation to spirituality and climate change is improving Australia’s ability to anticipate and prepare for major social, economic and environmental change in the forthcoming decades, especially the type of change that creeps up on decision makers and can catch them, and the rest of society, unprepared.
Leading thinkers in science, economics, industry, government and other fields already know that the future is not predictable in detail or with certainty. They know that by ignoring the fact many individuals, organisations, and societies have left themselves unprepared for climate change surprises and they have made poor decisions based on the assumption that the future will be similar to today. In the extreme, lack of preparedness and poor decisions have caused businesses, and other organisations, governments, and whole societies to suffer serious decline and even complete collapse.
Climate change is an example of what happens when slow changes go unnoticed or unacknowledged over a long time until they accumulate to a point where change becomes rapid and major and catches society unprepared for an effective response. Past such examples, among others, include salinization of agricultural land in parts of Australia and bleaching of coral reefs in Australia and elsewhere. Other candidates for rapid and surprising future changes affecting Australia directly or indirectly are: collapse of food production in Asia triggered by the failure of the Asian monsoons for several years in a row; sea level rise; increased temperature extremes; and declining water availability.
In the past few decades, progress has been made in relation to two major responses to the challenge of future change:
The first response has been to understand how change comes about and to consider multiple, rather than single, future possibilities. Approaches like systems analysis, chaos theory, and complex systems science have this objective at their heart. These approaches have revealed some fundamental truths about climate change.
The second response has been to explore how to build and maintain the capacity of individuals, organisations and societies to anticipate and be ready to deal with a range of future challenges and opportunities. The term “resilience” is used here to describe variations on this response in science, economics, psychology, public health, youth welfare, engineering and other areas of private and public endeavour.
It is here that one observes the dedicated spiritual response of climate activists and their community supporters. These people voluntarily give of their time and energy to further public understanding and to address climate change causes and its associated effects. Their’s is an expression of spirituality in this modern world.
Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium, NY: Riverhead Books, 1999.
Dillard, C. B., Abdul-Rashid, D. and Tyson, C. A. My Soul is a Witness. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 13, No 5, (September 2000): 447-462.
Fuller, Robert C. Understanding Unchurched America (ISBN 0-19-514680-8).
Eckersley R. Three Responses to Fears of the Apocalypse. The Futurist, January-February 2008.
Heinberg, Richard. The end of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality New Society Publishers (2011).
Hein, David, and Edward Hugh Henderson, eds. Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer. New York and London.
Paul Heelas, Cambridge: Polity, 2001, (page 554). The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996, page 60 (Cited in Anthony Godden's: Sociology).
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