Public Talk in the Workers Club, Lismore, NSW, Australia on 30 November 2019.
Talk given to workers, local residents, community members, meditators, activists, firefighters, Extinction Rebellion supporters and more. The following consists of a transcription of the talk, edited and adapted.
The talk was given in the early weeks of the fire catastrophe engulfing parts of Australia.
1 December marks the first day of summer in Australia. The last paragraphs include the latest update on the terrible impact of multiple fires. The figures are truly shocking. The Australian government has failed to protect people, animals and the environment. This also will not be forgotten.
See heading in rear section of article. From Present to Future and Update. 10 January 2020
Since arriving here in Australia 10 days ago, I have had the opportunity to listen to many voices and to check online the current situation of widespread fires out of control. I read that a one and a half million acres of land has been lost to fire. That is around 6000 square kilometres. I live in the county of Devon in the West country of England; your fires are the size of our county . I have some sense of the enormous magnitude of this crisis. I have read that the smoke from the countless fires has stretched so far that smoke now descends upon New Zealand, more than 2000 kilometres away.
We finished our insight meditation retreat 10 minutes away from Lismore in the Bodhi Tree Buddhist monastery. In the rare morning dew, people who were camping could feel the ashes in the dewdrops on their tents from the fires more than 25 kilometres away.
I read that environmental scientists say that on the east coast more than 1000 koalas, a beloved species, have burnt to death. People have died in the fires. More than 600 homes have been lost. This is a very serious emergency for the state of New South Wales, for Australia and it is a reflection of a world-wide climate crisis.
What are we going to do?
I believe there are four primary aspects to dealing with the climate crisis. Each one of the four themes needs to be fully addressed. One aspect will not be enough.
- The first aspect addresses the OUTER.
These endless fires mean that men, women and children live in a vulnerable situation as well as creatures remaining subjected to the immensity of a climate crisis. (Incidentally, we could turn off the air conditioning in the hall. There are important environmental reasons for this with more than 1.5 billion air conditioners/cooling systems in the world manufactured via the fossil fuel industry). The extra quiet will make it easier for you all to hear, as I prefer not to use a microphone.
What is the relationship of a person, family or local community when facing a major threat to life of the Earth.?
What actions do we take? The outer includes transforming our social, political and educational institutions to address the needs of people, craturures and the environment. Consumerism has a grave impact on the welfare of the planet. We have to address this.
I want to hear this evening your voices and the steps you are willing to make to address the outer.
- The second aspect addresses DESPAIR AND WORRY.
I hear a very common voice in Australia and elsewhere of expressions of despair, hopelessness, fatalistic views, a sense of helplessness, indifference and detachment. Such experiences cripple the capacity of women and men to explore creative and imaginative solutions because the level of despair becomes overwhelming. We listen, watch television, read the news and engage in conversations on the climate emergency. We absorb more than we can internalise. We do not realise we sow the seeds of our death and destruction through inability to act. As an analogy, we breathe in all this painful information but we do not act. We do not breathe out.
The impact of such absorption, bit by bit, day by day, of painful information increases fear and anxiety. This is not healthy. This contributes to unhappiness, worries about our children and the future generations. We worry about homes, our communities and elsewhere. We breathe in too much. This stops a healthy response.
Despair and worry justify these unhealthy responses. We need fresh responses.
- The Third Aspect addresses ANGER AND DENIAL
Angry reactions to the external situation worsens the global situation. This is the naivety of human beings. We think our reaction shows a legitimate response to the climate emergency. IT IS NOT. It reveals the failure of a response. It is the failure of a human being to recognise that action is needed. Anger makes us burn up inside until we burn out.
A belief in our anger about the present and future shows an identification with our view of looking at the climate emergency. We repeat our reactions to ourselves and to others. There is a common belief that our anger shows a true response and a true reflection of the reality. IT IS NOT. It is the state of your mind. It is your emotions. You have projected your reactions onto the painful and difficult conditions around you. How can you act when burdened with reactivity?
This epidemic of inability to act can contribute to form of denial. Denial includes the failure to act as much as political/business denial of a climate emergency and environmental abuse. Anger and blame towards people in power maintains climate emergency. The climate emergency becomes a story to talk about. Such conversations serve a purpose if they lead to clarity and action.
We blame our political institutions, the fossil fuel industries, fracking, mining, consumerism and more. Blind reactions will not make any difference. We can dig deeper than frequent outbursts of anger or denial. Fresh ways to look at situations release a creativity in our imagination. We need to feel our worth and empowerment to respond to global issues.
We examine our state of mind, so we do not burn up inner clarity and wisdom. This means going deeper than simply identifying reactive inner states. You might think you cannot see the climate emergency in any other way. YES YOU CAN. We dedicate ourselves to all four aspects of the crisis. If you feel isolated, then change that isolation. You are not much use to the resolution of the climate emergency if you think only about your ‘self” and how you feel about a situation. We need a transformation to address the serious circumstances that we and all other species face.
When human beings get together as a collective, we can free up our voice. We can share and explore together, then WE CAN ACT.
Our isolation, which consumerism feeds, leads to the death of a real community.
For example, Facebook is not a community. Facebook is a surveillance – advertising agency disguised as a community. It is not the real world. It is not even a parallel universe.
The real world consists of us humans, animals and the environment. We must show trust and faith in our relationship to the real world and not substitute it for a false and artificial world. Communities of people matter. Some of you know this from years of experience living in a community.
The Fourth Aspect addresses Disruption
Jen, our retreat manager, mentioned to you at the start this evening that I spent three days with the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in London. Previously activists and demonstrators would go on a demonstration in the morning to express our valid concerns about the harmful policies of our government. Then we go home. We want change. We want it now. Dutifully, the common demonstration concludes around 4pm or 5pm after some informative and supportive speeches from leaders of the movement for change. Those days have finished. That is history. We tried that. We have done that. The disruption of the old kind of demonstration makes way for the new.
Women and men come together in towns and cities in Britain and have agreed to explore other ways to make changes. We do not go home but occupy the streets. Out of that necessity to campaign for political/social change came about a key word – DISRUPTION. That is a buzz word of Extinction Rebellion. Disruption challenges us to go beyond our comfort zone. We may have to disrupt our lives in the short and long term to connect with networks working to support all forms of life on Earth.
One expression of disruption includes getting arrested through civil disobedience. This might mean an occupation of a public place such as main streets, government buildings, airports and more. During the period over two weeks in London, the police kept 1000 police cells in London and Greater London for the XR arrestables. There were not enough cells for the arrestables. The police carried or marched around 1800 people to police vans to take activists to the cells in the police stations.
One of my friends from Totnes, my hometown, refused to budge in central London during a protest so the police carried him away. He said the London police treated him and others ‘very well.’ His remark brought a concern to my mind. He said the police walked him to his cell. He said he had a cell to himself.
As a meditator, he really appreciated the use of the cell for meditation (laughter from the audience). Once every hour or so, a police officer slid open the grill in the upper part of the cell door and asked: “Is everything Ok, Sir? Would you like a cup of tea, sir?” (more laughter). It sounds alright. I spoke about this with friends without sounding full of appreciation for the attitude of the police.
I explained my concern. I have four wonderful grandchildren of Anglo-Caribbean roots. If you ask people in the Black community if the police treat them the same as the white community when they are under arrest, they will probably have a very different story. Arrestables experience white privilege. We must recognise the context of a situation and the context of skin colour.
There were immensely colourful characters on the demonstrations. A bunch of Australians dressed up in huge kangaroo suits, around two metres high and were jumping up and down, probably on springs attached to their feet in front of the police. A reminder to everybody to protect all species.
In Whitehall, the main road of government, women sat in lines in the middle of the road breastfeeding their babies and little ones. A reminder of the need to support future generations. The Prime Minister lives in Downing Street, off Whitehall as well as the War Office, Ministry for Defence, Treasury and much more.
I saw wooden towers as tall as this room. Two demonstrators climbed up to the top of the tower and then chained themselves to it. This presented a real problem for the police to get them down.
Trafalgar Square at one end of Whitehall and Houses of Parliament at the other end consist of numerous statues to various war-mongering Generals and Admirals over centuries. Some protesters brought a bath to the square climbed into the bath and chained themselves to the tap (laughter).
Eight people got hold of an old fire engine. They went to the Treasury Building and sprayed fake blood (red paint mixed with water) at the building. A Totnes Dharma friend, Mark O, and an 83-year-old co-demonstrator lost control of the spray pipe – soaking nearby demonstrators. The demonstrators were campaigning to stop the fossil fuel industry.
There were elderly ladies lying horizontal outside the Ministry for Defence waiting to be arrested. People were begging to be arrested. “Please arrest us. We need to be arrested. The more arrests the more publicity and then more people will sit up and take notice of the climate emergency.”
The police said: ” We really want to arrest you.” (laughter). “There have been so many government cuts. we have not got the police officers or enough vehicles to arrest you. We are doing our best.” (more laughter).
From Present to Future
Our governments are not fit for purpose. Left, right or centre. Parliament is a bear-pit. Parliament consists of men and women engaged in endless arguments trying to score points at the others’ expense. This kind of democracy must finish. Modern democracy has become irrelevant. It lives in the past. We need a completely different way of meeting to resolve issues. We need assemblies of people cooperating to make real change. That means research.
We need to know the different kinds of assemblies available. We learn to co-operate together. The current system keeps to the primacy of self-interest of the political parties. Such a system only offers the pursuance of power, the keeping of it and sustaining it as long as possible. That is the interest of politicians.
Politicians do not work in our interest. Our interest is the welfare of people, creatures and the environment. I have neither the belief nor hope that the system we live under – capitalism and consumerism – can change. I have no trust in this system of government, economics and big business.
Non-party politics matters which includes men, women AND children. We change the system through co-operating to form assemblies and campaigning to reduce carbon emissions (CO2) and pollution.
Numerous countries, including Australia have to take responsibility. Global emissions increase on average around 1.7% every year. If life on Earth as we know it is to survive then emissions have to decrease by a minimum of 7.5% per year. Policies of governments, businesses and human behaviour take us completely in the wrong direction. That takes real commitment to work together to change the view and develop creative actions.
We need our scholars, thoughtful scientists, philosophers, researchers, inventors, lawyers, activists and many more to show us sustainable ways of living. We need to act. The inner supports the outer and the outer supports us.
The evidence of the climate emergency confirms itself through the terrible rage of the fires in Australia. Evidence of the climate emergency shows itself in the severe draughts, here and elsewhere, the melting of the icecaps, desperate global poverty, the rapid depletion of resources and much more.
THANK YOU. Let us have a quiet moment together.
Update. 10 January 2020.
Six weeks after the above talk, scientists now estimate more than 1.2 billion creatures, have died in the fires in Australia. Wild creatures, farm animals and pets have been burnt to death. The fires may have exterminated numerous species.
12.5 million acres of rainforests, forests, lush countryside, farms and homes have been destroyed. This is 50,000 square kilometres. That amounts to around 2.5 times the size of Wales. Around 2600 homes in Australia have been incinerated or badly damaged. 24 people have died.
Protests on the streets of Australian cities continue to take place at the slow response of the government to this national emergency. There are still seven weeks of summer to go in Australia and no respite. The heatwaves may continue into March. Water in many reservoirs gets lower. Brave firecrews could not put out fires because they had no water.
In December 2019, the Climate Change Performance Index ranked Australia as the worst performing country of 57 countries. The report criticised the Australian government for being a ‘regressive force” internationally on matters of action to resolve the climate crisis.
May all beings conserve the energy wasted on anxiety and fears
May all beings takes step to co-operate with others for change,
for ecological survival
May all beings find ways to protect our vulnerable Earth and its inhabitants