If someone were to say “let’s examine who we are and embody a new way of being” as a solution to the environmental crisis, you may be tempted to dismiss them with skepticism. With the wealth of scientific knowledge and technology at our fingertips, ruminating on who we are and who we should be seems trivial. Questions like this seem out of place in the environmental crisis discussion. But perhaps that’s part of the problem.
At Pachamama Alliance, who we are holds just as much importance as what we do. Afterall, how we define ourselves informs both our beliefs about the world and our actions. If this is the case, then who are we as a human family?
The Illusion of Separation
There are a lot of different ways to answer this question, but one answer comes from examining our relationship to the Earth.
Our society operates within a worldview that sees humans as individuals separate from one another and separate from the Earth. This worldview is more than just the story we tell ourselves about who we are. It is a predominant way of being that informs, shapes, and manifests our actions, our beliefs, the systems that organize society, and the way we relate to each other as well as our environment. And it has destructive consequences.
How the Illusion of Separation Has Fueled the Environmental Crisis
When we view ourselves as separate from the Earth, we can more easily justify exploiting it for our personal gain. We see it as an object existing solely as a means to our own short-term benefit. We relate to its living systems as resources for us to use, manipulate, and dispose of when they’re no longer of use. We then start to see the Earth as having value only insofar as it can serve us and our interests. This further justifies its exploitation and destruction.
For Pachamama Alliance’s Indigenous partners in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, the impact of the illusion of separation on the Earth is abundantly clear. Deforestation, forest fires, drilling for fossil fuels, and dumping toxic waste from extractivism are just some of the ways we destroy the Earth for short-term gain. Meanwhile, we fail to see how destroying even one ecosystem, let alone multiple living systems at once, may disrupt the ecological balance of the entire planet.
Consider the Sacred Headwaters of the Amazon. Pachamama Alliance has partnered with local Indigenous communities in Ecuador and Peru to permanently protect this area, which is about the size of Oregon. It’s but one small region of the Amazon Rainforest spanning Southeast Ecuador and Northern Peru, but it drives the planetary weather system and replenishes Earth’s fresh water supplies. Destroying even just this region alone would disrupt the entire distribution of rain on Earth. Without the Sacred Headwaters, we would not have clean water to drink or a healthy water cycle, things we often take for granted but make life on Earth possible.
Embodying Interconnectedness: an Overlooked Solution
But, according to Pachamama Alliance’s Indigenous partners, protecting the Amazon Rainforest won’t be enough to address the environmental crisis. They have taught us that the solution lies in humanity embodying a new way of being, one in which we authentically recognize the interconnectedness of all life.
Interconnectedness is the idea that all things are connected and have an impact on each other. We mean several things by this:
- Humanity is connected to all life.
- Humans are connected to the Earth. We are not separate from the Earth and the Earth is not outside of ourselves.
- What we do has consequences to all.
- What we do to others, we do to ourselves. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.
- We are not individuals living separate lives; rather, we are interdependent on each other and all come from the same source of life.
- Environmental sustainability, spiritual fulfillment, and social justice are not three separate issues, but rather interrelated facets of the same whole.
How Embodying Interconnectedness Can Address the Environmental Crisis
When we recognize the interconnectedness of all life, we start to see connections we hadn’t seen before. And once we start seeing those connections, we have a more holistic perspective of the world and the challenges we face. We become less blind to the root causes of our problems and widespread consequences of our actions, and can create solutions that address multipronged issues that touch all aspects of society.
Once we start seeing that all life is interconnected, we start to see that environmental and social issues are interrelated facets of the same crisis. Anxiety, depression, loneliness, and loss of purpose fuel our highly consumptive habits, which encourages the destruction of the Earth. Meanwhile, the exploitation of the Earth has adverse effects that disproportionately burden marginalized communities. Not only are marginalized communities more likely to live and work in places where the effects of the environmental crisis are more present, but they also have access to fewer resources to offset those impacts.
Interconnectedness helps us see how a lack of spiritual fulfillment encourages habits that destroy the Earth, and in that process, we treat certain people as less valuable or even disposable. It also shows us that the solutions to these problems address not just one aspect of society, but several simultaneously.
Take educating girls, for example. At first glance, it’s not obvious how educating girls can address the environmental crisis. But educating girls gives them more autonomy over their reproductive health, provides them with the tools to obtain a higher standard of living, and presents opportunities for them to contribute more to the well-being of their communities, including the ecosystems there. As a result, girls have fewer babies who are healthier and equipped to be agents of change in their communities.
Given that over 60 million girls around the world today do not have access to education, it’s easy to see how limiting opportunities for them has had disastrous results for our communities and the Earth. Embodying interconnectedness means relating to social justice and environmental justice as one interrelated issue. As Kenny Ausubel, founder of Bioneers, says, “Taking care of nature means taking care of people, and taking care of people means taking care of nature.”
A New Way of Being
Recognizing the interconnectedness of all life is just the beginning. We must dedicate a lifetime to practice embodying it so that we see our well-being as integrally tied up with the well-being of the Earth. The Earth is alive and a part of us, just as we are alive and a part of it. To separate ourselves from the Earth is an illusory misconception of who we are. We are the Earth and the Earth is us.
Take Pachamama Alliance’s free Reversing Global Warming online course to discover how you can be part of the solution.