In late April 2019, the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland produced an international conference titled “Climate Change and Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth.” Participants representing 41 countries traveled from the Global North and South to converse with like-minds, and grapple with current events.
I applied to attend, seeing that the diverse “voices in the room” were to include representatives of the arts.
Summarizing the 7-day conference has proved challenging. My aim here is to spark further interest in these frontline champions, and the important messages they bring.
Bill McKibben, USA
“Winning slowly with climate change is another way of losing. We don’t have time anymore, so we have to ask ourselves: what are the most important things to do now?”
“I spent the first half of the last 30 years operating under a delusion that we were engaged in an argument . . . all based on the assumption that once there was enough data and understanding on the table, the powers that be would do the things that needed to be done. It took me too long to realize that was a dramatic misunderstanding of the situation. [We’d already won the argument] but we were losing the fight, because the fight was not about data and reason, it was about money and power.”
“[We are] engaging in
the majestic conversation
of our time.”
Vandana Shiva, India
“We Are Shakti,” in Hinduism, the force responsible for creation, and the agent of all change.
“Oil made us forget soil. There is an ancient Veda saying, ‘In this handful of soil is your future—take care of it and it will take care of you.’ The history of every civilization that is gone is a history of people who stopped caring for the soil. Fossil fuels made us forget our duty to the living earth.”
Vandana is a leading opponent of GMOs and corporations that strive to control water and seed. She is a founder of Navdanya, a non-governmental organization that promotes Earth Democracy, Eco-Feminism, and Agro-Ecology. She holds a PhD in Quantum Physics.
Watch: The Seeds of Vandana Shiva
Polly Higgins, United Kingdom
Lawyer for the Earth
“Dare To Be Great”
Polly Higgins, the brilliant legal mind who brought the term “Ecocide” to international attention (and to the International Tribunal in The Hague), was scheduled to speak on April 25th. A shockwave hit the greater environmental community when she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, just weeks before the conference began. She suffered a rapid decline, and died on Easter Sunday, April 21st.
Her longtime friend and co-activist, Clare Dubois, delivered a powerful eulogy from the conference floor:
“Polly stood in a place that has no name . . . that place where crimes and abuse are condoned, declaring, “I shall not move until this injustice is undone.”
“We all have access to immense courage. No more standing by and watching and waiting for someone else. We are incarnate now, and our souls chose to show up now, for the biggest show on earth. Will humanity, or will humanity not, turn the evolutionary corner? Will we shift from being so-called consumers to actual restorers?”
Watch: Leadership and A Law of Ecocide • Polly Higgins Visolela (Rosa) Namises, Namibia
“Those who do not know the village they come from, will not find the village they are looking for.” Visolela has been a prominent voice in Namibia, against human-rights violations and violence against women and children, where speaking out on such issues has led to attempts against her life. She has been jailed and exiled, and later returned to become a Member of Parliament. She is currently the director of Women Solidarity Namibia, and works at a daycare center for vulnerable children. In conversing with her, I sensed only her joy in life.
Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Northern Greenland
“It is too late for Big Ice. It cannot be saved now. It is too late, and it is your fault, because you did not listen! You did nothing!”
Angaangaq cites running water in central western Greenland in the middle of the winter, at -35°C. Glaciers are melting so fast now, they continue to melt in the wintertime.
Haru Kuntanawa, Brazilian Amazon
Haru is dedicated to fighting for his tribe’s traditional rainforest territory, their cultural diversity, and local biodiversity. Speaking through an interpreter, he stated, “No blame. We are all in this together. Many people like to take journeys; the best journey we can make is inside of ourselves.”
Calixto Suarez Villafane, Sierra Nevada, Columbia
Emissary of the Mamos Majores, of the Arhuaco people, and director of One Earth Institute, which merges indigenous knowledge with sustainability innovation. He reminded us that we are of the earth, and therefore, we are important to the earth. He strongly opposes the suggestion that human extinction would benefit the earth. He teaches that we are the best catalysts for change and must not remove ourselves from the equation or the solution.
At the end of the intensive week, I noticed a “Free Hugs” sign in the Findhorn auditorium foyer, but I did not see anyone gathering there. Hugs and greetings were plentiful at meal times, where family size tables allowed for fluid conversations (and some fruitful eavesdropping) between as many as eight people.
Conversations developed with, and between, European economists and atmospheric scientists, African educators, British economists, and Irish farmers, to name a few. International solidarity was the most obvious result, replacing any notion that we might reach some conclusions in the span of one week. (Only those involved in socially responsible investing appeared confident of their ability to affect international policy.)
I had the good fortune to sit at Vandana Shiva’s table one night. She inquired of my town, and thought she had heard of it, but wasn’t sure she had ever visited. She asked, “Are there hippies in Sebastopol?” I answered, “Oh yes,” and she replied, with an affirming laugh, “Then I’ve been there!”
Altering the Zeitgeist
Bill McKibben closed his opening-night talk with these humbling words:
“There is no guarantee we will win the [CO2] fight. It’s possible that we waited too long to get started. The momentum for physical change on this planet is now very great, and very daunting. That said, we are going to put up a good fight.”
“That fight is the key testament
to human dignity
in this moment on earth.”
I stepped out of the auditorium just ahead of the crowd. Alone, walking along a starlit path, and with a strong, cold mist hitting my face (which awakened me as much as McKibben’s message had), I stopped in total darkness to witness the loud and expressive calls of an enormous team of geese flying unusually close to the earth. ◊
© Cynthia Albers, 2019, All Rights Reserved
All photographs by Cynthia Albers, with the exception of conference speakers.