Consciousness v Catastrophe

“There is now a single issue before us: survival.
Not merely physical survival, but survival in a world of fulfillment,
survival in a living world, where the violets bloom in the springtime,
where the stars shine down in all their mystery,
survival in a world of meaning.”

—Thomas Berry

In November 1992, a few months after the Earth Summit in Rio, a document entitled ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’ was released. It was signed by more than sixteen hundred senior scientists from across the globe, including over half of all Nobel Prize winners. They listed the crises in global pollution, deforestation, biodiversity and human overpopulation and warned that:

No more than a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished…. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievable mutilated.

Two decades have passed and although there is certainly a greater recognition of the dangers of climate change there is still a stunning complacency around the severity of its impact. Proposed solutions tend to be bandaids rather than radical responses to root causes. For example, economic growth is still seen as being the cure for all ills. The notion of economic sustainability remains well outside our political agendas. We continue our daily pursuit of consumerist inspired happiness with little or no recognition of the need for restraint in the use of the Earth’s precious resources.  We are like the passengers on the Titanic who were so blissfully confident that the ship was unsinkable that when it hit the iceberg they carried on dressing for dinner and playing bridge. Panic set in later; ss Earth has struck the iceberg of Western civilization. The impact of our Western lifestyle and technology on the delicate balance of the Earth’s ecosystem has been compared with that of a collision with a giant meteor. Life as we know it is under serious threat.

Our denial of this reality is aided by the fact that the effects are gradual rather than catastrophic. This allows us to exhibit what we might call the ‘frog effect”; a frog, if placed in warm water that is heated slowly will sit there and literally boil to death. However, if it is placed in hot water it will have the sense to leap out and save itself.

Our denial is also assisted by the cleverness of our technology. We can create artificial environments that help to delude us into believing that it’s business as usual. We can tell ourselves that, one way or another, our wondrous technology will avert catastrophe without our having to unduly modify our consumer driven lifestyles.

Our material comforts and high tech distractions numb our senses and encourages us to believe that we are indestructible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many civilizations lie buried beneath the ravages of time destroyed by human greed and corruption and no doubt every one of them succumbed to the frog effect. What is critically different about Western civilization is not its indestructibility but its capacity to destroy. Never before has a civilisation dominated the entire planet.  Never before has a civilisation threatened the survival of the planet. And, above all, never before has a civilisation lost touch with a sense of the sacredness of the natural world.

On the positive side, the failure of our Western culture and democracy to meet the challenges arising in our time could well be the catalyst for a dramatic shift in human consciousness, an earthquake of the mental plane.


In the words of poet Christopher Fry:


Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The largest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul sized

The enterprise

Is exploration into God.

Where are you making for? It takes

So many thousand years to wake,

But will you wake for pity’s sake

[A sleep of Prisoners. Quoted in Houston 1982: Preface]


Affairs indeed are now ‘soul sized’. They call for a giant evolutionary step into a new way of seeing and feeling and being. It is delusional to believe that the problems besetting us can be solved by the same worldview or model of reality that created them.

We desperately need  new model of reality, a new story for humanity that will rescues us from the meaningless abyss of scientific materialism and mindless consumerism.  We are beginning to see that new story  being forged in the midst of crisis across many different disciplines.  Our new story, totally compatible with scientific discoveries and ancient spiritual wisdom, is that our universe is a sublime living evolving interconnected whole that is becoming conscious of itself through us. Our new story places consciousness not material progress centre stage in our evolutionary journey.  It is a story that transcends the separation of mind and matter, psyche and cosmos, inside and outside.

Arising from our new story and waiting to be awakened collectively is a consciousness that transcends the fear driven agendas of the ego, a consciousness that can experience the subtle interconnectedness of everything, and that honours the sacredness of the universe.  Above all a consciousness that will move us to serve the earth community with wisdom, compassion and humility. This awakened state of being is no longer the prerogative of the saint and the shaman. It is the evolutionary birthright of every one of us and the time to claim it is now “When wrong comes up to face us everywhere”.

Finally, the evolutionary vision is enabling us to discern, however incompletely, the lineaments of the new religion that…will arise to serve the needs of the coming era”.

—Julian Huxley: (grandson of Thomas Huxley, the biologist who supported Darwin)


(Blogs to follow on the  Big History of the evolution of the cosmos  and on  cultural evolution, including  Western aberrations.)