Angaangaq Agakkorsuaq, a Kalaallit elder from Northern Greenland told of how two young men from his tribe went hunting in January 1963. As part of the ceremony, they went to touch the wall of big ice to thank the Earth for the hunt. In those days the big ice was five kilometres thick. (Now it measures about three kilometres.) As one of the hunters looked up at the wall of ice, he noticed water dripping, something that had never been seen before. Upon their return, the people didn’t believe them at first. Nor did scientists take them seriously, as they thought it impossible that ice could melt at those arctic temperatures. It was only much later that it was understood how water could flow under the ice. ’Water is a living thing. She will always find a crack to go down. She doesn’t freeze below, that’s how she could flow out.’
A shaman and a story teller, as a young man, Angangaaq was told by his parents to become a runner, to share the wisdom of his elders with the world and to melt the ice in the hearts of the people. ‘I come from the oldest part of the world; a land where there has never been any war.’ In 1978 he went to New York to speak to the United Nations about climate change. ‘I told them, the big ice is melting.’ On his return, the elders asked him, ‘did the people at the United Nations listen to you?’ ‘Oh yes, it went down very well. They gave me a standing ovation.’
’But did they hear you?’
Angaangaq answered his own question. ‘No, they did not. The sun now comes up four days early in the North. That means that the Earth has begun to shift. I need to tell you that it’s too late. I depended upon you to hear the message. You did not change. Now, at the last minute you say we need to do something.’
He turned to face his audience and pressing his fingertips together, Angangaaq told us straight, ‘It is your fault. He turned and faced another section of the audience. ‘And it is your fault. I am a grandfather. I wanted to have a beautiful place to give my grandchildren. I cannot. It is my fault. Why did you not listen to the indigenous world who told you over and over and over?’
Angaangaq had started his talk lightly, making us laugh about how he had lost his luggage, joking about the state of his clothes, asking if we had ever been to London, telling us not to bother going. Now the hall was electric in its silence. ‘You didn’t look upon me as an equal because I come from far away, because I speak a different language. Did you think you are worth more? Do you think your education is better than mine? Let me tell you, mine is much better than yours. I know how to hunt. Did you know that animals can understand me when I talk to them? They decide amongst themselves which one it should be, so that my family can live. I step with gentle feet in honour of Mother Earth because that is what we are supposed to do, while you rape her, you cut the forest! What’s the matter with you? What went wrong? Why did you lose your ceremony and the ability to honour and respect others?’ Even as he was impassioned and pained, he spoke without rancour.
’This is the spiritual significance of climate change. You are each a spiritual being because you have a beautiful heart. How do we know this? Because when you smile you are stunningly beautiful! It’s not enough to know this though. We have to learn to live together. We have only one earth, one water, one fire, one air. That’s all we have. You are part of Mother Earth. Just because you are a white man, that does not make you separate. You have never been separate.’
And then Angaangaq picked up the Qilaut, the pair of sacred wind drums, and sang out his wordless prayer, evoking the vast empty tundra. He placed a drum either either side of his head and bent in turn to each person in the front row, enveloping their ears between the drums, creating a channel between them. As his calls resonated throughout the hall, strong and yet wavering at times, those sounds were the only response imaginable to what he had just said.
As he laid the Qilaut down, his shirt soaked with sweat, he told us, ‘I cry because of climate change. It hurts me that we came so far apart from each other.’ Then he smiled at us. ‘You owe me a cup of coffee.’ And so he ended his talk in an eruption of laughter and tears and applause, causing the audience to get to their feet.
Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq was one of the speakers at the conference for Climate Change and Consciousness being held at Findhorn in April 2019. Keynote speakers included Vandana Shiva, Charles Eisenstein and Jonathan Porritt. Indigenous leaders attended from communities all over the world, including the Arrernte and Anmatyerr nations in Australia, Maoris from New Zealand, the Arhuaco in Northern Colombia, the Kuntanawa tribe in the Brazilian Amazon and people from Zambia, Malawi, Senegal and Namibia.
A few weeks before the conference, I heard that Polly Higgins, the visionary founder of Ecocide Law and the Earth Community Trust was very sick with an aggressive abdominal cancer. Thousands of people were praying for her life. She was a keynote speaker and wanted to be at the conference in any way that she could, so If she felt strong enough she would speak via Skype. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez had also been unwell and was going to speak via Skype as would Bill McKibben and Christiana Figueres. In their different ways these speakers had been feeling under pressure and needed to look after their health by not making the long journey to Scotland. It seemed that many of these brave ambassadors for the Earth were burning out. As the warnings from scientists about climate change get louder, as business stubbornly persists as usual, as the toll of murdered indigenous earth protectors rises year by year, the pressure mounts upon those who are a voice for the health of the planet.
In his opening speech, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and a pioneer of the climate change movement certainly seemed weighed down. He stressed that we are out of time. ‘We don’t know if we are going to win this fight.’ He described how for the first fifteen years of his career he believed that once scientists had proved the reality of climate change, governments would do what needs to be done. He sighed deeply as he talked about the devastating discovery made five years ago, that the fossil fuel industry had long understood what was going on. Whistleblowers revealed that in 1982, Exxon, one of the richest companies of the world, used their own scientists to research and calculate the implications of continuing to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The company actually took into account rising sea levels when planning future oil rigs. They were marking the spots they would be drilling in the Arctic once the ice had melted. The fossil fuel industry lied about its findings to maintain business for a few more decades, even at the cost of the planet. ‘That lie has to be the most consequential lie in human history,’ said Bill. It’s bitter to reflect on this, particularly since last year’s IPCC’s report gave us only twelve years to limit climate change catastrophe.
Sometimes the conversation about climate change reduces it to being a problem of too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causing global warming. I recently heard the presenter on the Radio 4 program, Costing the Earth, refer to carbon dioxide as being a ‘pesky problem’ and a ‘public enemy’, as though it were an inconvenience that isn’t to do with us. While sucking carbon out of the air with machines, storing it underground, converting it into fertilisers, plastics, synthetic oils and building materials might sound like an effective bullet to a worrying problem, this approach proves a commitment to keeping things as close as possible to how they are without really requiring us to change.
‘If greenhouse gases weren’t a problem, would it be okay to cut down the Amazon?’ Charles Eisenstein.
‘We’re used to declaring war on a problem whether it concerns terrorism, refugees, disease or climate change. We want something which will attack the cause and solve everything,’ said Charles Eisenstein when he spoke at the Findhorn conference. While not denying the value of quantitive measures, he spoke of the need to respond from a different place, one where we recognise that geological, political, social and psychic climates are all interconnected. ‘It is not enough to to act because we are worried about all the bad things that will happen to us...So long as we are disconnected we are going to be addicted to one sort of consumption or another. Keeping all of that in place and switching fuel sources won’t solve anything.’
He referred to climate change as an initiation. This made me think of how young human beings are relative to life on earth. Most of us are like a bunch of wayward, entitled teenagers, grabbing and snatching without thanks, leaving a mess behind us: teenagers needing boundaries, in acute need of initiation. The outcome of initiations are by their very nature unknown. Of course we do not know if we will ‘win this fight’. It depends whether we, those undergoing the initiation wake up to a different consciousness or not.
If we realised that the Earth were alive, said Charles Eisenstein, we might understand that the mangroves, the coral reefs, the sea grass meadow, the rivers, mountains, forests and the soil are all the organs of a living being. He made the connection between our objectification of the Earth and our abuse of her. ‘If you knew that she could feel, you would stop.‘
Polly Higgins worked as a barrister to protect future generations and the sanctity of life, her client being the Earth. Since the 1950’s most of law making has been financed by industry, rather than what is in the best interest of humanity or the rest of the planet. By setting up Earth Protectors and working to get Ecocide recognised, Polly was restoring our faith in the justice system.
On Easter Sunday, during the conference and just four days before she was due to speak, Polly Higgins died. Many knew her there and were greatly affected by her death. Clare Dubois, founder of Tree Sisters, spoke of Polly’s fierce courage and her willingness to call the world to account. She described the relief that many of us feel when as long as a leader, such as David Attenborough, Nelson Mandela or Polly Higgins takes up the baton, somehow we feel we don’t have to. Despite her positivity and warmth, Polly had trouble accepting help at times and went through intense patches of depression. Several attempts on her life had been made within the last six months. It was poignant to watch an interview with Polly, looking vibrant and beautiful, recorded in February just weeks before her diagnosis. She had been working with her team to leave a strategy in place. Apparently, Polly died with a smile upon her face, knowing that she had just about managed to do so. ‘If we put ecocide law into place things can change on a pinhead,’ she said in the interview. As Clare Dubois said, ‘Her passing is a passing of the baton to us all.’ One of her legacies is setting up Earth Protectors. Each person who signs up to be an Earth Protector, not only protects themselves legally when defending life on earth, but also strengthens the case to make ecocide a crime.
You can sign up below.
Walking out amongst the dunes at Findhorn, I saw livid smoke banking up on the horizon. It came from the wildfires on the Scottish moors, a sobering reminder of the world ‘out there’. During that week another cyclone hit Mozambique and Malawi. One of the indigenous elders came from Malawi and he spoke of the devastation to the people and to the land, which made it feel more immediate. As Bolsonaro schemes to sell off the Amazon for oil, as machines pulp and pellet forests, as the polar ice melts, of course we lose heart and despair at times. ‘What can I possibly do?’ is a natural question to ask oneself.
Within the last few days I heard somebody say how human beings are worse than vermin, that the Earth would be better off without us, which is perhaps an attempt to manage the unbearable reality of our present condition and the impotence we feel in the face of that. Still, it is shocking to me that we might think so little of ourselves. Another friend spoke of her despair at the prospect of 5G, at what consequences such extensive exposure to short waved radiation might have upon our health. ‘The only comfort to me,’ said this young mother, ‘is that perhaps it will finish us all off sooner rather than later.’ How devastating that she should say that, when all her instincts are to protect her child. After all, it isn’t just about us. To those who say, ‘well even if we blow it, the Earth will be alright’, Charles Eisenstein says, ‘You wouldn’t say that to a mother about losing her children would you?’
There is no simple solution. Climate change is as intricate and interconnected as the Earth and all her living systems. ‘It’s good to realise that you have no idea what to do and that we need each other.’ Charles Eisenstein also spoke about how part of admitting that we don’t know is to begin to listen to those who have been excluded. Our ‘fossil fuel mind’ which Vandana Shiva referred to, originated in industrialisation, was built on colonisation, which was founded on slavery. Everything became about the efficiency of the machine. The Industrial Age gave no value to the Earth herself, but saw her as dead. ‘The fossil fuel age created us as consumers of energy when we are actually creators of energy. We are Shakti!’ She beamed at us, beautiful in a green silk sari, radiating intelligence and energy.
Charles Eisenstein mentioned various indigenous responses to why we have climate change, which go way further than simply creating excessive greenhouse gases. To reflect on these responses points us towards living connections.
‘It’s because you are not allowing the rivers to reach the sea.’ - Zuni.
’It’s because people are stealing the metals. The gold is the heart and soul of the mountains.’ Brazilian Amazonian.
’It’s because you have removed sacred artefacts placed on key energy points and stopped doing ceremonies. These artefacts and ceremonies are part of a covenant people have to maintain our climate.’ Dogan.
Charles Eisenstein lists our priorities as follows:
1. To protect intact ecosystems and the people who live there. Gaia’s memory of health still exists in places such as the Amazon and the mangroves of South East Asia, a memory which can be transmitted eventually to other areas.
2. To regenerate damaged ecosystems by taking care of the soil and planting trees, by asking, what does the land want, rather than say using drones to plant millions of trees at a time.
3. To stop poisoning the planet on a tissue level and cease dousing the world in toxic chemicals and radioactive waste.
4. To reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases.
‘Every action we take is a communication and declaration of who we are and what the world is to be. Somehow that affects the climate.’ Charles Eisenstein.
Whether we think it’s too late as Angangaak Angakkorsuaq told us, or whether we believe like Jonathan Porritt does that we still have a small window of time to affect climate change, it’s a burden to be alive now, knowing what is going on. It is also an immense privilege. Sometimes I can’t quite believe that I am alive at this particular time when it seems that everything is coming to a head. The antidote to despair is to come together. In 2016 I joined the water protectors at Standing Rock, living together, praying together in ceremony and protecting the water together. It was there at Standing Rock that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez found the inspiration to go into a politics founded on social justice, initiating a startling new kind of political conversation and coming up with the Green New Deal. As Jonathan Porritt said, ‘this is important stuff!’
As we gathered in Findhorn, Extinction Rebellion stopped the traffic in London, birdsong was once again heard in Marble Arch and over 1000 people volunteered to be arrested in order to bring attention to climate change. Soon afterwards the British parliament declared a climate emergency. A little over a year ago, Greta Thurnberg protested alone outside the Swedish parliament. Over 1.4 million students have since joined her school strikes. The genie is out of the bottle. Things happen when we get together, things which only a short while ago would not have seemed possible. As the polar ice melts ever more, I think about how after Uncle Angaangaak spoke at the conference, so many were in tears. I found tears coming to my eyes for days afterwards. It seems that to wake up from this mad dream of endless economic growth and separation, in order to feel reconnected once again to our place in the intricate web of this beautiful world, the ice must melt in our hearts.
’The highest law is the consciousness about being part of a sacred universe.’ Vandana Shiva.