The Point of Return
by Satish Kumar
Cover: Stacked Oak, by Andy Goldsworthy, using branches left over from locally felled trees Courtesy: Yorkshire Sculpture Park
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Stone Room, by Andy Goldsworthy: Yorkshire sandstone, dry stone construction, carved holes Courtesy:
THE POINT OF RETURN It is ‘cool’ to be an optimist.
PESSIMISM IS IN fashion. Scientists, environmentalists and climatologists are claiming that collapse is around the corner and civilisation is coming to an end. Book after book tells us that we have passed the tipping point and have reached the point of no return. The skies are saturated with CO2 and the atmosphere is filled with greenhouse gases. We are told over and over that whatever we do, we cannot reverse the rise in temperature or prevent the sea from flooding London! What happened to New Orleans will happen to New York. Global warming is here to stay. The scenario of doom and gloom is expounded by experts and activists alike.
We do not underestimate the severity of the climate crisis. We respect the scientists who are predicting a catastrophic future for humanity. We agree that our present way of life, so dependent on the use of fossil fuel, is hanging on a cliff edge. If we go any further we will fall into the abyss. So the only thing we can do now is to take a step back; let’s call it “the point of return”. We need to return to a way of life that is free from damaging dependence on fossil fuel.
At present we burn billions of barrels of petroleum every day for our food, clothes, homes, heating, lighting, transport and entertainment. This way of life is not only wasteful and unsustainable, but also very dangerous. As Sir Crispin Tickell writes in his article, it took nature 200 million years to create the vast store of fossil energy that we have almost spent in 200 years. The speed with which we are exhausting fossil energy is incredible. Sir Crispin suggests a fundamental shift in values and a radical return to a holistic worldview.
There is a word in Sanskrit for the point of return: it is pratikraman. Its opposite is atikraman, which means stepping outside our natural limits. Atikraman happens when we break the universal law. Returning to the centre of one’s being or to the source of inner wisdom is pratikraman. These two Sanskrit words provide a useful approach to understanding the current human predicament and a possible way out. A profound introspection is needed to examine the state of our psyche; we need to ask, are we meeting our need or indulging our greed? Are we healing or wounding the Earth?
In the context of climate change and global warming, addiction to oil is atikraman and a return to the energy derived from air, water and sun is pratikraman. One way to begin our pratikraman is to stop and put a cap on consumerism. We need a moratorium on motorways and runways. No new homes without insulation. We need to put an immediate freeze on industrialised agriculture everywhere in the world. Once we have put such a complete freeze on the use of fossil fuel, we can start the reduction process and the return journey to renewable resources. If we plan and manage our return journey carefully we should be able to escape the projected meltdown. We were able to repair the hole in the ozone layer by reducing the use of CFCs; we should be able to mitigate the extreme consequences of global warming if we can put an immediate cap on the use of fossil fuel and prepare to make the return journey instantly.
To meet the challenge of global warming, we need to change from being consumers to being artists; we have to take refuge in the arts and crafts. As William Morris advocated long ago, arts and crafts ignite our imagination, stimulate our creativity and bring us a sense of fulfilment. Poetry, painting, pottery, music, meditation, gardening, sculpting and umpteen other forms of arts and crafts can meet all
basic human needs; produce beautiful objects to use, which need not require the use of fossil fuel. Human happiness, true prosperity and joyful living can only emerge from a life of elegant simplicity.
We are at the point of return from gross to subtle, from glamorous to gracious, from hedonism to healing, from conquest of the Earth to conservation of Nature, and from quantities of possessions to quality of life. It is ‘cool’ to be an optimist.