Plant spirit shamans – natural healers who work with herbs, ritual, and the elements – have long known that the world is not made up of discrete and separate parts, but that we are all one: that the butterfly effect of a single extra drop of water released from a cloud into a Gloucestershire river could eventually lead to flooding in the distant streets of London.
Through Gaia Theory and a more informed understanding in recent years of how the natural world, the environment, and the climate really works, some scientists are also coming round to the shaman’s age-old view of the connections between all things.
How might these scientists and the shamans counter some of the current scepticism about ‘carbon footprints’ and climate change, and what might they say about the ‘freak weather conditions’ many of us have been experiencing lately? What are the objections of the sceptics, what are the facts, and what are scientists and modern-day shamans saying?
DOES CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2) CAUSE GLOBAL WARMING?
The sceptics say there is no “proof” of this. But proof is not the job of science, which deals, in fact, with the art of probabilities. Scientists, that is, make hypotheses (‘best guesses’) which are there not to be proved, but to be disproved – if possible.
The current best guess – that CO2 does create a Greenhouse Effect by trapping solar radiation in the atmosphere and causing temperatures rises on Earth – has been around since 1829, when Joseph Fourier first put forward this hypothesis – and no-one’s proved him wrong yet.
Indeed, a recent survey of almost 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles could not find one which disagreed that climate change is a man-made phenomenon and that our output of CO2 plays a large part in this.
Even those with a vested interest in proving the scientists wrong – like oil companies Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and BP – have all issued statements recently agreeing with the evidence: that climate change is taking place, that is happening as a result of our activities, and that CO2 is a factor.
One place you can work out your own carbon footprint is direct.gov.uk/ActOnCO2. You might be surprised at just how much you contribute.
If you’d then like the chance to something positive and practical to reduce it, another site to check is [http://www.thefourgates.com/villagefundraisers.html#earth] thefourgates.com – then follow the link from The Village page to the fundraisers page and click on the Earth C.O.S.T. link: Carbon Offset to Save Trees).
WHAT ABOUT SOLAR RADIATION? DOESN’T THAT CAUSE CLIMATE CHANGE?
The current counter-theory to CO2 as the cause of global warming and climate change is one which seeks to lay the blame on solar radiation. It seems at best, however, to be a no-theory. It has been known for many years, that is – and commonsense should tell us in any case! – that solar radiation plays a part in keeping the planet warm, because when the Sun shines we all get a tan!
The science, however, shows that the Sun plays a much smaller role than greenhouse gasses in the situation now facing us.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER ‘NATURAL CAUSES’ – LIKE ANIMALS AND WATER VAPOR?
Water vapour is a known part of the Greenhouse Effect – but it reacts to changes in climate rather than causing climate change. Evaporation and precipitation is a cycle and any water in the atmosphere doesn’t stay there for more than a few weeks.
Nature itself, in its widest to its narrowest forms, is also cyclical: the cycle of life and death. Animals and plants live, die, and become food for others, and the CO2 they create gets used up elsewhere as a result of this natural cycle.
Humans meanwhile, pump six gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year and take little if any out. Nor do we put any fresh air back. We could do through activities like tree planting, since every tree naturally offsets 650 kg of CO2, transforming pollution, offsetting carbon, and giving us back fresh air. The problem is that few people are planting trees and, in fact, deforestation – the reverse of what we should be doing – is a major issue.
In 1600, for example, over 12% of Ireland was covered by broadleaf forests. By 1800, the figure was down to 2%. Since then, the country has been working to restore its forests but, by 2000, only 7% of woodlands had been returned. And, in the urgency to put trees back, the bulk of planting has been non-native trees. Many of these – like the iroko, from West Africa – are being logged in such an unsustainable way that if the present rate of depletion continues the forests there will be gone in five years. The outcome is stalemate (at best).
It is for these reasons that The Village has introduced the Earth C.O.S.T. Programme to plant a new forest of indigenous trees at its Centre for environmental and personal healing.
As it is, the Earth absorbs about half of our current CO2 but the rest hangs around as a greenhouse gas. Cutting back on energy usage and planting more trees would help. We know this because levels of CO2 have been stable for thousands of years until the Industrial Revolution began 150 years ago and deforestation also became rife.
ISN’T CLIMATE CHANGE JUST PART OF A NATURAL CYCLE?
It is true that every 100,000 years or so the Earth is subject to climate changes due to its orbit around the Sun. This is known as Milankovitch Cycle and its effects as well as its timeline are all fairly predictable.
In the 1970s, for example, scientists were already warning of a coming Ice Age as a result of this Cycle, so nothing’s changed there – except the timing. We should be able to predict about 50,000 years of natural warming as a result of the Milankovitch Cycle, that is; the problem, however, is that current warming is off the scale by a factor of – well, a lot! – if only the Milankovitch Cycle was the cause.
Climate change and global warming is speeding the process up.
WE CAN’T PREDICT THE WEATHER EVEN A FEW DAYS AHEAD SO HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT THE CLIMATE OF THE FUTURE HOLDS?
Firstly, weather isn’t climate. Weather refers to individual instances of sun or rain in specific geographical areas; climate is the average of all these instances over a bigger area and a longer period of time. Weather changes rapidly (which is why it can be so hard to predict) but climate is relatively stable.
An analogy, if you’re a gambling man, is the form of a particular horse. Of course you can’t predict (i.e. know) if he’ll win the race you’ve just bet the house on, but if you look back over his form, his performance on certain fields, and his fitness levels now, then average out his wins against losses, you can get an idea of his potential in this coming race – enough to make an informed decision, at least, on where to place your bet.
Which brings us back to our first point, since this is also how science works: through educated best guesses. And the current best guess, after studying past form and looking at the health of the planet now, is that man-made CO2 is leading to raised temperatures and to climate change.
WHAT DO THE SHAMANS SAY?
The Sioux medicine man Black Elk spoke early last century of the “sacred hoop of life”, that all things are “one” and that everything is part of a “great circle of existence”. Visionaries like Black Elk, and plant spirit shamans today, know that life on our planet amounts to far more than the discrete boxes, capable of control and intervention, that we have taken it to be until now.
James Lovelock – a visionary scientist rather than a shaman – has also shown, in our century, through his Gaia Hypothesis, that the world is alive, aware, and intelligent; a self-regulating organism that seeks balance, like our own bodies.
The job of human beings, says Lovelock, is “through our intelligence and communication [to act as] the nervous system of the planet. Through us, Gaia has seen herself from space and begins to know her place in the universe. We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady”.
A humble plea that we might start taking our rightful place by simply planting a few more trees.