Imagine a microscopic bacteria lands on your neck and unbeknown to you begins tunnelling through your skin and flesh in search of your spinal fluid – a source of energy for this micro-organism. Over a matter of weeks, the bacteria multiply to span an area as large as a postage stamp – you notice nothing. Six months later they cover your body and the pathways to your spinal fluid are highly intricate and networked. You start to feel tired but put it down to your busy lifestyle. Do you wonder if perhaps you’re just ‘feeling your age’?
A year after the first landing you are sick. Dizzy most of the time, pins and needles, blurred vision. Next, you are forced to take leave from work and the doctors are mystified. As they monitor you in hospital they notice a speedy deterioration, calling for your family they let them know, you have a matter of weeks left. They remain baffled. The bacteria is yet to be identified by science and your death, days later, goes down as a mystery.
I wonder how this analogy resonates with you as a model for humanity’s relationship with the Earth and oil? I wonder if Earth is itself a life form – as so many of our wisdom traditions hold – what might the real purpose of this mysterious black planetary-bodily-fluid (oil) be? What have we disrupted and changed forever through our adolescent awareness and unconscious actions?
Did you know that the origin of oil is a matter of scientific theory but not scientific fact? I didn’t. In our current state of evolution, we do not know whether oil forms biogenically (dead organisms being processed by pressure and time) or abiogenically (that somehow oil forms naturally inside the earth and possibly dates from the genesis of planetary formation). When I discovered this it did make me wonder how bold and reckless we are to impact a natural process so fundamentally with so little knowledge.
Whichever oil genesis theory may be right, and we must I suppose leave room for both theories to be wrong, it is quickly becoming evident that exponential growth of humanity as a species cannot be fuelled by the finite resources or decomposing carbon-based life – that much has been obvious for decades. We can no longer fuel life with life – that can only ever be a dead end, a zero-sum game. This is what landed me in a meditative exploration recently. That and the fact that oil is very poorly understood.
As we contemplate our relationship with oil we notice how humanity, in its adolescent phase of development undermines its own best interests. Like many teens, we are experimenting with virtues whilst intoxicated by new powers and strength. This is necessarily a tumultuous time fraught with social divisions, and yet rich with successes and failures. There is a sorting out going on. Do you remember your late teens? Rays of brilliance, moments of recklessness, terrible choices, and occasional genius.
As I was writing this article, I noticed that Boris Johnson’s speechwriter is riffing on a similar theme:
“We have come to that fateful age when we know roughly how to drive and we know how to unlock the drinks cabinet and to engage in all sorts of activity that is not only potentially embarrassing but also terminal… We believe that someone else will clear up the mess we make because that is what someone else has always done. We trash our habitats again and again with the inductive reasoning that we have got away with it so far, and therefore we will get away with it again. My friends, the adolescence of humanity is coming to an end. We must come together in a collective coming of age.”
I agree that these words are true. I’m not quite so sure just how compelling they are in the mouth of someone with such creaky climate credentials.
As I was musing on oil this month, I also came across the fact that the concept of the ‘carbon footprint’, was the brainchild of an advertising firm (Ogilvy & Mather) around 2004 working for BP. The intention was to promote the idea that climate change is not the fault of an oil giant, but that of individuals. A neat little sleight of hand, and so revealing of the lack of awareness and integrity at play.
If the most powerful agents of change – the oil companies – have spent billions misleading humanity – blaming consumers and greenwashing their reputations, in real terms, this means we are yet to really acknowledge the problem (take responsibility for our part in it) let alone do anything about it.
If there was Conscious Leadership to be done at the COP26 it would be an exploration of integrity, a reckoning of truths, and a move towards transparency to rebuild trust.
The world is watching, breathing in the fumes.
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