The signs are more frequent and stronger now. Climate change is accelerating. To many, the sensation of being personally effected is inching forward and becoming more immediate. Those who might have imagined themselves immune or safe are seeing the floods, feeling the lapping of rising water, the storms, the heat and the fire.
To many more beyond the view of western media, climate change is already as real as the droughts, floods or rising seas already a part of their daily existence. The pace of change is accelerating. But while the distance is narrowing between an intellectual grasp of the issue and a direct intrusion of a destabilized climate into our lives, climate disruption remains an abstraction for many. Even so, it’s becoming obvious that to remain distant from the issue of climate change is to remain utterly dis-embodied.
Our bodies, being of the natural world, are materializing just as the planet is materializing. The weather is not happening “out there.” We have always been weathering each other. Only now is it becoming clear what that means. Being fully entangled with the natural world; the inner processes of our bodies are not separate from the outer conditions in which we grow and change.
But we’re not talking solely about bodies here. Consciousness is evolving and is equally entangled with the evolution of the planet. The boundary we imagine between inside and outside, between appearance and reality has never truly existed. It is a figment of our imagination. We can say the same about climate and the natural world. Weather and climate are not phenomena in which we live at all–where climate is some natural backdrop to our separate human dramas–but are rather of us, in us and through us.
We are subject to climate change in our bodies and psyches. We are expanding our view of the perplexing complexity of our connections, becoming aware of the trans-corporeal matrix, the body that sees through its own skin, to and through other bodies, the migration patterns of fellow creatures, the crystallization of water on rock walls, the curling toes of climbing animals, the rhizomal conversations of wild plants, the stories archived in the weathered rings of trees. We are literally one with the biological. All is being processed and recorded, the entire experience of emergence, in the transient, elliptical and toroid story we create and which is creating us.
How is that so? What seems to separate us as biological creatures, our physical boundary, is far less solid and more mutable than we normally imagine. Likewise, the psychic boundary, the consciousness differentiating us is far more real. We are “viscous porosities,” neither solid nor liquid, no more than temporary aggregations of a host of life forms, structural elements (collagen), an energy interface (ATP), a replicative blueprint (DNA) and intra-communication networks, participating with the environment in the creation and exchange of sugars, temperature, moisture, evolution and extinction, even light transformed by chlorophyll.
In fact, all communication is intra-communication. There is no objective separation between any elements of the biosphere. All communication occurs within that realm. There are no side conversations. Everything is part of the whole. At the same time, we are individual contractions of climate, “intra-acting” precariously with the planetary system, each according to our geography and culture, a fractal of the macro-dynamics of planetary change, biology and the micro-relationships in which we live every day.
As trans-corporeal beings, we are making the weather and the weather, created by our human partners, is making us. The idea of ‘externalized’ costs of climate change is a construction of the capitalist economic model. It has no reality otherwise. Those ‘costs’ do not appear merely as respiratory diseases, auto-immune disorders, disease vectors, lost species or degraded atmosphere, but also as cellular deposits, tissue invasions and incipient mutations.
Weather has always been a fundamental factor of our relations, crossing all imagined boundaries between bodies and species. In industrialized societies as in much of the emerging world, we are mostly insulated from weather in our shingled, weather-resistant, secure, durable and isolated domiciles. We want to keep the weather out! Being able to retreat into our vented and layered temperature-controlled shelters provides an illusion of control.
We are distanced, psychically and emotionally, from the realities of those who live much closer to and experience more directly the subtle and constant nuances of weather such that disruptions of the larger cycles of climate are more apparent. In fact, those very temperature control mechanisms that protect us from weather contribute to the very weather we are attempting to protect ourselves from.
To remain distant from climate change is to remain distant from our own bodies and from the community of bodies and non-human species. Yet, the notion of being a weather-maker, creating enhanced cyclones, drought and flooding as well as the internal consequences for others by our daily actions throws the ethics of personal responsibility into sharp relief.
I don’t know about you, but I notice simultaneous hyper and hypo-affective responses of my own, at times feeling urgency and at other times wanting to distance myself from awareness of the impact of my decisions–like air travel, especially–that are surely making others’ weather. At times I feel acutely responsible for all life and am thus aware of the minute decisions I make throughout any given day. At others I will deny any possible personal impact because I want no part of that burden.
Whether we want to know or care makes no difference. The ways we each create weather have, at micro and macro levels, an effect on everyone else’s weather. How do we negotiate or respond to the weathering we are receiving from others? Do we just insulate the attic? Turn up the AC? When the Philippines calls out Western nations for balking at compensation for cyclone damage, when the Third world demands compensation for the weather they are receiving or when the Marshall Islands are slowly subsumed into the Pacific, Western nations treat the equation more as a legalistic abstraction than a contemplation of direct (though delayed) responsibility for their losses–or even the loss of our own coastal real estate.
Likewise, the continuing objectification of nature permits us to release toxic chemicals in the belief that they will either be sufficiently diluted or that significant time will pass before any meaningful contact with humans will occur. Neither of these views accounts for a trans-corporeal planet. This is analogous to the way we view the linkage between environmental pollution and cancer rates. It is all couched in hyper-legalistic terms of denial that resist the quantification of linear causality or the assignment of financial culpability. The political modeling we get–influenced by energy interests, of course–is that we can continue to create your weather while forgetting that it is also our own bodies that are changed by it. The ethic of individual responsibility is overrun by entitlement.
When Hurricane Sandy hits, a drilling platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico or parts of Bangladesh are submerged, it’s happening somewhere else to someone else. But when your house is consumed by a wildfire in California, all entitlement dissolves. It is no longer someone else’s problem. And you might become acutely aware of how your weather has been created by the collective action of your neighbors.
The line between “acts of God” and acts of men is increasingly blurred. In fact, the larger dynamic of climate change will continue to undermine and, if not substantially thwarted, will eventually render obsolete assumed or constructed political, economic and social boundaries we take for granted: such as nation-states and money. Increasing conflict will be inevitable to the extent it is believed national boundaries, national character, cultural norms, tribal roots and even language are sacred and must be preserved.
When we ask “was that (climate catastrophe) caused by climate change,” we are weighing responsibility. On our trans-corporeal planet, how do we deal with knowing that as we retreat into our self-contained shelters and isolated thoughts, we are creating distant conditions that are driving others out of their own such shelters?
We are not doing well with this.
How do we accept eating pesticides, depositing pharmaceuticals into each other’s water supplies, causing extinction among creatures that cannot adapt as fast as conditions are demanding? It’s all well and good to attribute agency to nature and to imagine the ways we are impinged. But the capacity of nature to act is constrained by time. Nature does not act as quickly as humans act.
Thus, the times are urgent. Let us slow down.
Trans-corporeality is a denial of denial-ism. Denial-ism denies human agency, non-human agency, and the collectivism at the heart of legislative remedies. Propagating the idea of human intra-action is slow. Yet it should not obstruct focused efforts to influence policy, which is to design instruments that materialize collective responsibility, broaden and hasten abatement of the uncounted damage, anticipating and adapting to the dissolution of so many boundaries along the way. Short of a universal adoption of trans-corporeality, such would be the best means of materializing an accounting that has so far been so elusive.
A generative collective response to the weather dilemma does not depend on a single social or political approach. We need multiple measures, even if they arise from within the paradigm that still objectifies nature. As our common dilemma upsets more of what we know and reveals more of what we don’t know, living and acting in both old and new paradigms simultaneously will still be an effective human way of ‘being there while getting there.’ Ultimately, what we will require is much more than policy to get ‘there.’ We will need a healing view reflecting the true nature of our entanglement with each other and the world.