Reading an interview with author Philip Pullman in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, I was reminded of a post I wrote a few months ago, in which I argued that a wholesale change in human consciousness will be needed if we are to survive the approaching environmental crisis. Here's what I wrote at that time:
"Only when we come to think of ourselves as first and foremost an integral part of the human race and the universe at large, rather than as separate entities in competition with each other, will we have the perspective needed to sit down as one and work together to find a way out of this mess."
To some extent, Pullman appears to echo this in his Daily Telegraph interview:
"I think we've evolved in such a way that suited conditions on the savannah 500,000 years ago, a way of life that was acquisitive, territorial and combative. The degree to which the processes of civilisation, or socialisation, can overcome that depends on the timescale. In the long term, I back evolution - if we can survive this crisis that we're in...
"It's like going down a river, and about mid-century we're going to go through the rapids, and it's going to be terribly difficult for all of us. But we can survive and if we can get through this... it's going to be wonderful."
How exactly Pullman thinks that this necessary process of evolution is going to happen isn't entirely clear - but then with evolution it rarely is. Don't get me wrong - I'm no creationist - but the small print of evolution has always puzzled me. How did those fish come out of the water exactly? Gary Larson's explanation (in one of his Far Side cartoons) that the fish were playing baseball and evolved legs in order to get their ball back when it landed on dry land seems about as convincing as any other.
All Pullman seems to suggest is that the environmentalists' storytelling skills need to evolve so that they can better communicate the message about what people can do to help the planet. He says:
"People feel helpless when they see pictures of devastated forests cut down and the glaciers melting and the poor polar bear sweating on its bare rock in the sea. 'What can we do, what can we do?' People need to be told what it is that they can do."
I wish I shared his optimism that this will be enough to make a difference.
Pullman, of course, is widely known for the anti-religion stance of his fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, an ancient, authoritarian 'God' being unceremoniously killed in the final volume. Personally, I kind of like these books, such misgivings as I have about them having a lot more to do with the shambolic plotting than with any underlying agenda. I doubt that Pullman would view this blog in such a kindly light however. He has been quoted as saying "I don't think it's possible that there is a God: I have the greatest difficulty understanding what is meant by the words 'spiritual' or 'spirituality'".
So I assume that Pullman would be fairly horrified - or at best bemused - by my belief that the necessary evolution is going to be a spiritual one, a process of evolution in which we come to realize that all of us are One, that all of us - including our planet and all the life forms upon it - are part of something which some might describe as 'God'.
Yet Pullman goes on to say in the interview:
"I suppose the real story, the basic story, the story I would like to hear, see, read, is the story about how connected we are, not only with one another but also with the place we live in. And how it's almost infinitely rich, but it's in some danger; and that despite the danger, we can do something to overcome it."
Are we really so far apart, I wonder, the 'spiritual' me and the 'secular' Pullman?
I hope not, because it seems to me that it is a gap which is going to have to be bridged in our forthcoming process of evolution...
(You can read the Telegraph interview with Philip Pullman here. This in turn is an edited extract from the forthcoming book Do Good Lives Have To Cost The Earth? by Andrew Simms and Joe Smith.)
These may also be of interest: