1.6 The Four Storylines

Guru-Nanak-Dev-Ji.jpg

In addition to the stories we tell ourselves about the present, the stories that we tell to explain our past and the stories that we tell about our future also determine how we act in the present, which, ultimately, is all that matters. In general, there are four main storylines that we have been using to tell these stories in the context of the Earth and the environment. The first storyline is that,

Everything is a mess and everything must change.

This is the storyline that is most common in mainstream environmental circles today. As such stories go, our species made a huge mistake either 200,000-400,000 years ago with the discovery of the controlled use of fire as we evolved into our present form, or 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and city dwelling, or 200 years ago with the start of the industrial revolution[35]. The impact of that particular huge mistake is still reverberating around the planet and therefore, everything must change immediately. The first thing that we need to do now is to reduce human population from the present 7.4 billion to some number between 100 million and 2 billion, depending on the storyteller[36]. A prominent environmentalist even told me recently that humans would not make necessary lifestyle changes until the world human population plummets to 1 billion! At the recent COP-19 UN climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland, the Filipina Climate Chief, Mary Ann Lucille Sering, openly blurted out[37],

"It feels like we are negotiating on who is to live and who is to die."

This promotes the idea that we are all waiting for the apocalypse to occur and take its toll before we become willing to change ourselves.

One of the major problems with this storyline is that it paints the majority of human beings, past and present, as mess-making creatures, which does not also inspire people to change. Consequently, much needed action still has not been taken, except for the inevitable jockeying for position in human societies. The rise of socialist, nationalist and xenophobic politicians in the global North is likely fueled by the suspicion that the ruling elites have formed secret alliances with ruling elites from other nations, while throwing the rest of their nation’s citizenry under the bus.

The second, diametrically opposite storyline is that,

Everything is perfect and nothing needs to change.

The stories in this line also usually don't end well for most of our fellow beings on the planet either, except for those telling the stories and the believers in the particular supernatural deity that oversees the coming apocalypse. These true believers are the "winners" in these stories, while the other "losers" are swallowed up in a fire, or a flood, or a massive earthquake or some such calamity[38]. That's even more uninspiring than the first storyline!

The third storyline is that,

Everything is a mess and nothing will change.

Or rather, that while everything is a mess, we humans are too stuck in our habitual ways and nothing will change and that we might as well get used to the idea that we'll be going extinct. As the late comedian, social critic, actor and author, George Carlin, put it[39],

"We are going away and we won't leave much of a trace either. Thank God for that! Maybe, a little styrofoam! Maybe, a little styrofoam! The planet will be here and we'll be long gone, just another failed mutation, just another closed end biological mistake, an evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas, a surface nuisance."

While George Carlin predicted that all human beings will disappear, there are other story tellers who believe that this will result in a massive culling of the human population in a worldwide, dog-eat-dog type, apocalyptic cleansing following which life on Earth would recover, the human population would once again rebound to use up the recovering Earth's resources and the cycle would repeat. There are even scientific models predicting how such a roller coaster, life-and-death ride would unfold for us and our descendants over the next few centuries[40].

This storyline assumes that human beings are fundamentally no smarter than cyanobacteria in a petri dish, consuming, reproducing and perishing mindlessly. It is just as uninspiring as the previous two storylines.

The fourth storyline that is rarely, if ever, told, is that,

Everything is perfect and everything will change.

Or rather that everything is as it should be and as a result, everything will change. This book tells a story along this line for our species. The assumption of perfection helps guide this story towards the interpretation that despite the destruction that we've been doing to the planet's ecosystems, we do belong exactly as we are. It's just that we haven't yet understood the purpose of why we're doing what we're doing and this book advances one such plausible, evolutionary purpose.

I firmly believe that it is only such a positive framing of our past, present and future that can inspire the revolutionary changes called for today.


[35] This view was popularized in Daniel Quinn’s book, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, Bantam, May 1995, ISBN-13: 978-0553375404, http://amzn.to/1NDF5z8

[36] The estimate of the maximum population that the Earth can support depends upon the lifestyle of the storyteller.

[37] A video of Ms. Sering making this statement can be found in http://www.democracynow.org/2013/11/20/filipino_climate_chief_it_feel_like

[38] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapture

[39] George Carlin made this statement in a 1992 HBO special https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjmtSkl53h4

[40] A systems model predicting this as one possible scenario: http://bit.ly/1gjyS3u