Being conscious: consciously deciding –consciously acting – being aware

I have been dealing with the big issue of climate change a lot in the last few months and have come to the following thoughts and résumés, which are also connected to a new consciousness: We can act consciously, decide consciously and be aware of ourselves or become aware of ourselves step by step. Then everything else would follow automatically.
You are welcome to read for yourself.

The topic of climate change has been one of the defining issues in the media for many months. The discussion is no longer held in a small circle of experts, but in the public at large. The reporting is dominated by terms such as climate killer or climate sinner, often used when referring to individual behavior. In purely linguistic terms, these words seem highly moralizing, to be pointing the finger at everyone and in all directions. On social media, we find mutual insults or comments by those who have been doing everything “right” for a long time, directed reproachfully at the rest, or all those who berate the committed, and much more. Exceptions, of course, confirm the general formulations chosen here.

Are we still allowed to eat meat, get on a plane, own a car, buy avocados or drink almond milk? The admonishing words make us think in dogmatic categories in almost all areas of life and we can consider whether we ourselves belong to the good or the bad, to the anthropogenic sinners or the saviors. This rhetoric and division into good or bad divides rather than unites or inspires change. In my opinion, this change is different from other social changes because it encompasses all areas of life and thus affects everyone together rather than individual groupings. To sum it up in the words of sociologist Ulrich Beck: Distress is hierarchical, but smog is democratic, because the latter includes all of us.

I found myself admonishing myself for not doing enough, even feeling bad, when I began to reflect on my own behavior in relation to the issue of climate change. I read and still read numerous articles, ranging from the New York Times Magazine report “Losing Earth, ”which outlines in detail the political decisions regarding environmental policy (especially in the US) over the last decades, to discussions on whether the hockey stick curve on temperature changes and global warming is correct or manipulated and whether it is all just a “political climate change.”

My own ups and downs regarding the assessments: „We are destroying the earth, it can’t go on like this“, have now led me to develop and express my own attitude, which promotes my own awareness instead of confronting myself or others with a moralistic pointing finger. The voice of a citizen of Germany who moves between the first signs of fatigue, enthusiasm and conscious composure with regard to necessary changes.

Below you will find my statements and summaries.

STATEMENT 1: We humans cannot destroy the earth!

In view of the destructive images, this statement naturally sounds highly provocative. However, it is anything but provocative. The Earth can take care of its own balance and restore it, whatever this may look like in view of the many scenarios in the future. After all, it has existed forever and has existed for an eternally long time without us. However, we humans are dependent on the earth’s resources, so that in the end we do not harm the earth, but above all ourselves and other living creatures. The fact that we have already been doing this to the highest degree for a long time no longer needs to be explained in detail: The observable phenomena of species extinction, the perceptibly more extreme weather changes, the littering of the oceans, the polluted air, especially in many of the world’s big cities, are just a few images that prove that we humans do not treat our resource Earth kindly or, absurdly, ourselves in particular. We humans drink polluted water or harvest from polluted soils (e.g. nitrates, pesticides, plastics), eat marine animals that are now full of microplastic, eat meat that is full of antibiotics and growth hormones from highly bred animals, and breathe the smog in the air that we ourselves create through our energy needs, our mobility and our consumption. And, because we humans also want to continue to have it comfortable and fast-paced, and because we have lost our connection to nature, something should actually change in view of the pictures. But perhaps only later and not noticeably for us or —even better— others should do something first or we wait until modern technology “saves”everything.

Conclusion: Paradoxical behavior patterns are part of the status quo.

STATEMENT 2: Organic is not the solution either!

Excuse me? A year ago I visited a sustainability fair and learned from many companies that they have already established fair trade, organic farming and sustainably produced products as a self-evident business model for many years or decades. I learned something new about the excessive environmental pollution caused by the textile industry and the unbelievably high amount of clothing that we consume or simply throw away in western industrialized nations, thus producing unimaginably large and toxic waste dumps. I was inspired by many products and innovative ideas. In the aftermath, however, I had the doubtful thought that if we were to change our entire consumption 1:1 (in relation to the leading industrial nations) from one day to the next to —to put it simply— “organic, ”this would probably not work and we would also exhaust the earth’s resources. It is an untested hypothesis. I just can’t imagine that we can cover the abundance of our modern lifestyle from sustainable sources in a resource-efficient way. From my point of view, the same amount of clothes (besides the excess of offerings, especially the discarded ones) made of “organic cotton“, the same amount of food waste — only then “organic” — the same number of cars — only then “electric” — do not make the necessary difference. In addition, non-protected (organic) certificates, some of them self-awarded, polish up the image of the companies and do not so much conserve the resources consumed, but rather include a business model. For consumers, navigating this jungle is quite confusing and almost impossible.

Conclusion: There is a need for less and a conscious difference.

STATEMENT 3: Stinginess is out!

Price should no longer be the decisive criterion for all our consumption decisions! At least as long as the existing market mechanisms regulate prices: Quantity promotions for clothes (buy by the kilo), Black Friday promotions or travel offers at bargain prices seem almost absurd rather than inviting in this day and age, at least to me. Rewarding more consumption with lower prices sounds paradoxical in view of the global waste of resources. These phenomena can be explained: Unregulated markets, a globally networked world, jobs, prosperity and standards of living that are linked to market shares and growth, among other things, encourage the above actions. At this point, I will not mention the social costs of this desirable standard of living for other parts of the world. Back to the question of price: It should not be forgotten that resource-conserving consumption is often more expensive for the end consumer than conventional consumption, such as organic food from one’s local region and the weekly market, GOTS (global organic textile standard) certified clothing, electricity from renewable energies, and much more. One advantage is that this may increase the value of the goods. Shouldn’t resource conservation be rewarded? The current practice disadvantages people with low incomes and even discourages small businesses from participating willingly. And as we know, the group of people affected by poverty and exclusion is very high for a rich country like Germany, at 15.5 million people or 19% (source: press release of the Federal Statistical Office of 31.10.2018). However, many do have a choice!

Conclusion: Conscious (consumption) decisions can be made by many of us — if not all of us for certain areas of life — on a daily basis and set an example.

STATEMENT 4: Those who point at others with an outstretched index finger…are pointing at themselves with three fingers of their hand!

Keyword finger pointing versus personal responsibility! On an individual level, there are enough reasons to despair as a committed “climate savior.” When the number of new coal-fired power plants is currently increasing around the world (source: Handelsblatt: …”doch weltweit boomt die Kohle” from04.10.2018) and the energy sector is one of the driving sectors for anthropogenic earth pollution and heating, then one can sometimes consider one’s unpacked shopping in a cloth bag with frustration. Many other examples from the rest of the world can be quite discouraging, depending on where you direct your attention. After all, the issue of global warming and environmental pollution does not have the same relevance everywhere. Depending on the country and structure, political and economic situation, societies often have other issues that are relevant to them and sometimes acutely important for survival, such as war and displacement, high unemployment, corrupt political systems, among others. Or, the issue is simply removed from the political agenda. Nevertheless, waiting for everyone else cannot be the solution either. With joy instead of frustration, individuals can be effective for themselves, as entrepreneurs in organizations, as consumers and voters, and help initiate social change.

Conclusion: Personal responsibility: “Be the change you wish to see in this world.”

STATEMENT 5: Every crisis also brings new opportunities — from problem to solution!

Even if this sentence may sound a bit platitudinous, crises promote new ideas for solutions. Here are a few examples: Certain plastics can already be up to 100% recycled for a closed-loop system, even though our recycling rates are said to remain too low in view of many years of waste separation practice. In my opinion, avoiding packaging in everyday life is still preferable. In everyday life, upcycling ideas, whether in textiles or furniture, are very popular – ok, our grandparents wouldn’t call it upcycling but “making do and mending” instead of throwing away and buying new. The use of tried and tested household remedies and curd soap instead of numerous colorfully packaged cleaning products, to name a few everyday examples. In the past, things were simpler and therefore better for people and the environment. The processing of plastic waste into textile fibers or “sustainable festivals” like the one recently held in Paris, which promote the framework conditions for less waste and more awareness, are further examples of the fact that a rethink has long been underway and creativity is apparent. Not to mention renewable energies, which have long ceased to be a niche product. These topics are often lost in the face of frightening reporting. Certainly, they represent only a drop in the ocean in global terms. Nevertheless…

Conclusion: People are able and willing to change their behavior and to think and create something new. Social change takes time, even if we are told we have no more time. But how do we create change overnight?

STATEMENT 6: With regulations, broad effective measures can be implemented (faster)!

There is often a debate about the overall responsibility of the individual with regard to climate protection. To shift this responsibility onto individuals alone — often with the calculation of the individual carbon footprint as a control variable — is, in my opinion, dubious and too simplistic, despite all the calls for individual commitment. The big levers lie elsewhere. Perhaps some readers still remember the time of the introduction of compulsory seat belts in cars in the 1970s, even if this is an off-topic example. In retrospect, the rapid implementation was only possible through strict laws and fines. At that time, hardly anyone wanted to give up their “freedom in the car,” similar to the much-discussed speed limit on German autobahns today. Despite factually reasonable arguments for the protection of life. By means of legal framework conditions and control mechanisms, there are ways above all to bring the actors of the economy (the markets) and thus also us consumers “to resource-saving reason.” And this is precisely the task of politics, which in the eyes of observers appears slow and lacking in decisiveness: to set framework conditions that promote resource – conserving action. The economy then reacts with innovative solutions; politics cannot do that. There seems to be an interest in principle, only can it please be without major changes or even renunciations, right? However, politics is also only a mirror of the willingness in society and especially in the economy, and its hesitation shows who sets the rules.

Conclusion: Individuals can set politics in motion. Even in old age, Stéphane Hessel encouraged us with his booklet: Be indignant! In other words: Organize yourselves and start acting! And the solutions lie in compromise that’s what democracy stands for.

STATEMENT 7: We care about our future viability today!

We cannot change the past, but we have the choice and the opportunity to take care of the future viability of our survival resource — the Earth— today. We should be deeply grateful to the generations of the post-war period that had to deal with reconstruction, the establishment of our democracy and the shaping of an open society, and also for more than 70 years of peace in most regions of Europe. Economic growth ensured social prosperity in our climes, which made many things possible for us children and grandchildren of the post-war generation. I consider the accusations of “you are to blame” for today’s misery to be of little use (see also statement 4: Fingerpointing) and backward-looking instead of forward-looking.

Conclusion: Today we—old and young together—are faced with the task of rebalancing our lives and thus ourselves.

STATEMENT 8: We need new and superordinate goals as the basis for all action!

A resource-conserving or sustainable target dimension (terms can be agreed upon) in all areas of social life is necessary. In concrete terms, this means that the economy continues to pursue (simplified description) profit vs. loss or securing liquidity as the target dimension of its actions, but that the conserving resources takes precedence. Small and medium-sized enterprises are already voluntarily committing themselves to goals other than pure profit maximization and are involved in ecological projects through profit shares or have made socioecological value creation the basis of their business models. This shows that it has long been possible, but is still niche rather than visible on a mass scale. Economically and globally active organizations continue to be rewarded for unbridled growth and profit increases (see stock market), even at the expense of overusing natural resources. This no longer makes sense in the long run (regardless of whether it ever really did).

However, we may hold up the following mirror to ourselves: The economy serves the needs of society, so that here too there is not just one “culprit,” because consumers as part of society consume what is produced and demand what is produced. Politics allows it in its existing form. Everything is connected to everything else. Under overarching conditions, politics will have to measure the existing orientation of its actions based on maintaining power vs. losing power against resource-saving measures.

Conclusion: Sparing our resources should be a matter of course instead of a sometimes costly exception.

Overall conclusion

Regardless of whether we humans can “really save” the climate, the debate benefits us for a new and broad awareness in dealing with our seemingly self-evident available natural resources. Because we always consume! The question is only in what quantities, in what form and with what consequences?

The Dalai Lama says in his book that ethics are more important than religion. I would like to add respect and understanding to the chosen formulation of ethics as an overall understanding of faiths so that people can live peacefully with and alongside each other. In analogy to the Dalai Lama’s proposal, an understanding on a superordinate resource-saving action holds chances of common meaningful solution ideas.

We are rightly replacing coffee-to-go disposable cups en masse with reusable cups. However, I also ask myself why we humans cannot drink coffee-to-go (here only meant symbolically as an example) in peace without taking it with us. Why don’t we take the time to eat and drink instead of integrating it on the go and supposedly saving time, of which there always seems to be too little. Distraction instead of hesitation!

Perhaps the key to change lies in the attitude of taking a break alone.

Being aware! Deciding consciously — Acting consciously — Being aware!

Cologne, July 2019

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