What COP26 Is Really All About

As representatives from nations worldwide gather in Glasgow to discuss the next decade, we are led to believe that the purpose is to tackle climate change.  We are told that our leaders are meeting to secure commitments to net zero-emission targets and methane reduction and that they are their showcase the climate action plans to their peers.  However, I have another view.  I believe COP26 is not really about the climate.  I believe it is actually about community.

What Is Community?

First, let me explain what I mean by community. I refer to the four levels of community outlined by Macy and Johnstone in their book ‘Active Hope.’

As this model shows, there are multiple interdependent levels of the community, ranging from our homes out to the community of all creatures on this planet.  While the agenda of COP26 appears to focus on the outermost layer of community, the laws of nature tell us differently.

The Laws of Nature

Some fundamental laws always hold.  That despite how clever we think we are as humans, we cannot overcome.  One of these is the Principle of Correspondence, which states that:

As above, so below; as below, so above. As within, so without; as without, so within.

Let’s look at this from the climate perspective.  Put bluntly, we have not been loving or caring for our planet very much lately, have we?  Why would anyone show complete disregard for the source of their survival – their air, water, food and shelter?  Fundamentally, someone would only not care for their environment if they did not care for themselves.  As per the Law of Correspondence, humans have not loved their external world because they have lost care for their internal world.  The climate crisis is merely an external manifestation of our loss of self-love and disconnection from spirit.

The Community Is Suffering At Every Level

Let me show you exactly how all the levels of the community are suffering.

At an individual level, we have seen an increase in mental illness and psychological issues, including:

  • Depression.  The World Health Organization reports that Australia has the second-highest prevalence of depressive disorders globally (with prevalence rates of 5.9 per cent)[1].  In addition, antidepressant drug consumption rose by 8.6% per year between 2000-2015[2].
  • Loneliness.  The Australian Psychological Society (2018) reports that over half (51%) of Australians report they feel lonely for at least one day each week and 25% of Australians report they are currently experiencing an episode of loneliness. 
  • Psychological Distress. In 2017–18 there were an estimated 13% or 2.4 million Australians aged 18 and over reported high or very high levels of psychological distress[3].
  • Addiction. Around one in 20 Australians has an addiction or substance use problem[4]
  • Suicide[5]. Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia for people aged 15-44.  More than 65,000 people attempt suicide every year, and in 2017 over 3,000 Australians died from suicide.  That is eight people every day[6]!

At the neighbourhood level, we see that[7]:

  •  77% of Australians never talk to the people next door and know little about them.
    • More than half don’t know their neighbours’ name and 25 per cent wouldn’t recognise their neighbours’ faces
    • 56 per cent of people actively avoid their neighbours
    • In addition, 9.5% of Australians or around 2.37 million people aged 15 and over report lacking social support (Relationships Australia 2018). 

Within and across nations, we are seeing income disparity and poverty increase. We are seeing the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  It suggests that those in power make decisions that improve their position rather than that of the most vulnerable.

There is also an increasing number of conflicts occurring over natural resources.  For example, over the last years, there were 172 conflicts across the world where water was the trigger[8].  While we have not yet seen any physical battles over water in Australia, there sure has been an ongoing war of words over the Murray-Darling Basin[9].  Accusations are made regularly of one state ‘stealing’ water from another.

And finally, we get to the Earth Community, which is the focus of COP26.  Humans have driven almost 700 vertebrate species to extinction already.  It is estimated that another 1 million animal and plant species will also die out, many “within decades.”[10]

Global warming is also wreaking havoc and has the potential to redraw the world map.  Scientists at the non-profit organisation Climate Central estimate that 275 million people worldwide live in areas that will eventually be flooded at 3C of global warming, with 80% of those affected in Asia.

Why Has This Happened?

I believe the destruction of our community at all levels is due to a prolonged preoccupation with our economy.  Many leaders around the world have promoted success based on growth and jobs.   But unbalanced attention on the economy, at the expense of the community, creates disastrous consequences leading to COP26 being needed in the first place.  Here’s how:

  • Where We Feel At Home. By concentrating on building the economy, you are building an individualistic society.  People become concerned with getting and keeping their job, renting or buying a house, and protecting their possessions.  Their financial wellbeing becomes the key motivator, and they become more insular and independent. 
  • Our Neighbourhoods. The increased level of employment means there is less ‘slack’ in the system to enable community participation.  The less involvement there is in community events, the more people feel their neighbourhood is threatening or unsafe.  This only reinforces the withdrawal from the community and increases the isolation of families.
  • The Global Community. By focusing on economic growth, you quickly divide the have, and the have not’s. Resources are pulled from poorer nations to sell to richer nations. Income inequality creates further division and competition.  Everything from oil, fish and water become sources of conflict.
  • The Earth Community. Selling the message that the economy is the most important thing places the greatest priority on those things that we can buy.  It fuels a preoccupation with spending on external sources of happiness.  More goods are produced to fill the internal gaps, and of course, more resources must be consumed to make all of these products. Ultimately, these external sources of happiness are not sustainable and instead, the community is crippled by depression and loneliness, only fuelling the withdrawal from the community even more. We lose touch with our sense of place in this world and the amazing gifts that it provides, and we begin to see the Earth as a commodity to use for our short-term pleasure.

Of course, the economy and the community go hand in hand, but it is obvious that the focus on the latter is destroying our communities at all levels.  There is a crisis of mental health, community disconnect, global conflict and destruction of our earth community.  This is occurring as an inevitable consequence of concentrating on individual prosperity for the sake of our shared homes.

What COP26 Does

COP26 attempts to pull the global community together to solve our shared problem, being climate change.  It does this to secure not only all life on this planet but also the prosperity of individual nations.  It is there to build collaboration and cooperation across the globe to prevent disaster for all communities.  It is working top-down through community levels, seeking to build a global community to save our own families and neighbourhoods.

Will It Succeed?

Looking at the above evidence, it appears that the only thing that will save the Earth from ending up as a train wreck is if we begin to place just as much emphasis on Community Growth as we do on Economic Growth.

And the big question is whether our leaders can find a way to make this happen. Their success to save the community on all levels depends on:

  • whether the world leaders can commit to a community that is bigger than themselves
  • whether individual politicians can put long-term prosperity over short-term polling
  • the leaders begin to care more about the humanity it shares with others than the trend line of their nation’s GDP.

All of these things require courageous leadership.  There may be hard decisions about where money is being spent, such as more coal mines to deliver jobs or community initiatives that will restore and build relationships in our neighbourhoods and with the Earth.  There is no doubt it will be difficult as the balance is found between the wants of the individual and the community’s needs.

Bottom-Up or Top-Down?

But here in Australia, it really does appear that change is occurring bottom up.  We are seeing individuals step up.  From each household recycling, composting and using solar power to Twiggy Forrest championing renewable energy policy – individuals are taking up the challenge to contribute to the greater good. Groups are also coming together, such as The Business Council of Australia, to rally their resources for strong action on climate change. Neighbourhoods (such as the Neighbours United for Climate Action) are uniting to find ways to make a positive change in the world.  So much action is being taken at the lower community levels by people who care and are willing to make a change.  These people are showing the true nature of Active Hope.

So, the people are pulling together to make things happen.  Now, if only our government would follow their lead and support all of their great work.  We rely on our leaders to pull together with the rest of the world to secure our Earth community.  Because if they don’t, the laws of nature tell us that there will be even greater impacts on individual mental illness and income disparity. Or, as the old saying goes:

Sh*t flows downhill.

Ultimately it is the people that will pay for the leader’s decisions.  Our parents, friends, and children will live in greater fear, depression, and despair.

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we can pull together in a crisis.  It is through a shared problem we come together with a sense of meaning and purpose.  People have done it during COVID-19, and a new sense of community and shared responsibility has been fostered.  Let’s build on this to bring a renewed dedication to the community while rebuilding the economy.

Our politicians have shown us how they can change the nature of our lives overnight to battle a pandemic. To avoid the climate trainwreck, they need us to show how they can put their egos second to the policies that will save our lives!

[1] https://www.who.int/news/item/30-03-2017–depression-let-s-talk-says-who-as-depression-tops-list-of-causes-of-ill-health

[2] https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/health_glance-2017-graph181-en

[3] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/stress-and-trauma

[4] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/opioid-harm-in-australia/contents/summary

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/09/27/australias-suicide-crisis-has-peaked-to-a-terrifying-new-height_a_21480647/

[6] https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/suicide-self-harm/facts-about-suicide-in-australia/

[7] https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/relationships/family-friends/backyard-fences-in-a-melbourne-street-removed-and-replaced-with-tennis-nets/news-story/c00ede9c61f8e6cc6998c60d4c0778cb

[8] http://www.worldwater.org/conflict/list/

[9] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-07/murray-darling-basin-dispute-over-northern-irrigators-flood-flow/11942610

[10] https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/1-million-species-under-threat-extinction-because-humans-report-finds-ncna1002046

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