This past February, 2012, on the day after the Superbowl, I achieved enlightenment on a flight from Ushuaia Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, headed back to The United States.
It wasn't the first time I'd achieved such a glorious and all encompassing perspective; that moment where you think and figure less, and simply just are. a being. being; experiencing your interconnectedness to all things; realising what you are is only that you are. and in that; everything.
The first time I experienced it was in a bath tub in New York City. For no reason to my knowledge I suddenly saw how every tile surrounding the tub was made, manufactured, and grouted with love. I saw how the plumbing was only made possible by a plumber who either loved his job or his family, enabling him to do such a fine job connecting the pipes from below the city streets all the way up to the 23rd floor where I was pruning in the tub. Behind every detail I saw an act of creation by a creature who was a product of creation itself. The material world seemed less material and appeared to me as it really was; an extension of my experience, that which I sometimes call my Self. I didn't float in the tub figuring it all out or making anything up, it was just a clear and present stream of consciousness that brought me to tears; eventually twisting its way down the drain and leaving me just as watered and weighed down by the gravity of being human trying to maintain or make sense of the memory, as I was uplifted only moments before.
The experience on the airplane, somewhere over the Amazon rainforest, was no different. I saw how every stitch of every seat was perfectly crafted. I marveled at the tight, seamless connection of the pressurised cabin and recognised it as art, inspired by engineers, brothers, husbands, sons, and all their thorough hands and genius hearts. And within that very kingdom that I am family, I could also see the very material that makes our lives sweet, might actually be killing us. I guess this is enlightenment's dark shadow.
I was on my way home from Antarctica where I'd just spent a week with Al Gore and 148 environmentalists, scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs to learn about the stark realities of climate change. Antarctica, Earth's air conditioner, is the canary in the coal mine for global warming. Meaning, if the climate at the south pole is changing, so too is the rest of the planet. For instance, when land ice that is miles thick melts rapidly and falls into the ocean, sea levels rise. And when sea levels go up, the threat we face are storm surges, coastal floods, and the possibility of drinking water for billions of people becoming contaminated with salt water. Yuck.
Global warming is no longer a future problem. It's a now event. And it's not a planet problem either. It's a people problem. The rate at which we consume energy through land clearing, factory farming, and the burning of fossil fuels oil and coal, is wreaking havoc on the atmosphere, contributing to the overall, exaggerated warming of the planet. Our very creation of an industrialised system to make our lives convenient and sweet succeeded in the sweetness, but sadly isn't sustainable. The proof is all around us. A billion people live without water. More than that live in extreme poverty. War hasn't found its resolve. And the seasons are only getting stranger.
I became incredibly confronted on this flight home after learning about the dangers of the climate crisis. I knew my choice to fly actually contributes to the need for oil. Fuck. Should I never fly again? If I could take an electric plane or one that used bio-renewable fuels I would, but those aren't available. Yet.
On the plane I was served a 'superbowl' of fruit cocktail that made me sick to my stomach just looking at it. Where had the fruit come from? How much energy or chemicals were used to keep it fresh to satisfy my business class accommodations? Is there a system for checks and balances. I can't even remember what airline I was on. Entertain me with more movies on the plane please. I can't take all this helplessness.
There is currently no tax on carbon or even any pressure to live and act responsibly in the US. And unless you go digging yourself, there aren't many options. And here I am paying some company a high price to make me feel comfortable in the sky. The flight attendant offered me a water bottle. That was something I COULD say no to and realised in that refusal that the climate crisis CAN be handled if we all do (and don't) our own part.
If we believe in the idea that everything is disposable than we should be prepared to be disposable too. Single-use plastics, plastic bags, water bottles, sporks, paper coffee cups and their cute cardboard cozies all have alternatives. Carry your own water bottle and drink from the tap. Carry your own coffee cup and get yourself a refill. You'll be saving energy and lots of your own money too.
If you ever travel to a developed country that's hosted civilization for thousands of years, (think every country in Europe) you'll notice the idea of sustainability is already ingrained in everyone. They act their age I guess. Products are typically made in their own countries and food is largely grown and sold locally. In the US, just about everything is made in China, is also made to break or become obsolete, and we drive our imported cars on oil, which keeps up in debt, in cancer, and at war. Yay capitalism!
But I digress. This was meant to be 600 word essay on my trip to Antarctica. It's a beautiful place. 40,000 people visit each year and it's the #1 tourist destination that people go back to. Probably because of it's natural beauty and extreme isolation. In nature we are reminded of that which we really are. Nature. A piece of the Earth itself. Which is part of the larger universe. And in that place we're reminded that we are billions of years old, if not older. Even wiser.