"We see the world as real because stories have told us this is real": So begins one of the chapters in Valuesquest, the Club of Rome's statement on the search for values which will make a world of difference. Under discussion at the HowTheLightGetsIn festival in Hay-on-Wye on 28th May was the question of how stories might help us live together in a world which we have rushed headlong to destroy.
Creation stories mostly dwell on the process rather than the responsibility for guardianship. However in at least two of the world's major religions - some would say the most influential stories of all - there are passages urging man to care for the earth:
"If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you" (Deuteronomy 22:6-7).
"The Earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it. The whole earth has been created a place of worship, pure and clean. Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded. If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and humans and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is love on his part." Hadith
In indigenous cultures, in which people live close to and rely on the earth, not only do the people ask permission of the earth before they dig or of the animal before they kill, they plant and sow in rhythm with the moon. Their ancestors and gods watch over them to ensure that they care for their environment. They are punished by hurricanes, floods and landslides if they ignore their responsibilities. However, poverty and a weakening of the old beliefs mean that trees are felled for firewood and staple food crops have given way to cash crops for multinationals.
Increasingly people live in cities and are out of touch with nature and the natural environment. They believe they have no need of wild flowers, butterflies or bees and struggle to identify with biodiversity. Only when the price of crops pollinated by arthropods goes up do they begin to understand the implications of climate change. Yet the audience for the natural environment on television - brought to our living rooms - has never been greater.
Do we need a new story to give us the determination to influence our political masters and mistresses into taking action? Do we need a new story to change our own beliefs and habits into something resembling more closely the ways of our ancestors? Climate change is happening very fast. We are all noticing the effects. Some scientists argue that we are past the tipping point. Will our new story have a happy ending?
Rosemary Burnett participated in the ValuesQuest strand of talks, a project of the Club of Rome and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation ARC, at the HowTheLightGetsIn festival.Suggest a correction