Re-wilding Paris: Part Two – UN Climate Negotiations turn 21

This three-part series explores what it means to “re-wild” as I invite nature in from the periphery with respect to Paris terrorism, climate talks and philosophy.

Re-wilding Paris: Part Two – UN Climate Negotiations turn 21. What will it take to become fully human about climate change?

(13th December 2015)

Last week in Paris, the global UN climate change negotiations celebrated an important milestone: their 21st annual gathering. In the face of the terrible violence that took place just two weeks prior, it was a courageous decision by the 150 participating Heads of State to continue to the plan to gather in Paris.

The key outcome of the gathering was that for the first time in history there’s now agreement by most nations on the planet on 1.) what carbon emissions reduction targets are needed to address climate change, and 2.) that we’ll work to achieve them. While this is an evolutionary step forward for humankind, it does not mean the problem of climate change is solved because the agreement – while well intentioned – is not enforceable.

Ultimately, our future will be determined by our collective will to act upon the words we’ve put to paper.

There’s a French expression “the mountain gives birth to a mouse”. The question is will we implement the global agreement with the will of a mountain or the will of a mouse?

This brings me to re-wilding and my observation that while the negotiations are about the planet, nature is on the outskirts in at least one important respect: our animal instincts have been largely absent from the negotiating table.

Re-wilding is a process of re-igniting our animal instincts. One reason our animal instincts are important is they drive our will to protect life (think mama bear fiercely attacking you should you get near her cubs) and avoid death (think you running as fast as you can away from that Mama bear). The will of the mama bear and you is mountainous in this scenario.

Climate change presents one of the biggest threats to the survival of the human species. When all is said and done, beneath the nuances of politics and science, the UN climate negotiations are our best collective effort to fight for our continued survival.

It’s my bet that most if not all of the leaders in Paris – and you reading this post – know instinctually that our continued survival here on earth is wobbly. Somehow we know this by virtue of being animals of this earth.

So it’s curious to me how relatively mouse-sized the airplay this animal instinct receives during the negotiations.

Our challenge is that modern life with all its distractions numbs our animal instincts and keeps us from hearing their wisdom. For many of us, it’s like they’re there beneath the surface, but we’re not quite aware of them. This is not just when it comes to climate change negotiations, but our modern lives in general.

The first piece of good news is that while our animal instincts may be numbed, they’re not dead.

It took them millennia to evolve and it’ll take more than a few hundred years of city living – aka separation from nature – to kill them off.

So how do we resuscitate our animal instincts and tap into the wisdom they offer us?

Through spending time with wild nature in the company of animals and trees whose instincts are still in tact, our own animal instincts quickly come back to life.

Through deepening our personal connection with nature, not only do our bodily instincts re-awaken but our innate wisdom about how to live sustainably with the rest of the planet can emerge.

A second piece of good news is it’s not that we have to re-wild, it’s that we get to. Re-wilding is fun. It’s about thriving to survive.

When I spend a lot of time in the city, I get caught up and busy in my head and my body tenses. When I spend time with wild nature my mind de-clutters and my body relaxes. I feel fully alive through all of my senses. Re-wilding is an experience of feeling thrilled to be alive.

In many cultures turning 21 marks an important milestone on the path to adulthood. This begs the question in coming into their 21st year, have the climate negotiations now reached adult maturity? What might this look like?

In Part One of this series I defined re-wilding as becoming fully human through balancing the multiple intelligences of our minds, emotions and bodily instincts. Reflecting on the climate change negotiations through this re-wilding lens, how are we going?

One the first count – mental intelligence – I’m confident the global climate negotiations are a meeting of some of the best minds on the planet. While it’s always easy to criticise the leaders who represent us from the sidelines, my first hand observation of monitoring these negotiations over the past 15 years is that – on balance – we have some of the best minds on the task. Navigating the complexities of climate change science, politics and economics is a humbling task and my hat goes off to everyone involved. Beyond this, I’m not so sure.

My vision for a “fully human” global climate negotiations is one where we make the most important decisions facing us as species through best use of all of the intelligences nature has given us. In other words, they are a meeting of our best minds, our most open feeling hearts and most vitally alive animal instincts.

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