The following interview was conducted for and published in the UK print magazine Under the Influence.
Susan Connie Marsh: How Soon is Now? is the title of your new book. You talk about reaching a critical threshold as a species and needing to bring about an evolutionary leap in order to overcome the imminent threat of climate change, mass extinction, ecocide and even the extinction of humankind. How do you go about tackling such critical subjects in the book?
Daniel Pinchbeck: First of all, I believe we need a new, more coherent story – or myth – about who we are as a species and how we reached this precipice. I propose we are on the cusp of realizing ourselves, humanity, to be a planetary super-organism that is in a symbiotic relationship with Earth’s ecology as a whole system. From that vantage point, I then seek to offer a ‘blueprint for the future’, reviewing our technical and social systems – how they function now and how we would have to redesign and reprogram them to create what I call a ‘regenerative society’. This includes areas such as energy, agriculture, industry, and also government and finance. We need to conceive a new operating system for human society that overcomes the current ideology of hyper-individualism and consumerism and works for the collective good, while repairing, as much as we can, the damage to our ecosystems and also removing excess greenhouse gasses through every means possible.
In your documentary, “2012: Time for Change” you state that we’re facing ‘a multidimensional crisis on Earth’ – that we’re running out of fresh water, food supplies and the fossil fuels upon which our current system relies. You refer to the ecological crisis facing us as a sort of ‘initiation for humanity’. Can you explain what you mean by that? How immediate is this crisis and what will it take to persuade people to act now?
The crisis is very immediate. The Syrian refugee nightmare, which has destabilised Europe and was partially responsible for Brexit, is due to climate change. In particular, a long drought, exacerbated by destructive government policies, forced many Syrians from their homes. We will see many more such disasters in the next decades. We don’t know how fast sea levels will rise – James Hansen, formerly the chief climate scientist at NASA, believes we may see a rise of several meters by mid-century. That would make many coastal cities uninhabitable. We are already seeing massive increases in forest fires, which release excess CO2 and stop helping us as ‘carbon sinks’ once they are gone. There are many dangerous feedback loops in the climate system that are already being engaged decades before they were predicted. We are already in deep trouble, in other words. The biggest threat is methane eruption – vast deposits of methane are frozen in the Siberian permafrost and beneath the oceans. Ocean acidification is another major danger – it is estimated that the world’s coral reefs will disintegrate by mid-century because we are changing the PH balance of the oceans.
In How Soon Is Now?, I propose we can see the situation as a collective initiation or rite of passage which will force a transition in human consciousness from adolescence as a species to adulthood – a shift from self-centered greed to collective altruism. For those of us in the wealthier developed world, we need to understand the necessity of accepting this as our initiation – as the challenge we need to actually embody the ideals of the world’s ancient spiritual traditions. I believe that is the only choice for us if we want to avert mega-catastrophe.
Experts have now declared that the last 12,000 years of the Holocene epoch is to be replaced by a new geological epoch — called the Anthropocene — that is defined by humankind’s profound impact on shaping the planet. How does this declaration of a new geological epoch frame your concerns in the book?
It is extraordinary to step back and consider how fast this has occurred. A few centuries ago, humanity had no idea that we could become a geological force, reshaping the evolutionary destiny of Earth as a whole. Even a few decades ago, the idea that we could fish out the oceans – which are now more than 90% empty of large fish – seemed preposterous. The dams we have built on rivers around the planet have actually shifted Earth’s rotation. We must come into a new awareness of our impact on Earth as a whole system and realise that, until now, we have been swept up in the unconscious inertia of our historical processes and, most recently, hypnotised by our technological capacities. We can now make a rapid shift from an unconscious to a conscious evolution, and seek to restore balance while we reduce our negative impacts on the ecosystems. This needs to become our focus in the decades ahead.
Does the declaration of the Anthropocene bear any relation, in your opinion, to the Mayan prediction of 2012 as the end of a calendar cycle of over 5,000 years?
You are referencing my previous book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, which took seriously the knowledge systems of traditional cultures like the Maya in the Yucatan and the Hopi in Arizona. I do believe it is not an accident that these cultures, with their deep connection to nature and the Cosmos, and their understanding of time as cyclical and rhythmic, were aware of this time we are in now as a transformative epoch. The Aztecs called it the transition from the Age of the Fifth Sun to the Sixth Sun, while the Hopi saw it as a shift into the Fourth World, which would be accompanied by ecological catastrophe and end with a unification of global consciousness. I continue to believe we have a great deal to learn from indigenous people around the world – which doesn’t mean accepting everything they say as ‘Holy Writ’, but means recognizing there are other ways to approach the nature of reality that are more holistic than our reductively scientific, too-left-brain, techno-culture.