Can Poems Promote a Paradigm Shift? | November 17, 2020 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Since the early 1970s the academic world has been aware that there are three key drivers to the environmental damage that mankind inflicts upon his environment:

  • Technology
  • Affluence
  • Population

Despite this invaluable, elegant, and simple insight that was provided fifty years ago through the IPAT equation, in the intervening years the modern world has chosen to relentlessly pursue a Growth paradigm with regard to all these three key-drivers of climate and ecological collapse.  We have permeated this damaging mantra, almost without exception, throughout an increasingly challenged world; squandering our ecological capital in the process.  No self-respecting financial manager would behave so recklessly with his financial capital.   No risk manager would dice with death in this fashion.  Even as we pass ever more climate tipping points, we continue to press our foot down on these three key-drivers.  We are already locked into 2 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels.  That in itself is excessively dangerous, and if our behavior patterns do not change massively, the end result is likely to escalate to 3-4 degrees, with much of the planet becoming uninhabitable.

In September 2020, a lone climate activist put together a little booklet of poems, with a plea to the UK parliament to lead the world by example and to aspire to degrowth; it starts with an invocation:

Perhaps these poems can inspire

A culture change to light a fire

In every heart and every mind

Letting a new truth unwind

Once everybody feels the same

Hope is shared as well as blame


The first poem:


2020. The year of vision

The time to make the big decision

To open our eyes and see the signs

The downside of our grand designs


In hindsight, we’ve been in denial

Walked blind into our greatest trial

Our dreams have led us to the brink

There’s so little time to stop and think


What we want and what we need

Are poles apart, like gift and greed

What we think and what we do

Are crucial now, the debt is due


Today we’re rich, tomorrow poor

Nature can’t give us any more

Better preserve what we have left

Before we leave the world bereft


How do we reconnect with reality?

For a paradigm shift to happen we need a massive shift in thinking and perceptions.  Einstein once described the type of trap that we are now in:

 “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.”

Most of us fall into the trap of predicting a future that is an extrapolation of past experiences. As Climate and Ecological collapse escalates, we are now in a scenario in which we have no previous experience.  Fairly reliable weather patterns are replaced by powerful extremes of drought or excessive rainfall and winds.  This jeopardizes intensive agriculture, biodiversity, and many mitigation efforts such as planting forests.

The mainstream media continue to lull us into believing that some technical fix can be found, and treating the matter as though it is far less important than COVID.  Only those who sign-up to free sources like ‘Climate News Network’, ‘Inside Climate News’, and ‘Carbon Brief’ will get a true sense of the ecological collapse that is now escalating so rapidly.

Technology is a key driver in environmental damage and needs to be used selectively.   In some ways the revolution in technology has orchestrated the decline in our common sense with regard to our environment.  Our concrete structures shield us from the weather, so we are less aware of the dramatic changes taking place; they make us feel invincible, and distance us from reality.  Our numerous sources of entertainment constantly distract and divert us from the plight of wildlife.  Clever animation films serve to warp our perception, by humanizing wild animals and further weakening our connection with nature.  Each generation grows up in a world further removed from reality.  Therefore it is not surprising that our collective expectations have become so unrealistic.  Many of us spend much of our days in the virtual reality provided by electronic communication.  This next poem tries to highlight this disconnect:


Now we live in concrete boxes

Safe and sound from birds and foxes

The only nature children see

Is what’s presented on TV


Remember when you were a child?

You spent your days outside, half-wild

We did things in a different way

In touch with nature every day


Now nature has to fight for space

As concrete cities grow apace

In every block the children hide

It isn’t safe to go outside


Unless we change, it will get worse

Our box a tomb, our car a hearse

Nature gone, and in its place

The remnants of a once-proud race


The Sixth Mass Extinction

Experts agree that with the standard of living that most of the people in the developed world expect nowadays, the Earth, even as it was before we depleted it of its resources, could only sustain a fraction of the number of humans currently around.  Our wanton pursuit of Growth shows no sign of abating. We continue to increase the CO2 levels, dangerous feedback loops are getting underway as ice melts and droughts exacerbate fires.  We are continuing with a suicidal Growth paradigm that is reducing our chances of survival, this means that a complete crash and wipe-out is becoming increasingly likely.

There is copious evidence of our unrealistic thinking in demographic forecasts and many intellectual tracts which all assume a future where money will continue to have purchasing power, and the population continues to grow until it tails off through falling fertility rates.  Although these perceptions are widespread, this does not make them into a realistic expectation of how climate and ecological collapse will play out.  In fact, it is a shocking failure by our intellectuals that they can afford these illusions any credit.  What will happen is that food and water supplies will fail because of increasingly unreliable weather patterns; when that happens money loses its purchasing power.  In that scenario the only things that will continue to hold significant value are necessities like food, water, and fuel.

We are not exempt from the Sixth Mass Extinction, in fact, we are very much the next on the hit-list, possibly even this decade.  We would be wise to assume sooner rather than later because we need to feel the fear that is commensurate with that danger in order to find the motivation for the paradigm shift in thinking that will be required to take any significant steps to alter our destiny.   Mark Twain wisely pointed out that “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”


Emotions bind us and empower

Fear can motivate and inspire

If you could only feel my shame

You’d know that we are all to blame


Share with me the sense of guilt

And you will share the strength I’ve built

Death is not my greatest fear

But losing all that we hold dear


For so many decades we’ve denied

Our part in this great mortal tide

The sixth extinction underway

We cause dying every day


Find the courage to share my fear

Guilt admitted is conscience clear

Then perhaps we’ll have a chance

To start to learn a different dance

The author has been a climate activist for eighteen months.  She is a retired software developer living in Oxfordshire in the UK.  Her poems are intended to be thought-provoking and educational.   All the poems and some prose are available on her website  The booklet of poems may soon be available on Amazon.

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