Highly Recommend! The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis, by Brendan Kelly, L.Ac. Published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
I find it difficult to discuss, or even read about, the climate crisis facing our planet today. I am familiar with the overwhelming data over the past fifty years that makes the idea of “debating climate change” much like holding a town hall forum on the possibility that the earth is round and that gravity may pull things downward. I tend to go berserk when I have to face the continuing rush of my society toward the destruction of the natural world.
I found it therefore a welcome relief to sink into the single most helpful book I’ve come across in twenty years of reading on this theme. Brendan Kelly’s marvelous book, The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis, blends a clear-eyed understanding of the extreme dangers we face as an out-of-control materialistic society, with a rational understanding of the traditional practice of Chinese medicine that results in a serious but profoundly optimistic perspective on the future of Earth and of humanity.
I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of the traditional Chinese view of medicine and spirituality, but Kelly’s basic explanations of the “Five Elements” in Chinese thought – Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood – create a helpful model for understanding the processes within human beings and also within the environment that have led to the climate crisis. The same model also provides an understanding of the way in which the Tao is already moving into a flow that will return balance to the Earth, and to human beings if we learn to cooperate with this flow.
In a chapter titled, Quality Controls Quantity, he uses the Chinese understanding of “Metal” as the fundamental element that, among other things, exerts a controlling influence on the overheated nature of our situation. An increase in Metal implies a deeper connection with nature and thus to all things. This understanding increases our appreciation of each possession that comes into our life. We sense the web of life that brought all the elements of this wooden spoon, this shovel, this computer, this meal together and into our life at this particular time. This increased appreciation of everything we have naturally leads to a decreased need to have more things. This connection to nature removes climate action from the realm of battle, confrontation, and “being right.” Action instead becomes natural, unavoidable, and as more and more people move in this direction, unstoppable. We take our place as part of the Flow of Tao as it literally “cools the excess heat” of humanity and of the planet.
The “Fire” element of Summer and of internal joy and activity can be a healthy blessing, but in a culture where more and more is the norm, we easily become overheated with too much of the Yang of Fire. The quantity of frenetic activity in the typical American life creates an excess of Fire – of the internal heat of an overactive mind/body; and the external heat of machines, devices, and commerce. Once again, we see the relationship between quantity and quality. When we have more than we need of something, we value it less. Kelly notices this relationship in the field of communications and media. In the world of Email, Twitter, and FaceBook, more communication does not lead to better communication. The sheer mass of messages dulls the senses and causes us to miss out on the few really meaningful opportunities to connect with other people. Kelly poses the question several times throughout the book: How many truly heartfelt conversations have I had in the last week? The last month? The last year?
Where and when did the present climate crisis begin? Scientists will point to a multitude of factors. The true origin, however, of the imbalance in our planet’s energies began with the imbalance within the human body and spirit. An overheated planet is directly related to an overheated human population. Of all the strategies for addressing climate change, recovering our own internal balance of Yin and Yang is perhaps the most fundamental. Kelly’s writing provides an encouraging place to begin this process. More detailed and complex practical strategies will, of course, be necessary but our ability to discern which are appropriate for us as individuals will depend on our inner wisdom and balance.
The Tao is always working to bring balance and its restorative power is even now beginning to tip the entire planet back into a “cooling” phase. This does not imply that individual action is not important. Every step we take to reduce our own excess “heat” of consumption, excess, and frantic dedication to more and more will be important – both for us and for the planet. But, Kelly clearly points out that the main energy needed from us is cooperation rather than struggle. There is great opportunity in the climate crisis; opportunity to rediscover the spiritual essence of humanity and enter a new paradigm of relationship with the natural world.
If you are looking for a way to transform your fear, frustration, and outright outrage about the direction of our society into helpful, peaceful, and cooperative action, You will find this thoughtful book a very worthwhile place to begin.