At the opening of the COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt, the UN Secretary-General warned that we are on a ‘highway to climate hell’.  If he had added that hell would be upon us all tomorrow, it would be front page news, and there would be a frenetic focus on how to get off that highway as soon as possible. But for many, the crisis still seems to be ‘around the corner’, sitting behind other, more immediate, crises that call for our energies and attention. 

Despite the stark warning, there was a lack of consensus at the summit on several fronts, and we’re still heading towards a cliff-edge of climate catastrophe.  

It is time for a radical re-think.  

In our latest policy report, Reconnection: Meeting the Climate Crisis Inside Out, following a series of in-depth interviews with experts and policymakers, we explore how the climate crisis can be framed as a crisis of relationship.  

The mechanics of modern living have led to us increasingly living our lives in separate lanes, where we don’t even connect what is happening in and between our own minds, hearts and bodies, let alone see ourselves as being part of a connected whole that is the human race or the planet that we live on. 

Rather than pulling together, we’re becoming more fractured and divided. 

Disconnection within ourselves, from each other, and from the world acts as:

1. a persistent driver on the highway to climate hell, and

2. a roadblock to achieving a clearer path towards climate mitigation and adaptation. 

We need to move beyond seeing the climate crisis as an external problem requiring only technical and external solutions. If we’re to successfully navigate this highway, we need to urgently develop our internal tools and resources as well.   

This is where, we say, mindfulness and compassion come in. These are innate foundational capacities that, developed further, could help transform the way that we respond to the impact of the climate crisis, and mitigate its effects.

By cultivating awareness with attitudes such as openness, curiosity, and care, practices like mindfulness and compassion can help us to:  

  • approach difficulty and complexity in a different way, turning towards it rather than shutting down or feeling numb because we feel overwhelmed 
  • be more attuned to the distractions that take us away from where we intended to focus our minds and attention
  • reconnect with our bodies and hearts in way that reorients us to our core values and what matters most  
  • take a wider perspective on other people’s views, recognising that we are all interconnected, and that ‘us vs them’ worldviews that marginalise or oppress others’ lived experiences won’t lead to a more sustainable future for the planet and its inhabitants 
  • experience nature at a deeper emotional and physical level, increasing the motivation to protect it, and decreasing the behaviours that may harm it. 

Developing our ‘inner capacities’ in this way and on this scale is a bold undertaking, but it is a necessary and urgent one - for the leaders tasked with making important decisions about the climate crisis - and for every one of us who wants to shape the future world that we live in.  

We have seen from the Covid-19 pandemic what can be achieved in a rapid timeframe when governments are politically, economically and emotionally invested in finding solutions to defeat a common enemy. But the enemy here isn’t an air-borne virus: the climate crisis is overwhelmingly caused by humans and is underpinned by disconnection. The road to mitigation and adaptation needs to be human-led too, driven by internal work that clears the path for external solutions to be put in place with the urgency that the word crisis actually demands.

Reconnection: Meeting the Climate Crisis Inside Out is written by Jamie Bristow, Rosie Bell and Professor Christine Wamsler from Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCUS).


Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash