by Warrior’s Way trainer, Jeff Lodas
A climber’s negative habits on a challenging climb are strikingly similar to the ways our society is reacting to the challenge of climate change.
The mental techniques and strategies we teach in The Warrior’s Way would be helpful in responding to that challenge more appropriately. The environment is now in crisis and climbers can be part of the solutions. Climbers’ ability to set goals, embrace adversity, engage with risk, and face what we fear may be just the same toolkit we need for addressing climate change.
As every climber has experienced, when you are afraid of falling, your mental and physical abilities are compromised, and you tend to make mistakes. However, when you have the appropriate technical, physical, and mental training, your whole experience on the rock is different, and you perform optimally.
Ideally, you have prepared thoroughly for a particular goal, and can climb with no reactive, judgmental, or deluded thoughts. Your full attention is focused on perceiving things as they are, and responding appropriately. Such mental training has a ripple effect on everything from motivation to performance.
Rock climbing has a simple risk model with falling and injury. The outcome depends on the team’s skill with falling and rope systems and on the nature of the terrain. We can designate yes-fall and no-fall zones based on that model by comparing the team’s experience to the consequences they are facing.
On the route of climate change, we are currently in a yes-fall zone:
For the moment, we are not yet exposed to conditions that are beyond our experience. We may attempt certain actions now and a lack of results would not be instantly catastrophic. For example, we might regulate greenhouse gasses and subsidize clean energy worldwide. We might make cultural shifts or develop sustainable technologies or risk geoengineering; there are many solutions we need to pursue.
If we fail to take effective action soon enough, the climate will overheat and create conditions detrimental to all life, creating a distinct no- fall zone.
However, the analogy isn’t perfect:
- In climbing we can have a plan B; we may easily avoid the fall consequence by retreating, or climbing without falling.
- With climate change, there is no planet B.
Fear is our primary reaction to security concerns, such as no-fall zones. Imagine the stressors that are predicted with climate change:
- In the near term, we have increased temperature, storms, drought, wildfire, disease, and flooding.
- Imagine the consequences: shortages of food, water, energy, followed by economic collapse, mass migration, fortress states, and resource conflicts.
- In the long term we have completed the sixth mass extinction, with Earth locked into a hothouse pathway for thousands of years.
Climate change is a challenge without precedent in scope or consequences.
How Warrior’s Way principles help respond to climate change
We can apply some basic warrior principles to respond appropriately:
- The warrior does not deny the challenge, wish it didn’t exist, hope to avoid it, give up on it, or assume it will be easy.
- The warrior sees the greatest challenge as the greatest opportunity, welcoming stressful experiences as friends and teachers.
This shift makes all the difference in our thinking process, and in taking effective action. We focus on how to best meet the challenge creatively, learn from that process, and even find enjoyment in adverse circumstances. We gather objective information, make subjective decisions, and transition into action. We can apply this on all levels, for example:
- Globally, nations can learn to cooperate more effectively, and make necessary tweaks to political and economic systems.
- Locally, where we have more power, we can customize solutions to our unique resources, and coordinate on a national level.
- Individually, it presents an opportunity to practice reducing tribalism and fear, and increasing self- actualization, a wisdom synonymous with wise care for the planet.
In climbing, we set a goal, then follow the path of least resistance to achieve that goal. If we attempt to achieve a goal without gathering enough objective information, we may end up taking a path that leads to a dead end, or we might make some other costly mistake due to lack of preparation. Conversely, if we take the path of least resistance without setting a goal, we may rarely get off the couch. With long-term climbing goals, we pick something beyond our current capability. We then set short- and mid-term goals to move us in that direction.
What’s our long-term goal for the planet?
As individuals or small groups, mapping the terrain with a goal and a path creates clarity, aligns our efforts and puts them into a wide perspective. Successfully taking just a few steps toward such a goal would likely avert the climate crisis.
If our goal was just having a decent life on Earth and meet our basic needs, we would need to sustain ecosystems, and preventing climate change would be mandatory. If we wanted more justice or freedom for humans or animals, we need a stable climate.
Becoming proper stewards of this planet is also a prerequisite to looking further afield: the goal of becoming a spacefaring species. This would require abundant clean energy, and the ability to manipulate the atmosphere of a planet. We can start with this Earth, which we are now unintentionally overheating with greenhouse gasses.
What other crises will humanity soon face?
We have had modern technology for only a few hundred years, a tiny fraction of humans’ 315,000 year history. It has already given us immense powers and destructive risks on a scale never before imaginable, in fields such as nuclear physics, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Even the unintentional by-products of our technology can be threatening, as is the case with fossil fuel energy and its greenhouse gas emissions.
Surviving our technological infancy will require a practical wisdom, and mental training can provide some useful tools. If those increasing powers are combined with this wisdom, we will accomplish any goal we set. Without this wisdom, such powers will likely be our undoing.
We are living at a crossroads moment for humanity. We have a unique leverage on the future and also a heavy responsibility for it. The science is quite clear on the nature of climate change and what needs to be done about it.
However, we currently lack the popular will to put those solutions in place. Historically, the only things that create lasting social change are technological breakthroughs or widespread cultural shifts. Climbers are in a unique position to influence culture.
How climbers can help
Climbers can be the ambassadors from the mountains. We can communicate about climate change and have a significant impact on the public’s perception. Climbing is more in the public eye than ever, and favorably so.
Activism on behalf of the natural world is a part of our heritage as climbers, and a few of today’s athletes, retailers, and nonprofits have taken on this responsibility. Now, we need every climber to follow suit, to educate ourselves on the issues and speak out through whatever channels we have: in our work, creatively, technically, and politically.
Start by having the conversation. Listen to people’s views, share your perspective, and encourage them to take a step toward the challenge. The short-term goal is to generate popular demand for effective action on climate change within our communities and organizations, to move us toward a sustainable future on this planet.
If you want more tangible, detailed, and action-oriented advice on climate change:
- Here is a collection of resources focused on climate communication, created by Ilana Stout.
- Here is a list of links about climbing specifically, and also general information on climate change, that I created.
My intention is to get you to think on these things, to understand them more clearly myself, and to encourage conversation.
- Get informed: Systematically gather factual, objective information, or summaries and opinions that are closely based on such.
- Have conversations: Include both people that agree with you and those who do not. Be honest and direct, with kindness.
- Observe yourself: Reflect on any internal reactivity you might have noticed. Observe and respond to this with the same honesty and kindness you offered to others.
Actions taken based on such information, conversations, and reflection are more effective, especially when motivated by a genuine sense of universal responsibility.