Reporting on Climate Change Is Harmful if You're Not Offering Solutions

Daniel Pinchbeck has been called an icon, a visionary, and a quack. The New York–based author came to mainstream prominence in 2006 with the release of his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, which used indigenous prophecies as a launch pad for exploring fringe phenomenon including crop circles, shamanic practices, ayahuasca, and aliens with an open-minded approach as aided by loads of psychedelic experiences and a few treks to Burning Man.

A bestseller, 2012 compounded Pinchbeck's status among the psychedelic elite initially earned through 2002's Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism, which forecasted the psychedelic renaissance of the moment. Subsequent projects—another bestseller, a documentary, website, think tank, and event series—expanded Pinchbeck's mission of demonstrating how ancient wisdom and emerging technologies can be used to solve the host of crises facing humanity.

But the psychedelic bon vivant tag earned earlier in Pinchbeck's career has been hard to shake. His latest book How Soon Is Now? explores how the complex failures of capitalism have fostered worldwide systems collapse, spiritual despair, and an ecological breaking point. In the face of constant, almost pornographically negative coverage of climate change, the book possesses a level-headed optimism that breaks down the New Age concept of "global awakening" into pragmatic action items that read like mental coolant for brains fried on Trump and Twitter.

Despite his big ideas and cultural cachet, Pinchbeck's new book has received minimal mainstream coverage. In a recent letter sent to raise money for a PR campaign, the now 51-year-old author wrote, "I learned that, while the worst alt right thugs are given air-time on nearly every major TV show to spew hate-filled trash, if you spend a decade exploring how we can re-design our world to benefit our human family as a whole while restoring our damaged ecosystems, the mainstream media will not let you share your views."

I called Pinchbeck so he could.

Your new book presents a lot of ideas for potential solutions to the planetary ecological crisis. What do you think is preventing people from taking to these ideas in an expansive way?
It's a very complicated situation. If you're part of the milieu that has access to progress in various areas, it's in some ways the most amazing time to be alive ever. Most of the people I know, even if they don't have a lot of wealth, are jetting around the planet going to festivals, doing yoga, exploring new opportunities for raw food or nutrition or sound baths. People are exploring Tantra and polyamory. People have more access to more types of experience than ever before.

On the other hand, there's a very strong, established structure based on old models of profit. Even people who are progressives in the investment space, people who are part of the Social Venture Network or whatever, they still want to invest in things that have the capacity for a certain return on investment. Unfortunately, when we think about what's happening on a planetary scale, this type of capitalism that's so based on growth and development is clearly in direct contradiction with our ability to have a future on the planet. So that's something people prefer to avoid confronting, because if you've made wealth, it's a big deal and you want to protect that wealth.

Another problem is the speed of change—people don't even know how to catch up. For me, there are some things that are really obvious. Media remains a big problem. I think VICE is doing a good job in some respects, but to me it's still not the type of transformational media that would inspire people to make more profound changes in their lives and want to be part of a movement for ecological and social regeneration.

How so?
I think it still comes out of a slightly cynical, fear-based thinking. New York Magazine a few weeks ago published this very devastating article "The Uninhabitable Earth." VICE has also done a lot of reporting that makes it all seem extremely negative. At this point, I don't think we should keep publishing stuff like that unless it's paired immediately with, "Here are the problems, and here's the solution set." For instance, if we radically reduce meat eating, 30 percent of the Earth's surface is animal grazing land. That means we could re-forest and turn a huge amount of the Earth's surface into a carbon sink.

The trend of deeply negative reporting still serves the corporate culture, because if people just feel doom and gloom, then you might as well just keep buying a bunch of crap, eat hamburgers, and chain smoke cigarettes because there's no future anyway. What we really need is a media that's authentic, transparent, and focused on solution paths. We must accept that real progress will require some serious changes in how we're doing business and living on the planet. People aren't ready to address that yet, unfortunately.

How do you personally maintain hope?
As I discuss in the book, I look at the ecological crisis as a rite of passage or initiation for humanity, much like a shamanic initiation on an individual level. When you undergo mystical, shamanic processes, you discover many things, and you discover that this world is not all there is. There are these other levels or dimensions of being or consciousness. In a way, I tend to believe this is something like a cosmic game or cosmic play that we're in, sort of like The Matrix. In that way, I have a deep sense that whatever is happening is meant to happen and probably there will be many more amazing things we'll discover in the future as well as in future incarnations. I think when you reach that kind of perspective, it helps to liberate you a little bit from fear around what's happening. I think it's the opposite of being detached, but being able to step more into a sense of wanting to help, take responsibility, and be of service.

What's one thing people can do in their daily lives to do those things you just mentioned?
Honestly, I think one of the first things people can do is read my book How Soon Is Now?, because without a systemic understanding of the situation we're in, it's actually very hard to act constructively. The book offers a systemic model of the levels of change that would need to happen and then drills down into details. I look at the three biggest areas. We have to think about the technical infrastructure in areas like energy, industry, and farming. For instance, with energy, we would need to make a transition to more or less 100 percent renewable energy not in 50 or 100 years but more like 10 or 20. That's not inconceivable. There's nothing technically preventing us from doing that. The only things preventing us are political and financial barriers.

The problem is that without a comprehensive model, people are just sort of scrambling around. It's all one big system, and [if you see that] then you can think about who you are and what you do. If you're a lawyer, maybe you need to take a pay cut and stop helping corporations do patenting and work for a nonprofit and defend indigenous rights or something. A lot of people still defend various actions they do to make a living that are of negative consequence to the planet, and I think people really need to stop doing that. Withdrawing our energy from these types of structures is really important. It's not enough to have a yoga practice and work for Monsanto. You have to have a yoga practice and do something that benefits the world.

I tend to agree with Slavoz Zizek, a political philosopher who talks about how a certain type of new age quasi-Eastern mysticism has actually become the underlying ideology of post-modern capitalism because it allows people to keep participating in the system while having a sense of inner detachment from it.

In what way?
People work in corporations, and corporations are now teaching mindfulness partially because it makes people more productive workers. That's not good enough. Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now is a great book, but there's no advocacy for ecological or social change. He's just saying, "Remember that you're now and connected to the present moment." I think that's not enough and Zizek is correct, that this type of ideology can just end up feeding the capitalist machine unless we also bring in a wisdom perspective that recognizes that our actions individually effect the whole collectively. If we're using our life energy to support systems that are destructive, then we're directly responsible for the thing that's happening.

Conversations like this often boil down to the fact that capitalism is the root of a lot of the problems we're up against. Do you think the system has any positive attributes?
For me, capitalism is fundamentally necessary as a transitional system. It has, over the past few centuries, meshed the world together into one global market. And now with Internet and satellites and so on, into one global brain. It seems to be this evolutionary process that's bringing us into this collective awareness as a species and the possibility to act together as one. The problem is that it forces constant development and unsustainable growth, which is inherently unstable. It's debt-based, and you have to constantly find new markets, so it actually leads to things like turning clean water, which we used to just have, into something you have to now buy in bottles. People used to just take care of one another's kids, and now we send them to daycare. People used to tell one another stories around the fire, and now they watch narratives on Netflix. Because capitalism is inherently unstable, it has to keep turning more and more things into marketable products. Essentially it turns everything into a marketable product. Air will be next. This is overtly unsustainable.

You recently started a fundraising campaign to raise money to promote your new book, which you said was completely ignored by the mainstream media. Why do you think this happened, given that your earlier work got a lot of press attention?
There are a number of things. My past work, particularly the second book 2012, considered psychic phenomenon, extraterrestrials, and prophesies in a serious manner. I think that's too much for the mainstream establishment media. You're not really allowed to cover those subjects in a way that doesn't just ridicule them. That book sold very well, was a best-seller, but people who work for the media are very busy and they kind of pigeonhole things. If you're pigeonholed as someone weird or marginal, it's easier for them to dismiss what you do. I anticipated some of that, but I didn't know so many people… I assumed there'd be somebody who'd be open to considering my ideas. But I couldn't find anybody, not one. It was painful. Also, because of the way the whole media system works, generally if you can't get reviewed by the New York Times or the New Yorker or TIME, then you can't get on a mainstream television show. And that makes it almost impossible for your book to reach its intended audience

What makes me really sad is that I had spent many years on this book—it's not very long or complicated, but it took me a long time to figure it out—that tries to present an optimistic viewpoint on what we could do to deal with the disaster we've unleashed. I thought for sure there would be a cultural hearing for these ideas and maybe even an understanding that it would have to be someone a little bit outside of the mainstream system to make that intellectual journey, because you can't really do it if you're writing about culture, writing about science, from within the establishment. You need to be an outsider—that is how paradigms always change, from the outside. Meanwhile, the people who are part of this alt-right movement are given so much airtime to express a perspective on the world that I find really disgusting. So it felt very demoralizing to see how the cultural machinery functions.

Are you in any respects feeling the shift you're attempting to foster?
All I can really say is that we're in a pressure cooker of a situation, and there are people who are evolving, and there are new tools available, and this level of cultural insanity is really dangerous. Whatever the alt-right has constructed—we seem to be in one of those phases of collective psychosis, and it can go in any direction. It could easily go in the direction of something very dark. If it's not going to do that, it's going to be because some type of intervention on the part of all these people that are waking up, that we figure out how to work together more coherently, and we build structures and use media to shift the perception and show how the people have gotten hoodwinked by fossil fuel misinformation and all this stuff. I can't say that I feel it's going great right now on that level, but what do I know? I think it's a wonderful story that we're in, and it may have a fantastic and totally unanticipated conclusion.

A Journey of the Mind and Soul

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

The debate over whether Buddhism and psychedelics complement or obstruct each other has always been a vibrant one. Is drinking ayahuasca a short cut past meditation to Enlightenment? Or, if you’re a practicing Buddhist, is it a nice idea to occasionally run away to a forest with some friends and a bag of Psilocybe semilanceata? Well, now there is a new generation of spiritual seekers who want to know the answer. I want to know the answer.

An instant classic when it first appeared in 2002, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics is an anthology of thoughts from some of the most brilliant minds on the subject. It was re-published a few years ago and its author, Allan Badiner, is a fellow writer and friend of mine (Zig Zag Zencame out around the same time as my own book, Breaking Open the Head – A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Modern Shamanism).

I called Allan one afternoon as I hurried in light rain toward New York’s Grand Central station to pick up my daughter. He picked up the phone in Big Sur.

Daniel Pinchbeck: Allan, what is the essential connection between Buddhism and psychedelic use?
Allan Badiner: Both share an interest in the primacy of mind, and present moment awareness, but they are very different in character, and do not have much shared history – until quite recently. The Beat Generation, hippies and the 1960s cultural revolution were all products of both Eastern wisdom traditions—of which Buddhism is very much a part—and the sacraments; LSD, mushrooms and peyote.

Teachers of that era like Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Ram Dass and others, all talked about Buddhism and psychedelics and I think the relationship between them manifests in the context of the human pursuit of evolution.

Many people seek the compassionate wisdom of the dharma (the Buddhist community and philosophy), as well as the psychic re-set that certain plant substances offer because of their power to transform. A kind of practical magic results when the ‘Zig’ zags into Zen; when a time-tested ethical system meets plant-assisted changes in consciousness.

How did you first get interested in this area?
At 30, I quit my job as a Hollywood agent and traveled in India and Sri Lanka for a year. Before re-entering to America, I was advised to do a two-week Buddhist meditation retreat in Sri Lanka. It was awful. Dirty, bugs everywhere, painful sitting for hours a day, stewed greens at 6AM for breakfast and the same greens for lunch. No dinner.

Two days before it was over, everything changed. I experienced a tidal wave of quiet ecstasy, filled with profuse gratitude for being alive, simultaneously living as though each moment could clearly be the last – but grateful that it wasn’t. I felt a fierce sense of total connection with everyone; with trees, animals, even bugs, and the Earth herself.

When did psychedelics enter your life?
After I returned from India, still in the meditative glow, I went to a party where a dear friend asked me to close my eyes and stick out my tongue. Knowing of my aversion to drugs, she told me not to worry and just enjoy. Later on, I was admiring the broad view of LA and began talking to someone I knew, but did not like.

My internal voice was trying to tell me to get away! But I saw qualities in her I’d never noticed and was enjoying her company immensely. That feeling of powerful connection returned – I felt rooted in the Earth, aware of my breathing and the exchange of gases that entails.

Sounds like Ecstasy!
Yes, but while some would argue MDMA is not a psychedelic, it certainly felt like one. I was writing a column called ‘Mind and Spirit’ for LA Weekly at the time, and the journalist in me had to know more about this stuff.

This led me to a meeting with the legendary psychedelic chemist Sasha Shulgin. Sasha discovered 2CB, and thousands of other chemicals, and was also responsible for rediscovering MDMA in the 70s. His shock of white hair and unreserved, toothy smile reminded me of gurus in India. I interviewed other visionary thinkers, like Terence McKenna, and from there I experimented sporadically with psilocybin mushrooms and had my one and only encounter with ayahuasca in 1987.

Many critics argue that Buddhism and psychedelics are incompatible. The Buddhist writer Ken Wilber talks about the distinction between “states and traits.” With psychedelics, it might be easy to change the former, but much harder to change the latter. The idea being that sudden access to altered states of consciousness through substances does not lead to long-term changes in character.
Yes, religion scholar Huston Smith who wrote the foreword for Zig Zag Zen noted that, “while psychedelic use is all about altered states, Buddhism is all about altered traits, and one does not necessarily lead to the other.”

Despite the fact that Zig Zag Zen also represents these opposing views, I was hoping there would be a hailstorm of criticism, with Buddhist demonstrations in the streets of Boulder, San Francisco, and the Upper West Side – all helping to drive sales higher. But the Buddhists—even those with a capital ‘B’—said, “Buddhism, drugs… ok, yes. Next?”

“It’s interesting that even among those who criticise psychedelic use, if you can get them to talk about their own personal experience with consciousness expanding drugs, it is amazing how good their journeys sound”

At a recent talk, Ken Wilber observed that “people that use psychedelics with some form of spiritual practice or meditation get an enormous benefit from it ­– more than with just one or the other.”

One often hears about drug prohibition in Buddhism. Isn’t there a Buddhist precept that forbids the use of substances that change consciousness?
The precepts are not hard rules or commandments but guiding principles in order to facilitate progress on the path. Buddhists refrain from killing, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct and incorrect speech.

According to Robert Thurman, chair of Buddhism at Columbia University, the fifth precept specifically refers to alcohol, which was a problem even in the Buddha’s day as it’s likely to lead to carelessness, and the user breaking the other four precepts.

Do you think the Buddha used psychedelics?
That is a very interesting question. We know psychoactive plants, particularly cannabis, were used widely as part of spiritual practice at the time of the Buddha, and no pejorative or unfavourable attitudes about the use of cannabis are known to have existed at the time. We also know that the Shaivite tradition of Hinduism, in particular, has a field of cannabis growing behind temples throughout India for use by the holy men or sadhus.

We know that the Buddha tried all the available strategies along the path to enlightenment, including extreme asceticism – fasting long periods, remaining on the bare ground without shelter, staying alongside the ghats in Varanasi where the bodies of the dead were cremated.

The rules for aspiring monks and nuns were incredibly specific and detailed about what not to do, and nowhere is any reference to psychoactive plants found among them. So it would seem unlikely that he singled out this element to pass over during his many years of searching.

Why is there such a renewed interest in psychedelics today? Why do people seem increasingly fascinated by meditation and other esoteric practices, and combining these practices with psychedelics?
Because we are teetering on the brink of total destruction of the life support systems of the planet. As LSD inventor Albert Hoffman said, the year before he passed away at 102: “Alienation from nature and the loss of the experience of being part of the living creation is the causative reason for ecological devastation and climate change.

I attribute the absolute highest importance to consciousness change, and I regard psychedelics as catalysers for this.” The Anthropocene, the age of human-driven change in the Earth’s natural systems, has ushered in a new enthusiasm for shamanic and psychedelic tools for evolution.

What else can offer the kind of potential for mental evolution and change with the rapidity required by the worsening health of the ecosystem? Simultaneously, we are experiencing a veritable psychedelic revolution in medicine.


“It’s a legitimate question to ask: could psychedelics be an imperative for our survival?”

Substances earlier held to be without medical usefulness and made illegal, are now being studied as potentially valuable therapeutics. As the psychologist Ralph Metzner—a contributor to Zig Zag Zen—points out: “Two of the most beneficent potential areas of application of psychedelic technologies are in the treatment of addictions and in the psycho-spiritual preparation for the final transition.”

Assuming someone wanted to experience psychedelics in a way that is compatible with their Buddhist practice, are some substances more suitable than others?
I think the Buddhist test for the suitability of a substance is this: can it be reasonably expected to produce more compassion, and a greater degree of conscious awareness? Examples of such materials might include cannabis, hashish, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, MDMA, ayahuasca, or peyote. A Buddhist approach would be to employ known strategies of experienced users, such as paying careful attention to set and setting.

Set refers to the state of mind going into the experience and the intention of the user in terms of what kind of results are intended. Preparing oneself spiritually for a psychedelic experience might include reading from the words of the Buddha, meditating, yoga or fasting. Making the effort to articulate an intention is also very helpful.

Here is one example: “My intention is to have an inspiring and meaningful journey that helps me experience the love of giving, not receiving; helps me bring forth courage and let go of fear; and helps me to live in the awareness that all things are connected in the vast organism we call life.”

Are some venues or situations more conducive than others?
Setting refers to the physical environment within which we choose to have the experience, including other people. If one is inexperienced with the use of psychedelics, it may be a good idea to have what is called a sitter – someone you trust, who cares about you, to tend to any needs you may have. Some people may appreciate being in a festival setting with music they enjoy and a multitude of friends. Hydration is always critically important.

Well, this has been very informative. Thanks Allan, I’ve reached the station. See you soon.

Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics by Allan Badiner is available from Synergetic Press.