I have been researching and writing about anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) for Truthout for the past year, because I have long been deeply troubled by how fast the planet has been emitting its obvious distress signals. On a nearly daily basis, I’ve sought out the most recent scientific studies, interviewed the top researchers and scientists penning those studies, and connected the dots to give readers as clear a picture as possible about the magnitude of the emergency we are in. This work has emotional consequences: I’ve struggled with depression, anger, and fear. I’ve watched myself shift through some of the five stages of grief proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance I’ve grieved for the planet and all the species who live here, and continue to do so as I work today. I have been vacillating between depression and acceptance of where we are, both as victims – fragile human beings – and as perpetrators: We are the species responsible for altering the climate system of the planet we inhabit to the point of possibly driving ourselves extinct, in addition to the 150-200 species we are already driving extinct. Can you relate to this grieving process?
When hope is used to reject reality, this is called denial, and denial usually has a darker side than the (fertile and therefore rejuvenating) darkness it initially resisted. When we accept the dark and difficult side of side of life, the experiences that are not rosy and peaceful, we give ourselves an opportunity to undergo transformation, a transformation that can deliver us in earnest to a new level of fulfillment, integration, and therefore healing.
So I am starting to accept that I can’t get there (to being-something-else) from here, and that we can’t get there (to a world not plunged headlong into the sixth great extinction of life) from here. To accept it, and to appreciate it. To stop fighting it. To just be who I inevitably am, in this world that is as it inevitably is, here, now.
Our time is one of apocalypse, an archetype found in the lore and myth of many times and peoples. As we face crises of ecology, economy, religion, politics, finance, education, agriculture, housing, water, air, and soil, as Earth overheats, species go extinct, and the air-giving oceans die on every side, we wonder how to make sense of it all, or indeed whether it’s even possible to. “It’s all a question of story,” wrote “geologian” Thomas Berry, priest and environmentalist, as things began to slide downhill. “We are in trouble just because we do not have a good story. We are between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”
Yet, despite all the horrors we have created, we are still doing precisely what we know will be ultimately destructive. Denial! Denial! We are still accepting a cultural value that annihilates the Earth. If we don’t change, we are going to our own extinction. This is precisely what addicts do. Addicts—in other words most of our society—pretend there’s nothing wrong. As they laugh and talk and plan, they deny their dying souls. That’s what we’re doing to the planet. We fight about things that won’t matter if we are extinct.
Again and again we see in the spiritual traditions the demand to “put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 3:11) and act like responsible adults. By contrast, to plunder without thought, to take without giving back, to make messes without cleaning them up, to demand that others pay for one’s own mistakes, to foster dependency instead of independence, to lie about the harmful impact of one’s business practices, and to attack the poor while remaining on permanent public welfare: these are the acts of exploitive narcissists who never escaped childhood.
It’s difficult to see how any of this destruction will stop until we realize, in the heart as well as in the head, that we are the sea. The earliest forms of life on Earth sparked in saline deeps. Declining plankton still feed plants and animals even while replenishing the atmosphere. The sea gives us minerals and medicines, moist clouds and mild climates. We can breathe because of it.
We know it in our bones, as well as our brains – the enormity of the times we live in, the cultural and environmental challenges, the opportunity to re-vision a human culture living in harmony with our planet.
We need to develop a new economy because the current version is not working. The industrial economy is destroying every aspect of the living planet. And, as it turns out, we need a living planet for our own survival.
In this essay, I briefly describe the horrors of the current interconnected, globalized, planet-destroying house of cards. Then I articulate another way, which is not difficult to do: It would pose quite a challenge to come up with a worse way, and we have several models from which to choose. I will focus on two such models, agrarian anarchy and the post-industrial Stone Age.
It’s no secret that for most people, getting outdoors and spending some time in nature is a soothing experience. In fact, research has shown that brief exposure to green outdoor spaces, or even photos of such settings, can improve concentration and impulse control in children and adults without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).