Someone who lives not far from me recently said, “I’m really tired of waiting and preparing for collapse. I keep hoping that something really big will push us over the cliff, but nothing happens, and I keep preparing, and all my friends keep calling me crazy. It’s really draining. I just want us to pass the tipping point.”
Two months later, the state of Colorado is in flames—and as I write these words, at least 12 wildfires here are uncontained. The worst (so far), the High Park fire west of Ft. Collins is only 55% contained, has burned nearly 100,000 acres, and will probably burn until the end of July. Meanwhile, a wildfire which exploded this past Sunday in Colorado Springs has caused the partial evacuation of the U.S. Air Force Academy and is charring many historical landmarks, and quite ironically, the mountain from which Catherine Lee Bates penned “America The Beautiful.”
For years, climate research has been pouring out of this state, particularly Boulder, where I live, which along with the University of Colorado, has produced a number of renowned climate experts. Yesterday, a smaller fire broke out in Boulder, caused by a lightning strike, and very ironically, the National Center For Atmospheric Research was partially evacuated—the venue of some of the most pivotal climate research on the planet.
The climate-related pine beetle infestation has produced millions of dead trees in Colorado, and nothing has been done to remove them or to clearcut forests to alleviate the problem. Years ago, fireworks and fires of all kinds should have been banned statewide and recreational wilderness shooting prohibited. Meanwhile, the energy and tourist industries have been carrying on business as usual, ignoring the tinder box which this state has become, especially in recent weeks with record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures and ghastly oppressive hot winds, atypical for Colorado but showing no signs of going away anytime soon.
As a result of the current fire devastation in this state, which may have only begun since it is only the end of June, the tourist industry will suffer a huge blow, not to mention the overall economy of the state.
Yes, just when some of us in Colorado were experiencing “collapse fatigue,” climate change kicked us in the butt, and we are now experiencing “wildfire fatigue.” This just after another failed UN conference in Rio on sustainability and environmental protection.
The reason many people experience collapse fatigue is that they are waiting for a dramatic, off-the-cliff event that will “prove” to themselves and their detractors that collapse is actually happening—and thereby bring civilization to its knees. Moreover, let’s be honest: Anyone who has researched collapse and is preparing for it has some last vestige of doubt, however miniscule, that the way of life we have known since birth will actually vanish. Why else do hundreds of people tell me that they feel schizophrenic about collapse as they continue knowing what they know, but interact with countless others who are clueless? Why else do some people confess that some part of them thinks they may be crazy for preparing?
We really are standing in the center of the Noah myth—building our arks, making preparations, with millions surrounding us who think we’re totally insane. Do you think maybe Noah got a little sense of satisfaction when it started to rain? Do you think maybe he broke out the champagne when the earth was completely covered with water?
All of us have had that feeling of gloating a little, or a lot, when external events have begun looking a lot like collapse. I’ll cop to it: In the days of Katrina, a part of me was screaming internally, “See!” After months of watching oil bubbling up from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico—an image that occupied TV screens and the internet for weeks, I was almost certain that this was the cliff event that would validate what so many of us had been exposing for so many years. As I watched the mind boggling tsunami that took out huge parts of Japan, a voice inside said, “After they see this, they will be forced to admit that civilization is collapsing!”
Well, so much for my gloating and my fondest hopes that footage of Katrina, the Gulf Oil spill, or the Japan tsunami and Fukushima reactor meltdowns would wake up the human race. Politicians brag that New Orleans has been “transformed,” the Gulf Coast tourism industry pumps out dazzling ads for vacationing “safely” in their petroleum-soaked toxic hellhole, and seafood from a radiated Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan is back on the shelves. I don’t even ask myself anymore what it will take to awaken the masses.
So how do we avoid collapse fatigue and just keep doing what we need to do?
First, we need to stop expecting the human race to wake up. We all have loved ones whom we deeply want to awaken. Some are only acquaintances, some are close friends, and some are spouses and life partners and children whose denial breaks our hearts on a daily basis. I think of Derrick Jensen’s question: How do we go on living, when every day our hearts break anew? Living under the same roof with people who will not admit that this culture is murdering them and the planet is gut-wrenching. I have no magic-bullet resolution for this.
Derrick Jensen also says: This culture is killing everyone and everything. To be alive now is to live in a world of wounds, a world of being wounded, quite possibly mortally, by this sociopathological culture.
This reality takes us to the emotion that we must not deny or ward off or minimize when we feel these wounds. That would be grief. Instead of trying to convert, we need to cry a river. Certainly, we should not stop sharing what we know, but for those who refuse to hear, one more Power Point, one more documentary, one more impeccably-researched article will not transform the mind of another human being too terrified to take it in. We’re not just grieving the loss of species, nature, beauty, food, water, clean air, stable climates, jobs, retirement savings, and countless hopes and dreams, we’re also grieving the loss of connection with the people who cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the end of civilization. So let the grieving begin, and let it never stop because it really is a bottomless pit of inconsolable anguish.
Moreover, through preparation, many people discover their greatness, that is to say, they become bigger people than they believed they were. Throughout history, people have found their voice and their viscera through resistance, or at least by way of holding a perspective highly divergent from the culture that caused them to feel alone, separate, or scorned by society at large. I am not glorifying these characteristics because community and mutual support are hugely important in preparation. In fact, it may be that experiencing oneself as somewhat of an outcast causes us to appreciate mutual support even more.
Honor the process of preparation, not for whether it will ultimately be needed, but for what the process is doing for you. I suggest serious journaling about this starting with the question: Even if collapse never happens in my lifetime, what are the benefits of preparing for it?
Think about all you’ve learned on the journey from your first fleeting awareness of collapse to the present moment. What skills have you learned? Which people have you met? What relationships have been strengthened? What relationships have dissolved or grown more distant? Contemplate all the ways your life has changed. What momentous decisions have you made? And most importantly: How has the journey changed you on the inside?
When you begin focusing on the answers to these questions, you are likely to stop focusing on waking other people up or worrying about whether some cliff event will.
Most people who have been consciously preparing over time tell me that they have discovered their deeper purpose in life through preparation. Many say they had no idea how much less alive they were before beginning to prepare and that preparation has brought them to unimagined levels of aliveness. A fascinating development, is it not, for those of us who are often accused of focusing on death?
I hope my readers will not tire of hearing me say that for me, the ultimate purpose of having a spiritual path is to become more human, more alive. Joseph Campbell said it best:
People say that what we are seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
Oh, I’ll be the first to admit that many aspects of life suck, but in those also, we have the opportunity to discover our utmost aliveness. In fact, a really useful question to stay with in preparation or in any situation of adversity is: How much aliveness am I willing to allow? As Jensen says, “to be alive is to be in a world of wounds,” but are you willing to be fully alive anyway?
Survivor guilt often overwhelms people who are preparing for or escaping any calamity. The nagging question of, “Why should I survive when that person over there can’t?” could destroy us. Here we tap into one of the great mysteries of life that we never get to know the answer to, and it always challenges our sense of worth. Am I worth saving? Am I worth full aliveness? Am I worth these even if people I really care about or those I don’t even know, don’t survive and never feel their full aliveness? Conscious preparation requires a great deal of self-love and self-compassion, as well as a tenacious willingness to let go of outcomes and reasons why.
Different aspects of collapse will leap to the foreground at different times. At the moment, climate change appears to be on the front burner, followed by economic demise and energy depletion. Each of these has a life of its own, each is happening simultaneously, and how much humans can do to alter what appears to be inevitable is uncertain. On some days, nothing feels more compelling than preparation. On other days, the urgency wanes, and we begin wondering if we’re crazy to be so focused on the future. Then a flood or fire or earthquake or hurricane or bank failure or job loss or vanishing pension reminds us that there may never be a global tipping point, but that our personal ones are always with us.