We are not here to save the world
Only to belong to it more fully.”
At this critical planetary moment, the two of us are each considering what it means to deeply accept that our planetary home is in crisis — and how to move forward. Here are some of our individual reflections.
You, dear reader, who are paying such close attention to the unraveling of all that we know, must share in many of these feelings. When you see another of these grotesque, pasty-white iterations of humanity stuffed into a glossy suit, acting as nothing more than a fossil-fueled ventriloquist’s puppet, do you, like me, burn inside with rage, a rage that threatens to incinerate you? Do you fantasize of their demise? Of somehow bringing them, at least, a taste of the pain their soulless and heartless actions are bringing to the fish searching for food atop the bleached-out coral reefs? To show them the starving polar bears swimming for hundreds of miles to find no ice to rest upon? At these times, I wonder if any of these so-called humans can feel a goddamn thing anymore.
The optimistic position is simply naïve. The pessimistic predicts the precise design of the future and doesn’t acknowledge that we can do a lot in the name of compassion to make life easier on ourselves, one another, and other species—our triangle of resilience relationships. Many don’t seem to be able to hang out in the 8–9.5 range, and I am certainly practicing this myself. If our fear is great and especially if we have little tolerance for fear, we might even try to deny climate change altogether.
The irony of your starkly-titled book is that it ends up being, from our perspective, too ‘optimistic’. This may blind readers to the greatest new need now: for Deep Adaptation – that is, for accepting that some kind of eco-induced societal collapse is now not merely possible, but likely, and preparing honestly for it; for recognising that – while it is absolutely vital to continue to seek to mitigate our society’s climate-deadly emissions – the time is past when it was credible to fixate on doing this while ignoring the increasingly-urgent need for Deep Adaptation.
For it is only unacknowledged trauma that prompts us to act out in ways that make the problem worse. If what we have been calling “climate change” is, in fact, an unprecedented form of trauma that is prompting us to act out in such perplexing ways as questioning the validity of facts themselves, then there is tremendous potential for societal and global healing in simply bringing awareness to the nature of our collective wounding. As anyone who has walked a 12-step path will tell us, awareness is a powerful elixir.
A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things. Grief is also a way to honor what we are losing. “Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them,” thinker, writer, and teacher Martín Prechtel writes. “Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”
The animals know this and now all humans know this as well. Sensing the imminent death of all species, the cellular understanding of our common fate is making us ill. Our nervous and physical systems cannot bear this terrible knowledge. The growing understanding of the reality of the human caused 6th Extinction is resulting in Extinction Illness.
This planet is dying. Not just in the way that life on Earth is always, inevitably beginning and ending, that species are rising and falling, that extinction and evolution occur, and that temperature and sea levels cycle dramatically and irregularly. In the 21st century, Earth is hurtling toward a specific death with a shape, a name, and a timeline. It is dying of global warming, climate change, extinction, biological annihilation, and ocean acidification. The exact names and the exact timing is debated, but the overall trajectory of life on Earth is well-understood: We are in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, and the odds of human civilization reaching the 22nd century are often estimated at no better than 50/50.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans now say that climate change is caused mainly by human activity, the highest percentage since Gallup began tracking it two decades ago. The number of Americans who say they worry “a great deal” about climate change has risen by about 20 percentage points. But people don’t change their minds easily about controversial issues. So what is behind this trend?