According to Avi Loeb, a Harvard scientist, humanity will destroy itself long before the sun will have the opportunity to do so. Humans should be less concerned about what the sun will do and more concerned about the damage we are doing to ourselves.
Loeb warns that humanity will likely bring about its own demise “as a result of self-inflicted wounds long before the sun will pose its predictable threat.” Scientists say that in billions of years, the sun will incinerate our oceans leaving a desolate and dead planet devoid of life. But we are doing enough damage to ourselves, that humanity won’t even make it long enough to witness such an event.
As the star runs out of hydrogen and helium atoms to burn in its core, it glows brighter and brighter. Eventually, the sun will bombard Earth with enough high-energy light to incinerate the world’s oceans, melt the polar ice caps, and strip our atmosphere of all moisture — effectively killing all life. –Business Insider
“I am inclined to believe that our civilization will disappear as a result of self-inflicted wounds long before the sun will pose its predictable threat,” Loeb wrote. “Why do I believe that? Because the dead silence we hear so far from the numerous habitable exoplanets we’ve discovered may indicate that advanced civilizations have much shorter lives than their host stars.”
But is there a solution to humanity’s demise? A BBC reporter recently posed that very question to Loeb, an astronomer. In a recent Scientific American blog post, Loeb stated how imperative it is for our species to relocate to other parts of the universe that are less close to our sun’s vacillating brightness.
The astronomer doesn’t want us to remain shackled to existing planets and moons, either. He said it’d be best if humanity could “manufacture a gigantic structure that will be able [to maneuver] the optimal orbital distance at any given time” from the sun’s deadly energy. Once we successfully colonize both nearby and interstellar space, Loeb added, we can make genetically identical copies of ourselves and “the flora and fauna we hold dear” to seed other planets with life.
However, Loeb is not optimistic that this will happen. Humanity is on track to wipe itself out before the sun can pose a real threat. Obviously, the astronomer’s solution is one that will have to happen in the future and therefore, won’t do much for preserving people alive on Earth today. But to Loeb, it is more important to ensure the longevity of our species as a whole rather than protecting “our own skin.”
A United Nations report described as the most authoritative and comprehensive assessment of global biodiversity ever published found that human exploitation of the natural world has pushed a million plant and animal species to the brink of extinction—with potentially devastating implications for the future of civilization.
Conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and released Monday, the report warned that species extinction rates are “accelerating” at an “unprecedented” rate due to the human-caused climate crisis and economic activity.
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” Sir Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, said in a statement. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.”
While the report’s findings—compiled by a team of hundreds of experts from 50 nations—are dire and cause for serious alarm, Watson said, there is still a window for action.
“It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” said Watson. “Through ‘transformative change,’ nature can still be conserved, restored, and used sustainably—this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic, and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values.”
Eduardo Brondizio, co-chair of the IPBES, echoed Watson, saying “business as usual has to end.”
The IPBES report comes as youth-led movements across the globe are organizing and taking to the streets en masse to pressure political leaders to take climate action in line with the urgency demanded by the scientific evidence.
Andrew Wetzler, managing director of the nature program for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told the Washington Post that the IPBES assessment shows “that nature is collapsing around us and it’s a real wake-up call to humanity.”
The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20 percent, mostly since 1900;
More than 40 percent of amphibian species, almost 33 percent of reef forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened;
The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10 percent being threatened;
At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9 percent of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.
Andy Purvis, professor at the Natural History Museum in London and one of the report’s main authors, said the findings show that the “society we would like our children and grandchildren to live in is in real jeopardy.”
“This is the most thorough, the most detailed and most extensive planetary health check. The take home message is that we should have gone to the doctor sooner. We are in a bad way,” Purvis said. “I cannot overstate it. If we leave it to later generations to clear up the mess, I don’t think they will forgive us.”
All the old ideas for uprooting the status quo have failed. I point this out not to depress people, but to persuade them to stop twisting on locked doorknobs. The old ideas don’t work, so we need new ones.
The political process has failed. Capitalism has failed. Socialism has failed. Libertarianism has failed. Marx has failed. Populism has failed. Anarchism has failed. I say this not because of any glaring flaws in any of those ideas (in theory any of them could potentially work in an alternate universe), but because we are hurtling towards extinction in the fairly near future, and none of them have saved us.
“But Caitlin!” you may object. “My particular favorite ideology would have saved us long ago if only everyone had gotten on board with it!”
Okay. But they didn’t. And now we’re on the brink of armageddon. That means it has failed. It doesn’t work.
We are well on our way to extinction via climate collapse or nuclear holocaust, and even if we miss those by some miracle we are headed toward an artificial intelligence-led tech dystopia in which our consciousness is permanently enslaved by a propaganda network that is far too advanced for there to be any hope of escaping into truth.
Our ecosystem is very fragile and rapidly fading, and the difference between the ability to survive without it and our current scientific capability is the difference between flying and jumping. Which won’t matter if one of the many small, unpredictable moving parts in the steadily escalating new cold war with Russia results in a nuclear weapon being deployed as a result of misunderstanding or miscommunication and sparking off the annihilation of every organism on earth, as nearly happened during the last cold war on more than one occasion.
This is where the status quo has gotten us. All attempts to overthrow it have failed. The time is up, and the results are in.
The political process doesn’t work.
I say this not because the political process can’t work, due to some technical failure in the way it has been applied. I say this because it doesn’t work, as evidenced by the fact that we’re on the cusp of the apocalypse with no signs of steering clear of it. Attempts to uproot the status quo via political engagement and voting does not work.
“But Caitlin!” you may object. “The only reason the political process doesn’t work is because it has been hijacked by corrupt powers with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo! If we can extract those corrupt powers, we can make the political process work!”
Okay. But you didn’t. You were unable to extract the corrupt powers, and now we’re on the brink of extinction. Your strategy has failed.
Capitalism doesn’t work.
I say this not because capitalism can’t work in theory, I say this because it doesn’t work in practice. How do I know it doesn’t work in practice? Because the planet is dying and we’ve all got doomsday weapons pointing at our heads that may go off at any moment. The results are in. Capitalism doesn’t work.
“But Caitlin!” you may object. “What we’ve tried hasn’t been real capitalism! The free market hasn’t been given a chance to solve all our problems, because of the artificial interference and regulations of Big Government. If we can get rid of Big Government, we can solve all our problems!”
Okay. But that never happened. And now here we are at the end of the world, watching our planet ripped to shreds by status quo power structures. Capitalism failed. It doesn’t work.
Socialism doesn’t work.
I say this not because socialism can’t work in theory, I say it because it doesn’t work in real life, as evidenced by the fact that our world is on fire, our time is up, and we are all about to die. Socialism failed to save us. It doesn’t work.
“But Caitlin!” you may object. “Socialism hasn’t worked because it’s never had a chance to work! If the capitalist imperialists would just stop sabotaging socialist experiments, it would thrive and replace the status quo! We’d all be saved!”
Okay. But we’re not. The worldwide populace has not answered the call of socialism in sufficient numbers to overthrow the interests which oppose it, and now we’re at the end of days. The plan was to unite the working class against the elite oppressors around the world and implement socialism, and it failed. It is a strategy which does not work.
Libertarianism doesn’t work.
We could do this all day, with any number of ideologies. Perhaps libertarianism could work under the right circumstances, but attempts to rally the public around it have utterly failed, and now we’re staring down the barrel of extinction. You can object and make excuses, or you can acknowledge that the strategies for implementing your preferred status quo-challenging ideology don’t work, and find new ones.
It’s easy to isolate yourself within a particular ideological echo chamber and create the illusion for yourself that your pet ideology is making progress. Oh look, Russiagate was disproven. Oh look, Jeremy Corbyn did well in those last elections. Oh look, the Democratic Socialists of America gained a few thousand members. But if you step out of that echo chamber and look at the big picture, you see a futile tug-of-war between feuding ideologies with no gains made anywhere near the scale that would be necessary to avert the massive threats on our horizon.
My point here is that we may have found an ideological standpoint that really resonates with us, and that ideology itself may be intrinsically worthy and vastly superior to the status quo. But the strategies for implementing that strategy have failed spectacularly. If you can’t implement your strategy, you’re just diddling cutesy ideas while the world burns. It’s just a nice identity for you to hold onto and make your feely bits feel nice.
“I’m a Marxist!”
“I’m an anarchist!”
No you’re not. You’re an ideological LARPer dressing up in an identity and pretending to change the world, while the world itself tumbles into the abyss.
Again, I say this not to create a sense of hopelessness, but to get people to stop wasting time and energy pushing on locked doors. Stop trying strategies that people have been trying for decades with essentially zero ground gained, and try something else instead. Stop hanging out in your little echo chambers and thinking that anything’s changing just because you are surrounded by people who agree with you. Sure, hold onto your beliefs about what kind of system would most benefit the world if you like, but be acutely aware that those beliefs in our current situation are completely meaningless.
The reality is that as long as powerful people control the dominant public narratives, no ground will be gained in steering our species away from the status quo trajectory that’s killing us, because you won’t be able to awaken mainstream consciousness to what’s going on. The only thing that has any hope of prying the oligarchic hands off the steering wheel is the mainstream public seeing what they’re doing and using the power of their numbers to force drastic change in a wildly different direction. If we can’t make that happen, we’re all just banging on locked doors while the curtain closes on humanity.
We all need to do better. I include myself in this. We need to try new things. Many, many new things. We need new ideas. What kind of new ideas? I don’t know, that’s why I’m telling you. I’m just one woman, and I put as many ideas out there as I can, but it’s not enough. Clearly it’s not enough, because here we are.
In my opinion the obvious way to open up a path for dissident ideas to replace the status quo is to kill the public trust in the stories they were told in school and continue to be told by the mass media about the kind of world and country they live in, but so far that hasn’t happened. My own ideas for advancing that agenda which I’ve been seeding into the world have been inadequate, and so have everyone else’s. So we need more new ideas. Lots and lots of new ideas.
What we’ve tried up until now hasn’t worked, so if there’s anything that might work it’s going to come from a wildly unanticipated direction, from way outside the failed mental processes which have accompanied us to this point. We need to open ourselves to that kind of idea.
That’s basically all I’ve got to offer today. A helpless but sincere plea for humanity to try something new, spat out onto the internet in the Hail Mary hope that it might plant some seeds and loosen the soil for something unprecedented to open up in human consciousness. Sometimes that’s all that we can do.
We are witnessing a worldwide environmental collapse, and nobody seems to know how to stop it. As you will see below, a study that was just released that looked at more than 5,000 species of birds, mammals and amphibians discovered that nearly a quarter of them “will almost certainly face extinction”. Never before has our society faced such a massive collapse of life on a planetary scale, and yet the vast majority of the population doesn’t seem concerned about what is happening. Species after species is being permanently wiped out, and most of us couldn’t care less.
The time for action is now. According to this new study, over 1,200 species will soon be extinct unless dramatic action is taken. The following comes from the Guardian…
More than 1,200 species globally face threats to their survival in more than 90% of their habitat and “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention, according to new research.
Scientists working with Australia’s University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have mapped threats faced by 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians to determine which parts of a species’ habitat range are most affected by known drivers of biodiversity loss.
Once these species are gone, they will be gone forever.
Scientists are telling us that we have entered “the sixth major extinction” in the history of our planet. A brand new survey of 73 scientific reports that was just released has come to the conclusion that the total number of insects on the globe is falling by 2.5 percent per year. If we stay on this current pace, the survey warns that there might not be “any insects at all” by the year 2119. And since insects are absolutely critical to the worldwide food chain, that has extremely ominous implications for all of us.
In case you are wondering, humanity would not survive very long without insects.
In fact, it has been estimated that if all bees go extinct that most of humanity will be wiped out within ten years.
The global food chain is literally dying right in front of our eyes, and I cannot understand why more people are not deeply alarmed by this.
We are facing an unprecedented crisis in our oceans as well. Researchers in Canada have discovered that levels of phytoplankton have dropped by about 40 percent since 1950…
The tiny organisms, known as phytoplankton, also gobble up carbon dioxide to produce half the world’s oxygen output—equaling that of trees and plants on land.
But their numbers have dwindled since the dawn of the 20th century, with unknown consequences for ocean ecosystems and the planet’s carbon cycle.
Researchers at Canada’s Dalhousie University say the global population of phytoplankton has fallen about 40 percent since 1950.
Without phytoplankton, our oceans would quickly become giant “dead zones”, and at the pace we are going we don’t have too long before that will happen.
And the truth is that the frightening drop in phytoplankton levels is already having a dramatic impact on the food chain. I have shared the following quote from Chris Martenson before, but it is worth sharing again…
Fewer phytoplankton means less thiamine being produced. That means less thiamine is available to pass up the food chain. Next thing you know, there’s a 70% decline in seabird populations.
This is something I’ve noticed directly and commented on during my annual pilgrimages to the northern Maine coast over the past 30 years, where seagulls used to be extremely common and are now practically gone. Seagulls!
Next thing you know, some other major food chain will be wiped out and we’ll get oceans full of jellyfish instead of actual fish.
Are you starting to understand where I am coming from?
Our planet is literally dying, and there is only a very, very limited amount of time to do anything about it.
Meanwhile, western civilization is dying as well. Paul Joseph Watson has just produced a video entitled “The Collapse Of Western Civilization”, and it is perhaps the finest video that he has created to date. If you have not seen it yet, I would encourage you to check it out.
In an accompanying article, Watson listed some of the evidence that our society is in the process of collapsing…
From spiritual bankruptcy, to mass chemical dependence, to rampant addiction to sensual stimulation.
Almost every factor that precedes the collapse of great civilizations has been met by the west.
Our destruction is long overdue.
Depression is at its highest level ever. Drug addiction is at its highest level ever.
People identifying as Christians is at its lowest level ever.
As usual, Watson is right on the money. We have lost our values, we have no clear direction as a society, and we are deeply, deeply miserable. Just consider the following numbers from the CDC…
The number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since federal data collection started in 1999, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by two public health nonprofits.
The national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide rose from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, a 6 percent increase, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust reported Tuesday.
Most people do not have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Without meaning and purpose, most people drift aimlessly through life, and that must change.
Time is running out for our exceedingly vacuous society. We are literally destroying ourselves and everything around us, and here in the western world we have completely lost our values. We are on a road to nowhere, and we will soon be overtaken by the consequences of our very foolish actions.
“In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left, and in 100 years you will have none,” Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, a coauthor of the study, told The Guardian.
That’s a major problem, because insects like bees, butterflies, and other pollinators perform a crucial role in fruit, vegetable, and nut production.
Plus, bugs are food sources for many bird, fish, and mammal species – some of which humans rely on for food.
2. Earth appears to be undergoing a process of “biological annihilation.” As much as half of the total number of animal individuals that once shared the Earth with humans are already gone.
A 2017 study looked at all animal populations across the planet (not just insects) by examining 27,600 vertebrate species – about half of the overall total that we know exist. They found that more than 30 percent of them are in decline.
Some species are facing total collapse, while certain local populations of others are going extinct in specific areas. That’s still cause for alarm, since the study authors said these localised population extinctions are a “prelude to species extinctions”.
So even declines in animal populations that aren’t yet categorized as endangered is a worrisome sign.
3. More than 26,500 of the world’s species are threatened with extinction, and that number is expected to keep going up.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, more than 27 percent of all assessed species on the planet are threatened with extinction.
Currently, 40 percent of the planet’s amphibians, 25 percent of its mammals, and 33 percent of its coral reefs are threatened.
The IUCN predicts that 99.9 percent of critically endangered species and 67 percent of endangered species will be lost within the next 100 years.
4. A 2015 study that examined bird, reptile, amphibian, and mammal species concluded that the average rate of extinction over the last century is up to 100 times as high as normal.
Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the book The Sixth Extinction, told National Geographic that the outlook from that study is dire; it means 75 percent of animal species could be extinct within a few human lifetimes.
5. In roughly 50 years, 1,700 species of amphibians, birds, and mammals will face a higher risk of extinction because their natural habitats are shrinking.
By 2070, 1,700 species will lose 30 percent to 50 percent of their present habitat ranges thanks to human land use, a 2019 study found.
Specifically, 886 species of amphibians, 436 species of birds, and 376 species of mammals will be affected and consequently will be at more risk of extinction.
6. Logging and deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is of particular concern.
Roughly 17 percent of the Amazon has been destroyed in the past five decades, mostly because humans have cut down vegetation to open land for cattle ranching, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Even deforestation in a small area can cause an animal to go extinct, since some species live only in small, isolated areas.
Every year, more than 18 million acres of forest disappear worldwide. That’s about 27 soccer fields’ worth every minute.
In addition to putting animals at risk, deforestation eliminates tree cover that helps absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Trees trap that gas, which contributes to global warming, so fewer trees means more CO2 in the atmosphere, which leads the planet to heat up.
7. In the next 50 years, humans will drive so many mammal species to extinction that Earth’s evolutionary diversity won’t recover for some 3 million years, one study said.
So…here we are, only a year away from 2020 and contemplating another year in the struggle for survival. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we’ve got about 12 years to turn this climate change thing around and that’s just to avoid catastrophe, never mind guaranteeing a healthy planet in the future. Such a catastrophe could well involve the extinction of human beings, which would reveal just how dumb we are. Is there anything more stupid that the most intelligently-evolved species on the planet could do than commit mass suicide?
Barbarism and Extinction
I am astounded at the tenacity, resilience and persistence of folks such as climate scientist James Hansen who, on behalf of future generations, have been shouting about the environmental threat since the late 1980s. And, since those days of his Congressional testimony Hansen, who worked for many years at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has courageously spread the word about climate change to fulfill part of NASA’s mission statement: To Understand and Protect the Home Planet.
Indeed, this was part of the mission statement of NASA until 2006 when those fateful words were quietly and very symbolically removed. Organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists were very disturbed about this development, noting at the time that research and funding opportunities related to earth science and climate change would be much harder to justify with NASA’s new focus solely on space exploration. Some may say it’s a bloody good job that we are learning more about life on other planets and how we can get there, given that a privileged bunch of us may have to flee this one at some point in the not-to-distant future. And, given the inequalities inherent in our current economic order, it will be only the rich that are saved. As for the poor and marginalized, they would be left behind to endure some sort of Mad Max-style barbarism and death.
At the recent climate summit in Poland, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned the plenary that ignoring the science is not just immoral, it’s “suicidal.” While we can feel some hope that the “High Ambition Coalition” of global North and several global South countries are committed to cutting their emissions in line with the 1.5 C temperature rise limit, there are some disturbing realities that must be confronted. Not to put too fine a point on it but achieving the 1.5C limit will require a global revolution. And it is not just about a revolution in technology. And it is certainly not about clever carbon emissions juggling and some tweaking of existing policy. It is fundamentally about recognizing that fossil capitalism, as Ian Angus calls it, is literally killing us.
This is not a new message for those on the environmental left, but for the global North mainstream, and perhaps particularly the Anglo-American portion of that mainstream, it is not an especially welcome message. Downsizing the “American way of life” implies not only radical changes to our daily consumption habits, including what we put on our plates, it also requires a radical ethos of solidarity and compassion that come into direct conflict with the individualist, competitive, growth-obsessed economic culture that dominates our societies. We are talking about a cultural shift that puts the health and welfare of people, communities and nature before profit and access to cheap “stuff.” It has almost become common place in environmental circles to point out that for everyone on the planet to live as we do in North America would require 3-5 planets. Last time I checked we only had one.
Capitalism and Structural Violence
We need to directly confront the structural violence of contemporary capitalist institutional frameworks and processes brought to you by the world’s largest corporations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the various not so “free” trade agreements dotting the planet (have you seen any workers freely crossing borders lately while capital springs around boundary-less?).
These institutions provide the stage and grease the wheels (literally!) for rampant overconsumption in the global North while promising this lifestyle for increasing numbers in the global South. As living a life of dignity becomes less possible in many countries of the global South and inequality reaches what Oxfam has called “obscene” levels, the ghosts of our failed economic model appear in the form of economic refugees knocking increasingly loudly on our door only to discover tear gas or a wall. It is crucial that we recognize the connections between our Monty Python-sized ecological footprint and the economic and environmental marginalization of a significant majority of humanity. Increasing numbers of people are simply becoming irrelevant to the global economy.
Remember when we used to have dreams about technological developments meaning that time could be freed up for human beings to more deeply pursue their potential by having more of the mundane, dirty and necessary jobs done by machines? But as authors such as Garry Leech note, the “logic of capital” means that these greater efficiencies are often simply about increasing rates of profit while providing access to cheap stuff. Still reeling from “Black Friday” and heading into the holiday buying season, it is all too clear how much we like our stuff.
From a political perspective, maybe the good news is that climate change could be the great equalizer. While the effects are being and will continue to be disproportionately experienced by the poor, women, and people of colour, ultimately none of us can escape its consequences. However, in rich capitalist countries, while we face neoliberal austerity and rising inequality, we still have enough material comfort to pacify most of the population and to blind many of us to the realities of capitalism at a global level, from which we cannot separate ourselves.
I recently spent some time living in Cuba, the only country in the world, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, to have achieved “sustainable development” and where the question of what a future relationship with the capitalist world will look like is being asked very intentionally. It occurred to me while there, that from the perspective of climate change, it is perhaps even more important for usto ask what kind of relationship we will have with capitalism in the future. While our immediate issues and priorities may be different from Cuba’s, the question of what kind of values we want to live by and stand for is something that we can decide consciously, and this may be the most significant question we have to ask in contemporary politics.
The End of the World is Not Sexy
So, what is to be done? What are we not doing that we should be doing? When I asked Cuban permaculture expert Roberto Perez what we need to do and what we need to talk about in the current moment to create social change in the global North that would contribute to a more socially just and ecologically sustainable global order, he replied: “When creating a political movement, I always think that things have to be attractive and sexy. The end of the world is not sexy.” We have learned the hard way that simply presenting people with the hard facts of global poverty, unjust wars and environmental degradation does not always lead to behavioral changes. This work is important and needs to happen but there is more to the picture.
The difficult thing to digest is that all of us in the global North are implicated in the continuation of the current economic model. And not because we are bad people. In actual fact, that we are all “guilty” is also good news in the sense that it highlights how we are all interdependent because our activities, purchases and general lifestyles are intimately connected to the fates of other human beings both within our own countries and around the world. In other words, changing our ways can save lives and the planet.
It is due to the everyday lifestyle choices of those in the North, and increasing numbers in China and India, along with the “threat” of those aspiring to live like us, that the capitalist growth machine keeps going. Even when we “know” what the consequences will be, it is difficult to get off the consumption train because everything we do from driving a car, to buying a pair of shoes, to flying to visit our sick grandmother, to eating a cheeseburger turns the wheels. Some people bike to work, shop ethically, and boycott factory farms, among other things, but there is still an underlying awareness that none of us can completely step off the train unless perhaps we decide to live isolated in the middle of the woods. But even living in the woods won’t work because not taking action to stop the train is also a form of accepting it—and the consequences of climate change will still be felt, even in the woods.
So, if providing people with the terrifying “facts” does not necessarily change behavior then what are we missing? Are we all just increasingly depressed and feeling more and more impotent? It turns out that the idea of the world ending really isn’t sexy after all because the changes required of us mean confronting many of our daily habits and comforts—and the less politically-minded may ask, for what? Some vague hope that paying more for my locally-produced organic veggies will make a dent in industrial monoculture crop production? Or that not buying an iPad may contribute to improvements in human rights for Chinese workers? Or not going through the fast food drive-thru may contribute to ending the systematic cruelty of factory farms? Or biking to work (if that is even possible) may mean I don’t contribute so much to fossil fuel emissions? Or putting up solar panels, getting a windmill, exploring geothermal heating etc.? And which f—king toothpaste should I buy? Why are there 20 choices?
Is it surprising that 21st century activists, and those simply aspiring to be good citizens, are a tad neurotic? The list of places and moments where ethical choices present themselves is endless. And is it any coincidence that it seems to be largely the middle and upper classes that have these options? Living ethically in North America not only requires a budget but to some degree it requires the privilege of social capital. Again, it is no coincidence that lifestyle diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes are disproportionately prevalent along race and class lines in North America.
Avoiding a Dumb Death
Buddhist scholar and philosopher Joanna Macy suggests that what many of us see as apathy in our fellow citizens is actually pain avoidance. We don’t want to face our own pain and sadness and neither do we want to confront the collective pain of the broader culture we are a part of. While indigenous cultures can’t imagine seeing themselves as separate from nature and each other, those influenced by Western culture and Enlightenment thinking seem determined to see themselves as separate. This has allowed us to justify all kinds of exploitation of people, non-human animals and nature.
Yet at an existential level it saddens many of us deeply that football fields of deforestation are happening every several minutes in the Amazon, that millions of children unnecessarily go hungry every day, that increasing numbers of people are facing floods, heatwaves, forest fires, and that so many non-human animals face cruelty and torture, not to mention extinction on a daily basis, and so on. Roberto Perez believes that “people in the global North know that something is very wrong, they just don’t know where to start.”
Macy suggests that creating spaces to acknowledge this pain and building active hope are at least part of the solution. By active hope she means a hope that does not depend on believing you will meet your goal. It is a hope that believes in the process, in what we do together today. The point being that this is not an individual journey. Interdependence means that we can’t really get out of this mess without collectively shifting the culture and without coming to terms with the fact that many of us feel sadness about the various effects of our consumer capitalist culture from climate change to species extinction to glaring inequality to human rights abuses. And as Roberto reminded me, there are many of us around the world feeling this way. But if we are to avoid stupidly killing ourselves off, then we need to begin asking ourselves: What kind of revolution is required to ensure our continued existence on this planet?
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone