"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Radical Acceptance’

“The source of half the World’s oxygen is in major peril.” The New Climate ”Normal”: Abrupt Sea Level Rise and Predictions of Civilization Collapse

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2015 at 3:40 pm
Helicopters drop water on the Blue Creek wildfire as it burns near Walla Walla, Wash., July 22, 2015. Officials warn about the potential for even more catastrophe in the months ahead, as drought, heat and climate change leave the landscape ever thirstier. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Helicopters drop water on the Blue Creek wildfire as it burns near Walla Walla, Washington, July 22, 2015. Officials warn about the potential for even more catastrophe in the months ahead, as drought, heat and climate change leave the landscape ever thirstier. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

 

Oldspeak: “Earth Provides enough to satisfy every mans needs, but not every man’s greed.” -M. Gandhi.

“So, Yeah. That’s happening. Half of the world’s oxygen supply is quite probably GONE.  At some point in the not too distant future, air-breathing life on Earth will have half as much of it to inhale. Every day of business as usual, brings that point ever closer. Faster. Oh and Earth’s temperature is hot as Hades,  rainforests are burning, permafrost is rapidly melting, droughts are intensifying, freshwater is swiftly depleting (the San Joaquin Valley is sinking 2 inches A MONTH as a result of prolonged drought & unsustainable aquifer depletion and agricultural practice) seas are rising,  extinctions are accelerating, with pink salmon and polar bears on their way out, enjoy your romaine lettuce while you can;  you know, the ‘New Normal’.  Meanwhile Most Humans however, estranged as we are from our life-sustaining ecology are partying like it’s 1999. Destroying, extracting, heating, contaminating, consuming, emitting, polluting at the “Old Normal” pace. Behold! Human industrial civilization, the ultimate non-linear positive feedback loop! The end of the article was quite gallows humorous to me. A glaciologist, who has witnessed over an extended period the carnage being wrought in polar regions, knowing that we are on track for 4-5 degrees C of warming in the near to midterm future,  presumably knowing that ”on a planet 4 degrees C warmer all we can plan for is extinction“, spoke this fantastical absurdity: “In Denmark, we have the resilience, so I’m not that worried about my daughter’s livelihood going forward. But that doesn’t stop me from strategizing about how to safeguard her future – I’ve been looking at property in Greenland. As a possible bug-out scenario.” -Dr. Jason Box. As though it is possible to “bug out” of mass extinction. Sigh. Hopium abounds.  Enjoy Dahr Jamail’s latest postcard from the edge.” -OSJ

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

We know things are a bit “off” when a rainforest is on fire.

Over 400 acres of the Queets Rainforest, located in Olympic National Park in Washington State, nearby where I live, have burned recently, and it is continuing to burn as I type this. Fires in these rainforests have historically been rare, as the area typically receives in excess of 200 inches of rain annually.

But this is all changing now.

The new normal is that there is no longer any “normal.”

The new normal regarding climate disruption is that, for the planet, today is better than tomorrow.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

Another perfect example of this is a crucial recent study led by James Hansen, the former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The study, authored by Hansen and more than a dozen other scientists and published online, warns that even staying within the internationally agreed goal of keeping the planet within the 2-degree Celsius temperature warming limit has already caused unstoppable melting in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. The study shows that this will raise global sea levels by as much as 10 feet by the year 2050, inundating numerous major coastal cities with seawater.

The oceans and all marine life will be “irreversibly changed” unless there are immediate and dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.

As if that’s not enough, Hansen’s study comes on the heels of another study published in Science, which shows that global sea levels could rise by at least 20 feet, even if governments manage to keep global temperature increases to within the agreed upon “safe” limit of 2 degrees Celsius. The study warns that it is quite possible that 75 feet of sea level rise could well already be unstoppable given current carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and recent studies that show how rapidly Greenland and several Antarctic ice sheets are melting.

Disconcertingly, another new “normal” this month comes in the form of huge plumes of wildfire smoke over the Arctic. At the time of this writing, well over 12 million acres of forest and tundra in Canada and Alaska have burned in wildfires, and the smoke covering the Arctic sea ice is yet another anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) amplifying feedback loop that will accelerate melting there. The additional smoke further warms the atmosphere that quickens the melting of the Arctic ice pack.

As if that’s not enough to keep you up at night, a recently published study by a team from Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute has shown that society will likely collapse within 30 years, due to catastrophic food shortages resulting from the ever-worsening impacts of ACD.

“The results show that based on plausible climate trends, and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses, and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots,” the Institute’s director, Dr. Aled Jones, told Insurge Intelligence. “In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption.”

Another shocking study, this one published in The Anthropocene Review, shows how humans are causing catastrophic shifts in planetary ecosystems that have been unprecedented for 500 million years. The study outlines how human actions have led to extinctions of plants and animals, and added that while “species extinctions and other changes are far more advanced” already, “[g]lobal warming as a phenomenon is just beginning.”

Bad news from scientific studies flowed abundantly this last month when it comes to the oceans, as well.

Another major report, this one published in Science, warns that the oceans and all marine life will be “irreversibly changed” unless there are immediate and dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions – a scenario from the realm of fantasy, given the current political climate. The report states clearly that even the 2-degree Celsius “maximum allowable temperature” rise from ACD agreed upon by world governments “will not prevent dramatic impacts on global ocean systems.”

As if all this isn’t enough to impress upon you how rapidly ACD is progressing, 2014 was also confirmed as the hottest year ever recorded, both on land and in the oceans. That report was followed by another from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that showed that the first half of 2015 was, by far, the hottest ever recorded on the planet.

As this dispatch dives into greater detail about how the world is being changed dramatically, buckle up. The news does not get any easier to take in.

Earth

The impacts from ACD continue to take dramatic tolls on the earth’s species.

Researchers recently reported that warmer temperatures across both North America and Europe are leading to loss of habitat for bumblebees, which in turn is threatening their very survival.

In the UK, several species of birds are now under threat because temperature shifts are pushing several of the species further north, even all the way to Scandinavia. Once there, the birds encounter habitat they are not adapted to, and likely won’t survive.

Scientists in the United States with the US Geological Survey released a report that shows that polar bears will have a steep decline in their populations in most places in the Arctic as the sea ice melts away. This isn’t news, but the report shows how closely scientists are monitoring the situation, due to the speed at which the melting of the polar ice cap is occurring.

Humans are not immune to the growing impacts of ACD.

Another study published in Science shows that polar bears’ metabolism will not be able to adapt quickly enough to their dramatically changing habitat as the Arctic warms and melts. This, coupled with a dramatic decline in their sources of food, again confirmed that the iconic bears are most likely en route to extinction.

Of course, humans are not immune to the growing impacts of ACD.

A report produced by the University College of London’s commission on health and climate change along with the Lancet revealed that ACD threatens to erode five decades of overall progress in global human health.

Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and co-chair of the commission, told the Guardian that on our current trajectory of warming, we are going to see “very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival.

“We see that as a medical emergency because the action we need to do to stop that in its tracks and get us back onto a 2C trajectory or less requires action now – and action in the next 10 years – otherwise the game could be over,” he added.

For the earth itself, ACD is even leading to geo-structural changes.

In Greenland, massive earthquakes are resulting from melting glaciers, and icebergs calving from tidal glaciers collapsing into the ocean are causing consistent quakes of magnitude 4-5.2, with most of them closer to 5, according to a recent study published in Science. The calving glaciers are also causing tsunamis.

Water

As usual, the impacts of ACD are most dramatic on the waterfront.

A recent report revealed that all of the world’s sea turtles are at risk, due to rising sea levels. Higher sea levels mean their rookery sites, where their babies hatch, are becoming submerged.

Equally distressing, the entire pink salmon population in the Pacific Ocean is at risk, as they are being subjected to a double impact: the acidification of their ocean habitats, coupled with the acidification of rivers, slowing their growth and killing them off there as well.

Speaking of salmon, in Oregon, salmon must be trucked north hundreds of miles to a hatchery in Washington State, in a desperate effort to save fish that have been dying off in the tens of thousands due to increasingly warming river waters.

We know there is trouble when we are having to truck fish north in an effort to keep them alive; needless to say, this is not a sustainable activity.

A group of scientists from the Marine Conservation Institute recently announced that deep-sea coral reefs off the coast of Australia could be dead within 50 years due to warming temperatures and ocean acidification.

A series of recent studies has recently confirmed that ACD’s impacts on the oceans, including warming temperatures and acidification of the waters, is causing global seafood supplies to diminish drastically.

Plankton, the basis of the entire food chain, are threatened by ocean acidification.

More bad news for the planets’ oceans comes from a recent study that shows that plankton, the basis of the entire food chain, are threatened by ocean acidification. Some species of plankton will die out, while others will flourish, creating an imbalance that the report’s authors say will be “a big problem,” given that plankton produce half the total oxygen supply for the planet.

Pause for a moment before reading further and ponder the implications of that: The source of half the world’s oxygen is in major peril.

Droughts around the planet continue to abound.

Chile is facing its driest year to date, since record keeping began. There has been little to no snow on any of its famous ski slopes, and the lack of rainfall has worsened the already bad pollution problem in the country’s capital city.

In Canada, several counties in the province of Alberta announced in July that they were seriously considering declaring themselves in a state of agricultural disaster due to severe drought. It’s one of the worst drought’s in Alberta’s history, and one farmer said, “It’s almost get¬ting at the point rain wouldn’t help much.”

In addition to the important report on sea level rise mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Guardian recently posted a video that investigates the question of whether Filipinos will have to abandon Manila due to rising sea levels. Manila has a population of roughly 2 million people.

Needless to say, glaciers and ice sheets around the world continue to melt at breakneck speeds.

The impacts of warmer ocean temperatures “will be felt for centuries to come.”

NASA recently released a report showing that in Turkey, more than half of the ice cover in the mountainous regions has vanished since the 1970s. A map in the NASA report shows five areas in Turkey’s mountains where 100 percent of the glaciers have disappeared, and three areas where 75 percent of them are gone.

Another study released in July revealed another factor that is causing the Arctic to melt at a pace far faster than believed possible: Warm, tropical air masses are speeding up Greenland’s melting by warming Arctic air, as well as causing warmer rains to fall over the ice sheets.

Another NASA study found that the melting of Alaskan glaciers is now estimated to be one of the current largest contributors to global sea level increases. Maps in the study show dramatic changes to Alaska’s glaciers between 1994 and 2013, revealing a precipitous decline in their total mass. NASA estimates that the region lost approximately 75 billion tons of ice per year over that 19-year period, which is equivalent to around 30 percent of the amount of ice lost each year from the Greenland ice sheet.

Lastly, climate scientists affiliated with the US government announced recently that the warming of the oceans due to ACD is now unstoppable, and will continue to bring additional sea level rise, acidification and increasing global temperatures. Their report added that the impacts of the warmer ocean temperatures “will be felt for centuries to come” – even if immediate efforts are made to cut global carbon dioxide emissions.

Fire

In Canada, wildfires that have been described as “unprecedented” have forced more than 13,000 residents of Saskatchewan from their homes (a record evacuation), with wildfire-driven evacuations happening across other provinces as well.

The town of Whistler, Canada, famous for its world-class ski resort, is dealing with horrible air quality as smoke from wildfires is polluting the air across British Columbia.

NASA recently released disturbing images of smoke from the Alaskan and Canadian wildfires that is blowing out over the Greenland Sea.

Wildfires are ravaging parts of Southern California where the megadrought is cutting deep. The fire season started earlier than “normal” this year, and was helped along by massive numbers of dead trees brought to their demise by the increasing bark beetle infestation. That infestation was fueled by warmer temperatures as well as the drought itself. Hence several runaway feedback loops are feeding off one another.

A recently released study shows, again, how ACD has caused wildfire seasons around the globe to begin earlier and last later, shifting what “normal” means in the realm of fire.

Air

Heat records on three continents fell this last month, as brutally hot conditions in early July baked parts of Europe, Asia and South America. Dozens of heat records were broken: Maastricht, the Netherlands, saw 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit, an all-time July heat record for that nation, along with several other heat records throughout the country. London’s Heathrow Airport saw 98.1 degrees Fahrenheit, an all-time heat record for the UK.

In Thailand, Kamalasai saw 105.8 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded for that country, while other heat records across the nation were set as well. In Pakistan, morgues literally ran out of space as a heat wave there killed more than 1,000 people.

In South America, Urumita, Colombia, reached 108 degrees Fahrenheit, setting an all-time high for that country.

Heat records across the United States continue to be broken as well, including in Seattle, which has seen several record temperatures this summer, with possibly more to come.

A recent study has linked Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events around the globe to ACD. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, shows how ACD is ramping up extreme weather events, both in frequency and intensity, to never-before-seen levels.

Denial and Reality

Regarding ACD, news on the denial front never runs dry.

It emerged recently that Exxon was aware of ACD as far back as 1981, but continued to deliberately fund climate change deniers nonetheless … and has gone on to spend millions of dollars since then to continue to do so, to this day.

The US House of Representatives, in another stroke of genius, passed a bill that allows state governors to refuse to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, developed to lower carbon dioxide emissions from currently active power plants.

Elected politicians acting on behalf of Big Oil and Gas are functioning as little more than lobbyists for said industries, despite what’s at stake (the planet and human existence).

On the reality front, to counter these amazing acts of denial, Pope Francis continues to fight the good fight as far as ACD goes. Thousands of religious leaders recently marched in Rome in support of his call to world leaders to take a stand and work to mitigate the impacts of ACD.

On that note, more than a dozen Catholic organizations have launched a campaign that is asking Catholics around the world to change their lives in order to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and lower their consumption.

A recent study has shown, again, that ACD has made deadly floods and record heat waves over the last month even worse, and will continue to make other extreme weather events more intense, as well as more frequent.

“We need the deniers to get out of the way. They are risking everyone’s future.”

Lastly, an excellent article in Esquire about Dr. Jason Box provides a glimpse into the dilemma climate scientists face in regards to the intensely troubling information their research is producing and the emotions elicited by it, coupled with the pressures they face politically. Box, a world-renowned glaciologist whose focus is the Greenland ice sheet, has not been shy about expressing his opinions, and sometimes emotions, about what he is seeing.

Box has said things like: “If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked,” and concluded that a 70-foot rise in sea levels over the next few centuries was probably already “baked into the system.” After these and other similar statements, he has come under intense fire from both the scientific community and – of course – the deniers.

Box, a US citizen, had already taken his family and moved to Denmark, where he works while continuing his cutting-edge studies on the Greenland ice sheet, largely due to the ongoing attacks he withstood from the oil-and-gas-funded deniers in the United States.

“We need the deniers to get out of the way. They are risking everyone’s future,” Box told Esquire. “The Koch brothers are criminals…. They should be charged with criminal activity because they’re putting the profits of their business ahead of the livelihoods of millions of people, and even life on earth.”

Box thinks there is at least a 50 percent probability that the world is already on track to go well over the 2-degree Celsius politically accepted maximum limit of global warming, and agrees with most climate scientists that we are on a trajectory toward more like 4-5-degree Celsius warming in the near to mid-term future.

When asked what amount of warming would throw Greenland into irreversible ice loss, Box answered “between two and three degrees.”

When Greenland goes, that is enough sea level rise to destroy every coastal city on the planet. Speaking of Antarctica, Box said: “Abrupt sea level rise is upon us.”

“The forests are dying, and they will not return,” he told Esquire about his home state of Colorado. “The trees won’t return to a warming climate. We’re going to see megafires even more, that’ll be the new one – megafires until those forests are cleared.”

Meanwhile, he has adjusted his life to minimize his carbon footprint, and continues his work in Greenland, but is worried about his daughter’s future. Box’s view of the disrupted climactic future is scary enough; he is thinking about survival.

“In Denmark, we have the resilience, so I’m not that worried about my daughter’s livelihood going forward,” he said. “But that doesn’t stop me from strategizing about how to safeguard her future – I’ve been looking at property in Greenland. As a possible bug-out scenario.”

Struggling To Be “Fully Alive”: Reports On Coping With Anguish For A World In Collapse

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Oldspeak: “We need to transcend systems rooted in human arrogance and greed that lead us to believe that any individual is more valuable than another, that any group of people should dominate another group, or that people have a right to exploit the living world without regard for the consequences for the ecosystem. Because each of us has within us the capacity for constructive and destructive actions — for good and evil — our collective task is to shape a society that helps us act with caution and compassion…This radical message of humility and solidarity comes from a deep conception of respect: Respect for oneself, for other people, for other living things, and for the earth as a living system. That message animates the best of our philosophy, theology, poetry, and politics. ” -Robert Jensen

“The message i take away from this post is simply this: we are never alone. When we feel like we’re the crazy ones for feeling profound and deep grief, sadness, anger, frustration, that no one else seems to be experiencing, it’s not true. There are others bearing witness, struggling with their anguish.  To be as Joanna Macy says “fully present to what is happening in the world“. Be mindful, be vigilant in your practice of radical acceptance. Recognize that “All differences in this world are of a degree not a kind, because Oneness is the secret of everything.” Being in the present moment is all we can do. Professor Jensen’s original essay is definitely worth a read. “ -OSJ

By Robert Jensen @ Common Dreams:

“I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said many times over the centuries.”

That may have been the most insightful response to my essay asking people to report on how they cope with the anguish of living in a world in collapse.

That simple statement is a reminder that (1) the social and ecological crises we face have been building for a long time and (2) the best of our traditions have, for a long time, offered wisdom useful in facing those crises. The unjust social systems and unsustainable ecological practices of contemporary society started with the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, when humans began dominating each other and the planet in evermore destructive fashion, and intensified dramatically over the 250 years of the industrial revolution. (For a historical perspective, see “The delusional revolution”.)

And for nearly that long, some people have resisted the power of elites and tried to protect the land. (For a contemporary example, see “Where agriculture meets empire.”)

So, we struggle in the moment with complex problems that defy simple solutions — problems that may be beyond our capacity to solve in any meaningful way. But describing the basics needed for a better world is not difficult if we draw on that wisdom. Here’s my condensed version:

We need to transcend systems rooted in human arrogance and greed that lead us to believe that any individual is more valuable than another, that any group of people should dominate another group, or that people have a right to exploit the living world without regard for the consequences for the ecosystem. Because each of us has within us the capacity for constructive and destructive actions — for good and evil — our collective task is to shape a society that helps us act with caution and compassion.

This radical message of humility and solidarity comes from a deep conception of respect: Respect for oneself, for other people, for other living things, and for the earth as a living system. That message animates the best of our philosophy, theology, poetry, and politics, and it was at the heart of nearly all the 300 responses to my essay. This notion of respect wasn’t defined as “being nice” or “not being judgmental.” Respect takes work — to understand the other, make judgments, and engage constructively when there are disagreements or conflicting needs.

Along with those calls for love, there was a lot of anger in the responses, much of it directed at elites — the politicians, business executives, and media propagandists who so often not only promote arrogant and greedy behavior over humility and solidarity, but also rationalize and prop up the political/economic/social systems in which the destructive behavior is fostered.

And many wrote that the while the anger we may feel toward elites is justified, we have to start with self-critique and examine our own place in these systems. For example, the anger toward BP officials over the “hole in the world” at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico co-exists with the recognition that we all live somewhere in the system that demands that oil:

“I speak of the oil spill going on and I acknowledge how implicated I am in it. My lifestyle — despite efforts to eat wild foods, look at waste streams as resources, and live frugally — depends heavily on oil. It’s like there are these [oil] stains on my hands, all over my hands, my body and the ground around me.”

In such a world, it is easy for those of us who live in affluent societies to be drained by an awareness of all this:

“My personal ambition seems to decrease in proportion to the increase in world suffering. I think that’s part of my emotional reaction to crisis. I don’t think I am fully alive. I’m not depressed, just weirdly diminished.”

Why would someone feel diminished today? For almost all of the people who responded, the heart of their struggle was in the realization that the human species, locked into industrial societies dependent on high-energy/high-technology systems to produce food and fuel, is on a path leading to the edge of a cliff. No one offered predictions for an end time, but:

“[W]hat I see as the reality of our situation — ecologically, politically, economically, and culturally — is that we are in the last days of our species, and I just don’t know what to do with that. The emotions are much too powerful, the grief, the sense of doom — how does one deal with the real possibility of the extinction of not just millions of species, but of one’s own species?”

Feeling isolated but resolved to act

Where does that reality leave us emotionally? My essay inquired specifically about the feelings that accompany the intellectual understanding that we live in a world in collapse. That question led not only to descriptions of those emotions, but strategies for dealing with them. No single comment could sum up so many different people’s responses, but this one comes close:

“So I feel hopeless. I feel sad. I feel amused at the absurdity of it all. I feel depressed. I feel enraged. I feel guilty and I feel trapped. Basically the only reason why I’m still alive is because there are enough amazing people and things in my life to keep me going, to keep me fighting for what matters. I’m not even sure how to fight yet, but I know that I want to.”

One common response was gratitude for having a place to communicate these thoughts without worrying about being ridiculed. Many wrote about how isolated they felt, even from friends and family who don’t want to talk about these matters and either deny there are reasons to be concerned or ignore the evidence:

“I’m a drug addict with over 20 years clean, and I know all about using up my future and farting out lame excuses. I promised myself an honest life to stay clean, and the double-edged sword is that I started seeing just how much our culture swims in denial.”

Pressing these importance questions about systemic failure and collapse leads to resistance from others, who then assert that the real problem is anyone who wants to talk about collapse:

“I have been writing for a year and a half on a lot of things as it pertains to humanity’s lack of awareness and the potential to reconnect before we destroy the earth and each other.  People get angry at me for it and call me ‘dark’ and ‘negative’ and ‘sinful’ telling me to instead move to the ‘light,’ ‘positive’ and ‘love.’  Whatever.”

Some see a general “desensitization to the destruction of our planet [that] is nothing short of heart breaking” and worry about what the loss of the capacity for empathy means:

“It is considered feminine and naive to care about trees or animals. … In addition, it is also considered weak and feminine to empathize or display a proper emotion. We are becoming a nihilistic culture which is creating citizens who are numb to their emotions. This is doing us all a disservice. We are missing out on our bodily wisdom and becoming less and less in tune with our earth.”

Though people have different views on the role of high-technology responses to ecological collapse, everyone who wrote recognized that more gadgets aren’t going to save us:

“I have thought for a long time that the human species, notwithstanding its endless self-flattery, really is not very intelligent. One of the signs of its stupidity is, in fact, the very way that it equates intelligence with technological prowess.”

One of the most compelling comments on advanced technology came from a doctoral student in engineering at a prestigious university:

“I have come to this firm conclusion that any more technological development is purely unnecessary and technological progress is hyper-glorified by the developed countries just as a tool to continue their agenda of robbing the resources of our planet from the third world (and perhaps soon from neighboring astronomical bodies, too). And what is glorified as the rational, intellectual research that folks like me are doing over here is just a means towards facilitating this robbing activity; this implicit imperialism; this invisible killing of our planet earth.”

People also recognize the inadequacy of technological solutions to the end of cheap, plentiful energy. While endorsing more research on alternatives to coal, oil, and natural gas, those who wrote to me were wary of claims that alternatives can magically replace the concentrated energy of fossil fuels and allow us to motor on in our affluence:

“[T]he only way that the terrible catastrophes on the way could have been softened would have been for everyone on the planet to have dropped business as usual 10 or 20 years ago, and to have started retooling all of society while there was still a reasonable surplus of high EROEI (energy return on energy investment) fossil fuel left to power the *energetically* costly conversion process of re-engineering energy production, housing, cities, suburbs, farming, fishing, and transport. That didn’t happen. And having lived through the period, it would have been completely impossible to motivate in the first or third world. But just as important, it is *even more* unlikely that this will begin to happen now.  This is because growing energy scarcity will cut into our flexibility as people scramble to prop up floundering systems.”

In addition to these critiques of life in the affluent world, many wrote of the grotesque disparities in wealth in the world today. As we struggle with fears of the future, billions of people cope with severe limitations in the present:

“[W]e in the U.S. are essentially living behind a military barricade. I heard a quote recently that ‘collapse means having the same lifestyle as the people who grow your coffee.’ I really, really liked that.”

And in many of the critiques of the affluent First World, there was an understanding that the heart of the problem is the United States:

“Americans today are living with a profound and apparently irreconcilable disparity between what we say we are, and what we actually are. Between the promise of democracy and the reality of a crumbling empire. The result of this schism, I believe, is the national equivalent of a disassociated personality. And it’s not just our shared history of betrayal and abuse that has caused it. It’s the myth of freedom as well. In the mythology of freedom, democracy was supposed to empower us all to make a change for the better.”

Although some wrote with certainty about their conclusions, more people expressed confusion and weariness over the effort needed to understand such a complex world:

“I spend a lot of time in my own head going back and forth over theories, philosophies, etc. Pretty much going through a process once a month of discarding everything I thought I knew and re-learning it. While this may be a good thing in the future, it does not feel good now. Sometimes it makes me feel like I am alone and lost and that I can’t find any truth in anything because I have so many different voices telling me what is right and wrong. Yet, I can never stop going back and looking at what’s happening to this real, physical, lovely and loving planet and feel outrage, sorrow, and confusion and why this culture is so insane.”

Even with all this talk of their own struggles, the people who wrote were not asking others to feel sorry for them. Instead, the focus was outward, on how this affects others. That was clear in the comments not only of parents and grandparents, but also of people who chose not to have children — what is the fate of future generations?

“Being the parent of a young child right now is a mixed blessing: He’s my reason for waking up every morning and doing whatever it takes to keep up some semblance of normalcy, but it also frightens and worries me deeply when I think about his future.”

In the face of challenges that feel overwhelming — in the face of problems that may have no solutions — what should we do? Very few of the people who wrote suggested we should give up; most are committed to action:

“I guess the best thing we can do … point out problems, suggest solutions, work for radical system changes and not just reforms that too often are more cosmetic than substantial, and above all: keep the faith … and we need to project to others that we have the faith, or get the hell out of the work and retire or just wait for Armageddon.”

Many responses focused on the need not only to act collectively but also to reduce our consumption individually:

“I read a statement in the book Hard Times by Studs Terkel that I really liked: ‘Security is knowing what I can do without.’ Every day, I find something new that I can do without. My fiancé and I now grow much of the food we eat, we purchase necessities only, we shop at the Goodwill.”

and learn skills that have atrophied all too quickly in an affluent, high-energy culture:

“I’m not an old hippie that wants to return to sex, drugs and rock and roll on the commune. … I believe in hierarchy, rules and skills, but we must start something new, difficult and dangerous. We must also learn to not trust power and create small, subsistence communities. Instead of trying to mend the empire we should be teaching ourselves skills of our rural grandparents.”

Tipping points and panic

But still the question haunts us: What if the unsustainable systems in which we live are beyond the point of no return? There certainly are rational reasons to assume that we are past a tipping point.

For example, the March 2005 report of the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, based on the work of 1,300 researchers from 95 countries who spent four years examining 24 ecosystems worldwide, offered this “stark warning”:

“Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. … Nearly two thirds of the services provided by nature to humankind are found to be in decline worldwide. In effect, the benefits reaped from our engineering of the planet have been achieved by running down natural capital assets.” http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.429.aspx.pdf

This kind of knowledge can be so overwhelming that people feel it’s not safe to open up emotionally:

“I would like to mourn but have not been able to let my guard down.  I could understand 9/11, but now I am witnessing the destruction of the planet and I don’t understand the magnitude of what that means. I feel on edge. I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

How to live in that world and remain fully engaged, intellectually and emotionally? This comment sums up the task and a path:

“Recently several of our visionary thinkers have moved from the illusion that ‘we have 10 years to turn this around.’ They now say clearly that ‘we cannot stop this momentum.’ It takes courage and faith to speak so plainly. What can we do in the face of this truth? We can sit face to face and find the ways, often beyond words, to explore the reality that we are all refugees, swimming into a future that looks so different from the present. We can find pockets of community where we can whisper our deepest fears about the world. We can remain committed to describing the present with exceptional truth. We can cultivate a practice that enables us to witness suffering with hearts and minds open and with our faces turned toward one another.”

It would be easy to close on that note, blunt but positive. But for many, that kind of approach is difficult. I sent my essay to a political activist who is one of the most well-informed people I know in matters concerning politics and ecology. His response:

“I guess my emotional reaction is actually to suppress the emotional reaction. … [P]anic, which would probably be the emotional reaction, is something to be deferred until the situation is relatively safe. So I try to think about what is to be done and can be done, and promise myself that if we do get past these crises, I will enjoy the moment to panic about how dangerous a situation we were in.”

My response:

“I understand what you say, but it seems to me that an appreciation of the nature of the crises is necessary for sensible strategy, and I don’t know how to engage that intellectually without having emotional reactions. … My fear is that if we don’t discuss it, those of us struggling with these emotions will fade away from collective action. So, instead of this kind of discussion necessarily leading to political paralysis, I think it can prevent paralysis in some people.”

My friend didn’t contest my analysis: “I don’t advocate for my emotional response, but it is what it is.”

Though he didn’t argue with me, I didn’t feel as if I had won an argument. Emotions are what they are, and we don’t “win” by telling people what they should feel. It’s enough of a struggle to understand what I feel and why I feel it; I don’t think I’m qualified to dictate to others what they should feel. In dealing with multiple crises on all fronts — economic, political, cultural, and ecological failures that pose a significant threat to human life as we understand it — it’s folly for any one of us to imagine we figured out the right approach, or that there is a single right approach, or that there is any right approach at all.

The only thing I’m sure of is that, to quote singer/songwriter John Gorka, “the old future’s gone.” The future of endless bounty for all, which some once imagined would be the product of the application of human reason to problems of the world, is not the future we face. How can we open a conversation about what’s coming when so much is unknown and so many resist? Rather than pontificate, I will end with the reflections of an elder:

“I’m about to celebrate my 70th birthday. I live in a rural intentional community, close to land that feeds us and supports us. I’ve lived long enough now to be very aware of how different the world has become, how the cycles of nature are off kilter, how the seasons and the climate have shifted. My garden tells me that food doesn’t grow in quite the same patterns, and we either get weeks of rain or weeks of heat and drought. This is the second year in a row that our apple trees do not have apples on them. But most people get their food in grocery stores where the apples still appear, and food still arrives, in season and out, from all over the world. This will soon end, and people won’t understand why. They don’t see the trouble in the land as I and my friends do. I grieve daily as I look on this altered world. My grandchildren are young adults who think their lives will continue as they have been. Who will tell them? They can’t hear me. They, and many others, will have to see the changes for themselves, as I have. I can’t imagine that anything else will convince them. My grief for the world, and for them, is compounded by this feeling of helplessness because there is no way we can have the collective action you speak of when the ‘collective’ is still in denial. Thank you for listening.”

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Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (City Lights, 2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity;  The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege; Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity; and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing” (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist.  An extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff is available here.

He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online here.