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Member since: Sun Jun 4, 2017, 04:46 PM
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Apocalypse Got You Down? Maybe This Will Help

Apocalypse Got You Down? Maybe This Will Help

Have you ever known someone who cited the Anthropocene in a dating profile? Who doled out carbon offset gift certificates at the holidays? Who sees new babies and immediately flashes to the approximately 15 tons of carbon emissions the average American emits per year? Who walks around shops thinking about where all the packaging ends up? You do now.

As much as I want to chain myself to an old-growth tree (thanks, “The Overstory”), my job at The Times precludes me from going all in as an activist. So I donate to environmental and humane causes, eat vegan, compost, take public transport, carry around bamboo utensils, post alarming articles on Facebook, buy second hand and stock up on offsets — all decisions I have the luxury to make. And yet none of it has been balm.

Asking some people around me how they were faring did not help. I heard that it was too late anyway. That I shouldn’t care since I don’t have kids. That the planet will, one distant day at least, be fine. One friend suggested that my climate angst was an extension of my melancholic leanings, which struck me as plausible, but not quite right. We know that the future is looking bad, that the present already is, and that inaction, especially here in America, is making it all worse. But how are we supposed to live in our hearts and souls with such an existential threat that is also, as birds and bees vanish and trees topple and die, so excruciatingly intimate?

Finally this fall, after a kayaking trip to Alaska prompted by a desire to see glaciers while they still exist — and being greeted by wildfires — I resolved to seek answers.

And what I learned, in the Red Hook workshop and in long conversations with psychologists, deep ecologists, an indigenous activist and Western Buddhists, was more or less a prescription for handling climate grief.

It looks like this: Live like the crisis is urgent. Embrace the pain, but don’t stop there. Seek out a spiritual path to forge gratitude, compassion and acceptance, because operating out of denial, anger or fear only hurts us in the end.

Zhiwa Woodbury, an eco-psychologist, believes that we are collectively experiencing climate trauma, of which we are both perpetrators and victims — our assault on the biosphere is an assault on ourselves. Altering habits like how we eat can make people feel more empowered and less overwhelmed, he said, and can shift our relationship with the natural world. After all, the belief that natural resources exist for our heedless exploitation got us to this point in the first place (and made us none the happier). “It makes us feel good that we’re doing something and it gets back to the idea of shared responsibility,” Mr. Woodbury said. “The idea that individuals are powerless only exists because we’ve made them feel powerless.”

Embracing the pain was something I struggled with more. Didn’t we deserve to feel bad? Maybe. But feeling despair is itself a kind avoidance. “What despair is telling you is that you haven’t processed your emotions,” Mr. Woodbury said.

In the Red Hook workshop, which used the pioneering decades-old work of the environmental grief activist Joanna Macy, the facilitator, Jess Serrante, said something that hit me like a thunderclap.

“Our pain for what is happening is the other side of the coin of our love for the world,” she told us. “We feel such depths of despair because we love the planet so much.”

Several psychologists told me they are telling the same thing to patients who are grappling with eco-despair: Feeling depressed about the crisis is actually a sane, healthy response. Yet as a culture, we pathologize depression as a personal failing, and as individuals, we avoid it, partly, Ms. Serrante said, out of the fear that if we dive in we won’t emerge. But that causes us to shut down. By jumping into the pain, it can alchemize into something bigger, Ms. Serrante told us, and reconnect us with our deepest selves.

The key is to channel it, through everyday actions or joining wider movements, and also to figure out a way to face it without being controlled by it, because operating out of fear, anger and blame burns us out. That is where the spiritual component comes in — to find a way to move to a place not of tacit acceptance, but of fierce, roaring compassion.

Mr. Woodbury and Mr. Leonard both got burned out by environmental advocacy and found emotional resilience in Buddhist practices and a more compassionate view of human nature. “There’s nothing more powerful than a broken heart, as long as you have a spiritual container to hold it,” Mr. Woodbury told me.

Afterward, stepping onto the baking sidewalk, I found myself paying greedy attention to the rustling trees, the flutter of teeny birds. I felt a visceral thrum of gratitude for what still exists, for what has to be fought for, while it still can be beheld.

As someone who has wrestled with ecological despair for the last 15 years, I can attest to the validity of the insights in this article. Especially resonant is Joanna Macy's observation, “Our pain for what is happening is the other side of the coin of our love for the world.” This realization has helped me more than anything, as I searched for reasons not to walk out on life.
Posted by The_jackalope | Sun Nov 17, 2019, 10:04 AM (8 replies)

For those who remember Pogo...

For Donald Trump, Friday the 13th is comes on a Wednesday this month.

House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry said Wednesday that the investigation will go public next week, with senior State Department officials scheduled for open hearings beginning November 13th.

Posted by The_jackalope | Thu Nov 7, 2019, 10:17 AM (5 replies)

The right wing succeeded in Canada yesterday.

The Conservatives won the popular vote by 1.5% - 34.5% to 33%.

Our Canadian bacon was only saved by our first-past-the-post system. If we had proportional representation that so many on the left want, we would now be back under a regressive, semi-authoritarian Conservative government.

However, there are two saving graces in the results. One is that Scheer didn't win enough seats; the other is that Trudeau has been forced into a minority position. Having to work with the NDP will be good for his humility, and good for Canada.
Posted by The_jackalope | Tue Oct 22, 2019, 07:14 AM (6 replies)

Just down the road

I recently moved to a small town in Quebec. It's just north of Ottawa, on the edge of the Gatineau hills. This image was taken last Saturday, about half a mile from where I now live.

Posted by The_jackalope | Tue Oct 15, 2019, 10:11 AM (11 replies)

Look at this map and think the words "food supply".

2°C: BEYOND THE LIMIT - Dangerous new hot zones are spreading around the world
Posted by The_jackalope | Mon Sep 16, 2019, 05:19 PM (3 replies)

Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse

Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse

It’s encouraging to see that the terms “climate crisis” and even “climate collapse”, which even five years ago were ridiculed as doomerism, are now considered perfectly reasonable descriptions of our current state. That doesn’t mean there is any consensus on how to address it, or any widespread willingness to change our lifestyle to match this new worldview. And it certainly doesn’t mean that climate collapse can be avoided or significantly mitigated. Still, it’s a start.

Lost in this new awareness, however, is that our global industrial economy is once again teetering on the edge of what will be a long drawn-out but ultimately permanent collapse. That’s a concern because if the more pervasive effects of economic collapse come first, there’s a good chance climate collapse will once again be ignored as our attention focuses on the more immediate existential crisis of economic suffering.

And it is very likely that the first dominoes of global economic collapse are, as a recent NYT article highlighted (sadly, behind a NYT paywall), about to fall. And the reasons for this are even more complex and even less understood than the reasons for climate collapse. Here are a few of them:


When economic crises are local, or when there are ways to re-jump-start the economy by correcting the underlying causes that led to the recession or depression, there are levers that can be used to intervene and restore the economy to health. But we used up the last of our available levers in 2008, and we are once again at the tipping point, and this time we are looking at a permanent and global economic collapse. We are finally going to have to face that our perpetual-growth, high-resource use, environmentally-ruinous, debt-faith-dependent economy was never sustainable, and was destined to collapse sooner or later. We will soon (probably in fits and starts over the next three decades or so) be forced to return to a radically relocalized, low-tech economy of sufficiency. It will not be a graceful transition.

In short, while climate collapse will render centralized, high-tech, high-energy use civilization unsustainable, and make much (and possibly all) of the planet uninhabitable, economic collapse will likely make our lives radically different, and will do so well before climate collapse weighs in with full force.

The collapse of our global industrial civilization will have two chapters. The economic collapse chapter will come first. The climate collapse chapter will just be the final blow. It’s unlikely that the survivors, by the end of this century, will be able to read this forecast, and it’s unlikely they will care about why or how it happened. They will be otherwise occupied.

More at the link.
Posted by The_jackalope | Tue Sep 10, 2019, 11:33 AM (10 replies)

Who and what is preventing the world from addressing climate change?

Yes, we all know that climate change deniers and oily-garchs are evil that way. But the majority of the impediment is much more prosaic - and a lot closer to home.

It's you and me, him and her, us and them.

All of us - from the richest Russian to the poorest Paraguayan - with the exception of a few tiny, isolated indigenous tribes - are responsible for CO2 emissions. Americans emit on average 16.5 tonnes of CO2 per person per year from energy use. Zimbabweans emit about 1 tonne per person. The world average is about 4.4 tonnes per capita.

All 7.7 billion human lives are founded on, made possible by, fossil fuels. Virtually all CO2 emissions come from the direct and indirect use of fossil fuels; electricity & heating, manufacturing, transportation and agriculture are prime culprits.

Does anyone reading this post not partake in the fossil-fueled economy? Does anyone except those aforementioned aboriginals not partake?

In order to stop the world temperature from eventually surpassing 4 or 5C, with all the hellish consequences that would entail, the world needs to drop emissions by probably 90% within a handful of years. That means stopping 90% of all emission-generating activities. In other words, virtually all use of electricity & heating, all manufacturing, transportation and agriculture needs to stop pretty much immediately.

But, um, that's the whole world economy, isn't it?
Well yes, yes it is.
But how would people live?
Well, they wouldn't.
So we can't do that.
No, no we can't, and won't do that.
So what can we do?
Well, not that much, frankly. We will probably continue to live much as we live today until we can't any more.

Sorry, guys and gals. Our civilization and much of our species are burnt toast. Anything we do between now and the day of our individual deaths we are doing mostly to ease the burden of our own consciences.

So the next time you feel called to heap scorn and opprobrium on climate deniers and oil company executives, look down at your keyboard and around the room you're in. What you see is what's preventing the world from addressing climate change.

We now return you to the American political bunfight that is already in progress...
Posted by The_jackalope | Thu Aug 29, 2019, 09:59 PM (20 replies)

A note from 2013

I wrote this six years ago, and posted it on FB. How am I doing so far?

August 27, 2013
Here's the human story-line I'm using these days:

The potential for a human dieback beginning by 2030 is rising dramatically as the following crises all come together:

> The Arctic Amplification effect of climate change is disrupting the polar jet stream and causing weather destabilization through the Northern Hemisphere. This is already disrupting agricultural output.

> Potential for methane bursts in the Arctic is rising as the region warms. This could induce runaway warming;

> Ocean acidification will have multiple ecological impacts, from loss of biodiversity to coral and phytoplankton loss;

>Ocean acidification introduces a potential for additional warming due to decreased dimethylsulphide release from the oceans (this is a very recent finding);

> Fresh water supplies are declining;

> Soil fertility is declining;

> The oceans are almost fished out;

> Terrestrial species are going extinct at a ferocious rate, with a rising possibility that a vital keystone species might join them;

> World oil and food prices are high and still rising;

> Some oil-exporting nations like Egypt are already destabilizing politically as their exportable oil resources run out;

> Fossil fuel use is still increasing;

> Population is still growing.

IMO there is little realistic chance that the world will be able to resolve any of these problems, let alone the entire interlocking predicament their convergence represents. This is largely because of the evolutionary bequest of human risk perception, social-conformity bias, and growth orientation. All of these are a result of our evolutionary past - they have been programmed into our neural behavior circuits by natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years in response to distant past, not present, environmental and social conditions.

The main human evolutionary advantage has been our incredible analytic intellect. It has allowed us to become the undisputed, indisputable dominant species on the planet. This is possible because our intelligence operates as a limit-removal mechanism, not a limit-acceptance mechanism.

Whenever we run into a roadblock to continuing growth in any domain, our evolved response is to figure out a way around it. It is virtually impossible for humans to see a problem and not try to solve it. Unfortunately we are very good at seeing problems and opportunities, but very, very poor at seeing consequences. As a result most of our solutions end up creating worse problems a little later. As Sevareid's Law states: "The chief cause of problems is solutions."

These human qualities (poor long-term risk perception, social-conformity bias, growth orientation, problem-solving compulsion) all have an evolutionary origin and are not easily circumvented at the species level, individual examples notwithstanding.

As a result, I really don't think we're going to get out of this one. Matters have long since passed out of our ability to control them consciously, if indeed our sense of control was ever anything more than an illusion. Most of our previous problem-solving attempts have either made matters worse by enabling yet more growth, or have merely kicked the can down the road a little.

There is no reason to expect our behavior to change in the near future. That is because much of our behavior springs from evolved brain circuits of which we have little conscious awareness and over which we have very little conscious control.

Those of you who have read a bit in this field may recognize a similarity to the "Vicious Circle Principle" of problem-solving described in Craig Dilworth's recent book, "Too Smart For Our Own Good". What Dilwotrth didn't address, though, is the question of WHY we are compulsive problem-solvers in the interests of growth.

Seeing our growth-hunger as the evolutionary residue of the spontaneous self-organization that created life in the first place, as described by Stuart Kauffman. The self-organization is in turn driven by the operation of far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics (aka the Maximum Entropy Production Principle or MEPP).

I view our predicament as the result of a very long-term historical constructive process. Thermodynamics drives the creation of life with its imperatives to survive and reproduce. Those drives are encoded in DNA as the fundamental shapers of the organism's behavior. Subsequently, the elaborated, human-specific behaviour has been encoded in our evolved neural circuitry through natural selection processes over the last two million years.

This view has clarified for me exactly how insoluble the conundrum really is. Perhaps it's time we showed a little humility in the face of Mother Nature, and admit that we've painted ourselves into an evolutionary corner. Perhaps such an admission would liberate us enough to see what else we might be doing at this suspended moment in history.

I missed food supply disruptions due to jet stream disturbances, and rising wet bulb temperatures. And I hadn't found out about the Saharasia hypothesis yet, so I was still ascribing consumption growth to principles of physics and genetics rather than culture.
Posted by The_jackalope | Tue Aug 27, 2019, 10:16 AM (2 replies)

FWIW I stopped writing about the problems in 2013, after coming to much the same conclusion.

With a little help from Buddhist meditation I pulled my focus of attention out of the future (hope), out of the past (blame) and into the present reality.

Talking or writing about the problems themselves is of little help. Let the scientists do the diagnosis and prognosis, let the historians, anthropologists and sociologists examine the history and the why, and let us get on with conscious, compassionate living in the here and now.

This summer has awakened a lot of people. There are more joining this tribe every day.
Posted by The_jackalope | Sat Aug 17, 2019, 02:06 PM (0 replies)

Do what you do

Found on FB, written by a friend.

I had a discussion with a friend a couple of days ago, and tatters of it clung to my thoughts.

She said that, yes, even though she doesn't dwell on it, she knows things are falling apart.

The gist of her narrative was this: people aren't stupid, they can see the country decaying into collapse, and they know the weather is changing for the worse.

She implied that people like me talk about it all the time, but don't tell people what they can do. It's because there is nothing they can do.

Even so, yeah, they get it.

Her point was pregnant with implication. It isn't nihilism or defeatism, it is pragmatism. Things are going to tumble, no one knows how soon or how bad, but soon and bad, and there is nothing to do for it but get up and go to work. For most people, if they don't do that, then the collapse is now.

Penn Jillette once made the observation that people do what they do every day. In a crisis, they do it more. After years of sociological study, I never heard it said more succinctly. Indeed, the stones and bones of past peoples bear witness to that. When the volcano rumbles, when the sea is dark with foes, when the heat kills the wheat and floods fall the ox, people will, until the last moment, do what they do, but desperately. And when it falls apart, for a time they labor to prop up their little corner. Until the stark realities that steer the stars and turn bones to stones overpower our need and belief, and if we live we are not who we were.

It makes sense; most people have little real choice about how they live. The daily need to eat and sleep already exhaust many people. Pragmatically, the choices are few. It is a Red Queen life, and while we can't muster the time or money or energy to do more.

If they could, what would they do? Collapse isn't something you can prepare for, really. Preparations for tomorrow fall apart the day after. Grow food, to stave off starvation, but then someone steals your food. Join together for mutual support, but then some are rewarded more than others, or perhaps our numbers draw the attention of larger groups, and we all starve. Buy guns to protect yourself from raiders, but raiders will kill you for your guns. In the end, the choices are few.

Really, the reason the Green New Deal, and the Club of Rome, and for that matter, Donald Trump have any listeners at all is that they promise to somehow allow people to keep doing what they are doing.

My endurance for all things apocalyptic is spent. I'm writing less and less because I've said what there is to say. My friend's subtle admonishment tumbled the last of my voice. There is little to add.

Garden, go fishing, do what you do.

Enjoy the day.
Posted by The_jackalope | Sat Aug 17, 2019, 12:56 PM (11 replies)
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