Every so often something comes along, a book, a film, a piece of music, an article, which has the effect of consolidating what you partially know and allowing you to see things in a new light. For me this week Guy McPherson’s current lecture was such a piece of work.
I’ve come across his talks before; he specialises in aggregating scientific knowledge from different disciplines and areas and drawing out conclusions which are at best somewhat uncomfortable for his audience. Sometimes it is described as doomsday porn, which is a little unfair – generally I have come across most of what he is talking about from other sources, and generally I cannot find what he has left out that would mitigate the picture.
Listening to him can be a depressing experience, there is not a lot of room for bargaining with what he has. If you are not already familiar with at least some of the facts presented then you may well find yourself denying that they are correct. Occasionally people get angry with him – shoot the messenger.
His latest lecture runs for an hour and pulls in a lot of strands that are well known, and also some material which was new to me, and essentially makes the case that time has now run out. Even an immediate complete collapse of industrial civilisation will not prevent the world becoming uninhabitable to humans, and possibly to almost all, or even all, other species. And the timescale for this outcome for humans is could easily be less than 10 years – bang goes my ambition to live for 100 years.
This is considerably more stark then when I last checked his talk about four years ago. Even if not all of the factors he identifies come into play, or if there are mitigating factors he has left out, then there is more than enough in the pot to finish the job.
And there are certainly other bad things out there that he didn’t even get around to mentioning – the continuing impact of Fukishima being just one.
In conclusion though, rather than either presenting possible solutions (hope, bargaining) or making a call to arms (anger) or simply leaving it to despair (depression) he finishes by taking us to a place of acceptance.
This I found very creative and liberating – even enlightening in the hard sense from Adyashanti referred to in the talk. Not hopeless but hope free. Hope and fear are projections onto a future – a future over which we have no control. Do what you love and passionately pursue a life of excellence because you do not know your personal expiration date. Just accept the situation and live in the here and now.
So acceptance and be-here-now. No more trying to change the world – we’ve done that and look where it has got us. Time to be human beings, not human doings. We need to accept the inevitable death of the world we love, and accept that it may come sooner than we would like.
The Kubler-Ross model for the emotional states of grieving for the death of an intimate can be loosely applied to other forms of loss and processes leading to the acceptance of a changed situation.
It is worth remembering that Elisabeth K-R did not intend that the five states should be seen as a linear progression, they may be experienced in any order or not at all. It does seem though that the eventual stable new state is usually one of acceptance of what has happened, and the assumption is that this is a desirable outcome.
I first fell in love with the world, meaning the natural here-and-now cycle of life as opposed to the unreliable here-today-gone-tomorrow linear human world, as a child, triggered by specific personal experiences.
This love has stayed with me as the one constant through my life. But all through my adulthood there has been a growing background awareness that this natural world is under threat from my human activity.
I first learnt of the potential for a blanket of CO2 to warm the earth and change the climate in the sixth form studying sciences – an article in the school Science magazine which was produced each summer set out the problem in 1969. Sadly both the magazine and the author’s name are now lost.
I first learnt of the problem of exponential growth doing maths A level and trying to understand the infinite and where y=e^x ends up. The real world example was population – in the 1960’s the doubling period for global human population seemed to be about 40 years – could there really be 10 billion people by the time I was 100? What would that be like? There must be a limit I thought. Three years later a Club of Rome report articulated the limits to growth. We ignored it.
The 1960’s were a time when our prevalent fear, and the literal stuff of my nightmares, was nuclear disaster. Books like Neville Shute’s On The Beach and John Wyndham’s Chrysalids explored the impacts of pollution. We continued down that path through each successive accident, and as awareness of each new form of pollution arose we believed that a technology could fix it.
As I went out into the world I carried with me both my love of being in nature and my learning of the evident problems with the lives we live in industrial civilization, and both continued to grow. But somehow I failed to put the two together as a program for action to guide me. There was always time to do that tomorrow. It was always easier to look at something else, some immediate distraction. I denied what I knew, I got angry with my impotence, I bargained that working for a political solution would solve the problem.
So many things, but always the love and the background concern. What will happen when we run up against limits, how will that be, how will we be? Cognitive dissonance becomes a way of life, watching the shadows dance on the wall of the cave. Awakening has been gradual, my personal disengagement from industrial civilization is far from complete but it is a path I tread with increasing awareness.
There is no political solution to an ontological problem – a problem of being, of how we are. Our politics cannot change the way we be.
Now the untruths are crumbling away. William Blake said “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” He also spoke of the “the mind forg’d manacles” which imprison our perception. A prison of our own devise (Jim Morrison) or of our own device (The Eagles).
The acceptance that is reached at the end of the Guy McPherson’s lecture enables us to reconnect with the world. To smash our prison walls. To embrace what we each love.
Therein lies excellence.