Perhaps you can commiserate. I keep having this recurring thought. I am perched on a branch above a flooding stream. The muddy waters below me churn and swell. The winds howl around me. Torrents of rain beat down on my head. Others clamber up the tree near me. I reach out a hand only to watch them pulled away into the dark waters. Then the branch on which I sit begins to crack and I realize I am in free fall. It is a helpless and desperate feeling. It is the end of the world… the end of my world.
No, this recurring feeling I have had is not about the circus unfolding in Washington DC. It is rooted in our collective predicament as a species. I have said this several times before, but I believe more and more that we are at a place in human history where the status quo of almost everything is about to shift and the American political landscape is only one piece of this dire reality. It is true that no one can predict the future with certainty, but it it is also true that many of us have a pretty good idea of where we are all heading.
In case you were off world and missed it, let me break it down: the climate is rapidly transforming in real time before our eyes. Ice sheets in Antarctica, frozen for millions of years, are disintegrating rapidly and collapsing in a months time. Massive wildfires and intractable drought on each continent have become a year round reality. Biblical floods are a terrifying, new normal. Soil depletion is widespread; and the integrity of biomass is greatly degraded and imperiled. The planet’s oceans are acidifying with dead zones growing exponentially in size each year. What we are witness to is the Sixth Mass Extinction, a human caused disaster that is sweeping over us like a tsunami. In its insurmountable wake it is taking with it the earth’s largest living organism, a being visible from orbit, the Great Barrier Reef. Petrifying it in a blanket of stark, white death.
Within mere decades many, if not most, of the coastal areas of the world will be inundated. Drought is poised to cause widespread famine and disease will follow close behind. Of course the poorest of the poor who have always suffered the most will suffer exponentially in the years to come. A refugee crisis not seen before in human history is on the horizon, but Westerners should not kid themselves. We are all in the same sinking spaceship; and at some point this global catastrophe will leave no one untouched.
The companion to this appears to be a collective lunacy among world leaders and the most powerful. Armed to the teeth with life extinguishing nukes, they seem to have reduced our collective, existential predicament to a joust between failing empires. They are bolstering a renewed, reactionary authoritarianism and stoking base prejudices among the masses. The melting Arctic sea does not alarm them. On the contrary, it presents them with new opportunities for exploitation of ever dwindling and harder to reach oil reserves, the earth’s poisonous primordial blood. They look at the coming collapse with shrugged shoulders while they fill their coffers with coin. And make no mistake, they will not cease this destruction voluntarily. In the end the failing systems of the earth’s biosphere and climate and the impossible equation of infinite growth on a planet with finite resources will put a stop to their unhinged folly. But what price will we all have to pay for their madness?
And how, then, can we make sense of our predicament? How do we live lives of dignity, purpose and meaning in the midst of a free fall of civilization and the biosphere? I think it begins with disengaging from the dominant narrative of a profoundly sick culture. It is a narrative which reinforces separation from nature and the universe itself. It is a message center which controls how we see the world and all of its inhabitants. It objectifies, commodifies and nullifies the inherent worth of all living things and replaces them with absurd facsimiles of life which end up both mocking and crushing the soul and polluting the verdant earth. It is a culture responsible for war, poverty and avarice; and it is blind to its own imminent demise.
This age we live in reinforces alienation, denial, apathy and despair by hapless design. If we are to reclaim our humanity and our place in this rapidly deteriorating world we must return to that most childlike of qualities: imagination. We need to find the courage to place ourselves unashamedly into that dream time of imagining a world of connection with all that lives and the sense of wonder that comes with it. We need to give ourselves permission to pry open the cultural locks that have constrained our soul in a prison of lies, and reject anything that devalues us or separates us from the other. Perhaps then we can really begin to live the life we were all intended to live on this life drenched planet, even if we are in the last great epoch of our species.
A growing number of scientists argue, and with compelling empirical evidence, that a free fall of the biosphere is already under way. If this is true it will inevitably lead to the breakdown of complex societal systems and social order. The increase in relentless storms, droughts, famines and disease will accompany the rise of authoritarianism, racist xenophobia and militaristic nationalism around the globe. Truthfully, we are already seeing much of this happening today. In fact, much of the world now deals with this uncertain brutality and barbarism. But in the dark days that lie ahead no one will be spared the painful choices such a convergence will bring.
Many of us who have lived relatively calm lives in more affluent or stable societies will be increasingly asked to take uncomfortable stands that billions in poorer countries encounter daily. These stands can result in the loss of social status, jobs or even relationships. Many of us may endure unjust hearings, inquisitions or trials, or even face state or mob violence if we speak out against social hatred, defy repression, break unethical or inhuman laws, or provide shelter, sustenance or sanctuary to the foreigner, or the migrant, or the persecuted. It will not always be straightforward and certainly not easy. In the end. however, it has always come down to a fundamental choice between the better part of our humanity or in its rejection. We must all find this part and grapple with these troubling things sooner or later, but for me the choice is a clear one.
Kenn Orphan 2017