We’re Finished. Now What?

by on March 28, 2014 · 25 comments

in Activism, Culture, Editor's Picks, Environment, Health

By Will Falk

Yury Malkov / pixmule.com

Yury Malkov / pixmule.com

I don’t know how to write this, but it looks like humanity is finished.

Many of us know it in our hearts. We watch as civilization marches us to the edge of the cliff. We look around to find most governments refusing to implement the radical shifts needed to save us and killing those who fight back against these governments. We are searching for the serious resistance movement we have needed for the last sixty years while nothing materializes. Even though we have invented a million reasons why we’ll be saved like the belief in technology or a faith in economics, we know what is happening.

Of course, this culture is suspicious of the implications of any easily observable phenomenon that is not stamped with the approval of the currently dominating priesthood – I mean – scientific community. And, even the scientists have known our doom for decades.

Guy McPherson, University of Arizona Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology, predicts human extinction by 2030 and keeps an up-to-date climate change summary on his website Nature Bats Last (http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update/). McPherson keeps track of positively reinforcing feedback loops set into motion by climate change. These feedback loops are the great multipliers of climate change. Once in motion, they are virtually impossible to stop and they all lead to a planet that cannot support human life. The first feedback loop was observed in 2010 and in just four years McPherson’s list has grown to include 30 self-reinforcing feedback loops.

Brilliant Australian biologist Frank Fenner says the writing is on the wall. (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/frank-fenner-sees-no-hope-for-humans/story-e6frgcjx-1225880091722)

And John Davies, writing for the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, says we’re at the beginning of a runaway greenhouse event that will kill off humans by 2040. (http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update/)

In short, we’re screwed.

***

These words have been beating at the box of denial I built inside myself for too long. The bruises that have come from too much silence are too uncomfortable for me to maintain my silence any longer.

Let the knowledge sink in. Let it weigh on your shoulders. Let it pull you to the ground for a second and rub your face in the dirt of reality. Let it kick you in the gut and double you over with plain truth. Let it boil the acid in your stomach until you’re sick with honest anxiety.

Think about what happens when a loved one dies. Think about the emotional and spiritual energy it takes to overcome the tragedy. Think about the sleepless nights, the numb feeling at the funeral, and the horrible dreams that follow you for years after their death.

Now, think about what will happen when all your loved ones die.

These are the dark times we live in. Everywhere I go people tell me that the truth is just too depressing. Many don’t disagree with me, but they say it’s all too much to face.

There are plenty of people who will deny the truth. Frankly, it’s too late for them. There are people who will accept the truth, then throw up their arms, and opt to party their remaining days away. I cannot understand this. I cannot understand how even if there only exists the tiniest of chances to succeed we wouldn’t use all our power to try.

I am not writing to the truth-deniers or the partiers. I am writing to those of you who still possess enough empathy to defend what you love, but who may be caught in the grips of depression.

***

I am intimately familiar with the overwhelming paralysis of depression.

I began my professional career as a young public defender determined to combat the destructive forces in the so-called criminal justice system. I came face-to-face with institutional racism and colonial violence.

I set as many cases for trial as I could. I pushed the envelope with unorthodox arguments whenever I thought it wouldn’t hurt my clients. I argued with my boss about office-wide tactics. I beat my head against the wall. I pushed Sisyphus’ rock up the hill. Just as Audre Lorde pointed out when she said “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” it quickly became apparent that nothing I did working with the state-sanctioned tools made available to me as a public defender would be effective in combating the state’s oppression.

Eventually, I developed a severe case of depression after spending several weeks preparing for a trial only to have it foiled by an unprepared prosecutor. The judge ignored my speedy trial demand, which resulted in my client sitting in jail for another 60 days on misdemeanor charges for which he was not yet convicted. The depression overcame me.

I came home from dinner with friends. I ground up a couple sleeping pills with the butt of a kitchen knife and snorted them to dull the pain inhering to what I was about to do next.

I filled up a glass of water, thinking about how good water tastes and briefly looking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Then, I downed the entire bottle of sleeping pills.

I’ve been recovering for the last year and on a path of self-discovery more intense than I could have imagined.

What have I learned? Two things.

First, depression, no matter how bad it hurts, on its own is just a feeling — and feelings cannot kill you.

Don’t get me wrong. You can kill you. You can take too many pills and die. You can develop cancer from pollutants introduced into the air, the water, or the soil by corporations hellbent on turning the world into a profit, and die. You can stand in the way of a police officer when he comes to remove you from your home when you can’t pay rent, be shot, and die.

But, in each of these examples it will ultimately be physical and material forces that produce your death. It will not be a feeling or emotional state.

Which brings me to the second thing I’ve learned, and that is there really is only one medicine for depression: Action. Action that changes material conditions.

No matter how many therapists I talk to, no matter how many psychiatrists I see, and no matter how many anti-depressants I take, the only way to push through the grey fog of depression is to act. To get out of the grey fog of depression, you have to stand up and blow the fog away or travel to a new locale where there is no fog.

Action is particularly effective against depression when your actions can literally change the conditions producing the depression. If an abusive relationship is causing depression, leaving it works best. If a bad job is causing depression, finding a new one works best. If the destruction of the world is causing depression, stopping the destruction works best.

I understand that there are some situations producing depression that we have no control over. No matter how we act, we will not bring a dead child back to life. No matter how we act, we cannot erase an act of violence done to us in the past. Action, however, is still helpful. The path to recovery for a parent who loses a child might involve counseling other parents who have lost children. The victim of violence might find the strength to beat depression in advocating for other victims.

***

We started with the fact that humans are probably going extinct and it is causing widespread depression.

Do we or do we not have control over the extinction of humans? Are there actions we can take that will stop the extinction?

I do not know. I want to think that if we could topple civilization right now, if we could knock down the dams, stop the mining, tear up the pipelines, and blow up the power stations, we still might have a fighting chance.

But, there’s a sense that the question doesn’t matter. I asked you earlier to let the feeling of our desperate situation wash over you. I asked you to consider the deaths of your loved ones. The truth is the problem is even scarier than the death of our loved ones. The problem is the destruction of a livable planet. The problem is the destruction of everything, because without a livable planet we have nothing.

So, I ask: Who among us can sit idly by while our loved ones are doomed to death – while everything is doomed to death – and not act with every ounce of our power?

Action is still possible. And once you start, you’ll begin to feel better. I promise.

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Will Falk

Will Falk moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender. His first passion is poetry and his work is an effort to record the way the land is speaking. He feels the largest and most pressing issue confronting us today is the destruction of natural communities. He is currently involved in support work for the Unist'ot'en Camp - a pipeline blockade situated on the Unist'ot'en Clan of the Wet'suwet'en people's unceded territories in so-called British Columbia.
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Latest posts by Will Falk (see all)

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avatar mememine69 March 28, 2014 at 7:22 am

How many remaining climate blame “believers” does it take to change a light bulb?
None, because climate change “believers” choose to remain in the dark about science’s 32 year old consensus of nothing beyond; “could be” and “95%”.
So don’t tell innocent children that science “believes” as much as you do that THE END IS NEAR and we need SAVE THE PLANET.
Now who’s the neocon

avatar John Lawrence March 28, 2014 at 8:08 am

The consensus among the scientific community is that climate change is real, and we ignore it at our own peril and at the peril of the human race. We are witnessing the effects of it now. California is in a drought that might last for years. 2013 was the sixth warmest year on record. Multi-billion dollar weather events like Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy are becoming the norm. Australia had the hottest summer on record during our winter which produced some of the coldest cold on record. Great Britain suffered massive flooding. And yet some people are bound and determined to proceed with business as usual especially those whose economic interests are threatened and their talk show stoked dupes.

avatar Will Falk March 29, 2014 at 9:20 am

Thank you for writing this, John. And thanks for all your great articles.

I think you bring up a great point: We have little hope as long as the economy is valued over a livable planet.

avatar Goatskull March 28, 2014 at 9:47 am
avatar Anna Daniels March 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Ok, here’s another song that comes to mind. (Tx Goatskull!) Muévete, sung by Ruben Blades y Los Van Van. Keep moving. Keep dancing.

avatar Goatskull March 28, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Any time and good choice.

avatar bcoddington March 28, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Jesus, hey, what do we have to lose going down fighting.

avatar Raymond DeBrane April 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Rather than fight it, I choose to just work and play and live it up for all it’s worth until I can’t.

avatar Luke March 28, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Hey Will. I read your post and am glad you’ve found some transformation through action. I wrote a poem on climate change, the war machine, and resistance which I think you will resonate with. Take care in this time of destruction.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59Sl1QkMPcs

-Luke

avatar Will Falk March 29, 2014 at 9:35 am

Luke, thank you very much for your poetry! I love it.

I also love your essay you linked to “Positive Transformation and Collapse: Art, Materiality, and Spirit.”

You discuss and answer questions that I’ve been grappling with myself.

As the world burns, I’m always asking myself why I feel the need to write and I’m not spending more time physically trying to stop the destruction. I think Derrick Jensen says it best when says every morning he asks himself why he is writing and not blowing up a dam. He ultimately says because he knows nothing about explosives, and he is one of the few people he knows of writing about what he does.

So, thank you very much for your work!

avatar Luke April 1, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Thanks Will for checking out my essay. I guess we do what we are moved to do, and at the same time, it can be hard to act when there appears to be so little support, understanding, or momentum for fundamental change. The problems are complex, and just understanding them takes time. Convincing others of your specific viewpoint is extremely difficult. I think what we choose to do will have to be whatever the most effective thing we can each do, and yet come out of a sense of something greater than success, as the odds are definitely slim.

avatar GreenHearted April 9, 2014 at 11:09 am

It’s hard enough just *having* the conversation, let alone winning it! I write to, to feel like I’m “doing” something … anything. Sometimes it’s a desperately sad thing.

Compassionate Climate Action:

avatar Will Falk April 9, 2014 at 11:57 am

It is desperately sad and I think being capable of feeling that sadness is a really good thing! Thank you very much for your blog work, GreenHearted, you’re doing great work!

avatar Ruth Anthony-Gardner April 1, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Thank you for sharing, Will. I often feel as if I’m the only person taking Climate Destabilization seriously, at the gut level. I struggle with a kind of dissociation, because all of my ordinary life activities are inherently a form of denial. Meanwhile I’m terrified by what’s happening.
However, our threat isn’t just from Climate Destabilization. ‘Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies’ by Safa Motesharrei, Eugenia Kalnay, and Jorge Rivas connects escalating inequality to Climate Destabilization. [NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It’s Not Looking Good for Us at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/18/climate-change-world-risk-irreversible-changes-scientists-aaas
I think our best hope is a complex systems perspective on the crisis threatening humanity. Many institutions and individuals, each maximizing their personal wealth and power may form an emergent complex system. In particular it’s the kind of complex system where it’s hard to control individual parts of the system in isolation. [see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140320140740.htm
Global elites, and their corporations, form a resilient deep pocket interconnected system to maximize profit by raping the planet. Elite power operates through so many channels, that it easily compensates for an activist push here or there.
People working for global justice, sustainability, population control, political reform, corporate reform, and finance reform each struggle, in isolation from one another.
George Marshall said of Climate Change, “we can expect widespread denial when the enormity and nature of the problem are so unprecedented that people have no cultural mechanism for accepting them.” We must invent a cultural mechanism for people to comprehend the enormity and nature of the unprecedented threat facing humanity.
A complex systems perspective can reframe our common struggle to save humanity. We could map out the institutional systems arraigned against us and their connections, in order to identify the dominant pressure points in this complex system. We need to focus worldwide coordinated activism on the critical pressure points, with a coherent vision for activist communities and the public. We can retake control of the conversation by naming the invisible entity pushing us toward extinction.
The best way to overcome feeling hopeless and powerless is to face the true scale of what must be done, then create a strategy to begin.

avatar Michael A. Lewis April 6, 2014 at 10:01 am

Yes, we are dealing with complex systems. Two of them, in fact: the human complex social system and the biospheric complex physical system.

The chief characteristic of a complex system is unpredictability. Complex systems function through non-linear dynamics, meaning that Input A will not predictably result in Output B, or, in other words, if you push a complex system hard enough it will not always fall over. It may fly away, assume a putrid shade of purple, or turn around and eat you.

Physical complex systems are hard enough to model and predict, impossible with present understanding. Despite screaming headlines and pronouncements from men in white coats, we don’t know that present climate trends are “unprecedented,” “irreversible” or even a continuing trend. We just don’t have enough robust data, nor a sufficient understanding of the complex interrelationships within the Earth’s biosphere.

As to human complex social systems, forget about it! It is impossible to predict the outcome of any single social action or group of actions, even temporarily and on the short term. Human social systems are complex adaptive systems, meaning that they perceive changes and act on them, thus constantly modifying the response of the complex system itself. It is impossible to predict the outcome of any human action on human societies for any meaningful length of time.

So where are we? We’re either fucked or we’re not, and if we’re fucked then it doesn’t matter what we do. We may as well go down loving as fighting, if going down is the only alternative.

Fortunately, going down is not the inevitable outcome of the complex interaction between human societies and the fate of the biosphere.

The Earth’s biosphere is a complex adaptive system that tends to homeostasis. The emergent properties of the Earth’s complex biosphere move toward maintaining climate conditions conducive to life, else we would not be here to contemplate our fate. There is no reason to think that human produced CO2 is so all powerful as to overcome that tendency, since comparable high CO2 has never caused “runaway” global warming in the past.

Human rights and equality are another subject altogether. Yes, we must constantly struggle to maximize human rights and equality, a struggle that, just by unpredictable happenstance, benefits the biosphere as well. The most effective way to encourage human rights and equality is to work where we can make a change, right in our own homes, neighborhoods, municipalities and bioregions. Be the change we wish to see in the world. After all, the only human being we can change is ourselves, and by changing ourselves, we affect everyone we come in contact with. The ripples spread outward in complex, unpredictable ways.

Where more can we do?

avatar Will Falk April 6, 2014 at 10:29 am

Thank you for your great post, Michael. I guess, for me, loving IS fighting.

avatar John Lawrence April 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm

“We’re either fucked or we’re not, and if we’re fucked then it doesn’t matter what we do.” If we’re not fucked … yet … then it does matter what we do, and if we do it and are successful, then we’re not fucked in the long term. If we do it and we aren’t successful, then we’re really fucked.

avatar Anna Daniels April 6, 2014 at 5:47 pm

John- What a response! Those lines may be my next tattoo, but only if we’re really fucked.

avatar Nicolette Marié April 6, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I think there are others actions we can take, perhaps alongside fighting, perhaps in stead of fighting.

One of them is grieving. In order to come to grips with the fact that live as we know it will cease to exist (whether this is because of extinction or not does not matter, live WILL change, and rapidly so, over the next few decades), we need to sit and contemplate our demise. The art of living is in the art of dying. If anything, our humanity might shine through in how we handle ourselves in this day and age.

Another action is to operate, from now on, always out of selflessness. We are but one of the many species on this globe. To fight the depression, to fill the gap inside, that large hole that is surrounded by so much sadness, it is probably wise to humble ourselves, dig in deep, to ensure that if not we, other species can and will survive.

I wrote a poem a long time ago (not a very good one, English is not my native language), called Homo Mechanicus, in which I portrayed humans as machines. I would like to think that humanity will kick in at the end, that we find some sort of contentedness in making amends:

So, you hate machines?
Then boy, do I have news for you
(though you may already know):

The human body is very much a kindred spirit,
which is to say: it is a stellar piece of work,
crafty even, the way it blocks out sulking skies
tending to an ever-dying sun, only to tune into
the deafening shrieks of helpless stones
grating the edges of unkempt islands afar

Squatting on the opposite shore, receiving wave
upon wave of uncertainties, without fail it detects
every single surviving shred, gingerly picks them up
and ties them together with fragile strands of hope,
in an act of compassion it has been yearning for
since the day it was commissioned

Come to think of it
I am not sure that you don’t
know about this – not sure at all

avatar Will Falk April 6, 2014 at 3:43 pm

The poem is wonderful, Nicolette. Thank you very much for sharing. I think it is extremely important that we learn how to listen to our bodies. They are, of course, older than us.

Have you ever read Carolyn Baker, Nicolette? She talks about grieving being necessary and natural. She’s a beautiful writer!

avatar Jeff Johnston April 7, 2014 at 12:08 am

“Action is the antidote to despair.”
— Edward Abbey

avatar Irina April 7, 2014 at 10:25 am

If we stop today all the industrial activity (Carrington event or something like this) the benefits of reduced CO2 will kick in very slowly but fine particles created by humans will settle down in a matter of weeks and we get another degree of warming immediately (I saw a recent study on that) – more positive feedbacks kick-in – WE ARE DOOMED

If general public will realize where we are heading it won’t act rationally, we will get widespread panic, underrepresented economic collapse – see paragraph one.

If conspiracy theories are at least partially right 1% of people with money and power could do something but they are known to be rather evil, will die soon (so they don’t care), and probably don’t love their children or don’t have any) – so we are doomed again.

Please let me know if there is another option – I would love to make some plans for a future…

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