By Will Falk
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.