Dear Margaret: Remember I shared that Alan Watts YouTube on Facebook the other day, & you asked, more or less, why keep on doing anything, activism-wise, if we HBs (human beings) are “checking out,” as it were?
It’s funny. I’ve been meaning to write a lot more (or should I say post a lot more; I’ve got tons of stuff written, languishing in notebooks, not-yet-posted) about NTE/NTHE (near-term extinction, near-term human extinction) & related thoughts, & your question gives me the perfect opening to explain myself, my beliefs about what the heck is really going on here on PE (Planet Earth), & how I came to be at the point I’m at, in both my thinking & my activism.
It’s sort of an “evolution of an activist” story.
I got into – dove headlong into – environmental activism exactly 25 years ago now (the fall of 1989).
Had already done 5 years of odds & ends of other community work (I was at home, full-time, with young kids) & the environment as an “issue” had been sort of calling to me, nagging at me.
(Personal history = long-time desire to “save the world” – typical “wounded healer” story from a dysfunctional childhood/family. World history = there was starting to be a lot of talk in the news about environmental issues. In 1988 James Hansen had told the world about the “greenhouse effect” & there were stories of drought & so on, as I recall.)
I figured I’d better roll up my sleeves & help make the world a better place for my children.
So, in I plunged. With the naïve belief that, if I worked hard enough, wrote enough environment columns (which I did for several years & in several communities, all told, over the years), I’d help inform & motivate people to change, & we’d all change the world together, clean up the air & the water & the earth, and then we’d all live happily ever after. :)
Yes. That kind of naivete.
So. Years of work on waste/waste reduction, then years on pesticides (convincing people to stop spraying poisons on their lawn, & after all, the 1000s of us who worked on this issue in Quebec & Ontario did achieve some impressive victories; provincial by-laws are nothing to sneeze at!).
A growing interest in climate-related work – energy conservation, you know, all that stuff. So, some years on that too. Then, finally, nukes. & gradually, along the way…
Hope Left the Building
Somehow it came over me during the Renfrew County phase of my life (2003-2009), while I was being quite active on pesticides, cancer prevention, energy conservation work + a major local food initiative (post-peak oil issue awareness), that we HBs were done. That all of our efforts were far too little, much too late.
It came to me that we were (are) living in the “dénouement” phase of human existence.
During this period of my life, I was in a quite unstable relationship. I spent significant amounts of time alone, & many hours walking in beautiful surroundings by the Ottawa River.
I encountered the work & writings of Eckhart Tolle & Pema Chödrön (both of whose work, books, audiotapes, you name it! I recommend highly). & later, also, the fascinating palliative care-related work of Stephen Jenkinson (his Orphan Wisdom Web site is here. This may sound like a non-sequitur, but I’ve had friends with cancer, & dying, so dying & palliative care are not a non-sequitur).
I remember meeting a young man at a very memorable 2007 John Seed workshop on ‘Despair & Empowerment’ who said to me “Even when there’s no hope, there’s still action!” (The Derrick Jensen article on this subject, ‘Beyond Hope’ has always seemed spot-on to me.)
& I did walk away from hope. I had already walked away from hope. Or more accurately, hope had already walked away from me. I didn’t ask it to leave, after all; I just noticed one day it had ever-so-quietly departed.
I remember writing a dreary essay called ‘Momentum’ in which I articulated that the sheer momentum of destruction was simply too great to put a stop to the disastrous planet-destroying mission we human beings had/have been engaging in for thousands of years. (I have scores of notebooks with similar dreary essays in them; my kids are under instruction to just burn all that stuff when I croak.)
While I was living in Deep River, I attended my very first Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing. Now that was an eye-opener!! An eye-opener & life-changer, as it all played out. (Of course I had no idea whatsoever then how things would proceed from that point for me.)
I was living in a nuclear town where I never breathed a word about nukes (no desire to be tarred and feathered, thanks!), but I’d made friends with some people from Pembroke who’d spent years fighting a disgusting little tritium-spewing company called SRB located down the river in Pembroke.
I decided to go to a CNSC hearing in Ottawa with them one time, out of solidarity. Just to keep them company. Be there as moral support, if you will.
The avalanche of events & life-changing that grew out of that hearing in 2006 is a whole long story in & of itself, but it’s not the story of this essay.
The point of it, the crux of it all, is solidarity.
When I look back now on 25 years of life as an environmental activist, I see that solidarity is the lesson. The lesson, & also the reward.
People waking up.
Getting off their butts.
Living out the advice in one of my now-favourite quotations:
4 Rules for Life: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results. – Angeles Arrien, U.S. teacher, author (1940 – )
- belonged to/co-founded/been on the boards of any # of activist groups
- organized gobs of projects & events & attended scores of conferences & workshops & protests
- sat on a logging road (failed to get arrested, though I intended to; a fun story)
- been arrested on Parliament Hill, & in the federal finance minister’s office
- worn a kangaroo suit to make a point at nuclear hearings
- written letters (more than I could ever list)
- signed petitions (more than you could count)
- written “interventions” for nuclear hearings (more of them than I strictly care to remember)
- sat in front of the NBC (Nuke Boyz Club) & told them to their faces their business is evil
- read hundreds of books
- watched 100s of videos
- written reams & reams of essays, columns, brochures, you name it
- learned far-far-far more than I ever really wanted to know, to be perfectly honest
about the state of our beautiful, beloved, beleaguered Earth.
& even though I now accept the likely possibly-rather-imminent demise of our species
I am still an activist.
It’s all about solidarity. Hanging out with other conscious human beings, people who not only care about stuff, but who care enough to get up off their butts & DO SOMETHING about it. I've met the most awesome, inspiring people in my career as an activist :)
Head to Guts to Heart
It’s true that I have always loved my work!
I love being an activist. The work is compelling, the rewards many (if often somewhat, um, intangible, shall we say) & the company of other activists inspiring & fun.
Turns out protesting is good for you!
My grasp of the coming end of our species hit me in the head, first. Years ago already, as I’ve said.
I’d say at first, then, it was in an academic, somewhat distant way that I came to accept the likely (& perhaps not terribly far-off) demise of our species.
Then, in 2012, two friends introduced me to Guy McPherson & the Nature Bats Last blog.
My intro came with this posting, ‘We’re Done’
That brought the term near-term extinction/NTE term into my vocabulary.
And, I guess you might say, it brought NTE from my head down into my guts. It wasn’t just my own vague if persistent fears & suspicions anymore. Here was someone with an understanding of the world of ecology/biology, who was saying our species cannot long survive all the myriad assaults in the form of the climate chaos impacts that our activities have unleashed on our world.
As it happened, at that time I was nearing the end of a short, somewhat ill-fated experiment with living “in community” (an interesting lesson or two learned along the way, naturally).
It came to me recently that it was probably when I started throwing beer bottle caps into the garbage that I knew I had finally, really gotten it right down in my bones. That sounds silly, of course.
But you see, I’ve been a manic, obsessive recycler since the late 1970s; a fierce adherent of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) hierarchy, & of composting. (Once on the Hill in Washington, D.C. I dodged the various police-looking types to sneak a banana peel under a hedge rather than putting it into the garbage. I won’t bore you here with the reason why organic materials do not belong in landfill sites; I don’t suppose any of that kind of thing matters a tinker’s dam anymore anyway, especially in a world in which radioactive garbage is routinely being incinerated &/or stored in leaky landfills by major rivers/lakes/oceans and dumped in water bodies and … Never mind, I know you don’t want to know these things. & you know what? I don’t really either!! But now I am stuck knowing all this awful stuff. Ack. Ack Ack. Ack. Ack.)
So, yes, the beer caps, which I’d always, up until recently, carefully saved up to return to the beer store for recycling.
(For the record, I continue to do a good many other probably equally meaningless things, simply due to now-ingrained, long-standing habit. Another essay written & not posted: Good habits = hard to break.)
At any rate. Sometime in the past 2 years, or year, or… whatever, NTE has come right into my heart. Gone from the head into the guts & is now lodged very much in my heart. This may be the posting where I came out of the closet about it. Not sure. Hardly matters now, really.
WTF? What Now?
So the questions, WTF? What are we supposed to do NOW? inevitably arise.
For me, it continues to be about solidarity.
So. I’m still an activist. I still go to protests, like the big Climate March held in New York City only 6 or 7 weeks or so ago now, ‘though it feels like much longer (my blog postings on that start here, & for the record, I was there to be part of the nukes-are-not-a-solution-to-climate-change presence, as you know).
& I still work on nukes. ‘cos the nuke plants I live too close to for comfort are still spewing their so-called “routine emissions” into air & water, creating waste that will remain toxic for millennia, & for all we know, may one day go postal on us in a big dramatic way; who knows? (I don’t have a crystal ball, & can’t say for certain which of the bullets in the end-of-the-world arsenal, or in what possibly synergistic combination, will take us out for good.) Nukes are nasty, & they’re very much part of the whole big sad scary picture we’re facing, & I am pretty sure you didn’t hear that here first.
Lives of Excellence
Guy McPherson, Mr. Nature Bats Last, has answers for you, for me, for us all.
He recommends that we pursue lives of excellence. He says we humans are in hospice now, all of us, in hospice.
In his book Going Dark he says:
“If we’re headed for the exit gate in the near term, the question then arises: What shall I do? How shall I live my life? In other words, now that we have knowledge of the near-term demise of our species, then what? There are more than seven billion responses to the latter questions. Recognizing that birth is lethal and that we have an opportunity to demonstrate our humanity on the way out the door, I’ve chosen an eyes-wide-open, decidedly counter-cultural approach. I’ve opted out of empire to the maximum possible extent, and I practice and promote a gift economy. Beyond my own actions, I suggest individuals take actions they never previously imagined. I promote resistance against the dominant paradigm, even though – especially though – it appears too late to save our species from near-term extinction. I propose assaulting ourselves and others with compassion. I recommend heavy doses of creativity and courage. I advise doing something well beyond the cultural current of the main stream. At this point, what have you got to lose? Indeed, what have we got to lose?”
Makes sense to me!
I like to believe I am living a life of excellence.
- I don’t run after or obsess about money, material goods, status or power (never really have. Truthfully, I’ve never given a rat’s ass about money, though like everyone, I do have bills that must be paid).
- I’m still an activist, & believe I’ve done some good, some worthwhile, work over the years.
- I have many wonderful people in my life whom I try to love & treat well.
- I believe I’m a pretty decent mother, & a good friend.
- I’ve signed on to work as a volunteer for the Red Cross, as I’m firmly convinced there will be many climate-induced crises in the years ahead, & one might as well make oneself useful. [this did not work out, btw, though I bashed away at it for about 10 months. Long story. Met some lovely volunteers! :) ]
- I try to keep my ego in check, to be kind, to be compassionate, to help, to be of use.
I think many HBs (maybe most??) cannot accept (even face) the diagnosis of near-term extinction.
Like people with a cancer, a terminal cancer – who cannot, will not, accept the inevitability of death. Who go through, or expect loved ones to endure, brutal & painful procedures & treatments & misery – all to prolong life a wee tiny bit longer (in many cases, more miserable than they might have been if they’d all just been able to say “uncle” a little sooner).
Even though we all know (surely we do all know??) that none of us gets out of this gig alive, in the end.
I understand that some of us find it all too hard to take on. I suppose we all have things that are too hard to think about. & I do understand that parents of young children, or perhaps too, grandparents of young grandchildren, must find all this just too unpalatable, too nasty to digest.
Fair enough. I get that. (I myself could not & likely would not have faced it head-on when my own children were small. Luckily for me, I was not obliged to, then.)
As for me, I am stuck, always (if sometimes belatedly, being, like so many of us, sometimes a slow learner), with the truth.
What I believe to be the truth.
& yes. It sucks.
Believe me, there are times when all I really want to do is howl. Howl & cry & kick & scream.
We did this to ourselves!!! (Not to mention all the other innocent species we have decimated & continue to decimate to the tune of 200 species per day.)
It is a comfort to me to know that I am not alone.
(Solidarity again, hmmm?)
There are more & more people to whom, with whom, I am able to speak honestly about what we see coming.
& too, after all
this is still a very very very beautiful world!
I revel in that daily, give thanks for that daily.
I still love
- worthwhile work/tasks
- books/reading/writing/finding & sharing inspiring quotations
- walking (& bike rides)
- food & drink
I firmly believe, with Guy McPherson, that we are all in hospice, now.
We need to be kind to the people who are here on the Earth, now. And the creatures – the ones that remain, the ones we have not (yet) rendered extinct.
We need to be of service. Of use.
There is still plenty to do!
'Quote of the day' with this post: “The shit is no longer hitting the fan. The fan is covered in shit. The shit is hitting the shit.” – Guy McPherson
p.s. I’ll do a posting soon with some quotations & resources potentially useful for those of us making a rocky peace with near-term human extinction. Even a minor blog re-org, with a new section on NTE.
p.p.s. I think we humans, with our big brains & correspondingly outsized egos, just get/got a little too wrapped up in how supposedly awesome & great & powerful & wonderful we are – & this excessive view of self (& species) importance (to which all of our supposedly marvellous inventions & technologies & I guess our religions, too, have contributed) has led us to think there is nothing we cannot do.
But really, you know, we are simply one species like any other, like all of the others, & when any species chooses to set out & destroy, lay waste to, its own abundant, beautiful & precious habitat, as we humans have quite clearly done (& continue with great energy & enthusiasm to do, & what other species has ever, ever done this??), whatever can we expect?
This lovely (short; 3:34 minutes) YouTube “The most astounding fact” I also shared on Facebook the other day can help us put ourselves into some kind of perspective, perhaps. Another item to induce humility & a sense of perspective, here.
p.p.p.s. You know, Margaret, I think about some of our human concepts, & the things we choose to believe. About our origins, our purpose. God, technology, religion, meaning, death. Forces we are subject to, whether we think about them or not. Many of us have rather odd worlds built up inside our heads, you know?? Many ideas that, frankly, positively imprison us. Limit us from seeing things clearly. Such odd creatures, we humans! We are subject to gravity, whether or not we “believe” in it, or ever give it a thought. Whatever we may conceive of God (or the non-existence of any kind of deity) to be, or not to be, near-term human extinction is poised to overtake all of us, all the same. We are marvellous creatures, full of beauty, promise & potential. But just like any animal, we must have habitable habitat, & food to eat!
And, finally, we are all obliged to suffer the consequences of our actions. Do we somehow think we can magically escape the effects of our raping & ravaging of this beautiful world, our only home??
p.s. # 4 You know, & this is really rather poignant, to me: I think all any of us really really want, at bottom, in this life, is to matter. To belong, to be included, to be loved, to help. To matter. So very, very simple, really – yet such a gargantuan cock-up of it all we’ve made.
p.s. # 5 & yes, Margaret, of course my heart is broken by, & about, all this. Grieving is part of all of this, part of the picture, for sure. Crying is not a bad thing to do; somehow, it helps. <later post on grief here>
& there is still so much to do, all of us, as long as we’re still here!
(& you & I, lucky, smart us, we are both walkers! Resurrected, daily, by the simple act of walking. Good for both body & soul, yes? So essential, so essential.)
Blessings on us all! These are challenging, challenging times…