And Then What?

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“What to do? Remain calm. Nothing is under control. Not by you. Not by me. I’ve tried shouting from the rooftops. I’ve described the horrors of abrupt climate change since my earliest essays on the topic more than a decade ago. Shouting didn’t work for me; I doubt it’ll work for you. Everyone who wants to know about abrupt climate change surely knows by now. If someone wants to know, and doesn’t know, more shouting isn’t likely to help.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Guy McPherson

In time of drought, a housing development near Palm Springs (Photo: Damon Winter). 

In time of drought, a housing development near Palm Springs (Photo: Damon Winter).

Guy McPhersonSAN ANTONIO Belize(Weekly Hubris)—December 2017—You are going to die. So is everyone else. Both will occur sooner than expected.

Surely, this isn’t a surprise. Surely, you didn’t believe our species could foul its own nest for thousands of years without adverse consequences.

Or perhaps you bought into the infinite-growth paradigm. Bummer for you. Bummer for us.  

What To Do?

Remain calm. Nothing is under control.

Not by you. Not by me.

I’ve tried shouting from the rooftops. I’ve described the horrors of abrupt climate change since my earliest essays on the topic more than a decade ago. Shouting didn’t work for me; I doubt it’ll work for you. Everyone who wants to know about abrupt climate change surely knows by now. If someone wants to know, and doesn’t know, more shouting isn’t likely to help.

Ergo, remain calm even as the ship takes on water. Death with dignity might even calm a few people around you as they reach the end.

There is an exception: We all influence, and perhaps even control, the emotions of a few people near us. You want to be an asshole with those people? Knock yourself out. You must be among the trolls who seek my errors. This essay is not for you.

The Pursuit of Excellence

As I’ve indicated a few dozen times, I’ve no interest in defining this simple statement. I’ve pointed you to a dictionary. I’ve given examples.

I’ve indicated the lack of recognition, much less reward, for pursuing excellence in a culture of mediocrity. I’ve written and said there are only internal, personal rewards for pursuing excellence, notably the ability to look oneself in the mirror without remorse, shame, or guilt.

You want more? Of course, you do. The culture demands more, and you’re afflicted with cultural norms. Even as I wonder why, I further articulate below the benefits of pursuing excellence. 

The Pursuit of Love

As I’ve indicated a few dozen times, I’ve no interest in defining the pursuit of love. I’ve pointed you to a dictionary. I’ve given examples.

I’ve indicated the lack of recognition, much less reward, for pursuing love in a culture of indifference. I’ve written and said there are only internal, personal rewards for pursuing love and doing what you love, notably the ability to look oneself in the mirror without remorse, shame, or guilt.

You want more? Of course, you do. The culture demands more, and you’re afflicted with cultural norms. Even as I wonder why, I further articulate below the benefits of pursuing love. 

But What Shall I Do?

This is the question to which I respond daily to people I barely know. I expand beyond the definitions of excellence and love. I invoke Buddhist-inspired right action rooted in the alleviation of suffering. I promote the lack of attachment to outcomes. And still the question persists: What shall I do?

Do what’s right. Do what you love. Do it well.

After all that, still the question persists. In the few paragraphs that follow, I take a turn towards the pragmatic. Let the character assassination begin. Trust me: It’s nothing new.

I’m driven to a life of service. I don’t know why. Perhaps you are similarly motivated. If so, good for the world. And too bad for you.

To me, for me, a life of service is everything. I could no more pursue fiat currency for the sake of having more prestige, power, or position than I could weasel my way into a tenured faculty position at a major research university. Not with my calm and calming messages of the pursuit of excellence and love. Not within a culture of mediocrity and indifference.

Stephen Jenkinson, author of “Die Wise.”

Stephen Jenkinson, author of “Die Wise.”

Perhaps service beyond your own life is important to you. If so, you might be interested in providing the means by which people can be released from their suffering. You might be interested in the notions of hospice or, as Stephen Jenkinson calls it in Die Wise, the “death trade.” You might be interested in dying wisely, to quote Jenkinson again. You might be interested in helping others do the same. If so, you have options.

You can become educated in hospice. Perhaps of more immediate concern, you can pursue knowledge about likely causes of death in your area. Where I live, in the Maya Mountains of western Belize, I suspect dehydration, physiological breakdown of the body’s ability to cool itself, starvation, and suicide will be the leading causes of human mortality, in descending order. As a consequence, I am studying symptoms of those afflictions and encouraging others around me to do the same. I’ll use these causes of death as examples throughout the remainder of this essay.

I invoke American ecologist Garrett Hardin’s oft-asked question, “And then what?” Once my nearby acquaintances and I are sufficiently skilled to recognize symptoms, what’s next?

Obviously, alleviating suffering is key. Alleviating dehydration is relatively easy if water is accessible. If it’s notand it won’t be for millions of city-dwellers in the near futurethen alleviating mental and emotional suffering will be key as humans die before our eyes. I suspect the ability to remain calm will be important.

To alleviate the pain and potential mortality associated with the physiological breakdown of the body’s ability to cool itself is no small endeavor. Simply blowing air across a dying companion will not work when lethal wet-bulb temperature is reached. Rather, cool water must be applied. Although we are planning for this contingency, there is no guarantee that such water will be available. At this point, and for millions of people around the globe in the near future, alleviating mental and emotional suffering will be key as humans die before our eyes. I suspect the ability to remain calm will be important.

Starvation is easy to deal with only when food is available. Those days are nearly behind all of us. As climate change accelerates into the future, food will be lacking for every person on Earth. We can store food, as I did for several years at my mud hut (it’s still there). But, eventually, stored food turns bad or becomes depleted. The near-term inability to grow food because habitat for complex life disappears from Earth indicates storage is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Nuclear submarines and the International Space Station are relevant models. Alleviating mental and emotional suffering for ourselves and others will be key as humans starve to death before our eyes. I suspect the ability to remain calm will be important as this ongoing, accelerating disaster plays out.

Finally, there is the issue of suicide. It’s one of many taboo topics in this culture. As I’ve indicated for a few years with a permalinked post near the top of the page at my blog, guymcpherson.com, I’m not afraid to take on this particular “taboo” topic. Rather, I advocate for a reasoned approach.

Every human has the right, albeit not legally in many places, to terminate his or her own life. And such an act can be thoughtful. I’m personally non-judgmental toward people who choose an early exit. And, to be clear, such an act can be thoughtful. I encourage thoughtful actions of all kinds. I’m generally ignored or insulted in response. If you’re taking the Hemingway out, please consider those you are leaving behind.

Perhaps the most thoughtful approach to suicide I’ve seen documented was taken by Martin Manley. He committed suicide on this 60th birthday, 15 August 2013. Before doing so, he created a weblog describing why in considerable detail: http://martin-manley.eprci.com/. Even if you’re not considering suicide, Manley’s extensive writing on the topic is worth reading.

Note: The photograph that illustrates this essay derives from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/us/california-drought-tests-history-of-endless-growth.html?_r=0.

To order Dr. McPherson’s books, click the cover images here below:

McPherson going dark cover

McPherson Walking Away from Empire - A Personal Journey cover

About Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson is Professor Emeritus of conservation biology at the University of Arizona. His is the leading voice on the topic of abrupt climate change resulting in near-term human extinction. His professional activities were under surveillance by the United States government in 1996, and his classrooms included an NSA-contracted spy no later than 2005. He has been labeled an anarchist and eco-terrorist by senior members of the Obama administration. He readily pleads guilty to the former and probably also the latter, depending upon how it is defined.

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15 Responses to And Then What?

  1. Gordon Shephard says:

    “And then what?” Of course, that is not really the whole question. The whole question is: “And then what…can I do to continue living even after that happens?”

  2. Not long after habitat disappears for human animals, our favorite species will go extinct. I think the question is how we live fully in light of this knowledge. The life in our days that matters more than the days in our lives.

  3. Bob says:

    I plan on ending my life through suicide. Of course, plans often go awry. As for Martin Manley… such vanity!

  4. john turcot says:

    Congrats on the way you have addressed all of the issues you have faced. For the most part, it was a pleasure to follow your thoughtful analyses of things to come, though they may or may not occur.
    Take care,

    John Turcot

  5. Bob, what do you mean by vanity?

    john, I’m describing today and also quoting conservative sources regarding our near-term demise. Unlike weather forecasting, describing the future with respect to climate change includes a very high probability of “success.”

  6. Kevin Hester says:

    Dying from hitting your Wet Bulb Temperature will be very torturous. Watching your loved ones and friends dying from it will have it’s own torture component.
    These literally are “The Good Old Days”.
    Guy continues to have the conversations that no one wants to have;
    https://kevinhester.live/2016/05/21/wet-bulb-temperature-soon-to-become-the-leading-cause-of-death/comment-page-1/#comment-273

  7. Thank you for your continued support, Kevin

  8. William D. Pothier says:

    Some years ago Guy was kind enough to share and give me permission to use his presentation slides in a new course that I had recently created call The Science of Natural Disasters. Since that time I have retired from teaching in Massachusetts and have moved on to a small high school in southern New Hampshire.

    The students, mostly seniors and juniors are never late to class. Though I have to walk a fine line I still try hard to educate them on what is happening and what they can but mostly cannot do about this. I once considered having Guy come speak at my school but with no support from the school and a administrative concern for how dire the message would be, it did not happen.

    Though I need to keep a more positive tone with my students (hope must come over despair as these are vulnerable young people), but like Guy, I feel that the veil needs to be slowly lifted and I can see almost every day that my students are beginning to see the multiple ways that their future is not guaranteed and will not have the same outcomes as their parents had. They are slowly getting the message though it gets drowned out in the din of their lives.
    Guy says that only love remains and my message for years has been to be a good person and help those that you can help, and still try and make a difference in an uncertain world.

    Thank you Guy for your inspiration. Someone once said that you can be the light or the mirror that reflects it. (William P. Wharten??). Some of us are indeed inspired to be the mirror.

  9. Bob says:

    Google’s definition of vanity:
    1. excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.
    2. the quality of being worthless or futile.

    Martin Manley talks about his achievements, his wish to leave a legacy, and his fears about becoming a burden on society. He overestimates his own importance and worries about being forgotten, as if that would be a tragedy. And he makes this information public in the mistaken belief that this will be of use for research into suicide.

    If this is not vanity, then what is?

    I regard Martin Manley’s posthumous project as a warning of the limitations of introspective thought. He had a limited view of himself, the world around him, and of his place in it.

  10. Thank you for the very thoughtful comment, William.

    Bob, I disagree about Manley. He was stunningly thoughtful in pondering what and who he was leaving behind. Most people I encounter aren’t nearly so thoughtful about how they live.

  11. David Hayes says:

    Hi Guy
    I’ve been following your work for a while now, probably not as long as the NSA but anyway. In your recent video at Nature Bats Last, the whole thing in 23minutes, you say that you think we only have weeks or months left at this stage. Are things going to get worse that quickly?

  12. I’d be stunned if most of us made it to November 2019. Most is not all, btw.

  13. Brian Fitch says:

    Playing music on an instrument is cool, even if you’re playing for yourself. (And the band played on . . .) You seem unusually grouchy lately about what people are saying about you. You’ve said it yourself: “Let go or be dragged.” There are people you haven’t met (like me) who respect you. There is no attainment, nor is there anything to attain. Best Wishes always!

  14. Brian, I’m no more grouchy than usual. You don’t know me, so you don’t know the baseline.

  15. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    As one of Guy’s editors, I can attest to the fact that he is, in fact, just a bit LESS grouchy than usual at present. Considering the fact that we’re all strapped in here together, and in a steep nose dive, I think those of us still speaking in full sentences and not at the top of our lungs may be forgiven a soupçon of grouchiness.

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