How We Live, How We Die

Guy McPherson

“Every day, I hear that predictions are unwise. “Climate science is too complex,” people say. As if Thales of Miletus did not receive the same criticism upon correctly predicting a solar eclipse in 585 BC. As if many people did not believe predictions of lunar and solar eclipses as recently as earlier this year. Science is predictive with far greater accuracy and precision than any other alternative “way of knowing.” Indeed, predictions are fundamental to the continued pursuit of science. I can lead a person to knowledge, but I cannot make him think. I suspect my work as a teacher is nearly done.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Dr. Guy McPherson

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) with a group of children at Beacon High School. (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images, 1950.)

Bertrand Russell, with a group of children at Beacon High School. (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images, 1950.)

“I frequently come across an old acronym, YOLO. It means You Only Live Once. I disagree with the age-old YOLO. If you choose, you can live every moment of every day. I prefer YODO: You Only Die Once.”—Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson

WESTCHESTER COUNTY New York—(Weekly Hubris)—April 2019—

Living Fully Every Day

British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1950: “After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it generated Neros, Genghis Khans, and Hitlers. This, however, is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and peace will return.”

Despite Russell’s prescient words, every day I read about human hubris, rooted in industrial civilization. We have convinced ourselves that we are stunningly special, as individuals, as members of industrial civilization, and as a species. We are special, at each of these levels, as I have frequently pointed out. Considerably less impressive is how we have chosen to act toward the living planet, including other humans, with the unearned bounty handed us. Our individual and collective failures to recognize and alter our destructive ways have predictably led to our demise as individuals, as a civilization, and as a species.

And yet we feign surprise—or, worse yet, some people actually are surprised—when individuals die, and when we learn about the near-term demise of our favorite civilization and our favorite species. The majority of the most horrifically reckless, self-absorbed animals in planetary history cannot accept the obvious outcome of its behavior. If only Bertrand Russell were here to comment.

The universe we inhabit is approximately 13.8 billion years old. Our species is slightly more than 300,000 years old. During a time exceeding considerably more than the initial 99 percent of the existence of the universe, Homo sapiens was not present. If the universe is all about us, as believed by people citing god(s), divine energy, “source” or various other imaginings, then the universe has been exceedingly patient.

This, of course, is all old news to thinking individuals. I am neither the first nor the wisest to tackle this issue: social commentators were slogging through the lonely path of hip-deep mud for generations before I showed up, trying desperately to be heard and understood.

I might, however, be among the last individuals to write social commentary on Earth. Surely there will a prize!

Principled words have been largely ignored. Principled actions have been largely disparaged. Small wonder the wisdom of our “sapient” species has been so brilliantly, cleverly disguised.

Edward Abbey, a voice in the wilderness.

Edward Abbey, a voice in the wilderness.

Abrupt climate change is under way today. Industrial civilization teeters on the brink and, due to the aerosol masking effect, habitat for our species similarly risks going away. This is not a problem for the grandchildren. It is a predicament for today.

Any moment might be your last, as pointed out by Homer in the Illiad some 2,800 years ago. As desert anarchist and American social critic Edward Abbey pointed out a tad more recently, “Nirvana is now.”

Let us grab nirvana, one moment at a time.

Every day, I hear that predictions are unwise. “Climate science is too complex,” people say. As if Thales of Miletus did not receive the same criticism upon correctly predicting a solar eclipse in 585 BC. As if many people did not believe predictions of lunar and solar eclipses as recently as earlier this year. Science is predictive with far greater accuracy and precision than any other alternative “way of knowing.” Indeed, predictions are fundamental to the continued pursuit of science.

I can lead a person to knowledge, but I cannot make him think. I suspect my work as a teacher is nearly done.

Relevant Actions

How do we act in the face of a terminal diagnosis? How do we integrate this knowledge into our lives? Who do we become?

I strongly suspect we are the final humans on Earth. In light of this knowledge, will you live more fully each day? Each moment? Will you become the best human you can imagine?

Will you prioritize your work differently? Or your relationships?

What is important to you? Who is important to you? Are you acting now as if these things and these beings are important?

Are you attached to the outcomes of your efforts? Or are you able courageously and virtuously to pursue justice, without a profound sense of disappointment when the universe does not bend to your will? Have you adopted, “Let go, or be dragged,” as one of the defining elements of your life?

Are you passionately pursuing a life of excellence? Or are you racing ever-faster on the treadmill upon which you were born?

Are you able to define the meanings of your life? Are you pursuing what you love?

Are you doing what you love? Are you loving what you do? Are you doing it well?

These are the questions I asked in university classrooms for more than two decades. They still seem relevant.

A Lifeless Earth?

As I pointed out in my latest missive here on Weekly Hubris, a rapid, near-term global-average rise in temperature could eliminate all life on Earth. So, too, could the uncontrolled meltdown of the world’s nuclear facilities. It seems Bertrand Russell was onto something, and I suspect his realization came far sooner than he imagined it would. We need not rely upon our sun going nova to turn Earth into a lifeless rock in space.

Although the scientific evidence is clear, our response is not. How we respond to our near-term, terminal diagnosis as individuals, families, communities, and a society, defines us. Yet nobody will remain to judge us: none will witness our “legacy.” Does the absence of witnesses negate our legacy? Or, to the contrary, is how we act in the face of impossible odds the premier example of our character?

As with my previous questions, these latter ones have no universal answers. Each of us must find our own way. Each of us must determine our own priorities. Each of us must act as only each of us deems fit. And this has always been the case.

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

Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction by Guy R. McPherson

Paperback.

Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction Kindle Edition, by Guy McPherson.

Kindle Edition.

McPherson going dark cover

Guy McPherson

About Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson is an internationally recognized speaker, award-winning scientist, and one of the world’s leading authorities on abrupt climate change leading to near-term human extinction. He is professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he taught and conducted research for 20 years. His published works include 14 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. Dr. McPherson has been featured on television and radio and in several documentary films. He is a blogger and social critic who co-host his own radio show, “Nature Bats Last.” Dr. McPherson speaks to general audiences across the globe, and to scientists, students, educators, and not-for-profit and business leaders who seek their best available options when confronting Earth’s cataclysmic changes.
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23 Responses to How We Live, How We Die

  1. Avatar BERODE PIERRE says:

    Bonjour Guy,
    Merci pour ces quelques réflexions qui sont autant d’indices pour mieux comprendre le professeur Guy McPherson.
    Dans chacun de nos écris, on peut éventuellement lire une parcelle de qui nous sommes. Dans cette dernière production, cher professeur, il y a beaucoup de neutralité factuelle, un peu comme si l’importance du sujet, la fin de “notre” monde est en soit terrible.
    Je ne sais plus qui disait ” poussière nous sommes et poussière nous resterons “. Les idées, les informations que nous avons créées vont elles nous survivre ? Je crois bien que Vous nous avez exposé vos idées sur le sujet.
    Que restera-t-il alors ? Quelques morceaux de technologie flottant dans l’espace ? Quelques sondes spaciales sur la Lune, Mars ou Tchouri avec Philae … de nous homo sapiens faber … RIEN
    NON ! Ce n’est pas possible et dès aujourd’hui avec mes ami(e)s chamanes j’envisage de partir explorer … Les univers parallèles
    A très bientôt professeur

    PS : i did wrote to U Guy in french because i know You will manage … To talk about NTHE is always a hard task and i was feeling freer.

  2. Avatar Jef says:

    I had been very encouraged by the widespread attention that David Wallace-Wells article and book “The Uninhabitable Earth” has received and it is over all, still a good thing. However his take away message that he is emphasising is essentially “since mankind is so amazing that we can destroy the planet then surely we can turn that same amazingness to saving it”. Talk about hubris.

  3. Avatar Laura says:

    Hi Guy,
    Did you mean, “I disagree with the age-old YOLO”?

  4. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    He did, indeed, Laura! Bad Editor here! :-)

  5. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for your affirmative comment, BERODE. The future seems terrible because the recent past, and the present, are terrible for many people. We will all soon be in that most undesirable of places.

    I’m a little surprised, Jef, about Wallace-Wells. He plagiarized and libeled me. Here’s hoping justice will be served, although it seems unlikely in his money-motivated case.

    Thanks to Laura and Elizabeth for catching and correcting, respectively, my errors. That’s surely a full-time job for more than the two of you.

  6. Avatar Tom says:

    i just finished watching Part I of your latest interview. People will go to any and all lengths – BELIEF, woo, magic technology, UFO’s, God (or gods), etc. to continue living the life of relative ease and plenty, even though the end is clearly in sight.

    After the flooding in the mid-West, i don’t know what more people need to change their minds about (abrupt) climate change and extinction. The cycle of forest fires hasn’t even begun and we have one on the East coast. We’re losing habitat at an ever increasing rate and yet people still want to “hope for the best!”

    Well, i have taken your message to heart and concentrate on living in the now. I’ve also been relieved of any pressure to get anything done, but to enjoy doing whatever it is i’m doing. i’ve felt for the longest time that no matter what humanity does, it’s wrong – in that it doesn’t respect any other species or the planet (or even our local neighborhood). We’re such strange creatures, full of wonder and full of shit in our hubris and ideas about how we live.

    Thanks for all your work, Guy.

  7. Avatar Alex S. says:

    Guy, are you familiar with the tenets of Jainism? There was a fascinating article recently in The Atlantic about animal consciousness, which delves into Jainism: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/03/what-the-crow-knows/580726/

    Perhaps if a majority of humans shared the values of Jainism — with their profound reverence for all living things — we wouldn’t be facing NTHE and a dead planet.

  8. Avatar Professor Broken says:

    Why is there still so much intellectual narrration stated in terms of what it might be like if things get bad?  I’m reading details of reports from Beira and thinking, “which planet are people watching”?  

  9. Avatar Professor Broken says:

    Doctor McPherson, your bravery as a bearer of unpleasant facts has, I’m sure, very much exceeded mine. But I want you to know that you have not been alone (at least not in spirit). In my own small role as a member of the faculty at a small college, I know what it means to have been “as popular as a whore in church” with people (students, administrators, and even other faculty) who would have it that certain aspects of science be, er, deemphasized. I’m thankful for people like McPherson, Ehrlich, Bartlett, Sagan. These are voices I have sought to emulate. Thank you again. Did you ever hear this little gem from a few years back?
    https://youtu.be/cYIlDt9in6Q

  10. Avatar Professor Broken says:

    It has taken me a long time to internalize the wisdom of living in the present moment. Still, I feel pity for the Cassandras of the world. Cassandra was truly cursed, no?

  11. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Tom, for your affirmative comment. If current events are not sufficiently convincing, then I doubt some people will be convinced until they draw their last breath. I’ve mentioned this tidbit a few dozen times.

    I agree, Alex S. Had we converted to Jainism a few generations ago, we wouldn’t be facing the worst now. Unfortunately, that ship sailed.

    Professor Broken, my response to you matches the one to Tom. Too little, too late. Too bad, too.

  12. Avatar Robert Russell says:

    I read this vignette awhile ago and I can’t attribute it.

    A student came to speak with the Buddha. Buddha asked him if he had thought about death today. The student replied that he thought about death briefly in his morning meditation. Buddha said “you must think about death with every breath. With your first breath as you were born you inhaled. On your our last breath you will exhale. Think about death with each exhale and the power it has over you will disappear.”

  13. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for that wonderful story, Robert. I’ve not read it before.

  14. Avatar Kate says:

    Brilliant, and funny as ever. It is amazing as you say the big ‘surprise’ it’s all over. “Must go faster”. While reading the voice of Jim Carrey popped into my head, from the movie A Series Of Unfortunate Events, I think it’s called.
    Keep up the good work.

  15. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thanks, Kate. Comments such as yours inspire my continued work.

  16. Avatar Richard Title says:

    I read Wallace-Wells “Uninhabitable Earth” book; in fact it was his reference to you in the “Ethics at the End of the World” chapter that led me here. He does indeed call you “fringe” although after reading some of your writing I agree with you much more than Wallace-Wells. His book has a lot of good information about the effects of climate change, but it’s all conditionalized with “if we don’t change our ways…”. He suffers from the delusions that it’ll be easy to “change our ways” and “solve the problem” – i.e. the problem go away if we all just start *caring* about it enough. Most climate-change books are naive in that way. It’s refreshing (but also depressing) to find a writer (you) that seems to see the problem clearly. Derrick Jensen is another thinker/writer with clearheaded views IMO. BTW I am thinking of following your example and exiting from the global industrial economy that is murdering the planet. I just bought 10 acres of farmland in rural Jamaica (enough above sea level I hope) where I hope to make my exit. If you can’t fix a problem, at least don’t be part of it, is my ethical view.

  17. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Richard. Wallace-Wells is quite a piece of work. I suspect his delusion is rooted in his privilege. Or maybe it’s his baby. Regardless, he’s done a disservice with this book.

  18. Avatar Jean Brocklebank says:

    Dr. McPherson ~ I find your thoughts about “the end” to be interesting. That said, I think the end is not as soon as 2030, as many of the climate change alarmists (like Greta et al) claim. In point of fact, I am quite sure that things will be pretty much the same in 2030 as they are today, only worse.

    Humans will continue to exploit to ocean of its wildlife, exploit the land for a few million more servers to store all this electronic data, exploit the so-called “undeveloped” nations of all retrievable minerals, and exploit the landscape of all wildlife species (song birds, other primates, rhinos, lions and tigers and bears oh my, pangolins, etc.) to feed insatiable appetites for food and misplaced bizarre cultural traditions. I could go on but one gets the picture.

    I am also as sure as one can be (about the future) that no matter the near term climate change ahead of us, the earth will abide and I mean the earth with life, including pockets of Homo sapiens. It is only the civilizations that will perish. Since it is the civilizations that have destroyed a once fecund and thriving planet of millions of species besides Homo sapiens, I am tempted to thank the stars for that.

  19. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    We can each have and express our own opinion, Jean. Sadly, we do not get to have our own facts. Too bad, because the “party train” is such fun. Grinding the living planet into dust might be fun, but nature bats last.

  20. Avatar Michael Troy says:

    ROSEBUD

  21. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    You lost me, Michael. Please elaborate.

  22. Avatar Richard Horan says:

    Hi Guy,

    Have you read Alan Wiseman’s book, “The World Without Us”? In it he points out that the radioactive waste that our nuclear power plants have created, left unattended, will poison the land and water around them until the end of time. And because there are nearly 500 nuclear reactors throughout the world, our entire planet will be an uninhabitable blob, even for cockroaches. I’ve always been a big fan of a well-place asteroid, but I am so sad to think that even after we’ve killed ourselves off, the toxic byproducts of our previous existence will live on, corrupting the planet until the Sun dies. Just saying…

    Richard Horan

  23. Avatar Guy McPheron says:

    Thank you for your comment, Richard Horan. I read Wiseman’s book shortly after it was published. I met Wiseman a few years later, and I interviewed him for my radio show.

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