Only Love Remains
“Over 15 years ago, as I was editing a book on climate change, I realized we had triggered events likely to cause human extinction by 2030. Notwithstanding neoconservative talking points (aka lies) to the contrary, burning fossil fuels that accumulated over millions of years within the span of a couple centuries is having expectedly horrific impacts on the environment we share with millions of other species. Recognizing the horrors we’ve triggered, I mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed. Shortly thereafter, I was elated to learn about a hail-Mary pass that just might allow our persistence for a few more generations: Peak oil and its economic consequences might bring the industrial economy to an overdue close, just in time to allow our species to persist beyond another generation.”—Dr. Guy McPherson
By Dr. Guy McPherson
SAN ANTONIO Belize—(Weekly Hubris)—March 2018—Most people would say I’m not religious. I’m not spiritually religious, although I exhibit a few behaviors of a religious nature. I refer to myself as a free-thinker, a skeptic and, occasionally, an indifferent agnostic or a militant anti-atheist. So the apparently spiritual title of this essay would seem out of character to those who know me well.
I’ll not wander down the road of “knowing.” Even after five decades of study, much of it characterized by the serious introspection allowed those who pursue the life of the mind in the halls of academia, I barely know myself. And I know too little about love. But I’m pretty certain it’s all we have.
I’ve tried turning my back on my own emotions, and those of others. I’ve been a rationalist most of my life, and my entire career was spent as a scientist and teacher. My laser-like focus on reason precluded the expression of feelings, an attitude reinforced by the culture in which I came of age, a culture in which the only thing worse than having feelings was expressing them. For most of my life, I’ve been mystified by public displays of affection and by people who mourn the loss of individual lives.
After all, as I’ve known for a long time, birth is lethal. Nobody gets out alive, a notion that applies to cultures and species as well as to individuals.
Long familiar with his talent as a guitarist, I didn’t think the words of Jimi Hendrix applied to my world: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Recently I’ve begun to question my earlier sentiments.
Heartbroken, Again and Again
I keep believing I’ve worked through each of the Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. And then, just when my rational side seems to get the upper hand, I’m overwhelmed again and thrust back down to the lobby of my own personal Heartbreak Hotel.
Over 15 years ago, as I was editing a book on climate change, I realized we had triggered events likely to cause human extinction by 2030. Notwithstanding neoconservative talking points (aka lies) to the contrary, burning fossil fuels that accumulated over millions of years within the span of a couple centuries is having expectedly horrific impacts on the environment we share with millions of other species.
Recognizing the horrors we’ve triggered, I mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed. Shortly thereafter, I was elated to learn about a hail-Mary pass that just might allow our persistence for a few more generations: Peak oil and its economic consequences might bring the industrial economy to an overdue close, just in time to allow our species to persist beyond another generation.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride since then. Oil priced at $147.27 back in 2008 nearly sent the world’s industrial economy into the abattoir. Close, but no life-ring. Even as increasingly dire data, models, and climate-change assessments roll in, politicians and central bankers have kept the wheels of industry churning. Although we’ve been in the midst of an economic depression for several years, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels keep rising to record-setting levels each year.
Finally, I surrender. We’re done. Homo colossus has tripped many positive-feedback triggers, and they lead to near-term human extinction. We don’t have long.
I abandoned the luxury-filled, high-pay, low-work position I loved as a tenured full professor to go back to the land. I led by example. Vanishingly few followed. I’m reminded of the prescient words attributed to American existential psychologist Rollo May: “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.”
My new path presented tremendous challenges for a life-long academic who could barely distinguish between a screwdriver and a zucchini. I learned new skills, including rough carpentry, plumbing, masonry, gardening, and animal husbandry. Learning by doing, my naïvete produced injuries to my body and my psyche. Even before I broke my ribs and suffered numerous minor scrapes and bruises, most of my colleagues concluded I’d gone insane. This conclusion was shared by many of my friends and family.
I no longer communicate with most of those colleagues, friends, and family. It’s too difficult to justify the occasional conversation.
As an academic conservation biologist, I’ve long recognized that the living planet sustains our species. I was pointing out the dark underbelly of industrial civilization even as we were driving some 200 species to extinction every day. But I was ensconced in the underbelly, too. Living at the apex of empire, in a large city in the southwestern United States, meant compartmentalizing my life. Even as I was teaching the horrors of how we live, I kept living in that horrifying manner.
Through years of intrapersonal conflict, love rarely crossed my mind.
The Tide Rises
I miss conventional teaching, of course. I miss the honors students and inmates with whom I regularly worked. We sought meaningful lives of excellence, and I committed my life to service, primarily to people too-often underserved by an irredeemably corrupt system. Along the way, I learned empathy and love from my students. I suspect some of them learned, too.
But I could not continue to enjoy the city life and face the mirror each day. Such are the hazards of knowledge. Ignorance is bliss but, contrary to the daily choices of the typical American consumer, bliss is overrated.
Eventually, I began to remove the cultural shackles that bound me. Living and working in a sparsely populated rural area for seven years gave me ample time to think, and think deeply, as I developed new skills and a new perspective. Surrounded by Earth’s bounty and beauty, transformation befell me. My love for the natural world was renewed.
Now I live on a 57-acre Belizean homestead in an off-grid home surrounded by orchards, gardens, and the raucous sounds of jungle life. This is not an easy existence, especially relative to my life in the hallowed halls of academia. But it has its own rewards, foremost among them immersion in the real, natural world and an appreciative, loving human community.
The High Tide of Love
Finally, more than a half-century into an examined life, I have come to love humanity and the living planet. The wisdom of Jimi Hendrix, long hidden beneath the cultural programming one would expect in the backwoods, redneck logging town of my youth, nags at me.
The living planet and a decent human community sustains each of us, whether we realize it or not. Our years on this most wondrous of planets, regardless of how numerous they are, are to be celebrated.
After all, we get to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. It means we get to live.
Our knowledge of DNA informs us that the odds against any one of us being here are greater than the odds against being a particular grain of sand on all the world’s beaches. Indeed, the odds are much greater than that: they exceed the odds of being a single atom plucked from the entire universe. As evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins says, “In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to wonder why.”
The privilege to be here, on this life-giving planet at this astonishing time in human history, is sufficient to inspire awe in the most uncaring of individuals. At this late juncture in the age of industry, at the dawn of our day on Earth, we still have love: love for each other, love for our children and grandchildren, love for nature. One could argue it is all we have left.
Those who pull the levers in this life-destroying culture care about power to a far greater extent than they care about love. This culture will not know peace. It is much too late for love to extend our run as a culture or a species—too late to employ the wisdom of Jimi Hendrix—but love surely offers redemption to individual humans.
Will we, as individuals, know peace? That’s up to us. I suggest that most of us will know peace only when we find ourselves lying helpless in the broken arms of our doomed Earth.
Image Credits: Image 1 derives from “Fallout 3”; Image 3, of Jimi Hendrix, is a portrait of the artist by Terence Donovan (Terence Donovan Archive).
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I take great solace in nature. I can even say I honestly love nature in all of its moods and manifestations. There are times when I even feel loved by nature although this is probably a projection on my part.
In the human realm I love too. I have always, as long as I can remember, cared deeply for all of humanity, feeling the pain and suffering of others. I have offten been called a “bleeding heart” but but it never quite had the negative effect on me as I suppose those who say it intended.
I find it relatively easy to love but rather difficult to make myself lovable. I feel like I am eminently lovable as I give freely, am first to help, love to cook wonderful foods for all (and clean up as I go which is unique in my experience). I am physically fit and reasonably attractive or so I am often told. I am great at conversation and story telling, humorous, intelligent, and unobtrusive.
What I am not is an active participant in the collective suicide of humanity aka “successful in a career”, or desirous of all the trappings of success. This makes it hard for most people to love me or have much interest in me beyond the casual and superficial. I do have the love of a few of those who are close but even that love seems conditional and I know I need to tread a fine line to maintain it. I cherish this love beyond all else so willingly do what I need to but I occasionally long for true, deep, unconditional love. What a world that would be huh!
And Jesus said to James, “Do not let heaven’s kingdom become a desert within you. Do not be proud because of the light that enlightens. Rather, act towards yourselves as I myself have towards you”. — Nag Hammadi Scriptures.
The truth is eternal. It is love.
You are a beautiful writer. And I sinfully wish to possess that Hendrix and quote as a giant wall hanging. Hehe. It’s just perfect. It will stay tattooed on my heart.
I still enjoy your writing. Seems I may have heard it all before?
I mostly observe the world and people around me. I rarely if ever talk about the predicament to anyone. I have decided working through the steps of grief is enough of an ordeal without adding to it by trying to talk to people about it. People shut down when confronted with the very real prospect of an ice free arctic. Most will scoff and turn away. It is easier to just smile and and comment on the odd weather we are having. Then perhaps something about Trump and the gun tragedies. “I’m fine, how are you? See you later.”
Thought for self,”Maybe not.”
Jef, Angel, and Dave: Thank you for your understanding comments
For as long as I draw breath, I will be forever thankful to you Guy, for pointing out what now seems to be so obvious, and that is the fact that any one of us was ever born at all. That’s more than enough to keep a smile on my face, in spite of all that is going on in this world. One breath at a time…
Thank you, my friend Paul. Looking forward to your visit here in Belize.
This civilisation deserves to go extinct. For at least a hundred of reasons.
One human exploiting another. Some small changes of direction in the last 12000 years, some upheavals, tinkering and back to square one.
We have created a world where murder for income is respectable – armies; financial psychopathy is to be admired and aspired to – banking, leveraged corporate sector including collaboration between them and the state – one giant revolving door.
Medical innovations purely for vast profits.
I could go on for hours.
I will be sad to see the achievements of the science, culture and beauty die with. The labour of love of many brilliant people.
It will be the price to pay for the still very primitive way of thinking of billions of people of this planet, with their leaders in the front seats.
I am sure geo engineering is on the cards and will be applied amply in the near future.
When the going gets tough, these fuckwits will resort to it in no time and will religiously spray the straphosphere every couple of years or more, just for good measure.
Perhaps it will work.
Question is, what will it really solve?
Will it somehow miraculously create better humans? I very much doubt it. I suspect the scramble for a what’s left of the riches of this planet will only intensify.
Hopefully, by then I will be six foot under and not have to witness any of it.
Guy’s sweet words “only love remains”.
As far as I’m concerned, there is no cure for psychopathy and love won’t cure this cancer. But extinction will.
I largely agree, Todd. Sadly, the end of civilization spells the extinction of humans due to the removal of global dimming.
Apologies for some spelling mistakes
Re: Global Dimming
Pull the blasted plug already.
Geoengineer Paul Beckwith wants to dump heavy metals into the oceans. The sooner the plug gets pulled on hairbrains hell bent on destroying any and all remaining life, the better.
Angel, Mr. Beckwith’s ideas have no merit. They are immoral and illegal. Fortunately, the captains of the imperial ship know what I know.
Guy I’m sure they do, and they need to keep it that way because money has the upper hand in this culture gone mad.
Article concludes it’s the only solution they’ve got. Completely insane. How bout jailing all the fossil fuel industry CEOs and stop shipping bananas and water 3000 miles.
Angel, jail seems like a fine idea. But considering our lack of power, I suspect we’d be the ones doing time.
Oh I know. My resolution is as facetious as it is futile, but if geoengineers like Beckwith, Keith and Caldiera want to keep pushing their false narrative that they don’t have anything better to do, I’ve got an endless supply of ideas…!
William D. Pothier
I have four semester sections of Science of Natural Disasters scheduled again for next year in my small New Hampshire high school. This will be the second year that I have run this course (I also ran one for 5 years in Mass before retiring from their), and it is a real eye opener for my seniors and juniors. I often show your various interviews and presentations still available on YouTube. This generation seems more interested in the truth than was mine (I’m 65 this month). From one teacher to another… we can and do make a difference, even if it is too late to fix all that is now broken. I agree, it is now all about how we live, love and treat one another. But it should have always been this way. Thank you Guy for not only being the light but also the mirror that tirelessly reflects it.
Thank you for the great body of work, Guy. I can only image the personal attacks you have had to endure this past decade as you sought to enlighten those of us who share a deep reverence for our planet.
As always, I retreat to the wisdom of Edward Abbey:
“Only a fool is astonished by the foolishness of mankind.”
Angel, William, and Jim,
Thank you, my sister and brothers in arms. You make my daily exercise on the writer’s treadmill worthwhile. I’m a sucker for a line from Abbey, as Jim must know.
Without hesitation, i second your friend Paul Marcotte’s impassioned words for you Guy. Have been following the soap operas from the sociopaths far too long. Beckwith’s poisoning the oceans as cure was the last i could listen to without puking. i thank YOU for the Reality Checks to stand guard from the likes of those Beckwithian mad schemes, and hence, schemers. Long ago, i personally had to change the ‘Ignorance is bliss’ meme to: “Ignorance is ignorance.” i’ve simplified my life deeply so i realize you’ve been a great mentor like my friend Thoreau, et al. btw: Where are today’s Thoreaus?
Thank you, Robert. Doug Peacock is the closest to Thoreau I can find in the modern world.
“Sigmund Freud stresses in his writings the passages and difficulties of the first half of the human cycle of life—those of our infancy and adolescence, when our sun is mounting toward its zenith.
C.G.Jung, on the other hand, has emphasized the crises of the second portion—when, in order to advance, the shining sphere must submit to descend and disappear, at last, into the night-womb of the grave.
The normal symbols of our desires and fears become converted, in this afternoon of the biography, into their opposites; for it is then no longer life but death that is the challenge.
What is difficult to leave, then, is not the womb but the phallus—unless, indeed, the life-weariness has already seized the heart, when it will be death that calls with the promise of bliss that formerly was the lure of love.
Full circle, from the tomb of the womb to the womb of the tomb we come: an ambiguous, enigmatic incursion into a world of solid matter that is soon to melt from us, like the substance of a dream.
And, looking back at what had promised to be our own unique, unpredictable, and dangerous adventure, all we find in the end is such a series of standard metamorphoses as men and women have undergone in every quarter of the world, in all recorded centuries, and under every odd disguise of civilization.”
Joseph Campbell – “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” 2ed.
The universe does not care about our fate, or even that we exist within it. It is only to the extent human beings have feelings about the value and fate of the indigenous life our planet is struggling with lesser and lesser ability to sustain, that we suffer.
Yes, in the final analysis, all we have are love, relationship, community and the meaning they hold in our hearts.
Acceptance of a dire fate requires that we throw off the sense of being special and conclude that reality will proceed without us. And that’s just fine.
Such acceptance is NOT easy to achieve, because every atom of our being has been fashioned by eons of evolution to survive by any and all means.
It is said that a person contemplating suicide enters into a phase of great peace, once the decision to commit the act has been truly made.
We humans are committing species suicide it would seem, without all fully knowing it, and thus there is no peace to be found. Perhaps the survival instinct is really to blame, for it affords no moment of contrition and resignation.
And so we struggle blindly. And will do so until the last snowflake has fallen, and the last breath is exhaled.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Michael, with which I couldn’t agree more. Jung predicted human extinction about now. Seems he was well ahead of his time.
Finally something interesting:sex. Should be obvious to an evolutionary biologist. Think about hidden ovulation in humans.
Thanks, Brian. Sorry to keep you waiting so long for “something interesting.”
Human extinction by 2030?
That’s an interesting idea.
Does the dark cloud have a silver lining?
If humanity commits suicide, then the planet can recover from humanity.
Jimmy, please read my essays in this space, in order. Or read my work at GuyMcPherson.com. The case for near-term human extinction is compelling. The planet will not recover for millions of years, if ever.
I dunno. Even without an atmosphere, and with radiation all over the surface, the subterranean bacteria will probably continue to flourish. Bacteria are pretty cool, actually. Just sayin’ . . .
With its wealth of worthy observations and readers’ responses, your essay sounded the siren’s call. The Devil’s Advocate cannot resist your temptations.
You have thought-provoking things to say. So, why lean on Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and Kubler-Ross for words? Hackneyed pop culture distracts from your messages.
More importantly, your comments oversimplify industrialism.
Sadly, humanity is co-dependent on industrial society for food. Killing the industrial behemoth would trigger unprecedented global starvation with horrifying speed. (“Mass starvations” to date would pale by comparison.) Ever more humans crowd the planet, demanding artificially high levels of food, without which 7 billion souls could not possibly be alive today. Had industrial society never created unsustainable agribusiness and its transportation infrastructure, the planet’s population would be a small fraction of that 7 billion.
Human problems are not binary, they are mind-bogglingly multivariate. This reasoning does not excuse industrial society, it simply attempts a more realistic view.
Back-to-the-land solves nothing for humanity. Some friends of mine proselytize for that. Like you, they’re retirees whose comfy middle-class lives afford the luxury of rural acreage and the numerous tools and supplies for do-it-yourself gardening. With the collapse of industrial society, where would billions more people get the land, materials, and tools to resume subsistence farming? Where would the denizens of New York, Tokyo, Istanbul, etc. find all of that fertile and watered land? How would they obtain it? World war?
This speck-on-the-beach sees industrial society seeding its own doom AND human nature inevitably driving toward extinction. If, as you say, extinction lies within a few decades, all the better for planet Earth’s ravaged ecosystems, right? The sooner the metastasis of humanity consumes itself, the sooner what’s left can regenerate and resume evolutionary progress, right?
No, no, this isn’t just cynical babble. This view sprang from a lifetime of devouring history, philosophy, religion, and countless other topics, as well as personal association with all levels of society. My careers encompassed dozens of blue- and white-collar jobs, including seven years in an artificial bubble called “the halls of academia.” Life taught that the only hope for peace lies with those deliberately choosing peace of mind, despite what goes on nearby and around the world. Perhaps something like Stoicism, tempered with true caring and love for the deserving, seasoned liberally with humility. Leave our corner of the planet a bit better than we found it, let come what may.
Enjoy your jungle, and hope that back-to-the-land doesn’t surround your getaway with high-rises and traffic. Warm regards from suburbia.
If all humans leave Earth, it doesn’t matter how the planet recovers. What’s done is done. However, after the extinction of humanity, there wouldn’t be anyone around like us to think about how it might have been. Fortunately, other life forms seem to have a metaphorically Zen perspective on existence, focused on life essentials and unburdened by angst.
With all respect, my reading of any more speculation about doomsday and life-after-humans would not matter. I already draw on a lifetime of experience from endless reading (as many disparate sources as feasible) and association with all levels of society. I even spent seven years working in the halls of academia, where “scholars” expect people to fall in line and think as they and their crowd do, rather than seeking their own perspectives from as many sources as possible. With all due humility, I do my best to make up my own mind, rather than following any of the innumerable Pied Pipers. Also, I sincerely respect yet refuse to worship academia, which has no monopoly on ideas and critical thought.
As a lifelong devil’s advocate, I merely reply to the issues you’ve raised. Now having read over 1,000 pages in 3 books over the past week or so, I hope you will forgive my not visiting yet another website that, although its content is well intended, likely espouses recurring themes of our times.
Intending NO cynicism: If humanity exterminates itself, so be it. The millennia portend a sad ending. Worry will not help. The only peace we will find is peace of mind, if we choose that.
Jimmy, no offense, but you’re wrong about nearly everything. We could start with my lack of a pension, but why? You’ll continue your evidence-free approach because ignorance is bliss.