“At the level of society, there is very little any of us can do. However, I can think of one job that is worth our collective attention. There may be others. Working to cask and contain nuclear material represents one of our duties as planetary citizens. Leaving in our wake more than 450 nuclear reactors and more than 1,200 pools of spent nuclear fuel has the potential to destroy all life on Earth. I can imagine no greater obligation than cleaning up the worst of our messes as we exit the planetary stage. Even if this task proves impossible, as I suspect it will, taking it on demonstrates our worthiness as the last individuals of our species.”—Dr. Guy McPherson
By Dr. Guy McPherson
“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”―Thich Nhat Hanh
MAITLAND Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—1 September 2020— For many years, I had a small sign on the bulletin board adjacent to my office door on the campus of a major university: “Keep Expectations High.” I encouraged my students to take on tasks that, to me, seemed impossible. Of course, I did not tell the students the tasks were impossible. Occasionally, I was surprised to discover that the tasks I believed impossible were accomplished by my students. Even when they failed, as they often did, I encouraged and rewarded them for their efforts.
Among other factors, adhering to the expectations of others brought us to the brink of extinction. Retaining high expectations, even impossibly high expectations, demands more. It demands that we look within, regardless of the terrors there. It demands that we assume as a given the better human in each of us. It demands better, in every way, from everyone. Failure is assured, of course. And, paradoxically, so is success.
As I have pointed out previously in this space, we have very limited ability, as individuals, to positively influence the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the ongoing Mass Extinction Event, and abrupt, irreversible climate change. None of these opportunities, even if pursued with rigorous passion by each of us, will allow us to avoid the consequences of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the ongoing Mass Extinction Event, and abrupt, irreversible climate change. However, we have daily opportunities to improve the lives of the people around us, notably our family and friends. Perhaps we can henceforth apply our focus where it matters, rather than where it does not. In this essay, I would like to consider the scales at which we can positively influence the lives of others.
I have suggested planetary hospice as a response to the near-term extinction of Homo sapiens. However, I have provided few details. Planetary hospice sounds like a great idea, but what does it mean? How, specifically, shall we act in light of our own demise?
Indeed, how do we pursue our lives during a pandemic, a Mass Extinction Event, and abrupt, irreversible climate change? If we know our days are numbered—as they have always been—then how do we proceed with integrity? How must we act, on a daily basis?
In this essay, I suggest viewing our lives in the context of three categories: 1) family and friends; 2) community; and 3) society. I recognize that this three-category system is overly simplistic. I also recognize that these three categories overlap. They nonetheless offer a starting point from which we can ponder our roles in life, as well as our acts. Such self-examination is worthy, as well as painful.
At the level of family and friends, I have suggested during various interviews and essays at Nature Bats Last that we treat everyone near us as we would treat our beloved, elderly grandmother. Respect and honesty are key components of such behavior. Imagine the disappointment of your grandmother if she discovers you have lied to her (and she always discovers the lie). Imagine her disappointment when you disrespect her in other ways.
With potential disappointment in mind, how will you treat everyone around you? Will you respect people, as you expect them to respect you? Will you approach every conversation with full honesty, or will you hide certain facts? Would you disrespect your beloved grandmother? Would you lie to her, even by omission?
How we act at the level of community poses greater challenges than our actions at the level of family and close friends. How shall we contribute to our community? If we believe it takes a community to raise a child, then does it make sense to contribute positively to our community? If so, then shall we work to terminate racism, misogyny, and other forms of injustice?
Obviously, working to improve our communities falls into the large category of “easier said than done.” We all want to benefit from living in a community that respects all its members (especially us, of course). By what steps can we take to get from a civilization characterized by rampant misogyny, racism, and monetary disparity to a community devoid of these undesirable traits?
I can think of a few steps we can take. I encourage you to think of many more. If we fail, please let us fail together.
We can work daily to minimize, or even eliminate, misogyny. We can point it out when we see it. We can develop policies in our schools, churches, and other common spaces that strive to recognize and eliminate misogyny. We can do the same with respect to racism and monetary disparity.
Moving beyond policies and their implementation, we can spend time in the streets cleaning up our ugly messes. We can speak with those less fortunate than ourselves. We can listen to them. We can learn what they need. We can attempt to fulfill their needs. We can prepare food and give it to the houseless among us. We can pay for the education of those in poverty.
I strongly suspect misogyny, racism, and monetary disparity have been defining elements of every civilization so far. Ridding global industrial civilization of these undesirable attributes poses a daunting challenge at which I doubt we will succeed. Taking on such a challenge, in the face of seemingly impossible odds, can be a measure of our character. Why take on the fight if the battle is easy? Instead, let us undertake the greatest of challenges despite the longest of odds.
At the level of society, there is very little any of us can do. However, I can think of one job that is worth our collective attention. There may be others. Working to cask and contain nuclear material represents one of our duties as planetary citizens. Leaving in our wake more than 450 nuclear reactors and more than 1,200 pools of “spent” nuclear fuel has the potential to destroy all life on Earth. I can imagine no greater obligation than cleaning up the worst of our messes as we exit the planetary stage. Even if this task proves impossible, as I suspect it will, taking it on demonstrates our worthiness as the last individuals of our species.
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