Age of Apocalypse

Camping is easy. Returning to civilization is what’s challenging. You spend a weekend camping in a pristine wilderness area, lulled to sleep at night by the sound of a gently flowing river, awakened by bird songs echoing through a deep canyon. But all good things come to an end and the time comes to get back to work, to monitor all those tweets, Facebook updates and text messages.

The return to civilization from this weekend’s Age of Limits conference, held in a pristine wilderness area in Pennsylvania was especially jarring. One moment we were in wilderness, the next we were queuing up for the TSA’s carefully stage managed Security Theater show at Dulles airport. Thanks to the TSA, fear has never been so slick and high tech, especially the humiliating hands-above-the-head , existential surrender to group fear-think that is a trip through the TSA’s elevated, glass cube “porno-scanner.”

Then there was Virgin America’s individualized entertainment programming. Satellite TV! Shop Ebay at 30,000 feet! I shut the TV off and picked up a book, but I kept getting distracted by the screen I could see in the row in front of me. It was displaying a nonstop parade of gruesome images–mangled corpses, gunshot wounds–what passes for “entertainment” on mainstream television.

Which brings me back to the Age of Limits conference. In Kelly’s blog post yesterday, I wanted to interject to say that I noticed a depressive tendency amongst some speakers and attendees at the conference. I wasn’t alone. A family therapist who joined an impromptu fireside chat outside the main tent said that she was having a hard time taking her therapist hat off, implying that she was noticing signs of mental distress amongst the speakers and attendees.

What was she observing? There was a sadness in the air, a sense of resignation and deep regret. There was much talk of the grieving process, and the relief in being around others who felt the same as you did.  There was also, in my opinion, among some in the conference, a dark fascination with the possible destruction of the world and humanity.

(To be fair, there was a diversity of opinion among the attendees, though none, as far as I could tell, were skeptics. This conference was less about conversion and more about community. It could be compared to a church retreat camp, where people go to strengthen their faith, not to question it.)

I believe we were picking up on was what Greer calls the “apocalypse meme” within the doomer community. Greer has written extensively about this impulse, most notably in his book, Apocalypse Not, which surveys the long, long line of apocalyptic predictions which somehow never came to pass, from ancient prophecy to our most recent 2012 hoopla. As soon as one fails to materialize, a new one returns to take its place.

Apocalyptic memes appear in both religious and secular contexts. The standard meme states that the world will end soon and Armageddon will sweep away all the bad/sinful folks except for a plucky band of righteous survivors. Greer says:

The key to understanding the apocalypse meme–the set of ideas and emotional drives that cluster around the idea of a sudden stop to history — is to notice what supposedly follows the end. It’s never just an end without a sequel, and the sequel always bears a very close resemblance to whatever the fondest daydreams of the believers happen to be. After everybody else dies — and of course it’s always everybody else who dies–the believers get whatever kind of world they think they want. That’s the bait of the apocalypse meme: history stops, the world we know with all its imperfections and irritations goes away, and then — at least in theory — you get whatever kind of world you most desire. Of course it never actually works that way, but that’s the theory.1

A key characteristic of an apocalypse meme should be noted: the insistence that this point in time, this convergence of signs, portents and  factors is unique in all of human history. That while sure, other apocalypses haven’t worked out, this time it’s different.

One of the apocalypse memes at the conference varied from the classic “chosen survivors” variant, and it is reflect in the writings of Guy McPherson, the speaker who caused the most buzz. In his worldview, catastrophic climate change trumps all. Oil and the economy are irrelevant now, because he believes positive feedback loops will accelerate global warming far more rapidly than anticipated, causing widespread catastrophe on both land and sea. Not only will the entire human race perish as a result, but all life on earth as well. And this will happen around 2030.

Kelly interjects: Seeing Guy’s thesis written down in short form like this makes it look like pure CrazySauce, but believe me, Guy is an intelligent, compelling speaker backed by scary research. Listening to him, it is very easy to find yourself believing this could be true, and at the same time, of course, wanting him to be wrong. There’s a certain thrill in that dynamic, like riding a really scary roller coaster.

I’m perversely okay with humans going extinct, because face it, we’re nothing but trouble, However, it is incredibly painful to even contemplate a complete collapse of all ecosystems.

It seems to me that this idea that we could destroy everything on the planet is a novel form of apocalyptic thinking, perhaps born of the Cold War. Older forms of doom are based in religion: basically, some angry god will smite you or your enemies over various infractions. Our secular society doesn’t give that much power to deities anymore, but it is well capable of thinking itself omnipotent. Anyone my age or older grew up with the fear of nuclear inhalation. Apparently, kids these days are only afraid of terrorist attacks. (Terrorist attacks! Humph! In my day, whippersnapper, we had Mutually Assured Destruction. And we walked to school, dagnabit.)

Anyway, it seems reasonable to me that our darkest nightmares are now about our own power, and because our power has no conscience, no soul, we know that, unlike an angry god, it will not bother to stock an ark before the flood.

My own instinct is that we may not be as powerful as we think, that Mother Earth may have some tricks up her sleeve, that while she may let her upstart techno-apes trash the house, she won’t let them burn it to the ground. Maybe that’s over optimistic, but the other side of the coin is that it’s pretty darn arrogant to think otherwise.

Apologies to Erik for this long interruption of his post. He was saying:

This newest meme is known as Near Term Extinction. It has an acronym, NTE. You’ll be seeing it around if you haven’t already.

None of this is to say there aren’t alarming trends both in terms of resource limits and climate science. Of course there are. But I began to feel that what was being discussed at the conference was really more a set of responses to the deep pathology of modern life than it was about actually navigating a future of resource limits or climate change.  The therapist was right to keep her professional hat on.

Douglas Rushkoff in his new book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, talks about both the dangers and the seductions of apocalyptic thinking, and how its rises out of an overly complex culture:

For many, it’s easier, or at least more comforting, to approach these problems as intractable. They’re just too complex and would involve levels of agreement, cooperation, and coordination that seems beyond the capacity of humans at this stage in our cultural evolution, anyway. So in lieu of doing the actual hard work of fixing these problems in the present, we fantasize instead about life afterward. The crisis of global warming morphs into the fantasy of living off the grid. The treat of a terrorist attack on our office tower leads us to purchase an emergency personal parachute for easy egress, and to wonder how far up the org chart we might be promoted once everyone else is gone. The collapse of civilization due to nuclear accident, peak oil, or SARS epidemic finally ends the ever-present barrage of media, tax forms, toxic spills, and mortgage payments, opening the way to a simpler life of farming, maintaining shelter, and maybe defending one’s family . . . This is why the return to simplicity offered by the most extreme scenarios is providing so alluring to so many of us.

The apocalypse meme also recalls Freud’s observation the the fear of death paradoxically results in a condition of pathological inaction that mimics death. It’s an impulse, in my opinion, that is best resisted. This impulse has long been recognized. Seneca said, “One must avoid that emotion which has seized many people — the lust for dying.”2

But as both Greer and Rushkoff have pointed out, the biggest problem with the apocalypse meme is that it functions as an escape from doing the hard work of fixing your own life or making the world a better place. Why bother doing anything at all if the world is ending? This sort of paralysis is very dangerous, because when the apocalypse you were waiting for fails to arrive, you are in even worse shape for navigating the world as it exists than you were before you were swept up in the meme.

On the last morning, to close the conference, Carolyn Baker led a group meditation. She started by reading a poem by Mary Oliver. She then made an offhand remark that I had a visceral, perhaps irrational reaction to. Waving her hand, she said something along the lines of, “Let us appreciate the things (people? nature? I’m not sure exactly what she meant by “things”) around us that may not be here in a few years.”

I felt, by that comment, that she was feeding the death impulse in the group. I swiveled around and walked away, furious. Kelly intercepted me on my way back to our tent and rightfully reprimanded me for my hotheadedness.*

I’m not a fan of newly invented or ad-hoc rituals, to be honest. So I was uncomfortable to start with. Perhaps I’m in denial about the seriousness of what we all face and my anger is from defensiveness. But I believe that we never know what the future holds, that there is always the possibility of death and destruction in this life (which would be nothing new in the course of human history) but that we must be thankful for what we have in the present and work always for a better future. And most of all, we must do everything within our power to not fall into the trap of the apocalypse meme.

* A final note from Kelly:  I couldn’t figure out how he’d managed to get so mad, so fast, during a groovy farewell ceremony! I didn’t exactly reprimand him, I called “Question your anger!” to his back he stomped back down the path. But to tell the truth, when I reached the stone circle  and heard the drumming begin, I chickened out and skulked off to get some tea instead, because I don’t do well with caring and sharing, and have yet to make my peace with drumming. Therefore both Erik and I missed all the final photography which took place after the ceremony, and so are not in the group photos posted on Dimitri Orlov’s website. Neither is our friend John, because he was busy deconstructing the fire ring at our campsite in a full-fledged Eagle Scout frenzy.

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41 Comments

  1. Church retreat camps are mountaintop experiences. People depart and go home elated, often crashing when they re-enter the real world. It sounds like your retreat was a walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

    The apocalypse meme of your meeting and of so many authors sounds like the secular version of biblical apocalypse. Both are intended to support the “almighty” who can provide a path, a way, if we will only listen and follow, giving up all, even ourselves. This whole bit is sounding a bit uncomfortable to me since neither appeal to me or my beliefs. Religion is oppressive and a moneymaker for most in the leadership positions. I view this the same way.

    Is this a new, crunchy kool aid? I am with Eric. That woman would have ticked me off. I am with you both on the issues of rituals and sharing and the meaning of drum circles. It seems like these people would like to be at the helm of a new movement, having people follow them as the saviors. I tune out when these touchy-feely rituals that demand we conform to the rituals start. I feel like I need to escape.

    Since birds start chirping here at 2:00 am, I think all this outdoor sleeping sounds like torture. Hearing water running would make me want to pee or stop the commode from running if I did not get the urge to pee.

  2. Thank you for a thoughtful post, it was a pleasure to read. I have to take exception to the characterization of apocalypse as JMG describes it though, on several points.

    One, for many people who accept NTE (or even LTE), it is not a reason to stop trying to resist evil, or to give up trying to live a better (less destructive) life, and is certainly nothing I have seen advocated by the vast majority of people who follow Guy’s work. Smearing people who expect climate change to result in extinction as looking for an excuse to slack off, or even worse, as wanting the world to end, reveals a very shallow understanding of the people who in fact are grieving deeply and only came to this knowledge with the greatest reluctance. Actually in the case of JMG I would say a willfully shallow understanding especially given that he didn’t even attend Guy’s presentations, which I would call rude at best and contemptuous if I was being blunt.

    I look at NTE as getting a diagnosis of inoperable, untreatable cancer with a finite amount of time to live. No doubt there are some people who would decide to become totally hedonistic and throw morals out the window, but not most.

    Second, I suspect that apocalypse memes have been part of human culture forever simply because, if you look at what we do dispassionately, we tend to overshoot resources and then have a collapse. The archeaological record is clear that we’ve done so over and over throughout history and pre-history, everywhere around the world, and now we’re doing it a global scale.

    Which brings me to a third point, which is that it really is different this time – at least, if you pay attention to the science. The geological record is unequivocal – climate change is ALWAYS followed by mass extinction which, if you think about the processes of evolution for more than a minute or two, it is obviously inevitable. The biosphere is an incredibly complex web of inter-dependent species that arose within certain specific environmental parameters over millions of years. You can’t yank something fundamental like climate out of kilter and expect entire ecosystems to adapt. You may as well throw a fish on land and expect it to survive.

    Here are two links, not new but between them, it’s apparent that we have royally screwed the pooch, and that’s not an arrogant exaggeration of anthropomorphic ability, it’s just fact that we’ve unleashed billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and it’s a greenhouse gas:

    http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2010/100504HuberLimits.html

    http://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/3628/earth-s-hot-past-could-be-prologue-future-climate

    Fourth, for me, even if climate change wasn’t enough to cause mass extinction, other issues will cause collapse and in fact maybe even faster – habitat destruction and pollution chief among them. Personally I can see clearly two parallel trends that are lethal and accelerating exponentially, directly from pollution – the death of forests, and the death of coral reefs. Humans simply cannot live without them because they are the foundations of the life that produces oxygen.

    So this total doom message does bring up a host of issues for people who contemplate extinction, which goes well beyond anticipating peak oil and the end of industrial civilization. It destroys not only hope but for many people it veers perilously close to undermining any meaning to life itself. This soul-crushing implication is so devastating emotionally that very, very few people can even entertain it without reflexively reaching for some scrap of “spirituality”. It seems to be such a deeply ingrained if not genetic tendency that I am tempted to consider those who don’t need to do so as mutants (in a kindly way).

    Well I hope I haven’t offended you with this rant because I really like your blog!

    Gail

    • You haven’t offended us at all, and thank you for your long, thoughtful response. I hope you’ll stay with us for the series.

      You may be absolutely right in all you say. I simply don’t know, so I leave room for that acknowledgement. But I would still contend that NTE does cause hopelessness which leads to paralysis, or at least a “why bother recycling when the world is ending?” sort of attitude which interferes with my efforts to get people to back off the fossil fuels and live closer to the land. I know Guy says it just doesn’t matter anymore, that it’s irreversible, but I think we should try. And I also acknowledge that the idea that thinking it may be possible to induce Americans to change their ways soon is 100% more nuts than expecting the world to end soon.

      (By the way, the links you included caused the spam guard to hold your comment for moderation. I just woke up out here on the West coast. I didn’t want you to think we were holding your comment back.)

    • Gail,
      I like your blog. How many years has it been since we realized the forests in Europe were dying? 50 years? Why did the US think it could never happen to our forests? Why have we not taken measures attempted to reverse the damage? Can we reverse the damage? I think it might cost profits to someone to do so. Yes, I know we addressed pollution, but what else can we do? (rhetorical)

      The religious and spiritual people I know see no reason to change their buying/consumer habits. I was in the grocery store and explained to the checker and bagger why I was using cloth bags. The checker in the next lane said she never worried about such things because the Lord would return and save us. Many of the people think we have plenty of oil, and they laugh at my use of a reel mower.

      I think this attitude is prevalent where I live in the South. People go to church where they are told all is lost, the Lord will return and take them away. He is their answer. Any other “salvation” of anything at their own hands is heresy. It would be wrong to try to save the world we live in because salvation of any kind is not our realm. They believe God has foreordained the world to perish. It would be depressing if I listened very often.

      The conference seemed like a new religion with all the trappings, men vying for leadership, women silenced or ignored, factions forming.

      What Eric and Kelly do on their blog seems cooperative and hopeful. The conference was not, at least, not from all I have read.

      The conference seemed just as depressing to me as religion. Like Kelly said, if all this is inevitable, why bother?

      Aussie Mike Stasse was always preaching peak oil, but he was hopeful, sort of. Maybe we cannot entirely avoid more damage to our world, but maybe we can mitigate parts of the problems. He actively worked to do all he could to make his lifestyle and ours less harmful to the environment.

      Archdruid–ancient order of priests, judges. This title gives me an idea into his motives.

      Sorry for the continual rants and this disjointed one.

    • Hi Practical! Trees were dying in the US in the 80′s too, just like Europe. Here’s what I think happened. Coal plants were forced to install scrubbers in their stacks which reduced sulpher dioxide, the smoky part of smog and also the primary source of acid rain. It was the acid rain that famously damaged downwind forests in the Adirondacks, Appalachia, and Europe. Curbing emissions from cars also helped with reducing the precursors to ozone (mostly nitrous oxides), which is the invisible part of smog. So the extremely high peaks of ozone were reduced, and forests started to recover, slowly. And most everybody thought things were fine.

      The current problem is that the constant, persistent background level of ozone is going up and up, because of increasing population, increasing per capita emissions, and most importantly the absolute explosion of both in Asia. Everyone knows how horrible the air is there, and the ozone precursors just travel around the globe, going in and out of really complicated reactions with UV radiation and volatile organic compounds. (I’m not blaming China – a lot of their emissions are to manufacture and ship cheap junk for the US market).

      Like a lot of chemical, heavy metal and nuclear radiation exposure, the “experts” always prefer to focus on episodic high doses because they can be controlled. They never want to look at what low-level but long-term constant exposure does, even though there is evidence that that sort of dose is even worse because there’s no time for an organism to recuperate.

      So what ozone does in addition to direct psysiological damage when it comes into contact with anything really (your lungs, the inside of a plant, or even a stone or car tires) because it’s a highly reactive unstable gas, is it weakens immunities to other stressors. In the case of plants, it makes them vulnerable to pathogens and so typically, foresters or nurserymen blame the opportunistic attcks from insects, disease and fungus for tree decline. It’s like blaming pneumonia for killing someone with AIDS.

      The only way to do anything about this is to stop burning so much fuel (of any kind) so you’d think climate activists and scientists would be interested since that would also address climate change, but most of them are wedded to the idea that we can come up with some technological magic that will enable the engine of endless growth to continue chugging along.

      My expectation is that if/when industrial civilization breaks down, people will start burning whatever trees are around until there are none left. Like one gigantic Easter Island. I don’t see any way to stop people from behaving that way, because it’s exactly what we have always done. Sometimes individuals can reject the goodies, but that is so rare it is inconsequential.

      Wow I have no idea how you manage those religious views. I suspect though that even when people aren’t as overtly fatalistic, a faith in a higher power is a real impediment to understanding that people actually can destroy their only home.

    • Thanks Gail for your comments and like Kelly says, no you haven’t offended us. This is the kind of back and forth discussion I wish we had more of at the conference, actually.

      I think the way out of the problem is to consider Nassim Taleb’s work. He’s written extensively about decision making in the face of uncertainty in his books The Black Swan (nothing to do with the movie) and Anti-Fragility. I think Taleb would point out that if you have the certainty that Guy has, it will lead you to bad decisions–either giving up (Guy keep rerfering to his living situation as a “failed experiment”) or, on the other extreme, geo-engineering projects (which could easily lead to unintended consequences).

      Anyways, I really like your blog too and it’s now in my blog reader so I can keep up with what you’re up to. And Kelly is working on a post on the whole chauvinist episode–looking forward to more of your comments.

  3. Funny, instead of walking away from the closing circle, I would have been running! I just finished reading “The New Hold Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America” by Robert H. Nelson. I also follow the blogs of all the presenters at the conference and have read Geer’s “Apocalypse Not”. I can now see the religious/apocalypse aspect everywhere: peak oil, climate change, water shortages, and especially in permaculture. While I agreed with the science of permaculture, they can keep the prime directive/ethics/principles – they come too close to the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed for me to join in. All this reminds me of a blog post Sharon Astyk did several years ago suggesting that a lot of Americans would ignore the Transition Movement as soon as the group formed a circle and started singing Kumbayah. My question is when are we going to stop walking/running away from this craziness and confront the bulls*&^?

    • Luddene, The Nelson book looks really interesting. Thanks for the tip. I just put it on my reading list. Your last comment makes me wonder how many people really like singing Kumbayah? Or, are we all just holding our tongues in order to be polite? Is there an alternative that builds healthy group dynamics without the drumming? This will be the subject of a future post.

  4. This is really interesting, and I appreciate your openness in sharing with the rest of us. I was entranced and motivated by the apocalypse meme for quite some time, and I feel like I’m only now starting to leave it behind. I get the appeal – immediate, massive consequences for our terrible, exploitative culture and then a chance for a fresh start (if not for humans, then at least the world as a whole). But although I do think our systems are seriously overreaching themselves and in real danger of collapse, I find myself skeptical of the apocalypse, and also hopeful.

    I guess the biggest thing for me is that I don’t want my life to be lived for fear. So instead I’m trying to find ways to make a life that holds the values I care about within our system, in hopes that we can forestall apocalypse. Of course, this lifestyle also holds a chance of surviving the zombies if they do come…

    • Thanks for this, Egypt. I agree that it’s important not to live in fear. When you’re afraid, you make bad decisions. You’re right to hold to your values and live those values. It’s all we can do — and it’s all we can ever do, apocalypse or not.

  5. I think that the “Long Descent” concept can still cause as much depression as the apocalypse meme. Knowing that the way the things are right now is possibly the best it will ever be for humanity because the fossil fuels will run out. Knowing that our children and their children will never have as much opportunity as we have and that it is partially our own fault. Yes, I think you can eschew all the end of the world thinking and still have quite a bit of sadness.

  6. Actually, this blog has gotten me started reading Greer, and while I find most of his work to be very well thought out, I find there to be a sort of pedantic party line. He seems to state very emphatically that progress is a myth. But I have lingering doubts. Is progress a myth? Or did we just screw up sustainable progress in our rush of laziness and greed? It seems to me that a society which consciously managed its fossil fuels from the get-go and kept a managed population size could achieve a space age where extra-planetary resources could feed long term sustainable growth.

    Also I wonder about biofuels. I think corn ethanol is a horrible idea, but what about sea based plants or algae? Although I have not read a lot about advances in this specific area, the genetic engineering field as a whole has been growing in leaps and bounds. It does not seem like much of a stretch from where we are now.

    Ultimately, though, I think humanity has spent too long burying our heads in the sand and have wasted too much of our resources to make a successful pull out of decline. I may not agree with Greer that the decline was inevitable from the start, but I guess we have reached a situation where it is a moot point.

    • Ok sorry, this is my last comment, I swear. I just wanted to mention that in Greer’s fiction [SPOILERS] no alien species out of thousands of them can manage to become spacefaring because they all run rapidly through their resources and waste them. This seems ridiculous to me, that every culture would have to have the same reckless abandon that we have shown thus far. It seems like there would have been other options for humans, we just didn’t take them. Being stuck in an agricultural society on our single planet forever and ever until we die does not seem like it should be a hard and fast rule of the universe. /end rant

    • Hey Sara,

      I don’t know that he’s saying progress is a myth, in so far as myth is defined as a false story, ie progress never happened. It’s clear that we’ve been “progressing” as a species, particularly since we figured out how to use fossil fuels. And I mean in both material terms of things like population, tech innovation, etc., and cultural terms, like emancipation and suffrage and all that. And since things have been going so well for us for I don’t know, the last couple hundred years or so, and especially the last 100, we’ve developed a rock solid expectation have always been that we will keep up this rate of progress until we travel the stars.

      This certainty that we’re always going to be moving onward and upward is the myth he’s talking about. It’s informed by our recent history and expectations. It forms what Greer calls our secular religion. Its the bedrock of our expectations. So in that way its a myth–it’s a set of unquestioned beliefs.

      That’s not a bad thing. Every culture works on a particular constructed worldview. Greer seems to be at pains lately to point out that the “progress” view is only one of many that humans have used to make sense of their world.

      I guess the problems come when our myths/worldview run smack into the limits of our resource base. That’s what’s happening now.

      To answer your other question, I don’t know if it would have been possible to steward our fossil fuels from the very beginning. Early on, they were magic, and we had no way of knowing incredible damage they could do. (And even when they did cause humans trouble–eg black fogs of filthy soot in Victorian London–we ignored that as the price for the prosperity the fuel brought.) Fuel is just the perfect candy, the perfect trap, for busy little monkeys like ourselves.

      Where I do suppose we blew it was in the 1970′s, when even though we don’t know all we know now, we knew enough, and we chose to ignore the warning signs and Carter’s calls for conservation. We’d be in much better shape now if we’d reformed then, but you know, whatever.

      Oh, and I don’t know anything about alternative biofuels, so can’t comment there.

  7. “100% more nuts” made me laugh!!

    No problem about the moderation, I figured as much.

    Honestly you have Guy backwards: “…it just doesn’t matter anymore, that it’s irreversible, but I think we should try.”

    He thinks it’s irreversible (so it doesn’t matter in that climate collapse can’t be averted), but he very much does think we should try anyway, just as you do. He calls it a moral imperative and I agree.

    I’m curious, do you actually know people who feel paralyzed by hopelessness or do you just assume that one follows the other?

    Personally I’m hopeless, but not paralyzed.

    • It’s too bad we didn’t meet at the conference, Gail. Erik remembers you — I think you told him about the dying trees in the food line.

      I didn’t mean to imply that Guy isn’t trying, or saying we shouldn’t– he is walking his talk, and I like that a lot about him. (For anyone reading this, Guy has a fantastic homestead). I think people drawn to studying the environment have an inherent love of nature and so will of course want to live lightly and with respect — even if the world is ending tomorrow.

      My experience and pov comes from my work as a teacher and speaker. Sometimes I’m preaching to the choir, and sometimes I’m attempting conversion. Conversion is hard. People like their lifestyle, and they have 101 reasons why they can’t do anything to change it. Telling them the world is going to end anyway is the ultimate out. Heck, if I think too hard about NTE I wonder if I shouldn’t just pull the cash from the bank and jet around the world, go see all the things I’ve always wanted to see.

  8. Excellent post! Thank you!
    Greed and apathy have put us where we are, but nothing is absolute. Fear will keep us captive until we wake up and throw off the chains. THIS IS our Paradise and it is our job to remake it. People need to stop all the melodrama and throwing around statistics and start doing something. Solar is one of the excellent alternatives.

  9. The religious apocalypse can be looked at in two different ways. If spiritual dimensions are real, the religious apocalypse has to be viewed within the context of that truth, i.e., that such religious prophecies are in fact insights into an inevitable future event for pretty much the reasons stated – human beings have gone astray somewhere in their whole way of being and there is a God and He has a plan. Reduced to its most simple terms, that is what the religious apocalypse says. It is important to note that within the Christian texts, regardless of what Christianity’s many misguided adherents might believe, there is nowhere that the Bible indicates that God is going to destroy the world. On the contrary, God as Christ is going to save the world from the destruction that humans and Satan through humans cause. That is the reason for the final end days and the great “final battle” between good and evil for the dominion of man and the earth. “Satan’s” goal, according to the Bible, not any single denomination or creed, is the total destruction of the earth and all of God’s creation.
    After having read a number of the prophecies as they relate to the environment – that God would destroy those “who destroy the earth,”; increased earthquakes and famine and pestilence; increased natural disasters; the oceans rising and being terrifying; the oceans dying – literally devoid of all life; all of life being threatened – the Bible states that if God had not stepped in that all of life would have been completely destroyed – a third of the trees and the grasses will burn; increased insanity among humans .
    Frankly, when I look at what is occurring today, I’m not so certain these ancient people and their visions were as grounded in fantasy as a lot of people think.
    If the materialists are correct and there is no such thing as spirituality, then the religious apocalypse must be viewed in a purely psychological context.
    Mixing these memes, or failing to distinguish between them, makes discussing apocalypse messier than it might otherwise be, and it’s a messy discussion anyway.
    I do not dismiss religion as many do, neither am I a fundamentalist. Religion is a human collection of knowledge that has been distilled over thousands of years. It concerns itself with spiritual realities and experiences, as well as history, myth, legend, culture, psychology, morality, philosophy, health habits, ethics, and a lot of other things. Religion is big, and judging all of religion by the limited beliefs or behaviors of some of its adherents is a connection that I don’t think is valid. By those justifications, then we must throw out all of science also, because let’s face it, science is big and there are a lot of people who have done a lot of bad with it and in its “name.” If that isn’t increasingly clear, then nothing is.

    • Bravo and Amen! Your last paragraph is the argument I have had countless times with my children who dismiss religion for science. I fill my spirit with both.

    • I didn’t mean to bag on drumming, only drumming in the context of caring and sharing.

  10. Thanks Mr. Homegrown I will look for Taleb. Although, Guy describes the Mudhut as a failed experiment he has no intention of abandoning it. I couldn’t agree more about geoengineering, aside from unintended consequences it sidesteps the real problems which are overpopulation and overextraction of resources.

    Jenny and everyone, I’m SO relieved to know I am not the only one who doesn’t like the kumbaya caring and sharing stuff. I have a real aversion to it but from what I could see, there are plenty of people who do like it. Actually if you google other Four Quarters events, most of them are like that, there’s a long history of such things which are probably the bread and butter that pay the bills.

    On the other hand Jenny is correct drumming is fun. When Occupy was going I joined the drummers and it was way more amusing than just marching and chanting. We went to Bloomberg’s house one day and made a heck of a racket because the neighbors of Zuccotti Park were complaining about the noise and wanted a curfew. My feeling was tough shit, I hate listening to airplanes, lawn mowers, motorcycles and cars!

    • I would go so far that most people don’t like being peer pressured into caring and sharing, but most people are too polite to protest and just sort of go along with it. There’s got to be a better way to process this stuff and forge connections.

  11. Millenial religions, be they of a spiritual or a secular nature, all resemble each other. I think there are 2 features that are most noteworthy.

    1. Believers intensely dislike how the world is, and expect that after whichever apocalypse occurs, things will be better (and more in line with their priorities). This can mean that all True Believers will be translated to Heaven, or that the plague of humanity will be removed from the suffering body of Mother Earth, etc., etc.

    2. Believers are always certain – they may make noises about how some things are unknowable or how open-minded they are, but it’s never true. You can tell this in several ways, but the most important in this case is the ‘despair’ and ‘resignation’ you described. Despair and resignation demonstrate that the person experiencing them has determined that they absolutely know what is going to happen. Among spiritual Millenials, certainty presents differently, although it is just as crucial.

    The idea of belonging to such a cult is almost unfathomable to me, as I rather like humanity and the world and think we’ve made some decent progress in figuring ourselves out and how to start managing things with some forethought and grace. I’m also not prone to toxic levels of certainty, having constant exposure to my own mistakes, misapprehensions and misguided choices. I’m not nearly proud enough to imagine I have everything figured out for next week, let alone 30 years from now.

    People come to this blog to learn how others are trying to live better, more considerate lives – not plan for an inevitable destruction. It’s simple at its root, really. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…

  12. A major dieoff due to rapid climate change isn’t unprecedented, either: the Little Ice Age caused the famines that marked the transition between early and late middle ages in Europe, and arguably softened the population up for the Black Death.

    I’ve seen some arguments that North American agricultural systems were in trouble just before Columbus, for similar reasons.

    Mainstream Americans are from a long line of fortunate people who had the opportunity to take over land after disease and collapse, so I think our culture has a particularly optimistic view of mass death.

    Our species seems easily “weedy” enough to survive another, more massive round of climate change, but I have no illusions that I or my descendants are destined to be among any elect group of survivors.

  13. I don’t think the end of the world is knowable…be it from climate change or peak everything.
    I do know that we are destroying our world one gadget/geegaw at a time, and we don’t seem to care…just keep on buying…the world we live in is powered by consumerism.
    I have opted out, as far as I’m able to in this culture….and apart from the online blogs,I read I’m all alone, the weird one in the group.
    Out there in the “real” world I’m surrounded by consumers, they all work to get money just to buy things made by folk in other countries earning 10 cents an hour…because we do want the cheapest price you know.
    Where is our humanity…did we loose it all when we became consumers.

    My despair is for myself, and how hard it is to live in this world now, and for my fellow humans…dammit I want them to stop shopping.
    I rather think we will have a long descent as the Archdruid says or the world could end tomorrow or in 30 years.In the meantime I will continue to do my bit for my corner of our planet:so I think when folk talk of their despair/depression maybe they feel like me, not really caring about the end of the world but just wanting family,friends and neighbours to live in this world and show some caring and compassion for all of the lifeforms we share it with

  14. The dramatic doomsday-dark stuff is just too sad and depressing. I definitely would have needed the services of the therapist! More importantly, dwelling on the darkness ignores the fact that we humans are resourceful; a lot of us live our lives full of hope and gratitude for our friends and family, and gratitude for what we have been able to create in our own lives, homes and backyards that is not destructive to Earth. Growing up in the city I am amazed almost every day that I don’t have buy vegetables most of the time because I grow my own–at home! I am also amazed at all of the different cheap and easy methods which can free people from dependence on the industrial food and energy systems. These little things are what really matter.

    However, this topic about the end of Earth is very interesting. Thank you for writing about it. I will surely be looking into the references you have provided.

    Stephen Hawking, the scientist, opines that humans must migrate to space or another planet in order to survive, because the destruction of Earth by humans is imminent. Resourceful humans! This is interesting to speculate about; especially the part about who will be allowed to migrate (people with a lot of money) and who gets stuck behind on Earth as it appears to become inhabitable (people with little or no money). But even this could be positive. The meek shall inherit the earth?

  15. Parsimony, in the interest of fairness Archdruid is the title for an elected office John Michael Greer was voted into, not an anointment of his making. That being said, here is Greer’s account of the Age of Limits conference:
    …”nothing much happened. McPherson appeared to go out of his way not to look at or speak to me all weekend. As I have Aspergers syndrome and am not too confident reading social cues, I didn’t push the issue by approaching him. The event was pretty much divided between believers and unbelievers in near term extinction, but nobody got into a spat about it; the believers went off and did their grieving rituals and what have you, and the rest of us sat around the fire pit and talked about practical responses to social disintegration and breakdown. It was a good example of dissensus at work.”

    • Carl, I was told that Greer took over a virtually defunct organization from the one person remaining in it, and made himself the Archdruid. Could be wagging tongues. Do you know what you say directly?

      Sounds like Greer managed to stay sane about the whole thing at the conference.

    • Leavergirl, I think I can reply to that. The organization he heads as Archdruid is the AODA, which you can find on the web. It’s an American branch of the Druid Revival movement, which began, I believe, in the 19th century. It’s essentially a fraternal order, like the Masons, except co-ed. Like so many other old fraternal orders (which used to be very numerous in this country), it had withered away over the course of the 20th century due to lack of membership, until there were just a few old timers left holding the fort. When Greer, young and energetic, expressed interest in it, they more or less quickly handed leadership over to him. I don’t know the details. He has written about it somewhere, which is how I know this, but I don’t remember where.

      “Archdruid” is a title of office, grandiose as it sounds. It simply means he’s the elected head of this rather small organization. As a follower of his writings, I know he takes particular interest in obscure and almost lost fields of knowledge, so it makes perfect sense to me that he’d take on the challenge of reviving this organization. From what I can tell, he’s making headway.

  16. Sounds like a Dark Mountain chapter, only a l’Americain!

    Me too, like Gail, I’m hopeless, but not paralyzed. Hopeless, but mad as hell and much more in a hurry to try to do the right thing than I was ever before when I thought it was all going to matter big time and I’d be saving the Earth! And more joyful too. I’ve found the letting go of certain hopes and expectations (maybe that should read *all* hopes and expectations, as I’m talking human extinction), is a long, painful process, but at the end of it (before I go ’round again), there is a clearer insight in my role and my community, and it points to joy.

    May I just say that I always found Sharon Astyk’s assessment of the Transition Movement to be unfair because woefully over-simplified. It entirely misses T’s central point that it is a model to be adapted, or rather, *inevitably adapting,* to the community that adopts it. We’ve never sung kumbaya at our Transition meetings, thank goodness! No drumming either, you’ll be happy to know.

  17. Interesting stuff. My .02: It seems to me that ever since 9/11, we (Americans, at least) have had an increasing fascination with doom, death and destruction. Witness the proliferation of gruesome “autopsy whodunits” on TV along with other really dark/sick crime shows. Then, when we can’t take any more of that, we tune in to endless fluffy “reality” shows and talent competitions to fill the void. Either that, or we go shopping. IMO, 9/11 really messed with our heads [read: American society] more than we’d ever care to admit.

    When I first discovered the “Peak Moment” series on YouTube, I tumbled down the doomer rabbit hole, too – at least for awhile. Over time, however, I began to realize that the shows pretty much fell into one of two categories: “We’re doomed” and “Here’s some positive stuff you can do”. I definitely gravitated toward the latter: permaculture, community solutions, etc. I also found Toby Hemenway’s site where he posts very rational essays as to why, even if turns out to be a rough ride, we’re not necessarily doomed. I do not read any doomer blogs; I stick to positive-action blogs like yours, The Greening of Gavin, Northwest Edible Life and the like.

    I think the doomer crowd has just allowed themselves to be really sucked into that dark vortex, and in the process, have discovered that “doom” can be a livelihood as well. In the past, I’ve investigated most of the big names you’ve mentioned and was just totally turned off by all of them. It isn’t much different than watching mainstream media outlets – fear sells. If you really take these folks seriously *and* you also watch the news, God help you. You might as well jump off the nearest bridge.

    A red flag for me is the word “collapse”. I see “collapse” and I don’t even bother. I watched Orlov once – on Peak Moment, I think – and he was all about the collapse of the Soviet Union and how we were soon to follow. Well, excuse me, but I do believe Russia is still there. People get up in the morning, go to work, own stuff, eat, have babies, etc., etc. What happened to the USSR was a transition to something else, not a collapse. I’m sure there are plenty of opinions as to whether the Russia of today is better than the USSR of yesteryear, but life *does* goes on.

    Humans are a resourceful species, and necessity is the mother of invention. I don’t believe collapse or the extinction of the human species will happen anytime soon. Everywhere I look, I see signs that people are “getting it” and they’re making changes that might not, at first glance, seem directly related to climate change, or peak oil, or peak everything. For example, the tiny house movement seems much more about downsizing to a simpler, more serene life and jumping off the hamster wheel – almost always for personal satisfaction. Yet it’s a solution that is also tailor-made for peak oil, economic “collapse” and all the other doomer scenarios. Look at the huge growth in gardening: another “doomer” solution, but one of the biggest reasons I garden has nothing to do with that. I simply don’t trust the industrial food system to produce safe, healthy food.

    I am totally turned off by the woo-woo aspects of all this stuff to. Caring, sharing, drum circles, fertility dances, kumbaya, pseudo-Native American “spirituality” complete with fake adopted Indian names…ugh. For a long time, I wanted to take a PDC, but all this woo-woo stuff seems to be part of every PDC I hear about – for reasons that are a complete mystery to me. If this is what the children of suburbia think nature is about, then permaculture has already failed miserably. I do remember reading a comment by Bill Mollison about this and if memory serves, he said this woo-woo aspect is peculiar to American permaculture. In any event, I will save some big bucks and stick to books and videos for my permie education.

    Okay, enough rambling. I look forward to future posts on this topic.

  18. Its all very interesting and not scary if humans as a species dont play by the rules then we dont deserve to play the game of existence. As a species we just seem to have a built in flipside we do incredible good and we do increduble damage to our environment.
    Ive never seen how we fit in to the food chain or the eco system I mean if we werent here earth would happily go on exactly as it is as if we arent here.
    Unfortunately Im not sure how but the humans that exist in the overly complex parts of the world are under the impression that the planet was built for them only that somehow it is second to our consumer gluttonous commodity driven existence.
    With that kind of outlook and approach to existence it will fall like Easter island and the incas we are not immune to a spectacular fail as a species.
    It will be the over complex sub species that will disappear. I have a theory that the closer to earth that you live such as tribes in forests etc the less impact and the likeliest to survive. The further away you are from nature and more reliant you are on manmade society you are probably going to be affected greatly.
    If sometime in the future supermarkets cant provide food, local governments clean water, governments energy what are we going to do?
    We have lost our resourcefulness, our responsibility for our own survival to own a big house drive a big car and eat processed food for in exchange for an easy ride through existence. We have to pay our dues sometime.

  19. Wow, that’s a lot of posts.

    In answer to one post about being incredulous that other species on other planets couldn’t learn to use their resources widely I defer to Carl Sagan. In his show cosmos he does a rough rule of thumb calculation ( you’ll get lots of Billions and Billions out of him which always makes be smile ) based on the amazing scale of the universe but not just in size, in time as well. If highly intelligent life can handle this paradox, by now we should be living in Star Trek land, aliens every which way. Odds are they tanked like we might.

  20. Kelly and Eric,
    I was at the AoL campout (Betsy, from Texas) and was the one who at the end of Guy’s second talk asked the question: If we accept your premise, what’s to prevent us taking it to the logical conclusion that we should all kill ourselves now to avoid making the problem worse? Dmitri’s response (we’re here to witness) was unsatisfying because what’s the purpose to that if there’s no future. I’ve thought more about our role and now think that those of us who see the future clearly should act as scouts, guiding our tribes through the turbulent future, a huge responsibility and one that few are capable of.

  21. Sorry, I accidentally posted before finishing. What has been difficult since returning home is how to answer truthfully the question from friends: How was your conference? I went hoping to get some clarity in how to make it through the coming chaos and deal with all the emotions. Carolyn’s approach doesn’t resonate with me, too airy-fairy. We need a practical, down-to-earth set of tools. Good future fiction would help too, giving us several visions/ versions of a viable post-collapse life.

  22. Interesting discourse.
    I discussed my participation in the Age of Limits conference and Guy McPherson’s presentations on the C-Realm Podcast with KMO (http://c-realm.com/podcasts/crealm/368-limits/). Dr. McPherson alluded to it on his blog, Nature Bats Last, using the word “disparaged”, which caused me some consternation for the last thing I wish to do is disparage Guy McPherson’s work. I greatly admire him, and his moral courage to go build his off-the-grid homestead on a “rock-pile” in Arizona. At Age of Limits, however, did generate a buzz, because of the profound sadness associated with the NTE prognosis. The scientific evidence he marshalls can’t be denied. And when he characterizes his personal efforts, which I find admirable and even heroic, as a “failure”, I realize, that though he is too humble to say it, his failure is representative of our collective civilizational failure. We are all failing to change the systemic drive toward some kind of collapse some time, whether it is Near Term or Long Term (does it matter?) It is clear that our collective industrial psychosis that humans can somehow trump the natural order which is the condition of our survival by manipulating and subduing nature–whether through genetic engineering by Monsanto, or geoengineering by atmospheric scientists–is utterly absurd. We are becoming a colossal failure as a species. This is what Guy’s pronouncement about his personal “failure” signifies. Whether extinction comes near term or long term, however measured, is besides the point. We’re failing to reverse the trajectory.

    • Hi Jay and thanks for your comment–good to hear from you. I listened to you and KMO on the C-Realm and thought you were both fair and respectful towards McPherson. I still think that whether one believes the world as we know it is about to implode or if we are in for many more years of the prosperous (for some) world we live in now, the response should still be the same–the sort of work both you and Guy are doing–creating access to healthy food, local agriculture and building resilient systems. And I hope you will be invited to speak at next years Age of Limits conference–I’d love to hear more about what you are up to in New York.

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