What can we do? We are without doubt in an historically unique and incredibly challenging position. The Anthropogenic extinction is here, now. It is not something we are anticipating or awaiting. It is upon us. Today, we are in it, watching the life we have known unravel on a hundred different fronts. And I find myself asking with crazy-making regularity: how can I—one ordinary human amongst 7.5 billion—honor this extraordinary time with whatever gifts and goods I happen to be carrying?
Our inner resources - yes indeed !
These ‘inner resources’ will be enough, I think.
Everywhere I see the scientific community turning their attention to public outreach, as it dawns that the quote with which this comment began is all too true - an increasingly ‘clear and present danger’.
What an opportunity for those who can and will rise to the challenge.
Very nicely done Elizabeth. You’ve captured some feelings I’ve often tried unsuccessfully to express.
We were so fortunate. I find it almost impossible to describe the world I inhabited growing up and the feelings we felt and shared, to my grandson. Even here in the human created wasteland that eventually forced the Surface Mine Reclamation Act, that initiative and the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts gave hope that we could correct some of our worst and most destructive behaviors, if we came together and tried.
But those that have succumbed to greed and selfishness never seem to rest, and won’t be satisfied until all of the commons - our land, air, and water, our government, and our “economy” - is officially stripped of anything that impedes profit.
I know this will not give you solace, but even if you had tirelessly worked with all your energy, very little would be different, except your feelings of lurking guilt. I also fully comprehend your conclusion as necessary to get up again tomorrow and continue to look for ways to make a difference.
Elizabeth West’s beautifully written elegy for the earth may be premature, but it’s a wake-up call to anyone with a desire to end the U.S. oligarchic regime with its economic exploitation, vicious militarism, and hypocritical religious cant. The wealthy donors of Citizens United who now own the government can be defeated by millions of determined, voting citizens united in the cause of harmony in diversity, healthcare for all, free higher education, and protection of the environment. “Inner resources” will not be enough. We’re talking about a revolution here, one that will require lives to be laid on the line. The other side has the guns, money, and corporate power. Already, laws are being passed against political protest;protesters are being arrested and run down in the streets. That’s the stark reality. Jefferson said we needed a revolution every generation. We’re long overdue for the next one.
Define anthropogenic: of, relating to, or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature.
No one has to wait but everyone does need to change, with some exceptions of course. If you are reading this then you are probably in the first category.
It feels so lovely to hear the honest narrative of someone who’s going through much the same thing I’m going through. Getting our lives back starts with seizing the narrative, hearing each other out.
This is the second striking essay on ecological despair I’ve come across today. The other one is by Jem Bendell:
Quite long, but well worth the read. Bendell relates that he often encounters the mistaken assumption that despair means the end. It doesn’t. When I lost my dear grandmother decades ago, I despaired of ever again having a loved-one anything like her. I felt like part of me had been severed. I persevered, but never stopped grieving.
Thank you—Wow, what a piece of writing. You reminded me of the very first Earth Day. I was in 2nd grade.
And thank you for mentioning Laura Nyro. I have a NM LP of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968), and just discovered next to it on the shelf a “best of” pressing called Laura Nyro: The First Songs with most every one a hit made famous by someone else. A spin on the RCM and they’ll be ready for a fresh session.
You are right. It is living in the moment that keeps us sane.
Thank you, Elizabeth for expressing our collective sense of loss so eloquently and movingly.
Our generation was born into relatively innocent times. We are having to grow up in a harsher, fast-changing climate, keeping our wits about us. As Derrick Jensen wisely exhorted: find a place, dig in… We all need to plant seeds, nourish ourselves with love and community, and breathe in beauty. In doing so, we are equipped to deal with the bewilderingly rapid changes afoot in our world.
The young will live in the world they inherit and like us, who never experienced the wild world of the 1800’s, they will know nothing different and so will strive to love the life they have. My purpose these days is not to try to save the world I grew up in because I know I can’t, but to do everything I can to limit the damage to the world our children will inherit.
“anthropocene” suggests that it is all the humans on the planet driving this extinction. But it is not everyone. Certainly not Indigenous people who have taken care of this planet for 200,00 years. Nor is it the billions of people living far below the poverty line. And so on. The destruction of our planet is driven by endless wars and rampant capitalism. you could argue that all the rest of us could and should simplify our lives and reduce our carbon footprints and i will not disagree. but if we all do that, and still the wars and berserk capitalism continue, the planet will still die.
One of the biggest challenges we all face in these the early stages of the nonlinear acceleration of the unraveling is managing our grief. I write about it and offer some options below
I guess it depends on who you feel shares the burden of responsibility. Yes those mega rich people pillaging everything are primarily to blame but one could argue that the majority also share a bit of the blame for not standing up to the tyrants when they had the chance. In the end though climate change cares not for who is primarily to blame. All of us will be reaped in the coming whirlwind.
Everyone who is part of and participates in Earth’s techno-electro-mechanical civilization currently in progress is responsible, some more than others, for example, the investor manager classes who are running things. But the rest of us whether we clearly see what’s happening share a big chunk of the blame too.
Could it have been stopped before things reached the current irreversible point? We’ll never know. Some of us did what we could to spread the word — we yelled “The sky is falling!” through every available medium. We tried but not hard enough, not loudly enough, not effectively. Now it appears to be way too late.
Environmental destruction is an avalanch that few if any of us are likely to survive. What will be left of our noble civilization will be refugee encampments. Survivors will struggle and many of us will die miserably.
Is there an end to all this? The forces of enmity will be triumphant for awhile but they will begin a downslide to their defeat and will soon be part of the suffering survivors.
Then the question for humankind will be can some sort of survivor civilization be assembled from the wreckage so that the good in humankind will find ways to work together for the good of all who remain, or will the viciousness continue until nobody is left alive?
A deep, heartfelt thank you for all you do Kevin!
This grief over the human induced 6th extinction is a new type of grief . . . . a grief that is incessant . . . . a grief that humans---- until recently in the grand scale of time----have never had to integrate into their psyches.
I guess the good news is some still have the luxury of spare time and relative comfort to think/write about this bizarre, horrific time that we are alive on this planet. I believe that eventually (soon?) we will enter the stage of basic survival mode when we will no longer have time to ponder our feelings or try to figure out why/how this happened!
That quote from you above speaks volumes: “nonlinear acceleration of the unraveling” -----that is where we are today.
For me it has come down to trying to “manage grief” while continuing life which includes moments of joy and wonder that, at times, rise above the seemingly bottomless sadness.
The compassion and wisdom you share with others are invaluable gifts during this unprecedented time in the history of humans walking the earth.
p.s. I appreciated this piece in Counterpunch:
In keeping with this article:
Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing. I was so moved by so many of your thoughts and observations. I too find myself standing in the woods or by the ocean’s edge with tears running down my cheeks apologizing to the earth for what my species has done. These are challenging times and I appreciate so much that you are willing to share your deep feelings about how to navigate what sometimes feels impossible. My partner, Deb Ozarko just released a book called “Beyond Hope: Letting Go of a World in Collapse” which can be found on Amazon. I think it may resonate as she writes about how we can stay present during these difficult times and live from joy instead of despair.
Thank you again for sharing your heart, I love knowing we are not alone.
Good job, Elizabeth. You got me thinking way back. Old farmstead homes could still be found to rent then and many a hippie discovered first love and marijuana within the serenity of them to be sure.
Yes, things are different now but I have steadfast faith in the young and our accommodating Conscious Universe. Certainly sensitive species will become casualties to the changing and toxified Earth but more hearty species will adapt and carry on.
The prospect of a full scale nuclear war isn’t totally out of the question given the nature of the human characters presently capable of initiating such an insanity. But again, we live in a Conscious Universe which is aware of our selfish will. It seems reasonable to me that intervention will take place in the event of intended launching of those weapons. The intervention will in fact be Divine but will be passed off by msm as “extra terrestrial.” ET interference has occurred at missile sites in the past in both Russia and the United States and information about this may be dug up through Google.
Maybe we are nearing the maximum human population the Earth can bear but we live at a time where reproduction/family size is a controllable option for us.
Some may argue with me about this, but as we look out at the magnificence of the Earth and Universe it’s hard to imagine it simply all “just Happened.” A Great Mind must have brought it all into being. Some have suggested it’s all just a “hologram.” Albert Einstein said it was, “an Illusion, albeit a persistent one.” Personally, I believe Creator will preserve Creation in spite of foolish mankind. I’m being gender specific. Womankind knows better.
“The odds of civilization surviving are negligible. The odds of our species surviving are slim.” - Roy Scranton
“Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene” was published in the NY Times Opinionator blog here:
This essay is elaborated further in his book, 'Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization."
I am just coming to terms with all of this. Elizabeth, your thoughts helps me frame my grief in more meaningful ways.