How to face the inevitable…….

11 09 2013

How to talk about the likely death of billions of people

I found this at Guy McPherson’s site……..  I don’t think Guy will mind.  This really resonates with me, because I have the exact same thoughts and relatives to deal with.  In fact I could’ve written it as is (apart from the teaching bit, because I’m not a teacher…)

by SanJoseMike

Talking about climate related deaths in the billions is not an everyday conversation. I thought I would share with you some successes I have had, and some occasions where I have no idea how to proceed. I am sure someone reading this will have some insight. Here are the three situations I face:

Teacher/student. I teach SAT biology and AP biology and AP environmental science. At the SAT level, the coverage of global warming on the test is very minimal, just how does the process work, and a brief (and very understated) list of consequences. I always go ‘beyond the book” in every class I teach, so I expand on the theme of ocean acidification, sea level rise, and droughts/floods. Several times I have gotten the question, “How bad will it get?” I use the example of carrying capacity, and explain how populations that exceed the carrying capacity always crash, and then briefly mention that we (humans) have far exceeded the carrying capacity, and human population will crash to a much smaller number. This seems to work well for high school students with some basic knowledge of ecology. I can tell by looking at the faces that most “get” it, intellectually, but not at the gut level. A few clearly think I am delusional, and maybe one or two in each class seem to begin the process of really internalizing it. I haven’t yet had any bad reactions from parents. It seems that since this is a logical extension of the “official” lesson, it doesn’t come off as trying to “indoctrinate” the students.

My daughter and 3 grand children. Here, I really feel at a loss as to where to go. My daughter is 38, the two girls are 15 and 17, the grandson is 5. My daughter knows the basics of global warming, but is at the stage of “we can come together as a species and pull through.” Part of me wants to show her the mounting evidence that society will move backwards, and rapidly, as billions die. I want to treat her as an intelligent adult who should know the facts…but I can’t. Perhaps I feel that if I lead her to a deeper knowledge, then I am responsible for the stages of Denial, Anger, Grief, and possibly Acceptance. It’s one thing to stand outside and say, this is what a mature adult should do. But, how do I tell my own daughter that her children will face a world growing more and more hostile to life every year? How does that knowledge change the way she raises her kids, my grandkids? My current thinking is, to very gradually bring up the results of scientific studies, step by small step, and see how she integrates the information. Not talking about the imminent chaos is like pretending it isn’t real, and I have always been poor at pretending. No option here seems good. I am sure some of you have been in this situation; What did you do? And, what were the results?

Adult friends with families. I have two people in particular that I am thinking about. Both are seriously religious (I am an atheist), both have made enormous personal sacrifices to help family members who had absolutely no one else to turn to. Both have so much else on their plates that keeping up with climate change studies is impossible. My thought here is, when the topic of global warming comes up, just to say something true, but not even coming close to the full depth of the problem. These good, moral people are stretched to the limit as is, and I don’t see that trying to confront the full reality of what we face is even possible for them.

There is a common thread to these situations. I have accepted, fully and deeply, the reality of my own death for many decades. I can imagine without rancor a world without me, because I always said to myself, “Life will go on. Humans will go on. When I die, it leaves a spot so someone else can live, and grow, and flourish.” In other words, one can make a meaningful life by being part of a larger whole … humankind as a species, or even life in general. Now that we know that humanity is going down (how far down is still unsure), and taking much of the natural world down as well, what do you look to in order to make life worth the effort? One reason I am reluctant to talk about the impending collapse is that people will ask me that same question: What do I do now? How do I go on? I don’t have a real answer.

You probably noticed this is my first posting here at Nature Bats Last. I’ve previously neither written an essay nor posted a comment.


SanJoseMike is a 61-year-old, self-employed tutor/teacher of biology, chemistry, and environmental science, at the high school and early college levels (SAT, AP, and higher). He is actively involved with working against the Keystone pipeline. He has decided that, even though a major eco crash is unavoidable, he still has a moral obligation to do all he can to work against it.




11 responses

11 09 2013
Guy McPherson

I don’t mind. I appreciate it! Thanks much.

11 09 2013

Thanks Guy..

11 09 2013

I have a problem similar to that of SanJoseMike. I have two young adult children one of whom “gets it’ to some degree but is comming to terms with an major emotional dissapointment. The other seems to understand but I don’t think has real undertanding of the full and possible level of pain the human race is headed for. While my agnostic stance with atheist leanings allows me to have complete acceptance of my own personal extinction this is not necessarily the case for young people. With all the depression around I tread a delicate line of informing without depressing.

12 09 2013
Graham Palmer

It is strange to read how someone else’s thoughts reflect my own in every detail. I have tried to reveal my concerns to my adult children without scaring them to death or having them think I am ‘delusional’. To give them some slack I see that the idea of a collapse in the way they live must seem so remote so unlikely to them. Their focus is entirely on things today and tomorrow and there is nothing to bring the idea of a change let alone collapse into their horizon. This is the conundrum everyone has to face and sadly leaves me to conclude humans will not act until disaster is so obvious and unavoidable they are forced to act but not before and that might just be too late.

12 09 2013
Daniel Koeppel

Many thanks to SanJoseMike post. For a long time i thought to be somewhat psychological damaged to think that billions of people will die due to the impact of global warming. It is a relief to read that others, and an educator on top of it, are looking for better ways to communicate it.
Whenever family members welcome their newborns i am asking them what kind of world they think they daughter/son will live in when they turn 20. Common answer is a replica of the parental situation when they were 20 (in the 90’s). In short, pure bliss.

In the earlier days i used to point out the last 15 minutes of the 80’s movie “the day after” where i think the last offspring of the main character’s family (a girl) pretty much vegetates like an animal when the nuclear winter ends.

Over the years i toned down sharing my vision with them of food & water shortage + the absence of any conceivable form of society. I since then learned that one can not and should not scare people into “change”.

So what can we do? How does one go on?

Value change is certainly a part of it. On an individual level.
Based on my own experience doing so, i believe it takes out the sting of changes forced upon me, somewhat. I am a bachelor by choice because of the above. Let me try to explain:

1. I went and read up on survival. I learned that the psychological impact of (large) disasters is what results in up to 70% of all casualties.
2. I reduced my “footprint” dramatically by changing my consumer behavior as well as my income. Subsequently i want less and have less which gives me not only flexibility but also ease of mind.
3. I turned my conviction into a business by setting up an environmental sustainability consultancy. The investment helped with point 2. : )
4. I study Aikido – the only non offensive martial art – because of point 1. to keep up the fighting spirit.
5. I am planning on preparing a survival pack. However this i keep delaying. It has something final to it.
6. Looking for self sustaining communities i could migrate towards, once the signs get clearer or the first disasters have happened.

Are there people out there doing similar things, or do i have mental issues?

12 09 2013

I like to explain things without using “collapse of civilization” when talking to the unconverted, instead I like to say we are headed for a correction. It’s hard to change anothers views/beliefs/ideas, and if I can what will it really achieve. I don’t know if I will survive the correction or not, so even knowing the reality will it change my chances… All one can do is try.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

12 09 2013

Actually, that’s a damn good word….. I’ll have to remember that one. Thanks.

13 09 2013
Barbara Nielsen

Graham’s comment “leaves me to conclude humans will not act until disaster is so obvious and unavoidable they are forced to act but not before and that might just be too late” could have been written by me except that I probably would have changed ‘might’ in the last sentence to ‘will’.
Daniel, what you are doing sounds great, no mental issues! Have you checked out Transition Towns?

16 09 2013

Although I am getting very concerned about our fate, to get a sense of balance, I look for positive stories and came across this TED talk
after I saw Joorst Bakker on Gardening Australia last Saturday.
In response to Barbara, Transition Towns seems to be getting traction elsewhere but slow to be taken up here. Maybe we are too individualistic? When I venture into the capitalist den and post blogs about the need for action against climate change I am bombarded with aggressive responses attacking “my view of the world as I would have it” that prevents others doing what they want to do in their lives.

16 09 2013

I also saw Joorst Bakker on Gardening Australia last Saturday…… yes he was inspirational, to some degree, but I think he is unaware of the size of the looming predicament. Business as Usual has much momentum, and those in charge of the rudder aren’t inclined to move it.

16 09 2013

There is an interesting debate on which approach to take to get the public’s attention and then action on climate change. Is it better to talk about changes that will be necessary to correct climate change that it will open up wonderful new economic opportunities or say if we don’t do something drastic soon we are doomed?
The only way, according to Joe Romm, author of the Climate Progress blog, is to use blunt science based messaging that also makes clear that the problem is solvable. He goes on to say the public is not going to be concerned about an issue unless one explains why they should be concerned. The social science literature and experience of advertising and marketing make it clear that “only repeated messages have any chance of sinking in and moving the needle”.
The trouble is the message is now in the hands of people who are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry or perhaps the other way around, who have a vested interest in continuing the path they have trodden for over a century.
We keep hearing the science is settled. We are now beginning to hear the dire warnings and estimation that if something is not done very soon the risks are beyond imagination yet we still plough on regardless. The only question is how to get the message out to as many people as possible not just Australia but also the world.
I regret I can only pose the question but desperately hope someone will provide an answer.

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