Yesterday, April 22, was Earth Day. Curious fact: the letters in “Earth Day” can be rearranged to spell “Death Ray” — and isn’t that what the day is really all about? Solar radiation pummeling the planet, with death rays scorching every rock, tree and blade of grass. An energy imbalance caused by an abundance of gasses that don’t allow those death rays to easily escape back into space. Gasses caused by a species that has exploded in size, convenience and wealth by exploiting millions of years of energy rich sequestered carbon.
But beyond the escalating damage from these death rays and gasses there is a more insidious heat melting society — a political and social mindset that is raging hot.
We are beset on all sides by media selling war, death, political intrigue, celebrities, sex and doom. Turn on TV “news” and there’s a pundit explaining why a politician is corrupt or a political position is stupid. Check your social media and find a timeline filled with censored purpose. Read your favorite “news” website and find stories streamlined to raise your blood pressure and shorten your life. Outrage and blame glue our attention so we’ll hang around long enough to be hit by another ad, customized by cookies and demographics for an audience of one.
We live on a remarkable planet at a particularly troubled time in its history. These are the days where everyone is wrong and every idea is stupid. We don’t even know the questions but we’re barraged by answers and solutions. And it’s always “them” — the other — who are the obstacle to change. One side blames banks, fossil fuel companies, corporations and capitalism. The other side blames immigrants, taxes, socialism and government overreach.
The list of who is to blame is longer, of course. For example, the climate activists, lead by Michael Mann, are blaming doomers, referring to them as unwitting tools of the fossil fuel industry. In the past few days I have been called a “shill for the fossil fuel industry” several times on Twitter. Owing to the precision of its repetition, this is apparently the precise language that must be hurled to gain status among the climate activist’s peers as the requisite insult of the doomer position. So it goes.
This rush to blame raises interesting questions. What, exactly, is “blame” and what is it good for? The following are three facets of blame:
Blame is an expression of anger, born out of a feeling of helplessness. It is part of the climate grieving process to try and find some entity to hold responsible for the unimaginable crises that are unfolding daily.
Blame is a way to position ourselves as victims, to give up our power and agency. It is a way to feel better about ourselves and our own lack of action and ambition.
Blame is a form of corporate and political manipulation to keep us engaged in unnecessary battles, while being groomed to a particular first-world lifestyle with its associated stuff to buy.
Here’s a thought. Maybe no one is to blame. Maybe we aren’t victims. Maybe this climate and societal chaos was always going to happen, the inevitable result of an intelligent but fallible species meeting an extremely potent energy source at a time when its technology created the potential for exponential growth. In short, we are living in the era of overshoot.
Societies and civilizations have risen and died many times in the long sad history of humans on this planet. A truth about every one of these civilizations is they did their best to survive and did so until the circumstances of the world around them made surviving no longer possible. And that’s where we are now, only on a planetary scale.
In the face of accelerating disasters and planetary tragedy, it is worth recalling one resource that will always remain in abundance for humans to tap. As Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl said in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,”
“Everything can be taken from a person but the last of the human freedoms, the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances – to choose one’s own way.”
On the other side of blame is freedom. In the face of collapse and the sixth great extinction, we can choose to blame or we can choose a positive and proactive attitude. The circumstances are dire, but Frankl’s wisdom in the face of existential hopelessness provides direction for us all.
I suggest that as doomers we choose to respond to the collapse of the environment and global industrial civilization by centering our lives around these three freedoms:
We have the freedom to serve, to find ways to be of service in our local communities and worldwide that support the environment, further causes we believe in, and help ease suffering.
We have the freedom to be kind, to do little things to help others, which includes kindness to non-humans and the environment.
And we have, to the best of our ability, the freedom to be generous, to give from whatever abundance we have to those more in need.
By releasing ourselves from the prison of blame we feel empowered, no longer a victim of their evils, nor subject to corporate, media or political manipulation. Being a doomer is being free.
By the way, the concept of the Three Freedoms originates with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” which you can learn more about here if you wish. However, FDR’s freedoms presuppose a habitable planet and functioning civilization which are quickly becoming luxuries of past days. For the record, here are FDR’s four freedoms:
We are nearing the time of bottleneck, that phase in overshoot when the population starts to decrease as we shoot past the limits the planet can support. The hard part of collapse is just beginning. The next few months are going to see some of the worst fires, heatwaves and storms in the history of the planet as the Northern Hemisphere enters its summer season. The Arctic may set a new record low in sea-ice extent. Methane and CO2 record high levels will sizzle us. And in the middle of all of this, the toxic US political season will be in full bloom.
These are days filled with great sadness, but harder times are ahead. Hang on to your freedoms! You’re going to need them.