Sunday, June 9, 2013

Exeunt Stage Left, or 400 Reasons to Cry

Dr Guy R.McPherson and the author at
the Age of Limits Conference in May, 2013
May 2013, has moved me like no other month has ever in my life.
There was that day when I felt an ominous sense of grief overcome me, a deep sinking feeling for no reason at all and I stopped what I was doing to analyze it. I knew in the core of my soul that something was wrong, terribly wrong in the world and that soon the news would inform me of it. I mentioned this to a couple friends so they would remember later.
Barely a day went by when I heard that we had reached a global 400ppm CO2 level and it was then that I knew why my body had reacted with such instinctive sorrow.  We were doomed.
I'd had a similar reaction during the morning of 9/11 when the first tower fell.
I was in a Yoga class an hour away from the city and we knew that a plane had crashed into the towers, but we didn't know what kind of plane and we thought it was an accident so we decided to continue our class.  However at one point I felt my heart break and I gasped and told everyone in the room that I felt as though something terrible had just happened. It was my Obi Wan Kenobi moment.  Everyone stared at me as though I were nuts but when we left the class and turned our car radios on we heard the horrifying news.

I can't explain how I intuitively felt these two terrible events in the core of my being, except perhaps through the spiritual writing of John O'Donohue, in his book Anam Cara where he describes humans as the Earth that has sprouted legs, ears, eyes and arms to walk around and look back at herself and be a witness.  If we are Earth, and molecularly we are the Earth the Moon and the Stars, then perhaps there is some deep, emotional or unconscious connection to each other and to our planet and to all its living beings.  People wonder why there is so much depression, grief and suicide these days, however, one could ask the opposite, how come there isn't more? When faced with the geopolitical chaos, the climate chaos, the corporate fascist chaos, and the alarming rate of species extinction, one wonders why anyone sticks around for the final act.  Ironically, when people do take note of this chaos everywhere, they are often poo poohed and hushed as being nuts, told everything is going to work out,  told to be thankful for how lucky they are not to live in Darfur, Bangladesh, Rwanda, China, told there's not enough evidence (despite droughts, fires, floods, hurricanes, etc), and to go check out the ballgame. It's enough to drive a woman (or man) to drink.

If 400ppm CO2 wasn't enough to rock my world, new information I was going to get would be even more interesting; a la Chinese curse, as in, may you live in interesting times.

Just days after our planet got hotter at 400ppm CO2 (the least level it will remain at for 1000 years), I learned a new phrase, Near Term Extinction (NTE), and that we have as little as five (5), maybe ten, or even,  optimistically, 20 years of life left on Earth. Complete extinction for all life on Earth is not only a possibility, but more than likely to occur and that any humans left on Earth beyond 2030 would be hard to imagine. I heard this from Dr Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology who sacrificed his career and a family to tell the truth that no one else will.  He's kind of the Jesus of Climate Chaos and often just as crucified for simply offering information that's not even from his own research. Don't shoot the messenger!
Here is a brief talk he gave in Westchester.

These next years will be harsh years, to put it mildly, filled with famine, climate chaos, disease and war,  most likely over water; not an ideal place to bring up a kid, or to drop off your enemy, no less. You can hear the full presentation Dr McPherson gave at the Age of Limits conference in PA here: Guy McPherson at Age of Limits   For such a serious and soul wrenching topic, he delivers it with wit, humor and compassion.  A climate scientist in the audience joins in to agree that NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION, certainly not the media.

Dr McPherson pointed out that the three ways of exiting this chaos will be; Predation, starvation, or suicide.  I would add going down swinging, but maybe that's included in the predation part...  None of these grand exits are what we expected for our children, or ourselves all those years ago when we were planning our lives, families, futures, retirements (better cash out that 401K).  The Dr. planned ahead more wisely and made a conscious decision to not have children.  However, as a college professor he probably had more children than the Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, and he thinks of those students every day.

 My heart broke at this information, my head spun and I felt like nothing really mattered anymore, at least not anything inconsequential. Who cares if a glass breaks, or kids come over without telling me, or what some idiot on TV said.  The only thing that mattered were my kids. So I wrote about that, and my new friend, Dr Guy R. McPherson posted it on his blog.  Here it is:  When Faced with Apocalypse, What's a Mother to Do?

I now spend a part of my day crying, a part of it paralyzed and rooted to the ground where I stand wondering what to do next, and a part trying to function normally (remember to smile and shake hands).  Having a normal conversation with someone who doesn't know about NTE almost makes me want to scream; Because I can't really tell them about it unless they've had the years of ecological knowledge scaffolding to prep them. Most don't have that scaffolding, so don't get it.   I've tried. It's like trying to explain Nuclear fusion(fission?) to me.  I'm certainly not telling my kids about it, teenager or adult aged.  The worst part is talking to a beloved friend and feeling tears well up while chatting about the mundane.  They just are so beautiful, these people, to imagine them gone is heart-wrenching.

I found that music, dance and laughter is healing, and I take a break from the harsh reality to release the sorrow and the stress with some great music, dancing around the room, or hearing a comedian (all sources are welcome). I keep wondering if I should be running away somewhere? Fight or flight?  All my Peak Oil Collapse preparations seem childish and futile, and I find myself apologizing to the trees around my home, to the birds in them, to the flowers blooming at my feet. "I'm so, so sorry," I say, like Dr Who says to someone he cannot save...  Dr Who Saying Sorry     I am responsible for my species' bad behavior, and I am really damn sorry.

Many of us in my community are reeling at this information, wondering what to do next, why bother doing anything? Some even denying it, or rejecting the information certain of a techno-rescue of some sort. Some of us are plotting an escape, a clever way around Near Term Extinction. We are wading our ways through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief, but there is an addendum to this path of grief that never existed before;  When we are gone this time, there will be no one to remember us, to grieve us, to sing songs about how hard we fought and how bravely we tried to save the planet.  We will just be ashes on the bone of space, with only the stars, our creators, to stare coldly back at us.   That's quite a pill to swallow.
It takes a strong draught of malt to get it down...

So what the hell should we do?
I think each of us will have to wrestle with this personal question: How do we choose to exit?

Exeunt is a latin term for a theater direction indicating a group of actors to leave the stage in a particular direction, as in Exeunt Stage Left.
As we watch the trees dying, the oceans acidifying, hydrofracking, deep oil drilling, mountain top removal, and no leadership anywhere on the planet to put a stop to any of this destruction, our options are slim to none and it seems evident that we who accept the science and the horrifying scenario of NTE will need to make some personal plans.  We will need to write the final act of our lives, even while still fighting for it with every fibre of our beings.  Crafting this final act must include an exeunt at the end, and how that looks will be different for all of us.  Maybe thankfully it's highly likely that the planet will get the last direction for us and put us all to a gentle sleep as methane and CO2 levels spike above Oxygen levels.  I can think of a worse death.

In the meantime we also need to craft the scenes that get us to this grand exeunt: We can travel, visit friends and family, take an art lesson, make that movie you always wanted to make, go sky diving or bungee jumping, find a lost lover, make peace with your family, etc.

Guy McPherson always mentions at the end of his talk that the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, got it right when he said "What you don't let go of, the world strips away." Guy says to let go of our assumptions we've held onto and to live, as Nietzsche says, as though the day were here.  It's the only advice Guy gives and perhaps the only advice we need.  It's good advice even if it weren't the end of the world.
Oh, he also encourages resistance, saying "resistance is fertile" and directs people to support groups like Deep Green Resistance, but to give a wide berth to the hopium of, which perpetrates a lie that we can somehow lower global CO2 levels back to 350ppm in our lifetime.  I fell for that hopium.

As for escaping this dying planet?  Guy movingly says to that:  "I want to live on this planet, it's astonishing!"
He also says "Here we are standing on the shores of doom, at the Last Chance Saloon.  Brace for impact."
Which reminds me of this last scene from On The Beach which could easily be our last scene. Last Scene 

Let us hold our kids, our lovers, our friends close, for they are the most precious treasure now and let's make these last few years mean something like they never did before. We can Exeunt the stage with grace and love and compassion, whether there are gods or not watching us in the audience.
The stars will always be there.
And should a miracle happen that we are somehow saved, we will feel really good about ourselves.

For more reading:
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Joanna Macy
Guy McPherson's Latest Climate Update
Oliver Tickell,0,7196126.story


  1. Pauline, your raw anguish brings it all back. I've been living with just this miserable foresight since 2008 and of course it often still intrudes. But you learn to live with the ache, even as you never forget it.

    I hope your experience will help other people as more and more people recognize how untenable our population is, and how impossible it is to thwart our fate. Personally, I have come to think it was always impossible, it was simply a matter of time before our cleverness in growing and creating technology, ever increasing our ability to exploit the earth's resources and other species, became our downfall.

    So now it comes down to time - trying to make the most of the time that remains. The most and the best.

    Thanks again, it's a privilege to have met you. You have a special and unique gift, which is to express pain and joy - not false hope, but the joy that comes from true empathy - simultaneously. A rare trait among most of our self-absorbed, short-sighted fellow travelers!

    1. Thanks Gail for your sweet words. I feel fortunate to have met you on this exceptional journey as well. I have always believed in feeling emotions authentically, regardless how awful they may be. They are part of our humanity, and I don't want to lose that now.

  2. Hi Pauline. Thanks for your blog here, It's been very informative, albeit sad news. I still think it's better to know so one can be mentally prepared, and grieve while one has the time still. I have been to Guy's blog as well but find your words comforting to read, it's nice to have another's perspective as well. I was wondering, it's been a while since you've posted but, do you still think we have between 5 and 15 years? I know we cannot put an exact timeline on these things but I would like to know your thoughts. Also, was the bit on the methane and CO2 overtaking oxygen really a likely cause of death before the actual starvation takes place. Sorry to seem morbid but I would actually prefer that to a time when food is scarce and everyone is scrambling for the remains, doesn't seem like a pretty sight. Anyway, you are doing a great job along with Guy and I admire your work. Thank you.

  3. Thanks Invisibleman, sorry for the delay responding.
    The timeline to our exit is always in flux, but seems to be becoming more of a guarantee. I agree that a methane sleep sounds more pleasant than running from starving hordes, or watching your child slowly starve.
    Every day children starve to death in Africa. Still. So we know how much of a nightmare that is but at least it's not in our backyards! (I'm being ironic, I don't really mean that)
    Doesn't look like we get to have a nice Methane clathrate, knockout pill.
    Between climate change and economic collapse, there are several other ways that will take us out.
    One point of good news:
    The Southern hemisphere still looks ideal for extending our lives another two decades.
    The Northern hemisphere will melt down in a nuclear holocaust once the 400 nuclear plants lay off all their employees due to economic disaster that's about to strike. Those plants need grid tied electricity to run, and they need employees happy and ignorant working there, keeping us sort of safe.
    So if you live near a nuke like I do, you now know how you're going to die if you stay there.
    I don't see any reason to stay in the US, personally. Our taxes are used to murder other people's children, we are gouged financially at every turn, and our Constitution and Bill of Rights have been shredded. The NSA is in our living rooms and listening to our phone conversations. No, it's not just metadata anymore. It's you and your best bud chatting it up, they are listening to.
    Why stay? Because you have family you love that won't budge? That doesn't believe this is happening? (I cannot imagine how anyone can't see it) That thinks you're crazy and thinks the rat race is normal?
    Yes, that's why I've stayed. But the day is coming where it won't be possible anymore to stay and watch the walls come down.
    I just hope I have enough forewarning to get past them before they collapse on me.
    All my best to you, and thank you for your kind words.
    I'm diligently editing the documentary and it will be ready by August for screening and critiquing. Stay tuned to Guy's website for those updates. He's much better at that than I am. :)