I read this headline in a newsletter called The Future put out by John L. Petersen the Arlington Institute.
Horrified, but not surprised, I read Petersen’s synopsis which is below and then the full article.
Last March, the world’s scientific community provided the first-ever “state of the planet” assessment at the “Planet Under Pressure” conference in London. More than 3,000 experts concluded humanity is facing a “planetary emergency” and there was no time to lose in making large-scale changes. “We’re all scared,” said Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. Global collapse of human civilization seems likely, write Ehrlich and his partner Anne Ehrlich in the prestigious science journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society. See original article. This collapse will take the form of a “gradual breakdown because famines, epidemics and resource shortages cause a disintegration of central control within nations, in concert with disruptions of trade and conflicts over increasingly scarce necessities”, they write. A key element in meeting this unprecedented challenge is “to see ourselves as utterly embedded in Nature and not somehow separate from those precious systems that sustain all life”, writes England’s Prince Charles commenting on the Ehrlich’s paper. “To continue with ‘business as usual’ is an act of suicide on a gargantuan scale,” Prince Charles concluded.
When I read things like this I can’t help but have a despair moment, how about you? What can I do really? It simply feels too big and therefore hopeless. Even if I packed up my life, moved off the grid, ate grass and grubs, and only traveled by foot it simply wouldn’t make that much difference. I feel overwhelmed and therefore paralyzed.
But I’ve also felt similarly about major projects, the process of dealing with disastrous relationships, and maintaining various household systems. I recognize that comparing growing mounds of undone filing to impending global destruction may be, um… inappropriate? However, in a self centered, fleeting moment it can seem equally depressing and is more immediately visible. What has brought me out of paralysis in many of these moments is an understanding about how progress gets made.
There are times when progress is swift. We make radical choices, or are forced to create sweeping changes, in our mindset or our external actions. That may be called for to save us as a species. It is certainly needed to bring about what Prince Charles refers to, as we are a long way off from viewing ourselves as “embedded in Nature.”
In other situations progress comes through an accumulation of small actions over time. Bear with me while I return to my filing analogy for a moment. The whole job became too big for me to deal with – I never had the uninterrupted days to clean up the backlog of paper. The cabinets were stuffed full. I had no system. As a stop gap, when the mess on my desk became too much, I’d dump the whole lot into bins and stash it in some little traveled corner of the house. Cheap, backwater real estate, so to speak. I had my own dumping grounds and added to them over time. The radical approach didn’t work for me here, it was too much, practically and emotionally.
What did work to stop the filing crisis was: 1) sking for advice about simple ways to improve the situation. (Help came in the form of organizer Jocelyn Kenner’s direction to an easy to implement system.) 2) Putting a few pieces of paper in the new files on a regular basis. 3) Clearing out some files from the full cabinets in 5 to 10 minute stints.
Honestly I have not yet returned to clean up my old dumping grounds, but I have stemmed the flow into them, and have managed to make a little progress on the once increasingly bleak big picture. I broke this monster task into manageable bits, and although it’s not done, it’s much better than it was and continues to improve.
That was the long way around to saying that when I read some horrifically depressing article that predicts the end of our species, I accept that that is a possibility, but I try to find things to help that are within my scope, efforts towards change that, although small, can add to a larger pool, that may create a tide… that may turn in our favor. Do what you can, when you can. Vote for politicians who you believe will stand up for our environment. Make purchasing decisions that support sustainability. Ditch the gas guzzler. Turn out the lights. Buy local. Plant a tree. Recycle. You know the drill. As a parent of young children, it may not be feasible for you to yank everyone out of school and off the grid, but you can teach the next generation about conservation and model conscientiousness for them. Just some ideas. I’m sure you have many more and I’d love to hear them. It may not be enough in the long run, but it’s better than doing nothing and feeling bad about it.
Wishing you a peaceful heart,