On some level, it is tempting to say, “goodbye and good riddance” to 2012. For all the positive experiences it may have brought us, those were overshadowed by losses that will live with us for a very long time. But no matter how much we would like to “put them behind us” and declare their end, the truth is that they mark the beginning of a new era of deepening loss and cultural chaos. I assume that the reader understands this, but at the same time, I believe it is crucial to evaluate the lessons which this formidable year offers us.
2012 was the year in which more citizens and luminaries on earth verbalized the reality of climate change than ever before. Undoubtedly, the magnitude of drought and natural disasters throughout the planet rendered continued denial absurd, but so did a plethora of documentation of warming temperatures, polar ice melting, and rising sea levels. [See my recent article “The Sixth Extinction”] It is now obvious that it may only be a matter of decades, not centuries, before humans will have produced a planet where significant portions of it are uninhabitable.
In the summer of 2012 the United States experienced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression era. As the drought expanded to encompass nearly two-thirds of the nation and as other droughts around the world signaled unprecedented warming of the planet, a plethora of reports began attributing this ecological and economic tragedy to climate change. US farmers were economically devastated by scorched crops that could only be plowed under, and many were forced to sell large amounts of livestock which they had no hay to feed.
As we approach Christmas Day, the American drought continues with insignificant amounts of precipitation experienced in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard, with the exception of Superstorm Sandy and its devastation. The water level of the Mississippi River is so low that a shipping crisis on the river is imminent. It is entirely possible, perhaps likely, that the drought of 2012 will subtly or blatantly continue throughout the winter and on into yet another record-breaking, torrid summer of 2013. In any event, 2012 has dramatically broken records for heat, drought, and weather extremes.
2012 also broke records for natural disasters around the world, and myriad studies and reports are linking those with climate change. Climate Central reports that “studies have increasingly found that global warming is already making certain types of extreme weather events, such as heat waves and precipitation extremes, more likely to occur and more severe.
From wildfires in the mountain West to an above-normal number of tornados in the Midwest to Superstorm Sandy in the New York and New Jersey areas, 2012 may rank as the second-most disastrous year since 1980. Moreover, for the first time in our history an American governor, Andrew Cuomo of New York, made a direct link with natural disasters and global warming saying that “Hurricane Sandy Shows That We Need To Prepare For Climate Change.”
As I write these words, funerals for 20 children and 6 adults are beginning in Newtown, Connecticut where on December 14, 20 year-old Adam Lanza massacred them at an elementary school then took his own life. This at the end of a year in which a number of other dramatic mass shootings occurred such as the July 20 massacre at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, another a few days later at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and yet another at a Portland, Oregon shopping mall just three days before the carnage in Newtown. [For a complete list of mass shootings in the US in 2012, see this Washington Post report.]
While politicians turn themselves inside out to make this an issue of gun control—or not, the horror of gun violence in the United States is beyond the scope of anything that could be done to alleviate it through legislation. Once again, the compulsion to “do something” rather than thoroughly explore the roots of the madness that penetrate into the depths of the American psyche leaves our hearts and souls even more disquieted because it signals yet another band aid that guarantees many more senseless bloodbaths.
If we were to undertake a thorough, incisive, painfully honest exploration of the psychology of gun violence, we would quickly discover that the dynamics of our species that allow us to murder the planet and render it uninhabitable are the same dynamics that allow us to murder each other with impunity. If industrial civilization is killing the planet and everything on it as Guy McPherson and Derrick Jensen have been proclaiming for some time, then we as a species have become profoundly homicidal and suicidal. And as Jensen argues, we really can’t kill a planet and live on it at the same time.
The University Of Life In 2013
As I have been asserting in recent months, climate change is now driving the train from hell, closely followed by economic collapse and peak oil. While all the cars on this train are connected, climate change has rapidly become the runaway engine on this runaway train that cannot be reversed in 2013—or ever.
I happen to believe that life itself is a kind of university in which we have chosen to enroll for reasons of which we may not even be aware, but certainly part of our responsibility in any university is to understand why we chose to enroll and allow that knowledge to inform our student participation. Sometimes we like the education we are receiving, and sometimes we don’t. Nevertheless, we are enrolled, and unless we see no way of continuing our education and are willing to subject ourselves and our loved ones to the pain of our dis-enrollment, it may be wiser to commit to the curriculum rather than resist it.
Another way to frame our experience is in more psychological terms as John Michael Greer has done in many of his writings. Greer argues and demonstrates that the myth of progress is crumbling before our eyes. While we may know that intellectually, the impact may not have fully registered in the nervous system, and certainly, few of our fellow-earthlings have understood the extent to which progress is over and “re-gress” is the new normal. I often speak in terms of having passed from the Age of Enlightenment to the Age of Endarkenment as author Michael Ventura has named it. As the myth of progress continues to crumble and humans feel that re-gress is devouring them, we are going to see and are already seeing what Greer calls a “psychotic break on an individual and collective scale.”
Here are some suggestions for how we can respond to the very challenging curriculum of the future:
1) Understand that 2013 is going to harder than 2012. Whatever the planet experienced in 2012, we are likely to see more blatant severity in similar experiences in 2013. The psychotic break that we are witnessing throughout industrial civilization will only intensify, and we will be more directly and dauntingly challenged—physically, mentally, and emotionally as we attempt to navigate it.
2) There’s nowhere else to go. Relocation may be an option and may work for some, but in terms of climate change, economic collapse, and peak oil, there really is no “safe” place on earth where the repercussions of these will not affect everyone. Consider adapting in place instead of relocating.
3) You’re on your own in community. Both are true, and we need to fully grasp the implications of this. We cannot function exclusively alone and survive, nor can we be totally dependent on the community. When natural disasters ravage the landscape and possibly our homes and individual lives, no government program is going to save us or even alleviate much of our suffering at all. Whether it’s George W. Bush, Jr. and his empty promises for Katrina victims in New Orleans or Obama talking sweet nothings to Staten Island Hurricane Sandy survivors, help is not on the way. The only help you can receive or give will be constructed in advance through your connectedness with the community and through your own efforts.
At some point the only food to which you will have access is the food you have stored, grown, or know how to grow. Perhaps even sooner than famine, we will all be confronted with untenable water shortages that will invariably end the lives of millions of human beings.
4) Your ultimate mission in this life is to serve. Take care of yourself and your family? Yes. Prepare mightily? Yes. And if these are all that matter, you will be haunted by an empty meaninglessness that nothing can assuage except compassionate service that taps the treasure-trove of the many gifts you brought with you to this planet. The expression of your gifts does not need to be elaborate. In fact, one of the simplest and more heartful ways to serve is to take every opportunity, every day to create beauty.
You may also want to consider taking these trainings:
**Emergency Response Training which you can learn more about through a number of service providers in your community
**Training in dealing with trauma—your own and the trauma of others. A number of resources can be found online.
5) Develop a new relationship with the body and the emotions. Those who are attached to living in their heads and disregarding their physical well being are destined to perish. So also are those who refuse to work consciously and constructively with their emotional landscape. While there is nowhere to go on the external landscape, there is definitely somewhere to go on the internal one. Lovingly care for the body and soul, and begin living now as if the only healthcare that will ever be available to you is what you can provide for yourself through alternative treatment. Fundamental to your self-care are a diet of natural, whole, organic foods and daily exercise, preferably in nature.
6) Become a student of how other people in other cultures have survived the unraveling of their societies or have lived through collective trauma. It is not only important to learn about how some survived but also to learn about how others did not.
7) Become a student of your own demise. Contrary to popular opinion, the contemplation of one’s own death, if it is truly contemplative, does not automatically lead to depression. While I understand that my audience is not primarily Buddhist monks, I am aware that those folks are required to spend many hours a week contemplating death. Some report that rather than feeling depressed, they feel exhilarated and exceedingly grateful for their lives. Regardless of what happens in 2013, none of us gets out of here alive. Given the realities of climate change and peak oil, it is possible that our status is similar to that of the hospice patient, whether we aware of it or not. One half of preparing for the future is preparing to survive; the other half is preparing not to.
8) Discern the difference between joy and happiness. Consumer culture has muddied the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness” and made happiness synonymous with having lots of stuff and a cushy lifestyle. Happiness, in fact, is transient—it comes and goes with circumstances. Joy, however, is a condition of the soul resulting from a sense of meaning and purpose, regardless of one’s circumstances. Many individuals suffering deep pain and loss still possess a sense of joy in their depths. Discover and create your radical joy for hard times.
Few constants are available to us, and so as we transition to 2013, I offer this wisdom from the poet, Rebecca del Rio:
We live for constants,
Rain in winter, the cat
Curled like a furry comma
On the edge of the bed.
Sometimes, many times
These don’t come, instead
There is drought, the father dies,
The mother grows old.
The constant is this:
The mind insists, persists in the insane
Circle of creation from chaos.
Make order of mystery.
“Listen to me,” it shouts.
So we listen.
Constant chatter, constant need
Growing like a curse.
The constant is this:
Life is chaos, disintegration, blooming
Anew into order and collapsing
Again to blossom into something more perfect,
Then chaos, disintegration and on.
We watch helplessly, entranced
Like the magician’s audience,
The hypnotist’s mark.
Nothing to do but join hands,
Bow heads, say blessings
To the capricious, wild original god.