This planet is dying. Not just in the way that life on Earth is always, inevitably beginning and ending, that species are rising and falling, that extinction and evolution occur, and that temperature and sea levels cycle dramatically and irregularly. In the 21st century, Earth is hurtling toward a specific death with a shape, a name, and a timeline. It is dying of global warming, climate change, extinction, biological annihilation, and ocean acidification. The exact names and the exact timing is debated, but the overall trajectory of life on Earth is well-understood: We are in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, and the odds of human civilization reaching the 22nd century are often estimated at no better than 50/50.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans now say that climate change is caused mainly by human activity, the highest percentage since Gallup began tracking it two decades ago. The number of Americans who say they worry “a great deal” about climate change has risen by about 20 percentage points. But people don’t change their minds easily about controversial issues. So what is behind this trend?
In order to talk about extinction anxiety I first need to address epistemological anxiety, otherwise, you won’t know if what I am saying to you is a bunch of ‘fake news’ served up by yet another privileged white male. Epistemology is that branch of philosophy concerned with how we come to have knowledge about anything at all. In the age of Trumpism, this is a question about truth and lies. Like the negative space on a painter’s canvas, Trump’s compulsive lying (averaging about five a day since he became President, according to the New York Times) brings into stark relief the question of what truth is and how we come to know it. It raises the question of our own critical thinking skills in assessing the veracity of information sources and our own predisposition to believe false information that reinforces our entrenched positions. Furthermore, Trump has introduced a new form of lying to the political sphere, lying as entertainment
But it’s the psychological factors, and the biology in which they’re grounded, that sustain denial.
To maintain our capacity to address climate change, we need to recognize and address the trauma it creates.
That’s right, folks. While the Search For Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) spent the last three decades fruitlessly scanning the heavens in search of alien signals … we’ve actually been surrounded by a miraculous variety of intelligence on the only planet we know for a fact sustains life.
“Only a god,” Heidegger famously said, “can still save us.” An atheist would disagree, but I think that on this one, the atheist would be wrong. While we might not need a new religion, we do need a new sense of the sacred or an awakening of the most ancient one: a sense of awe, wonder, and respect for something greater than us. What could that something greater be? There is no need to theorize about it. What is greater than us is the earth itself—life—and we are folded into it, a small part of it, and we have work to do. We need a new animism, a new pantheism, a new way of telling the oldest of stories. We could do worse than to return to the notion of the planet as the mother that birthed us. Those old stories have plenty to say about the fate of people who don’t respect their mothers.
“Something inside me broke somehow,” he said. “I thought, ‘This isn’t working. We’re totally fucked. The machine will go on until it’s killed everything or collapses or both. But the wild world, justice — I still believe in that. What can I do with that?’ ”
Carolyn Baker is a one-woman whirlwind of communication. She’s up-to-date on the news of the world, as she publishes her Daily News Digest. Carolyn is author or co-author of 11 books, has provided life-coaching for many, and leads workshops. Her motto is “Speaking Truth to Power”. From Boulder Colorado, it’s a treat to welcome Carolyn Baker back to Radio Ecoshock. Alex Smith devotes an entire page to covering my work
In a recent article “Beyond Trump: Rebooting the System from inside the Death Machine,” Nafeez Ahmed, Andrew Markell, and Gunther Sonnenfeld articulated their perspective on Trump’s rise to power less succinctly and with fewer no-nonsense tools than I intend to offer in this essay. While coming close to the heart of the matter, they didn’t quite arrive which often happens when attempting to clarify “the crisis of civilization.” After all, we’ve never been here before, and if we’re honest, we must admit that we have difficulty articulating it for ourselves and never quite know how to articulate it to others.