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Ecocidal Despair

Young man at the end of the roadThis morning, my colleague Amy shared an article from this weekend’s New York Times Magazine entitled “It’s the End of the World as We Know it…and He Feels Fine.” It’s about author, one time deputy editor of The Ecologist, and former environmental activist Paul Kingsnorth, who now now says,”We aren’t going to stop climate change” and proposes that we start facing and feeling that despair.

This is not the first time Amy has shared an article that discusses ecocidal despair.  I think we all feel this at times.  The biggest problem is that most people don’t know why they are feeling this despair as they are stuck in the first stage of grief, denial.  A denial often compounded by obliviousness that we are in fact of this world.

One of the greatest contributions we can make is to reveal the need to connect with nature and restore a sense of intimacy with it.  Perhaps mourning is a good step?  But the important thing to know is that nature will continue on for millions of years.  Our impact will become a fossil record.  This despair is more about humanity losing a sense of who we are and recognizing the tragedy of what we have done.  Although giving in might be easier, especially for an activist tired by years of frontline confrontation with bull dozers, whaling vessels, and corporate masters of the marketplace, but I’d rather do what we are doing.  That is looking to nature for insight and translating those insights into ideas and methods that can bend our trajectory away from ecological collapse and toward restoring ecosystems, even incrementally.

Once there is acceptance, we can move onto the stuff that we need to do to live another day, and figure out how to do so in a way that benefits everything that’s left.

While we’re at it, here’s another argument to add to the mêlée.

3 comments

  1. Manly Norris says:

    I find the recent media attention of Paul Kingsnorth telling for two reasons. First, that most of the coverage paints Kingsnorth as “giving in”, when I see his turn away from a top-down, “let’s save-the-world” type of activism towards a more locally oriented one of cultivating deep relationships with his community (human and natural alike) as welcoming, refreshing, and more replicable on a national scale.

    Even if Kingsnorth is indeed having a far too public midlife crisis, we shouldn’t take his story as a cue to dig our heels in deeper in our convictions that tech and design are where the problems and solutions lie. For me, Kingsnorth’s story is less about one man’s defeat than than about the widely-felt frustration with the failure of such approaches, another clue that our energies would be far better spent reinventing human culture from the ground-up and trusting that “the rest” (tech, design, economics, policy) will follow. Recognizing the sacred in nature, reinventing “religion”, rediscovering our language of the “holy” outside of church, this is the work that needs to be done, for it is the foundation upon which all subsequent work stands upon. That’s the main story I see when I read about Kingsnorth.

  2. Pete Munoz says:

    Perhaps mourning is a good step? Perhaps kicking despair in the face is a good step? I like to return to Margaret Mead for those simple words of wisdom ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

    Humanity may have the power to destroy man… but we also have the power to craft the most amazing thoughtful awe inspiring work / play / life. I kissed my two girls goodnight this evening not knowing if the Cascadia quake, hopeless terrorists, a random accident, or greedy capitalist will alter my family forever. What I do know and what I can control are my simple actions… getting up and preparing an amazing organic breakfast, going to work at Biohabitats a firm/family that is committed to restoring our communities, and coming home to a loving family that feeds my soul. Life is good… and hard… and tragic … and i have no despair.

  3. Anurag Chandak says:

    I feel that between the two extremes, denial and despair, we often seem to skip the ‘ doing all we can before it’s too late’ step. It’s too late now to be in denial, and way too early to go into despair. That is where more of us need to follow in the footsteps of Biohabitats family, to do all we can to restore, before it is too late.

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