The gates of Hell

The Gates of Hell

Dante's Divine Comedy aka "Dante Shinkyoku," a manga adaption of Dante Alighieri's classic work "The Divine Comedy" by Nagai Go. Source:

In a letter to Ernest de Chabrol dated 9 June 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?

Nearly two hundred years later, de Tocqueville has been vindicated not only as a superb social critic but also as a forecaster.

High anxiety

Knowing nothing about de Tocqueville, the ten-year-old son of a friend put his own spin on recent history: “Mom, I think people value Father Time more than they value Mother Earth.”

His words sting me like freezing rain, squeezing tears from the corners of my eyes. There’s nothing new there for me, except the perspective of youth: I often weep when I think about the hellishly overheated world we’re leaving him and his young friends. We’re destroying this world in large part because we care more about chasing fiat currency than we care about the living planet and its occupants.

Although it seems unlikely they met, de Tocqueville was writing during the time of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. As if he, too, could see the future, Kierkegaard was plagued with anxiety. However, Kierkegaard didn’t call anxiety a plague. As he pointed out, anxiety is fundamental to our sense of humanity.

Although I’m tempted to discard Kierkegaard’s every thought based simply on his ludicrous leap of faith, I can’t convince myself to disagree with him about anxiety. His writings about anxiety resonate with me as strongly as anything I’ve read by Lao Tzu, Arthur Schopenhauer, or Aldo Leopold.

It’s small wonder I’ve slept so poorly since August of 1979, when I reached a vague, subconscious understanding of the dire straits in which humanity is immersed. More than three decades after that summer of my nineteenth year, “my distress is enormous, boundless,” and growing by the day.

Act NOW and save!

I envy those who know about ongoing climate change and yet can remain comfortable with that knowledge. If you’re among them, perhaps this essay will drag you with me, into the abyss of despair. If so, I encourage you to abide the prescient words of Edward Abbey: “Action is the antidote to despair.”

According to NASA, anthropogenic climate change is primarily due to human actions. The ongoing crisis is intensifying, and much of North America is experiencing summer in March. Ninety degrees in winter is not normal, climate-change deniers notwithstanding.

Ditto for this year’s Silent Spring.

If you’re under the age of 35, you’ve never experienced “normal” temperatures despite a weakening sun. In fact, February 1985 was the last time global mean monthly average was below the twentieth-century average.

Already, climate has shifted to a new state. That state can only be described as dire. And yet because Earth’s climate system behaves in a nonlinear manner, future changes could occur very rapidly, making it seem as if more than three decades without a below-normal temperature reading were the good ol’ days.

From Hell

What does the future hold? First, a warning: Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

A global average rise in temperature of 2 C is now optimistic, according to French scientists. Climatologist Matthew Huber agrees. But even that seemingly modest increase in temperature raises sea level 40 to 70 feet.

In fact, an increase in global average temperature of 1 C is potentially catastrophic, as pointed out by the United Nations in 1990. Meanwhile, the OECD concludes we’re headed for an average temperature increase of 3-6 degrees Celsius by 2050 (original report here).

All the news that’s fit to print

Supporting documentation is far more abundant than revealed by these recent headlines:

Climate change is shaking the world, literally

Global warming borders close to being irreversible, according to conservative scientists

Greenland’s ice will melt at a much lower temperature than previously estimated

It might be irreversible already

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu claims to be surprised

The Arctic death spiral continues unabated

After all, a carbon time bomb has been dropped in the Arctic

At the other pole, an iceberg the size of Manhattan is about to break away from Antarctica

For many years, people have been metaphorically stealing glaciers to put into cocktails. Now they’re literally doing it.

Habitat for millions of people will disappear with flooding from the oceans

Water, water, everywhere, but the world’s rivers are failing to make it all the way to the oceans

Oceans are acidifying at an ‘unparalleled’ rate, and will not survive business-as-usual disaster-as-usual

Conveyor belt tipping point has been reached, as I pointed out more than a year ago

As I also pointed out, at the same time under slightly different name, ‘Compost bomb’ is latest climate change ‘tipping point’

Meanwhile, drought in the southwestern United States is intensifying even as U.S. heat waves are set to intensify from New York to Los Angeles

According to tables of flowering dates in 1840s Massachusetts, average temperature already has risen 2.4 C in Concord since the industrial revolution began

Elsewhere in the US, the heat is unprecedented, with 7,000 record high temperatures so far this year

A vital species of tree killed by climate change brings to mind one my favorite lines from Derrick Jensen: “Forests greet us and deserts dog our heels”

The abundance of dire information and a slow news days causes even ABC “News” to point out the weather weirding

Dire straits

How bad is the situation?

Desperation is leading to long-shot technical “fixes.” Naturally, these don’t include changing the behavior of people in the industrialized world.

As usual, Americans, still affluent relative to people in other nations, can’t be bothered because they’re too concerned about the industrial economy to worry about persistence of Homo sapiens.

The occasional thoughtful American writes a letter of apology to his grandchildren, preferring the ease of an apology over the difficulty of action. On the other hand, President Obama continues to ignore the issue, even though he certainly knows he’s committing his family and young children to hell on Earth.

If we didn’t already have enough reason to terminate this absurd set of living arrangements, human extinction might do the trick.

It might be too late, of course: More than two years ago Tim Garrett pointed out that only collapse of the industrial economy prevents runaway greenhouse. In those two years, we’ve set records for carbon emissions on this overheated planet. But if we act as if it’s too late, our actions become self-fulfilling prophecy.

The day after tomorrow

In the spirit of Edward Abbey, let’s channel some Kierkegaard-inspired anxiety to act as if the future matters. Let’s act as if we have a future. Let’s act now, while the idea of a future still persists. Before it’s too late. Before there’s no tomorrow for our entire species.

–Guy McPherson for Transition Voice

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  1. John Andersen says

    There is much we can do right now today.

    To start with, change your transportation arrangements away from a car for everything to walking, cycling, and where possible public transit for most if not all trips. We’ve been car-free since June 2011, and that change alone has transformed the way we live.

    Let me be first to say my wife and I are happier, more content, and enjoy experiences more since we got rid of the car. We are also healthier.

    That’s a good foundation from which to build to tackle larger issues; one step at a time.

  2. says

    My wife and I have also given up our car and most of our belongings. We need huge steps at this point. Personal choices are no longer enough…and that’s what’s frightening.

    • John Andersen says

      Other people doing the same as you will help alleviate some of the situation. We must never underestimate what we can achieve by inspiring each other.

  3. taran says

    As individuals there is nothing we can do of any significance. If you think riding your bike more, or changing your light bulbs, or putting up a solar array will make a difference, you are sadly delusional. Even driving your SUV isn’t all that significant in light of the energy consumed by our military complex (which I believe it represents more than 50% of the country’s total energy consumption). Your SUV, though a much ballyhooed symbol of excess, is nothing compared to the requirements of maintaining Empire. Until our world changes it’s consciousness regarding how humans inhabit the earth and how it is we choose to interact with one another, we are simply screwed. It is Satre’s “No Exit” on steroids. Dimitry Orlov’s most recent posts are most excellent in this regard. This is not a bottom up, grass-roots issue. As countries mobilize for war in such circumstances, only a hugely global like-minded response will suffice, and what is the chance of that? But hey, I guess it’s an opportunity to cull a few billion from the planet. How many of you voted for Obama thinking he would get us on the bandwagon? I did…but not again.

    • Brian says

      What can we do other change our own habits? We have no control over others, and nor would I ever want to have that responsibility. Fostering a global response first requires action and change from the “innovators.” Do I believe that me riding a bike and getting rid of my television and other useless possessions is going to save the world? No, but if I tell people why I do it enough, and if I do it in a way that is not condescending, it might get them to reconsider their own behavior. I don’t have a whole lot of hope in this, but what else can we do? I feel an obligation to this planet to get along in this sick and decaying society as best I can without causing more harm. I am finding it an incredibly isolating and alienating experience and I honestly have never felt more alone in my life than I do now, but at the same time I feel a purpose and for the first time, a strong commitment. I will see this through to the end, whatever end that may be. Good luck to all of you out there who care for others as much as yourself.


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