I’ve long accepted the words of Hunter S. Thompson in The Proud Highway: “We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”
I appreciate Gonzo’s anthropocentric perspective on humanity, but he was late to the party of loneliness. Early American conservationist and philosopher Aldo Leopold pointed out in his final book (published in 1949, after Leopold’s untimely death), “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”
A world of wounds because an ecologist can see what we’re doing to the living planet. Alone because so few people give a damn. Awakening to life means awakening to all parts of life, including the realization and acceptance of our own mortality. But dying pales in comparison to the insults we are visiting on Earth.
Hovering in full view from my window is one minor example of the world’s wounds. It’s the story of how the (North American) West was lost. It begins when silver and gold are discovered in the area, at which point the mining company buys all the nearby water rights and the associated land (considerable water is needed to extract ore from rock). As with all states in the western U.S., the state constitution declares that water must be used in an agriculturally productive capacity. So the mining company, interested only in getting the water to the mine, leases the land to a cattle company. Thus is the local river emptied into two irrigation ditches to grow feed for livestock. The water not consumed by pasture (and then cows) is captured a few miles downstream in an ugly reservoir designed specifically for the purpose. The water is then pumped a couple thousand feet uphill and a few tens of miles horizontally, across a major mountain range to the site of the ore. In summary, the single most destructive force in the history of the West (livestock) is subsidized by a disinterested citizenry and the entirety of nature in the name of financial profit for the second-most destructive force in the history of the West (mining). This arrangement is but a minor example of the system known as civilization, but it reveals the “gold mine” of two industries, cattle and mining: the owners get the gold and the rest of us get the shaft. With these industries, as with civilization, the goal is to transfer financial wealth from the poor to the wealthy. Destroying every aspect of the living planet is merely collateral damage, as there’s a lot of money in planetary destruction. By the way, the specific strategy in this local area is working as brilliantly as the general approach of civilization. We’ve never visited so much horror on the living planet, and we’ve never cared less about it.
If I seem morose, it’s because I’m growing tired of my tireless crusade. I suspect regular readers are, too. As much as I’ve tried to infuse humor and optimism into my writing, the news is no longer so damned funny or optimistic.
Although I’ve rarely looked to others for my own happiness, I’ve equally rarely looked to others for consolation or support. But it’s time for me to step away and trust others to take on the impossible tasks we face. I’m inviting others to take up the torch as I assume a role that is more witness than warrior.
I’m not dead yet, but I need to breathe. I’ve been trying to be everything possible to everybody, and it’s not working. Not for me, not for the people I know, and certainly not for the living planet. My optimism about our ability to save the living planet and thus habitat for humans on Earth is waning, and no wonder. Consider this article, which echoes my thoughts and writings from the last decade: “Abrupt climate change will feel like a comet impacting earth. We’re going to discover a different planet. Another earth. One we won’t like anymore. One not worth living on.” And, as usual, climate-change models underestimate the damage we’re doing. Or consider this list of the doom we brought to Earth in the last year alone, which illustrates how profoundly screwed we are and, simultaneously, how little the citizens of this country care what we’ve done and what we’re doing.
I invite others to step forward, particularly from generations other than mine. My generation has put our entire species behind the biggest 8-Ball in history. Even if future generations — few though they may be — fail catastrophically, they’ll still do a better job than we did. How could they not? After all, my generation has failed, and it continues to fail to a degree not previously dreamed possible in planetary history. We fucked the future without offering so much as a kiss.
I’ll continue to post now and then, notably when I’m particularly irritated or ecstatic, or when I’m scheduled to deliver a presentation. I’ll continue to speak to anybody who’ll listen and a lot of people who won’t, as long as a venue is available. And I’ll gladly entertain guest essays, especially from people younger or more hopeful than me. My days of writing frequently for this space are nearing an end, in part because I’ve little left to say on the central issues we face. What I have left to say comes from my heart, not my data-addled brain, as can be detected in my recent writing. I’ll still contribute a data-driven monthly column for Transition Voice (this month’s piece is here).
I’ve explained the moral imperative behind terminating the industrial economy through the lenses of human-population overshoot, climate chaos, environmental destruction, and collapse of the industrial economy. I’ve repeatedly explained that it’s possible and even desirable to live outside the absurdity of the main stream. I’ve demonstrated how to do so, with cooperation as a key ingredient. I’ve opened this space to myriad voices, including those with which I don’t agree. In short, my work here is nearing its end.
I’ve not decided where I’ll be in the coming weeks and months. But I’ve got books to read and hikes to take. I’ve got beautiful places to go and beautiful people to see, before the places are destroyed and the people are gone. And I’ve got a lot of mourning yet to do.
I don’t know where I’ll be when collapse is complete, and I don’t much care, because I’m afraid to move and I’m afraid to stay. Working with others, I’ve helped build an impressively durable set of living arrangements at the mud hut. We have six sources of water, we grow a huge amount of the food we eat, the house is off-grid and astonishing, and the human community is remarkable. So, like the civilized, industrialized human being I am, I’m afraid of change, fearful to cash in my chips. But I’m afraid to stay, too. The thought of continuing to stare, alone, at the world of wounds, causes the terror to rise in me. Afraid to let go of nature’s bounty, as if it’s mine to hold. Afraid what I’m missing by holding onto comfort.
This essay is permalinked at Island Breath.