Prone to Pessimism

Here’s a very sobering video. “I’m not depressed but I’m a carrier, apparently,” quips Guy McPherson at the end, after being asked if he’s optimistic about humanity’s chance of averting ecological disaster. McPherson left the University of Arizona at the age of 49 to live off the land and raise goats. He thinks there will be no humans left in the Northern Hemisphere in 2030. Fun.

This video has got me thinking once again about Bob’s talk last week on our Age of Anxiety, and about how some problems simply don’t have solutions. We can’t grow infinitely on a finite planet. That impasse means that we should focus on the things we can actually influence, which are all sad resignations: saving as many species as possible in the face of the certain collapse of all of Earth’s ecosystems. In this category are all kinds of meaningful stalls, but stalls none the less: gardening, educating, writing, biking, even ripping up concrete. I keep thinking of this quote my 10th-grade teacher had pinned up above the chalkboard, “For every problem there is a solution that is simple, easy, and wrong.”

A friend asked me last week if I use data to determine my worldview, or if instead I’m just “prone to pessimism.” I don’t know why one would choose to be pessimistic all the time, what with the moments of enjoyment afforded by so many simple things, like sunlight, sleeping in, and music. I certainly don’t wake up in the morning and think, “what can I be depressed about today?” It’s just that some trends can’t be ignored, and I don’t know how one can look at the evidence (scientific data, the history of empire, political ecnomics, etc.) and retain a sunny outlook, as if we’re on the right track in general but sometimes bad “accidents” happen. We are not going to be okay at current trajectory. At the same time, such a radical shift as would be needed to correct course will not happen voluntarily.

All of our energy, every single second of our thought, should be focused on how to mitigate the damage and soften the crash. This focus also means that we should enjoy ourselves as much as is reasonably possible.

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