But there is no need for despair

by Bob Rich, Ph.D.

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This is what I wrote in January, 2012, welcoming the new year by forecasting the future:

    Disasters have costs. The insurance industry is already staggering from the disasters of the past few years. Infrastructure like powerlines, roads, airports, railways will be wrecked on a large scale. If enough disasters strike in enough places, the machinery of society will stop. If this doesn't happen in 2012, then the even more severe disasters of 2013 could do it. And each summer will be worse, so survivors will be struck, again and again, harder and harder.

   So, this year, or possibly next year, with very high probability within the next 5 years, many places will be without:

  • electricity in the grid;
  • gasoline in the pumps;
  • food in supermarkets.

       What will happen then?

       People in cities won't cope. Within weeks, there will be cannibalism, temporarily extending the life of the brutal, who will then swarm out into the countryside. There, they'll destroy the possibility of survival of those who could otherwise manage some self-sufficiency.

       Then winter will come, severe in many highly populated places. With technology extinguished, the survivors will die. Some will escape south, to overwhelm those still alive in more moderate climates. There won't be many left there, and any that are will be cooked by the following summer, hotter and more devastating than the one before it.

       Of course, the southern hemisphere isn't exempt, merely out of phase by six months. Because the methane is being liberated in the Arctic, there may be a year or two of grace there, but then again, maybe not.

       Any survivors will probably be hunter-gatherers in remote alpine valleys, Himalayan subsistence farmers, perhaps New Guinea highlanders.


       As I write in July, the evidence is coming in. My prediction is on target.

       In April, NASA confirmed that methane is released wherever the Arctic sea surface is exposed. And 2012 has been a record Arctic ice melt, with significantly less ice than the previous record year of 2007.

       Already in June, terrible wildfires raged in the USA, and India was devastated by flooding. Recently, a derecho (straight-line windstorm) ripped its way along a long stretch of the USA, indeed uprooting ancient trees and removing roofs. I've seen a photo of an airplane stuck in the melted tarmac of an airfield.

       I stand by my prediction: human civilization, perhaps the entire species, will be destroyed within 5 years.

       Climate change is only a symptom of the actual disease. Other symptoms include:

  • Species extinction. Recent studies have shown that more species are dying out than at any time since the demise of the dinosaurs. One-fifth of all vertebrates and one-fifth of all plants are at risk.
  • Resource depletion. For example, humanity is using more fresh water than global rainfall over all land areas.
  • Insane wars. Calhoun's famous study in 1962 showed that mammals fight wars under extreme population pressure. We're doing it.
  • Emotional distress. Depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship breakdown are all increasing.

       The real problem, what is killing us, is the global culture. It is based on the values of a toddler: "Mine!" and "No!" A childish culture of greed and conflict rules. Like toddlers, it is preoccupied with immediate gratification, with no consideration for longer term consequences. Those consequences have caught up with us.

    Then why not despair?

       In the famous Desiredata is the statement: "...whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." It is. The end of humanity is a minor event in the growth of the universe. Someone has to witness it -- why not us?

       I'm a professional grandfather, who loves many children. My natural reaction is grief for their future. But if the end came 1000 years later, there'd be darling children then too. They also deserve my love.

       I protect my sanity by exercising both sides of a paradox, one that works for all problems. It's best explained with regard to cancer.

       Everyone who has achieved a "spontaneous remission" holds two contradictory beliefs: acceptance and determination. They're determined to do their best to beat it, while accepting all its nasty features.

       If you only have determination, then all the worry, anger, fear and stress handicap your immune system, and the cancer kills you. If you only have acceptance, you'll turn your face to the wall and die. When you choose positive, strong action while simultaneously having peace in your heart, then you have a chance, although there are never guarantees. So, you need to believe, deeply and truly: "The cancer may kill me. I'm suffering great pain, disability, losses -- and it's all right."

       Economic growth multiplied by population explosion is the cancer killing us. We need to apply the same paradox. So, we should do two things: work for a miracle; and grow through adversity.

    What can we do?

       My team is 50 points down with 10 minutes remaining. I've got the ball. Should I bother to go for a goal? Of course. It's never too late to do our best.

       We must address symptoms such as climate change: live simply so you may simply live. Personally minimize your environmental footprint.

       However, the main change needed is in the culture. We must replace a toddler culture with an adult culture: "No!" with "Let's cooperate," "Mine" with "Ours. " Instead of caring for things, we need to care for each other.

       Only two things matter: what you take with you when you die, and what you leave behind in the hearts of others. Everything else is Monopoly money.

       What do you take with you? Lessons learnt, gained wisdom; or the opposite: hate, bitterness, self-pity, blame, envy. So, you either advance in spiritual development, or go backward, or of course some of each.

       Look after the heart, the Love, and you can let go of everything else.

       The Economy is the enemy. Economic growth is the cancer. We need to cure our addiction to it. Now. If all humanity pulls together against this common enemy, we can save a future.

       Of course, we can't leave this to the people in power. They get the most benefit, at the most cost to others. Sure, they'll die like everyone else, but they blind themselves to the fact.

       But leaders become isolated loners if they go in a different direction from their followers. So, if you, I, millions of people change course, we can transform the world. Change "I want happiness now" to "I want a decent life for me, you and everyone else in perpetuity," and we're on the way.

       Greed, the toddler's greed, is deadly. I've found a great deal of joy and satisfaction through living by the rule: THE MORE YOU GIVE, THE MORE YOU GET. Try it. It might save your life.


       I offer a belief system that puts peace in your heart regardless of what hell you're in. It is the basis of all the great religions, but is not a religious view. It's the second half of the paradox we must follow.

       Two months after I dislocated my shoulder, my rehabilitation was to play basketball with myself, enjoyably improving strength, flexibility and confidence. OK, I score a basket. I shoot again and miss. Is there a difference? No, I'm still rehabilitating my shoulder.

       This is a model for life.

       Gandhi was assassinated because he said, "Suppose your beloved little son was killed by Muslims. Go and find a Muslim boy of the same age, both of whose parents were killed by Hindus. Take him into your home, into your heart, and raise him as a good Muslim." This is the ultimate Lesson, Jesus' Lesson of Love.

       We need to transform society into one based on this message, which is also the Hippocratic oath: "Above all, do no harm."

       Jesus was crucified, Gandhi was assassinated, both for the same message. It is more than likely that try as we might, we'll miss that goal, and society as we know it will destroy itself, soon.

       We are not here in order to make money, gain status, power, fame. We are not here to seek happiness, but to have our soul trained to eventually become like that of Gandhi, of Jesus, to be able to believe the ultimate lesson of Love deep within our being.

       If we can save enough culture as the start of a new social order, that's a goal. But if we miss, and humanity goes the way of the dodo, so what. "Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

       When I manage to hold this attitude, I can face the worst, endure hell, and yet have peace in my heart, live in contentment. So, truly, there is no need for despair.

       We need to work for survival, and more, for a just, compassionate, generous society that is sustainable. But success or failure is immaterial if we can hold to the second part of the paradox: acceptance.

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