What Comes After?
What comes after the realization that our world is ending? That is the question which I strive to answer here and at AnotherEndoftheWorld.org.
By way of background, after several years of mobilizing with 350.org and other environmental groups, I came to realize that the whole movement has been addressing a surface level problem-where we get our energy from-instead of the underlying problem-how much energy we are using. In other words, the movement was focused on fossil fuels when it should be focusing on capitalism and the growth economy. I also realized that it was very unlikely that our society will ever voluntarily power down, and so a collapse-economic, social, and environmental-is probably unavoidable.
Following Jem Bendell, author of the now (in) famous Deep Adaptation paper, I anticipate “inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe, and possible extinction.” It’s impossible to say how long it will take or what exactly that will look like. But I would guess that it will take generations. I would guess that it will be a prolonged and staggered collapse, a series of mini-collapses followed by partial recoveries. I believe that this collapse has already begun, that it has been going on for a while, and that climate change is only one aspect of it. This realization might lead a person to throw up their hands and say “F** k it!” And, in fact, there is a whole community of people called “Doomers” who seem to revel in the thought of collapse and make a pastime of nihilism.
There are other people, though, who have also come to realize the inevitability of collapse, but instead of throwing up their hands, look around and ask, “Ok, so the world is ending. What do we do now? How do we live meaningfully in light of this awareness? What suffering might we be able to alleviate? What beauty might we be able to cultivate?” People have adopted various names for this attitude. Eco-theologian Michael Dowd calls it a “Post-Doom” mentality. Professor Jem Bendell calls it “Deep Adaptation,” which others have modified to “Positive Deep Adaptation.” The phrase I have adopted is “Another End of the World is Possible,” which is the name of my site (and the title of my book).
What these “Post-Doomers” have in common is that they have passed through a kind of “dark night of the soul” with regard to climate change and environmental collapse generally, and they are now exploring the terrain on the other side of despair. It isn’t so much about recovering a lost hope, as it is figuring out how to live joyful and socially responsible lives in light of impending collapse. For people who have not passed through this dark night of the soul, a Post-Doom perspective can sound a lot like Doomerism. But for those on this side of despair, it is very different.
I have created AnotherEndoftheWorld.org in the hope that my experience might provide solace and encouragement to others. But it’s really something you just have to go through yourself. You have to let yourself really feel the despair, with the faith that there is something on the other side of it.
I frequently hear the accusation that I’m stuck in despair or that I’ve given up. Yes, I did actually go through a period of despair or depression (and I might again). That’s something I’ve decided to be very public about, because I don’t think depression is necessarily a bad thing-at least in its situational, non-chronic form. I think depression can be a natural and healthy human response, if it is temporary, and if it leads us to greater wholeness and wisdom. After all, what could be more natural than feeling depressed about climate change? In fact, I think it’s the resistance to depression that can be unhealthy, especially if it causes us to repress knowledge which we would be better off facing in the long run. In my experience, the mainstream environmental movement is almost phobic about certain emotions, like despair, grief, and shame-and the movement is poorer for it.
Yes, I’ve experienced despair, but I’m far from giving up. The despair led me to re-evaluate what activism looks like for me, to ask myself how I can be most effective in the world. I don’t expect my answers to be everyone’s answers. I’m not going to try to tell anyone else where to focus their energy. But I will say this: If your choice is being motivated by a fear of despair, if you are fighting down a feeling of hopelessness, consider letting yourself feel it. Really feel it. Trust that there is wisdom in all of our feelings, even the dark ones, maybe especially the dark ones. And see where it takes you.
If your experience is like mine, it will lead through that dark valley to something else, to a place that you can barely imagine right now. It’s my hope that this site might serve as a guidepost for those on that journey.
Originally published at http://anotherendoftheworld.org on January 3, 2022.