Today, we’re revisiting an article I originally penned back in 2018 titled, “Facing the (Horrible) Future.” I still recall my somber mood as I unpacked the serious predicaments our future seemed to hold, particularly in relation to resource depletion and environmental degradation. The truth is, we’re now living in the start of that future, here in 2023, and it’s apparent that those predicaments have accelerated at a pace even I hadn’t fully anticipated.
Over these past years, our astute Peak Prosperity tribe has observed some marked changes. Patterns that were merely faint outlines in 2018 have now become bold, unavoidable realities, demanding our collective attention and response. The question on everyone’s lips: Was the article accurate? To that, I’d say it’s largely been a mixed bag. Some aspects unfolded as foreseen, while others went astray, surprising us all with their unexpected turns.
And the million-dollar question: Has society stepped up to the plate? Well, it’s a multifaceted answer, and one we will be exploring together in today’s discussion. So, buckle up as we venture back in time, to an article written five years ago, and grapple with the stark and compelling reality that our future is not just imminent, but it’s already here.
Originally Posted on June 9, 2018
I’d like to tell you a short story based on a movie that has had a profound impact on me.
I’ll get to the story in a moment, but first, a little background on the movie…
It’s called Griefwalker (by Tim Wilson) and it focuses on the life and wisdom of Stephen Jenkinson, a theologian and philosopher who worked as an end-of-life specialist for many years. Because we all must face death in our lives, inevitably our own someday, I highly recommend this movie and Stephen’s work to everyone.
After sitting at the death beds of a thousand individuals, Stephen has accumulated a wisdom regarding the process of dying that is perhaps unmatched in our modern times. His views and insights are extraordinarily powerful and extremely well-delivered in the movie.
Stephen is a blunt yet thoughtful man, and my own interview with him (Living with Meaning) remains one of my all-time favorites.
At one point in Griefwalker, Stephen was lobbed what I’m sure the interviewer thought was a soft-ball question. From memory, and I last watched the movie a few years ago so I’m certain to have this inexactly recalled, it was along the lines of “So, Stephen, you’ve learned how to ease people through the process of dying. How is that done?” I guess the idea was that after being so steeped and skilled at shepherding people through the process of dying, Stephen had arrived at some tidy formula for making it as gentle as possible.
Without blinking Stephen said, “Oh no. Dying for most people these days is horrible.” After a few shocked fumbly moments by the interviewer, and I confess to having been shocked too, Stephen continued, explaining that the physical process of dying can certainly be managed easily and well with palliative care, but the emotional journey can be quite terrifying (at first).
The reason why is because most people spend their entire lives pretending as if death is somehow avoidable. So when they find themselves dying, they suddenly have to confront the fact that they may have forgotten to fully ‘live’ during their one and only shot at life.
To suddenly realize the most precious thing you had was barely treasured along the way, never to be recovered, can indeed be a horrible moment.
As far as we know, we’ve only got one life to live — and facing our end puts that into sharp focus. As Stephen says in his book Money and the Soul’s Desires, “Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life … is death.”
To look back on one’s time on Earth and realize how much of it was spent not really being alive, not loving, not noticing, not being present with what is, is to realize that your one glorious ride was largely spent without reflection, depth or meaning. It was squandered. And there’s no undoing that fact. Again, that moment of realization is a bad moment.
I’m not writing this to push you to ponder your own demise, though that may be a healthy pursuit for many of us. Rather, I want to direct your attention towards a moment of horror that I think is coming – for all of us.
Where We’re Headed
Travel with me to the future. Imagine that the year is now 2040.
If we suddenly woke in that year, what would we see in the world? More importantly, what would we not see? Which species would be missing? Which ecosystems will have utterly collapsed?
By extrapolating trends already in place (many of which are accelerating) we can easily predict a future world where there are no large animals left. Perhaps the last giraffe was killed and eaten by a hungry mob back in 2033, joining the White Rhino which was lost back in 2018.
Lions and tigers can no longer be found in the wild; their genetic stock hopelessly compressed into a few zoos and frozen test-tubes, should humans ever rally to justify the expense of trying to resurrect those species.
There are no coral reefs anywhere in the oceans, and essentially no diversity of life left in the seas at all. Acidification has upset and mostly ruined the ocean ecology from the bottom up.
First, we noticed that the oysters no longer successfully made it out of the larval stage. But by the time the scientists delivered a loud enough warning for all of the missing copepods and other vital zooplankton, it was already too late. The jellyfish had taken over. Nobody has a clue how to get the ecology to return to one that can support tuna, rockfish, dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds. Those are all gone — starved, fished or hunted to extinction.
Worse, the ubiquitous jellyfish are entirely too efficient. In addition to decimating the zooplankton, the jellyfish are eating the phytoplankton responsible for generating most of the world’s oxygen — their levels too low to continue being a positive force for oxygen release into the atmosphere. “Don’t worry!” scream the Tweets, “Scientists have found a new and better way in the lab to harness the sun to split water. We can make our own oxygen!” However, after the past 1,000+ lab ‘miracle breakthroughs’ that proved to be duds when attempted at scale, few have hope that this time will prove any different.
The vast systems offered by Nature — more accurately, that were offered by Nature — once taken for granted, are now fully appreciated by the people left on Earth. But it’s too late.
The insects are mostly gone, at least in terms of diversity. The terrestrial ecosystem balance that people knew and loved back in “the twenty teens” is gone and has been replaced by something far simpler and painfully less interesting. The failure to block neonicotinoid pesticides in time, as well as their more morally repugnant (yet legal!) derivations that outpaced activist’s ability to fight them, meant that entire classes of pollinators were lost.
With those, entire species of plants disappeared because they were utterly dependent on highly-specific pollinator services. Mankind’s few lame attempts at creating “drone pollinators” were so utterly unfit for the task that the term became a profoundly disparaging insult, most frequently applied to ineffective politicians. “Looks like another useless bill being put up by the drone pollinator from New York.”
A few hardy bugs and roaches, lots and lots of ants (where are they all coming from?), and very few flying insects remain. No more large moths in the temperate climates, with such splendid examples as the Luna and Hawk moths now only existing as dead specimens in a few museums, right next to the dodo and African elephant displays.
And it’s been over 15 years since “the dawn chorus of birds” was a phrase that had any meaning. Nearly all of the migratory birds are gone, along with all of the insect eating species. It’s eerily silent outside in the morning. The sight of a single bumblebee, or a flash of colorful plumage, is cause for a quickening of your pulse — the same physical reaction people once had when as noticing a movie star at a café.
Life, where it now exists in pockets, is revered. In nearly every place it remains, human guardians quickly dispatch any poachers or defilers, burying the bodies without remorse. Non-human life has become more valuable than human life.
Fossil fuels began peaking in 2030 in terms of total BTUs from all sources: oil, gas and coal. And while not crashing, they’ve unable to provide more, which exposed the ‘continuous growth’ model as being a cruelly-attractive mirage. Its handmaiden, debt-based money, was also revealed to be an artifact of the surplus energy from fossil fuels. Both models have failed.
As has retirement, a several-generation luxury never to be repeated again in human history. Everyone left alive has to work, if they want to eat.
With the loss of those fantasies, everything is now a difficult trade-off. Not surprising, many people are unable to cope with the consequences. Suicides are a leading cause of death, especially among those born during earlier and more abundant times.
Worst of all, food is now increasingly scarce due to a horrid combination of ruined soils and ever more frequent and destructive climate disruptions. Rains fall where they shouldn’t and fail increasingly to fall where they should. Or they fall too hard, and too fast. Summers with temperatures of over 50C baked crops compounding water shortages, with several years’ harvests lost entirely because the overnight temperatures did not cool sufficiently to allow for the open-air pollination of corn. Who knew?
How did we ever get to 9 billion people on Earth without considering that this moment might have arrived?
How did we allow ourselves to pretend that it wouldn’t?
Why did we let the fantasy of relocating to Mars capture such a broad swath of our imagination and focus? Sure, we put an outpost there for a few years in the 2020’s, but – guess what? – it turns out that Mars is a hostile planet to life. It’s utterly lacking in resources, it’s much farther from the sun than the Earth, and managing a high-tech existence there was a colossal struggle. Of course we should have realized that going in and not placed so much of our species’ odds on that hope. We spent hundreds of billions getting to Mars at the same time we were spending trillions to destroy Earth. What a horrible idea that was. In retrospect, it’s all so terribly obvious.
Another forlorn diversion was vertical farming, which posited that we’d just grow salad greens in container boxes. Of course, with some simple math and logic, we should have been able to realize that plants are calorie conversion machines, turning light energy into food energy. The idea that we were going to meaningfully replace the sun’s free and intense full-spectrum light with our own manufactured lighting, at scale and in sufficient quantities to meaningfully address the caloric needs of 9 billion people was…not very well thought through. Actually, in retrospect, that’s being too kind. We were deluding ourselves.
And so, out here in 2040, looking back, we humans have suddenly come to our collective moment of horrible realization. Because we could not face the idea that our specie’s pursuit of collective growth had a predictable end, we forgot to properly care for the one planet we have.
Now that life on Earth is dying, the regret comes pouring out. Oh, how much we’d give to once again be able to hear a cacophony of birds in the morning! Or to swim over a thriving coral reef! Or to boat over an ocean teeming with fishes, whales and sea birds. Instead, the waters are now blank, sterile and depressing.
Remorse and regret. How could we have been so utterly stupid? How could we not have rallied in response to the warning signs, the endless string of increasingly desperate red flashing warning lights any one of which could have — and should have — been sufficient to motivate us?
Oh, what we would give to get one more chance! To go back in time and do things differently, protecting and preserving the Earth’s treasures as if…as if we were deeply in love with all of them.
Our Last Chance
In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is given the chance to return to his present and get another shot at life. If the 2040 vision I’ve painted terrifies you on a fundamental level as it does me, just know that there’s still the chance to wake up and positively alter the course of events.
Yes, the trends are very bad, but they can be changed. As I am fond of saying, we already have all the knowledge and technology we need to be agents of regeneration and abundance instead of extraction and degeneration. We simply lack the right narrative to mobilize our society productively.
Go outside and rejoice in what nature has still to offer. Really see the next bird or mammal or insect you encounter. Each one is pure magic. Take a good hard look at the individual before you, not a robin, but that robin. Not a squirrel, but that squirrel. That bumblebee. Each is an individual, same as you. Each has a role, a life, and is busy making decisions and contributing to the story exactly how it is supposed to.
This world we have is the only one we’ll ever have. It’s the one we evolved on and to which our DNA blueprints are exquisitely crafted. And it’s not dying, it’s being killed. We might as well be honest about that and use the active verb.
Killed actively and on purpose, but also by negligence. We’re neglecting to notice what’s true: that humans are a part of, not apart from nature. We are one with the larger world. It’s time to wake up and live into that story. It’s not a new one, but something we forgot in our hasty failing efforts to escape its limits — limits that disappointed our fragile egos which wanted, needed, to be special and different.
Life ends, and life begins. There’s an evolutionary impulse underway that has given this brief moment of geological history both humans and elephants. We cannot know where evolution is going or why, but we can feel the potential of it all.
Elephants, as well as all of life, should be revered and cared for not because children’s books need real-life examples, or zoos need fresh breeding stock, or even because Kenya needs tourist dollars. But simply because they are here. With us. In this time.
A certain humility needs to be adopted along the lines of We simply don’t know what role the special and peculiar sentience of elephants is playing, so we’d better protect it. Because we don’t know. If we remove that species from the web of life, what cascade may we create?
A Call To Action
I could dredge up all the perilous ecological data I publish often on this site, noting the decline in virtually every species — with many being lost every day and many more on the brink. But I won’t.
There’s no need. You already know in your gut that something is very badly wrong in this story. Something even worse than killing the life on the planet, including our own.
No, what’s worse is that we can do better but we’re not. We can have immense empathy, and bond with both humans and non-humans alike. We are capable of dimly grasping our own role on this planet and yet we’re collectively continuing to act as if….we’ll live forever. If there are problems with that approach, we’re assuming we’ll figure them out as they arise.
But as Stephen Jenkinson pointed out, when the stakes are too high that leads to a horrible moment. To get serious about saving other species after they are already gone is a wildly immature idea.
But it is still in our power to avoid that horrible moment. That’s where the idea of a ‘movement’ comes in. Look, I have little clue about how to actually start a self-sustaining global movement, but I do suspect that it has to involve (1) the right idea at (2) the right time and (3) involve the right people.
We have to do this. I know the time is right because so many people are already deeply unhappy with suicide rates up 30%, opioid addictions and death skyrocketing, and levels of depression (more accurately termed demoralization in most cases) at never before seen levels.
Those are all expressions of people who have lost their will to engage with life, or even to continue living. That means a loss of meaning and purpose, a devastating loss.
To truly “save the planet” is to actually undertake the harder proposition of “saving ourselves.” The planet will be fine … but humans? Maybe not so much.
Changing any of this will begin with each of us as individuals. We have to become the change we wish to see. We have to shift the narrative away from the old bankrupt idea of infinite growth on a finite planet, or that humans are apart from (rather than a part of) Nature, and towards a better narrative that aligns better with the world as it actually is.
This is a tough sell, for sure. Ultimately, it requires us to find a way past our instinctual drive for comfort and more ‘stuff’. Waking up to the realities involved is not easy nor pain-free. It’s emotionally devastating at first. And who wants to go through that?
“Inattention to the world’s ecological state is well advised. Because attention to it mitigates against your happiness, contentment, and your sense of well-being.”
“Having a conscience now is a grief-soaked proposition”
― Stephen Jenkinson
I do, for one. Why? Because to do so is to pass through the tunnel that brings me back to living fully into the one life that I have. I’m here to live, to make a difference, and to help usher new ideas into the world. The alternative is to face a bitter end-of-life moment that was unavoidable in the first place.
What needs to happen is to somehow awaken the people of the world to the actual nature of the predicaments we face, recognize their inevitability, and go through the wrenching adjustments necessary to realign our collective narrative with the objective truths of our times.
In some ways I’m encouraged, because so many people seem to be waking up. I know this terrifies The Powers That Be, who so desperately want to cling to their authority at any and all costs, because I track their efforts towards shaping the narrative. There’s nothing subtle about the ways that Wikipedia constantly degrades and disparages the pages devoted to anti-war activists while grotesquely supporting the neocon and war party efforts and related sympathetic journalists.
Twitter and Facebook are constantly stifling various views while elevating those that fall under the umbrella of promoting business as usual and protecting the ideas of those already in power. In other words: more war, more unfairness, and maybe some barely-passable lip-service to the idea that maybe we should devote a percent or two of our resources towards rear-guard actions to protect the environment. None of which are actually effective, of course, or else they would be immediately marginalized as the work of terrorists or malcontents.
All of which is to say that any revolution of thought won’t be televised, as they once said., Perhaps in today’s age we should amend this to: The revolution won’t be posted to FB and then successfully re-Tweeted.
In other words, please don’t wait for this to appear on your radar before you take it seriously. It will only ever appear long after it’s far too late.
The revolution underway is already being conducted in places like our own site Peak Prosperity, as well as Charles Eisenstein’s, Charles Hugh Smith’s, Zerohedge, Jim Kunstler, and Craig Murray’s as well as countless others not named here. Each of these sites is committed to telling narratives that run counter to what the guardians in the MSM would like you to hear.
Each of these alternative websites is saying, in its own way, Hey the old way doesn’t even make sense anymore, is shot through with logical inconsistencies, and in many cases lacks even basic morality. Collectively, they’re offering an invitation to see things differently, and to begin acting differently.
Our challenge is to remain focused, to promote the new ideas, and to be the leaders that are needed in these changing and difficult times. Our adversaries are those peddling fantasies that serve only to pacify our growing inner discomfort as the world dies around us, as well as those who seek to diffuse, distort and decay the new messages either for corporate or political ends.
Our various social media platforms are a slithering mess of ever-changing algorithms (making it hard to know who you are or aren’t reaching with any given post), paid trolls, and bots programmed to deceive, slide, and/or derail any given conversation.
Which means we’ll need to be alert to those tactics and find other ways of remaining in touch. You’ll need to trust your own instincts, and avoid the numerous and sophisticated ways that we are being made to feel powerless, isolated, and even a bit crazy for thinking the things we do.
My personal strategy is to (severely) limit my time on Facebook, use Twitter only for data and never opinions, and then comment at sites like Peak Prosperity where the moderation is heavy and bots and trolls are quickly booted.
This movement will consist of good people taking right action. People who are willing to lead because they know it falls to them and they are not afraid to stand out and be different for a while. People who can read the data and know that it is correct because they can feel it in their bones.
The time for infinite growth is over. It’s increasingly obvious that the benefits of pursuing growth have nosed over, and that the human rocket is now pointed towards the Earth.
We still have time to right this ship, but it’s going to take heroic efforts by a lot of people. We need to be willing to give much and possibly lose even more. However, it won’t be futile sacrifice, because this is just how things are sometimes. You were born here and now, into these times, and your gifts are desperately needed.
We need each other. And you know what? Along they way we may just discover unity, purpose, meaning and our true individual gifts to bring forth.
My personal invitation is to support the mission of Peak Prosperity (“Creating a World Worth Inheriting”) by becoming an active premium subscriber so that Adam and I can continue to bring these messages to the world, along with promising models for a sustainable future. If not that, then please use your time and money to support others working in these areas, not least of which would be the important works of the individuals writing the blogs listed above.
It’s only by facing the true nature of our predicaments that we can avoid a truly horrible future moment of deep and profound regret.
Time still remains, but it is running short.
We are open to any and all ideas about how to build, join or support a movement of like-minded people who are ready and able to shuck the old conventions and start anew which begins by facing the data as we know it today.
None of the former splitting/sorting functions of old apply here. So please don’t offer up one political party over the other, or any one country or system as being better, or ways we might vote new and better scoundrels into office, or tweaks to the existing exponential debt-based fiat money system that might extend things a bit longer. None of those hold any merit.
We need a new narrative and even if it cannot lay claim to “the truth” it cannot be based on obvious falsehoods. How do we create that new narrative in a way that it can be shared broadly? What needs to be done? Who should be involved?
Perhaps nothing needs doing, and this will all unfold of its own accord when its ready, but for those with an active “do” gene, like us, there are things to be done and efforts to be made.
So let’s get going. Either we do this on our own terms now, or we all face the horror of profound regret later.
The really good news? If we do this right, we reclaim our lives, our sense of meaning, our connection to each other and the sacred, and we fulfill our potential as creative stewards of planet Earth.