Rethink Activism in the Face of Catastrophic Biological Collapse

This is a hard piece to write, partly because we, too, are baffled. Environmental collapse, coupled with living in the sixth mass extinction, are new territory. We are still in the process of confronting the reality of living with the prospect of an unlivable planet. These thoughts emerge out of our sober forays into an uncertain future, searching for the right ways to live and serve in the present. The second reason for our reluctance to share this contemplation is anticipation of the grief, anger and fear it may trigger. We visit these chambers of the heart frequently, and know the challenges of deep feeling, particularly in a culture that denies feelings and pathologizes death.

As the unthinkable settles in our skin, the question of what to do follows closely. What is activism in the context of collapse? Professor of sustainability leadership and founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria (UK) Jem Bendell’s definition of collapse is useful: “the uneven ending of our current means of sustenance, shelter, security … and identity.” Bendell isn’t the first to warn of collapse — NASA warned of it five years ago. Anyone who takes in the realities of our times will need to find their own relationship to the hard truths about converging environmental, financial, political and social unraveling. There are billions on the planet who are already experiencing the full direct effects of this right now. Forty percent of the human population of the planet is already affected by water scarcity. Humans have annihilated 60 percent of all animal life on the planet since 1970.

Described here, borrowing from Bendell’s analysis, are three responses to imminent…

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