ATHENS — Ironically, what is potentially most promising about our situation today is that the same circumstances that confront us with social collapse and possible extinction also conspire to present us with an unprecedented opportunity to finally get it right, to live the values-informed existence we have been searching for all along, and that we now require more than ever, as a condition of our very survival. As the Chinese ideograms for the word suggest, crisis is a time not only of great danger, but of singular opportunity, as well.
These words open the final chapter of my forthcoming book Accepting What Is: A Spiritual Revolution of Everyday Life in a Time of Societal Collapse.
But in light of the latest assessment by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the state of the climate, one might suggest that I consider what might be termed a more realistic outlook.
Do our present disastrous circumstances preclude the spiritual fortitude that I call for in this quote? Can we rise to the occasion of this unprecedented Hothouse Earth?
Nowhere is the need for extraordinary behavior more evident than in our response to the surging climate catastrophe that is at present overtaking - and potentially overwhelming - us.
If anything, the IPCC report only underscores what those of us who have been paying attention to the world outside of our Vermont bubble have been alarmed by in recent years, as the climate has relentlessly outstripped the predictions of scientists and their computers.
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Currently, 18 out of 31 planetary vital signs have hit tipping points.
Uncontrollable and deadly methane gas is released from the melting ice in the Arctic and Greenland.
The criminal loss in the Brazilian rain forest has transformed it from a vital carbon sink to a carbon source.
Climate refugees from Central America are inundating our southern border because of an interminable drought and catastrophic storms.
We have a growing possibility of a collapsing Gulf Stream, which threatens to trigger a massive decline in the temperatures in western Europe and northeastern North America that have previously been warmed by the currents.
The climate crisis has been brought closer to home this summer in the killer heat waves that continue to plague our neighbors in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia (as well as in other parts of the world), along with the unending wildfires and severe drought throughout the West.
Besides categorically confirming that climate change is human caused, the IPCC report makes clear that we are locked into at least 30 years of worsening climate impacts - extreme droughts, severe heat waves, and catastrophic downpours and flooding - no matter what we do.
As The New York Times put it, “Some other impacts will continue for far longer. The enormous ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica will continue to melt at least through the end of the century. Global sea level will continue to rise for at least 2,000 years.”
The report also found that some of the changes occurring are greater than they've ever been during previous periods of time - and that they are happening today more quickly than in the very recent past.
Again, The New York Times: “The rate of sea level rise has roughly doubled since 2006. Each of the past four decades have been successively warmer than the previous one. Heat waves on land have become significantly hotter since 1950 [...].”
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In light of all of this, what can be done? Is our situation hopeless? Or can we do something to save our sorry butts?
As Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), put the matter to CNN, the ”bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it's here.”
In the same cable news report, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the situation more bluntly as “a code red for humanity.”
The most optimistic scenario of the IPCC is that reaching “net zero” emissions could bring warming back slightly under 1.5 degrees Celsius in the second half of the century. But such an achievement would be an enormous and expensive undertaking, one that would also require a level of political will that most governments have so far been unable to demonstrate.
What is clear: At a minimum, we will face increasingly challenging times, fraught with the pain and suffering - times that we as a people have brought upon ourselves.
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To at least mitigate the direst consequences, we will have to do something radical about a political system that continues to lie comfortably in bed with the oil industry. We must finally become a government of, by, and for the people, not the corporate dollar.
To accomplish this, however, we're going to have to get real about ourselves and the way of life we've habituated ourselves to.
The religion of compulsive consumerism and me-first behavior must end, replaced with a practice of authentic presence, citizen empowerment, and acceptance of one another. Greed and ego are out; lovingkindness and selflessness are in.
The final sentences of the last chapter of my book read: As the man said back in the day, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Most of all, it's a very special time to be alive.
This is a moment of potential human transformation when we finally realize our spiritual birthright and become the life-valuing people we are intended to be.
It is the choice of no-choice.