Managing Anxiety While Pondering “The End of The World” (My Chat with Dr. Guy McPherson)

**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer


Please do not proceed any further if you are having emotional difficulties at this time, or if you suspect learning about “end of the world” topics may lead to unmanageable emotional overwhelm in the future (TRIGGER WARNING).

On October 21, 2018, I had the opportunity to Skype chat with Dr. Guy McPherson, a conservation biologist who, at the time of our chat, foresees the near-term extinction of humans (ALL humans) by approximately 2026 due to abrupt climate change. Similar to another article I produced (Mental Health Reason Humans Destroy Themselves (and The Living Planet)), I recognize this article may come as a surprise for presentation on a blog about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Nonetheless, I believe there is mental health relevance and value to be found as you read through the article, START to FINISH.

I have been following Guy’s work with keen interest because of his extensive background in academia and teaching, but also because of his persistent efforts to synthesize reputable climate-related research and inform the general public about the science behind global warming and it’s various consequences. By all accounts, Guy is a highly trained/highly educated individual in his field of study and has the resume and skills to prove it. You can learn all about Guy’s background and evidence-based views regarding abrupt climate change and near-term extinction by accessing his blog, Nature Bats Last.

Even though many may find Guy’s work, message, and assertions disturbing, I remain interested. I believe these subjects have become highly relevant for all of us to consider and discuss since highly trained professionals are bringing them to our attention, but also because extremes in the climate system are regularly front-and-center in the news (e.g., fires, floods, thawing events, and extreme storm activity). Furthermore, the ongoing debates about the reality versus unreality of catastrophic climate change suggest that we have either become a highly confused species or, a highly deceptive species (both to ourselves and to each other). In my view, the healthy approach to take in any life situation is to face reality, however difficult that may be.

Dr. McPherson’s message about abrupt climate change and near-term extinction is multifaceted and best understood by watching one of his full-length presentations on YouTube and/or reviewing his lengthy essay at Nature Bats Last that “connects many of the dots of evidence.” The essay at Nature Bats Last is absolutely loaded with references to supporting documentation for every point made about environmental warming, as would be expected by someone of Dr. McPherson’s educational rank and research background, not to mention his own human concerns (to live instead of dying). That said, the crux of Dr. McPherson’s argument is that we are all inescapably trapped in a few environmentally damning paradox’s (or predicaments), as opposed to “problems” that may offer “solutions.”

One of these predicaments (according to my understanding) is rooted in two undeniable facts: Fact 1 – human civilization is a “heat engine” that – acting in tandem with the somewhat predictable and understandable processes of nature – increasingly undermines human habitat through emission of various greenhouse gases and ultimately overheating due to escalating “greenhouse effect,” and Fact 2 – if humans attempt to slow down or fail to maintain the activity of their civilization (in our case industrial civilization), then humans will lose habitat even faster because of overheating due to deactivation of the phenomenon known as “global dimming.” You can learn more about the greenhouse effect and global dimming by watching this video or accessing the resources noted above.

Therefore, no matter what humans choose (to continue industrial activity as per usual or reduce industrial activity), the end result is precisely the same – catastrophic overheating. This predicament is further reinforced by the fact that there is, as yet, no known large-scale technology to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or address the global dimming issue, both of which, it seems, need to be corrected simultaneously in order to save habitat for humans. As Dr. McPherson often states while explaining these predicaments in his presentations: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

During my Skype chat with Dr. McPherson, I asked him questions that I hoped would clarify my understanding of the science behind global warming and the conclusions he makes about the probability of near-term extinction. I wanted to get a sense of the ways he collates and synthesizes information, the ways he uses language, his character, and also if he was open to acknowledging possible limitations in his work and arguments. Beyond this, I wanted to get a sense of the possibilities and hope for a human future, if perhaps there might be any to be found. And finally, I wanted to learn what Dr. McPherson had learned about the emotional aspects of doing and sharing his work, including the natural emotional consequences of getting informed about near-term extinction, ongoing discussions about the likelihood of near-term extinction, and facing the realities of near-term extinction.

My general impression of Dr. McPherson is that he is a passionate pursuer of environmental truth regarding the ecological/biological status of our only life support system (the planet we all inhabit). He is also passionate about communicating ecological/biological truth to the best of his ability, which by all accounts seems to be higher than most others, although by his own admission remains imperfect and incomplete. Regardless, the confidence he exudes while making his arguments and “predictions” about the tenuousness of the human-life support system strikes me all at once as intriguing, startling, and slightly intimidating. In other words, he comes across as a person who thoroughly knows his stuff and has nothing in common with others in the world who may promote environmental fanaticism or misinformed/misguided fatalism.

Having described the message and this particular messenger of near-term extinction, as well as considering the validity of the message and messenger, I believe it makes perfect sense that anyone listening could easily become anxious and/or fearful. When a legitimate academic/scientist/researcher/educator comes along with such a profoundly frank message about unstoppable global warming ending in the extinction of all humans in the not-too-distant future, it’s as though you are being handed a death sentence or being informed of terminal illness. Inevitable questions then arise, such as “how do I face this apparent truth?”, or, “how do I think about this issue without becoming paralyzed with fear?”

No doubt, each and every person who takes a serious look at the current climate science coming from legitimate sources and messengers (such as Dr. Guy McPherson) are going to start experiencing the 5 stages of grief and loss as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. People will move in and out of the different stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as they grapple with the information, the facts, and the realities.

As I write this article I find myself floating between all 5 stages of grief, although my logical mind frequently leads me back to the same end-point (acceptance). I sometimes notice myself spending chunks of time in “bargaining”, believing that “there must be a way to come together as a species and save our only home and ourselves.” Sometimes I find myself in “anger” and then, for a moment, look forward to watching the climate change deniers being baffled, stunned, and astonished at the reality of catastrophic warming completely failing to support their lived paradigm of infinite growth and other faulty belief systems. The emotions associated with grief can be intense, but when faced with courage can be resolved and result in inner peace and full acceptance of reality as it is (at least that is my understanding).

Aside from the grief process, the way I believe is best to manage the anxiety and fear associated with “end of the world” topics is to train yourself to exist in the present moment. When you learn to live in the present moment, you find gratitude for each and every moment you have, and the anxiety and fear about what is predicted to happen becomes less relevant. Most of the time when people are struggling with anxiety of any kind, in relation to any aspect of life, it is usually because they have become carried away in thoughts that have zero bearing on present-moment reality (e.g., thinking at length about the polar ice-caps melting and everything that may happen thereafter). The only time it actually makes sense to be full of anxiety is when threatening things are actually happening. Most of the time threatening things are not happening, but regardless, the thoughts people fixate on and the various unnecessary thought tangents that stem from those fixations, fill their bodies full with anxiety anyway.

When you take some time to contemplate all that you have ever really had as a human, you end up discovering that it was only ever THIS ONE MOMENT. The past is gone and the future hasn’t happened yet. In this life you only ever have THIS ONE MOMENT and that is all. No one knows how many moments he or she will get to experience in his or her lifetime, which ultimately means THIS ONE MOMENT could at any moment be your last. Even so, people tend to fixate on the past and the future, as if they could re-live past moments and lay claim on future moments. Without understanding this truth about our lives, we can live in endless irrationality, emotionality, and mental illness misery.

Please do let this message about THIS ONE MOMENT sink in, because it really is the truth. Modern society continually functions in such a way as to pull us out of the present moment, and that may be part of the reason that humanity finds itself in so many of the predicaments that are taking place right now. Even so, this doesn’t mean that we have to remain “out of the moment” as we continue on with the rest of our lives. Perhaps the concept of THIS ONE MOMENT seems too simple to have value and help make human existence tolerable (even enjoyable), but nonetheless, it is true. I leave it to you to decide and discover.

There are many present moment/mindfulness practices that you can discover and start implementing immediately. You can find these practices through internet searches, on You Tube, and even right here at breakawaymhe.com (see steps 8 and 9 of 9-Steps to Mastering Borderline Personality Disorder). Living in the present moment on a regular basis doesn’t happen just because you want it to; you have to practice living in the present moment through practices intended for that purpose. After a short period of time and continually striving to practice, it will start to become second nature and you will experience a myriad of mental health benefits, including living free from unnecessary anxiety.

When you are truly working on understanding yourself and how to take care of your emotions and mental health, it doesn’t matter what is happening in life or what topics are being discussed (even “end of the world” topics). You can learn to work through fear emotions (and any other emotion) with confidence using mindfulness skills, but also other important skills available here at breakawaymhe.com and elsewhere. When you know that you can live in your body and with all of your emotions, you can develop the confidence to face the realities of life on earth, even up to and including the end of life on earth. It doesn’t even matter when life on earth ends, whether it be this year, next year, ten years, or more years. After all, all that any of us have ever had to enjoy was THIS ONE MOMENT, and that in itself has been amazing!

Peter

 

 

 

 

 

photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker 2015-10-28 fin via photopin (license)

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Managing Anxiety While Pondering
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by Joann on Managing Anxiety While Pondering
Managing Anxiety While Pondering the End of the World

I found the article very informative and has good advice for dealing with anxiety in difficult times.