Saturday, January 30, 2016


The following is the rough draft of the last section of my upcoming third book.

So, here we are in the twenty-first century.  We are not a generation born wild and free, running around naked in lush tropical rainforests, nibbling on fruit, nuts, and grubs.  We inherited an age of challenges, the result of a long string of risky experiments.  Negative consequences have piled up over the centuries, and we now stand in the dark shadow of a mountain of predicaments.

Humans are not cursed with defective genes, but we have succeeded in creating a highly unsustainable way of living and thinking — a defective culture.  The clock is running out on this troublesome experiment.  It would be wise to acknowledge this, and mindfully explore saner ways of living and thinking.

Like all other animals, humans focus their attention on the here and now, the immediate vicinity.  Many animals are capable of foresight.  Some know that panthers hunt at night, so they sleep in the trees.  With regard to the manmade realm of techno-innovation, foresight is largely impossible.  Nobody could have imagined the enormous consequences of metal making, fossil energy, or the domestication of plants and animals.  A few wild cultures still live sustainably with barely any technology.

Low impact cultures do not believe in human superiority.  They do not suffer from a persistent itch to hoard personal property.  They have exactly what they need.  They do not control and exploit the ecosystem, they adapt to it.  They have time-proven cultures in which everyone practices voluntary self-restraint.  In this manner, they could enjoy extended periods of real sustainability, living in a healthy wild ecosystem.

High impact cultures, by definition, cannot have a long-term future.  In their spooky fantasies, the primary goal is to pursue economic growth, by any means necessary, for as long as possible, without regard for the generations yet to come.  Nothing is more important than perpetual growth, at any cost.  This is the dominant paradigm in consumer societies, where it is perceived to be perfectly normal and intelligent.

But deviants on the fringe, who enjoy an amazing ability to recognize the obvious, warn us that normal is insane.  For revealing this inconvenient truth, they are called doomers.  But the consumer hordes, who are enthusiastic lifelong participants in the most destructive culture in human history, are the true champions of doom.

Consumers are annoyed by the truth tellers, and denounce them for their negativity, but it’s actually the other way around.  Sending tons and tons of waste to landfills, via a lifetime of recreational shopping, in an effort to gain social status, is a heartbreaking tragedy.  It’s a path of ferocious negativity.

The truth-telling deviants are not doomers, they are simply more present in reality.  For them, the foolishness in our culture becomes less invisible.  Being present in reality, in the fullness of the darkness, puts them in a far better position to think clearly and make wise decisions.  They become less vulnerable to peer pressure.  They become less willing to mindlessly do what a mindless society expects of them.

In the process of healing from acute ignorance, you cross a painful threshold.  One day, you realize that the consumer fantasyland has little relationship with reality.  Big storms are coming, and the future will not be a prosperous and pleasurable joyride.  This realization hurts.

When this occurs, despair is an appropriate response.  It’s OK to grieve for the loss of a major long-held illusion.  At the same time, it’s also appropriate to celebrate your mind-expanding awakening, your successful return from the realm of the living dead.  Despair is like a hangover, a painful headache resulting from an unhealthy binge.  It’s a normal temporary experience on the long journey to growth and healing.

The consumers scream, “We can’t go back,” and that’s true.  We also cannot indefinitely remain on our current dead-end path.  John Trudell, the Santee Sioux activist, summed it up nicely.  “There is no old way, no new way.  There is a way of life.  We must live in balance with the Earth.  We must do it.  We have no choice.”

Eight words precisely describe the one and only sustainable destination, “We must live in balance with the Earth.”  That sacred destination has never been farther from where we now stand.  So, what should animals with legendary big brains be doing?  Obviously, we need to change how we think and live.

At the moment, consumer society feels little or no desire to question its mode of living and thinking.  Many have chugged the Kool-Aid of the techno-wizards, and have a blind faith in the wondrous solutions promised by clever experts.  Many others have little or no understanding of reality, because they suffer from ignorance, or limited ability to think.  Still others can sense the growing darkness, but are paralyzed with fear and powerlessness, and block out the yucky feelings with false hope.

Nothing can stop the coming storms of change, all paths lead to turbulence.  You can’t save the world.  You can’t fix everything, but you can use your gifts, and do what you can to confront ignorance, protect your ecosystem, and lessen the long-term damage.  There are infinite opportunities for doing beneficial work.

It’s time for unlearning, identifying the silly nonsense we’ve absorbed over the years, and hurling it overboard.  It’s time for learning, continuing our exploration of reality.  It’s time for communicating, helping each other learn.  It’s time to get outdoors, without electronic distractions, and develop an intimate relationship with the planet of our birth.  It’s time to grow and heal.

We are living in the most momentous century in the entire human experience.  It will be a time of immense learning and awakening.  As our glorious house of cards disintegrates, we will experience a beautiful die-off — countless idiotic myths, fantasies, and illusions will lose their hypnotic power, tumble into the tar pits, and never again entrance us.

It will be a century of huge lessons, an era of tremendous enlightenment.  No, climate change was not a hoax!  Yes, there really are limits!  Concepts like carrying capacity and overshoot will become well understood by any who survive.  The powerful storms of the Great Healing will inspire a great tide of questioning, critical thinking, and clear understanding.

No matter what we do, the Great Healing will eliminate a number of key predicaments, even if we don’t change our ways.  Whether or not we get serious about rapid population reduction, the current population bubble will become an ex-predicament.  Finite resources will certainly strangle the mass hysteria of consumer mania.  As we move beyond the era of climate stability, every ecosystem will be hammered by big changes.  The consumer lifestyle will no longer be an option.

Big Mama Nature has little tolerance for overshoot.  One way or another, sooner or later, some form of balance will be restored, with or without us.  But if we summon our power, and strive to live with responsibility, we may be able to prevent some destruction.  It’s essential to understand the mistakes that got us into this mess, so we will not be tempted to repeat them.  Learn!  Think!  Heal!


Thom Hawkins said...

From "Could life by its very nature threaten its own existence?
According to The Medea Hypothesis, it does. Peter Ward demonstrates that all but one of the mass extinctions that have struck Earth were caused by life itself. He looks at our planet's history in a new way, revealing an Earth that is witnessing an alarming decline of diversity and biomass--a decline brought on by life's own "biocidal" tendencies. And the Medea hypothesis applies not just to our planet--its dire prognosis extends to all potential life in the universe. Yet life on Earth doesn't have to be lethal. Ward shows why, but warns that our time is running out."
Rick,I haven't read the book yet (I plan to) and it gets a lot of criticism, but at this moment I'm inclined to give him his point. If he is correct, perhaps we are just fulfilling our dark destiny and only an isolated, culturally liberated few may be able to transcend it. I don't see the mass of humans giving up their techno-wizard fantasies of salvation.

What Is Sustainable said...

Hi Thom! I agree. Sudden universal mass enlightenment is not going to happen. Industrial civilization is already impaled on the iceberg and taking on water. I’m concerned that there is almost universal ignorance about how we got into that mess. So, I’m putting messages in bottles. Maybe this will be useful, maybe not. Lots of people are reading my blog. There are people who are interested in learning.

Amarnath said...

Your advice is well taken.
After 9/11 our only son (our part in reducing human population) asked about life. I told him that life might end anytime, but no preparation is needed as there is none. He can only prepare for a possible long life. In the same way, if the collapse is sudden and complete, very few people can handle it. We can be ready only if it is partial and well-spaced. I can visualize a life I had in a small village in India around 1950 consuming very little energy. Most Americans can adjust to it and find it interesting and fulfilling.

redslider said...

A statement of faith I share. Though I don't share the part that the changes we need for a sane, healthy, flourishing world are a foregone conclusion. A ruthless World Inc. is very capable of adapting to the changes that Nature will visit on us, and of structuring what's left to suit its own privileged classes and inhuman ambitions. The battle isn't over what can be done about nature, it's about what the human system that operates within that nature looks like. That part is outside the scope of nature to construct. It is left for us to define and manifest.


Unknown said...

Thank you for the article. I've written many articles on climate change/'true' sustainability for Huffington Post and Common Dreams. I'm currently working on a series of essays - not sure if they are for publication - and I'd love to share the first one with you; kindred spirits, I have a feeling. If you'd like to take a look please email me at and I'll send it along.

David Goldstein

What Is Sustainable said...

Venkataraman Amarnath

I agree that the coming decades will be exciting and challenging. Folks in small rural villages are likely to do better than the millions in Kolkata, Mumbai, or Los Angeles. We’ll probably have more surprises than empty fuel tanks and a dead grid. Will the village be submerged by rising sea levels? Can the traditional crops survive in a much warmer climate? Will major rivers go dry in summer, for lack of snow pack in the mountains? Will the underground aquifers run dry? What sort of new diseases will a warmer climate bring? Don’t worry, be happy! Enjoy it while you can.

What Is Sustainable said...


I think that the changes needed must result in a condition similar to: “We must live in balance with the Earth.” That will vary from place to place. The changes that are coming are impossible to predict, so we can’t plan for them ahead of time.

I’m not offering solutions here. I’m trying to help people learn, because most people are not very aware of how close we are getting to dangerous curves in the path. Most people do not understand the centuries long sequence of mistakes that have put us in such danger. That’s important information, so I’m putting messages in bottles.

I don’t think that World Inc. will be so powerful and secure as we move beyond the cheap energy bubble, and the era perpetual economic growth. They need vast amounts of energy to control large mobs and complex processes. Climate change will almost certainly pull the rug out from under the ecosystems we live in. Food crises are very likely to make a bloated population grumpy, irritable, and less respectful of authority.

Jon said...

Hey dude

I been following your blog for like.. a year?

I came across you by looking up Miles Olson's book unlearn rewild on amazon and your book popped up

Anyway I just wanted to ask if you knew about Daniel Suelo? He has a blog at

I just found him recently myself, like a month ago....

reading his stuff and reading yours.... that's some good reading!

Sorry if this seems too messy

take care, looking forward to your thoughts

Jon said...

i think we really missed a chance to talk with john trudell

i'm sure we could've discussed this matter in some shape or form with him...

ah... these things happen

it just feels great to be given this opportunity to exchange ideas with you and others

What Is Sustainable said...

Hi Jon!

Yes, I read The Man Who Quit Money in December. Suelo is an interesting being, and a wounded being. I was amazed that he was so rare, because of the fact that he took the teachings of Jesus literally — give away your stuff and live in the moment, with an open heart.

I had years of headaches trying to resolve the huge gap between the venerable teachings and the beliefs and behaviors of today’s church folks.

Trudell has always fascinated me. If you use the Search box on this blog, there are a couple Trudell posts. Have you seen Trudell, the documentary, on Youtube?

Jon said...

I saw it listed but didn't watch it, only seen talks of his.

I think the native americans followed those teachings to some extent without being exposed to a saviour or religious figure.

Unless we can count the mythological figures such as white Buffalo calf woman.

Well I guess this would be the same thing as Jesus when I think about it.

I remember the Iroquois league had something like this with the Peacemaker when they started to become more civilized themselves.

What Is Sustainable said...

The Trudell documentary is worth an hour of your life, if you are interested in him. The CD version has additional material.

The thing I like about Native Americans is that their sacred beings were more often non-human animals. Humans were often the new creatures, who needed to learn from the older and wiser animals.

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What Is Sustainable said...

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