My own mortality is too much in my face these days. I feel good, look normal after completing chemotherapy, but I'm a breast cancer survivor and as such am treated as if I have a sword hanging over my head. Just when I think I'm dealing with it fine, some new squiggle on a read-out makes some doctor nervous, and my fear of dying too soon rears again. I've had a couple of these rather minor scares this summer, no fun. All remains well but my mental state can go negative.
Meanwhile, there's the state of the political world, and worse yet, the health of the planet on which we live. The more I read, the worse my fears. Dying before my time would be bad enough, but to die young (or old) in the shadow of the eminent collapse of human society due to environmental degradation - this would be far, far worse. Civilizations come and go - I'm a Lebanese, I grew up scrambling amongst Roman and Phoenician ruins. Alexander, Ramses II, and Jesus all passed through my hometown - where are they now? Great cultures fall, but the birds and fish live on. Our society is the first in history that may be able to exterminate species on a massive scale. If our culture dies out, will there be any forests or wild creatures left in our wake?
So when Jared Diamond's Collapse came up in my library queue last week, I wondered whether I should get it. Maybe the book would only fuel my apocalyptic musings, making me cranky and depressed. I got it anyway.
In the last chapter and the "Further Reading" section of Collapse, Diamond tells us why he sees reasons for hope, and what individuals can do. In this post I'll summarize the reasons for hope, splitting the action items into a separate entry.
Diamond's reason #1"
"We are not beset by insoluble problems...Because we are the cause of our environmental problems, we are the ones in control of them, and we can choose or not choose to stop causing them and start solving them. ... We don't need new technologies to solve our problems; while new technologies can make some contribution, for the most part we 'just' need the political will to apply solutions already available." (p. 521)
Reason for hope #2
"the increasing diffusion of environmental thinking among the public around the world" (p. 522)
Diamond says we need to practice long term thinking and make painful decisions about our core values. He gives examples of governments, societies and corporations that have done both these things in order to survive. Their examples give him reason for hope #3. We did it before, we can do it again. (pp. 523-24)
Reason for hope #4: the world is interconnected.
"We have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of distant peoples and past peoples. That's an opportunity that no past society enjoyed to such a degree. My hope in writing (Collapse) has been that enough people will choose to profit from that opportunity to make a difference." (p. 525)
Which is also why I summarize Diamond's comments here. If I can be a part of the solution, then any number of days, many or few, will be enough for me. I will go to my end (let's hope 50 years from now) feeling that my life had some real purpose. All I can do is pass along what makes sense to me.