Common cliché: There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Modified common cliché: The only certainties in life (after birth) are change, taxes, and death.
Points of no return abound in life. Every choice is made at the expense of some other possible choice. In the case of most everyday choices, the consequences of one choice over another are almost always trivial, but occasionally even a trivial, almost unconscious choice may have drastic, even life or death, consequences. Everyone who has lived for some time discovers this. My wife’s life was once saved by turning her head to talk to me a split second before an exploding aerosol can struck her a glancing blow in the lower jaw. If she had not turned her head, the projectile would have ripped out the left side of her throat, and nothing could have saved her from rapidly bleeding out. She still bears the scar. Soldiers tell of deciding to step one place instead of another, and an instant later a comrade was killed by a chance bullet, an explosion, or a fragment of shell when he stepped where they had been. You undoubtedly can supply your own accounts of such decisions you or a loved one experienced.
Lately we have been hearing a chorus of increasingly alarmed voices decrying the whole world’s looming point of no return, prophesied within the next fifteen years or two decades at most. Impressive statistics compiled by impressive phalanxes of climatologists and environmental experts have been assembled in intimidating array to back up this disquieting new eschatology.[i]
I am not a climate-change sceptic; I believe in it absolutely. Climate change has existed since the earth began, whether mere thousands of years ago as the strictest Bible Creationists would have it, or billions of years ago, as the now generally accepted orthodoxy would have it. And, once more as both stories (and all those in between) would have it, climate change has sometimes been rapid and catastrophic. Just recently, convincing evidence for the Yucatan Comet strike that, we are told, brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, has been found. Such a massive strike certainly brought about shattering climate change in a hurry, with mass extinctions and changes in both flora and fauna in the seas and on land. Or, if we take the story of the Noahic Deluge as a catastrophic alternative agent, the changes it wrought would be at least equal in permanent, devastating results.
What I have difficulty with is the eschatological hyperbole we are being subjected to, or rather bombarded with, in regard to the degree of climate change we have seen over the last two centuries and the human causality of whatever these changes have been and may yet be.
In the post previous to the present one, I referred to a much more subtle but significant “point of no return” which we have perhaps already reached, or, more probably, are on the cusp of reaching. It involves the looming demise of the West as a culture, civilization, and society. Many have predicted this demise and if it becomes an historical fact, some centuries later historians will strive to decipher the causes of the collapse. Meanwhile, we who live in the midst of the West’s increasingly decadent cultural semi-chaos and political malaise and disease thrash about looking for sense, answers, and blameworthy villains. As Toynbee would ask, “Just who are the barbarians about to kick in the door and knock out the main support beams?”
As Toynbee and others have told us, if only we could hear them, we might just gain some more reasonable perspective by looking backwards. Instead we resort to ranting and raving about the latest interpretations of instrument readings from select times, places, and dates over the last two centuries while having no wider perspective (or choosing to ignore any that might be on offer) in which to assay them.
The real truth about points of no return is that they are also turning points and, in that sense, no different than so many other decisions, or non-decisions, which we miss by ignorance or choose to make, avoid, or ignore. Many decisions have led us to this sense of crisis, which is indeed based on a real crisis in our relationship to our planet’s physical environment.
We do have to choose, but if our choice to reform our approach to our planet’s global ecosystem is isolated from the even greater need to make better choices in even more critical domains, we are merely delaying the final ‘point of no return’. Ultimately, it not’s just “about the environment, stupid.” It’s about who and what we are, and why we are who and what we are.
It’s about facing the truth that it is not just ‘all about me/us’. Groping towards that truth, a growing movement is adopting a sort of mystical, spiritualized view of nature and the cosmos. But this still leads us into a blind alley, however titillated and tingling we may feel when we ‘get the vibes’. Deifying the cosmos, whether by pantheism or panentheism or even a sort of quasi-polytheism, still leaves us empty at the core. We’ve been there and done that. People still pursue this and get some spiritual ‘buzzes’ from doing it. But it does not really tell them who they are or why they are here in the first place. It just removes the critical issue by another layer, to another level. It may even enable the practitioner of that kind of spirituality to find some occasional sense of ‘connection’ to the core ‘energy of the universe’ or the universal soul, so to speak.
This kind of projection of inner hunger onto nature, however conceived, demonstrates that we cannot avoid searching for the deeper meaning of life and existence. But, in the final analysis, we can only search according to how we as beings experience the reality of the cosmos. We experience it as personal beings with individual consciousness—that is how we search and how we relate to it. It is always a person conducting the search, hungering for personal connection. It comes with an accompanying awareness that others are also searching, giving a sense of community and belonging which brings comfort and relieves the loneliness and aloneness.
In our normal experience of life and reality from birth to death, this sense of wanting and needing connection and communion never leaves us. Besides nourishment and shelter, there is nothing more essential to a newborn than being loved, being connected, belonging—first to mother, then to a family, then to a community. That is how everyone comes to know and be known, to become validated and valued, by knowing one is loved, wanted, needed, and valued as a person. It is so from the first breath of life. It is as great a need, even greater than physical food and drink. No one can flourish or become fully human without it.
Our climate ‘Point of No Return’ may be as serious as the propaganda is claiming. It’s hard to tell when all dissent is being shouted down and demonized. But the real turning point masqued by it, which may well be a real point of no return, is a moral, ethical, and spiritual crisis of the first magnitude.
It is about the spiritual destitution and void lying at the heart of the West and, ultimately, the whole human race.
[i] Eschatology – the study of the end times; “a branch of theology concerned with last things, e.g. death, judgment, heaven, hell.” Canadian Oxford Compact Dictionary, 2002. I deliberately use the term “eschatology” to refer to the current mounting alarmist crescendo regarding our planet’s fate. It is really a kind of ‘theology’ about creation without admitting its faith foundation in a sort of ‘Gaia’ connection with ‘Mother Earth.’ Earth is not about to explode, implode, or disappear, and life is not about to be driven to utter extinction by human action in burning fossil fuels, although the rhetoric increasingly being used, even by many serious academics who should know better, is creating this impression. There is a very real threat of the collapse of the present human civilization based on massive exploitation of certain of the planet’s resources. But that is a different issue. Unfortunately, the human capacity to overpower other species is creating a crisis of survival for them far beyond that of our own selfish wish to continue living like royalty with unlimited resources and no one to hold them responsible. But hyperbolic doomsdayism is not a helpful manner of dealing with this need to turn away from our terrible, immoral behaviour.