The Psychology of the End of the World

Mankind has now fouled its global nest with at least a dozen existential threats, only one of which is climate change. Energy shortages are one pending crisis; economies run on it, but if we could magically tap unlimited energy from the cosmos, we could use it to do ourselves in anyway. The human mind appears incapable of assimilating the gravity of this situation from a mass of detail. Minds need to “compress” scattered information into a few icons on which we can act. We need a new, enlightened relationship with nature.

The few people who recognize the deep gravity of this situation are pessimistic. An extreme is that all life on earth is doomed. Optimism is that most of humanity can survive – if – we can dramatically shift from current ways of life, but for most of us, imbued with doctrines of expansionary economics, that’s the end of the world we know. We block our minds from it, not wanting to sink into depression. You have to have hope – in technology, money – in any magic that will keep our way of life alive. So most environmental initiatives are tokenism. 

The Compression Institute is engaged in an experiment called Compression Thinking, where Compression refers both to us squeezing the life out of nature, and to us squeezing our footprints of consumption to let it regenerate. Can we reframe our problems outside the patterns of thought and the habits of life in which we are stuck? There are four guidelines:

  1. Earth is Finite. So are all resources in it and capacities of it. They limit what we can do. 
  2. Symbiotic Thinking: Systems thinking that factors nature into all decisions of consequence. Examine what we really do, unclouded by financial representations of it.
  3. Organize for Learning: Doing the right things is top priority. Form learning groups. 
  4. Quality Over Quantity, Always. Live well using far, far less. Make frugality a virtue. 

Mankind has never made a transformation of this scope before, much less in only a few years. Most of us learn by doing, not by “abstract philosophy.” What to do is somewhat known. Missing is motivation to change. Is this psychologically possible? If so how? 

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