What Qualities Do the Predicaments We Face Possess?

The view from Sunset Rock near Sparta, Tennessee

I'd like to address something which has been on my mind quite a bit recently. How we view things or how we judge things has a lot to do with how we see life (our worldview) and the circumstances surrounding it. I was having a conversation with my mom and she asked me something rather interesting. She wanted to know if I thought that the topics I spend so much time dealing with causes me to feel down "because they are so negative." I feel compelled to dive into this with zeal because I think that there are probably MANY of us who likewise see things from a different angle than society in general. 

First things first; I don't necessarily see collapse, climate change, energy and resource decline, and/or extinction as being bad or negative. They certainly have some bad qualities and negative effects. I cannot deny the grief I have felt as a result of learning that ecological overshoot has many serious symptom predicaments which I learned about mostly BEFORE I learned about overshoot itself. However, as part of the learning process, I was required to view the situation in geologic timescales and from nature's perspective - and these change the viewpoint or perspective from an anthropocentric, human-focused worldview to a more natural biospheric-based perspective. Nature doesn't care about our judgements or opinions. So, while I cannot deny the grief I have experienced, I also cannot label all these predicaments as being "bad" either. This is simply nature's way of evolution. Only humans give such hubristic judgements about these predicaments, based on our perception of loss. We very rarely ever stop to consider how nature (or other organisms) sees these things or whether we are suffering from tunnel vision and only seeing things through our own lens and not seeing the larger picture (seeing the forest through the trees). Once we take ourselves out of the self-centered, anthropocentric perspective and begin looking at the scenario from above and getting a bird's-eye view of the situation or looking into the scenario from a deep-time geologic perspective, the silly labels we often associate with climate change, energy and resource decline, and pollution loading tend to fall by the wayside. 

I wrote a similar article about seeing things from a different perspective with The Cycle of Life. When one first starts learning about ecological overshoot and the symptom predicaments which stem from it, it is almost impossible not to experience grief and depression from the loss of what William Catton, Jr. calls the "age of exuberance." If one sees this only from a human perspective, then yes, his or her opinion will be negative in nature. However, if one zooms out and begins to see the same scenario from a different perspective, it becomes clear that this was always the way it was going to turn out. Comprehending that the scenario is a predicament with an outcome and not a problem with a solution is key to realizing this simple but effective means of visualizing the scenario from a different perspective. We are so used to thinking that we have some sort of agency or ability to change things or solve the predicament(s) that we entirely ignore our lack of agency.

Speaking of the infamous "we," how often have you seen something where one complains that "if we just started now" or "if we all worked together" or "if we all loved one another" that "we" could somehow magically "solve" these predicaments? These types of statements expose the trouble once one understands our lack of agency. First of all, who and/or what exactly is "we"? How would one attain an ability to get everyone to participate and to get everyone to follow the same behaviors? Obviously, these are rhetorical questions, but the point is that there is a reason that these predicaments are predicaments and not problems. FACT: It is because they don't have solutions. FACT: It is because they have outcomes. In other words, no amount of ingenuity, no amount of technology, and no amount of human intelligence, togetherness, love, or even if we all just started now can solve these predicaments. The facts won't change just because we want them to. Nature works according to NATURE'S laws, not according to our desires. Nature sees ALL life from the same lens and does not see us as being any more special than any other species. 

So, at the end of the day, how can I realistically judge the predicaments we face as "bad" or "negative"? Sure, they have bad qualities and negative connotations, but likewise they also have good and positive ones as well! They also have neutral qualities where one cannot assign a positive or negative value, making the whole idea of these predicaments being good or bad a false dichotomy for all practical purposes. Now, I'm certain that this probably goes much further than any type of answer my mom was looking for, but the conversation which ensued might have really been an eye-opener for her.  

Likewise, if we simply change our perception of the situation we find ourselves in and expand our view to see the entire biosphere instead of just our part in it, we can begin to see that this is the evolution of what happens every time a species goes into overshoot. Species which overtake their environment (think of yeast in a bottle of sugar water or fruit juice) often cause their own demise through the pollution loading caused by their own waste products. Most species are limited in number by natural negative feedbacks which keep their numbers in balance with the resources available (habitat). Humans have been very clever in figuring out how to utilize technology to reduce or remove these negative feedbacks. However, we were not wise enough to realize that our biosphere is finite and soon enough, the resources we became dependent upon will run out. We are no different than any other species in the fact that when habitat runs out, a die-off occurs. 

Understanding these "prime directives" in terms of these predicaments is key to accepting the simple fact that there is no real way out. We have no choice but to go through them. Collapse and die-off are inevitable, but we do still have the option of seeing the world around us from a different perspective. Who knows, it may even improve conditions for us while we're still here! More about this in my next article, The Illusion of Control.

Live Now!


  1. Another good one, Erik. It seems we walking, talking apes have painted ourselves into a corner from which we cannot escape. As I concluded in one of my own 'contemplations' with respect to the impending ecological bottleneck we've created for ourselves and that many hope to get through (primarily via some 'green/clean' energy-based transition):

    "On the other hand, the rest of the planet's species may be hoping for us not be successful in this endeavour given how pre/history suggests for the last ten or so millennia pockets of humanity keep following this same suicidal path...only with the help of a one-time cache of relatively easy-to-access and readily-transportable energy we've encompassed the entire planet in this destructive tendency."

  2. Thanks again for an insightful and considered post Erik. When you mentioned that we have no choice but to go "through" the predicament, I was reminded of a piece I wrote a few months ago, titled "No Way Out, Only Through." When I went back to re-read it I noticed that I had referenced you in it. Are we experiencing synchronicity?? Here's a link https://www.rainbowjuice.org/2022/07/no-way-out-only-through.html

  3. Excellent post, Bruce. The ironic thing about predicaments is that even though one can explain what they are and that they only have outcomes and one must go through them, sooner or later I expect someone to ask, "Yeah, but what's the solution?" Many people just cannot seem to get out of thinking about every situation as a problem with an answer or solution.


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