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May 17, 2014
Is it Time to Consider Planetary Hospice?
    by Robert Kropp

Environmental activist Zhiwa Woodbury concludes that climate change will lead to the extinction of life on our planet, and recommends hospice for the entire human race based on the stages of grief of Kubler-Ross. First of a two-part series.

The worst-case scenarios involving climate change are dire indeed, and can no longer be considered potential phenomena that we can slough off onto the next generation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fifth Assessment Report, states that the effects are already upon us, a viewpoint seconded by the Third National Climate Assessment of the US Global Change Research Program.

Scientists further warn of a multiplying effect of some of the worst features of climate change, especially the release of massive amounts of methane from melting Arctic ice and thawing permafrost. We are perilously close to a tipping point after which there is no escaping an onslaught of climate-related effects that will threaten the existence of every living species left on earth; according to the most dire warnings, in fact, we may have already passed the tipping point, as the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions we release today serve to lock in the worst effects of climate change for decades to come.

I have nothing but the deepest respect for the many sustainable investors who have engaged with corporations on the issue of climate change for so many years now that they can rightly be counted among the canaries in the coal mine. Their insistence upon justice is seen in their adamant insistence that companies not only acknowledge their responsibilities but do something concrete about it; their empathy is illustrated by their willingness to continue engagement even while the fossil fuel industry maintains profitability by using its treasuries to fund disinformation.

With the reality of climate change no longer in doubt, it may well be that even the boardrooms of fossil fuel companies are beginning to grow alarmed at the effects of their operations. I am hopeful that the continuing engagement of sustainable investors leads to every company with a GHG inventory agreeing to reductions that are in line with the recommendations of scientists.

But what if, as the most dire predictions warn, it is already too late?

“In an alarming 2007 report from the IPCC, normally staid scientists warned that world governments had eight years to take ‘drastic actions’ in order to avoid catastrophic climate change,” environmental activist Zhiwa Woodbury writes in a thoughtful and thought-provoking paper entitled Planetary Hospice: Rebirthing Planet Earth.

However, “Our world political leaders give no indication whatsoever that they intend to rein in the giant fossil fuel corporations that fund their campaigns and are currently sowing the seeds of our collective demise,” Woodbury continues. “Remarkably, politicians are so detached from reality as to view the melting of arctic sea ice as an ‘opportunity’ to go after even more petrochemical reserves, while the five largest corporations in the world mercilessly exploit the Canadian tar sands - the largest industrial project in the history of civilization mining the dirtiest carbon fuels in existence.”

“Our situation is, regrettably, terminal,” Woodbury writes, basing his conclusion on the self-reinforcing effects of the release of methane into an already warming atmosphere.

In addition to being an attorney and an environmental activist, Woodbury is a Buddhist, and the greater part of his paper addresses what is to be done should life on earth descend into chaos. Do we devolve into bands of survivalists and/or believers in apocalyptic visions, or do we follow the tenets of the hospice movement and treat death as a noble inevitability of life? Applying the stages of grief developed by Kubler-Ross, Woodbury offers a stirring rationale for the latter, and calls upon the mental health profession to embrace the concept of ecopsychology.

“If the mental health profession does not actively advocate for a more sane response to the stages of dying,” he warns, “then the grieving process will continue to be repressed and will most assuredly surface in exactly this kind of pathological behavioral reactivity.”

Woodbury ends his paper on a hopeful note, choosing to belief that catastrophic climate change will, in the end, bring out the best in human nature. “Whatever story we tell ourselves about the Great Dying,” he writes, “it must include a powerful redemptive component along the lines of resurrection.”

Or, as the the science journalist Dianne Dumanoski wrote in her 2009 book The End of the Long Summer, “That we have already crossed some ominous thresholds, however, does not mean that it is too late to do anything at all. We humans are at a critical juncture – an historical moment that requires courage and sober realism.”

I will continue to applaud, as I have always done, the efforts of sustainable investors to persuade corporations and the capital markets to take responsibility for addressing the effects of climate change. Yet, while progress has been made, the efforts of corporations and the capital markets have not nearly been enough. Meditating upon what is to be done has brought me to the consideration of points of view far removed from a just reformation of capitalism. At the most profound level, what seems necessary to me is an awakening of the human spirit to its greatest potential.

Whether or not Zhiwa Woodbury turns out to have been correct in diagnosing our situation as terminal, his paper constitutes an important aspect in how humanity is to deal with what it has done to our planet.

Robert Kropp can be contacted at


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