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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.