Battling Environmental Depression: Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

War montage

Battling Environmental Depression:

Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene


Many of my university students confess to feeling emotionally overwhelmed, pessimistic, even depressed, when the raw “facts of life” are revealed during our studies of the global environment. But they’re adults, so I don’t sugarcoat the condition of the natural world and future prospects for conserving the biological diversity of life on Earth. The future is grim.

We live in imaginary Pollyanna Land in the United States, much like the rest of the so-called developed world. We’re the biggest, the best, the brightest, the strongest, the most noble. We’re a shining city on a hill, a beacon of justice and morality, righting wrongs, fighting evil everywhere, and guiding the world to the promised land of unlimited growth, wealth, and opportunity.

When it comes to the natural environment and the natural world, we expect to have our cake and eat it too. We want cell phones, wall-size televisions, McMansions big enough to fit our egos, multiple cars and SUVs in the driveway, cheap gas, and discount shopping malls on every corner. Tasty food should be delivered within seconds of a drive-through order and packages dropped off by a flying drone delivery service.

We want to burn unlimited amounts of energy without consequence and vent or store wastes for millennia without accident. We expect technology to save the day and avert global environmental disaster at the last minute, just before we permanently flip the climate switch triggering the global blast furnace.

All we need is some Einstein-like scientist, or perhaps a college drop-out or bored teenager, to create the next multi-billion dollar industry and miracle technology to save the world – all the energy we want without all the carbon dioxide calories. And along the way, endangered species surely will be rescued from the brink of extinction and once again thrive.

But then, why worry anyway? Species go extinct. Mother Nature takes care of herself. Global warming is a scientific hoax and the world is just changing naturally. Nothing we can do about it. Tax cuts, deregulation, and free market capitalism will solve all problems. Relax. Sit back. Go shopping. Have a beer. All will be well in the rapturous end.

By the way, I also have a rather large bridge I’d like to sell you…..


Seeking Wisdom, Finding Courage 


Sorry to bust your bubble, but you’re an adult now. You need to know the real facts of life and I won’t apologize for trying to teach them to you when I get the chance. So stop the tears and quivering lip routine. Buck up little buttercup. Like it or not, you’re about to find yourself in the middle of a big fight.

Lean in, lean back, or run and hide. Your call. I’m not going to tell you what to think or what to do with your life. That’s not my job. It’s yours. But what I can do as we share our studies and thoughts about life on Earth is to expose you to wisdom and philosophy that may help prepare you for the difficult future ahead.

“The Facts of Life” about the condition of the natural world and the looming fate of the diverse and wonderous life it supports are not always pleasant to consider. Much life on Earth is in the process of dying. Given the difficult and painful subjects we cover, you might think I would just back off and give you some light-hearted, feel-good material when you conclude your advanced studies in conservation science. But you see, I actually hope you don’t conclude your studies. Ever.

Sure, I could entertain you with pictures of cute and cuddly-looking panda bears, polar bear cubs, and other wildlife. And maybe I could find enough inspirational material to buoy your spirits and make you feel good about the future world. After all, we do have some successes. We do have reason for hope in some areas. We are making some progress.

But overall, would I be doing you any favors if I glossed over the real facts of life on Earth? I don’t think so. And so, much like a drill sargeant, I’ve decided to do the mental equivalent of giving you a punch in the gut. I want to find out what kind of person you are. I want to know what’s deep down inside you. Is there fire in your belly and courage in your heart? Does wisdom grow in your eyes? More than anything, I want to know if we can count on you in the difficult fight ahead. Life depends on it.


So find a quiet place. Think. Concentrate. Feel.


Please read from The New York Times:

Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene




End Notes & Credits: 

More information on Roy Scranton, the author of the New York Times article, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene, can be found at Princeton University.


For More Information on the Anthropocene:

See the Photo Gallery at National Geographic: The Age of Man

See Wikipedia: Anthropocene


Online Classes, School of the Environment, Washington State University:

For those who are interested in taking online science classes and studying the types of ecology and environmental issues covered here in Nature @ WSU, you may contact the WSU Global Campus for information about:

Conservation Biology (Natrs 450 / 550) 3 cr. The science of conserving life on Earth. Dynamics of conserving biological diversity and threatened and endangered species. Junior-senior-graduate standing, next offering Spring Semester, 2015.

Restoration Ecology (Natrs 454) 3 cr., Ecological principles used to restore biological communities, ecological processes, and species on degraded landscapes. Interdisciplinary Capstone Science Course. Senior standing, next offering Fall Semester, 2015.

Environmental Assessment (Envr_Sci 444) 4 cr. Environmental impact statements and their national and state policy frameworks, methods of assessment, and team preparation of an impact statement.

The Science and Policy of Climate Change (Envr_Sci 285) 3 cr. The science of the climate system; the case for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the best policies to do so.

Earth’s History and Evolution (Geology 210) 4 cr. Introduction to Earth’s history and evolution through observations, data collection and analysis, readings, and writing exercises.

The Environment, Human Life, and Sustainabiltiy (Envr_Sci 101) 4 cr. Interactions between humans and their environment; multidisciplinary introduction to environmental concepts and concerns.


Photo Credits:

[Top Photo: War montage from the War on Terror. Source: Wikipedia. Photo by Poxnar; All images in the public domain and taken by the US Army/Navy.]

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