Personal death, the great mystics tell us, is always on our minds, even if buried deep in the psyche. If you think otherwise, notice your response the next time you're crossing the street, intently talking on your cell, when a bus suddenly bears down on you at 60 mph.
Human-caused climate change is just such a bus.
This year saw 65 percent of the nation gripped by drought, record western wildfires, more than 26,000 heat records shattered, the U.S. corn crop withered, herds of cattle slaughtered for lack of water. 2011 saw the record Mississippi River and Midwest floods, and Texas drought. 2010 saw Russia's wildfires and Pakistan's floods. This happened with just 1 degree Fahrenheit global warming over the 20th century. The horrific impacts of 9 degrees warming - likely by 2100 on our current course - is unimaginable.
Clearly, the potential demise of our civilization, our species, of hundreds of thousands of other species, of the world of tigers and maple trees and temperate weather, is under way. It is equally on all our minds at all times, and yet buried as deep down as we can bury it.
The denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance being displayed by everyone - from politicians to pundits to parents, plumbers and poets - is indicative of this now innate but forbidden knowledge.
For those of us who are activists and journalists, who do bring it to the surface, we hold out the irrational bargaining chip of carbon taxes, solar power or better light bulbs, as if these elixirs will save us. In so doing, we invoke the denial and wrath of the right-wing pundits and politicians who irrationally insist our collapsing global ecosystems are a hoax perpetrated by Al Gore and the UN to gain world domination. None of us is bad or evil in our assertions; rather, we all stand at different stages of the grieving process.
This year's record Arctic meltdown - ignored by the media and presidential candidates - likely sounded a death knell for all we hold dear: our world, country, community, our families, ourselves. It is clear that our well-meaning scientists got it wrong with their models. The extreme weather that wasn't supposed to happen until after 2050, the Arctic meltdown that wasn't supposed to begin until after 2070, the Greenland and Western Antarctic Ice Sheet meltdown that wasn't to begin until after 2100, are all under way now.
The rate of damaging global change is turning exponential, even as the rate at which the world burns fossil fuels rises. Like a chain smoker, diagnosed with terminal cancer, we can't stop.
Those alive in 2100 will likely be living on a very different, hostile planet. Monster heat waves, droughts, deluges, sea level rise, die-off of fisheries and forests, destruction of industrial agriculture, water shortages, famine, plague, war ... all likely await those of us who live into the 2020s, 2030s and beyond.
So where do we begin? What do we do?
The best and healthiest response may be surrender. (This does not mean inaction!) We are personally powerless to stop this terrible thing from happening. Though hard to swallow, surrender is the only means to serenity and sanity.
Of course, this will be hard. Few of us have surrendered to the inevitability of our own deaths - I, for one, have not. Surrendering to the death of civilization, and possibly humanity and much of life on earth, comes even harder. But it is the only way to avoid the bitterness and desolation that await otherwise.
How should we act from within surrender? As mystics tell us, by preparing for a good death with a good life.
This means embracing love instead of hate, peace instead of war, joy instead of despair. It means giving up selfish separateness for selfless unity with the planet and all living beings. It means surrender to service over personal gain.
The great spiritual teachers of every tradition tell us: We, personally, are transitory. This world is transitory. All this will pass. To avoid the pain and suffering at such a great loss, the only solution is to live fully into the present moment, to surrender and bless it all.
For today, we can be bigger and better people than we were yesterday. Change the light bulbs for sure. Change the world to be a better place, too. But also, try to change your life to be full of hope, love, meaning, charity, peace and equanimity in the face of all the possibilities to come.
Glenn Scherer is editor of Blue Ridge Press and a student of Patanjali's yoga, and lives in Montpelier, Vt. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.