‘Facing Extinction' is a continually evolving long-form essay written by former journalist and current dharma teacher Catherine Ingram. It was first published on her website in 2019 and is updated every month as new data emerges about the crises we face. The essay is available in both print and audio format, although these haven’t been updated since she originally published the essay three years ago.
As a journalist from 1982 to 1994, Ingram specialised in social and environmental issues, as did I at the beginning of my career almost a decade later.
We both wrote about global warming (the phrase we most used in those days). Ingram writes: “Because it seemed a far-off threat, we could intellectually discuss it without fear that it would affect our own lives in terribly significant ways. As time marched on, I began to awaken to how fast the climate was changing and how negative would be its impacts.”
This was almost 30 years ago now, and we’ve been barrelling along on the tragic trajectory ever since.
At the beginning of her essay, Ingram compares the impending extinction of our way or life, if not our species, with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. In other words, it’s not definite that we will die soon, but it is highly probable.
Then she explores the role of courage, the dangers of distraction and denial, and makes practical suggestions about how we can navigate our way through the inevitable social unrest that will result as catastrophic climate events become more frequent.
As Catherine writes: "Courage is often confused with stoicism, the stiff upper lip, bravado that masks fear. There is another kind of courage. It is the courage to live with a broken heart, to face fear and allow vulnerability, and it is the courage to keep loving what you love 'even though the world is gone'."
Later in the essay, Ingram sets us straight that there are no techno fixes and urges us to let go of the fantasy that green technology – or an escape path to Mars – will save us. She urges us to let go of our obsession with leaving a legacy and shift our focus to being tender with each other, especially as we all embark on experiencing anticipatory grief – that is, grief for what has yet to come (a concept I explored with counsellor Becky Aud-Jennison in episode 1 of Season 2
"To stay steady, you may be forced into a witnessing presence, vast enough to contain your grief," Ingram writes. "You may acclimate to living with grief without the assumption that it should or will dissipate. Despite this or because of it, you may notice a growing tendency to appreciate simple moments of connection and many small joys. And you may feel more awake than you have for a long time.
"Living with the grief of facing human extinction may be akin to how a person with a terminal diagnosis might experience his or her final phase, the awareness of death undeniable, and the magnificence of life ever more obvious."
The answer, in the end, is love. As she says, "What else is there to do now?"
This can be achieved in a number of ways, including:
- Finding your community (or creating one)
- Finding your calm
- Releasing dar visions of the future, and pacing your intake of frightening news
- Being of service
- Being grateful
- Giving up the fight with evolution.