“Love at the End of Our World”: Post-Doom Interview with Michael Dowd

“Love at the End of Our World”

Michael and I talk about a post-doom perspective, living beyond both hope and despair, embracing death, mental health during collapse, and the power of gratitude and love.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to talk to Michael Dowd and I’m honored to be a part of his Post-Doom project. Michael has interviewed such inspired voices as Joanna Macy, Jem Bendell, Stephen Jenkinson, Trebbe Johnson, Dahr Jamail, Barbar Cecil, Dougald Hine, Shaun Chamberlin, and many more.

From Michael’s website:

Thank you to Michael for the great conversation and to Connie Barlow for the great editing.

Below are the show notes:

01:02 – Two Previews

03:26 – John Halstead’s 2019 book, “Another End of the World Is Possible”

03:50 – JH on his bioregion and climate activism in Indiana; his religious orientation is naturalistic pagan and Unitarian Universalist

07:50 – JH journey into despair, then post-doom (beyond hope and despair)

09:14 – JH on his challenges of raising kids (ages 17 and 21) after losing hope in a future

11:02 – Dowd: embracing death as natural stabilizes mental health during crisis

12:49 – JH: Gratitude and love for the world after grief, beyond hope and despair.

14:32 – JH terminology: post-doom, deep adaptation, “end of our world”

17:31 – JH STORY: Mormon childhood with “Principle of Eternal Progression”, so in 20s wrestled with “loss of a future” when left the faith. Mystical experience of connection to all humanity shed fear of personal death. Next (while his own kids were still teens) he wrestled with accepting that our civilization, and ultimately our species, would die. Turning point away from hope was McKibben’s speech during John’s 2016 protest at tar sands refinery.

21:30 – Learning the science of EROI (Energy Return On Investment) brought realization that renewable energy could not carry this civilization

23:12 – Affirms Jem Bendell’s outlook: “inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe, possible extinction”

23:27 – Dowd’s grounding in William Catton’s 1980 book “Overshoot”, whereby our world is in “carrying capacity deficit” but society has “carrying capacity surplus expectations.” Doom is an emotional recognition, and post-doom is finding the gift beyond acceptance.

25:40 – JH STORY continues: personal tragedy worsened his despair for humanity, then he pushed through into post-doom.

27:32 – Dowd affirms grounding spiritual stance of accepting what is real, processing feelings, then opening to what is possible.

27:54 – JH: Need to foster patience and openness to what comes next when zeal for activism declines. Dowd offers Connie Barlow’s sermon, “Post-Doom Death of Expectations,” for understanding within-activism differences.

29:26 – Dowd and Barlow’s experience in downshifting “hope” from human species surviving climate change, to trees surviving, and finally to “moss, ferns, and tardigrades” surviving.

31:03 – Q&A on how the science understanding of life history integrates with a post-doom worldview — and how a naturalistic form of paganism (beyond human-centrism, techno-optimism, and death denial) became John’s grounding; the Myth of the Dying God; Ernest Becker.

34:50 – Charles Mann’s book, “The Wizard and the Prophet” re contrasting views of natural and human limits: Norman Borlaug (wizard), William Vogt (prophet), and Lynn Margulis (third way). John aligns with Margulis (inevitable overshoot): “The worship of science and technology is just another form of belief that we can become gods.”

38:03 – Dowd affirms and amplifies with study of rise-and-fall of civilizations; Dowd’s video is “Sane vs. Insane Progress.” William Vogt “was an early William Catton.”

39:48 – Halstead: failure of the progressive economic dictum that poor nations can look forward to reaching our rich-nation levels.

41:00 – Q&A on limits of human nature to have avoided this descent. JH: “Human beings, like most other species, will always push up against their natural limits. Whether we survive depends on how we react to that moment. … There are societies that have lived more sustainably than we have, but I tend to think that they learned it the hard way…. It takes more than a generation to learn these lessons.”

42:55 – Dowd lists authors helpful in the above point: Edward Goldsmith, Richard Adrian Reese, Paul Shepard, Dolores LaChapelle.

43:27 – JH: “I feel like we were given Prometheus’s fire — this gift [fossil fuels] we were not ready to use.” Dowd: “My mythic interpretation comes out of the movie Avatar…. I believe the collapse of industrialism will be mythologized as ‘We don’t do that again!!!!!'” Human-centeredness will never be tried again.

45:54 – JH: on the movie “Anthropocene” and how, while he has given up on activism, he does not discourage others from continuing. He has restarted his own action to the very small: “rewilding my yard, attending to close relationships… growing food in community.” Also starting a small grief group.

50:26 – Q: “Gifts on the other side of the post-doom doorway?” JH: “Love” and “rediscovery of prayer as acknowledging my limitations and opening up to possibility, to things I can’t control.”

53:16 – Dowd on prayer as “posture and attitude of humility and gratitude” and why “ecotheism” is a better word for earth-centered than “atheism.” Role of religion as “a control mechanism to ensure the future is never compromised by the present.”

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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