NTHE Talks and the Role of Permaculture

People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all.[…] Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.” ~ Jim Morrison



About six years ago and after an entire year of chronic pain and one wrong diagnosis after the other, I finally was sent to the ER where the resident doctor “discovered” through tact only that I had a huge mass in my abdomen.

After sending me to even more invasive tests, another (young and obviously inexperienced) doctor told me I had cancer and had to undergo urgent major surgery.

As it is my “style” I asked many questions and checked for more information. I went home and started to organize all my documents, even cleaned the house thoroughly and made sure there was food for at least two months. I cut my hair, organized my clothes, everything was in place…

It was at one of these trips to the market when I saw a big exhibition of apples and suddenly “realized” that I might not be there the next season.

I went to the surgery with a calm feeling of acceptance and comfort: I know life doesn’t just “stop”; it is an almost infinite transformation.

When everything was done, the doctor approached me and said that I was free: it ended up being “benign”, but I still had two months ahead of though recovery.

The first thing I did when I came home was to apply for a volunteering position. With time and training, I became a trainer and team leader myself…that opportunity also opened many other doors in my life and expanded my understanding of compassion and active hope.

It shouldn’t need to take a bad diagnosis (or even an accurate one) for us to change our lives and become serious. Not that my life was an unconscious party before that: I have always been involved with causes; but it made a difference on how I see “the future” and my place in it.

With all the recent talks and failure on negotiations about climate change, more and more people are giving up hope or plainly going into denial or delusion. For many scientists and activists who are deeply involved with the facts of (not only) climate change but also other types of ecosystem and social collapses, keeping the hope alive becomes sometimes difficult. Some people are even talking about Near-term-human extinction (NTHE or NTE) and this topic has already started to reach mainstream media.

Another blogger I follow has written an excellent essay on this topic and he points out to the moral responsibility we have to not to encourage giving up.

As those who read and follow my blog know (and this is true for me in real life as well) I am a very realistic and critical person: I do not accept simplistic answers and don’t think all bad news need to be shared along with “solutions”: in many cases, we need to share the news to open a conversation and find “solutions” (or, as in this case, ways to deal with the issues) but we may not have the “solutions” with us.

When I present my Emergency Preparedness and First Aid workshops, my emphasis is at two levels: prevention/mitigation and planning/design for response/relief and recovery.

I don’t just provide the usual practical stuff such as stockpiling food and water or have a grab-and-go kit, I try to help people embrace the cycle of life: disasters are a human invention…their impact depends deeply on how you take them and we also “create” most disasters by putting ourselves in the middle or by cutting trees and re-routing rivers which creates floods, mudslides and wild fires.

Some people, however, don’t want to talk or even think about disasters or emergencies as if talking or thinking about this would call them upon us.

This last option (not even mentioning them) closes the door to any reality, any real pain or concern to be addressed. It also closes the door for any type of “preparation” to happen.

Is NTHE/NTE a possibility? Does it have a “date”?

I think that whoever tries to answer the above question needs to be very careful with dates and the “how” it will happen.

In my humble opinion, It would be arrogant to say we know the future, even with all the evidence in our hands: I’m not saying that scientists or activists are wrong (on the contrary) but there is always the possibility that things don’t go the way they predict: who says we will not be hit by a huge asteroid or be finished by a stupid decision on the top such as WWIII and the use of chemical or nuclear weapons? Dinosaurs didn’t have any warning they could interpret, however, their extinction took about 200,000 years! (or at least that’s the most accepted theory about their extinction: the meteor hit the Earth 65 million years ago causing climate change and slow die off of the vegetation and animals they used to eat)

In any case, we don’t have a certain “date” but things are going to change and we cannot expect that life as we know it will continue in the next 20-50 years…but wait! that was exactly the same 100 years ago when the world was immersed in the WWI, or 70 years ago when we were in the middle of one of the worst wars ever…

As in my “cancer” or as in disaster planning, we don’t necessarily have to have a certain date or a full description of what will happen and how in order to “get our houses in order” and live life to the fullest…

Evolving Permaculture

Although Permaculture was born as a response to the predicaments we are facing and has the name “permanent” embedded in it, it was never conceived as a static dogma: it has since evolved from individuals or small groups who would go off grid and back to land to a growing movement of individuals and groups who are applying Permaculture to their lives in cities and sharing with others the wisdom of living a simpler and more caring life in this planet.

As such, permaculturists are among the firsts to acknowledge the pain for what has been done to the planet but also among those who won’t give up easily. Permaculturists are usually positive, proactive people…

Most people, after being diagnosed with a terminal or chronic disease, start changing their diets and habits or find (as I did) bigger causes to dedicate their lives too.

We don’t need to wait for certainty on NTHE/NTE for that to happen.

If anything, the (evolving) Permaculture message is that we are here both to celebrate and embrace life as well as to provide skills, support and “active hope” to those who are the firsts facing the challenges of our predicaments.

An increasing amount of people are concerned about survival and NTHE. Me too, but in a very different way: as a “survivor” myself, I know that collapses don’t usually come in a sudden singularity: they creep up, most of the time slowly and impact people and systems in different ways and at different levels…when they are sudden, you either freeze, fight or fly: while the way you respond to it is important, it is most important the way you live your life till then…and how you prepare yourself and others and for what.

Most of preparation has to do with your expectations, beliefs and attitudes: if you believe life is doomed, you’ll live whatever is left in misery and agony and will probably be so paralyzed that won’t be of any help…

My belief is that life is sacred, interconnected, systemic and incredibly resilient and unpredictable. I accept the pain for the things we have knowingly or unknowingly caused to other peoples and species and try my best to deal with it with compassion and awareness…sometimes it becomes too much, but I’ve learn that pain, suffering and despair are not eternal: if you wait enough and are compassionate with yourself, they too transform in something else.

Why we need to make space for NTHE/NTE discussions

The more I read, watch and talk to people, the more I learn that I’m not alone in my pain for the world. The pain experienced when first I understood the possibility of NTHE was almost unbearable.

Most of my friends and people I love didn’t notice or didn’t want to hear/read what I was going through, but I was in agony. That wasn’t right: as a counsellor I know that the worst thing you can say to a depressed person is: “stop talking about that and be happy, everything is going to be OK. I don’t want to hear you!

One of the most important days of this 2014 year was at a Permaculture Teacher Training gathering when I heard another permaculturist to disclose his own pain for the world and his own fears…his disclosure opened up my own feelings and gave me “permission” to face the mess in other terms.

While we (as permaculturists, transitioners, community workers, activists, scientists, authors, parents, friends, lovers…in a word PEOPLE) have a responsibility to be resilient and compassionate and encourage active hope in us and others, we also need a space to share these thoughts: not necessarily to give up, but to give us permission to share our pain, acknowledge our fears and discover ways that may help us to continue our chosen path.

Denying others express their pain is another form of denial…and the one that hurts the most.


The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” ~ Joanna Macy

3 Comments on “NTHE Talks and the Role of Permaculture

  1. Such a crucial discussion about facing reality and recognizing that the pain we experience can be a transformative experience with an outcome we can’t envision beforehand.


  2. Thanks Silvia for putting this into words. I recall about 4 years ago when I was reading James Hansen’s book “Storms of My Grandchildren” – and his chapter on the Venus syndrome was for me the “NTHE moment”. When I shared this with my wife Francis, we ended up arguing, I think because it seemed like such a hopeless and despairing scenario, and I hadn’t really expressed the pain I was feeling around this realization – I was telling about the Science. And because of this mistake, we felt even a more despair.

    To make the pain even more real, in the small North Island community near where we live, a few nights ago a young 22 year old took his own life. Two months ago a murder-suicide occured. 18 months ago another suicide. Each of these persons are known individuals, two of them sons of friends and acquaintances, and the other couple are past co-workers and clients.

    The local mill is facing a possible permanent shutdown. But for me it is a much larger phenomena – all things are connected.

    Indeed, I will never give up – but the pain does seem so large at times. Even more so at this supposed season of Joy and New-birth. Of course, that’s exactly what sustains us – this possibility of re-birth: renewal of the face of the earth.

    It’s such a paradox. we must indeed embrace the pain of the world, and yet never loose faith in salvation of the world – in it’s broadest universal sense. I appreciate your part in this Sivlia, beyond what any words can express.

    Peace to you in this solstice/ christmas moment. Bruce


    • Thank you Bruce and peace to you too…only the day enough of us decide to see things with eyes of reality and full awareness we will be free…and then we may be able to free the rest


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