Is Our Fear of Death Destroying the Planet?

There is a reason that despite the overwhelming evidence that our exponential, growth-based economic system is destroying the very foundations of life on the planet that change has still been hard to come by. The reason is not because of human greed. Greed, too, is a symptom. It’s not because of a competitive human nature. Humans are actually soft-wired for empathy. It’s not even due to some global conspiracy to rule the world. People just aren’t that capable. The reason we cannot “wake up” to the unsustainable nature of our way of life may be traced to our awareness of our finite life and the linear concept of time that it creates.


We Are Aware That We Will Die

As far as we know, human beings are the only animals that are aware that they will die someday. This knowledge could be considered either a curse or a blessing and it changes the way people view time. Knowing that, barring an unexpected injury or illness, you will live around eighty years creates a linear concept of time. We think of our lives in terms of our past, our present, and our future.

Many people are not only burdened by events in their past but are also preoccupied with their future, leaving little time to give attention to the present moment. The preoccupation with the future is mostly due to a fear of death (even though it may be a secondary or tertiary reason). For example, people buy all kinds of insurance such as life, health, car, accident, fire, hurricane – some people even bought rapture insurance – as ways to protect them from unforeseen events (that could harm or kill). How many times have you decided not to swim in the ocean for fear of a shark attack or not to travel to a foreign country because of stories of safety issues?


Desire For “Financial Security”

This fear also influences the desire and drive for “financial security.”  But what does financial security really mean and, perhaps more importantly, how do you know once you have achieved it? A recent poll queried a group of individuals with an average net worth of $25 million to ask if they felt they had achieved financial security. A majority of them said that they had not and that they would only achieve it if they could, on average, increase their wealth by 20 percent. Even those with modest means feel that financial security is only one bonus away.

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Why does financial security remain so elusive regardless of the size of one’s bank account? Most people would probably define financial security in terms of having enough money to secure their livelihoods indefinitely given a wide array of potential hazards that one could face. The problem is that this list of hazards is nearly infinite. Once you’ve amassed enough money to insulate from some hazards, other potential hazards arise that require even more financial security. And so we attempt to earn even more money. The cycle is like an infinite loop in programming language – you don’t even know you’re in it. So what gives?

Money has been created in such a way so as to be completely decoupled from the principles that govern the physical world. Unlike anything in the natural world, money does not decay. It is as eternal as our ego’s desire to exist. Egyptian pharaohs were buried with their treasure so that they could have access to it in the afterlife.  Could it be that our design and pursuit of money was based on our longing to identify with something eternal? Perhaps if we could only accumulate enough of it, we could transcend death?

Of course we all know that absurdity of that line of thinking. But people strive for financial security nonetheless and the quest has devastating impacts to the world. Whether you are an investment banker, a daily stock trader or a blue-collar worker with a pension, everyone expects a return on their investment no matter if it is in the stock market, treasury bonds, or real estate. We expect our money to “grow.” And it is this expectation that fuels the desire for exponential growth of the economy. It is this expectation that creates the pressure for corporations to deliver a profit to their investors or shareholders. The expectation is always more.


Fear Drives Growth

Economic growth has always been destructive for the planet. Every empire that has ever existed can point to over-exploitation of resources as the root cause of their demise. The difference between empires of the past and those of today is that we are now exhausting the entire planet at once. Empires of the past could rise and fall and their impact would be limited to a small geographic region. This is no longer true. Today, we live in an exponential economic growth paradigm which sees no limits.

Our quest to secure access to future resources is causing the deterioration of those same resources. As we drill for more oil, mine for more metals, pollute more water, and convert more forests to ranches, we are eating through our natural capital – the very foundations of the earth’s capacity to support life. We are eroding the capability of the earth to meet our collective expectations.  Our salvation will come when we collectively understand that financial security, no matter how much one has, will never prevent our death. A little more money might insure us a little better, but no amount can insure us completely. Our death is inevitable.

Once our delusions of immortality have been cast aside, we can see the truth about money – that it is simply a claim to future resources. We expect that we will be able to trade the money we have saved and invested for goods and services in the future. When we invest money, we are placing value on future, on things that do not even exist yet. It is the ultimate expression of viewing time linearly. But how much is money worth if there is no clean air to breathe or clean water to drink? If there are no more bees to pollenate the crops, if ocean acidification collapses the ocean food chain, if hydraulic fracturing pollutes our water supply, then what good is money?



We Must Accept Death So We Can Live Life

Accepting the knowledge of our finite life allows us to live with a different concept of time – one that focuses on each moment. It also helps us to understand our connection to nature. Like everything else, our bodies are subject to the natural lifecycle of growth, maturation, and decay. The current culture of death denial not only attempts elevate humans above nature; it actually fuels a system that destroys nature as well. In the attempt to preserve our own life, we may actually destroy it.

What might an economy look like that instead of focusing on securing the future needs for some, it cared about meeting the current needs for all? What would happen if money was designed after nature in a way that it decayed over time?

Perhaps instead of chasing the illusive reward of ever more money, we might focus on what is truly most important – things like clean water and nutritious food for our bodies, a healthy environment void of pollution and toxic chemicals, and sustainable ways of living on the planet. An abundant world is possible but only if we take yet another cue from nature by focusing on meeting the present needs of every human, animal, and plant on the planet. We must value life in all of its forms and create modes of living based on the principles of interconnectivity, empathy, and the love of life, allowing it to flourish in all of its diversity and beauty. If we begin to view each moment of our lives as the gift it truly is, we can finally shed this very real fear that holds us back from living our lives in a way that allows us to be present each and every moment.





  • Hamish Cormack on Facebook

    I like this. But have you noticed that inflation does a pretty good job of turning money into ‘money that, like nature, decays over time’? It’s value certainly does.

  • Sustainable Man on Facebook

    Yes, the difference between a demurrage charge (decaying currency) and inflation is that inflation is variable and demurrage is constant, or at least advertised.Read more…

  • Sylvester McNutt III on Facebook

    Fear is the driving factor or mental slavery in our country. We have fear instilled in us from birth. Our society perpetuates the cycles of fear as we only focus on extrinsic values – furthermore driving consumerism.Read more…

  • Sylvester McNutt III on Facebook

    We Shouldnt even have money. We should have a scale to weigh “human power” Such as your willingness to help others, your level of conscious and how in tune you are with physical fitness and nature.Read more…

  • Jay Toups on Facebook

    Considering that mankind has fueled its progress mantra and economies with a Faustian bargain (fossil energy in particular), how does it begin to tie cradle to grave economics to energy creation and complete the value chain?

  • Marie Ck

    How can we know that we are the only animals that are aware that we will die some day? I personally think all the animals are aware of death but in a different way than ours. Because we know there is death we take it as an excuse to destroy our planet, no other animals need to build houses and buildings and and extract bitumine oils and pollute the planet with all our economic growth etc… lets say we are the only specie who are the destroyers!

    • admin

      You’re right Marie. We don’t know that we are the only species. The article states “as far as we know.” I think the difference between humans and other animals (humans are animals too!) is the concept of linear time. Animals live in the moment. Humans, due to their heightened memories, have created a past and future that preoccupies most of us, making it difficult to live in the moment.

    • AV

      “No other animals need to build houses and buildings”? Really? Are you saying that no other animals build houses? You may want to double check that assertion with Google.

    • Sue

      Jeremiah 10:23

      “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step”

  • ShortBusJames

    When our fiat monetary system collapses we will convert to a system based on the latest commodity… the Golden Sponge Cake with Creme Filling standard.
    Unfortunately like our current currency, they do not degrade over time.

  • John Smith

    Yes, a good article, and it’s particularly obvious to me, on account of spiritual experiences. While I was going through a years-long conversion, I lost my fear of eventually dying. I feel sorry for the many who feel fear, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do. I recognized I have a piece in the universe, a place and a time, and that’s it. I didn’t consider the implications until years later, when I started to deal with dying senior relatives.

    One very wealthy relative spent huge amounts of money just to keep himself alive a few extra weeks (and this was at the same time his children urgently needed money for just basics).

    Another relative worked for an HMO, and had outrageously good health benefits. At one point, a particular drug was being hand-delivered to her door, because it was so valuable, they didn’t want it “going astray”. As her bills mounted into the high $100,000s, this former Red Cross worker started considering whether the money wouldn’t be better spent elsewhere. I told her it was ok, because new drugs were being tested, but I also had doubts. Now, looking back, when I have medical premiums that cause me great problems, even though my health isn’t bad, I wonder how our society can afford to spend $100,000s to pay for people who are, to be frank, no longer contributing. This ex-Red Cross worker would have loved to go back out in the field, but in her last years mostly what she could do was watch TV.

    In some entirely ruthless economic state, neither of the people I mentioned would have been allowed to spend society’s money in their last months. Its true to say that other people died, animals went extinct, on account of what they did.

  • R. Krueger

    Awareness of death causes unsustainable consumption? Money is eternal? Live in the present, don’t plan the future? Deliberately create modes of living that satisfies the needs of every living thing on the planet?

    Thank you for demonstrating that feelings, not critical thinking or logic, is the main objective of communication.

  • Charles Jeremias

    We can have both. Living in the moment and providing for “the future”. The gift of human consciousness can make it possible. But we are still at a very primitive time in terms of the development of human civilization and culture. If we believe what we think we know about our origins, we have existed as a species for several million years. We have existed within organized human cultures for maybe a couple hundred thousand years and within densely inhabited civilizations for less than ten thousand years. Rising awareness of our “fear of death” and our various “systems” that despoil the earth and destroy the very resources that we depend upon, could allow us to transcend our current patterns and exist in greater harmony with our environment. But will we? Nature and time do not care. We could just as easily extinguish ourselves and leave nothing behind but artifacts and fossils. Whatever happens will be piecemeal and not uniform. Insects, viruses and bacteria may yet “rule the earth”. They are already superior in numbers and biomass. Is it all an illusion? Just a dream?

  • Anymouse79

    Give up, don’t be afraid to die (i.e. welcome death). If you do anything it’s bad. It’s just better if you (humanity) go away. What a message. What a philosophy. What nihilism. Nice.

    • admin

      I’m not sure how you got to interpreting the message that way. It certainly was not the intent.

    • Jason

      Accepting the inevitability of death is not nihilism. In Buddhism, (and this is essentially a Buddhist-flavored article, despite a quote from one of the founders of Taoism) eternalism and nihilism are both incorrect views.

      The point of the article seems to be that our obsession with preparing for the future, caused by a fear of death, is in fact destroying the future. The authors point seems to be that if we overcome the fear of death, we will stop our pillaging and hoarding, thus extending the lifetime of our species.

      • Bob

        “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” Could it be thaat gods love for “the world” is the real basis for Cristianity. Just saying.

    • okotoks

      at least one other person understood this essay.
      It is so easy to embrace and long for a simpler time when only millions of people roamed the earth.

      Unfortunately those people only had a life expectancy of only 25 or 30 years, and existed living a daily struggle to find enough calories, avoid disease, traumatic accidents and predation by wild animals and other other tribes. They were alive and spent every 24 hours just trying to survive. Not my choice of existence.

      Years ago, as a student, I was told that India and China (world pop then 3.5 billion) would face mass starvation and never be anything but a burden one the world. India now exports rice, China….

      • admin

        I think your understanding of the life of the hunter-gathering as being a 24-hour struggle for survival really isn’t accurate. The hunter-gatherer had much more “leisure” time. The distinction between work time and leisure time wasn’t even made yet.

        Do people in the West really need more stuff? The percentage of people viewing a second television set as a necessity rose from 6% in 1970 to 75% today. In the 1920s, society began to produce more goods than the demand. There was a goods abundance. So they had to create artificial demand by associating products with human nature’s non-material desires to belong, have sex, etc. Then came planned and perceived obsolescence. All to grow an economy and maintain the established social status order. Instead of consuming more, we could decide to work less, share more!

        The destination of everyone having their own everything is not even the place we really want to go…it won’t make us happy.

        • bob123

          Lets not forget that the primitive humans in their “leisure time” most likely fought one another to establish a pecking order, and also routinely went to war against other tribes in a world supposedly chock full of food, space, and decent weather. That old supremacy thingy. Animals do it too, after all.
          Then theres the story-telling – endless politics and religion that just won’t go away. Art, etc. I have absolutely no faith that humans could possibly ever achieve any peaceful, cashless coexistence, just living for the day, you-hoo, yet go to work every day, all expenses paid, of course, working on technology to lengthen and improve everyones lives without impacting the earth. “Leave nothing but footprints”
          I would really like to opt out of the human race as much as possible, but found doing so would indeed take money. I can’t hide out in the wilderness without a permit these days; if I’m found hunting without a license on some billionaires property, authorities would promptly go after me, and reintegrate me into society. So, yeah, having enough wealth to maintain a home theater is a start.. sad but true

  • Bob

    I agree with this article. Unfortunately, its a practical impossibility to convey the understanding this article professes, and without that understanding, these ideas seem like madness or heresy.

    The enlightenment on which this article is based must be attained through direct personal experience, or it cannot be attained at all. Just like I cannot explain to you what the color blue looks like. I can only point you towards a particular experience and say “blue.”

    Before we can even have this conversation, we must direct people towards the experience of enlightenment. Ironically, once people have experienced this transcendence, the motive of this article no longer becomes relevant. That is, they have been freed from the existential angst you mention.

  • Jim Webster

    My father is an entrepreneur, a libertarian Republican, who after finding success in the world of business appeared to be upbeat and generous, an atheist who chose to ignore the dark side of our economic system. He now has prostrate cancer, which as spread into his bones, and faces a painful, lingering slide into death. His famous optimistic demeanor has been replaced by bafflement–how could he, of all people, die? His pain medication has sapped his mind and spirit. When I visit him he spends considerable time shaking his head in disbelief. For him, facing death doesn’t fit into his world view–being helpless just doesn’t work for him, and he still tries to do everything by himself. And increasingly, he fails.

    But when I hold his hand and show that I’m with him, truly with him in that moment, he looks up at me and smiles. He may not admit it, but I think part of him realizes how much of what motivated him in the past was based on an illusion.

    • admin

      Thank you so much for sharing your personal story Jim. It exemplifies exactly what the article is about.

      • Torsten Hain

        Hello, – in the dark, some snow, I am sitting here in Germany and read a part of your thoughts. We just received christmas-cards from friends in the US, will answer and support the long lasting friendship, – always with us the many devastating questions why Iraq started without the weapons of mass destruction, why all we still believe in growth and smart phones. We turn away from the roots which helped families over centuries. Now we are watching this, – after university, speaking 2 – 4 languages and after serving in the army. What a sad future with young over – educated people who believe in the dreams of modern art, – almost helpless. We hopefully find out about all the fails, soon, or I don’t know what to tell my kids. Regards from Europe, where we all do the same stupid things and believe in ads and sports and cars and medicine….and the lies of politicians and CEOs…… Tee

    • Kevin

      Libertarian atheists are by far the smartest and most productive members of society. Just look at voting by iq, and dont use your own fathers misfortune to push socialist drivel. And please, stop calling socialism “progressive” or “humanism”.

    • Norm Lane

      Cancer can happen to anyone and it sucks that his last days are not going to be good but cancer is hardly a condemnation of a life style.

      It sounds to me as though your father was a pretty happy guy throughout most of his life. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish. Perhaps you are the deluded one.

    • Amidala

      Hi Jim, tell him to believe in Christ. He did everything right! Christ is the only missing key, the only missing piece in his puzzle. Christ life wasn’t a waste or a lie. Neither your father’s life was a waste. He is a good person/soul. Eternal life exist and thats His promise. Keep believing. We are all evolving and GREAT things are coming for Humanity.

    • craig

      I may be joining your father, and now while I’m debating treatment, I think that someday, everyone will have to go through the journey. I remember reading about Bilbo Baggins passing into Middle Earth, I like that perspective.

  • Davis

    I agree with this article I also think that the government should conbinde together and stop with the elections and be as one act as one, and they don’t choose not for them selves but for the people we need to think and say I need to do something for my country I need to save this planet soon we will not have it any more.

  • Droplet

    I think that it’s our awareness of death that makes us behave so recklessly because we know we’ll not be here long so we abuse the planet. Were rejuvenation therapies and the conquering of involuntary death brought into the equation, we would look after this world because we’d know it had to support us for a very long time. You’d be hesitant to crap in the fishbowl if you knew you would be swimming in it for a fwe thouand plus years.

  • Adam Silvertein

    I have never understood how otherwise intelligent people can believe in exponential economic expansion in a finite system, ie: a warm, wet rock. My kids seem to get it, but then, they don’t read the WSJ to validate themselves. Ah, well. So it goes.

  • Folly

    Live your life, treat others and our planet like you never going to die; but pray like you are going to die tomorrow.

  • sam

    If money decayed over time people would be even more desperate to accumulate more of it! And isn’t it a GOOD thing that people are thinking about the future? Thinking only about one’s needs in the present moment is a classic trap to fall into. I would argue that current society is obsessed with instant gratification and doesn’t think ENOUGH about planning for the future. This article is so convoluted and idealistic it doesn’t even know what it’s criticizing.

  • David

    I don’t think the earth really cares what we do to it. The earth will go on just fine with or without us. All the stuff that is polluting the world, came from the world, and will be redistributed throughout the world. The environment that supports a type of life we are used to is definitely something we can destroy. Society has proven itself to be incapable of thinking beyond a lifespan or so repeatedly throughout history and I seriously doubt we will suddenly change now. This is the same old argument, different time and different place, we have seen throughout history. I am all for trying to not be a part of the problem, but I would not get my hopes up that us humans will suddenly come to our senses in mass. That will only happen after it is too late.

    Do the best you can, try to live the best life you can. But, we will destroy the earth’s capacity for life (as we know it). I have not doubt.

    • Brian

      Agreed. I believe human ignorance is too saturated in our culture and we are indeed on a path to destruction. Technology is killing us more than it’s help us.

  • gods creature

    i have deeply contemplated the finite and the infinite. what i have realized through my personal journey is that i am absolutely one with infinity , without beginning or end.

    the freedom of THIS! has been amazing and transcendental. without attachment to past or future, there is only an endless now, communicating and recieving without pretense and silly notions of the egos childish demands. i can not say this path is for everyone, i only know that it has evolved my empathy to animals, peoples and the world. my fear of death is as irrelevant as peoples unwillingness to hear any truth but their own. attachment to the dust in this world is illusion. ps. dont believe in any feckin religion or bs leaders of any system. they are all just selling bs and stealing your energy. thanks.

    yea, find the ancient knowledge of plants and free your belief systems. these systems were all made by small minded authoritarians is axiomatic that it would be that way…

    think for yourself. life is eternal, time is a fiction of the mind.

  • Pocono Shooting Range

    The inflation (decay in value of money) that you all mention is due specifically to the Govt’s unlimited ability to create more money by increasing the debt ceiling.

    Money is created locally when people put up assets and borrow money. People are limited in how much money they can create because their assets are limited. The Fed Govt does not have to put up real assets. The fed govt prints up debt bonds, bills, notes and sells then to the Fed Reserve which then creates the money for them. This is only artificially limited by the debt ceiling. Every time they raise the debt ceiling, they are effectively creating more money, which dilutes existing money.

  • Gussie

    The fear of death can be translated into the fear of one’s ego dying. 99.9999% of us will be at best a name with dates between a hyphen mark in two generations. We humans are the most violent, selfish, competitive, and fearful creatures on earth. Yet it’s to earth we will return. Best not to bet against Mother Nature.

  • Robert

    Fear is the root cause of all of the problems that humans now face. Fear, shame, guilt, unresolved grief, anger, rage, and other toxic unresolved emotions accumulate inside the unconscious of human beings. This sets up the “human condition” which in modern terms is narcissism, co-dependence, passive aggression, and depressive illnesses. These conditions affect 99.8% of the entire human population to one degree of another.

    Our laws, culture, and belief systems are heavily based in fear and the author rightfully point this out as a dominant force that is driving the myth of infinite capitalist expansion. People are ranked and base their self worth on how much money they have, the type of house they live in, and their occupation or place in society. This is the Outside/In syndrome and is destroying the planet and causing humanity to self destruct. The Outside/In syndrome keeps people perpetually searching outside of themselves for a sense of worth and esteem which is never authentically achieved. The sense of pride and worth that comes with money and possessions is entirely illusory. As long as a person is unconsciously chasing and looking for a Self outside of themselves, they will always be addicted to and dependent on things and people. Such people are reactive and always react but rarely do they act.This causes individuals, families, and entire nations to be deeply and profoundly dysfunctional.

    The gun debate is a debate between insecure people who’s fear drives them to hoard and cling to guns and more secure and more evolved people who realize that guns only create and spread more fear. Such people realize that they do not need guns. The perceived need for and love of guns is a delusion.

    A person is as evolved as the degree to which they have cleared and purged themselves of fear and the other toxic human emotions held deeply in the body such as greed, shame, grief, rage, despair, and etc. Few people are aware of this and even fewer achieve it. Fear is the opposite of love. Shame is the opposite of worth. Rage is the opposite of peace. Cultures of people filled with these toxic emotions attract and create more fear, shame, rage, guilt, and etc.

    It takes a strong and sturdy character to turn within and to take responsibility for what is inside one’s self. Few people have sufficient character and ego strength to endure the long, arduous process of facing their inner demons. Those that are successful achieve wholeness and enlightenment.

  • Robert

    If people knew the Truth…and that is that we are evolving beings that reincarnate, the fear that dominates society would be greatly reduced. Yet here in the West where the underlying basis of people’s belief systems are American exceptional-ism and Christianity, most people are largely ignorant concerning reincarnation and are brainwashed by the materialist/scientific paradigm which says that we are born, we die and are gone.

    We get back what we give out. If we give out fear, we get fear in return 3 fold. If we murder, we are ourselves murdered. If we steal, we become the victims of theft. There are consequences for all of our actions. Most people are largely ignorant of the fact of “karma”, known in science as Newton’s law….”every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

    People fear extinction and the loss of Self because they do not realize that we survive death and that death is just one step in a cycle of birth and death. If people realized that we are eternal psycho-spiritual beings, much of the dysfunction in the world would abate and the human race may have a fighting chance.

  • TeaPartySocialist

    This article reflects to some degree the author’s level of affluence.

    Most people I know fear living in third world level poverty, we fear not being able to provide for our children’s health and safety, we fear this world and it’s greedy violent residents…many of whom are mean spirited and abusive because it’s what they’ve received. Not Death. The rich and spoiled, or the incredibly naive fear death.
    Most of the world who live with overwhelming stress, sleep deprivation and poverty, probably welcome death to some degree…or are content with their lot and although “afraid” of many things…death doesn’t even make the top 10!

    • admin

      I agree with you. This article was directed at those who typically have “investments”, or those who have a vested interest in a growing economy, definitely not the world’s poor. Its a good point you raise and I should have mentioned it in the article. Thank you.

  • Tegan Tallullah

    This is a thought-provoking and beautifully written article. I agree with the main thrust of the piece, but there is one thing I’m not sure about. Where it says humans are the only animal to be aware that they will die someday.. How can we know that? And it seems quite unlikely to me…

    But in general I agree – in our culture people are conditioned to be full of fear and to grab at all the money they can to ”protect themselves”. To be honest I think it’s natural to desire a comfortable lifestyle if it’s available, but we just need to decouple ‘comfort’ and ‘enough’ from ‘greed’ and ‘unchecked consumerism”. We need a new paradigm based on sharing resources!

  • Robert

    We give ourselves way too much credit. We are an animal and our existence on this planet is finite, just like every other species that has come and gone. Why do we have such a need to justify our existence? Why do we need to matter so much? It’s amazing how many books and movies are funded by our fear of death and destruction. There are alien civilizations that are just bent on our destruction because they need us as slaves, or food, or they want our resources. Right, that makes sense. Having an awareness of our own mortality does nothing to alter inevitability of it. As stated before, there is plenty of past precedent to suggest that we are incapable of learning from horrific mistakes.
    Despite this, we have a knack for survival. Our ability to adapt new tools to meet new challenges will determine for how long we survive. Our current technology may have laid the groundwork for our demise, but it may be future technology that provides us with a means of escape. The cycle will continue until we are no longer able to avoid the inevitable. Why do so many of us have a problem with that?

    • Marti Fenton

      The loss of a conscious spiritual connection and a sense of organic continuity is probably the source of our fear of death and the experience of never having enough money, things and experiences to feel safe. This time in history is just part of the ongoing creation of life on this dimension. We see the death of the physical body as the end of who we are. We come in naked and go out sometimes in an expensive coffin and sometimes exposed to the elements until our physical bodies reenter mother earth’s womb. I’ve been a Baptist and I’ve been an atheist, neither helped in understanding but I’m glad I had these perspectives as background. Intellectual understanding will always fall short since the limitations of the physical brain, social programming and emotional needs will always fall short of the great mystery. I liked this article and agree with most of it. However I suspect that humans are still subject to the patterns of creation and destruction and although we are messing in our nest as a species this won’t be the end of the story. Eventually there will be what Carl Jung called an enantiodromia when we have taken the current direction to its end and start in the opposite direction. Perhaps this discussion itself is among the first signs that there is an upcoming change in direction. But like a supernova there is an explosion of the old before the new phase is born.

  • Ron

    So the author advises us to focus on the present moment because he fears for the future. Eh?

  • chris crawford

    It is possible to sit and feel that time does not exist. This isn’t some sort of being in the moment and ignoring that time is ticking, its actually seeing that time is an illusion to the senses that we have learned how to measure and create systems around. What does exist is change…constant change. Does the world seem round from your point of view or does your sense make it seem flat. Why would you believe otherwise? Attempt this: Look at a tree for a moment and try to imagine that we are in the same moment that has existed forever but the only thing happening is constant change. When you feel it come over you for the first time it is almost dizzying. I have just discovered this.

  • Rommie

    As you acknowledge in your opening paragraph, “people just aren’t that capable” of waking up to the unsustainable reality of the world we have created. So, given that, why are we supposed to think that introducing a “decaying” currency would help? If we suddenly switched over to a money supply that naturally, organically depreciated over time, how would our reaction be any different than the way countless societies have reacted to hyperinflation throughout history? When money loses its function as a store of value, the implicit incentive is to spend it before it loses its value. I see little reason to believe that people or businesses would spend it on feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and creating an “abundant world.” Not having “woken up,” why would they?

    I feel like so many of our problems — economic, social, political, corporate, etc. — are the result of our increasingly short-term horizons as consumers, investors and even as social creatures. This just seems like a *different* short-term view: Let’s take care of each other now and let the people of the future take care of themselves. Like much of economics, it might make sense in theory, but not when you consider the fact that there are messy, unpredictable humans gumming up the works. Think of the countless social, political, religious, ethical and cultural differences that exist just in our own country and tell me with a straight face that the solution is simple.

    Of course I would never argue that our economy (nationally or globally) isn’t in serious need of change — clearly it is — but while utopian visions of the future provide a beacon, what we really need are road maps that will take us from Point A to Point B with a minimum of hazards along the way. Re-rooting our money supply in tangible reality is one possible step (I often wonder how much of this is a result of our abandonment of the gold standard), but the scarcity/greed paradigm feels like a chicken-or-egg proposition. Which one will go first?

    Anyway, nice post. I appreciate your thoughts.

    • Sustainable Man

      Hi Rommie,

      I appreciate your comment. And I agree that nothing is as simple as making one change and then out of nowhere, utopia. The written word can be very difficult to communicate complex ideas especially when they involve a switch in worldviews.

      But the reason I think a decaying currency (along with other initiatives such as the internalization of all costs) is helpful is because it does lose its function as a store of value. Money is something that should not store value, since you cannot eat it or drink it. Value should be stored in ecosystems that produce annuities. The more healthy the ecosystem, the more abundance it can produce. A decaying currency would encourage investments in ecosystem services. Since money turns into a hot potato, people will look to invest in businesses that produce an annuity.

      Its best to illustrate with an example. Suppose you owned a forest and you were presented with two options. You can clear cut the forest and make $50 million today. Or you can sustainably harvest the forest and make $1 million per year forever. In our current money system where money grows independently of the natural world, you might be able to buy a very safe US Treasury bond that pays 3%. Well, in that scenario, it makes sense to clear cut the forest. If money instead lost 3% per year, the smart business decision is to take the $1 million annuity.

      In the world today, people would almost always rather have money instead of the good, since all goods deteriorate over time. This is also different from interest which is not precise because the demurrage charge could be fixed.

  • Onepercenter

    If I have more money than most, I will be able to buy water and air purifiers. If you are lucky, you will be allowed to operate my filtering machines, partake in their output, and continue to live a cancer free life.

    • bob123

      Aye, and nature somehow suggests I defend my place to keep those water pumps going. After all, if I do, the owner gives me some of it, and often some food. For free! Its not always what I want, but thats okay. I get enough to pass on to family and even friends. This is being charitable, is it not?
      The won’t job won’t last forever – the owners pretty old. Do I stash some water for an emergency, do I forcefully take over the water well someday? Or just live in the now, smoke a joint, relax?

  • Barbara Abel

    Writer, heal thyself.

  • Sam

    “Fear of death” is not really a fear of death, but a fear of pain and discomfort, the loss of what people consider a “meaningful” or productive existence, and the welfare of their family especially children. Go to a nursing home sometime. Most of the residents welcome death. What they fear most is their loss of being a productive member of society, being too cold or too hot or in pain, and what their children, spouses, and friends are doing. Uncertainty and loss of control is what we fear most

    • Sustainable Man

      I think people fear death if they haven’t truly lived (i.e. done what they really wanted to do). So many of us occupy most of our lives with work to achieve a “higher” standard of living, not realizing that we are sacrificing our lives in the process. But I also agree with what you say. I think there are several aspects that people fear about death.

  • RossMeltonJr

    I appreciate the contributors and the philosophical contributions, here. My latest philosophy is kind of nihilist; I think we are all basically emotional and live under a personal delusion. I can’t perceive an “objective” difference between trying to help each other versus trying to exterminate everyone! Sorry! If everyone had my outlook, I think we would crash! We’re all trying to get some kind of a living and reproduce, and ultimately we overpopulate and exhaust resources, or some microbe will zap us; maybe some isolated tribe in South America will survive the longest! Anyway, Cheers! I wish I knew more about who runs this site; our actions speak louder than our words, I think!

  • Steve Ostertag

    Once upon a time all of humanity was East. There was caste and reincarnation. The individual did not exist. One day in a city not to far from the Persian Gulf, a man heeded the call of someone who recognized individuality. His name was Avram and thus the West was born. Ever since then, the rest of humanity has been fighting to snuff out ideas like individual liberty and the linear concept of time. It is why those who adopt Western values are told that “they have lost their originality.” The East wants to roll back humanity to its pre-Abrahamic state of slavery to idols, rituals and cyclic time. Freedom from freedom is slavery.

  • S.A.Rahim

    The writers has given a nice piece of message for the man who lives on falsehood and imaginations,unable to pick up the threads of life and harming the Planet continuously.The fear of death and his inability to understand truth places him towards more physical and mental stress and further it harms the future generations.Unfortunately the political system and the Government managed by ignorant politicians with narrow passions and vested interests is endangering the whole human kind.The economist Prime Minister of India is not able to understand the basis of Global economy and the GDP calculations are driven in the wrong path.Intellectuals should start education and emancipation process to save the Planet and put the life of present generation with proper understanding of the universe.

  • Brian Tracey

    A very well written article but no mention about how religion plays a role in our fear of dying.
    Still too hot of a subject for even gifted writers to tackle?

    • Sustainable Man

      Brian, I just haven’t had enough personal exposure to organized religion to comment. But I suspect that its role is similar. Religion, too, is part of the story of separation. The belief in a separate soul for example.

  • Grant

    We are very efficient parasites and in true parasite nature we’ll keep going even if it means our own demise, humans are the aliens on the planet were the only species that see it nessasary to pay to be here.

  • Kiva Bottero

    Well said. I find that the more we understand death the more we understand life. By being in the moment we value life more, which makes that impending date of death less and less meaningful because we have LIVED a life, not skated along day to day insuring ourselves against the future and dwelling on the past.

  • Native

    Thank you for this. Your message reminded me of the following publication that I have read and studied recently and that has touched me deeply. It brought me to look into my fears (regarding death and regarding our current economic, political, environmental situation on earth) in an honest and pure way; it taught me not to fight, escape or deny what I fear but to observe it and respond to it adequately and to see the bigger picture of these events. It made me understand why I was feeling certain fears and discomfort and why I am here on this planet exactly in these times. There is a subtle but great intelligence within each of us that knows what we need to do and what not, that knows the way and knows how we have to prepare for and contribute to life. You may want to check it out. It`s called thegreatwavesofchange by MV Summers.

  • Radim

    Great article! It is too easy to forget to live when you have to struggle for money. I am just having the possibility to wake up in the morning and watch sunrise in a hammock in the evening watch the sunset or the river and after dinner clear night sky with no light smog. I will make an everyday practice, because it keeps me connected. Recommended

  • Spider Allen

    I find it ironic that your article speaks of our alienation from what is natural, yet there is no acknowledgment that most of us fear for our security, finances and the future because we have children who require others to care for their future survival. Not including the care of children and the elderly in our representation of our motivations and desires, whether by the likes of Ayn Rand or Deepak Chopra, is a signifier of alienated thinking.This “problem” of fear for the future is for most of us a symptom of our love. Our “fears” that most motivate us to action are often a concern for others. That these actions are misdirected are a simple result of uneducated people making decisions based on perceived needs; or because there are no alternatives available to them at the time. The one is an issue of public education, the other, the proper distribution of resources. If we focus on resolving these basic political needs, the spiritual ones will follow in their wake.
    That we all get into habits of thought and expectation that are based on false perceptions is the not simply the mandate of individual awareness, it is the essence of public education. That most so-called “spiritual teachers” choose to define these essential motivators of our lives as “fear” rather than, say, “tenderness”, is the real question here.

    • chrisagnos

      I agree with you. We are concerned for our children. I think we wouldn’t worry as much if we lived in a society in which everyone was concerned for all our children. That is the society I envision if we can start moving away from habits of control and towards trust.

  • Matt

    Thanks, its article that got me thinking about the following. There are parts of that article I agree with. I dont think anyone is denying that people are fixated with a type of security. Psychologists acknowledge that the second most important basis of our psychology is security of the body (maslow heirachy?), we actually satisfy this the same way animals do.

    To double check on that, the story would be something like: Animals in harsh conditions store up foods for hibernation, whereas animals in easy conditions dont have to, we might be conscious of our our future death, but I’m of the opinion that the “forsight” for future savings, and future life, with future resources, simply instinct? No different from a bear, a parrot, and amoeba. Things for me that are metaphorically representing the western world (saving for the future) , the last of the undeveloped world (constantly enjoying its easy life, and flying from one resource to another, but no concern for the future, until ultimately its captured into a system its to late to be part of or in control of), and lastly children, whom simply eat and poop, but their instinct makes them do so with very little consciousness, just like an amoeba.

    I especially agree with the articles identification that people themselves are the problem. Is it not that the system we create isn’t the flaw, we are!? If too many beavers cut down trees near a river in one year, nature doesn’t have any trees for them the following year, and their population size decreases. If too many humans destroy the earth, then we run out of resources, and a large portion of us dies because of our grand stupidity, then isn’t that natures balance? Our story of society is just a much longer story to find balance that the beavers by the river, or than the “short history” of the Roman Empire. (I say short, because compared to the age of the earth, mankind, and all its powerful civilizations are such a tiny blip on Earth’s radar).

    If the world becomes heavily polluted, and people dont like that, they will change it, it always takes an extreme situation to create change. Some types of pollution is reversible, with us (or without us given time). if the earth cleans us out, good for her, if we manage to fix many of our problems, then good for us (which we can only recognise as reasonably well educated people – and that is by product of a western / 1st world economy). the balance that could exist, can be by our doing, or it can be by our inability to bring balance, and ultimately get thrown into another dark ages, or complete extinction. The former though, can only by achieved by people educated in both your studies and mine, and many others, that collectively need to identify this and fix it – though ultimately, we are just prolonging our existence…

    So changing our system, is back to being a “bear”, which means that if we take road of creating balance (by what we measure and understand) in our world again, means that we are actually doing what the article disagrees with: having a “linear focus on time”, to which I say in disagreement with the article conclusion, the obsession is part of our instinct for survival? Without which, we would not be in existence, and have committed suicide as soon as we no longer had it somewhere in our evolution? The article reaffirms just how ingrained it is in us, to keep changing our world with a view of the future in mind?

    You can achieve more on a personal arena by abondoning the view and fixation of preventing death. But its probably going to end up being selfish, or deadly, and so far evolution has been squashing those who took that view? Then no children, then no reproduction of that view.

    I’m of the weak opinion, (i dont feel very strongly about this part, but i believe it over alternatives), but I’m pretty sure its by design, we are meant to screw up, everything else before us has, nothing is forever, not even our billion star galaxy, or billion galaxy universe. The universe has simply got more complicated over the last 13 billion years, and we are finally its conscious product… its been making simple before us, then stars, additional types of atoms, and planets, so we are a product of a system, whose energy loop is in fact finite, therefore, we are finite? (as a species). The universe will be black, and no stars will burn, and nothing can exist without something close enough burning bright, for some time after that even the life that relies on gravity and pressure will not be protected the lonely dead galaxies. Back to thinking at the beginning of this… if I had one wish, it would be to watch time play out to the very end and see human ingenuity maybe get to the dark universe, but then what? Do they reply “touche universe, touche”, the end.

  • Junx

    Very interesting article and some comments. I’d like to point out a more classic approach: commonly, organized civilizations use governments to achieve their projects and goals as a community, being local, regional, national or international. Too often the people’s representatives, aka politicians, set their personal goals behind the community’s, so they can be reelected. Thus, the policies that run most communities have a short term scenario, let’s say 4 years. I work as an environmental manager in a town council near Barcelona, Spain, so I can tell first hand. In my opinion, other that the long term worries, like death, the short term ones, like elections, are a major cause of poor-to-dreadful environmental oriented public policies worldwide.

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  • Traci

    This is the right site for anyone who wants to understand this topic.
    You understand so much its almost tough to argue
    with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a subject which has
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  • Jock

    I loved this article. I found that it coherently touched on several topics (money, fear of death, ecological degradation, and perception of time) that I think about often, but tied them together concretely and in ways I had never considered before. For example, money decaying over time, as all things in the natural universe do? that was totally novel to me, and I dig that. i think among other things it would have a wonderful effect on excessive greed. also pointing out that the demise of every civilization was a result of over-extending their dominion over natural resources was good, and that right now civilization has grown to be so global and interconnected that the resources we’re over-exploiting are of the entire planet. this is why things feel so urgent, and why it feels like we are fast approaching a tipping point for the continuance or non-continuance of our civilization as we know. anyway, great perspectives, thanks for writing this

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