Tuesday 28 May 2013


Denial, anger and acceptance while circling the drain
Dr. Susan Rubin

23 April, 2013

I remember the exact time when I knew for sure that my dad’s cancer was entering the late stages. After his six hour brain surgery he had a hemorrhagic stroke that destroyed his ability to speak and swallow. I knew that he and my mom wouldn’t be rescheduling their trip to Europe. Dad would be lucky to get out of the hospital and spend a few peaceful weeks or months at home before his death.

My mom had not figured this out yet. She was still under the impression that this was just a setback and that dad would make a full and complete recovery. I tried to tell her, but she wasn’t yet ready to hear the truth. Deep internal denial kept her steady, it was her coping mechanism. My dad’s death was unthinkable to her, she just couldn’t go there. In her mind, his demise was vague and in the distant future.

In denial
This deep denial is how climate change, peak oil and the environmental crisis in general is to the majority of Americans.

Despite the fact that 200 species go extinct every day, 90 percent of all the large fish in the ocean are gone, are gone and 97% of forests have been destroyed, most of us still think that the environmental crisis is way off in the distant future. We continue to deal with as nothing we must face now. We operate content to leave it for our children’s children to deal with. Or we passively believe that whatever might be the matter, it’s something that science, technology and “innovation” will take care of.

No need for us to leave our comfort zone any time soon.

The green fix is no fix

Green groups in every town in my county talk about home energy audits, and retrofits of insulation as the way to be more green and sustainable. From where I sit, I see it as a strategy to stay in denial.

As a society, and even as communities, we don’t want to mess with business as usual, or have scary but meaningful discussions on how to really stop our consumption of fossil fuels. We’ll continue to enable the big corporations to keep extracting coal, oil and gas, we’ll just all burn a little less.

Some people can do a little more to save money and feel good about climate. Those with the money to put in insulation are also in a position to enjoy a tax break for their efforts. It’s nothing compared to the tax breaks Big Oil gets, just a little incentive so you can feel good about what you did. No real behavior change needed.

Same game with recycling.

My county boasts a 49% recycling rate. While that’s impressive, recycling is another mind numbing light cigarette that enables big corporations to continue to make huge amounts of waste that will never decompose. Corporations put it on our backs to recycle and as a result, we never get to have the real conversation about why the mess is being made in the first place.

Circling the drain
Circling the drain is a term used in medical circles to describe a patient for whom death is impending and yet continues to cling to life. With insulation, recycling, and even hybrid cars we’re circling the drain at 70 miles per hour instead of 100 mph.

I don’t know how we can stop circling the drain. The more I learn about how unsustainably messed up industrial civilization is, the less I believe that these problems will ever get fixed.

The more I try to educate and do outreach in my community, the more denial I encounter. Those insulation gurus and recycling greenies are pretty darn entrenched in their mindset and they are more than ready to marginalize those who dare to disagree.


It’s time for me to stop fighting. Like my dad, who was dying and knew it, I now know my planet is dying too.

If you knew you were dying and only had a small about of time left to live on this planet, your outlook would change.

What are the 100 places I want to see before I die? What do I want to do? Who do I want to hang out with?

My understanding of this environmental crisis has me thinking this way. What do I want to do with my last few years before my planet’s biosphere goes into hospice?

Elizabeth K├╝bler Ross describes the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These methods of coping are not chronological, I waver between anger, depression and acceptance.

In my angry days, when I feel we have a fighting chance around the huge issue of climate change and environmental collapse, I work to teach people how to grow food. After all, as the climate changes, we’ll need a more resilient food supply grown closer to home. Besides, having your hands in the soil is quite healing. There’s nothing like watching a garden grow to arouse awe of Mother Nature. Gardening is a perfect distraction from the ongoing destruction of our beloved planet.

On the days that acceptance of our dire fate rules over me, I try my darndest to be like a Buddhist monk and let go of attachment to the fact that my planet is dying and that my time and my children’s time here is limited.

Treasuring the present moment, like someone who knows her days are numbered, I let my kid’s homework slide. I try to be compassionate with my fellow humans who are either clueless or in deep denial about the level of destruction we’ve created. Letting go of judgement of all the people around me who are so disconnected from nature that they just don’t care about the mess they’re making.
What do you do when you’ve come to the point of fully understanding that we are simply re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic?

Dr. Susan Rubin, Transition Voice

Dr. Susan Rubin is a food educator, school food activism leader and mother of three. She has a private health counseling practice in Westchester, NY. and teaches in her local area and throughout the world. She's the founder of Better School Food, whose mission is to raise awareness about the connection between better food and better health. And she's one of the Two Angry Moms in the documentary film of the same name. Her website is DrSusanRubin.com.

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