Climate Change and the Stages of Grief

I have had enough colleagues, friends and family members die – of age, aids, alcohol, cancer, heart failure, disease, accident, suicide, violence, at sea, on land, quickly, slowly, unexpectedly, horribly, from heredity, doing what they loved, willfully, unwittingly, to soon and just because – that I am cognizant and intimately familiar with denial and its followers.

And so it with Climate Change.

I understand not wanting to believe that it is happening, or that the collective human population and our actions are the driving cause. I comprehend wanting to disavow that all the negatives of climate change resulted from the aggregated impacts of what we believed were the good, right, and proper things to do. Under such conditions it is not surprising that we seek out those in the same state of denial and bond together, isolating ourselves from those who cannot appreciate our state of mind or emotion. Perhaps it gives us support or protection from others who do not comprehend how jarring the new reality can be to our perspective of how the world should work and what is acceptable and unacceptable in our wished for world order.

As we focus on how such events can happen, there can be a feeling of anger – even righteous anger. After all, climate change challenges our basic belief structure. Do we have dominion over the earth and creation or is our role one of stewardship?

Climate change challenges our fundamental economic construct. What should we include in our accounting and annual reports? Do we just measure the cash transactions or do we include the loss of natural capital, the cost of unintended consequences, human capital, and/or future resource needs?

Trying to reconcile the disconnect between one’s belief structure and personal history with the increasing amount of material supporting the alternative perspective can lead to frustration and a need to regain control of the dialogue. How can the projections of what will happen with climate change be correct? The projections show a rate of change that I have never seen or experienced in my life before; it’s just not possible for that information to be correct. And thus begins the bargaining from the post-factual framework; a mindset in which one’s beliefs and references are seen as more valid and correct than are data, research ad the factual analysis of experts in the field. Perhaps Mark Twain put it best when he said “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And then there is the “backfire effect” which indicates that when one’s closely held and fundamental beliefs are challenged the response is more likely to cause a reaffirmation of the beliefs than an acceptance of the new information.

The forth stage of grief is depression which can include dealing with the practical issues of loss and an overwhelming feeling of ‘what do I do now’. With climate change ‘rationalizing’ might be the more appropriate word to describe the grieving over the implications and scale of what will need to be done. How do you physically and psychologically prepare a community for sea level rise? Can you afford to elevate roads and other critical infrastructure to be above the coming waterline in time and in a way that does not bankrupt the community? How do you prepare a place for what is now an extreme weather event but in the next decade or so will just be the weather? How do you adapt for the change to the local economy? With sea level rise many low-lying beach communities will loose their tourist beaches and see more of their coastal areas flood.   In the mountains the increasing temperature will generate a shorter ski/winter sport season and the loss of snow pack and its faster melt can generate a water supply problem.

The implications of climate change can be quite shocking to individuals, companies and governments at all levels. Even those that accept the reality of climate change do not want it to happen. I doubt there is anybody or any culture or any sentient species that wants to see the downside/dark-side of climate change play out.

The fifth stage of grief is acceptance, but not everybody gets to stage five. For some the first four stages become a self-perpetuating loop, for other their grief may be so great that they stay at a particular level. I do not think my father ever made it past stage 2 when he grieved the deaths of my mother and older sister.

But for many, acceptance is achieved and provides a way forward. The passing on of those who once were is accepted, noted, honored and relinquished to the custom of their culture. And so it is with ideas and concepts whose times have passed. The old gives way to the new and the past yields to the future. The transition is not always smooth, nor is it painless but it is irrevocable.

Climate change challenges our primary paradigm of measuring advancement. Do we build from our history or towards our future? If history is our guide, then the mechanisms of our past experience – fossil fuels; displacement of nature; pollution as an acceptable cost of doing business; actions in isolation; and bigger, cheaper, faster remain as our indicators of better. If the future is our horizon, then capture and storage of energy; restoring and collaborating with nature’s services; seeing waste as a resource; holistic design; true-cost/full-cost economics; and elegant simplicity must become our guides.

Resolving climate change requires a change in consciousness – a consciousness that makes us aware of and actively responsible for the consequences of our actions. As Stewart Brand wrote, we need to “make long term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The earth belongs to each generation, and no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.”

Frederick Law Olmsted wrote, The rights of posterity are more important than the desires of the present.”

Climate change has resulted because we have broken those generational promises – we have spread and passed on our environmental (and social) debt and have invested in our desires rather than protecting the prosperity of all grandchildren.

I always thought we were supposed to leave a place better than we found it.



Reference Material

Stages of Grief

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) On Death and Dying, The Macmillian Company, New York

“Backfire Effect” – .WDG36XeZOYU


Brand, Stewart. 1999. The Clock of the Long Now. Basic Books, New York, page 2

Olmstead quote:




The Dark Side of the Golden Rule

The Dark Side of the Golden Rule

As I learned it, the Golden Rule was ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ with the goal that such consciousness would lead to doing good, being good and using kindness, graciousness and gratitude as one’s guide. It is a noble ideal and worthy pursuit.

Unfortunately it is not always in the forefront of our brains, our motives or our actions. Maybe if we substituted a descriptor – such as race, religion, socio-economic group, political affiliation, species, community, country, or employment identity into the golden rule our public discourse would be more empathetic and effective.

Perhaps if we were more specific about what we were doing to others, we would be more cognizant of, responsive to and responsible for the outcomes.

I ask because a recent World Heath Organization (WHO) stated that 92% of the world’s population is breathing polluted air. Apparently we have subverted the Golden Rule to mean: pollute unto others (countries, people, places, businesses, species) as you would have them pollute unto you.

Welcome to the Dark Side. And what is so insidious about the path to the Dark Side is that the way is generally invisible to the individuals but the results are manifest. When we drive, we do not see the heat, the carbon dioxide, the particulates or any of the other chemical contaminates that mark our passage.

Air pollution from traffic is linked to childhood cancer; the children of women exposed to high levels of traffic pollution during pregnancy had a higher risk of developing cancer. The Royal Geographic Society found that cars and other vehicles were the main sources of air pollution in 95% of the cities that had air classified as unfit to breathe. That air pollution shortens the life span of 50,000 people per year in the UK, which results in 2818% more people dying than were killed in traffic accidents in 2013. In China, air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, and to 5.5 million premature deaths world wide in 2013. In India, airborne pollutants shorten life span by an average of 3.4 years – 6.3 years for those living Delhi. Other studies have shown that air pollution is associated with low birth weight, prematurity, neonatal death and decreased fertility in both males and females. One new study suggests a link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease. And while there is variation from year to year, the bottom line is that air pollution kills or contributes to death of as many, or more, people per year than all forms of cancer combined.

While I see all types of campaigns and treatments advertised to cure cancer, I have never seen one to end air pollution in our lifetime. We put traffic flow over air safety. We put moving cars ahead of moving people and thus design roads and parking areas for an assumed volume of traffic based on privately owned and operated cars rather than shared economy vehicles and public transportation.

Given the interplay of an aging population, increased urbanization, market forces, increasing preference for and reliability of technological capability as well as shifting priorities in personal economics, the ICE (internal combustion engine) will go away. Already the Germany’s Bundesrat has passed a resolution that bans the internal combustion engine as of 2030. And as more of us understand the connection between traffic pollution and health the ICE will melt even faster and urban design will focus on people first and cars second. After all, transportation and clean air should not be the antithesis of each other – the Golden Rule taught us that.

Tim – 2a174af131d9






Quartermaster’s Update from 4 September 2016

Comparing data from today with the 1st (2015) Quartermaster’s Report (QMR) published in the book “this Spaceship Earth” by David Houle and Tim Rumage.

The Quartermaster supervises, stores, and distributes supplies and provisions. The Quartermaster is also the one responsible for making sure equipment, materials, and systems are available and functioning. The purpose of the Quartermaster’s Report is to put forth the data that describes the status of the ship, in this case “This Spaceship Earth.” The reason for taking a planetary perspective is to realign our individual viewpoints and assumptions about resource quantity, quality, and demand with that of TSE’s current operational capability, capacity, and actual status. This is not about what is preferred or desired, but what is. Therefore, in the world of the Quartermaster, if a 16 oz. glass has 8 ounces of liquid, the glass is neither half full nor half empty – it simply has 8 ounces of liquid.



Human Population

2016 –                        7,448,116, 815 people

2015 QMR –   7,307,492,161

net increase     140,624,654


(the net increase is approximately the combined populations of the Tokyo, Delhi, Shanghai, Mumbai, Beijing, New York City, and Calcutta metropolitan areas.)


Net population increase

2016 –            159 people/min

2015 QMR – 148 people/min

net increase      11 people/min


Food Waste

2016               1,600,000,000 tons

1st QMR         1,300,000,000 tons

net increase –  300,000,000 tons


It takes 250,000 billion liters (66,043 billion gallons) of water,

1.4 billion hectares (14 million sq. km. or 3.5 billion acres or 5.5 million sq. mi.) of land,

and 3.3 billion metric tonnes (3.6 US tons) of CO2 emissions to generate this food waste which has a global economic value of US$750, 000,000,000.




July 2016 was the hottest July ever recorded globally in 136 years of modern record keeping. July continued a streak of ten consecutive months (since October 2015) that have set new monthly high-temperature records.

Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said. “It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years. There’s no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination (of temperatures).”



Global Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions

from fossil-fuel combustion and industrial processes


2014 –           35,900,000,000 tonnes*

2012 –           34,500,000,000 tonnes (data used for 1st QMR)

net increase     1,400,000,000 tonnes



Translation Equivalency – global anthropogenic CO2 emissions measured in units of 4 tonne Elephants launched into the air/second /year


2014 –            284 elephants/second

2012 –            273 elephants/second

net increase   11 elephants/second


Annual Average Atmospheric Concentrations of CO2

in parts per million (ppm)

2015 – 400.83 ppm

2014 – 398.61 ppm

2013 – 396.48 ppm

2012 – 393.82 ppm


preindustrial levels ~ 278 ppm

net increase ~122 ppm, ~ 143% increase in CO2 concentrations


Earth Overshoot Day comes earlier

2016 –               8 August

1st QMR –       13 August

net change –     5 days earlier

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. Minimum safe date for balancing demand with resources and services is December 31st.

Earth Overshoot Day 2016









World’s Ecological Footprint rises to 1.6 Earths


2016 –            1.6 planets

1st QMR          1.56 planets

net increase      .04 planets


Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 planets to provide the renewable resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth 19.2 months to regenerate what we use in 12 months



Fish Stocks (overexploited/depleted/fully exploited)

2016 –           89.9%

1st QMR          87.0%

net increase     2.9%



Quartermaster’s Additional Considerations

Changes in Land Surface


In the past 30 years

115,000 sq. km (44,000 sq. miles) of land is now covered in water and

173,000 sq. km (67,000 sq. miles) of water has now become land.


The increase in land covered by water is due to sea level rise, the reservoirs that result from damming rivers, and the melt of glaciers thus turning them into lakes.


The two leading causes of increased land area are the drainage of lakes/inland seas and creation of artificial islands for real estate development and territorial claims.



Subsidence: The gradual caving in or sinking of an area of land


Due to over pumping of ground water, many coastal cities are subsiding (sinking) faster than sea level is rising.


Extinction Rate:

Extrapolating from the UN Environment Programme estimate, 54,750 – 73,000 species go extinct per year.

According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours.



Submitted by

Tim Rumage

Co-author, This Spaceship Earth


Chief Science Officer and Quartermaster – This Spaceship Earth


There are two questions you might consider as you review this update.

First – how well do your assumptions about each topic match the reality of the data?

Second – does the information reflect an outcome that you wish humanity to achieve?

Your reflection and your response to your answers of those two questions will determine your consciousness and participation in defining and creating our common future.

The Losses Unrecognized.

Toughie was found dead on 26 September 2016. His precise age is unknown. He was captured as an adult in 2005 while living in Panama. He spent his final years in a secure and protected location at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I have read that Toughie was handsome and really cool. His credits include the film, Racing Extinction (, and his portrait is included in the Photo Ark project


Toughie was a Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum). He was also the last known individual of his species. His death is an extinction event.

On 26 September 2016 the death of Toughie and the extinction of the Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog was just one of the estimated 150 – 200 species that goes extinct everyday.

To me, there are two questions immediately triggered by the numbers. First, do we – humans – believe that other species have the right to exist? And secondly, do we – as a species – act as if other living beings have the right to exist? We cannot say yes to the first question and no to the second and maintain the life support system on this planet that we need to survive and thrive. Nor can we place the burden and sole responsibility for species vitality on a small population of conservation biologist/ecologist and dedicated volunteers. We are all in this together.

In “A Sand County Almanac,” Aldo Leopold wrote “to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” The loss of 150 – 200 species per day would indicate (if not indict) that humanity is tinkering without intelligence. The “World Charter for Nature” adopted by the United Nations in 1982 ( )

provides 5 general principles by which ALL human conduct affecting Nature is to be guided and judged. The first principle is “Nature shall be respected and its essential processes shall not be impaired.”

The rate of climate change, sea level rise, the increasing number of extreme weather events, increasing exposure to hormone-mimics, habitat loss, land degradation, and pollution demonstrate our functional cumulative, collective and continuous disregard of Nature’s essential processes. Originally, we were creating these conditions without intent. Now it seems many happen as an ignorantia affectata,

or a willful ignorance. We choose not to know, or not think about it, or spend our time and effort trying to discredit the science, the facts or the obvious. Sometimes the rational is that the harm or side effects were unforeseen or unintended consequences; that there were no ‘bad guys.’

No matter what adjectives we would like to use, the reality is that there are effects and consequences with everything we do, so we should consider using a bit more precaution and intelligence in our tinkering. And while I can try to find solace in the conjecture that there were no ‘bad guys’ that begs the issue of the location and number of the good ones.


Passing the 400 ppm Milestone

We’ve done it. In 2016, the last place on earth to obtaining a reading of 440ppm (parts per million) of CO2 did so. That was Antarctica in May. And now, the month of September has topped 400ppm. That is significance as September is the month that has the lowest atmospheric CO2 levels.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere is not Wall Street. There is no way to put a positive spin on reaching and surpassing this milestone. It does serve to show that we are living in a changing, dynamic, planetary situation that has never existed in modern humanity’s time on Earth. This milestone should not only remind us that we live and work at a planetary scale, but that we need to change our consciousness so we can adapt our behavior to the reality that we live and operate at a planetary scale.

There is only one water, one hydrosphere. There is only one atmosphere. We are dependent upon an intrinsic set of biological, chemical and geophysical interactions that operate within a relatively narrow set of parameters. There is only one planet in the entire universe that we know can support our species without augmentation – and we are on it.

Planet Earth is our home – period.

Will we visit and potentially colonize other planets, undoubtedly. But we are not moving over 7.4 billion people to Mars no matter how well Matt Damon can grows potatoes. And 400ppm is not the place “to boldly go” because it is not a milestone, or a goal line or a breakthrough. It is a tipping point. Probably the inflection point, or the point at which fundamental changes have to be made so that the systems that are most conducive to our preferred quality of life can continue to operate.



My Apologies

Sorry that I have been absent from this site for so long.

David Houle and I finished and published “This Spaceship Earth” in December 2015 and then starting giving talks and publicizing the book. The response to both the book and the presentations was incredibly positive and invariably lead to the question – “So what can I do?” To help answer that question we formed a not-for-profit Foundation, had a website created ( ), established relationships with individuals and groups in colleges, communities and different countries, did some fundraising and created public installations to turn the words into actions. It has been my involvement in the start-up phase of these operations that have caused my neglect of this site. Fortunately there appears to be a growing rhythm and a flow to those endeavors so that I can now properly attend to this venue.



Planetary Ethics and COP21

Why Ethics – because ethics is about what we do. Not what we think or how we feel, but what we do. And the environment responds to what we do. Earth is very Newtonian in that regard for there is a response to every action we take and to every form of energy or force to which the planet is subjected.

Why a Planetary frame of reference – because global is too small and selective a scale. Global is a human construct that allows us to focus on areas of interest while disregarding those topics and issues that are difficult to resolve or inconvenient in their timing relative to the preferred priorities of the moment. But mainly we need to recognize that we do not live on a globe, but on a planet – and operating at a planetary level means all topics have equity.


For example, there is a great deal of interest in discussing the global economy and global trade, but natural capital and the status of workers are local or national concerns – not global. But how does one have goods to trade without workers or have the assets to support the economy without the natural resources that make assets possible?

Our actions are the manifestations of our beliefs, which brings us to COP 21, the Climate conference taking place in Paris. Climate Change is a planetary issue as it impacts everyone and everything everywhere. Thinking of it as a global issue limits our scope of understanding its full ramifications over multiple generations, millions of species and billions of lives. Believing that the solution can be generated by countries signing an international agreement to act independently and voluntarily underscores our lack of comprehension about the seriousness, scale and timeline of the ramifications of climate change, sea level rise, and extreme weather events. Limiting our discussions to greenhouse gas emissions by ignoring the dramatic increase in volume of resident greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – the location of the gases that are actually triggering climate change indicates that we are still looking for, hoping for, solutions that are not overly taxing on our way of life.

Climate change and global warming will not simply fade away. On a daily bases humanity acts and behaves in a manner to insure their ongoing presence and increasing significance in our lives and to all life on the planet.

Through the cumulative, collective and continuous actions that we have taken is the current planetary situation the one we had sought to achieve? The existence of COP 21 says the answer to that question is no. On the positive side, COP 21 indicates that many are interested in being less bad when it comes to humanity’s impact on the environment we need to sustain us. But being less bad does not provide a solution – it is at best a stopgap measure and delaying tactic to an unfavorable and unpleasant outcome. If, however, we developed an ethical perspective relative to the Earth so that we behaved as if our lives depended on the planet, we would most certainly avoid the worst impacts of global warming and reverse the trend of negative climate change.

EarthOvershoot Day

Today, August 13th, 2015 is Earth Overshoot Day.

It is not a day of or for celebration but a day of grievous concern, for it clarifies the disconnect between the needs, wants and desires of humanity and the capacity and capability of the planet.   There are 140 days left in the calendar year and yet we have already used up all of nature’s annual allotment.

The only way that human activity can operate relative to the planet for the next 140 days is to increase pollution or to degrade resources (thus limiting their capacity in the future). A third alternative is for people to do without basic needs either because they are not available or because they are not affordable.

We, humans, do not have a planetary perspective nor do we operate within the context of a planetary partnership. Our actions demonstrate a mindset that says we are above and apart from the planet on which we live and that provides us with the sustenance for our existence. That perspective is reinforced by the common tendency to use the “economy” is the primary determinant in our community value system.

“The idea of infinite or unlimited growth,which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology . . .is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods,and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry at every limit.”    – Pope Francis

Earth Overshoot Day is the date that demarcates the lie of unlimited growth.

I have three major concerns regarding Earth Overshoot Day. The primary one is that the day actually exists – that we are so out of balance with the planet that there is an Earth Overshoot Day.

The second concern is that Earth Overshoot Day is coming earlier and earlier in the year. In 1987, Earth Overshoot Day was December 19th. In 1995 it was November 21st. In 2000 it was November 1st. In 2005 it was October 20th. Last year it was August 19th and now it is August 13th. This is a trend that must be reversed until we have eliminated the reality of Earth Overshoot Day.

The third concern is that Earth Overshoot Day is one of the most critical news stories of the day – it not the most significant – that will receive virtually no news coverage on major commercial outlets.

We are a part of Planet Earth. We are a partner with Planet Earth. We are interdependent with Planet Earth, and therefore need to act in concert with the constraints of Planet Earth. Our relationship with Planet Earth is the determinant for humanity’s quality of life both now and for those who will reside in the legacy we leave behind.  earth overshoot day 2015


tim rumage photo

Tim is a planetary ethicist and the Coordinator/Developer of Environmental Studies at Ringling College of Art and Design where he teaches courses on green building, sustainability, creating ecological cities, applied environmental design and environmental ethics.

Tim is also a Coordinator for Sustainability in Design Education at CUMULUS. CUMULUS is the only global association to serve art and design education and research and currently consists of 198 institutional members from 48 countries.

Recent work focuses on the economic value of nature and nature’s services, and lectures at other colleges and community organizations. Previous endeavors include working with David Crane to jointly develop and teach the Green Building Seminar at USF/SACD. Tim is also involved in a variety of interdisciplinary projects in the US and Africa involving habitat restoration and protection, green infrastructure, local food production, and sustainability. Early research areas include Marine Mammals, Bats, Pelagic Birds, and environmental surveys.

He and David Houle are co-authoring a book on environmental consciousness entitled This Spaceship Earth that is scheduled for release in Summer 2015.

Forgive and Learn

I am from the “forgive and learn” school of thought. I appreciate and admire those of the “forgive and forget” tradition, especially if they truly can forgive and forget. But at heart, I am a teacher. As such I want the lessons learned not forgotten or repeated. Peter Cooke clearly stated the condition I wish to avoid in the comedy routine the Frog and Peach with Dudley Moore.   When Dudley asks Peter if he has learned from his mistakes, Peter’s character answers: “I think I have, yes, and I think I can probably repeat them almost perfectly.  I know my mistakes inside out.”

I do not want the mistakes remembered for the purpose of assigning blame or casting dispersions upon one’s character. I want them remembered for the role they can serve in avoiding parallel problems in the future.

We need to remember the things that did not work as we thought they might with the same fervor we use for celebrating those things that went right. For that is the way to acknowledge and embrace the need to ask better, more thoughtful, more thorough questions, to consider more fully the implications of the decisions we make and the actions we take in order to monitor and accept the responsibility of the results.

At a planetary scale there are no unintended consequences or side effects. There are only inputs and impacts that cause other things to happen – down wind, down stream, down time. No actions are in isolation. That is the bane and benefit of being part of an integrated system of mutual dependencies. As such we need to be cognizant of the things we cause to happen relative to the productivity, viability and verdancy of the whole network of interactions.