On Climate Change & Collective Courage


Courage is the only way we can save ourselves from ourselves

In prior essays for the Good Men Project, I focused on two of six questions asked by Socrates as he pursued a life of excellence: (1) What is justice? (2) What is good? The additional questions are: (3) What is piety? (4) What is courage? (5) What is moderation? (6) What is virtue? In this short essay, I address the question of courage and its importance to contemporary living in light of the near-term demise of Homo sapiens.

According to my friends Merriam and Webster, courage is defined as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. This neatly simple definition hints at the many ways courage can be pursued. Socrates demonstrated remarkable courage by posing difficult questions until he was finally killed for his audacity. Even at death’s door, Socrates displayed uncommon mental and moral strength before drinking from the state’s lethal cup.

The example of Socrates remains relevant. How do we summon courage in the face of overwhelming evidence pointing toward near-term human extinction as a result of climate change? Facing death as an individual, Socrates remained committed to a life of excellence. Facing his individual death, Socrates kept asking questions. Facing death, Socrates displayed the courage of his mental and moral convictions.

Can we demonstrate Socrates-style courage as individuals? Will we demonstrate such courage as a society?

As individuals, we can lead the way for others, thus serving as an example for society. We are capable of tremendous compassion and creativity in the face of disaster. By persevering in the face of daunting challenge, we exemplify the spirit of Socrates and the best side of our humanity.

Such an approach may seem unwarranted in light of the virtually certain death. On the other hand, we’ve long known all individuals die and all species go extinct. Facing both prospects within the span of our remaining years on Earth is nothing if not a call to courage.

Linked to courage is our attitude. Is there a better metric of our courage than how we treat other humans and other species as we stare into the abyss?

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–Photo: NishanthJois/Flickr

About Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson was born and raised in the heart of the Aryan Nation, small-town northern Idaho. More than ten years into a career in the academic ivory tower, McPherson began focusing his efforts on social criticism. His contemporary presentations stress the importance of individual and societal action in light of ongoing global climate change and energy decline. All events highlight the importance of living sustainably, a necessity driven by completion of the ongoing collapse of the industrial economy and underlain by the absence of cheap oil. McPherson's latest chapter includes abandoning his tenured position as full professor at a major research university for ethical reasons. His story is described in his latest two books, Walking Away from Empire and Going Dark.


  1. That’s a nice post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. F.Tnioli says:

    There are few good movies around, one i like much is “Beautiful mind”. In the opening scene of this movie, some bright minds are told by a professor (i suppose he’s a professor) about how mathematicians won the war, built the a-bomb, etc. “Mathematicians, just like you”.

    In mathematics, things which are needed to prove some statement (theorem, etc) may be few or many, but there are always two kinds of them: some are “required”, others are “sufficient”. In some cases, thing which is “required” is the same thing which is “sufficient”, so mathematicians call it “required and sufficient”.

    Courage is definitely required. However, it is not sufficient. In other words, it is not “the only way” – what’s though true is that it is a required part of “the only way”. Without this part, we’re indeed done for. But even with it, it’s not a given we’ll save ourselves from ourselves – as there are other, also required, things; things, which when piled together with courage, form up the “sufficient” thing. Those others required bits are probably many, more than i can name; but i know at least some of them. For one, it’s definitely moderation. For another, it’s definitely justice – at least some sort of it.* Yet another but very required one – a healthy “zeitgeist”, i.e. a sum of collective subconsious – habits, traditions, customs, proverbs, fairytales, beliefs and knowledge; healthy in sense of being supportive to some sustainable form of human society, – not the opposite like it (much) is in present-day western consume-and-profit culture.

    * (any society needs practical justice to survive harsh times, and we’ll have harsh times; and we humans can only stay civilized – at least a bit – if living in large enough societies/communities; and we need to stay at least a bit civilized to endure harsh times – one by one or family by family, we’ll endure for years or perhaps few decades even, but will very quickly degenerage into little more than anymals, and most likely share the fate of all large species (size of a rabbit and larger) – which apparently is extinction).

    Bottom line of my imho is simple: yep, we definitely needs alot of courage, but courage alone won’t do; other things, some of which are even much more difficult to get than courage, are also very required.

    Best wishes to you, Guy; thank you for all the work you did and do; and much respect, too. Vivat!


  1. […] McPherson’s latest essay for the Good Men Project was published 1 June 2013. It’s here. […]

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