Our Spiritual Crisis in the Anthropocene Epoch


            By Dr. Michael W. Fox

       “To understand is to forgive.”-Blaise Pascal

In this time of human evolution where we have become the dominant species on Earth, creating the Anthropocene epoch, we face an existential spiritual crisis. The Anthropocene Epoch is an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. By spiritual I allude to our non-material state of well-being and those values, beliefs and ethics by which we live. This is independent of the often-unjust moralistic fabric of the times and cultures; and is affirmed by our emotional and mental health and the caring and loving relationships we celebrate, enjoy and enjoin in our lives and hearts.

It is in this Anthropocene epoch that we come face to face with the consequences of our actions and beliefs, a call for accountability for the state of the world in which we indubitably do more harm than good. Many currently suffer from eco-anxiety. The American Psychology Association describes eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of next generations.” The violence of person against person mirrors our long history of violence against Nature and other animals.

The many broken hearts of survivors and witnesses to war, terrorism, domestic violence, “natural” disasters and other psychophysical traumas call for a Great Healing which is only possible in an empathic society where social justice, eco-justice and economic justice are in concord with the Golden Rule extended to include all sentient beings.

Compassion fatigue has both physical and psychological consequences including exhaustion, frustration, anger, guilt, disrupted sleep and appetite, weakening of the immune system, illness including psychosomatic disorders, anxiety, depression, despair, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicidal ideation. It must be recognized early as a situational and relational psychophysical crisis and supportive intervention sought and provided by sympathetic and understanding, friends and relatives as well as professional stress-management therapists.

Compassion fatigue may include a diminution of empathy but it is the antithesis of the empathy deficit disorder. This is an endemic psychopathology involving desensitization, objectification, separation, redirected aggression and disassociation as exemplified in various degrees by the rapist, trophy hunter, animal torturer, serial killer and mass-shooter.

The climate and plant and animal extinction crises are a consequence of our collectively ignorant, harmful and destructive existence. The looming food, public health and economic security crises are also a consequence of our non-sustainable numbers and appetites. This must all change if we are to evolve rather than continue to devolve and possibly perish or see ever more millions die in wars, famines, pandemics, floods, fires, droughts and unlivable temperatures.

Nature has become our nemesis rather than sustaining provider because in satisfying our material needs, we have sacrificed the spiritual that enabled and ennobled us to live in harmony with all our relations that make up the life community of planet Earth. When we disrespect and disregard these relationships —our sacred connections and duties to preserve and protect according to the Anishinaabe, we bring on what the Hopi Indians call Koyaanisquatsi, life out of balance.

Some pray to their God while others doubt the existence of God in a world of predation and animal and human violence and suffering. Many contend that God helps those who help themselves. But those who help others, including other species, enjoy the sense of grace that comes with empathic suffering and compassion-in-action that can never be experienced by those who simply pray for personal salvation.

The spiritual and environmental crises we face today are clearly and fundamentally due to our lack of understanding and respect for the sanctity of all life that engages us spiritually in a hallowing covenant of planetary care. This responsibility continues to be abdicated by most current technologies and industries that pollute the planet, and along with the burning of fossil fuels, jeopardize our physical health. The collective, miasmic and delusional psychoses of egotism and anthropocentrism can be rectified and prevented by right example through right living; right education, right industry and by embracing equal justice for all sentient beings.


Many of you will be sharing my dismay and disgust at the recent rulings from the Trump-centric majority in the U.S. Supreme Court with regard to expanding gun rights, undermining women’s reproductive rights and eroding the wall separating church and state.

Now, to cap it all, in a detailed posting from the science journal Nature, the US Supreme Court has prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from crafting broad regulations to drive the country’s power industry away from coal and towards cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar. The court’s ruling could make it much harder for the administration of President Joe Biden — and its successors — to curb greenhouse gases as promised under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. And that spells bad news for the planet, because the United States is both one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world and a crucial player in the countries tackling global warming.doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-01796-8 US Supreme Court hobbles the EPA’s authority over climate … https://www.nature.com › news

This makes the Disunited States of America a pariah among nations striving to prevent the looming catastrophic consequences of our collective contributions to global warming, climate change and associated loss of biodiversity. Experts preduct more frequent, more intense and longer-lasting floods, droughts, hurricanes, forest fires, crop failures, pestilence, famine, plagues, political crises, loss of wildlife and habitat and a U.N. estimate of 200 million and probably many more environmental refugees by 2050. Without putting a cap on carbon emissions the extinction of life on planet Earth will be inevitable with a percentage loss of biodiversity that will make existence ever more of a challenge for our children’s children, a legacy and impact which we can still avert, or at least minimize, if we chose and fight for justice for all.

The Supreme Court rulings violate the core principles of social, economic and ecological/environmental justice and rule of law, failing to protect and serve the common good and the good of the Commons. A longstanding precedent allowing plaintiffs living in their homes and properties in Iowa suffering reduced quality of life from air and water pollution caused by neighboring hog factory farms, ( with a carbon footprint equivalent to that of a small town) was was reversed by the Iowa Supreme Court.

Iowa is the nation’s leading pork producer with 23 million pigs. According to Associated Press reporter David Pitt (‘Iowa hog farm ruling reversed’, Star Tribune, July 1st 2022) . Justice Thomas Waterman of the Iowa Supreme Court wrote regarding this decision that “protecting and promoting livestock production is a legitimate state interest, and granting partial immunity from nuisance suits is a proper means to that end.” Climatologits, public health experts and others are calling for the phasing out of such livestock production systems since they are a major contributor to the climate crisis and spread of diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria into the human populace.

While some may chose to live simply rather than high off the hog so that others may simply live, the fact remains that our fossil fuel based civilization, manufacturing and consumer activities and expanding populace with more disposable income are limiting the options for future generations.

Some climate changes - warming and destructive weather - happen naturally from alterations in Earth’s solar orbit, and the extent of Earth’s axis tilt. But anthropogenic factors compound the severity and duration of such climatic events. Climate change deniers need a reality check and I commend all concerned to read the book by David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. The Dugan Books NY 2019. The existential, if not evolutionary call for global collaboration to address the climate crisis, as through a United Environmental Nations, is louder than ever. As Wallace-Wells asserts, “we have all the tools we need, today, to stop it all: a carbon tax and the political apparatus to phase out dirty energy; a new approach to agriculture and a shift away from beef and dairy ( I would add pigs!) in the global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture.”

Existentially, dystopian and dysbiotic conditions will only intensify until we adopt the Seventh Generation Principle based on the ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. This is the basic principle of empathic consequentialism on which I elaborate in my book Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society.

As we embrace the beauty and wonder of intelligent, sentient life around us and within us we begin to understand and appreciate the myriad of sustaining and regenerating relationships we have and need for our physical and mental health and ultimate spiritual well-being.

The flashing display of a red-winged blackbird dipping one wing to show his crimson plume while bursting into song as I walked our dog beside a local stream eclipsed in my mind all the neon lights from New York to Singapore. After all, he was more ancient, original and authentic and a part of me that could never be a part of the Technopolis and its dystopian state.

When our minds are opened by our hearts into empathic communion, we become open to the life around us and within us. So, it was with our ancestors who acquired the feral wisdom of the herbs and fungi that can heal, nourish, poison and kill. In our recovery of this spiritual sensibility, we may come to deserve the self-anointed title of Homo sapiens, Man the wise.