Cassandra is misunderstood. Most often the term "Cassandra" is used
pejoratively as a label to describe someone who is a whiny and hand-wringing
worrier, a chicken-little type, someone who yells "fire" when there is no fire.
But in fact, the opposite is true.
In Greek mythology, Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam and Queen
Hecuba of Troy, was so beautiful that the God Apollo fell deeply in love with
her, and as a gift to show his devotion, he granted her the ability to know the
future. But when she spurned his love, he put a curse on her so that no one
would ever believe her. Cassandra had perfect knowledge of the future (she
even warned the Trojans about the Trojan horse) and yet nobody would ever
accept her predictions. It was a frustrating curse in the extreme.
Today, this same extreme frustration is shared by the many people who have
extensively read about and carefully studied our unfolding sustainability
crisis. These modern-day Cassandras clearly understand that unabated, the
current trends in climate disruption, peak oil, soil degradation,
non-renewable resource depletion, and fresh water shortages, combined with
a rapidly growing human population, will soon result in a disaster of
unimaginable scope and suffering.
These frustrated Cassandras have studied the facts, have integrated all of the
information, and have done the math. Their conclusion is clear—if we don't
act dramatically—and soon—within a few decades this planet will experience
a violent, chaotic, and massive human die-off. And yet, in their desperate
attempts to warn the general public of this extreme peril, they all experience
the same response. The significantly less informed public simply refuses to
The average person, when confronted by a logical and detailed presentation of
the facts by one of these Cassandras, will still argue that it isn’t true—even
though they have little knowledge or even no facts to support their position.
And many times they even exhibit an unfocused anger at the mere mention of
this terrifying future.
This inability to convince the public to confront the real danger ahead—this
"Cassandra Dilemma"—is itself a hotly debated topic within the community of
sustainability activists. "Why won't people listen to us? Why can't we get them
to read even the most basic information about the issue? Why do they choose
to believe so much false information? How can we get them wake up and
clearly see the horror that will engulf us and our children?"
Unfortunately, a crisis that unfolds in slow motion is easy to ignore. As each
day comes and goes, peak oil, population growth, soil degradation, water
shortages, and climate disruption all seem to be no worse than the day
before. And because most people now have such a short attention span and
short-term thinking, the vast majority of people never see or acknowledge the
gradual, yet inexorable, deterioration of our planet's life support systems.
For the general public, a combination of apathy, denial, and false hope
obscures the reality of the dangers ahead. The existential question then
becomes: Can the general public’s apathy, denial, and false hope ever be
overcome? So far, the Cassandras among us have completely failed. I think I
I believe that our civilization suffers from an inability to conceptualize our
By way of explanation, let's try a thought experiment. Assume for a moment
that we have developed a worm-hole camera that can literally see into the
future. We will use this Cassandra-camera to go forward several decades to a
time during the height of the predicted collapse. Food is scarce, people are
desperate, chaos and extreme violence are rampant, children are killing and
being killed, and cannibalism is commonplace.
We then show these Cassandra-camera videos to everyone on today's Earth,
and explain that this is their children's future if we fail to act soon.
Would that have an impact on the general public? Would that finally jolt them
out of their apathy and denial? Yes—of course it would.
We know that in order for the global community to finally act with the courage
needed to make a significant difference, they first need to be aware of the
danger. And to an extent, many people are already somewhat aware—climate
change is not a secret after all.
However, it is also clear that a basic awareness of this danger has not been
enough to create the overwhelming sense of urgency that will be necessary to
adopt the drastic measures required to prevent disaster. To do that, the
populace must be taken well beyond simple awareness—they must become
flat-out afraid (because, as we all know from current politics, fear is the
But since we don't have a Cassandra-camera, how can we conceptualize this
terrifying future for the general public? How can we help them lift their fog of
apathy, denial, and false hope and finally be able to see the real danger
This book, An American Famine, is one answer. It is an unflinching portrayal
of the brutality and desperation of this looming event. It is not a pretty or a
hopeful picture. But it is what will come. And it is time that you know this.
The only possible good news is that this hellish outcome can still be avoided,
though time is short. In order to avoid disaster it is essential that we quickly
find a way to create first an honest awareness, and then an overpowering fear
of the real dangers that we face in the decades to come. Only then will we find
the willpower to take the drastic steps that are required for us to avoid the
You can do your part. Please recommend An American Famine to your friends.
Use it as a tool to start this essential conversation about our future. It is
important, and it is something you can do.
The Cassandra Dilemma