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 believe them.

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 know why.

I believe that our civilization suffers from an
inability to conceptualize our dangerous future.

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 ultimate motivator).

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 ahead?

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 abyss.

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
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