By Bodhi Paul Chefurka: I’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness

Approaching the Limits to Growth


Paul Chefurka was an early thinker about overshoot and has a large body of excellent work.

He’s also an inspiration for many people wondering how to live with their knowledge of reality.

This 2013 Facebook post by Chefurka provides a nice summary of his journey.

The last six months have seen the most wrenching shift for me since the day I discovered the potential for collapse lurking behind Peak Oil. Moving from a profoundly humanist perspective to a deeply impersonal thermodynamic understanding of the world and its creatures has completely upended my philosophical applecart.

I’ve been steeped for my whole life in the traditions of the Age of Enlightenment, complete with the notions of human agency, reason, free will, morality and the perfectibility of man. My political background was the 1960’s socialist, social-justice movement where concepts of fairness and equality reigned supreme. All that has now crumbled to dust.

My journey to this strange new land began with a simple question. I wanted to know why we couldn’t seem to do anything to stop climate change despite everything we know about its causes and effects.

I first looked outward – “Who is to blame?” Then I looked inward – “What is it that makes us so eager to accept activities that many of us know are dangerous and wrong-headed?”

In the search for answers I kept pulling on the various threads I found, then going over to whatever wiggled in response, finding the threads connected to that, and pulling them in turn.

When the fabric finally unraveled I found myself staring at the Second Law of Thermodynamics, with nobody to blame and precious little to be done about our predicament.

In a way I feel betrayed. Everything I’ve been told about how the world works appears to be wrong. The traditional explanations don’t truly explain what I see happening in either the outer or the inner world. Very few people realize that our precious “Story of the People” – our scientifically derived, culturally grounded, explanatory narrative of the world and our place in it – is little but a comforting, self-deluding fabrication. It’s a fantasy borne more out of wish fulfillment than out of any realistic assessment of what’s actually going on. It may be the greatest piece of confirmation bias that we have ever perpetrated on ourselves.

I feel betrayed by the scientists, the politicians, the activists, the philosophers and engineers. It’s enormously frustrating to have come to this realization about the world, in my limited capacity as a single private citizen. It feels incredibly disempowering, which is not surprising – the very concept of “power” has always been defined by those same scientists, politicians, activists etc. As that worldview falls away I even have to realign my inner definitions of power and relationship.

But while I feel a huge rupture of dislocation, I also feel a soaring sense of freedom and liberation. No longer shackled to shame, blame and guilt, I can see people and events through a less reactive, emotionally filtered eye. The world seems clearer. What people do and why they do it is suddenly obvious. What’s going on in the world has begun to make sense for the first time in my 62 years.

For me the trade-off between clarity and comfort has been worthwhile. As difficult as this journey has become, I’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness.

12 thoughts on “By Bodhi Paul Chefurka: I’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness”

  1. Beautiful, Rob…thanks for alerting us to this by posting it!!

    This is precisely the process I try to take those who attend my talks and presentations, but Paul says it so much more elegantly than I.

    Together for the future,

    ~ Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting. But I’m puzzled. I came away wondering why, despite his initial feelings — of “being betrayed by scientists, politicians, activists, philosophers, engineers “, “a comforting self-deluding fabrication”, “a fantasy”, “wish fulfilment”, “greatest piece of confirmation bias”, feels incredibly disempowering”, “huge rupture of dislocation” — Chefurka comes away feeling “a soaring sense of freedom and liberation.”
    I just don’t know what to make of this. To me, his thought process comes across as somewhat self-indulgent.

    I guess I was looking for “What then shall I do?” – with emphasis on “do”. And my thoughts turn to the work of Dr. Nate Hagens in his talk “Where are We Going?” He says “We know what we’re doing. We know what drives us. We know the difference between wants and needs, we know the environmental impact we’re having, we know that we don’t need all this stuff to be happy. And does all that matter? And I think it does.”
    And he concludes his talk with his own three “to do” goals:
    1/ To educate and inspire would-be catalysts and small groups working on better futures to integrate a more systemic view of reality;
    2/ Empower individuals to make better personal choices given the context of the future that I’ve laid out on navigating and thriving during The Great Simplification coming our way; and
    3/ Change what is accepted in our cultural conversation to be more reality based.
    Shortlink Source:


    1. I would suggest it’s Nate who is being self indulgent. As to ‘what then should I do?’; starving in the next famine comes to mind- unless you DO something to avoid that. As for operationalzing Nate’s three points you quoted- good luck with that, it looks like a nice way to make new friends and pass the time until population bottleneck.


    2. These three responses to “what shall we do?” are good, but the one essential piece that’s missing is “lead by example”. Not by flying to the conference to show others how to protest, but by riding your bicycle and lobbying your government for more bike-friendly routes. Not by holding your training session at a picturesque rural restaurant, but by turning your kitchen waste into compost and growing your own. Not (just) by arguing for a carbon tax, but by imposing one on yourself: for every dollar you spend on fossil fuel, put a dollar (or two) away for carbon credits, a fund to help your neighbors upgrade their insulation, or something like that. Show those around you how to live joyfully and sustainably.

      Talk is not action.


      1. I agree. All we’ve done to date is talk about possibly doing things that won’t help even if we tried to do them (like green growth, BECCS, solar panels, electric cars, etc.). Meanwhile debt, emissions, depletion, extinctions, and social unrest accelerate.

        Here’s my short list of what we must do:
        1) Explain to people what’s actually going on.
        2) Vote for people who support rapid population reduction (eg. a birth lottery because it’s too late for a one-child policy to help).
        3) Cease all high-carbon discretionary consumption like vacation air travel and military.
        4) Increase the interest rate to shrink the economy.

        And a longer list here:


        1. Rob, I like your list. It makes sense. But it’s not going to happen. Politicians being like they are. People being like they are. Yes, some people and politicians will push for these things and some people will voluntarily change their lifestyles. But, broadly speaking, our addictions are far too advanced, the rot has spread too far, the cancer has metatisized. In particular, the forthcoming catastrophe of climate change is locked in. We can fight like hell but the “inconvenient truth” is that it’s simply too late for the vast majority of life forms on Earth, especially mammals. And that includes us.
          Enjoy the now.


  3. Good post. It helps with my journey toward acceptance. Chalmers Johnson was an American author who wrote a series of books on American empire and the military budget black hole. I read yesterday that he spent his last days in anguish over the fate of his nation with his head in hands repeating, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.” I’ve been like that a lot since discovering around 2005. I’m trying not to be like that now as it doesn’t do anybody any good, especially me.


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