On Suffering

Suffering is “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.” Pain is “physical discomfort ranging from mild to severe, usually caused by injury, or a nerve condition.” Suffering includes the aspect of distress, psychological pain, the subjective awareness of the internal state of an individual human being. It is also often associated with remorse. Feeling remorse indicates that some level of consciousness is necessary for the capacity to fully suffer.


One of the most heartrending stories from the recent wildfires is of the man who left his wife and two great-great-grandchildren while he went to the store to pick up something. He got a phone call from one of the children who said, “Grandpa, you have to come get us. The fire is getting closer.” His wife and the children died in the fire. I am sorry for bringing this person’s suffering into public view. It’s one of the ways we learn, by sharing each other’s stories.


As the temperature of planet Earth continues to rise as a result of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere, and the additional greenhouse gases we are still releasing into the atmosphere, the current unprecedented wildfires, heat waves, drought, floods, rising sea levels, and so on will soon be surpassed by even worse catastrophes.


Some people say that the current global climate change is just natural variability, another cycle of nature. That viewpoint indicates a lack of awareness that humanity is part of nature. There are enough people in the world now, and the rate at which we are burning fossil fuels is so high, that we are a force of nature. Anyone who can not see this is blind.


Anyone who has been in denial for years, if and when they finally accept the truth, will probably experience some remorse. That is natural, too.


The best way to get over the remorse and the associated suffering, is to join in bringing the concentration of greenhouse gases back down below 400 ppm of CO2 equivalent as quickly as possible.


Fortunately, there is a way forward. It makes sense to transition to electricity that is generated with wind, solar, and other forms of clean, renewable energy. It makes sense to add batteries, ultracapacitors, and other forms of storage to the grid, our vehicles, and our digital devices. It makes sense to convert to electric transportation. It makes sense to convert to organic farming because this takes carbon out of the atmosphere, and puts it back into the soil. There are so many things to do that just make common sense.


One more thing. A big mistake was made in “Humanae vitae,” the encyclical on birth control written by Pope Paul VI in 1968. He wrote that methods of birth control such as the condom, the pill, and vasectomies are not natural. When I had my vasectomy, there was nothing supernatural about it. The doctor punctured my scrotum with a metal tool, and he used other tools to pull my vas deferens outside the scrotum so he could cut those ducts and cauterize the cuts, and then put that tubing back inside my scrotum. I was sore down there for a few days, but that was about it. There was no suffering. I felt good that I had just done something to give my daughter the best chance of not suffering because of overpopulating the planet.


There is a lot to be said about compassion. The best way to express compassion is to avoid suffering in the first place. Common sense tells us that there is a way forward that will reduce suffering.


John Kintree

August 5, 2018