May 11 • 1HR 19M

How Death Drives the Anthropocene | Sheldon Solomon

Death on our mind drives consumption

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Rachel Donald
Planet: Critical is the podcast for a world in crisis. We face severe climate, energy, economic and political breakdown. Journalist Rachel Donald interviews those confronting the crisis, revealing what's really going on—and what needs to be done.
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Here we are at a crossroads of human history. There's never been this historical confluence of war, political instability, economic vulnerability, on top of the impending ecological apocalypse.

Here we are, just marinated in death reminders. And what we know from our research is that that turns us into depressed, demoralized, proto fascists plundering the planet in our insatiable desire for dollars and dross in an alcohol-oxycodone-TikTok-twittering stupor.

This is not a great position to be in.


Are you afraid of dying?

Sheldon Solomon has been researching death anxiety and its impact on our behaviour for decades, finding that unmitigated death awareness drives mindless consumption, political polarisation and more disordered behaviour. In short, our fear of death could be driving the climate crisis.

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We discuss the link between death awareness and self-awareness, how cultural beliefs are used to anesthetize death anxiety, how Western culture has the ironic effect of exacerbating that very anxiety that it's trying to solve, and why the solutions lie with imagination and creativity.

Sheldon Solomon is Professor of Psychology at Skidmore College.  His studies of the effects of the uniquely human awareness of death on behaviour were featured in the award winning documentary film Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality.  He is co-author of In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror and The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

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© Rachel Donald