The lure of the ordinary and the death of the planet
We are living on the brink of the apocalypse, but the world is asleep.
Joel C. Rosenberg
If there’s anything we humans excel at, it’s lying to ourselves. We use the evidence of our eyes to convince ourselves that all that bad news can’t really be true. Even if we admit it superficially, on a deeper, biological level, we’re all just tiny cowering creatures huddled under bushes as the volcanic ash rains down — we simply can’t encompass it even as we’re scared to death.
We simply don’t, as a herd, have the mental capacity. So we put it into a tiny compartment, stuffed in with our greater awareness which is actually screaming, make sure it’s soundproof and go on our merry way.
It doesn’t help that we look out the window and the world looks normal. The trees are green. The sky is blue. There are birds and if we try really hard, we can ignore that there are fewer of them. There are insects, but the gauzy swarms that dance their erotic boogie in beams of sunlight — well, they were annoying anyway. Always got a few up my nose, darned things.
Plus, there’s life to get on with. Things need paid. The job has its schedule. The kids need raising. Life continues to be ordinary. Even with the orange Beelzebub and his decaying zombie horde in the White House. Even with all the news of his endless vanity, mental decrepitude, moral turpitude and boundless corruption — the grocery store we always go to looks pretty much the same. The streets we navigate are the streets we always navigate. There are still lattes to be imbibed and chocolate to crave, resist and then give in with a shrug and sigh of delight.
But this ordinariness is killing us. We are murdering the planet with our comfortable lives. With our conveniences. We have tailored a world around indulgence and we sure as hell don’t want to give any of that up.
And to a degree, that makes sense. Life before was hard. If you’ve never done laundry by hand, you have no clue how much of a blessing a washer and dryer are. If you’ve never survived a southern summer, you have no idea how much of a godsend air conditioning actually is. People worked long, miserable hours literally just to survive. Even those who had comfortable lives worked harder than most of us ever will — and those were the privileged ones. Those without — the poor of every shade, people of color — their struggle to survive would defy comprehension to all but the poorest of the poor now — at least in the First World.
But make no mistake — if we don’t change radically and literally now, everything we cherish will go up in flames. Or drown in floods. Or get swept away by monster hurricanes. Or desiccate as desert subsumes more and more of the planet.
Take a serious look at children. Your children or any children — they’re all equally precious. They all look with wide-eyed hope at a future we can no longer guarantee they’ll even have. They have the same look of happy expectation at the promise of a future when they grow up that we had — but we had no reason to worry that it wouldn’t happen. Not my generation, at least. My children’s generation wasn’t so worried, but they won’t be old enough to die before they see it as I am likely to.
When I think of the world they will inherit — even if we can ameliorate our current trajectory — I literally founder. I collapse in tears and terror when I run their future as it is most likely to be. I confess I am in therapy — I have a lot of past to heal — but these days I am also going just to vent. To grieve. To sob out my terror and rage and fury and worry. I am not grieving for my own future but for my children and their children and the children who may never have a chance to come after them because the earth as we know it — this miracle, this paradise, will be gone.
No, my despair isn’t for me. I’ll be 64 soon. I’ve lived a life. I’ve loved, learned, raised kids and now I’m retired. I want more time — most of us do — but if I don’t get much more, I have far less to regret.
If humans can even survive, we cannot count on civilization. Despite our intense avoidance of ever learning a damned thing from our mistakes, history provides no comfort. We devolve in an instant and become savages on a scale that no other animal on earth can match. Even decent people, when desperate, will kill your entire household to get your chickens. We quite literally will devour what’s left of ourselves and the little left over will, indeed, resemble “Mad Max” and every other horrific, apocalyptic, dystopian tale with which we ever scared ourselves. The reason we are scared by them is we recognize that they are quite plausible. We read or watch them because we have always been able to reassure ourselves that will never happen.
Believe me, if we don’t act and now, it bloody well will happen. And we know it.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some. Here’s my short list:
- Punt all evil leaders worldwide. There are more of us than there are of them. We must extract our collective head from our collective ass, stop fucking around and do it.
- We must stop all use of fossil fuels. There are plant-based fuels that will work on our current cars until we can phase out combustion engines entirely. It’s elitist to suggest that all people go out and buy electric cars. Some of us couldn’t even charge them without starting a house fire.
- We must stop logging all old growth forests and the equatorial rain forests must be held sacred. We must reforest on a global scale.
- We have to find a way to restore the ice at the poles. They reflect so much of the hot sun back into space. Without it, the earth just drinks it in.
- We must clean the oceans and ameliorate the change in acidity. Much of our oxygen is furnished by plankton and without it, we suffocate.
I am not religious and, in fact, detest religion (although I’m rather fond of faith). But in the Torah, Genesis 1:26 1:26, it says:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
But here’s the thing. They got the translation wrong. The word isn’t dominion but stewardship. And that’s not the same thing at all.
If we’re going to survive — if our children are to have a planet — we must change our way of thinking from dominion to stewardship now — and not just theoretically but in a practical, immediate and focused effort that will make the drive that got us through WW2 look like a school picnic.
Or we all die. It’s that simple.