This column is heavy. It’s going to make you uncomfortable. If I had read it 10 years ago, or maybe even 6 months ago, it would have made me uncomfortable. It is making me uncomfortable to write. If I had read it back then, I may have even rejected it as overly alarmist. But now, it’s my constant, waking truth. It is the objective truth. And so it has to be your truth, too. Please read on.
We are living at the end of the world. I don’t make that statement lightly. On the contrary, it was not something I was willing to believe – not a claim I would have even entertained – before the still-not-quite-defined transformation that I’ve undergone in the past month, or 6 months, or year, maybe. It isn’t a truth that I want to accept, and I’m not even sure I have fully come to terms with it yet.
We – you and I, your friends and neighbors, your parents and children and pets – are living at the end of the world. There, I said it again, for clarity and constancy.
Now, I don’t mean the end of the “Earth”. Our planet will recover…no, scratch that use of the possessive. **The** planet, will recover from the human-caused climate crisis. It will recover, in a short time when measured against its 4.5 billion-year existence, from the damage wrought by human civilization and industry. Many species may go extinct, and certain pollutants may be present for thousands or millions of years before fully decaying, but the global ecosystem will recover.
But if human society continues on its charted course, our descendants will not be present for that recovery. The climate crisis, as it stands unaltered, marks the very real end of the human world, the end of the human species, the end of us.
The end of us, all of us. The end of you; yes, you – Chris, or Ashley, or Jessica, or Mike, or David, or Jen, or Nick, or whoever you are, reading this right now – you are quite possibly living in the last century of human existence on this planet. You will quite possibly live through, and quite possibly die as a result of, Nature’s descent into the most chaotic, violent, unpredictable, destructive version of itself that our species has ever had to cope with, at least in recorded history.
You, or your children or grandchildren, will experience the coming decline in global food production, loss of coastal communities to the rising seas, onslaught of violent and unpredictable weather events, and worldwide resource wars – things that we’ve already seen the beginnings of – and the process of much of the human population dying or becoming climate refugees.
You, or your children or grandchildren, will suffer the rise of global authoritarian fascism – something we’ve already seen the beginnings of – which will serve to concentrate the resources and wealth that still exist at that point into an even smaller number of blood-stained hands, buying them a few more comfortable years on the planet before perishing as a result of their own greed.
Borrowing Charles Dickens’s powerful appeal to our basic moral goodness: “If these shadows remain unaltered by the future”, everybody you know, myself included, is currently living during the collective dying breath of the human species.
These words are unpleasant. But just because they’re unpleasant, doesn’t make them untrue. And the facts I’ve laid out above have tangibly altered the processes by which I make decisions about my life.
As a 26-year-old, I am unable to build my life’s ambitions, goals, and day-to-day existence on the same foundation that my grandparents and parents were. The promises made to them – of a stable livelihood, of a comfortable existence with minimal exposure to global strife, of a long and financially-secure retirement, of a lifespan unprecedented in human history – are promises that I would have no businesses believing, even if some lying excuse for a leader cared to make them to me. I’m not even sure if my parents have any businesses believing those promise, at this point.
I likely will not bring children into this world. I watch basically no TV. I have passions and interests, unrelated to organizing for collective welfare, that I do not spend a lot of time honing. I do not live my life as if I believe I will retire comfortably at some point. I (intend to) go to the gym enough to maintain strength and enough muscle mass, but have dropped my previous goal of being very muscular. And the list goes on.
The thought of structuring my life – my use of limited time, resources, physical and mental energy, and capacity – to devote it to normal American things, to give them so much time that they distract and detract from trying to make the world better, seems foolish. To structure my life assuming the planet will be as livable in 50 years as it is today, IS foolish.
At this point, all of these decisions are contextualized by a suffering planet and the reality of human-caused climate change. They are contextualized by the fact that we are all living during the collective dying breath of the human species. They are contextualized by one very important question. A question that, if you understand the reality we face, you will hear being asked by the figurative lips taking that dying breath: is the human species a failed experiment?
And if the trajectory of global climate change remains unaltered by the (very short-term) future, it seems inescapable that the answer is yes.
This column originally appeared in The Woonsocket Call under The Urban Farmer, a side project of CARI’s Politics Chair, Alex. It is reprinted here with permission.