Village, have any of you out there thought of not having children because you authentically believe that the world is doomed to end in a fiery ball of madness before our grandchildren see their hair turn grey?
No? Just me?
If that thought makes you squirm, or if my words have you digging into your copy of The Big Book of Climate Change Denial, this may not be the post for you. But if there’s even a tiny bit of you that fears I may be onto something, please stay and keep me company! We may need a group hug after this. And if you stay with me, I promise, this will end less dour than it began. This post is of a different tone than my previous, more uplifting/ lighthearted/ optimistic posts. But it is also probably among the closest to my heart. Sorry not sorry that it’s a bit bleak.
I was originally going to title this “parenting into the apocalypse”, but I am just not that certain that it’s all actually going to come to a cataclysmic end (See Eric? I have some optimistic bones in my body!!). The fact is, I just don’t know; I’m a bit of an Apocalypse Agnostic, really. From my vantage point, on my mini-acreage, with my 2 well-fed, well-adjusted children, my husband with his great job, and my deck with some wine in the sunshine, it seems absolutely ridiculous that we could be teetering on the brink of an environmental breakdown and the end of this chapter of human history.
But of course, someone living in sub-Saharan Africa or war-torn Syria right now (if they had the privilege to be able to contemplate the end of the world) might have a very different opinion on this.
These are things that keep me up at night:
- What kind of world am I leaving Juni and Kas to reckon with? How can I prepare them for this world when I don’t even know what it will look like?
- Is there anything that can be done to stop or slow the inevitable collapse of humanity? Is my protest against plastic straws and shopping bags and the fact that I grow my own food and harvest rainwater doing anything at all?
- How did I get so lucky as to be born into such privilege that I can think about these things from the comfort of my air-conditioned bedroom?
Have you read the New York Magazine’s piece “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells yet? Confession: prior to writing this post, I actually had only glanced at it, and was quickly turned inwards by a massive panic attack. But I finally read it. And it terrified me- did NOTHING to quiet the anxieties mentioned above. Please be aware here: I am a humanities teacher with three degrees, none of which are remotely science-based. I am not here for a scientific debate. I am simply pointing out some of the well-researched work that is being done by others. It may or may not come to fruition. That is not the focus of this article; it is a possibility, and I must wrestle with that.
The thesis of Wallace-Wells’ article is simple: “[A]bsent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.” Rising sea water, melting permafrost , air that kills, toxic oceans, the two degrees of global temperature rise that used to be the “catastrophic” scenario in scientific circles and is now the “best case” scenario… Wallace-Wells tosses these things into his article like seasonings into an Armageddon soup. He asserts that we are delusional if “we assume climate change will hit hardest elsewhere, not everywhere”. He refuses to comfort us, and ends with an eerie nay-saying of the scientists who naively assert that we could invent a way out of this.
But I am not a pure pessimist, as I intimated above: I desperately WANT there to be a way out. I NEED there to be one because I just can’t imagine leaving my children to suffer in that kind of a world (and I know other people’s children are already suffering). It scrambles my brain and scratches my soul. So, even if the end is nigh, my fists are raised and I’m ready for a fight. I see your David Wallace-Wells and raise you a Joanna Macy.
An article called “It Looks Bleak. Big Deal, it Looks Bleak” is my salvation from turning into a quivering mass of Sixth Extinction jelly. The article is based on a conversation between activist-author-Buddhist-philosopher Joanna Macy and the online publication Ecobuddhism. While many amongst us would solve our fear by either turning away or naively looking for a fairytale solution, Macy does neither. She suggests instead that we look this future dead in the eye, shrug our shoulders, and walk into the uncertainty of it all. She lists all of Wallace-Wells’ predictions in about 1/16th of the time he spends on describing their terrifying depths, and then says this of them:
“At any rate, I take all of these crises seriously and don’t argue with them. At the same time, I spend my life and breath to open our minds, and to change our heart-minds.”
It is THIS that I need to teach my children. No matter what the world hurls in their path- whether it is an infinitely heating climate or just their own disappointments and stumbles- I want to teach them to live with a heart that is open to others, and is resilient in its course. Macy calls engaging with the truth in an open manner “the work that re-connects” and we need others around us to do it. “People can graduate from their sense of isolation, into a realization of their inter-existence with all.” I want my children to actively work to deepen their relationship with themselves, their world, and the community they create around them. DESPITE the odds.
I will figure out how to teach my kids about what the world might be like in a way that is unflinching but will not terrify them or keep them up at night (more on how I might do this at a later time. All suggestions welcome). I will build a drive to be self-sufficient and never to sacrifice their spirit or the earth in order to satisfy their material needs. I will deepen their compassion and their commitment to fight despite the odds. We will find heroes and heroines who are rebels for justice, and who look to their Village for support in that. Macy’s words below capture the spirit of what I want to pass on to them:
“Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure. In all great adventures there comes a time when the little band of heroes feels totally outnumbered and bleak, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings or Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress. You learn to say “It looks bleak. Big deal, it looks bleak.”
So, be Frodo, my babies. And I will walk with you until I can walk no more.
Joanna Macy asked participants in her workshop, many of whom feel pessimistic about the future of our planet the question, “What keeps you going?” So I ask you the same; what helps you continue to be a good person, to parent well, to find peace though things may look bleak? Please feel free to join the conversation in the comments section below! Or just say something warm and fuzzy. Because GROUP HUG.
In the words of my tiny dragon, who will be resilient and courageous and strong no matter what the future holds,
“Namaste to everyone, let the light shine through”.