January 31, 2020
In September of last year, the New Yorker published a piece of writing by Jonathan Franzen entitled “What if We Just Stopped Pretending.” When I encountered the article, I discovered that he was talking about the climate emergency (or, perhaps more aptly, the climate apocalypse). For about two weeks, I was thrown into an confounding haze; I didn’t want to talk to anyone or do anything other than sleep, and I couldn't seem to think clearly… about anything. It was a most peculiar form of depression, and one which the internet would probably dub “climate grief.”
I realized that what I was experiencing actually wasn’t unique at all. People around the world have reported mental health issues linked with anxiety and depression surrounding the climate crisis.
When I first read Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker article, my biggest problem is that I thought it was brilliant. Making the point that our systems are already too broken for us to fix before our carbon budget is expended, Franzen argues that the most impactful work we can do at this point comes from minding our emotional wellbeing and preparing for the quality-of-life changes which are surely on the horizon. And this, actually, seems pretty reasonable. A nation full of gas-guzzling meat-munching sheep led by an oligarchy comprising oil-barons, fascists, neo-nazis, and a few actual idiots doesn't seem able to turn its entire way of life around in the very-short window of time allotted. And so it does really look like it's over for us, like we could be the last generation on this planet to live full natural lives if we even do. Maybe we should just focus on making the years we do have left on this planet as good as they can be before we choke in dust-storms, drown in floods, starve from famines, or just die of thirst.
And then I thought to myself: fuck this guy. He’s going to get to live his whole life before the effects of climate change become fully apparent. What an unproductive, thoughtless, shitty thing to publish. We, young people, are the only humans on this earth now who will properly experience the impacts of the climate crisis on the earth. And this is something that we, collectively, need to understand and unpack. Because this is a turning point in our young lives; it is the ultimate separation between our parents generation and ours. Because when we’re 70 years old, they’ll be dead. That is a fundamentally inconceivable concept for them. They have no way of understanding what it is to grow up knowing that an apocalypse is waiting for you. And so they can’t help us. They can become vegans and stop driving cars and set up wind turbines beside their houses and that is fantastic, and they and we all should be taking steps to reduce our carbon footprints at all times. But they, the older people, will never have the same stake in the issue that we have. They simply cannot. Because they’ll never live the consequences.
What I guess I’m trying to say is: it's time to grow up. Let the urgency of the crisis at hand motivate you to action, small or big. Find your footing as an adult doing the thing that will ensure the existences of our full lives. This is the true test of our strength as a generation of people, one that is more united than ever in the history of the world, and one which is battling bigger global problems than have ever existed. Will we appear in history textbooks 500 years from now as earth’s heroes? Or will there be no books to write and people to write them? This is our choice, and ours alone. And we will make it with our actions.