This is the way the world ends (the world will be just fine)


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I recently read N.K. Jemsin’s Broken Earth trilogy*. An epic sci-fi/fantasy, it was gripping and fantastical. One of the points she makes is that apocalypses are happening all the time, somewhere. We talk about climate change (nuclear winter, over-population, etc.) as being the end of the world, but what we really mean is that it will be the end of us.

It will, of course, be a shame if human activity ends life as we know it on Earth. But we can assume that somewhere in this vast universe there is a planet with the right combination of light, gas, carbon, water, whatever to bring about some form of life.

And we can assume microbes and tardigrades will survive most of what gets thrown at them.

This is, I admit, where my brain tends to go when faced with the depressing evidence of out-of-control climate change. This might seem strange to you. After all, I wrote an entire blog post about how to respond to the climate crisis without getting overwhelmed. That was in 2019. Here in 2021, as COP26 gets underway, hope feels elusive.

This feeling of hopelessness is tied to the general feeling of having no power. I am a very privileged person: I’m white, I live in a (currently) stable and functioning country, I’m able-bodied, I have a job. And yet things feel precarious; I see power concentrating into the hands of a few tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon) and the concept of the ‘nation-state’ seems to be collapsing in the face of these global giants and their billionaire founders. I see supply chain issues disrupting supplies of everything from CO2 (and who knew that would affect food supplies?) to books. Rationing doesn’t feel that far away.

Earlier this month I wrote about Four Thousand Weeks, a book which encourages to approach time management with the perspective of our own mortality. It’s something the stoics have long encouraged, and you can now buy a beautiful Memento Mori calendar on Etsy, should you want to remind yourself just how precious and fleeting each moment of existence truly is.

When faced with mortality–or faced with the apocalypse–I think there’s two reactions. One is to collapse in fear, misery, bitterness. I can understand that, I definitely feel it myself sometimes. The other is to make the most of everything in front of you, right now, knowing that ‘this too shall pass’. The taste of your morning tea, that intensely satisfying feeling when you stretch out a tight muscle and feel it relax, the sensation of sunlight on your skin, the sound of the wind in the leaves. These are ephemeral pleasures, but they are not gone yet.

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