Photo: Russ Vernon-Jones

Russ Vernon-Jones

Those of us who try to think about climate change are bombarded by stories of hope and stories of doom and invited to choose between them.

  • On the one hand more than four million people of all races turned out for the recent Global Climate Strike, a groundswell of demand for action to save the planet—hope; on the other hand greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are still on the rise when we need to be reducing them drastically—doom.
  • The current administration in the United States is relentlessly seeking to open new lands and waters to drilling for oil and gas, and rolling back environmental regulations—doom; yet the cost of solar panels in the United States has dropped 65 percent in the last eight years, as installations increase dramatically—hope.

Emotionally, I sometimes feel like a pinball being bounced around from hope to doom to rage to love for this beautiful world and its many peoples, and then to whatever comes next.

False Choice
I think the choice between hope and doom is a false choice. (Joe Brewer describes hope and doom as a “false choice” in a very interesting video by Katie Tengue, “Living Into Being.” His words have influenced several parts of this post.) In fact, even under the best case scenario, there is going to be widespread environmental destruction, species extinction, and human suffering and death. This is certain and unavoidable. At the same time there are many reasons to believe that, perhaps led by the young people of the world, humanity is going to come to its senses and do what needs to be done to slow and then stop the destruction, in a triumph of shared caring and vision.  Only a story that weaves hope and doom into one fabric can capture the reality we face.

Our Story of Struggle
What does it mean to be fully human in this situation? I think rather than focusing on stories of hope or doom, it means living out a story of authentic, ongoing struggle worth having. This is a story that can sustain hope.

Like it or not we are confronted by climate change. Embracing the struggle and facing the pain of all the destruction is a route to claiming our full humanity and our connection to all peoples. We will need to grieve, and rage and tremble with fear. We will need each other. This opportunity to face the feelings that come up, reach for each other across all the divisions that have been imposed on us, and struggle together for the sake of all future generations and this beautiful world is, perhaps, exactly what we’ve been looking for. It is deeply grounded in reality. It has the potential to end any sense of aloneness that we experience. It gives our lives meaning at every moment. It will give us tears, and despair, and feelings of defeat, but also joy and purpose and comrades.

Not Knowing is an Essential Element of Life Today
Another feature of the current situation is that we cannot know what the future will hold.  So much is unknown.  Both positive and negative developments are moving much faster than anyone predicted.  Not knowing is an essential element of being alive today. We may long for things to stay the same, or to move at a pace we feel we can keep up with. We may long for the security of knowing what will happen. We’re not going to get any of those. We get to surf the waves of uncertainty and change. Sometimes we’ll fall in. We get to hold onto each other when we fear we may drown. Alone this would likely be terrifying. Together it can be exhilarating. (It may also be exhausting. We will need to take care of ourselves and each other, even as we also push to exceed what we thought we were capable of.)

History Has Chosen Us
Engaging in the struggle to stop the most catastrophic effects of climate change may not be the life we planned on. In some inexplicable way, history has chosen us to be alive in what may be the most pivotal decade in all of human existence. I suppose we could lament this, but that’s not the way I want to spend the rest of my life. Even in the midst of struggle (or perhaps especially in the midst of struggle) nature is often beautiful, the hug of a child or a friend is restorative, and life is still sweet. Let’s welcome the life-saving, nature-saving work that lies before us, and have some fun along the way!

Russ Vernon Jones blogs regularly on climate justice at www.RussVernonJones.org .

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