The End of the World as We Know It

We are all asleep until the smell of smoke awakens us . . . we cannot save ourselves and our children unless everyone is awake to the crisis we all collectively face.

Doug Craig holds a bachelors in journalism and a doctorate in psychology. His monthly Op-Ed column for Shasta Scout discusses the climate change challenges facing our community through a therapeutic lens.  You can read more about Doug here.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” – Michael Stipe

“Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’  But I don’t want your hope.  I don’t want you to be hopeful.  I want you to panic.  I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.  And then I want you to act.  I want you to act as you would in a crisis.  I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” – Greta Thunberg

All of us have grown up watching films about the end of the world, but few of us imagined that we would one day face that reality ourselves.  It is easy to forget that we are confronting such a calamity.  We use words like “crisis” and “emergency” to describe what we are doing to our climate but few of us act as if we believe it.  Even now, in the midst of a global pandemic, we cling to this idea of normalcy, as if it is a real thing, as if it is somehow obtainable.  As if it was something we could “get back to.”  

This is a fantasy, of course.  If by normal we mean stable, that is no longer an option. This new pathway we are on is unstable, unpredictable and increasingly chaotic.  We will never go back to “normal” but with luck, courage and determination, we might manage to preserve a livable planet for our children and future generations.  That is worth fighting for.

This is a serious responsibility that we have accepted, a responsibility to face the truth that a collapse of the Earth’s climate could be imminent and lead to devastation of the civilized world that we have known.  Whether it happens suddenly or gradually, it is clear that dark days are coming.  I know it is hard to read these words but I wanted to write them because we don’t always acknowledge this reality.  And I understand why.  It is depressing to think about, let alone write or talk about the end of life as we have known it.

But it’s not too late.  We still have time.  The window of opportunity is still open. If we picture the era of human-caused climate change as beginning with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and extending into the unknown and indefinite future, we can recognize a 40-year window opened up between 1990 and 2030. Prior to 1990, we didn’t know enough to act.  And after 2030, it will be too late to prevent catastrophic changes to the Earth’s climate system.  This is widely accepted within the scientific community.  But now, in these final years, where the climate system is still amenable to our attempted reparations, we still have a chance.  We can still make a difference.  There’s still hope.

The question we face, of course, is deciding what we will do with the time we have left.  Back in 2006, when I first stood before the Redding City Council and asked them to sign the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, I was naive and optimistic, and believed the facts would win the day.  I was sure that once people knew and understood the basic truth, they would join with me and others in advocating for the rapid transformation away from fossil fuels.  I could not imagine that we wouldn’t at least try.  From the beginning, I accepted that we might fail, but I never imagined that we would not try.

Back in those days (most intensively 2006-2008 but sporadically from 2008-2016), I would give PowerPoint presentations to churches, political groups, service groups and forums at Shasta College and would use metaphors to explain our shared dilemma.  Long before my own home burned in the Carr fire, I used the same burning house metaphor Greta Thunberg uses in the quote at the beginning of my article to illustrate the challenge climate activists face when so many don’t understand and don’t want to face the truth.  

The metaphor is a simple one.  We are all asleep until the smell of smoke awakens us and we realize that time is short and we must act.  And as we leap from our beds, we discover something binding us, holding us back.  That is when we discover that we are inextricably linked with, tied to, chained to every other human on the planet and they are sound asleep and dreaming of a world that no longer exits.  In effect, we cannot save ourselves and our children unless everyone is awake to the crisis we all collectively face.  It is our job to awaken them.

Too many of us are completely unaware of our collapsing climate and how much worse it will become.  And if we are honest, we will admit most people do not want to know what is coming.  It is like our own death.  Few of us will spend much time thinking about it.  Why would we contemplate “the death” of human civilization or the extinction of the human species?  

But it is not too late.  I have always said our worst problem is not the climate crisis.  Our biggest challenge is the uniquely human ability to deny, ignore or avoid huge problems that feel overwhelming.  We can solve the climate crisis and I believe we will.  But first, we need to face it and accept the awesome responsibility each of us now has.

Doug will be responding to comments on Shasta Scout’s Facebook page.  Join us there!

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