OPINION: Grief and Hope at the End of the World

Extinction Rebellion Hosts Climate Change Rally April 15

by Julia Buck

When I wake up, I think about climate change. The thought crushes me; I cannot get up out of bed. I wonder whether our earth has 12 years, or only 10, or if maybe the tipping point has already passed and it’s all over but for the screaming. I might lay there 15 minutes. I might lay there two hours. But either way, I can’t get up with my alarm.

Every morning that I go into work, I laugh a little bit. Here I am, I think, taking the bus, walking six blocks, hopping on the elevator, sitting at a desk and turning on my computer — as if that were the rational thing to do. As if that were normal, when I know — an immense cohort of scientists gravely announced months ago — that the natural world, the earth that sustains us, is collapsing. It is dying.

I wonder if I’m some sort of beetle or insect. That’s the sort of creature to be slavishly devoted to its business, treading only the well-worn path that can be supported by its limited neural development, unable to react when it gets squashed under a hiker’s boot or meets some other misfortune. A human would be too smart — too aware — to sit, watching catastrophe after catastrophe pile up in their natural world.

Insect populations are plummeting. Amphibians are dying off. Fresh water reservoirs are dwindling to nothing or turning saline. The ocean water is turning to acid. The whole planet is acting like the host to an infection, heating as with fever and convulsing with typhoons and sweating out downpours and parching with drought. I marvel at how much humanity must change. The way that we live, and move, and eat, and cohabitate with other species must change if there is to be a future. Such change will take enormous manpower and thinking and creativity and zeal. I know this. And then I go and I spend my day figuring out how to make a little bit more money for people who don’t know what to do with all the money they already have. So I laugh.

Sometimes in the street or at the library or in a coffee shop I look at the other humans and I wonder, are you seeing this? No, really, are you seeing what is happening? Why aren’t we screaming? Why aren’t we stopping the whole world, in its tracks, right now? Why doesn’t somebody do something? I do not know how I could ask someone these questions. Even if they feel the same way, would that do any good? I do not know what to propose. What if we were all driving on toward the end of the world and no one knew what else to do?

And I ask myself, panicked lump rising in my throat, how are we going to answer God asking why we destroyed Creation?

I start to pay more attention. I look at the natural world all around me like people look at a loved one who is dying, their gazes clinging, etching the details into memory as a bulwark against time. I make a point to notice the three crows cackling on the telephone wire. I walk through the forest and look up into the sprawling branches. I even appreciate the pudgy spider who insists on constructing its web overlapping my mailbox door. I look at the sidewalk cracks for the green shoots that push up, even through concrete, even where they are not wanted, even where humanity has tried to bar the way.

The world is so beautiful when I take the time to see it. It is hard to imagine that something so vast and wondrous, could be destroyed. It hurts. But sometimes the only choices seem to be closed eyes or a heart that won’t stop breaking.

I find other people to talk to. I find, when I pay more attention, that there are many people who are feeling what I am feeling. But, better and more vitally, there are people who feel more than what I feel — people who are weighted by what we might lose, but also held up by what we might save.

Nothing will be saved, except what we choose to save by our own hands. So on Monday, April 15, I will not spend the day pondering how to funnel just a little bit more to those who already have plenty. I will not toil or buy or sell or pretend that everything is normal.

On April 15 at 11:30 a.m., I will join Extinction Rebellion at the Federal Building in Seattle. But the Rebellion is not just in Seattle. It is in England and South Africa and Norway and India and many places. Together, we demand that the world’s governments speak the truth on the dire consequences of climate change. We demand that the world’s governments act the truth to revolutionize our systems to restore the atmosphere’s composition. We demand that those who have been left to look on helplessly, without power, be given power that they may help.

I remember the little green shoots between the cracks in the sidewalk — the plant is neither welcome nor cultivated. It should not be there. But it is, and it is alive. It would be foolish not to acknowledge that climate science is fluid and uncertain; there’s a chance it all may be too late. But part of being human is not having to go quietly.

The world, as we know it, is over. The world is over. But what sort of new world might become?

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Julia Buck is a resident of Seattle who volunteers with several ecology-focused organizations.


One thought on “OPINION: Grief and Hope at the End of the World”

  1. Right on! The Extinction Rebellion die-in at the Federal Building was exquisite. The group i’m part of, “Earthcare, Not Warfare”, was there too.

    Actually, as David Wallace-Wells explains in th “Unihabitable Earth”, it need not be “extinction”. If we play cards right or are lucky, it could only be a partial collapse of human civilization, with some survivors salvaging what they can. But the pain is only beginning.