If I’m honest, I’ve had a case of The Mean Greens of late. While huge strides have been made when it comes to energy transition, I fear we’re losing ground, or ice, as it were. Some days I read a slew of articles about our rapidly decarbonizing planet. Other days I read a slew of articles about how our planet is not decarbonizing rapidly enough. Still other days, I exclusively read articles about how to bake vegan Minecraft cakes. And then ignore the instructions entirely.
Tom Rand calls the climate crisis our Forever Emergency. It sounds horrible. Like running an ultramarathon over and over again for all eternity, with a buttered watermelon on your back. But when you lean into it, you realize it’s the only way to describe what’s happening. Like the hip-hop injury I sustained while flexing overzealously in a class full of ladies half my age, climate is something I’ll spend my life dealing with. The Mean Greens will come and go, just as my knee pains come and go. The key is to live with it, to keep pushing, and to keep practicing my cabbage patch.
A few weeks ago, a younger colleague mentioned that many of her peers had already resolved themselves to the fact that the climate crisis will be their entire life effort. When I was her age, my biggest concern was whether I could go dancing all night and still make it to class in the morning. To reconcile yourself to the idea of the Forever Emergency at 22 is almost unfathomably brave. It’s also prescient. The world is all too slowly catching up to this century-long gambit, to the knowledge that we can mitigate, but that some things (ice shelves, various fauna, Scott Baio) are never coming back.
To all this you might say, holy hopelessness, Sarah, this is supposed to be a newsletter about climate positivity! And to this I say, accepting the truth of how we’ll live with the climate crisis is actually very positive. Once you get around to the foreverness of the Forever Emergency, a lot of ambiguity goes away: You get a helpful framework for dealing with our current club sandwich of emergencies (climate is the plate).
You get a framework for looking at things that is temporal as opposed to hierarchical—which is important, given the infighting that can occur when people talk of current emergencies, stretched resources, and whether you can solve one issue (climate!) without solving another (inequality). Answer: no.
When you accept the foreverness of something you cease trying to squeeze it onto your daily to-do list. When you embrace the foreverness, you accept the full magnitude of our challenge, and contemplate what you can rearrange in your life to deal with it. This framing is incredibly empowering—every day, you are working towards something that will reduce the bad.
What’s more, it all matters in the Forever landscape. The things you do and don’t do really do have long-term impact. Last week I listened to a seminar on hope with the amazing activist Tzeporah Berman called Action is the Antidote to Despair. She shared her life’s work. The timeline was overwhelming. Thirty years (and counting) spent hustling for climate. Pretty much… forever. Her takeaway: Every bit of carbon you save now…saves lives. Or as the IPCC puts it: Every bit of warming matters, every year matters, every choice matters.
It can be tough to see the link between our carbon emissions and the sinking of Bangladesh, but it’s there. And it’s forever. I say this not to guilt myself for a life largely spent unaware of the excruciating toll my actions were taking on the world’s poor (not to mention my progeny), but to remind myself that everything I do is important NOW. In my younger years, I would lean into the melancholy of existence, in that drippy way that self-indulgent would-be artists do. I was deeply susceptible to the nefarious trope of the tortured artist. But my melancholy was conjured out of wine and heartbreak. The Forever Emergency is a real and lifelong heartache. Acknowledging this does not romanticize disaster, but instead subverts its power. We are, all of us, working our despair into action. Times infinity times infinity times infinity, as my son would say.
I WILL BE MORE CHEERFUL NEXT WEEK, Y’ALL. (Yes, I’m allowed to say y’all. I lived in the South. Once.) But for now, here are a few…
This article was first published in Yes! Magazine. You can see the original article here.