Living in the Anthropocene

After a couple of days of teaching the science of climate change to my 6th graders, I found myself wistful for a different message. In between the sanitized lessons, it was impossible to hide my perspective, boiled down to a single idea: lost hope.

They, more than I, will live in a mad world of scarcity and catastrophe. They will struggle to find meaning and love in spite of broken social structures; governments no longer able to cope with tragedies I cannot yet imagine. They will experience the dissonance of exploitative, great affluence for the richest one percent and inhumane deprivation of those unwilling or unable to bend the knee to a crowning neofeudal order.

I sorely wished I could reassure them—to tell them things were not as bad as the science suggested, as they were already beginning to suspect—but the words felt disingenuous. How could I give any reassurance, when I have lived through so much disillusionment in my own life; confronting at every turn that humanity, as a whole, is more willing to Netflix and Chill than they are willing to do the hard and necessary things to survive?

They will accuse us, the innocents of today, of heartlessly dooming all future generations. Not the unknown future generations, but those that sat at our Thanksgiving table every year and gave hugs and tantrums and called us by familial names. They will accuse of us willful ignorance, of complacency, of something worse than genocide—the Mass Extinction of everything good and beautiful in the planet we had but loaned from them.

~*~

I was listening to John Halstead in this podcast interview when this guilt washed over me and sought out means for expression: facts and figures that are somehow worse than the worst-case scenario a decade ago, threads of a slow catastrophe that has already engulfed the world and is only accelerating:

  • We have reached 1° Celsius of warming and are well past the dreaded 400 ppm of CO2 concentrations worldwide;
  • A full, unthinkable 3-4° rise in temperatures is now expected by century’s end if no action is taken to end carbon emissions;
  • The Arctic’s oldest sheet is now melting, while the permafrost and ocean floor releases even more CO2 and methane into the atmosphere;
  • Every minute, forests shrink by the equivalent of 20 football fields and rainforests—yes, even the Amazon—could entirely disappear in 100 years;
  • On average, 60% of all wild species alive in 1970 have now gone extinct, in large part due to human actions, like habitat loss and warming temperatures.

Elizabeth Kolbert has called it The Sixth Extinction, and many scientists have recognized the event as such. Every month, scientific publications chronicle the campaign as it ravages any given corner of the world and portends darkly for the rest. Compared to at least one of the previous five extinctions, it already qualifies with that 60% extinct wildlife figure alone. It’ll only get worse. All the while the American President is a reminder that denialism is strong, but apathy and bigotry is greater. What many rational people see as impending catastrophe, others manage to blame on racial and religious minorities. The tide of populistic nationalism and autocracy once again rises at the behest of powerful interests determined to take no responsibility for their share of the world’s ills.

That is what it boils down to in the end: egotism, greed, and power.

That is the reason I stood before my students—most of them poor enough to qualify for free school lunches—without reassurance. What needed to be said in that moment was nothing short of a blanket call to abolish these corrupt systems that imperil the future, starting with politicians and obliterating the so-called 1% until their wealth and blood flows. What is needed goes beyond redistributive policies after a violent communist take-over. What we need to survive is a bloodbath in the name of Mother Nature, with wild and wicked seeds to drink this nourishment in the chaos of a new Dark Age. Humanity deserves no better. These interconnected civilizations, each benefiting in some way from the agony of colonization and slavery, require the retribution of the marginalized because we carry with us the only true threat to future generations. Ours will be the figures and facts of the new mortality rates: already 3,000-plus dead in Puerto Rico, thousands more each month, millions dead each year, millions more to die.

In my politics of privilege—I, highly over-educated immigrant of special protected status, with enough good timing to reap the last hurrah of the American Dream—I could not stand before those children and say those words. They would have gotten me fired, even if they rang hollow. They will undoubtedly upset many of you.

But I can say them here, with no expectation of being heeded, or shattering innocence before a task too grim and daunting, even for adults. I can type the words I’ve been wanting to scream for the past year, the ones every spirit whispers when you call on the Watchtowers and try to hear the whispers of the gods.

What happens after the revolution? I cannot say. But I can hope those “wild and wicked seeds” grow toward the light of understanding, on the lap of Mother Nature. It is one way to take Halstead’s meaning, when he speaks of becoming like the Dying God. That is, to be reborn in the image of a new humanity no longer estranged from the tangled webs of life but enthralled within them. Clothed in some new flesh of green.

3 thoughts on “Living in the Anthropocene

  1. Agreed. Capitalism, modernism and imperialism of any kind (along with the systems of thought and lifestyle surrounding them) must be destroyed, and our ambitions or comforts must be greatly limited if we hope to continue enjoying them. Humankind is competing too much with the Gods, and attempting to control and replace them as if to triumph & rule for eternity. Regarding the climate, the world should have actually been soon due for another Ice Age, but it’s said the heat caused by industrialization may have delayed it 50,000 years.

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    1. Melas, one must beware which systems support those without blame, so as to not punish the innocent unduly. And the Ice Age would have come in another 12K or so (given patterns for the last few). It’ll be indefinitely delayed if temperature rise becomes “run away” (perhaps at around 4 or 6 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels.

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      1. That is indeed correct. In fact, capitalism, modernism and imperialism are most hurtful to the weak and innocent. Let’s hope the Ice Age comes sooner than 12,000 years and is not delayed. Nature must stop this so-called human progress, since we probably won’t!

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