What if the End actually is nigh?
I work in the solar industry now, where climate change is never far from anyone’s mind. But I’ve been thinking about it differently these days.
I like my job. It’s a good job. I’m doing work that’s genuinely making the world a better place, and it pays pretty well, and the company culture is lovely. But these days, I find myself questioning if it’s worth having a job at all. If I could choose anywhere to live, I would not choose Boston. If I could choose anything to do with my time, I would not choose conference calls or grant reporting.
In another world, at a different time, I wouldn’t be bothered so much. I wouldn’t fixate on the question. I’d work hard, learn the most I could, and when the time came, graduate onto the next job. But I find myself fixating, and fixating, and fixating. This is the world I’ve got, and the time I’ve got, and I’m starting to wonder if that time is running out.
The IPCC report was a dire warning, and there are yet others saying the time before total climate catastrophe may be even shorter than twelve years. Looking at the state of politics and economics around the globe, I doubt we’ll stave off crisis. We might not stave off catastrophe. Even if we do stave off climate catastrophe, we won’t stave off capitalist collapse. We might not stave off fascism, or eco-fascism.
Whatever happens, the time we have left in the culture and social order we’ve built? It’s short.
I think back to a year ago, to that time I went to a Guy McPherson lecture because some cute Deep Green Resistance guy dragged me to it. For Guy McPherson, it’s always been the end. First it was peak oil. Now it’s methane bubbles in the Arctic, and the global dimming of pollution as the only mitigating factor keeping global temperatures from rising even further, creating an impossible catch-22 of planetary destruction. (Side note: I asked him what he thought of degrowth, and he totally blew off my question.)
His advice to us was this: Remain calm; nothing is under control. There is no hope, so live a good life.
But wait! I wanted to say. But degrowth! But options! But we have to try, don’t we?
I‘m not sure if all of humanity will crumble into an apocalyptic inferno, but I do think all of our societal structures are going to be upended, ripped apart and turned into fertilizer for anything new that arises. The time for our regularly scheduled programming is over. This will be a rolling crisis of immediate necessity and, hopefully, rapid transformation into something that can salvage us, something that doesn’t replicate fascist horror.
It’s not so much the apocalypse I’m thinking about, but the wrenching pain of a new birth. I do think people will die, and I pray we can institute rapid and far-reaching economic and social changes to mitigate the worst of it in time. I do think our entire civilizational structure will crumble, and I pray we will sow the seeds of a new order that can bloom in the passing of the flood.
I think the world as we know it will stop being the world as we know it, I think that shift will happen within my lifetime, most likely before I turn 40.
My time is running out. But the thing is, the more dire it gets, the more a strange sense of calm arises within me.
What if this is it?
Not necessarily the End of the World, but the End of the World as we know it. Like REM, sometimes I feel fine. I believe this is the end of capitalism, not only capitalism, but all systems based on extraction and exploitation of resources and beings. I believe this is the end of the nation state, not only the nation state, but centralized hierarchy. I do not believe we get to the other side without a massive societal shift, without a complete recalibration of values, and without a personal transformation (if we get there at all.)
But what if we don’t get there at all? What would I be doing with my time?
I saw several memes to the effect of, “Given impending climate catastrophe, is it worth bothering to keep paying off my student loans?” I may not be a climate scientist, but I say: No, I think it’s time to stop worrying about your student loans.
Student loans will not be weathering the storm of climate catastrophe, this is just about guaranteed. So, fuck it. Don’t pay them.
And the strange sense of calm returns: Fuck it.
Which brings me to an idea that’s been floating around in my head. What if we use the imminent threat of apocalypse to bring about Utopia? What if we use our death sentence to build a new life, even if it doesn’t last?
Hear me out.
What if everyone stopped paying back their student loans because of impending climate catastrophe? What if we used this moment as a catalyst to make the changes we want to see in society?
We stopped worrying about our pay checks, because we don’t have that much time left. We started spending more time with our families instead.
We stopped hyping up the petty dramas of the political class, because we don’t have that much time left. We started building mutual aid networks with our neighbors.
We stopped living for our social status, because we don’t have that much time left. We started cultivating authentic relationships and being openly vulnerable instead.
What if this impending crisis is an opportunity: a moment to officially stop giving a fuck about everything we had to worry about before? Bringing about the destruction of our old social order by divesting from it, and investing in a new one.
I’m not looking at it through rose-colored glasses; I still think there are massive changes to make if we’re going to save anything of the human population. There are yet more movements to build against fascism, isolationism, colonialism and racism for us to remain morally worthy of saving. There is so much work to do, and yet, I feel I can exhale.
Fuck it. Throw spaghetti at the wall. Live Utopia now.
Radical activism, for so long, has felt like swimming upstream against a current that wanted to move the world in the opposite direction, and all the might and terror of the power accumulated within that current. But if we’ve only got a decade left before the worst of climate catastrophe wipes out human civilization as we know it, we might as well just do what we want to do. Build our mutual aid networks, hold our direct democratic assemblies, organize cooperatively, respect nature, respect pronouns, and pee wherever the hell we want to. We might as well do nothing but build our Utopia right here and now. We might as well be the change we wish the world had given us. We might as well focus on what really matters: on love, community, connection, nature, empowerment, joy, and freedom.
Not because of hope, but because of despair. Because we may not live to see another day.
I think despair is our most powerful weapon.
I feel there are two paths we can take. The first is fascism, or eco-fascism. It is a path of erecting walls and building fortresses, cordoning off who gets to survive and leaving the rest to die, and using cruelty, force, and malice to brutalize the remainder into submission. Fascism is the path of hope: the hope that there is a way out, for some, but only some, if we keep ourselves safe and starve the rest.
But what of the path of despair? The void of No Tomorrow? If there is no tomorrow, what are we left with?
We are left with Now: with living Utopia right now, because we won’t get another chance.
What if we use this impending catastrophe and the void of a future we’re left with as a chance to do what we’ve always dreamed: live in a world of mutual aid, of freedom, of equity, of love, of justice. Not because we’re building the future, but because we don’t have one, so all we have left is this moment. Right here. Right now.
Because fuck it, that’s why. Hang the consequences, because whatever we do, tomorrow might bring so much worse.
If this is it, then let’s use that death sentence as a chance to live our last moments beautifully. Maybe, just maybe, living in a new way will help us to weather the storm. Maybe it won’t. But either way, however long or short we had, we will have lived.