“But there is a space between hope and despair, which it is necessary to inhabit.”

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

“But there is a space between hope and despair, which it is necessary to inhabit.”

paulkingsnorth, Five years on a Mountain

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(From a comment on this.) My own response has evolved….

Monday, February 17th, 2014

(From a comment on this.)

My own response has evolved. There’s the initial shock of learning how actually bad things are going to be, and it’s only human to react strongly and emotionally to that, especially as a parent.

But it’s important to realize, too, that life will go on. Many people’s grandkids who would otherwise have lived will probably either die or never be born because of climate change; many others will have lives that will be deeply unpleasant. But people will still be here. We’re a weedy species. Like cockroaches and starlings, we won’t vanish. An almost unthinkable number of other species probably will, but humans — at least some humans — will remain. They’ll still fall in love, share special moments, tell stories, laugh… Your grandkids probably have as good a shot at that as anyone’s. So there’s that.

Also, after the Sixth Great Extinction has run its course, a few million years from now, there will be a new flowering of species radiating their way into the vacant niches. And through all that, the silverfish probably won’t even notice, except for there having been a brief and unexplained hiccup of warmth and moisture and starchy book bindings, now passed.

For me it comes down to a choice between despair and hope. Tolkien wrote that “by 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.” It haunted him, and he spent his life crafting a story to dramatize what he thought about how a person should respond to seeing things like that. Look at Denethor’s actions after he looks in the Palantir, versus Aragorn’s. Or look at Frodo and Sam, and their responses to Galadriel’s Mirror.

That Guardian piece I linked to isn’t giving you Lovelock’s views directly; like the Mirror of Galadriel, The Guardian is dangerous as a guide of deeds. We need to know what’s coming in order to prepare ourselves and to counter those who would mislead. But we also need to appreciate that if things are going downhill the way they appear to be, we should recognize and honor what we have today. I think that’s the point Lovelock was trying to make in that interview, though I’m not sure his interviewer really understood.

If a version of me had lived in the 1840s, and I could go back in time and talk to him, what would I tell him? Would I show him pictures of the carnage of the Civil War? Or tell him uplifting stories about the beginning of the end of slavery? Talk about the bombing of Hiroshima? Or about the landings on the Moon? What would I want him to know about the future? And if he knew what was coming, how would I want him to respond?

I think I’d want him to go bird-watching. I’d want him to walk through a forest listening for the calls of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. I’d want him to watch Carolina Parakeets at play, or stand beneath a flock of Passenger Pigeons so huge it blocked out the sun.

Everything dies. Individuals, societies, species: all of us are coming to an end. One day life itself will come to an end. It can be comforting to imagine otherwise, but that’s a fantasy.

Climate scientists and magazine writers (and programmers) aren’t necessarily the best people to advise you on how to process that knowledge. I think poets are a better source. So I re-read Tolkien. Also, thanks to despairoftranslators, I’ve been reading Owls and Other Fantasies by Mary Oliver. God, I love that book.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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