‘ I don’t want to doom you out’ is precisely the problem, those who know what’s in store don’t want…
Peter Simmons

Hi Peter,

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

My first thought is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to file what I wrote under the category of ‘pretending it’s all for our children’s children’s children’s children who’ll have to face it’ — since pretty much the first point I make is that this isn’t a warning about the future, but a description of what is already happening today.

Having spent ten years running the Dark Mountain Project, I’ve taken plenty of stick for being a ‘doomer’. What strikes me is that our culture is terrible at imagining the messiness of how things are likely to play out. Either it’s a clean green fantasy of our current way of life (whose current way of life? at best, one in seven of us alive today) being rendered ‘sustainable’, or it’s the apocalypse (which the latent religious structures of western culture equip us all too well to imagine). Neither of these easy-to-imagine futures is much help for getting to grips with the realities we’re dealing with. On the apocalypse side, the idea of some grand finale sets us back in the trap you point to — of treating this as some monolithic event somewhere in the future, rather than an ongoing horror that is already the backdrop to our still-all-too-comfortable lives.

Will humanity eventually go extinct? Of course. ‘On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.’ (That’s Fight Club, by the way.) We like to imagine our species as so extremely special that it might transcend that fate, but this is just a way of making fools of ourselves. Having worked with this stuff for a long time, trying to see around the edges of the mental blocks that even those of us for whom climate change is a day-job end up erecting, my working assumption is that humanity will most likely make it through this particular bottleneck we’ve created, but that even in the best-case scenarios ‘human civilisation’ and the idea of humanity we currently carry around will be massively humbled by the experience of the generations ahead. There are parts of the achievements of that civilisation which I would do all in my power to try to carry through that bottleneck — yet in order to do so, it may be best to get real about how hollow the claims of civilisation and the accompanying stories of what it is to be human ring, even without climate change involved, from the perspectives of other human cultures, let alone the rest of our planetary companions. (‘Western civilisation? I think it would be a good idea.’ That one’s Gandhi.)

So why don’t I want to ‘doom you out’? Because we’re all going to die, anyway — not in some grand apocalyptic finale, but one by one, mostly uneventfully, and unless we’ve faced that reality, then I don’t think we’ve a chance of thinking clearly about any of the rest of our situation. Because it’s so easy to turn people to stone with facts about the mess we’re in — and when we do that, it doesn’t lead to the realisation you’re hoping for, it leads to various flavours of numbness and denial. The harder thing is to walk people through the dark passages of despair, without something inside them turning to stone, and to see how much beauty we can make together before we die. I’m not making any promises, here — this isn’t a deal which says, if we do this list of things, we get to escape the consequences of the ways we have been living. It’s about whether we face those consequences with some salvaged dignity and grace, or whether we face them like the spoiled children our culture mostly encourages us to be. Environmentalism has often talked what kind of world we want to hand on to our children, and it’s not wrong to do so — but alongside this runs the question of what kind of cosmology we want to hand on, what kind of story about the world and our place within it, and I guess that’s the frontline of this work for me.