The first time I met what I have come to not-so-affectionately know as a “doomer dude” was in 2007. I was volunteering with a New York City-based lefty newspaper and still trying to fit my voice into a mold as a “real journalist” (in retrospect, I’m glad I never succeeded). The major news outlets were still covering their ears and mouths when it came to “global warming” as it was then derisively, controversially, dubiously known. But my little paper, The Indypendent, bravely decided to break the silence by dedicating its entire April issue to the crisis on the horizon.
Each month, we had these elaborate open-floor editorial meetings and this one drew a particular strain of peculiar volunteers out of the woodwork. I found myself surrounded by tall, white men with remarkable sunburns and disheveled hair and cargo pants who towered over me with tales of woe. “There’s really no point anymore. Humans are done for!” They said with glee. Perhaps as a consolation, they offered, “but don’t worry! The earth will be fine! She just needs to get rid of us!”
Their wistfulness was as perplexing as it was intimidating.
I was 23 and new to New York—still too young and too southern to know my way out of a man-splaining vortex. I nodded and smiled and cried the whole way home.
They were significantly older than me, and didn’t seem to register (or even consider) how many of my dreams they were crushing. According to them, I was not entering adulthood, I was entering a furnace. Almost on accident, their joyful nihilism effectively placed environmentalism on a shelf that was too high for me to reach. I, in turn, limited myself to the issues on the shelves within my reach: police violence, income and education inequality, homelessness, etc. Fixing what I could while the world burned.
I didn’t know how to speak up then. I didn’t know how to tell them that I couldn’t bring myself to give up on myself before I’d even begun. But I’ve grown up.
The Chickens Have Roosted
Since becoming a part of the climate justice movement in earnest, I’ve come across a good share of climate de-nihilists. They have books. They host panels. They are prolific Tweeters. They are legion. In my opinion, they are a problem.
And they’re almost always white men because only white men can afford to be lazy enough to quit…on themselves.
To an extent, I get it. There’s no denying the severity of our crisis, at least not anymore. There’s no more putting it off on “future generations.” No more “stopping” global warming. It is here. The chickens have roosted.
But, the thing about warming—whether we’re talking about the globe or an oven—is that it happens in degrees. That means that every slice of a degree matters. And right now, that means everything we do matters. We, quite literally, have no time for nihilism.
Hope Doesn’t Spring Eternal
On the other hand, to be fair, the climate community has a maddening tendency to be hawkish about their narrative and their messaging. We must be hopeful! We can’t be alarmist! We must adhere to strict scientific nuance at the expense of clarity and urgency and beauty! We must leave no scientific rabbit hole unexplored. Nuance. Nuance. Nuance.
This sort of tone-policing makes the climate conversation impossible to have with any real honesty. Not in a world where what we used to know as “potential impacts of global warming” now have proper names: Dorian. Yutu. Idai. Camp Fire. Maria. In our context now, rosy hopefulness feels downright sociopathic.
As these tragedies fade and blend into a continuum, the climate community’s insistence on hope everlasting begins to sound anything but realistic. It becomes emotionally immature. A hurdle unto itself.
Not to mention that in order to have this type of hope, you have to be able to explain the solutions that would justify it. And that favors a certain type of expertise and raises the price of admission to the climate conversation to an astonishing, astronomical rate. We can’t afford to keep all these gates and all these gatekeepers. Again, we don’t have time.
Granted, this reflexiveness is a byproduct of decades of relentless, bad-faith attacks from both industry and government, but the result is the same. It’s exhausting. It’s ineffective. And it’s alienating. Honestly, it’s not terribly unlike the doomer narrative. Both are man-splaining paradises. Both smack of the privilege wrought from the deluded belief that this world has ever been perfect and that, therefore, an imperfect version of it is not worth saving, or fighting for. Both represent two sides of an over-privileged pendulum swung too far.
Room in the Middle
And the swing is so unnecessary given the abundant room in the middle. Room for all of us, in fact. The community that prides itself on its scientific nuance can learn to embrace emotional nuance.
It is absolutely possible to prepare for the disasters already, terrifyingly, upon us while also doing our damnedest to quit baking more in. We can acknowledge the storm of emotions that comes with watching our world unravel, process those emotions, and pick ourselves up to protect what we can.
Because it’s worth it. Because we’re worth it.
We don’t have to be pollyannish, or fatalistic. We can just be human. We can be messy, imperfect, contradictory, broken. We can recognize that “hopelessness” does not mean “helplessness.”
What A Wonderful, Imperfect World
I’ve never seen a perfect world. I never will. But, I know that a world warmed by 2 degrees Celsius is far preferable to one warmed by 3 degrees, or 6. And that I’m willing to fight for it, with everything I have, because it is everything I have. I don’t need a guarantee of success before I risk everything to save the things, the people, the places that I love. Before I try to save myself.
Even if I can only save a sliver of what is precious to me, that will be my sliver and I will cherish it. If I can salvage just one blade of grass, I will do it. I will make a world out of it. And I will live in it and for it.
We don’t know how this movie is going to end, because we’re in the writers room right now. We’re making the decisions right now. Walking out is not an option. We don’t get to give up.
This planet is the only home we’ll ever have. There’s no place like it. And home is always, always, always worth it.