I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately thinking about climate change. My friend Gloria has talked to me about it for years, but, up to now , I’ve been able to push her message down into the deep recesses of my consciousness. What has moved it up lately to the top of my list of “Worries about the World We are Passing on to Our Children” is 1) all the horrible natural disasters that have been happening and 2) President Obama’s commissioned study. But here’s the interesting thing: no matter how many bleak facts and predictions I hear, I am not out in the streets protesting or on the phone calling my representatives. There is still a little part of my brain that says, “That information is too horrible even to imagine.” And, since I can’t take it in, I don’t take action. I just lie awake at night, worrying.
Here’s what worries me most: I know I am not the only one out there choosing this course.
I’m starting to think that we humans have an amazing ability to “live for today,” despite all the advertising campaigns that seem to believe otherwise. In fact, living in the present moment and not envisioning long-term future consequences of our actions may be what we do best. I’m beginning to wonder if we are even capable, as a species, of living in anything but the present. Maybe this trait got embedded in our DNA from the earliest homo sapiens who had no choice but to live in the present because they had such short tenures on earth, what with all those predators lurking around every corner! Maybe evolutionary biology equipped them with the ability to keep telling themselves that everything will be okay because if, for instance, they actually stopped to imagine their chances of surviving an encounter with a saber-toothed tiger, they would fall into despair and choose not to reproduce. Maybe survival of the fittest actually means survival of the most oblivious.
I have to admit, I go back and forth on whether this is a good or bad human characteristic. There are times when obliviousness is the only sane choice. But I know that chosen obliviousness in relation to climate change will lead to disaster, and this time the stakes are not individual lives but the lives of everyone living on this planet.
Think about this: in the earliest days of Nazi Germany, there were a lot of people, many of them even in positions of power, who could see the writing on the wall about Hitler but who still could not imagine that the boot on the stair would ever really come for their country, so, as a result, they couldn’t take action early enough to stop it. Or, closer to home, there were even, apparently, a few people at places like the FBI or the CIA who saw 9/11 coming but couldn’t themselves imagine, on a gut level, the real possibility of it happening fast enough to motivate others to take action.
(I wonder if the heart of our obliviousness is a lack of imagination or a belief in a higher power who can work miracles. I sometimes think the former, but when I see all the mess we get into as a result of strong, individual religious beliefs, I lean toward the latter.)
All I know is this: if we cannot imagine the real possibility of climate change quickly enough to realize that it is truly up to us, and not our grandchildren or great grandchildren, to take action, it doesn’t bode well for our planet.
We still have a chance, so we have a choice. Are we going to keep sitting happily and mindlessly on “this pretty planet, ” (to quote one of my favorite children’s songs), using it up until there is nothing left of it and the ground falls away beneath us? Are we going to keep living in our so-called safe houses, hearing the boot on the stair, and thinking it is never coming for us? Or are we going to open our collective eyes, see the reality that is right in front of our noses ,and have the courage and the will and the energy it will take to turn things around?
I worry that, in this case, since we are all only human, it’s not hard to imagine what choice we will make.