Tess Nichol ruminates on the spectre of climate catastrophe, and the difficulty of getting your head around this truly existential crisis.
You wake up and find out everything is much worse than previously thought.
We've reached a carbon dioxide concentration of 415 parts per million - a new record. You remember how at Uni you joined the activist group 350 Aotearoa, who were warning in 2010 that we couldn't surpass a concentration of 350 parts per million. You never actually went to any meetings.
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What used to be the worst case scenario has been reclassified as much too hopeful and the vengeful ocean is almost certainly going to drown half of us while the rest wither in dust bowl deserts. Also, the very existence of clouds is now under threat?
Doing your bit, you get your coffee in a keep cup and catch the bus to work. That should stem the rising tide.
Then, indignant, you decide that actually, individual choice is pointless when 100 companies are responsible for 71 per cent of global carbon emissions, and so too is the guilt people heap on themselves for what must, in the scheme of things, be basically meaningless choices. You declare the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house and so we cannot get ourselves out of the mess capitalism has created with conscious consumerism. Settling on this ideological position coincides with your desire to fly to Europe later in the year.
You think about microplastics for a long time. About how they’re in everything, from the fish we’re hauling in catastrophic numbers from ever-warming waters, to the soil we grow our veges in. You feel very tired.
On your lunch break you read an article which says actually Gladwrap isn’t so bad because it turns out food waste is worse for the environment than a bit of plastic and you think guiltily about all the rotten leftovers you’ve thrown away because you forgot what was underneath the eco-friendly reusable beeswax covers lining bowls along your fridge shelves.
You briefly toy with the idea of becoming a climate sceptic, and it’s such a comforting thought you feel sympathy for those who refuse to see the inconvenient truth staring us right in the face. You think about Brazil, and that carbon sinkhole of the Amazon now in danger of being felled to nothing and you feel furious and paralysed and impotent and not at all sorry for the money-hungry reactionaries in charge making everything irreparably worse.
You listen to friends talking about their fears for the children they’ve brought into the world and others laying out the case for not having any at all. Passionate arguments about how in fact procreating is a selfish act both for future babies and everyone already here. You wonder how the fuck this fundamentally human thing, to have and nurture children, came to be up for debate at all.
School students are striking again - May 24. Reading their open letter, your eyes linger on the opening of the second paragraph: “Soon we will inherit the consequences of this inaction, and we are scared”. Those last three words in particular: “we are scared”. You start to panic. Just how badly have we failed these frightened kids? When you learn the oil barons knew, forty years ago, that carbon emissions were a problem but they kept it secret to protect their profit and now there’s nothing we can do but march forward into the apocalypse, hot, angry, pointless tears slide down your cheeks.