Honest reflections on the psychological aspect of living in the time of anthropogenic climate change
Friday, 1 November 2013
Do We Need Catastrophe?
Not long ago, the media (in Denmark, where I am) was all: "TOO BUSY TO HAVE BABIES", "WE NEED TO HAVE MORE BABIES", "HOW DO WE GET PEOPLE TO GET MORE BABIES?". We were told that people (selfishly, I presume) were prioritizing careers, and making themselves too busy before they ever got a chance to get busy. The comments section was filled with "it's too messy/expensive/difficult" to have kids, only one commenter pointed out the glaringly obvious problem with overpopulation, which is not unlike my own reason for not having more - duh, we're breeding an entire generation that will most likely not have full, happy lives as our own parents' simply because we're ruining the planet for them. Anyway, it got me thinking about this whole "busy" business. We ARE busy. We praise busy-ness, it's high on the agenda for governments and families everywhere. We've made it synonymous with something positive, something to strive for, something that fulfills us. I'm not so sure myself, but more on that later...
I'm sitting outside at a restaurant in Madrid. Our good friend's husband owns the restaurant with his family, and he works there himself, every day, practically all day, even sleeping there. He manages to find the time to sit down with the rest of us and enjoy a glass of sangria. The conversation turns to climate change, as it always does when we're travelling, since we don't fly, to reduce our emissions. North or South, we travel by train and boat, which is ever the conversation starter. Our friend expressed scepticism regarding how much damage humans are capable of, an argument I've heard many times before. "But super volcanoes!", he exclaimed! Humans were too small and puny to have any real effect, but super volcanoes would finish us off! And so he started talking about how they were all connected, and when one went off, the others would follow. I've watched Discovery Channel late at night, so I've seen documentaries about this. I know it's a real phenomenon. But I'm not quite sure the devastation will be quite the apocalypse I'm hearing about over tapas. And since the guy has a beloved wife and two children, I was closely studying his face for signs of fear or distress. None. He was telling me about the End of Days with the same enthusiasm as Richard Quest reports om IMF meetings. But then came the kicker: "I work so much, you know...I guess I need a catastrophe".
I'm fairly confident that those who have survived a true catastrophe didn't think they needed it, but still I think it's incredibly telling. Is our society so set in its ways, that are so difficult to break free of, that the only way out is a total breakdown? When my Spanish friend works so much, so hard, that he ends up wanting something huge to come from out of nowhere and put a stop to it all...and when society is seemingly content to play the sitting duck (busily, of course) in the face of true disaster...isn't that something we need to address? So - what exactly are we playing at? What has life become? What are we so busy with, that we don't have time to have kids for? Not that kids are for everyone, but that questions still puts a spotlight on our culture, on our self given purpose here.
Maybe, somewhere in there, behind our own cognitive dissonance, we are screaming for a catastrophe. Because it's the easy way out, in that all we have to do is, well, to keep doing whatever we're doing. The alternative would take too much energy. Maybe we don't even know what we need, and how to get it, and that's what the catastrophe could teach us. The thing about that though, is that the catastrophe will ruin us, leaving nothing behind to start anew with. If we are to have but a chance, maybe we will have to make do with smaller, subjective, and wholly personal catastrophes. But they need to come, fast.