WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER
Like many of you, I recently read NY Magazine's doomsday article "The Uninhabitable Earth" by David Wallace-Wells and felt like dissolving. The fear that flooded me was all-consuming and as I do whenever I am paralyzed by fear, I retreated into the sanctuary of my little room. I cried under the covers, struggled to breathe, found some semblance of calm by wasting a few hours on the Internet.
In short, I did nothing to heal the world. Hell, I did nothing to heal my own heart.
Learning to navigate doomsday articles is difficult work. As journalist Victoria Herrmann writes in her nuanced exploration of the danger that doomsday prophecies pose to our collective consciousness:
The narratives we read, hear and see informs how we understand climate change, and that understanding dictates whether we act or don’t.
When we constantly see stories about communities in crisis as sea levels rise and extreme storms become more frequent, we come away with preconceived notions that all communities living on the frontline of climate change are victims in need of saving. On America’s eroding edges, there is no hope – the future is presented as an ominously uncertain but seemingly inevitable defeat.
Feeling hopeless about a situation is cognitively associated with inaction and predicts decreased goal-directed behavior. That means when we present humanity as a hopeless victim of climate change, we are less likely to act because the ending seems inevitable. Climate change adaptation only works when we are hopeful for the future and believe that environmentally vulnerable communities have the agency to act.
Something simple and concrete that each of us can do? Tell different stories.
Hermann's essay is a game changing read and much like this Mashable article, complicates the defeatist narrative that "The Uninhabitable Earth" maps out. Fear is a strong emotion but it isn't the truth. And that's what makes me so angry at journalists like David Wallace-Wells who prey on primal fears without providing meaningful solutions. Sowing a culture of paralyzing paranoia doesn't create the conditions we need for meaningful change.
Assuming that climate collapse is an inevitability makes it so. Telling stories of infinite crisis only reinforces a sense of helplessness. This isn't conjecture, this is science. If we don't believe our actions make a difference, we don't take action. And so in that sense, the notion that it's too late now isn't only false—it's frankly lazy. It gives us a scapegoat for upholding the status quo.
It's important to know what's at stake. We are at risk of losing entire worlds and ways of being; in many countries and communities, we already have. It's just as important, however, to honor the multiple realities that make up this world. We can find as many stories of loss and degradation as we can stories of regeneration and resilience. And it's vital that we make sure that no one story should have the power to wipe out the other.
Whenever I'm faced with doomsday prophecies, I always ask myself "What would love do?" My friend Lynn shared this question with me during our podcast and it's helped me find the motivation to take action and pursue joy even when the future feels frightening.
When I am full of fear, I retreat to the internet or to my bed because it's too damn painful to deeply engage with a world I am so afraid of losing.
But when I am full of love? That's when I am most moved to action. I do things that feel loving—water my plants, picnic with friends, send notes to my nearest & dearest, hike in the summer evening light—and it gives me the energy I need to do work that makes a difference.
We can live in fear or we can live in love. We can choose to suffer or to act. No matter how scared I am, I feel firm in my vision of the kind of the world I want to build. And knowing what it takes for me to do just that makes the everyday question What would love do? a truly radical pathway toward regeneration.