Climate Anxiety: Don't Look Up
3 January 2022
I really enjoyed the film Don’t look up
As someone who has experienced a visceral fear of our ongoing climate disaster for a long time it was a relief to see this acted out on screen.
The metaphor was the comet - but the fear shown is real - so is the apathy.
As humans we are aware of our own mortality - we know that we are going to die, that our kids are going to die - that everyone we know is going to die - and yet we manage this knowledge happily (most of the time).
We do this by imagining that these deaths will be a long way in the future - by ignoring them - or in the end hopefully by reflecting back on a long life well lived.
We are not the only generation to face existential threats - others before have faced invasion, famine, war, on the threat of nuclear annihilation
There are even lists of different ways the world could end
I am not religious but I do find the Serenity Prayer very helpful and feel that it expresses a philosphy that must have been very helpful in times of trouble.
God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change…
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
The first thing is not to worry about what is outside of your control - some of the risks to life on Earth (like a comet or a Supernova) are things we really can’t do anything about and we may as well live as if they don’t exist.
Previous generations have shown staggering amounts of courage trying to change the world that they may live - whether on the battlefield or in the face of famine.
Living one moment at a time - enjoying the coffee as they do at the end in the movie.
I think many people do put their faith in religion - but many also put it in their family, tribe, country or King.
Those dying in the trenches in the world wars must have hoped that they left being loved ones or at least a nation that was protected by their fight.
The richest in history seem to have striven for immortality by leaving great legacies of empires or statues.
Some leave behind great cultural legacies and are remembered for their art, inventions or scientific breakthroughs.
Most simply hope to leave behind children through whom we feel we have a touch of immortality - and our genes will survive.
I was really struck recently by the NewScientist article Survival of the friendliest? Why Homo sapiens outlived other humans
This expansion of our social networks was a significant part of our success, says Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum, London. “Interacting with more people allowed us to acquire behaviours and inventions from neighbouring groups, which may have aided survival.” By contrast, the Neanderthal’s apparently insular way of life may have cost them dear. Ten wooden throwing spears, excavated from a mine in Schöningen, near Hannover in Germany, and dated to around 300,000 years ago, would have enabled those who used them – perhaps early Neanderthals – to hunt big game from a distance. “You would assume that such a good invention could never be lost, but maybe within 10,000 years of the Schöningen people living there, the entire area was covered by an ice sheet and all these humans were gone,” says Stringer. “If these people weren’t part of a much wider social network then the technology that was special to their group would have died with them."
This suggests that one of the essential aspects of being human is friendliness and ideas exchange with strangers - that we have survived because our ideas survive.
One of the key ideas of our times is the idea of the meme (from The Selfish Gene) which is the idea that ideas themselves are almost alive.
This to me is what is so utterly terrifying about climate change - that unlike the risks that have gone before this is not something we can dismiss as unlikely (it is happening), we cannot comfort ourselves with the survival of our children, our nations, our Kings, or even our ideas. It is possible that none of the people, things, or ideas in which we have invested meaning will survive - that our deaths will be total.
We have only the choice to try to change the world - which is hard as the film shows - or to accept and somehow find serenity.