Politicians, pundits, priests, professors and other cheerleaders tell us, daily, they “remain optimistic.” Usually this is follows a review of the most dismal statistics—statistics about deaths, wars, political divisions, melting ice caps, rising seas of racism, sexism, homophobia, sealed borders, water shortages, shrinking forests. The forests of the earth cut down for farms to grow the food so an exploding population can feed itself, shrinking the lungs to make more room for the stomach so Mother Earth can glut herself until she cannot breathe. But they “remain optimistic.”
I don’t. In fact I’m pretty depressed about the state of the earth and the chances the human inhabitants will wise up before it’s too late. If I wasn’t before—before the feeble-minded, hate-filled, fear-mongering Tangerine Tornado prevaricated itself into the oval office—I would be now. But I already was. I’m just more angry about it now. This just amplifies it.
Tragedy is the state of sad affairs that should not have to have happened, that should have been avoidable but weren’t. Everything you needed to solve the problem was there. But you could not have known it. The state we are in is truly and technically tragic, though the tragedy is still playing out.
For the earth to survive we need well-meaning people to work very hard, to be willing to sacrifice short term gains for long-term viability. The recent election makes it abundantly clear: we aren’t going to do that.
The threat of global warming is so great that it will take a worldwide effort never quite paralleled in history, the closest parallels being global war. But global war was a response to a much more palpable threat. Global warming still seems abstract. Sure the storms are getting bigger and stronger and more frequent. But there have always been storms, and mendacious people are still able to convince people who don’t want to be scared that this or that global conspiracy is lying to them to bring in a new world order. A stupid old story we gobble up like candy.
The truth is, I don’t think we’ll figure it out in time. In fact, there’s a better than even chance it’s already too late. Not just at the rate we’re crowding the skies of Mother Earth with sun-sucking carbon, but because of what we’ve already done. The process accelerates. There may well already be enough poison in the sky to kill the patient and the people walk around debating or ignoring or fighting over the riches archeologists from some distant star may someday stumble on, figure out, and laugh about. The poison has been ingested and we like Hamlet still babbling when no medicine in the world can do us good babble on the stage but just enough life left to proclaim that we are dead.
There is not half an hour of life. The treacherous instrument is in our hands, unbated and envenomed. The foul practice hath turned itself upon ourselves and here we lie, never to rise again. Our Mother’s poisoned.
I do not remain optimistic. On a planet on which out of ignorance, spite, prejudice, and just plain bone-headedness something like Trump can happen, how could we possibly imagine that the inhabitants have the brains or initiative that are required to fix its problems in time? One day soon these people drop the pretense and fall on their knees and say, “Lord, help us, we have sinned against the Earth.” By then the alarm will have been screaming for hours, while they talked all the louder to drown it out. And as they, “Oh, yeah, I know what the screaming is,” they fall asleep forever.
Well, then, why bother? If you don’t have faith in humanity, and you don’t think we have time, and you can’t expect God to intervene—his track record for saving people from their own stupidity is no cause for hope—why even write this pessimistic piece to bring the dying legions down?
Because of course I may be wrong. Because I’m just one person staring from one awkward vantage at a huge and complex problem. Because I acknowledge—eyes open—that this problem is more than any one brain can analyze to certainty, certainly too big for me.
Pessimism is not an excuse for giving up. It’s a stronger argument to press on than its cousin proclaiming glass half-full. Because under the banner of a well-informed pessimism you see how hard you’d have to fight. Because you have no alternative.
A pessimist is someone driven by a wall of fire to the edge of a cliff. He’s facing a divide he’s almost sure he cannot leap across. If he tries he’ll probably die. But if he doesn’t, he’ll certainly die. He doesn’t give himself the lie that he can make it. He sees it for what it is. And he jumps like there’s no tomorrow.