I had thought that human life on this planet had about a dozen years left, based on a UN warning last year, but it looks like a new report, released just ahead of World Environment Day on June 5, has given us an extension. Australia’s Breakthrough National Centre For Climate Restoration now sets the doomsday clock to 31 more years before climate change will have killed most of us.
“Even the ozone layer repaired itself,” someone shrugged when I chided them recently for a careless disposal of plastic. There is no doubt that the planet has self-healing capabilities. The problem is that we expect it to continue to both tolerate and heal from our damage at the same time. The anthropomorphisation of the planet and of its presiding sentience into Mother Earth and Mother Nature, respectively, are perfectly in line with how the human species regards its mothers too. Ascribing qualities like self-sacrifice, benevolence and forbearance while treating them really badly, and expecting them to take it. What’s the planet-sized version of misogyny? Whatever the punchline is, the joke’s on us.
Because there’s no reason to believe that this self-healing, evolving, extraordinary planet cannot go on without us. It will, no matter how we annihilate ourselves. Other life forms will replace us as the dominant one. Perhaps they will be all-seeing plants, because surely there must be plants. Or yet-imagined creatures made for new climes or through resourceful mutations. Or simply the sorts of species we used to crush underfoot, or consume, or whose habitats we turned into conurbations. We may not have their resilience. Nothing of our so-called superior intelligence has suggested that we will, not when we have allowed for all that has already happened.
I’m not here to offer solutions, because there’s nothing we don’t all already know. We’ve all seen the images of sea birds with six pack rings around their throats. We adjust our consumer choices with mindful boycotts. We don’t leave the water running as we brush. We even know that just 100 mega-companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions, and that while the blame doesn’t squarely fall on us, the burden does. And we do what we can.
We (must) live within the likelihood of apocalypse in the same way that we live despite the inevitability of our individual deaths. There are two ways to parse this statement. The first is insouciance: changing nothing about consumption or usage, insisting that the AC is personally well-deserved and there’s always mineral water to bathe in if the tankers don’t come, and generally continuing as though every resource, particularly one’s own privilege, is infinite. This is what many of us do. The second way is with awareness. To understand that individual effort without collective backing can do little, but to do it sincerely. To make choices which are really apologies, but at least those are better than excuses. To accept that the collapse is coming, but that our surrender will be with some certainty that we tried. To consider this goal daily: that this life, hurtling toward drought and misery, extinction and doom, was still experienced with honour and humility.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on June 6th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.