06 May 2019

From now on, there is no happy end. Only the ends we make ourselves.

"Complacency has a recurring role in the annals of human miscalculation, and nothing breeds complacency like the familiar.

It is still possible for us to re-engage in a way of life not so long ago lost – adhering to an ecological budget, acknowledging codependency with other species, and elevating the shared responsibilities of humanity. To understand climate change not as a new environmental problem, but as the long-running interplay of all environmental problems, is to return to an immutable truth: the only way out is through the door we came in by. It is, for now, still open."

Brian Stone
found here

On a day like this, cold, damp, windy, it is easy for me to allow a sense of despair to take over. Here, in my life of luxury, where almost everything runs smoothly and a frustrating meeting at work is the only annoying thing of the day provided I don't look at the news. 

My father always complains about me being too impulsive, he detests it when I am empathic - whereas being emphatic is something he could support - because for him empathy is a sign of weakness. 

But this evening on the phone, we both despair somewhat, quoting bits of the UN global assessment report  on species extinction to each other. 

He for the fact that as an agricultural scientist he was involved in setting up what he now terms bad practice - never mind that he retired 30 years ago. Blind, ignorant, stupid, these are some of the words he uses.

Me for feeling helpless, exhausted, at the end of my tether. It takes a lot to turn a blind eye, to pretend that life is good, to feel cheerful about my young grandchild's future. 

Sometimes I wonder how long I'll be able to keep it up, this facade, hiding my fears and my sadness about our loss behind distractions and avoiding to look at things squarely.  I wonder how others are managing but shhhh, have you noticed how silent people become when you mention the words climate and catastrophe. How adept we all are to duck and act as if we don't understand a thing. And how good we have become to confirm our hopelessness and how quickly we find the words to express that we have given up.

Whereas R, he remains cheerful, he loves pointing out how species can adapt and how clever so many species are in doing so and that - well maybe - humans will figure it out as well. 

Despair is not a thing to be avoided at all costs, nor an end state. Neither is grief and the rage that washes over me, especially when I see how we sit back and pretend there's nothing we can do while having tasked our children with the burden of leading the world towards a safe, carbon neutral future. 

In a recent podcast, David Wallace-Wells said something similar, that we are an adaptable species that we will innovate and endure. And at the very end of a gruesome but important hour of listening, when asked for something a bit more uplifting, he mentions the sceptics who claim that, well ok, the warming is real but it's not human caused. 

And to me, he says, that's so much scarier because if we are seeing all these impacts and we had nothing to with it, we had no way of changing it - I mean, horror show. Thankfully, you know, we're in control. 

Listen! We've got this. We have. We will because nothing else matters from now on.

You can listen to the podcast here.


  1. I feel hopeless despair all the time.

  2. I have little faith in humans to change how we do business. Rich people will ignore climate change because they can and poor people will suffer and die in droves. I feel helpless, unsure what to do and unsure if anything I can do will make a damn bit of difference. And I worry about my new grandson and what his life will be like. Things will get worse. People will die. People will deny until they no longer can.

  3. But were we entitled to believe the end would be happy? Only on the basis that the end (a rolling concept) had been happy until now. A delusion, of course. The Black Death lasted seven years and saw off 60% of Europe's population. Which was fine if you survived it, but an awful lot of people must have passed into oblivion convinced that they'd been wrong to expect things would end well. Soldiers mired in mud, halfway through WW1, might also be forgiven for their tendency towards pessimism.

    Happy ends turned out to be something one could only recognise retrospectively.

    Which is not to say I am unsympathetic when you say you view the world "helpless and exhausted". Chronic illness undermines our personality. Outsiders may compliment sufferers by calling them stoic but this is really a statement of relief; an expression of gratitude that the sufferer has contrived to protect the outsider from feeling guilty about his/her good health. Stoicism does nothing for the sufferer. It may even make things worse given that practising the external signs of stoicism involves energy that could be better spent on something else.

    You make a spirited defence for feeling despair and I can applaud this. Your personality has been under siege; treating despair thus suggests to me that you're bearing up. Being contrary may be a source of strength. Or let's rejig that: there is very little sustenance in espousing clich├ęs - either in what we write or the way we behave. Saying what's expected of you may be unprofitable. So don't.

  4. Thank you for raising your voice, Sabine, in this time of despair.

    O mama, can this really be the end?


    Tears of Rage


    Much of my life from early childhood on was spent alone in despair. That why hearing Bob Dylan's voice at age 13 was such a revelation to me. I knew I wasn't alone. Much later I heard Joan Baez say that action was the antidote to despair. The smallest action matters, and yet I don't believe we are in control. There are forces beyond our control. There always have been. Of the forces beyond our control are hate and ignorance and apathy. Another is love and evidence of survival against all odds.

    Blackbird singing in the dead of night.


    I am moved by Roderick's thoughtful and heartfelt response to your post.

  5. I don't know. are we adaptable? perhaps but what a miserable life that we will adapt to when our activity has caused the extinction of 90% of the life forms on this planet, when we can't live on the surface of the earth because it's so freaking hot. The oldest generation in charge will do nothing, the youngest coming up, the 14 - 18 year olds want to do something about it but have no power yet. how much more damage will be done before they do? I've stopped making the effort to call the politicians and make my views known because they don't care, it's just an effort in futility. they are getting big bucks, they only listen to the lobbyists, businesses write our laws, Trump is rescinding environmental protections as fast as he can. the only thing that matters is voting and Republicans are suppressing the vote as fast and as much as they can because they know they will get voted out otherwise. frankly, I think humans should go extinct. we are the most destructive and violent life form this planet has ever produced. I too worry about what kind of life my grandchildren will be facing in another 30 or 40 years. in the meantime I just try and nurture this planet, the little bit of it in my control.

  6. I am feeling anger and despair as well, Sabine. The news of one million species going extinct sent me spiraling down. But of course even before that news I see what is going on in my country, the racism and bigotry, the guns and the violence. We are a broken species. I have often wished humans would just disappear from earth in the blink of a painless eye. Gone. Let the earth recover. Maybe the chimpanzees will figure it all out in a couple of thousand years.

  7. We are doing this to ourselves and our planet, therefore we have the power to fix it. If only this message could be more widely understood. Thank you for your witness here, your call to action.

  8. I look forward to a major change in attitude toward the problems our earth faces before my life ends. We may endure some significant disasters to awaken more people, but I believe humanity will arouse to the situation and take more meaningful actions. Meanwhile we continue doing the best we can individually.

  9. I'm having deep discussions with close friends. We are determined to help the young ones take charge ... the ones I know have plans for action. And though it may not happen in my lifetime, I believe in them. The power and vision of youth.

  10. Despair and grace--learning to live with both.