How do you keep your head up when the world is going to sh*t?

Seriously, I’d love to know.

This is not an advice column. This is not a ‘look at me I can do it and so can you’ motivational speech. These are my raw emotions, my feelings, my opinions. This is me searching for hope where it is void.

The world is going to sh**, this is not a drill. It is a few weeks after COVID-19 has been officially declared a global pandemic. Cities all over the world are on lockdown. North America is in a state of emergency. People are freaking out, buying toilet paper like there’s no tomorrow. The economy is seriously suffering. People aren’t going to work and making money, so they aren’t going out and spending money. People can’t pay their rent, landlords can’t pay mortgages and banks can’t stay afloat. Governments’ efforts to curb the rise in cases of COVID-19 after it was declared a global pandemic, is probably the first time in my life I’ve seen any government take any form of appropriate action to anything. They enforced travel and large event bans, closed borders, schools, libraries, arenas, restaurants, stores, just about everything.

As a quick disclaimer, I fully agree and support all the measures that have been taken, and all the money being spent to fight this pandemic and its associated damages. People are dying from it, people are sick and in danger, their lives are at stake. What I don’t understand is that the money is there, and was made readily available so quickly, without question, as soon as a state of emergency was declared. There are so many terrible things going on in the world, (the one I’m going to focus on here is the global environmental crisis) this is not the only thing that warrants a reaction as serious as the one we are experiencing with this pandemic.

It’s been over a year and a half since the IPCC released their special report stating that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed to avoid catastrophic consequences of climate change. They’ve been saying the same things for over 20 years, and now there is little-to-no time left to make the necessary changes, to take the actions that should have been taken long ago. The risks are only increasing, and the consequences of climate change are only getting more severe with every day that passes where nothing is done, yet no one is doing anything. To add insult to injury, with the current economic downturn, Justin Trudeau is giving the Canadian oil companies a multi-billion-dollar bailout because they can’t make their budget. China is considering relaxing emissions standards to help the automobile industry during these tough economic times. In the US, President Donald Trump just signed a $USD 8.3 billion emergency funding bill to fund various forms of medical intervention for the virus, from vaccine development to finding community health centres for underserved populations.

How come, only now we are seeing governments taking drastic measures and having appropriate responses to a global crisis? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about the environment? Just a couple thousand cases of COVID-19 was enough to get Trump to dish out billions of dollars to fight it, but forty years of serious warnings from scientists, global warming, massive heat waves, erratic and intense hurricanes, widespread forest fires, ravaging floods, sea level rise, air pollution, coral bleaching, and many more telltale signs, get brushed under the rug. Where is the climate emergency? Where is the multi-billion-dollar funding bill for that? Where are the renewable energy subsidies and fossil fuel bans? With all the air travel bans that have been implemented in the past few weeks, we have cut more emissions than through decades of (little) climate action. Why do we choose to care so much about one thing, and none of the others, that are equally, if not more, harmful to us and our planet? Impacts of COVID-19 are expected to rise sharply over time, threatening so many lives of vast numbers of people, especially those most vulnerable. Climate change, too, will severely harm many over time, although much more slowly. If governments and companies can work so quickly to cancel sports seasons, shut down workplaces, and restrict movement, then why can’t they make similarly drastic efforts to change energy consumption and production?

I’m not here to offer you answers or speculations to any of these questions, because this is not a place where I am going to share my opinions. I’m frustrated and disappointed with the state of the world. I’m not complaining about the isolation measures, business closures or travel bans, seriously, being at home and staying in is one of my favorite things. It’s the bigger picture, the state of the world and the lack of action in the interest of the well-being and health of the planet and its residents is what depresses me most, and I don’t use the term “depressed” lightly. The more I think about it, the more enraged I get, the more hopeless the situation feels to me, and the more powerless I feel. I’m at the point where I know I don’t want to live in a world like this, I don’t want to bring more children into such awful place, and I don’t see how I can make it any better. I’ve gone to school for years to get my Master’s degree and do “important” research to try and make a tiny difference in my own way, but I’ve just turned into another scientist that no one listens to. I drastically reduce my waste production and carbon footprint, but there are still people flying around the world in private jets and there’s nearly more plastic in the ocean than fish. I protest and fight for what I want, for a better world, but nothing seems to change. I can’t find the light at the end of the tunnel, there is only darkness, grim hopelessness.

Some people say that times of crisis can lead to opportunities for social change, but I don’t buy it. I mean, it totally can, but I don’t see that happening here, I have totally lost faith in humanity, especially those we have chosen to lead us. This pandemic should be forcing us to think about the better future we want to build, but it seems as though leaders doing anything they can to keep everything functioning as usual and trying to save the economy (and their keep their profits) at the expense of people’s lives. Keeping businesses closed around the world on the advice of scientists and health professionals will do economic damage, but so will bringing people back to work, prolonging the outbreak, straining the hospital system and adding to the death count from the virus, which all that America’s richest business people are interested in doing right now.

There are ways to transform the economy, so that it is not so susceptible to such a downturn, and that keeping afloat during a crisis wouldn’t be as environmentally damaging. The time to act and transform the economy is now (*was actually decades ago*). If the bailout money was used, not to save the companies doing the most damage to the planet, and instead was used to create energy efficient infrastructure and jobs, then we could see the economy and the planet is much better state at the next inevitable downturn. If we acknowledge the value of natural resources and conservation of nature, we could build resiliency in the economy and preserve that of the Earth.

I think that diverting urgently needed public funds to subsidize a dying an environmentally-damaging industry during a pandemic is completely unconscionable, as is ignoring important science for decades, and leaving people to suffer from climate change impacts, poverty, and starvation while they are sitting on billions of dollars that could easily be used for important changes to help those in need. People are suffering and dying from these issues too, and it saddens me to see people being left behind and people profiting and benefiting from this.

Who are we if we don’t help each other? Yes, we have all come together to fight this pandemic the best we can, but why only this and why only now and what does this say about humanity? We have the power and capacity to come together and do the right things. We are seeing now that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time.  It’s possible for mobilization of a large amount of money and resources to take place in a short amount of time. This is what environmental scientist and activists have been urging governments to do for so long now, and it makes me so angry to see them doing this now, for this crisis, knowing very well that they could have been doing this all along.

However, it seems as though greed and materialism have pervaded society to the point where we are unable to draw happiness and meaning from anything beyond monetary wealth and physical assets. We put our faith in people who are stuck in this materialistic way of life, and are purposely blind to the issues of lower classes, marginalized and vulnerable people. With all this, it makes sense that governments would act quickly and intensely to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, an issue that greatly threatens the economy in its current state but would remain ignorant the global environmental crisis, one where action will only decrease their personal profits (in the short run only, but that’s all anyone seems to care about).  This is what happens when you think with your head and not your heart. If they really cared about the human race and the health of the planet, then these would not be prevalent issues today, and it’s possible this pandemic wouldn’t even have happened. Why would anyone want to be in a world like this, where things are so chaotic, everything is collapsing, and the world is on fire?

I can hardly breathe just thinking about it and I am at a loss when thinking about where to go from here, and I am terrified to be sentenced to a life where I have to sit on the sidelines and watch this play out. I am tired and have no will to fight. The more I think about it, the less hope I can summon, and the more I am inclined to give up. How do we get through this? How do we find the silver lining, in this dark, heartless world? Someone please tell me.

One thought on “How do you keep your head up when the world is going to sh*t?

  1. It seems to me that people just aren’t meant to live in such large intermingled groups. We’re capable of caring intensely for a few dozen people that we know well, but the more people you try to add on, the less caring there is in an average person to go around. No wonder people can’t think about how their actions affect the disenfranchised in another city, they’re just too far away for it to seem relevant in the day-to-day. It’s the same deal with climate change, people aren’t very good at projecting into the future. Sure it can be done if you really try, but it doesn’t come naturally to people in daily life. Everyone is much more concerned about how they and their close friends are feeling that particular day, it’s a natural consequence of evolving up from small tribes and communities where this made sense. I believe that slowly, slowly, slowly over time the human species will evolve to be more cooperative on a global scale, but for the moment it’s not what we’re built for. I recently read a great sci-fi series called The Three Body Problem by Cixin Lui, he takes a deep (admittedly speculative) look into how the human race will evolve over time knowing they are doomed to alien invasion in a few centuries. I found it very relatable to how we’re currently handling climate change as a species (forming various factions, some in denial), and actually a lot of the points you’ve brought up here (hopelessness vs hope, dis/trust in government, judgement of the human race) are discussed in the sci-fi context. Even if it’s fiction, the ideas are real. Anyway I’d recommend it, as it’s given me the belief that our future generations will have a better chance/ability to do things right.

    As for our current situation, I’m holding out hope that some of the positive changes happening now are here to stay: people are more conscious of hygiene in public which will help the immunocompromised, companies are learning that some people do better working from home and that it’s feasible for them to do so, people are developing a newfound appreciation for the arts as essential to human happiness, people are seeing the value of reaching out to those they love more often and learning to empathize about who might be feeling lonely or having a hard time, I’m sure many people are realizing there’s more to life than work, and as a species we’re proving that we actually can work together and cooperate to achieve an important goal! I stay hopeful that people will learn from this that they’re not immortal, that community is more important than their jobs, that we can change how we live, and that we are capable as a planet of behaving differently, and I think all of this together will naturally point towards climate activism.

    Like

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