Can we get back to politics?
There’s a quote from the television series The Wire that goes like this:
The bigger the lie, the more they believe.
If you’ve seen the show and remember the scene, you’ll know Detective “Bunk” Moreland says this after he and some colleagues pretend their copier is a polygraph to get a low-level Bawlmor player, a hopper, to cop to a murder.
And it works. As Sergeant Landsman says, “The machine tells the tale, son.”
Sidebar: If you have not seen The Wire … you’re letting the best in life pass you by. For real, yo.
That episode aired fifteen years ago, in 2008, a year after the iPhone came out, two years after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and the same year President Obama was elected.
I was fifteen years younger, having recently flown to Asia at the precipice of an adventure that continues to this day. The world was fifteen years younger, fifteen years cleaner, fifteen years more innocent. There was no Crypto, no TikTok, no Tinder, and we were all okay with going to the restaurant or cooking at home because food delivery was for pizza and fried chicken only.
Ah, the good old days. I’ve really digressed here.
Here’s the thing. That quote from The Wire may have been directed at the hoppers grindin’ on them corners, but it’s really talking about us. About you, and me. Everyone.
You see, there’s been a lie brewing for decades beneath the currents of our society, woven through the fabric of our collective, global, cultural consciousness. A lie that’s metastasized into a series of lies, into a narrative. A lie so big, so fucking immense, so awe-inspiringly gargantuan, that we’ve collectively just believed it.
The narrative goes something like this:
Our rampant, shortsighted, indiscriminate rape of the earth for the past 70 years is what’s led to wealth, progress, and industrialization — thus, we have made the right decisions. Man is greedy and tribalistic by nature, resources are scarce, and competition is normal. Capitalism is good for the world, and the best economic system we currently have. Recycling goods, driving electric cars, using alternative energy sources, and developing energy-efficient technologies are all examples of how we can contribute to a cleaner environment. Global warming is, in some respects, really a matter of severity and degree, and exactly how it will impact the planet remains largely unknown. Planet Earth has been around for a long time, has gone through worse iterations of warming before, and it’s going to survive this one too. Technology will, ultimately, save us.
And my personal favourite:
Nothing that bad is going to happen in our lifetimes.
To quote John Donne: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
For thee. For us.
The climate crisis — an expression used so frequently that we’ve grown numb to its meaning — is exactly that. A crisis. One that’s been nascent for years, but has finally entered the next stage. It’s here. And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
It was Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra who said it first, and as is often the case — said it best:
“Thou hast seen nothing yet.”
It’s usually about now where the tone in an essay like this needs to change. It sort of has to, right? There has to be some kind of point. Some call to action. Some special sauce or secret formula. Some grand fucking realization that will help us get back on track.
I mean, that’s what all the leading books on the climate crisis do. Every single one of them. Culture warrior Naomi Klein hits the nail on the head when she fingers capitalism as the culprit. Micheal Mann does an excellent job of reframing the true theatre of conflict in the climate wars.
Both are excellent, eye-opening books. But to what end?
Are we denouncing capitalism? Is it even possible to speak ill of free market enterprise today lest some ignorant buffoon accuses you of fomenting a Red Revolution? Are we boycotting multinationals? Proposing banking reform? Scaling down the securities and exchange trade?
For most people, “socialism” and “communism” are dirty little words they dare not speak in public. Like “pegging” and “polyamory”.
Even Mr. Gates had the temerity to tell us how to avoid a climate disaster. Spoiler alert, it’s by putting more faith in governments and institutions that will marshal the forces of technology to save us. Somehow. And probably.
The very same governments and institutions that brought us to this point.
You can’t make this shit up.
What do we do? What can we do?
Nothing, I think.
And that’s the point.
There’s nothing we can do.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. The sixth and most recent iteration of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report, a layman's summary of which you can read here, tells the real tale.
Not the news, not social media, not George Carlin, pundits, activists, or actors — but scientists. Thousands of scientists. Unnamed and unknown, with the truth as their only agenda.
The collective, continuous act of cognitive dissonance that society’s involved in is staggering. Biblical. Of an unthinkable proportion. The lie is so big that we’ve simply believed it by disassociating our egocentric existence from what’s happening on our planet.
This is a broad strokes version of the way many generally think, if you can call it that:
Of course, climate change is real. I’m not an idiot. I’m educated. I read. I know what’s up. I donate to the cause, I share positive messaging, and I march with climate activists. I compost AND recycle so fuck you and your Holier than Thou attitude. But no, I don’t think it’s that big a deal that I have to become a vegetarian. Or not drive a car. Or not have children. That’s silly. Yes, I know the SUV isn’t great but, we can’t all be Kaczynski, can we? And although it would help if other people didn’t drive cars, eat meat, have children, or buy shit they don’t need, I’m still going to do all those things despite knowing I’m part of the problem. Because so what? I want to. Everyone else is doing it. Like, literally, everyone else. So fuck it. How bad can it really be?
Let the chips fall where they may.
If there is anything I wish for my scant audience to take away from this essay, it’s this:
Be afraid. There is nothing to be hopeful about. All of our lives are going to change dramatically and irreversibly in the next decade. And in two decades, many of us will have perished as a direct consequence of the concurrent destabilization of our environmental systems.
Be very fucking afraid. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
But fear can be a good thing. Not as some myopic, last-ditch quixotic notion of using it to galvanize us into taking action because that is a lie.
But fear is good for snapping people out of the pseudo-slumber many of us, myself included, have fallen into. We can use fear to make our lives, what’s left of them, more meaningful.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but it needs to be said: STOP bringing more children into this world for goodness sake. Adopt the ones without homes and families. There are millions of them. Maybe even billions. I know it’s a process, and it’s complicated, but so what? Since when was having kids supposed to be easy? People are so fucking selfish about this issue, and I just can’t wrap my head around it. I know dozens of new families, and none of them adopted. NONE. Not a single family that I personally know went that route. What a fucking travesty.
Don’t spend your life hoarding and saving and investing for a future that is theoretical, and almost certainly, illusory. There is no call for being imprudent and rash and foolhardy with your assets, but the time to live is now. Today. Not tomorrow. In fact, tomorrow may never come.
Whatever it is you want to do, be, experience, or accomplish. The time to start is right now. Start planning and preparing for it immediately. If you hate your job, give notice today. If you know you’re stuck in the wrong relationship, break up. If it’s a marriage, get a divorce. Wrong city? Move. You want to paint? Buy an easel and brushes and let’s get going. You want to build a house? What the fuck are you doing reading this? Get your ass out there. You want to write a novel about terraforming the moons of Jupiter? Direct a movie about being a child of immigrants? Live on a farm with fifteen dogs? Have a threesome? Visit Korea? Learn Italian? Skydive?
It’s DEFCON 1. Not a lot of time left. Start living. Let’s fucking go.
If my read of the situation is wrong, then in twenty years, I will be nothing but a fool on a pulpit, if that, having cried wolf and isolated myself from the world. Just another crazy on the corner, talking about the apocalypse, while people deftly avoid him as they scurry to work during morning rush hour. I’ll admit, it’s not a very happy ending for me, but in the grand scheme, it’s a very happy ending indeed.
Because if my assessment is correct. That’s it. We’re all fucked, all five ways from the great Lonestar state of Texas. Yes sir. And it’s barely begun. And for anyone who believes they have an idea of what climate destabilization will look like, or that it’s already happening, this is the clip for you.