A note from Eliot — this is an invited guest post written by a good friend, Diane Soini. With gratitude, Diane!
Suffering from insomnia I decided to try to remember the name of a YouTube channel Eliot recommended so I typed it into Google and something came right up that looked to be in the colors I remember seeing when he showed it to me on his phone. Will this help me sleep? I don’t know, it can’t make it any worse.
I don’t read a lot of things about climate change. My interests tend more toward the humanities and social sciences more than science and math. I can see climate change with my own eyes. I’ve been watching it unfold for my entire life.
So I’m sitting there in the dark listening to some geezer crackpot in a literal padded bunker reading me news articles off the internet in a slow drawl, occasionally interjecting with a growling “yeah”, telling me about Bloomberg’s predictions for a horrible lengthy impending market decline. Great, just what an insomniac one month from retirement needs to hear. I always knew it would turn out this way.
Wearing his “Sorry we’re Fucked” shirt, he pets his dog and goes on to quote some guy named Somebody Mann. I have heard Eliot complain about this Mann person before. Apparently he is a big shot who has nothing better to do with his life than complain about Eliot and people like him, truth-tellers and Cassandras sounding the alarm. I recalled that I heard his name mentioned on PBS Newshour just a few days ago. The dog-scratching man in his quilt-lined padded cell drawls slowly over Mann’s words: “Climate doomerism can be harmful, because it robs us of agency, the agency we still have in determining our future,” Something like that.
My “agency” to solve the climate crisis. What a joke!
I grew up in the 70s attending an experimental school in Goleta, CA. Our teachers, dressed in bell bottoms and playing autoharps and guitars, led us through songs like “Blowing in the Wind” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and showed us films that gave me nightmares for 50 years. Like the wordless film of baby birds being burned alive in their nests while bulldozers drained Florida’s swamps to build the kinds of middle-class suburbs I lived in. That was called “progress” back then.
Our teachers had us reading out of strange textbooks that would never get through the school board now, with CBS Radio Mystery Theater-style stories that grabbed our attention. Morality plays like one in particular I remember called “The Button” where a man and his wife get a sales call from a man offering a button that if they push it, someone somewhere in the world that they do not know will die, and they will receive a lot of money in return. They could pay their debts with this money. The man and his wife discuss it. The man is adamant that this is morally wrong and he could never do it. The woman is not so sure. He says no. In the end, like Eve tempted by the snake, she takes the deal. I won’t ruin it, but the story ends with a typical Twilight Zone-style twist.
That’s not the story I was thinking of, though. I was thinking of the one about a man who wakes up from a dream. Over breakfast he tells his wife about his dream. It was so vivid and real. He can’t shake it. He dreamt the world was going to end that day. His wife tries to comfort him that it was just a dream. He goes to work and throughout the day he overhears other people discussing the same dream. Everyone has had the same dream. He rides the train home from work and everyone seems sad and worried but also sort of resigned. Discussion of the dream is in the news when he gets home. Later he goes to bed and the world just ends.
We discuss in class, what would you do if you knew that the world was ending? Would you do the same things you do every day? Would you do something different? Would it matter what you did? Why would it matter or not? I was in the 6th grade at the time.
Clearly the answer was that we would do nothing. Because how would you really know the world was ending? There would always be hope that it is not ending.
Doomerism is robbing me of my “agency” to stop climate change. Thank you Somebody Mann for the laugh.
I was given by my elementary school teachers a premonition the world might end in environmental catastrophe in hopes I would take action to stop it in time. I was given tools to try to see clearly and not be fooled that real things happening were not just dreams. A powerful dream machine lulled us anyway, continues to lull us, and instead of doing anything about it, we all chose to push the button.
I did what I could anyway. I voted in elections. My representatives dangled a lot of promises but didn’t do anything. I donated to worthy causes but they just kept asking me for more money and offering ways I could shop my way to a greener planet. I tried being a vegetarian for ten years. I never had children. I bought almost all my clothes at the thrift store for my whole adult life. I read books. I’ve never bought a car. I tried to convince my parents to change their beliefs. Nothing stopped unfolding.
I lived life to the best of my ability. I worked and saved. Even that had little “agency.” I could select a career during a period of time when all careers were being emptied of livable salaries. I selected one career for a while, then chose another, then another. For the last 11 years of my career I worked to keep the student debt machine going. For the last two years this was “essential work” during the pandemic. Nevermind that people sitting alone and isolated in their rooms doing homework online isn’t college (and people sitting alone isolated in their rooms working isn’t “meaningful work”). The university needed its money. They had to pay people like me. I was now fully complicit in the machine eating the planet. At least I got my slice of the pie.
I used my “agency” in 2018 to try to stop Donald Trump from ruining our country. Old hippies told me he was the same as all the other ones before him, but he wasn’t coming for them, he was coming for me. I had to do something. I was worried there would be death and destruction and then one million people in the United States and millions around the world died of COVID because of him. George Floyd and Brionna Taylor died because of people like him. In 2020 I walked the neighborhoods leaving election literature on doorsteps to try to stop him from going any further. I felt joyous that we won and he was stopped. It was a short-lived victory.
I used my “agency” to survive the pandemic with vaccines, masks, and my privilege to work alone in my room for two years. Only a lucky few of all humanity throughout the eons have survived a global pandemic and I was one of them. It occurs to me that my “agency” narrows its focus smaller and smaller around my own individual life.
The pandemic rages on, my human rights as an autonomous person are being stripped away, “White Supremacy” has taken over the planet, authoritarians all over the globe are filling young minds with American racist ideology so that they’re encouraged to murder old ladies minding their own business in grocery stores. I have no agency to stop this machine grinding away converting more and more people to this hateful ideology, all in service to the machine grinding away converting more and more of the planet into money. Clearly I am just a leaf blowing in the wind.
It’s clear to me that the solution to climate change is the rich will murder the poor and their Plan B is to fly away to Mars. I don’t believe any of them really believe they’ll fly away to Mars. Mars is just another of their lullabies. I don’t understand why nobody sees this clearly. Climate change is being solved and the solution is death. The only “agency” any of us really has is what will we do while we wait for our turn to board the cattle car.
And so here I am on the cusp of something horrible. I decided the answer to the question of what would you do if you knew the world was going to end was that I was not going to just continue on like everything was normal. I’m in a lucky place. I’m too old to be here when it really gets awful and too young to escape a lot of the awfulness. I am young enough to enjoy my life a little bit before it really gets bad. I’m grateful for Eliot’s message to be kind and to be of service. Maybe I will be able to help ease suffering and isolation while this tragedy unfolds.
Oddly, it feels hopeful to be without hope. Maybe the difference is that “agency” doesn’t come from hope but hope comes from agency. The etymology of the word “agency” comes from “ag”, a root meaning “to drive, draw out or forth, move.” It is the root of the word “protagonist”. Hope, on the other hand, means to have trust (in God mainly) or to wish for or desire. Hope is letting Gods and Kings be the protagonists. No wonder they are coming for the feminists, blacks and Jews. No wonder Plan A is to kill every one of us. How dare we try to become protagonists! That is the job of Gods and Kings. Our job is to hope and wait to die.
Letting go of hope is agency. Being hopeless is agency. Don’t let the hope peddlers tell you it’s the other way around.