January 1, 2020
For the entirety of last year, I buried my living, breathing lungs in the slowly desiccating heart of our earth.
It was a year of rage and tears, paralysis and rot. I burrowed into the loam not only in my personal life, but everywhere.
Bombarded with innumerable articles about a world falling apart, nightmarish visions both penned and painted of a terrible apathy in humankind, a doomed future for the human race, and a bleak prediction for our beautiful planet: acidifying oceans, whales perishing with bellies full of plastic, birds filled with the same, bees disappearing, rain forests burning, fires in Australia, millions of animals dead, emaciated polar bears, vanishing salmon, overfishing, species on the verge of extinction, many already gone, and too many on the brink – giraffes, wolves, snow leopards, sharks left unable to swim and to die on the ocean floor for shark-fin soup, elephants slain for tusks for the ivory trade; Earth’s resources being gutted, governments shaking hands with companies that belch unbreathable fumes into our atmosphere, companies that spill black oil into our waters, birds coated with it, fish dying of it, while corporations that care nothing for either human or animal life are funded by the rich and the powerful—as the poor grow poorer and the despairing more hopeless.
I wanted to scream so many times, but I kept silent and interred it all deep. My thoughts were locked in a rampant churn inside my skull. I typed out my lack of hope during half-mad bouts of fatigue, in blog posts partly written but always unpublished, all my rants unheard in the empty echoes of my flat.
I jotted down a million unused notes of sorrow on papers I crumpled up and slated for recycling; ideas scrawled in illegible script, cryptic hints and desolate words revealed to no one, just shoved down to the vilest dregs of my soul where the last flagging torch of hope dwindled.
But it did not extinguish.
Because I am a writer.
And writers do not live by the visions that others paint.
We create our own visions.
Everything I’ve consumed, read, watched, mourned, screamed at, raged about, and cried for last year boils down to this: I have rotted like deadwood, and this is where it ends.
The chaos of the past will be molded into something new, and when I wake each dawn from now on, it will not be to their future.
I will wake to my own, painted from brushstrokes others have already begun, with images already partly realized.
All I have to do is continue it.
Envision something different:
The tipping point will fall in the other direction.
The tide will turn in favor of environmentalists, of those who love the earth and clean air and clean water.
People will realize that their personal activism is not futile in the face of Big Waste, because their individual actions inspire others. Tribes will stand on a hill and shout it out. Groups will move to dethrone the conglomerates polluting our brooks and our bloodstreams. With a decrease of pollution, we’ll get healthier, happier, and smarter, for studies all over show that pollution makes us stupid, makes us sicker, not to mention prone to depression and an early grave.
This year, we will begin to end this.
Reforestation will increase. Costa Rica doubled its forest cover in 30 years. Ethiopia planted 350 million trees in a day. Drones can be used to plant trees faster, cheaper, and in hard-to-reach places. Creatures that have nowhere to go when their habitats are razed will be saved. Replacements can be found for wood (like fire-resistant coconut husks). They’re making concrete that can absorb CO2 and sustain a garden.
People and countries will turn their backs on products that strip rain forests to use palm oil as a cheap alternative to replace quality ingredients in chocolate, popcorn, potato chips, fast food, toiletries, and many other products. Norway is already phasing palm oil out.
Agriculture and livestock might be done away with almost completely because a lot of our food might come neither from animals nor plants, but from unicellular life. Lab-grown sustenance could enable us to return vast tracts of land and sea to nature while keeping others growing food sustainably. It would mean an end to the exploitation of animals, to most deforestation, a massive reduction in the use of pesticides and fertiliser, and no more trawlers and longliners. If lab-grown food becomes a viable option, everyone on Earth could be well-fed by using only a tiny fraction of its surface.
Chemical pesticides will fall from grace (France already banned five that were proven dangerous to bees). Bees will make a comeback. Monarchs will thrive once more. Birds will flourish on seeds and not die unable to take wing ever again, their bodies bloated with plastic.
Seashores will be cleaned, discarded plastic littering them gathered and repurposed to make bricks, homes, furniture, even shoes (as Nike is doing). The Philippines is already making roads and cement with plastic garbage. Seawaters will flow free of it after inventions clean the garbage patches humans have left it engorged with. China has unveiled a plan to reduce single-use plastic.
People will phase out plastic completely, bringing their own containers for staple items, using fabric bags for grocery trips, returnable bottles for dairy products. They’ll buy local, test out shampoo bars (with no packaging!) and refillable tins for lotions and creams. No more plastic bags swirling down every lane, no animals in the wild choking on discarded containers.
Governments will pass more legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions (New Zealand already has and France passed a law requiring the rooftops of all new buildings in commercial zones to be fully or partially covered in plants or solar panels).
Renewable energy will make our air cleaner (renewable electricity already overtook fossil fuels in the UK for the first time). Portugal has already reached 100% renewables and ended fossil fuel subsidies.
Cities will provide services to collect bio-waste (like Prague is going to start regularly in the new year).
Solar-paneled or hydrogen-powered cars will be subsidized or cars will be phased out of cities completely (no-car cities are already a vision and Barcelona is already creating entire blocks of car-free zones).
Cargo airliners will be replaced by airships (already in the works)!
Many cities will make public transport cheaper or even free (like Kansas city already did and as Luxembourg became the first country to). People will be able to relax and zone out on public transport rather than stress about screaming drivers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and rear-enders.
People will (re)discover the joy of walking and exercise, how it makes you happier than money (says both Yale and Oxford research), helps you sleep deeper and your brain function better.
They’ll become even happier by buying less junk while spending more time with other people, realizing that makeup and fashion and flashy gadgets won’t bring bliss, but spending time strolling in the park and discussing books and movies, or anything at all with those whose company they enjoy will make them happy. Clean air will make their minds clearer, streets free of car fumes will allow them to smell the roses, and the lack of blaring car horns will enable them to hear their own laughter.
Universal basic income will become a thing.
Reforestation will increase. Costa Rica doubled its forest cover in 30 years. Ethiopia planted 350 million trees in a day. Creatures that have nowhere to go when their habitats are razed will be saved. Replacements can be found for wood (like fire-resistant coconut husks). They’re making concrete that can absorb CO2 and sustain a garden.
Add to that a thousand other changes for the better out there. Educating women, family planning to reduce unsustainable world growth, along with tolerance of our remarkably diverse global makeup: acceptance of immigrants, other races, religions, LGBTQ communities…we can do this.
Despite the world falling apart around our ears, the disasters we hear about every day, extinctions, backward laws, burning forests, masses of water birds dying because of heating waters, we can stop it.
We will stop it and turn the tide on the shouts of doom — but not by drowning them out with our own. Because riots, rebellion, and protests only perpetuate division in already divisive societies. Revolutions may overthrow a regime, but they cannot create a thriving future unless they offer a thriving system.
How, then, do we find hope in a hopeless world?
We create that hope. We become members of the counterculture. A collection of luminaries who paint a new vision.
We do not alter the world by screaming from opposite plinths or tying our bodies to bulldozers on raped land.
We show them, in the quiet sounds of change and in true breaths of fresh air. We establish values that challenge those of mainstream society.
Darwin may still be most known for his theory of “survival of the fittest”, but later on in life, he actually turned away from that and promoted human cooperation as the way to progress:
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
‘Live and let live.’ Promote kindness and acceptance even if others don’t.
Stop focusing on acquiring things and focus instead on saving our world by loving it and enjoying life. Engage in the simple pleasures, the free: the sun, the air, the forests, each other; laughter and song and stories; a heart-bracing afternoon with someone you love.
Find joy in the soft laughter of your partner. Find ways to preserve our wilderness. Ways to consume less. Reuse what you can, and don’t buy what isn’t worth it.
Protect the majestic creatures that still rove our savannas.
What if just one out of every four of us changed the way we think?
It’s not reaching for the impossible.
It’s attaining something we never imagined.
By imagining it.
Then we live it.