January 1, 2020
For the entirety of last year, bled of hope, I buried my living, breathing lungs in the slowly desiccating heart of our earth.
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
It started out simple.
A year ago, I promised myself I would flourish.
But I went silent.
Although I roused myself to a few meager attempts at sowing something bright and shiny, my heart remained fallow and unstirred, my attempts stifled.
Last year 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, my lack of hope typed out in half-mad bouts of fatigue. In blog posts partly written but always unpublished. All my rants unheard in the empty echoes of my flat. My emotions blank when I sank in front of my laptop. 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 to no mystery at all. No solution. Words revealed to no one, just shoved down to the vilest dregs of my soul where the last flagging torch of hope dwindled.
But somehow, somewhere, deep beneath that impossible mound, something did flourish.
I am a writer.
And writers do not live by the visions that others paint.
We create our own.
Everything I’ve consumed, read, watched, mourned, screamed at, raged about, and cried for this year boils down to this: I have rotted like deadwood, and this is where it ends.
I will take this chaos and mold it into something new. When I wake tomorrow, 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 and envision something different:
The tipping point will fall in the other direction.
The tide will turn in favor of the environmentalists.
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.
We will begin to end this.
People and countries will turn their backs on products that use palm oil because these brands strip rain forests to use the oil as a cheap alternative to ingredients in chocolate, popcorn, potato chips, fast food, toiletries, and many other products. Norway is already phasing palm oil out.
Palm oil won’t even be needed. Agriculture and livestock will 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 food will 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, will mean a massive reduction in the use of pesticides and fertiliser, and no more trawlers and longliners. 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). Seawaters will flow free of it after inventions clean the garbage patches humans have left it engorged with.
People will phase out plastic, using washable bags for their grocery trips, bringing their own containers for staple items, using returnable bottles for dairy products, buying local, testing out shampoo bars and refillable tins for lotions and creams. They’ll find their trash cans lighter, less stinky, with less need for dumpsters, their streets and alleyways cleaner. No plastic bags swirling down every lane, no animals in the wild choking on discarded containers.
Cities will provide services to collect bio-waste (like Prague is going to start regularly in the new year).
Renewable energy will make our air cleaner (renewable electricity already overtook fossil fuels in the UK for the first time).
Cargo airliners will be replaced by airships (already in the works)!
Governments will pass more legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions (New Zealand already has) and begin to subsidize solar-paneled or hydrogen-powered cars or phase them out completely (no-car cities are already a vision and Barcelona is already creating entire blocks of car-free zones).
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 read or chat or listen to music and zone out on public transport rather than stress about other screaming drivers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and rear-enders.
They’ll (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 will stop the burning forests and turn the tide on the shouts of doom–but not by drowning them out with our own riots, rebellion, or protests.
Those do nothing but perpetuate division in already divisive societies.
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.
Revolutions may overthrow a regime, but they cannot create a thriving future unless they offer a thriving system. We will not alter the world by screaming from opposite plinths or tying our bodies to bulldozers on raped land.
We will show them in the quiet sounds of change and in true breaths of fresh air. We will establish a counterculture whose values 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 merely 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 stroll discussing 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.
Pay attention to the beauty in the world, to the simple joys to be had in a friend’s presence, and 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.
[The next bit is just experimental. Trying to show how the future could be. Thoughts?]
January 1, late 21st century
Watching airships is so therapeutic. They’re like ungainly but elegant birds gliding below cottony cumulus, but above the glassy skyscrapers.
Well, maybe they’re like rotund birds. Well-fed and plumed and full of gas. Like my ex.
Stupid pang of anguish.
Holding back my hair, I squint through my breath steaming around flakes of snow. The miniature airship above me, its curved sides sporting a scarlet crest bisected with golden angel wings, is anchoring at the platform erected at the top of the Blackwood Tower. The building’s sides cascade green with moss growing between the windows even in winter.
Brr. The icy air slices and bites my uncovered ears down here; I can’t even imagine what it’s like up there, where I only was once, in summer, when it felt like I was on the deck of a ship, the whole structure swaying and softly buckling below me.
Curling my gloved fingers around my cup of hot chocolate, I blow on the surface while city-goers flow around me on the street, some on bikes, some skimming past on scooters, but most of them hunkered into their puffy winter coats. Laughter and chatter pepper the air, people smiling above scarves, rolling their eyes, or groaning at the prospect of renewing last year’s broken resolutions.
Some things never change, but some things, like the world during the past century…
Far above, tiny figures loop cords to anchor the airship, and more figures disembark from it down a railed ramp.
Likely executives returning from a business trip. Eyes alight from fine wine and done deals.
It’s all the rage now, conducting business while floating above the forested, snow-covered hills outside the city, where the earth rolls gently and the train glitters silver as it winds diligently to and fro, shuttling visitors and workers to the smaller towns and communes on the city’s outskirts.
Occasionally, I’ve taken an airship myself when headed out on a dig, where we still seek the secrets of the Cambrian era, the time when nature went mad and created a crazy-lot of bizarre and diverse creatures, as though it were having a tea party where everyone had to show up in a mask more peculiar and eerie than the one before, and—
“What’s so interesting up there?”
Startled, I jerk and lose my hot chocolate. It goes airborne in a decidedly less elegant manner than an airship.
The mug clatters over the street. Chocolate and whipped cream spatter the trampled snow.
The curious guy beside me ducks his head sheepishly and shoves his hands in his pants pockets. “Oops.” He smiles up at me, almost hopefully. “Want me to buy you another?”
Unsure what to say—I’m hardly a sterling model of social interaction, more used to seeking the earliest ancestor of arachnids in chipped rock—I retrieve the mug. Fortunately, a returning bin is nearby, so I chuck it in, experiencing an odd little twinge at how many years people wasted things, filling landfill after landfill as they voraciously consumed more.
We still voraciously consume—again, some things never change—but now all the restaurants in the city that do take-out use the same reusable dishes. People return them in marked bins that deliver them via pneumatic tubes to a central depot, where they’re sorted and returned to the establishments based on need.
Everything is so calm now. It’s kind of weird, thinking that at the beginning of this same century, our world was plunging into a sheer, terrifying dystopia, and then—
The cause of my chocolate’s demise sidles behind me, still looking hopeful and—
Damn it, this is why I dig up fossils. They’re beyond hope. They don’t look at me with puppy-dog eyes and make me say yes, and then buy me chocolate, and then ask what I do, and listen in a toasty-warm cafe while I soliloquize about an arachnid erection enshrined in amber—a rare example of Cretaceous copulation because two Daddy long-legs got caught in flagrante.
The fact that their retractable penis has a spatula-shaped tip fascinates him more than it has a right to fascinate either of us.
This is why I dig up fossils. They’re beyond hope.
Like me in love, in an echoing bedroom, after a slamming door, when the shattered shards of my heart demanded I cook only for myself forever rather than let someone fracture them again.
But what is actually hopeless?
We saved the world in one century.
Can’t someone exist who can save my heart?
Join me in future posts while I explore what our future could be if we begin to clean up the pollution and rampant consumption of resources now ravaging our world—killing us, stripping our flora, destroying our fauna, and savaging our mental health.
Resources / inspiration for things mentioned in future part: