The moon landing was a turning point. It was hardly imaginable just a few years before it happened. And then it did, and it captivated the world. But for those of us born afterward, that we can travel to the moon is just a fact of life, nothing to get excited about. And the idea of going to Mars isn’t all that exciting either, because it isn’t so much of a leap; it doesn’t shift our perception of this world on its axis.
Now global warming is the new horizon, the final frontier to conquer. But it’s hard to tell if we really care that much. Undeniably, it will shift our world’s axis, and not in a way most people will be thrilled about. Much of my generation has become numb to it. We were born at a time when the idea of climate change was becoming more accepted. It’s a fact of life for us.
Now we hear talk of a climate crisis. And as much as I’d like to believe I’m a selfless person, my first thought, of course, is, How does this affect me?
I had a very depressing conversation with my family on Christmas Eve. We were discussing, among other fun topics, my future. I imagine my future will turn out alright. I come from a middle-class family, I’m going to a “good” school, and the odds point to me coming out ahead.
But my “coming out ahead” depends on what you’re measuring. And I’m not sure of two things: 1.) That it’s still possible to have the life promised to people like me (good job, white picket fence, etc.), and 2.) That I want to be measuring my life like that.
It seems so hard to scrape enough meaning together even in predictable times. In the face of a climate crisis, in the face of the end of life-as-we-know-it, it seems impossible to know what to do.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Capitalism is the root of all evil. And OK, sure, maybe greed and fear water those roots, but you get what I’m saying. So I’m not too keen on the idea of getting a job as a means to an end. I’ve been alive long enough to realize that the only people whose lives are not their jobs are those who can afford not to work so much. This is not to say that some people don’t enjoy their jobs, or that wealthier folk don’t work a lot. It’s just that I can anticipate the majority of my adult life being focused on work.
At this point in the conversation, my family said to me, “Well, Phoebe, there’s an easy solution — just find a job that you enjoy and that matters.” But here lies the problem: I have trouble thinking that any job matters. And I have trouble wanting to live a life focused on a career and economic status. But at the same time, I have no desire to experience the stress of poverty.
There are jobs I think I could enjoy. Math teacher. Lawyer. More recently, sociologist. But why do any of those matter in the face of the climate crisis if we’re all so monumentally fucked anyway? I suppose then you can spin it into the bigger existential question, Why does anything matter in the face of death?
Maybe climate change is just a stand-in for the bigger void-pull of death. But, perhaps because the inevitability of death is so much less concrete in my mind, I have a much easier time ignoring it than climate change. In the shadow of death, teaching kids math still matters to me. Less so in the shadow of climate catastrophe. What good is algerbera when we’ll all be underwater in a couple decades?
It was toward the end the conversation when my mother reminded me this is a toxic way to think, that we must ignore the larger facts of life to live. Which feels oddly immoral to me. It feels wrong to walk through life aware of, but choosing to ignore, these threats to our existence. And yet, I don’t know that it’s possible to find happiness or meaning if we are always grappling with our mortality.