How does one act while the planet’s sixth extinction unfolds?
More than 50 gray whales have washed up dead on the west coast, apparently starving before they reach their northern feeding grounds.
Pick up a book, tune into a Ted Talk, YouTube or a PBS series and it’s hard to escape the grim doom we humans are manifesting on Earth.
How are we supposed to act in the face of this unprecedented yet curiously muted crisis? I swing between complacency and panic. In my panicky times, I know that I have to connect with others to bring change. But when I bring up the subject among friends, they shake their heads. “It’s too sad! I don’t know what I can do!”
Whale watching is big business. I’ve thrilled to the sight of a family of whales breaching off the coast of Hawaii. I’ve joined a press of people who’ve abandoned snorkeling and sand castles to marvel at a massive seal sleeping on the beach. I’ve been honored to swim with dolphins, and have been profoundly affected by their sentience.
How can we not feel despair when we hear of mass deaths and the extinction of entire species?
How are we supposed to act for the planet when we already have our own problems?
We are all plenty busy keeping up with modern life. In our world of constant calamities, human lives are complicated, and the country feels divided.
The climate crisis and species extinction are so complex, and so lethal that we can’t even get our minds around them.
Our society has responded to environmental crisis in the past. The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act improved life immeasurably and the economy continued to purr along in the face of those regulations.
Yet, we tend to chafe against regulations because we fear for our jobs, our portfolios and our very freedoms.
One friend I talked to said he wouldn’t change his ways to save the planet, because he knows a guy down the street that would never change his.
Plus, he noted that a country on the other side of the world is really the root cause of all this. With all their pollution and waste, why should we even to try?
How are we supposed to act to help bring change? Change rests after all, on a spectrum from inconvenient to unthinkable. Who really cares about the extinction of some snail? Isn’t it more important that we continue to live out our days, just as we do now?
I love my SUV and nothing is more convenient than plastic.
But, how am I supposed to act around my grandchildren? The two I have will never know what the world looked like when I was growing up. Nature has so shrunken in our minds and lives.
And I can’t imagine how harrowing their lives will be as they deal with the increasingly severe effects of climate crisis and species loss.
How will I act when they ask me what exactly would have been so inconvenient, so unthinkable?
The question becomes, how can we not act? Rather than turning away, what if we face our sorrow for the losses that have already happened? When we have the courage to feel the pain?
Then, perhaps, we will find the audacity to speak up, to change our habits, to take action.
It feels like we are reaching a tipping point, when it is becoming easier to make changes in our lives than to sit back and watch things further unravel around us.
-Gail Cochrane is a longtime Ahwatukee resident.