Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where we sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about how to live when the world is ending.
Everything is awful and I don’t know what to do.
I don’t mean for me, personally. I mean globally. The world is heating up, the ice caps are melting and polar bears are starving and bees are dying and there are floods and tornadoes and we’re about five minutes from total disaster. Hell, we’re already in total disaster, and it’s just going to get worse and worse until millions of people and animals and plants die, because I can’t see any way that we do anything big enough, fast enough to prevent total catastrophe. The WORLD is ENDING!!!
But somehow I’m supposed to care about… I don’t know, networking? Reality TV? Boyfriends? That all just seems so trivial and meaningless. How can I live my life when the sky is actually falling?
I think a lot of people will read your letter, ChickLits, and think you’re overreacting. I think you’ve probably heard that before, and worse. But I want you to know: I don’t think you’re overreacting. You’re right: the world is ending. The UN recently backed a report indicating that more than a million species are at risk of extinction; half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead; and floods, droughts, and heatwaves are all becoming more common as severe weather increases around the world. From your letter, I bet you’re already aware of all this, but I want to repeat: you’re right. And as you say, something very big needs to be done VERY FAST to avert any degree of the destruction yet to come.
The thing is, though, that the world has been ending in one way or another for all of history. Sometimes it ends in big, dramatic ways, like when the Black Death wiped out 60% of the human population of Europe, or when the last Ice Age killed three quarters of large animals, including entire species like mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. Sometimes it’s a little smaller, like when an enemy kills a hundred thousand civilians in an instant, or a volcano erupts and destroys your entire region of 20,000 people; the world as they knew it still ended for the people who lived in those places. And, eventually, the “world” ends for each of us individually; at least as far as we experience it.
But through all these endings, people kept living. They loved each other, had families, made food and art; they built homes and lives and stories with the time they had. And don’t think that they made every second meaningful, either; even cave men drew penises in their free time. (The jury is still out as to whether they giggled while doing so, but my money is on yes.) If they can experience joy and peace and frivolous pleasures while the sky fell around them, why shouldn’t you?
To be clear, I’m not trying to give you a free pass from trying to stop the end from coming; in fact, I think your passion is exactly why you’re so well-suited to pushing for aggressive action on climate change. Get involved in local politics and push for local solar incentives! Ask your workplace if you can implement some green initiatives! Commit to buying used objects whenever possible, and eat less red meat (and encourage others to do the same)! You can’t stop what’s happening by yourself, but you can be a drop of water in the wave that washes the world. And making what small changes you can may help you feel less adrift (even as sea levels rise).
What I am saying is that you don’t deserve to punish yourself because people have made terrible mistakes. You are under no obligation to bear the burden of the sins of humanity yourself. It might feel selfish to spend an hour on The Bachelorette when you could be working for the common good (seriously, is it just me or is Luke P. a psychopath?!), but it’s also the peak of egotism to feel that you alone can and must suffer for the fate of the world. Do good, but don’t forget to live well. The end’s coming whether you do or not.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.