Feeling the fear and doing nothing anyway

Dot writes: at the start of this year I was frightened. Real pit-of-the-stomach fear. What about? Climate change.

climate-aust

When I write that it makes me sound like I’ve got some sort of minor mental disorder: how obsessive of me, how disproportionate. But, when you think about it, the things we are being told about what is about to happen, what is already happening – acidification of the oceans, disruption to rains, desertification, salinisation, loss of glaciers and sea-ice, depletion of fisheries, habitat destruction, species loss, floods and storms and natural disasters – are objectively terrifying. Rising sea-levels are the least of it, though they have a simple, observable scariness that makes them a way to imagine all the rest. For several years now I’ve had a recurring dream in which I’m by a steeply sloping beach and the sea is rising so high, so suddenly, that I find myself struggling in the water and can no longer reach dry ground.

I have little faith in the governments of developed countries to do anything much about it.

So, I was really genuinely frightened about this frightening thing. Did it lead me to make major lifestyle changes? Hahaha. Nope.

Partly this was because of trains of thought like the following:

  • I should buy organic vegetables, because they use less power to produce and don’t involve evil pesticides >> but they all seem to be imported from Chile, in which case what about the food miles?*
  • I should shop more at the Farmers’ Market >> but it’s so expensive >> and if I buy nutritious fancy stuff it ends up getting wasted anyway because the children won’t eat it, little philistines >> not to mention that the weekend is busy and a one-stop supermarket shop is as much as I can manage >> and all the organic veg is still from Chile.
  • I should become a vegetarian because of the environmental impact of meat-farming >> it would be more than my life’s worth to impose vegetarianism on the kids >> does it really save resources to cook a separate meal for myself? (Besides, yum, sausages.)
  • We should wash our clothes less, thereby using less detergent and less power >> but I have two little boys and they tend to be a bit – ahem – inaccurate, and I can’t send them to school smelling of wee.
  • We should not use the car for the school run >> but it’s raining buckets and we’re late.

I ended up just getting a bit obsessive about how the au pair was always using the tumble dryer, because even in a wet winter we can dry most things on racks. Until we run out of racks. Or we have to get the swimming towels dried overnight so they can be used again the next day.

What are the lessons of this, other than that I’m great at defeating my own better impulses? It strikes me that my life is a set of interlocking pieces and that it’s terribly hard to move one without getting stuck against all the others. The school run, the meal plans, the laundry, the work day, the kids’ swimming lessons – all the trips and timings and calculations I live by seem to depend on conveniences that are really luxuries but feel necessary. I think this is a scaled-down version of how our whole society works, and illustrates why genuine change is so hard to achieve.

After a bit the physical fear went away; there’s only so long the body can sustain such tension over something that isn’t visible and about to whack you. I found some different things to obsess over and the au pair abruptly left. But, dammit, I’m going to get rid of the tumble dryer.


*I do actually pay a lot of attention to place of origin, especially when buying fruit and veg. I buy Irish where possible. I also always get free range or organic chicken and eggs. I’m not utterly crap.

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2 thoughts on “Feeling the fear and doing nothing anyway

  1. Mairi Jay

    Dear Dot, I totally understand your fear, and your sense of futility. I think both are thoroughly rational. I love your insight that:
    “…… my life is a set of interlocking pieces and that it’s terribly hard to move one without getting stuck against all the others. The school run, the meal plans, the laundry, the work day, the kids’ swimming lessons – all the trips and timings and calculations I live by seem to depend on conveniences that are really luxuries but feel necessary. I think this is a scaled-down version of how our whole society works, and illustrates why genuine change is so hard to achieve.”

    It’s that realisation that can bring a sense of total despair. But for some reason, I am convinced by (and cheered by) the insight of St Julian of Norwich that, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” I can’t share her confidence in the love of God that was behind her conviction, but for me a similar conviction comes when I think about deep time and how closely related are all forms of life. When I see humans as part of a community of life, and that this life encompasses everything and that it has evolved to its current levels of miraculousness in the face of many planetary emergencies, I have an impulse very similar to St Julian’s “rest in God”; I feel a kind of acceptance that the engine of creation never stops and that it is equal to the forces of destruction.

    1. Dot

      I’m not worried for the planet. I’m worried for my kids and, indeed, myself. I think we could see drastic change in a short time. But thank you for reminding me of the larger picture; this is a very thoughtful comment. And truly there is no point in fear – the other thing I learnt is that my fear was not helpful. What is important to is to try to live morally and mindfully, and accept that is the best one can do.

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