Who would have imagined watching the collapse of human culture on television, the unreal news–the footage, the statistics of devastation and human suffering–flowing past on a small-scale screen, while, in another corner of the living room, our American household has paused for that welcome ritual known as “happy hour”?
As we ingest cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, our eyes follow the raging brown waters as we hear about the submersion of over one third of Pakistan, overwhelmed with floods. Yes, as we sit there, a part of us considers what it would be like to stand in a landscape where everything is lost to muddy water. How long would we last?
After a thorough segment on Pakistani suffering, the news shifts to Sudan, the African nation whose people have lost their crops to “climate whiplash,” in this case a combination of floods followed by droughts. The crops they have planted are dying for want of water, whereas immense tracts of normally arable land are useless, a dead loss, because they are still submerged or saturated with water from last year’s floods. The families have no farm animals or machinery to begin with, and, over the past year or so, they have had to watch their crops rot, to ration out what little remaining food they have to their hungry children.
A representative of Unicef is interviewed, who pleads on behalf of the suffering children of Pakistan. The nation’s minister of climate change, a beautiful knowledgable woman, tells us that the cost of climate remediation is staggering. Also that Pakistani sorrows proceed directly from the modern customs that people in our part of the world invented, built up, and at this point are hopelessly addicted to.
Every day at home and abroad, Americans witness and experience similar catastrophes. Many of us accept the drastic shift that the developed world must undertake and reorganize around if our habitat, our families and societies are to survive. Like so much else we have experienced since 2020, the accelerating pace of lethal natural disasters seems unreal. Circumstances demand that all humanity pivot, and in short order contrive a more modest and sustainable relation to nature.
Yet, now, in the eleventh hour, it is easier to continue on in our habits than to grapple with a radical resolution, to acknowledge our inescapable dependence on Earth, and to stop engaging in all that we know is degrading the planet and intensifying the suffering multiplying everywhere around.