Living in Two Worlds: Capitalism Pretends All Is Well While the World Is Burning
(August 20, 2019) — Global capitalism demands we pretend all is well, while climate and political realities already reveal the end game we are living in. The US government, along with many others in the western world, has lurched into overt authoritarianism, while climate chaos accelerates at a breakneck pace.
How do we live in both worlds? . . . .
Those of us who are lucky enough to be living somewhere in the world where there is enough food to eat, water to drink, and security for us and our loved ones, are living in a bubble.
If we are paying close attention to escalating changes to the climate and the biosphere of Planet Earth, we know that it is only a matter of time until we or our descendants, too, will have our lives turned upside down, or even ended, by catastrophic climate disruption impacts.
Increasing numbers of us are living with the knowledge that it is already far too late to avert a global environmental catastrophe, yet the dominant culture of global capitalism continues to pretend there is still time — or the crisis isn’t actually that bad, or that geoengineering or some other mythically miraculous human technology will save us.
Nearly every experience now feels to me like an example of the growing chasm between the worlds. Here are some recent examples:
* I engaged in a conversation with a friend who spoke of interesting points during one of the Democratic debates, while I paid the debates no attention, since I already see the US as a functioning authoritarian state and wonder seriously whether Trump will be the last president until the final disintegration of this country.
* Earlier today, after reading news of more climate refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in a desperate attempt to gain safety abroad, I walked into a well-stocked grocery store to purchase some provisions, all the while acutely aware of the irreconcilability of these incongruent realities.
* Recently, two of my mountaineering friends and I traversed glaciers in North Cascades National Park en route to a mountain we aimed to climb. Cerulean exposed ice augmented by deep green mountain hemlock lined the valley across from the glacier upon which we climbed with our crampons and ice axes. The wonder and power of mountains brings my soul alight as nothing else. My deep love of this place made the simultaneous knowing of its impermanence all the more acute.
While writing my recent book, The End of Ice, I met with Dan Fagre, a US Geological Survey (USGS) ecologist based in Glacier National Park, who is also the lead investigator in the USGS Benchmark Glacier program. One of their benchmark study glaciers is the South Cascade Glacier, which was one valley over from the one I was recently climbing. Fagre told me he didn’t expect there to be any more glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2030, and likely none anywhere in the lower 48 states by 2100.
The hundreds of feet of ice my friends and I were climbing up will likely be long gone before I pass away. My love for these mountainous cathedrals of worship and my sadness about what is happening to them have melded into one simultaneous feeling. It is also why, more than anything else in my life, I want to spend time in and with the mountains and their glaciers.
The pain of existing in this evaporating world intensifies against the backdrop of the rise of authoritarianism across much of the western world, the daily increasing wealth disparity between the grotesquely rich and the poverty-stricken, worsening racism, sexism, mass shootings, misogyny, xenophobia, and a mounting pressure from the global refugee crisis.
I could list dozens of daily examples of this existential and experiential schism borne from being a journalist who wrote a book warning people of the ongoing collapse. These are just a few.
Sometimes I half-joke with friends about our living in the apocalypse. My use of that word stems not from its biblical usage, but from its root in the Greek word apokálypsis which means, literally, “uncovering, disclosure, revelation.”
The veils between these co-existing realities are thinning daily for everyone. Sometimes they are being torn apart. Other times, when people are not able or willing to acknowledge these hard truths, they themselves are being torn apart by this schism.
Carrying this knowledge, how, then, does one live life on a daily basis — going to work as usual, taking children to summer camp, washing clothes, and making meals?
I have found a variety of ongoing actions helpful for creating a milieu with a spiritual atmosphere of acceptance. After years of wrestling with anger, despair, depression and angst stemming from the global crisis, my weekly menu of self-care includes time outside every day in nature, at least one full day a week in the mountains, a daily meditation practice, regular service work for both humans and the planet, and maintaining a small yet tight inner circle of trusted friends with whom I share my feelings about what is happening to the planet.
Additionally, I find that remembering to find gratitude for even the smallest things helps: having clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe, food to eat when I am hungry, and my physical and mental health. None of this should be taken for granted.
Recently I was gifted the opportunity to be of service to my 16-year-old nephew, who joined me for a four-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park. Knowing all too well the world the younger generations are growing up in, the chance to be of support to him had great meaning to me, and was a privilege and honor.
He, like the rest of us, is troubled by having to live in these two worlds — that of the so-called normalcy of the dominant culture, transposed against the climate/political catastrophe besetting the planet. It was evident to me that this rift was weighing on him, sowing confusion, frustration, fear and anger.
While backpacking along mountain ridges with magnificent views of glacial-clad Mount Olympus, the roar of the river running along the valley floor below us, and the sound of the wind flowing through the forested slopes of the valley, he told me of recurring dreams of the great unraveling he’d had since he was a toddler. Without divulging the details to the reader, I will share what he described as a chronic feeling beneath his ongoing anxiety, one he described bluntly as one of “imminent doom.”
He already knew of the climate crisis, yet asked me to fill in the details. Over the days of our time together in the backcountry, I walked him through my findings from the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon and Alaskan glaciers. I told him of my time in Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) Alaska studying the thawing permafrost and venting methane, and of the rising seas in South Florida, and how even the sturdy giant Sequoia trees are under threat. I told him how much of a privilege it was for me to get to go see these places, and how I used the opportunity to say goodbye to many of them, which I expect will likely be gone within my lifetime, and certainly within his.
While the climate news I provided him was bleak, I watched him take deep breaths as it settled in. The truth can be calming, as it sets our feet on solid ground, dispelling the obfuscating mist of lies, deceptions and fossil-fueled propaganda that colors the dominant culture.
My aim for my nephew’s visit was to introduce him to the awe and majesty of the precious Earth, share cross-generational friendship and frankness in order to confirm what his intuitions and dreams had always been telling him, and let him know he always has an ally in me as we both live into the future.
When he departed to head home, he thanked me and told me he wanted to come back next summer. I reminded him that, no matter what, I’m always here for him in whatever capacity he might need me in the future.
Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (The New Press, 2019), The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan(Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, was co-written with William Rivers Pitt. Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Izzy Award and the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards. He lives and works in Washington State.
Note: This is an edited version of a longer article that is available at the link.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.