We’re Doomed. Now What?

Climate protesters, St. John’s, September 2019

It may seem odd, and jarring, to post this after a cheery snapshot of coloured umbrellas at the Babylon Mall. But then, maybe they do go together if they both refer to the last days of capitalism. I’m reading Roy Scranton’s book, with the same title as this post and this article. Scranton argues that none of the dominant stories we humans use to make sense of our existence will save us from the impending doom of climate change. Not the stories that we must invent better technology, or vote the right way and muster up more political will; not the ones that say that God or the Market will save us; certainly not the ones that deny the problem even exists and instead blame refugees or terrorists for all our troubles.

I can only read the book in small doses, and yet I find it strangely comforting. Scranton’s basic reasoning is that we must accept that we are doomed and learn humility. We cannot fix things. Our children’s lives will not be better than our own. They will almost certainly be much worse in many ways. As Scranton puts it, “the gap between the future we’re entering and the future we once imagined grows ever wider.” And yet, he says, our capacity to make sense of our existence through the stories we tell can make almost any life bearable and enable us to survive. We need stories that guide us to accept our fate and our limitations, and that draw on multiple perspectives, on the wisdom not just of other traditions but other species and entities:

We need to learn to see not just with Western eyes but with Islamic eyes and Inuit eyes, not just with human eyes but with golden-cheeked warbler eyes, coho salmon eyes, and polar bear eyes, and not even just with eyes at all but with the wild, barely articulate being of clouds and seas and rocks and trees and stars.

Each chapter is an essay on something Scranton learned from experiences as diverse as his time as a soldier in Iraq, his tourist voyage through the Northwest Passage, and his decision to become a parent. In the end, as the second part of the title indicates, Scranton has some modest suggestions for what we should do next.

The full reference is Roy Scranton, We’re Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change. Soho Press, 2018.