I’ve wanted to write this article for many months, but in the dazzling clarity of twenty-twenty, I can put it off no longer.
Australia is aflame. The Usanian president has assassinated a foreign statesman and killed several unfortunately bystanding “collaterate damages.” The world is burning and climate catastrophe deniers have resorted to open murder, to concentration camps, to thuggery and lawlessness. The stocks of war corporations like Raytheon and Boeing and Northrop-Grumman and Lockheed-Martin are up. What hope remains?
When faced with the madness of deniers, with the blindness of their zealotry and belief, with their hatred of science and reason and dialogue, what remains?
Let me detour through a couple of stories.
When I was young, we were subscribed to the New Scientist and the National Geographic. Science, the environment, rationality were a given in my home. Shortly after I graduated, the Great Recession struck. It crushed my plans for a stable career, and, it seems, it crushed my father’s reason. In his later years he became a climate catastrophe denier, and from there, step by step, a reader of rightwing hatred and bigotry of many stripes. At the end, I maintained a good relationship only by vigorously enforcing a cordon sanitaire of topics we would not debate. And finally, Planck’s Principle came true. The sciences, thermodynamics, physics, mathematics, climatology—they remain true—but the secret knowledges and false truths my father harvested from the blogs and corrupt media of useful idiots and bought souls claiming that global warming is not real, that it is not caused by greedy corporations and capitalists burning our futures for the imaginary comforts of their fiat currency god—that remains with an advocate less, for my father is dead.
And as Planck said, “it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that [a new scientific truth’s] opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth.”
And so the world turns. And so the simple truth that we must care for our environment, for our spaceship earth, becomes fact.
Meaning Lost and Found
When I was a graduate, when I was a young man trying to discover a living, I was born into a world of promise. Acquire goods and your life will be good. You will live better than your fathers and forefathers, and your sons and grandsons will live better than you. The church of consumerism bid us join in a circle, and pat one another’s back, and proclaim, “all is well! All is well! We are free and equal in our liberal democracies, nations and peoples and individuals all! So buy, buy, buy. After all, advertising represents your right to choose, and with 160 different brands of denim, you can’t but find meaning in one of them.”
And then the Great Recession came. And stayed. And dragged. An anchor. A plough. A desolate grey furrow of emptiness. Time stretched and became grim. Meaning leeched away as day after day I was reminded of how worthless I was. In a culture that measures in dollars and cents, god is wealth and the wealthy are closer to god. And if we have nothing, neither stable job nor the prospect of paying for our house, then what have we? A shot at heaven? Hardly. Hell is our lot.
I emigrated, the recession abated, I worked. It was a long road to a bare stability. But the purpose of the church of consumerism had been consumed. Revealed a false religion. Lost in our burning forests, broken in the desolation of recession, crushed under the treads of forever wars and talking bobble-heads on the tubes, you and me and TV making three.
But I am human, and we humans need meaning in our lives. We are born from nothing to be, to think, to marvel, to wonder, and to realize that we will not be. Meanings that stands between us and existential despair at not being.
We need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We need to give ourselves to a greater good. To a grander project.
And as our church of consumerism has faltered, as our corporate-made environmental crisis has blossomed into fiery incandescence, so a unifying purpose have been revealed. Yes, our power for destruction has grown, but our power for understanding and knowledge has also grown.
I now see an eternal meaning writ large before us, all around us: the all-generational protection and care for our starship Earth.
Earth: Our World Cathedral
Our Earth is the seat of our lives and preserving it and protecting it and bettering it presents us a task for all the generations. Not two or three. Not twenty or thirty. Not twenty or thirty thousand. For as many as we can manage. Our Earth is literally our eternal cathedral project, a sacred project for as long as we can make it work.
What better meaning to be imagined than the holy task of custodians and builders and defenders of our priceless planetary spaceship, not just for our children, but for their children’s children to a time when their language is strange and alien to us, and far even beyond that?
Even if we imagine a different meaning, regardless of the holy book one chooses, we must agree: if we seek meaning, if we seek god, how to do that without caring for the world we live in? Is she not manifest in every mountain? Is he not manifest in every forest? Is it not manifest in every river and sea?
And yet. And yet this seemed such a lonely, terrible task. Who was I to imagine such a cathedral-project? I, who could not even make my own father see reason?
Perhaps there was no other way. After all, fear and age and stubbornness are fearsome foes.
But that loneliness and fear changed to relief when I saw the student strikes of last September. The marches. The protest.
I am deeply proud of all the students marching to save the Earth. Of the youth who see clearly what matters. Of Greta Thunberg, anointed as the environment’s Jean of Arc by popular media acclaim. Of all who stand with them. I am thankful to them for their courage and dedication, for their honesty and their devotion to the really-existing Earth over the false idols of consumerism and war. I am thankful to them for fighting the good fight. For joining the eternal struggle to preserve our Earth, the cathedral of our lives.
It will be a long and hard fight still. The youth of the world see the fires and know what they mean. So many of the old and the scared and the foolish and the wicked see the fires and plug their ears and their mouths and their eyes.
We humans are a religious species. We need meaning and we make meaning, and the surviving generations that grapple with the climate catastrophe will have a new name for deniers: sinners and servants of the lie.
It pains me to see that.
But the moral divide is clear: Earth and life or coal and death. Either our world is our cathedral, our work of ages, or we have no world save a hell of fire.
Let’s choose life.