Apocalypse When? The endless scroll of global warming

In the 2020 Hulu documentary “I Am Greta,” teen climate activist Greta Thunberg explains how knowledge of global warming nearly killed her. After watching a movie at school featuring “hungry polar bears, floods, hurricanes and droughts,” she says, she became depressed and anxious, stopped talking, and “nearly starved to death. “.

We get used to the idea that global warming hurts, and that brings its own sense of comfort, as if our psychological distress proves that we take the problem seriously. “Civilians love to panic,” says an epidemiologist in Hanya Yanagihara’s novel “To Paradise,” which is set in part in an unbearably scorching, totalitarian Manhattan future ruled by blinkered scientists. “Survival allows for hope – it is indeed based on hope – but it does not allow for pleasure, and as a subject it is boring.” In our response to global warming, we are like the frog that only jumps out of heating water when it is too late. Except that we are aware that water boils; we just can’t imagine leaving our tumultuous potty.

Perhaps one of the many comforts we have to give up to fight global warming is the numbing flow of global warming content itself. As David Wallace-Wells writes in his 2019 book The Uninhabitable Earth, climate-themed disaster movies don’t necessarily represent progress, because “we displace our anxieties about global warming by re-enacting them in theaters. of our own design and control”. Even YouTube climate conference videos can slip into this role. While we cast an activist like Thunberg as some sort of celebrity oracle, we shift our own responsibilities onto a teenager with an uncanny mastery of dismal statistics. We once said we would stop climate change for the benefit of our children, but now we can tell ourselves that our children will take care of it for us.

The internet is often criticized for providing us with useless information and for spreading disinformation, but it can also allow a destructive relationship with serious information. If you are a person who accepts science, how much more do you really need to hear? The flippant catastrophizing of social media is so alluring: it helps us signal that we care about big issues even when we’re chasing distractions, and it gives us a little silly tone to express our despair.

Above all, it moves us in time. We always mentally oscillate between a nostalgic landscape, where we have a lot of energy to waste on the Internet, and an apocalyptic landscape, where it’s too late to do anything. It’s the center, where we live, that we can’t bear to contemplate. After all, denial is the first stage of grieving.

Teresa H. Sadler