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from Year of No Snow

February 22, 2023

Inherent in the invention of futures is the risk that you make a mistake–underestimate the toll, overestimate capacity, look foolish or hysterical or overly pessimistic, alienate your friends, get cast out of the market, be shadowbanned on the web. The alternative is to continue eating up the nostalgia. Climate change grief is real; I look at maps of the disappearing coastline of Senegal and immediately feel that hungry ocean on the steps of my first home and my current one. Climate change grief is also a consumer index. In a world this unpredictable, our fear, our need for stability, is exploitable, and it is being exploited–by oil companies paying for public relations campaigns meant to assuage a justifiably distrustful public, by centrist Democrats quashing dissent from the left by provoking the beast on the right, by a media culture that turns personal narratives into sellable content, and by an economy that turns humans and nature into labor and resources so it can pour back into itself what it takes, living off of our therefore perpetually unfulfilled lives like a parasite. 

As environmental writer George Monbiot says, “We will prevent the pandemics of the future only when we value life ahead of money.” Here, he’s responding specifically to the recent, seemingly unstoppable outbreak of avian influenza as it relates to animal farming, but I’ve had the phrase running through my head in just about every context: on the train, at the doctor’s office, while paying bills. Valuing life ahead of money is also how we’re going to survive climate change, if we’re going to survive it in a meaningful way, because doing so would put us back into alignment with nature, which has no use for money at all and, in fact, thrives in the absence of the systems which center it. And in this era, which may or may not be late capitalism, imagining a future where we value life ahead of money is, by necessity, an invention. It means pulling “the violence” that “has been largely pushed out of sight,” as David Graeber puts it, back into the center of our understanding of what’s bad and what is changeable about this world.

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