Let me mention a small joy of my life. One afternoon and evening a week I take care of my 5½-year-old grandson, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we take care of each other. We always stop for cookies — grandparents being allowed, according to The Official Rulebook of Child-Rearing (see p. 349), to shamelessly feed sweets to their grandchildren. We draw strange pictures together, practice doing our numbers — believe it or not, I have a curious habit of writing mine upside down and regularly have to be corrected! — wander the neighborhood checking out the local pet barbers as they clip dogs of every imaginable size and shape, sample food in stores we pass, and go swimming. (He’s a genuine eel, capable of remarkable underwater feats.)
And then there’s always that one moment — I never know when it’s going to arrive — where I suddenly find myself thinking about a future world that won’t be mine but will someday be his and my heart sinks. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not thinking of the ordinary ravages of our present Trumpian world extended into the future. That’s just run-of-the-mill stuff of human history, even if it’s hitting this country hard right now. Autocratic figures come and go. Bad kings, bad rulers, bad presidents: they and their terrible decisions are part and parcel of ordinary history, The Donald included. No, when that moment hits me it’s because I’m imagining something that isn’t part of human history at all. I’m imagining a world at least four to five degrees Celsius hotter than the pre-industrial one (as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted back in 2014) or even hotter than that. I’m imagining rising sea levels that could someday make the coastal city my grandson and I regularly wander through a flood zone. I’m thinking of mega-droughts, staggering heat waves, and fire seasons of unprecedented length and destructiveness. I’m conjuring up refugee flows that leave the present ones in the dust. I’m mulling over the fact that a near-majority of the American people elected a man dedicated not just to ignoring the reality of climate change, but to accelerating it via the loosing of the fossil fuel industry on the environment, aided and abetted by a rogue’s gallery of climate change deniers and oil company stooges.
I look at my grandson and try to envision him so many decades from now in a world beyond my imagining, one no longer ruled by historical time but by planetary time, by environmental phenomena that, unlike autocrats and dreadful rulers, can’t be rebelled against, voted out of office, or toppled. All this, at the very least, makes the Trump era a desperately lost opportunity. Again, don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I have no hope. You can’t look at a 5½ year old and not have hope. You can’t spend time with one of them and not feel a certain wonder at human ingenuity and creativity. So I continue to hope that somehow we’ll respond in ways clever enough and determined enough to leave the worst of what might happen to the dystopian dreamscapes of fiction. Still, that sinking feeling’s there and it’s not going away, which is why I felt an instant connection with today’s piece by TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan on her fears for her own children in a world that can easily seem as dystopian as hell itself.