Roar writer Sam Light claims that the severity of the climate crisis is best understood by spending time in the “graveyard of the world we know.”
When a student asked philosopher Martin Heidegger how to start living more authentically, he replied: “we should simply aim to spend more time in graveyards”. To live well, we must be aware of our mortality; we must confront death.
This rather sombre instruction is a call for us to get our priorities straight. Rather than allowing ourselves to become immersed in the routine of our day to day, we should always keep in mind the big picture. The graveyard is simply a physical reminder of how real this big picture is.
With this in mind, I would like to talk about climate change. The idea of celebrating nature is often banded around amongst people involved in climate activism. The idea being that by appreciating the natural world, we will be more motivated to save it. Retreats in eco-lodges are increasingly trendy. More and more people flood into national parks in search of new profile pictures. The environmentalist movement spends an awful lot of time trying to surround itself in trees, flowers and rolling hills. Perhaps this is misguided.
One of the main problems for ecology is that the facts of climate science do not seem to be any good at making people change their lifestyles and do anything about the issue. We know that we are in an era of mass extinction, but we do not live like it.
Just as a bit of time in graveyards may give us an authentic reverence for our death, I believe, that if we are to start ‘living’ climate change, we should aim to spend more time in the graveyards of the world we know. Rather than escaping into the beauty and purity of the forest or meadow, we should face our problem head-on. Landfill sights, slaughterhouses, power-plants and battlefields are places you should be visiting if you want to understand the severity of the current crisis and find the motivation to change it.
When we throw out our rubbish or flush the toilet, the waste we produce disappears. Logically, we know that all this stuff goes somewhere, but on the level of our immediate perception of reality, it all just vanishes. We read articles about the extinction of rhinos and the great garbage patch in the Pacific. However, in our near surroundings, we see trees and greenery, and we fail to grasp that the garbage patch exists too.
It is hard to internalize how screwed we are when so much effort is made to turn the damage being done into background noise.
So, if you, like me, are finding it difficult to come to terms with what it means to be alive in a period of ecological collapse, maybe you should start trying to feel at home in your local dump instead of in the nature reserve.