Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.
For the past nine days, I tried to just sit and be still and read simple books and watch mindlessly uplifting, funny things. I tried to think about anything but the pain of adult tonsillectomy. As a result, my thoughts are a little more snippety this week.
Sleep with the wishes
When I came to after general anaesthetic last week, the relaxation I felt as I woke from the deepest of sleeps was all-encompassing. (The morphine helped, too.) After a few years of anxious, fretful sleeps (my friend once cursed me by saying: It’s very common for women in their mid-thirties to wake up around 3 in the morning. It’s a thing). Luckily, I’ve been sleeping deeper for the past few years, largely due to a very strict regimen of not reading dire climate modelling tweets right before bed.
But this post-surgical sleep was one I’d not experienced in a long time. I felt like the protagonist in Otessa Moshfegh’s amazing My Year of Rest and Relaxation. She knows she will find peace if she can just sleep through a long expanse of time. It’s hilariously insane, and yet it works (spoiler! sorry!). The ourobouros of anxiety is that it’s hard to sleep well when you’re experiencing it, and when you don’t sleep well, you’re even more prone to anxiety about the climate and everything else.
And yet sleep eventually materializes, settling over us all like a weighted blanket. Of course for those at the frontlines, the battle against anxiety and for sleep is ever real, and not solved by simply tuning out the apocalyptic frequency. I’m in awe of young activists like Xiye Bastida.
I find Shankar Vedantam’s speech very lulling, and yet his Hidden Brain podcast never puts me to sleep. In a recent episode he delves into the psychology of warnings. For years the cause of my climate anxiety was the fact that no one was heeding the warnings (How does James Hansen sleep at night? He’s been shouting at a world wearing noise-cancelling headphones since 1988). But the growing number of climate Cassandras inversely correlates to my level of climate anxiety. People will listen now, right? Yes and no. Says Vedantam:
Warnings are likely to be heard when they’re made by someone whose part of our in group, when the warning is so imminent that nearly everyone can see the danger, and when the solution doesn’t require radical shift in existing strategy. Unsurprisingly this means that many warnings will go unheeded and many Cassandras will be dismissed.
With climate, we can see why a lot of this is so difficult to achieve. It’s easy to heed the warning if you’re already part of the group. But we’re trying to convince totally different groups. And the danger is difficult to see, and the solutions required, are, well, radical. But the good kind of radical!
Yet another time I was wrong about climate art
I can’t wait to read Jenny Offill’s new novel, Weather. Her last book, Dept. of Speculation, was so so good, and this new novel is about reconciling climate crisis with the compelling banality of everyday human experience, a subject I muse about a little too often (see: every pie chart I’ve ever drawn). Writes Leslie Jamison about Weather in the NYT book review:
Preoccupied by the apocalyptic horizon of climate change, the dark pulsing terror at the center of the novel, and by the “feeling of daily life,” Lizzie understands — or at least, enacts — the truth that we inhabit multiple scales of experience at the same time: from the minutiae of school drop-offs and P.T.A. activism to the frictions of our personal relationships all the way to the geological immensity of our (not so slowly) corroding planet. Offill takes subjects that could easily become pedantic — the tensions between self-involvement and social engagement — and makes them thrilling and hilarious and terrifying and alive by letting her characters live on these multiple scales at once, as we all do.
Let me know if/when you’ve read it and we can convene an online MVP book club.
Does climate keep you up at night? Are there things you could change that would help you sleep? Let me know.
My goal this weekend is to write a million letters to our Canadian powers that be about pipelines and mines, and the fact that Trudeau seems to have forgotten that he was elected on a climate mandate. Let me know what you’re working on, too.
Lovely words from new reader Gisela:
I just noticed your call to hear from on-the-ground activists. I work as a volunteer with a bunch of grassroots nonprofits (mostly Fair Vote Canada, Transition Kamloops, and the BC Sustainable Energy Association). I find that action with others is the best way to combat despair and helplessness, although I’ve had to learn after years of disappointment to get away from “attachment to outcome” as the primary criterion when deciding where to put my energy. I’ve found peace by having confidence that I’m doing the right thing, even if it doesn’t have stellar chances of success at this moment in time. I draw on Joanna Macy’s concept of the spiral (discussed at length in her excellent book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. She points out that change isn’t linear, or even incremental, and that the abolitionists and the suffragettes kept fighting for decades on what appeared to be hopeless causes. In the end, the power of their conviction ensured victory.
I very much agree that action is the antidote to hopelessness, and that change isn’t linear.
Thank you so much, Gisela!
As always, send thoughts, links, and hedgehogs to help me make this newsletter better.
Have a wonderful, sleepful week,