Be chill, my heart
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.
When I was 12, my parents sent me and my sister to French immersion camp in Quebec. The Quebecois kids stuck together, so my sister and I ended up becoming best friends with all the kids in immersion, who were almost exclusively from Mexico and Colombia. Which is why I went home with a Mexican accent, and no French language skills to parlay of.
My best friend was an awkward 15-year-old from Mexico City named Daniel. We wrote excruciating fan fiction about our French teacher, Madame Irene Paradis, throughout our time at camp, and for many years thereafter, as pen pals.
One anecdote that Daniel told me about his life in Mexico has been imprinted on my brain the way things imprint on your brain when you’re young and still able to learn things. Daniel told me you couldn’t drive your car on certain days in Mexico City because of pollution. I was shocked. I don’t know whether I was appalled that you’d be forbidden from driving your car, or that pollution was so bad where he lived. Probably a little of both. He explained that cars had to take days off the road based on their license plate numbers, but that rich people just bought a lot of cars to get around this.
For pretty much my whole life, I’ve thought about this forced stasis. As my environmental angst has grown over the past coupla decades, I’ve perhaps dwelled on it even more. It’s one of my mental tropes, this vision of everybody just stopping, chilling out, being quiet, not going to the bachelor party weekend in Cancun. I imagine something like Don McKellar’s great film Last Night, which I really need to watch again, now that I think of it.
Pre-COVID, I’d explore these little thought experiments: What if we shut down industry for a day a week, a month, a few hours every afternoon? We’d solve climate change and be happier humans. What if we had a weekly day of rest, a secular sabbath? I can see that nascent start-up flexing like they invented the concept of weekly rest: digital detox with us every weekend! The app is free, but premium dayofrest costs $9.99.
Without being glib about the devastating fallout of our current game of global freeze tag, I have to concede that it’s interesting to see my thought experiment come to life. As a person who likes staying close to home and keeping it simple, it’s also easy for me to take comfort in all this extra sourdough time (well, except for the fact that I’ve killed two starters given me by my friend Tyler and am too embarrassed to ask for a third bread bailout.)
The next step in this thought experiment is to reconcile this mandated cessation of movement with the idea that some of these lessons could be incorporated into wherever we go from here. I’m reluctant to espouse narratives that try to capitalize on the fragility of the moment by inserting agendas. At the same time, ramming abortion restrictions into your Coronavirus package is disgusting, while setting the stage for a healthier new world is admirable.
My mild optimism that this terrorful mess might be a time for positive change is because there’s long been an undercurrent of THINGS ARE NOT WORKING. I’m not talking about the loud drumbeats of the people who know it’s not working, but instead about the status quo types who have quietly been moving their money out of oil, realizing, from their positions of vertiginous privilege, that they just have TOO FUCKING MUCH. To be clear, I don’t mean that I’m counting on a billionaire come-to-Jesus moment, just more of a critical mass of humanity tipping the fringe into mainstream. I mean, we’ve pushed the Overton Window to talk of what essentially is a Universal Basic Income. Why not a Green New Deal, universal health care, and basic human decency?
But back to the quiet. While I’ve packed our family’s little calendar with all manner of virtual excitements (Join our ‘school,’ if you please! Teachers needed!) I am finding time, betwixt the anxiety, to enjoy the stillness, to play hours of soccer with my son, to be OK with not getting much of anything done, to doing weird and wonderful things I’ve never done before (hello, morning gratitude choir!).
What are you doing in the quiet? I’d love to draw these activities/thoughts, so please send them to me!