I’m not paralyzed with fear, but sometimes I wonder if I ought to be. Mostly, it’s the little things I obsess over: the worsening signs of global decline and potential extinction-level events already upon much of the world, but filtered through my bubble of North American privilege. It’s petty stuff, like wondering how much longer my five-year-old daughter will get to eat her favorite food of shrimp tempura, as she may be among the last people on Earth to enjoy seafood before warmer waters and climate change decimate the food chain. Or figuring out how realistic it is for my wife to keep pursuing her lifelong dream of visiting the Maldives, as the island nation may be underwater in our lifetimes, as well as Miami, New Orleans, and more than 400 other American cities and towns soon after.
I know these preoccupations are silly and useless given the wretched circumstances and challenges already facing the overwhelming majority of humankind. I ought to see how good I’ve got it, what with my ready access to food, fresh water, fuel, and free Wi-Fi. Sure, every generation believes it’ll be the last, and millennial cults have yet to get the right date for the end times. But it feels like we’ll finally be the ones to make good on all those visions of apocalypse: whether it’s famines, fires, bee-population collapse, or other environmental crises; a viral plague or rampaging superbug; or a nuclear war sparked by rising tensions in North Korea, Iran, or Pakistan. My fears about the future are so huge and unwieldy that the only responses I can manage are pitifully small and solipsistic.
But there’s another response, which is anger. How else to react to the Trump administration’s attempts to erase the already too-modest moves by its predecessor to address the climate crisis? Thankfully, it remains to be seen whether Trump can actually gut the Clean Power Plan or pull America out of its commitment to policy change in the Paris Agreement, given the resistance by many industries that have already adjusted to new realities and to the efforts of the Obama team to bulletproof changes in legal terms. It’s ironic how much the President is willing to sacrifice his nation’s economic supremacy and superpower status to the country he loves to bash so much: China is understandably eager to find clean-energy solutions now that so much of the country’s air is unbreathable.
I know there are more positive and productive responses than my neurotic ones. Nevertheless, the road ahead is still filled with fear and despair, the same emotions that color the songs on this playlist, which ponder our distressing present and ever so uncertain future. The next Earth Day is April 22, and with Tom Waits in mind, I wonder if it would get more attention if we renamed it The Earth Dies Screaming Day. It couldn’t hurt.