How can anyone sleep at night? My first nightmare about the environmental crisis happened in 1990. I was eight years old. Acid rain fell there from the sky, burning the skin of humans and puncturing the leaves of trees. On either side of a long, ashen-grey street, plumes of smog billowed from chimneys. I was running, looking for refuge from the toxic waste. Nowhere was safe.
It’s 2022. I’ll be 40 this summer and my bad dreams are nothing compared to reality. The climate crisis is collapsing in cascades of disasters – forest fires, torrential floods, crop failures, ferocious hurricanes, heat domes… enough to bring nightmares.
And while I struggle with existential fear and horrified insomnia, our political leaders are asleep at the wheel. They dream of midterm elections, of the status quo, of a new war, and hope to pass on the responsibility of addressing the non-negotiable need for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.
We are run out of time.
When I was a teenager, the epic movie Titanic toured the cinemas. Leonardo DiCaprio starred as a doomed but handsome lower-class entertainer named Jack who fell in love with an upper-class woman played by Kate Winslet. The ship hit the iceberg. The band continued to play. The poor drowned en masse. The wealthy threw the children out of the lifeboats to ensure their own safety. It was the epic symbol of our time, a powerful metaphorical augury.
It would take DiCaprio 22 years to find a more apt image. In Don’t look up, he plays the role of a panicked scientist warning of an inevitable collision with a massive asteroid causing extinction. In this film, he does not survive either.
In 2003, Drew Dellinger wrote these haunting lines:
It’s 3:23 in the morning
and i woke up
because my great-great-grandchildren
don’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth collapsed?
The poem goes on to ask: what did you do, once you knew?
Some of us can’t sleep. We know it’s the eleventh hour. We know it’s 100 seconds to midnight on the doomsday clock. We know that the ecological debts accumulated by our parents and grandparents are coming to an end. We know the future is becoming more and more uncertain with every minute, every second spent spewing more fossil fuels into the atmosphere.
We can’t sleep…and we have to use our insomnia to wake those who doze in denial. In the halls of power and corporate boardrooms, on Wall Street and on boardrooms, we need them to wake us up and pull us out of this devastating collision course with proverbial icebergs melting and crashing. crumble into skyscraper-sized pieces.
All my life I’ve had nightmares about the realities we live in now. Poets and storytellers work hard, crying out for sanity and a quick transition. Activists are mobilizing and raising the pressure on the streets as the climate crisis escalates. School children are coming out of school, demanding that we take action. It’s time for the rich and powerful to do their part. We don’t have another decade. We have no other planet. We have no other life.