The Rising Tide
On climate despair and the secret lives of crabs
I sit, my back against a sturdy log of driftwood, my legs crossed in front of me, and look out onto the sea. I’ve lit a little fire, I’ve heated up a can of soup and eaten it with bread. The gorgeous galleries of pitted wave-carved stone, which just an hour ago had been a glittering expanse quietly alive with the scuttling of ten thousand tiny crabs populating the crevices between the millions of mussels and barnacles, have been swallowed up by the tide. My little spit of rock is all that remains. It’s ten o’clock in the evening but it is near the solstice, and the world is bright and clear.
In my lifetime, I think, it will become clear that ice melting on the Antarctic glaciers, seeping down under them, and buoying them up and reducing the friction the ice encounters against the rock, is accelerating their movement towards the sea. It will also become clear that the ice sheet is breaking up at a much accelerated pace for related reasons. On bad days, I believe that no one will do anything about this, if there is anything to be done, and the runaway melting will rapidly raise sea levels by several metres, maybe dozens of metres. Our civilization will go into massive shock as nearly all of our major cities flood and billions of people are displaced. Our ecosystems will fall apart. The ‘cost’ of this in dollar terms will be literally incalculable, a number so high as to be meaningless, but because capitalism is not capable of factoring the collapse of the biosphere into its quarterly budgets, we will not be protected, and capitalists will drive modernity straight into the ground, slaughtering us all, destroying everything and everyone we love, shovelling non-human life into the incinerator, torching the only home we’ll ever have. Probably they will be building luxury space shuttles and mining bitcoin right up until the end.
When money stops meaning anything, their power will collapse, but it will be far too late. I wonder if I will die in a war or a famine, or frozen to death when the power goes out in February, or of disease when the clean water supply fails, or shot by a guard in a refugee camp for internally displaced persons, or by suicide. I wonder if I will watch my grandchildren die. I wonder this dispassionately because if I allow myself to feel anything about it, I don’t think I will ever stop crying.
I crawl into my tent and listen to the Pacific. I’ve been hitchhiking for weeks, living out of my bag, camping in fields and on beaches. My back is growing used to sleeping on the ground. I’ve been thinking a lot, spending a lot of time by myself. Solving little problems. Discovering a better way to arrange my extra tarp so that the rain can’t get into my tent at all. Getting better at making fires when it’s a bit damp out. Becoming really good at spotting good places to pitch my tent, good spots to look for rides. Practicing my knots.
I eat a can of sardines, more bread. I don’t know how to hunt, how to snare, how to skin an animal or process it, how to grow food, how to recognize plants I can eat, how to survive without supplies and shelter and bottled water. I can’t even fall asleep without listening to audiobooks on my phone. I can’t even chop wood properly.
I want to move to the bush, learn all those skills. I have friends who’ve done that, who can track a deer through the forests of the north, who can make a fire in a soaking wet glade, who can build a serviceable shelter with not much more than a knife. Others who can farm, raise animals, know about the weather, about pests and frosts and soil. But would it make a difference? Would it just postpone the inevitable? Is preparing for the end just giving up on everyone else?
What does it mean to give up when I’m not doing anything in the first place? I think about what it would be like to do something. What is there to do? Should we be killing climate criminals? Bombing coal mines? Should we accept that we are dead already, forfeit our lives, declare war on behalf of unborn generations, on behalf of the holy wild Earth? Should we give up on every other consideration of ethics or political preference, make common cause with anyone who will listen, fight with every means at our disposal? The stakes seem high enough. I don’t know. I want to do these things. I also want to jealously guard what’s left of my chance at a good life. I only live once. I don’t want to watch the world fall apart in slow motion from the inside of a jail cell. I don’t want to throw away my life, my brief spark in the blackness, on something it turns out didn’t matter anyway. I don’t know. It twists my gut, it grinds me down. No therapist can talk this away.
Something disturbs a raven in the pine above me. It takes off, cawing loudly, and is joined by its colleagues from another tree. They circle above me, screaming. Out in the sea a heron wades, silhouetted against the purple smudge in the sky where the sun has just set. I think about the crabs, seemingly infinite, like grains of sand come to life, sidling between the rocks in their deliberate way, snipping daintily at the seaweed. I listen to the waves against the rocks and the gentle splashing the heron makes as it stalks the shore.
I fall asleep, without my audiobook.
This is an excerpt from my zine, What Else is There to Live For 3. You can get the zine at the Fucking Cancelled store.