I wonder if it will be possible for the landscape of my son’s inner world to be populated by animals, as mine was growing up. I picture us sitting down to watch a David Attenborough documentary once he’s a little older. When the original Planet Earth series came out, I was entranced. I must have watched every episode five or six times. But it’s been many years since I’ve been able to bring myself to view these works. I can’t take the dread anymore—waiting for the moment when the narration shifts to a warning, the pleas to right our path growing more forlorn and desperate with each new series, as the years marched forward and the ecological destruction only escalated. At some point, I found that I couldn’t tolerate the beauty of the earlier sequences anymore, knowing what was coming right behind them.
But that was before I had this baby. It occurs to me now that, of all the disastrous lessons a parent could transmit to a child born in 2021, teaching them to avoid the light that exists now because of the darkness that may be coming in the future must rank among the very worst. The coping mechanisms that led me to abandon nature documentaries and turn away from the animal world may have spared me some passing heartache. But I also bricked over realms that once inspired deep fascination, wonder, and delight. That’s not an example I want to set for my son.
The fight my son has been drafted into by the timing of his birth is a battle not only for survival and stability but also to keep our world from becoming a poorer, darker, lonelier place.
And it’s a shitty way to sustain the strength we need to keep struggling, organizing, brawling for everything we still have that is good and beautiful. The fight for a livable future—into which my child, like every member of his generation, has been conscripted—is one of such relentless breadth it sometimes feels like it can crush your bones to dust. It’s a fight in which every inch closer to an abolished fossil fuel industry counts; each step toward a more sustainable existence means the world will be that much more habitable in the years to come. While this is a reason for hope, it also means there are no finish lines, no clear rest breaks. And that’s a heavy weight to carry. I don’t know how we can find the stamina to keep stepping into that breach unless we’re able to draw strength from what we’re fighting to sustain—from everything beautiful about humanity, and everything beautiful about the other living beings caught with us on this breathtaking and fragile planet.
One of my favorite books growing up was Last Chance to See. Written by Douglas Adams, the bard of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it records a series of adventures Adams took to visit some of the most endangered species on the planet, and the humans striving to keep their extinctions at bay. In one passage, the author asks: “But why do they bother?” There are many answers, of course—that every animal has an integral role to play in maintaining the stability of its home; that biodiversity is crucial to the resilience of all life on earth, including our own. But “there is one last reason for caring,” Adams added, “and I believe that no other is necessary. It is certainly the reason why so many people have devoted their lives to protecting the likes of rhinos, parakeets, kakapos, and dolphins. And it is simply this: the world would be a poorer, darker, lonelier place without them.”
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