A flow of associations to the climate crisis

Exiting chatter around her. It’s evident that the small café has only just opened. Everything seems a little disorganized. A zero-waste cafe in the middle of Cologne. A nice idea. Maybe, hopefully, it will catch on. The optimism is almost contagious. She is waiting for her friend, who is ordering their coffees at the counter. Her hands resting on the dark table, fidgeting with the sleeves of her red sweater that had once belonged to her mother. It has been only a few days since the encounter with her roommate. Still, nothing else is really on her mind. Nothing other than how it was brutally revealed to her how the world would end in the next 30 years due to the climate crisis. Well, at least in the opinion of her roommate. And now she’s waiting for her friend. A friend from college who does a lot of environmental work herself. So many people around her, chattering away like it’s nothing. She feels lonely. Everything seems kind of dull. Her friend sits back down at her table, turns his doll-like face with its sea-blue eyes towards her. His gaze full of compassion and understanding. “I can understand you. Really. When I read the news or posts about climate change, I get angry too. In some cases, despair, too. But then I say to myself, ‘There’s no point in getting upset.’ It just burdens me, makes me sad and angry, you know? Instead, you have to look forward. Use the emotions. Like I post stuff on Facebook, for example.” His eyes still compassionate, lips forming into an encouraging smile. But she has never been able to understand this kind of reasoning. What’s the point of worrying if you can’t do anything about it anyway? It makes sense on a rational level, but it never resonated with her on an emotional one. But how could she explain that? It doesn’t matter. Nothing to say that will help. At least not in the long run. Her reality has been changed, and there is no going back now. Everything seems just a little bit darker. Just like the blue, almost turquoise sky. Contrasting strongly with the almost yellow ground. Dark, clearly visible, and remarkably deep cracks in the ground. Contrasting with the uniformity of the blue. The Sahel is in the middle of the storm called climate crisis. An endless circle of drought and floods characterize the region, stealing any livelihood from its inhabitants. Temperatures here are rising 1.5x faster than the world average. Severe droughts that leave the soil dry and lifeless. Also, extremely heavy rainfall, dark thunderstorms. The soil usually too dry to absorb the huge amount of water. Destructive floods. Conflicts over vital basics, food, water access, increasing daily. With the increasing reddish heat, with the increasing destruction of livelihoods, food, and water supplies, it is only a matter of time before the conflicts escalate further. And more blood is spilled and will penetrate the ground. Like a bloody red penetrates the blue sky. She is standing in the bedroom of the youth hostel. Out of the window, she sees how slowly the dusk falls. The air becomes cooler, the wind stronger. Blows like waves through the leaves of the trees. If she would stick her head out of the window, she could look down into the courtyard. Slowly, her friends and classmates will gather there to spend the rest of the evening together. Just a moment ago, they were all having dinner together. But then, suddenly, she got up from her table, said goodbye almost wordlessly, and went back to her bedroom. Now she stands here, at the edge of the bunk bed, feeling empty. She grabs her cell phone from her pocket. She got this phone for Christmas, a dark blue one, slide-on, Sony Eriksson. She remembers how excited she was at the time; right now, the memory feels silly. She opens the text message box. She doesn’t even know who to text. In the end, she decides on her mother. “Hey Mum. Someone from my class just said that mankind would wipe itself out, and it’s all just evolution. Do you believe in God?”. She had often had this fear of death. Not existing the worst thing for her. Unimaginable. And if there’s no meaning behind all this life, there’s no life after death, is there? She still has the cell phone in her hand, waiting for an answer, barely moving. That tense feeling in the pit of her stomach just not going away. After a while, she looks at her cell phone again. Her mother should have answered by now. Then, a new text message. “Oh, sweetheart! You know, when I look at the seas and the sand, or a sunset on the horizon, I am sure there is a God”. The images her mother described form in her mind: a deep blue sea, churned by the wind, rattling against the coastal stone. In stark contrast, the almost red sunset, the sun aggressive but also beautifully forming a soft circle. Her tension slowly eases. She can almost breathe again. This nature is so beautiful. Sophisticated down to the smallest detail. How could this be just a coincidence? How can there be no sense in all of that? No sense like in the view that not many have ever experienced: The sky is bright, a few thick gray-white clouds lie carefree on the calm light blue. Below clear water, reflecting in brown and green. Mangrove trees rise from the water. Only on tropical coasts and brackish estuaries with water temperatures above 20°C, these trees can be found. They have the ability to store a large amount of CO2 for a long time. About 50x more than tropical rainforests. But they are also threatened. Mainly by the creation of intensively managed shrimp farms, but also by the worldwide rise of the sea level, by the pollution of the waters, by the draining for settlement construction, and the use of the wood of the mangroves. In the last 20 years, the Earth has lost half of its mangrove forests. In 100 years, the remaining forests could be gone. But this is not to be a story of sadness. Instead, one of success. A story about the Sri Lanka Mangrove Conservation Project. A project helping Sri Lanka become the first country to not only protect its mangrove forests but also to reforest them. Over 14.500 hectares of mangrove forest are now explicitly protected. In 2017, the project seeded 703.800 mangrove seedlings. More than 7.900 women and young people have been trained in mangrove conservation, 2.893 have received microloans to start or expand sustainable businesses and promote financial stability. The entire ecosystem is supported by these activities, but so are thousands of small communities in Sri Lanka. Poverty is effectively combated. In 2018, the project won the UN Climate Action Award. Because this project shows one thing: It can also work, and pessimism won’t take us anywhere. One day in July. She is scrolling through her Facebook feed, trying to distract herself from learning. A post of a former colleague presenting a video of a public broadcasting channel. The video is about global warming, how severe and far advanced it already was. Under it, the caption “S-H-O-C-K-I-N-G! The first time that completely plain language is spoken on a public broadcaster. In short: That’s it, we f*cked it up.” The comments underneath the post are horrible. People say that they were glad that the Earth would be soon freed of humans. That they might have 20 years tops left on Earth. That there is nothing, they could do about it. An uneasy feeling settles in her stomach. Of course, she had always known climate change was real. But she had never really thought about how it might affect her own future. In her head, it was always this abstract thing. Something to worry about, but nothing more. But now, suddenly, she has concrete pictures in my head. She steps out of her room in the living room. Trying to find comfort by talking to her roommate. But her roommate is not calming her down. Her roommate is starting a rant about his time in Indonesia. How some sea biologist told him that humans don’t even know what will be coming. How devastating it will be for all humankind. How they are facing the f*cking end of the world. That there is no sense in having kids anymore or planning for retirement. Her roommate probably doesn’t even notice how she spaces out, having an internal panic attack. Both are still sitting on their red couch. She on the left, staring into nothing. Her roommate on the right, just ranting about climate change, not noticing the internal struggle beside him. Her roommate just keeps on. While she is still sitting still, without any movement, not even listening anymore. She feels lonely, she misses her mum. Wished she could call her right now. Instead, she just imagines the apocalypse, the war for their last resources, the suffering. She sees her future taking away from her. She knows deep down in her bones, this moment will change her life. She feels the devastation of losing her own future. Feels the fury that nobody seems to do anything against it. Feels the hatred of how people are just giving up. How they are just living in their own little bubble, just ignoring the catastrophists happening around and because of them. But, as a matter of fact, if we think about it, humankind should be grateful for the greenhouse effect. Without it, the Earth would be one blue ball of ice. If the effect didn’t exist, most sun’s rays thrown at the Earth would be reflected into infinite space. But the atmosphere functions as a greenhouse: some of the rays are stopped, causing the Earth to heat up more. Without greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the mean temperature would be -18°C, not the life-friendly 15°C. The Earth would be iced over. Naturally occurring CO2 gases in the atmosphere are primarily responsible for this. But the more CO2 there is in the atmosphere, the more the sun’s rays are also stopped on their way back into space. And suddenly, humankind is no longer grateful for the greenhouse effect. The Earth warms up more. And thus, the summer was hot and dry in Sweden. It is Monday, August 21, 2018. This day, school is about to start again. Most students are getting back into their old, familiar routine. But not one girl. Instead, she is sitting in front of the parliament in Stockholm. A new parliament will be elected in Sweden in three weeks, she won’t be going to school until then. Her hair braided into two pigtails. Her face gaunt but also strong-willed. The bags under her eyes bigger than her angry-looking gray eyes. The bright yellow raincoat contrasting sharply with the gray wall she is leaning against. Next to her, also leaning against the massive wall, a white sign with large black letters: “Skolstrejk för klimatet.” She stands in the bright hallway of her home, waiting for an answer from her mum. She is maybe ten or eleven years old. This is the first time she had realized what climate change is. What kind of long-term and drastic consequences it might have. Images of how everything will be underwater go through her head. How there will be no gas anymore to drive in their red family car. She doesn’t know what to think, can’t grasp the overwhelming facts. The only thing she realizes is that climate change is something to worry about. Something that will be a threat to their current way of living. That they were destroying the planet, their own home. She tries to talk to her mother about it. Pictures of her trying to swim in a dark-blue world with no visible land still swirling in her head. But nothing her mum says is reassuring, more ignorant than anything else. Why doesn’t she seem to care? Maybe the Earth is not as just given as she has always thought. Maybe the Earth is rather something more valuable, something that has to be protected. Maybe there are limits. Just as there are under the pale green lawn, under a wide gray horizon. At first glance, it seems to be nothing special: The wind icy, the temperatures low. But the soil is special. And essential. Because the grounds in the Arctic, Antarctic, Russia, China, Greenland, and many mountains are frozen. Sometimes only a few meters, but this layer can also be up to 1500m thick. Worldwide, it stores twice as much CO2 as there is currently present in the atmosphere. Methane and nitrous oxide are also stored here. A constant for thousands of years. Not visible to humans, yet incredibly important. And endangered. The Earth is warming up, especially in the cold regions in the north. And the frosty ground is melting. The asphalt on the roads is cracking, entire sections are threatening to sink. Houses collapse and fall into the thawing mud. In Norway, entire slopes threaten to slide, possibly resulting in tsunamis over 40m wave height. Flooding in valleys, the burial of villages. There are many dark consequences of the thawing of the ice floor. And yet. The worst threat is the release of CO2. Of methane and nitrous oxide. Leading to increased global warming. Thus, completing the circle by strengthening the thawing of more frozen ground. She stands in the kitchen with the dark gray tiles on the floor. In one hand, a mixer. As quietly as possible, she tries to whip cream. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to understand a word that her friend is saying. He sits on one of the blue, slightly broken chairs, snacking on a blueberry now and then. He tells her about his plans to go surfing in France. She wants to bake a strawberry cake. Her father and his wife will come the next day. “And what’s going on with you? Stressed out as usual?” Her friend suddenly asks. She pauses for a moment and thinks. She’s always stressed. Or rather, she always has a lot to do. She shouldn’t probably call it stress anymore. She talks about her studies in environmental sciences, her work in an agency for sustainable communication, her work in a scientific project in environmental psychology, her new internship on citizen participation in climate-related issues. It’s nice to talk about it. Feels like she is doing something right. Something good. Her friend has always been very interested in stuff like that, too. Has always been very passionate about climate, justice, equity. But one thing has always set the two of them apart: His friend has remained an optimist. She hasn’t. And yet, the next sentence that comes out of his mouth surprises her: “I have a feeling we can do this.” “What do you mean?” she asks, confused. “The climate crisis. Seems like we might actually turn this thing around, right?”. “You really think so?” she asks incredulously, not wanting to show her skepticism too much. “Yes, a lot is changing at the moment.” Yes, but not enough, she thinks. Not enough by a long shot. But she doesn’t say that. She doesn’t want to destroy his optimism. And not just because she knows first-hand that the negative thoughts weigh heavily on you. Also, because she likes the thought that there are still people out there who believe in overcoming the climate crisis. It almost gives her something like hope. He is no fool, follows the news partly even more than she does herself. And the optimism he displays strikes her as something fragile. Just like a plant that has somehow managed to break through the dark gray asphalt, trying to turn its green leaves towards the sun. She will avoid stepping on this plant at all costs. 

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