Sometimes, when your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, you start to discern in the dark even darker darknesses than you ever knew possible. Tomorrow you’ll forget the truth like a bad dream; you know this now, as surely as you know that in the morning everything you know about the dark will be an unknown unknown all over again. Scientists at Cornell West University’s Black Studies Institute now recognize fifty different shades of #000000FF, but only at night; when the cock crows they’ll deny it point-blank. At first light they’ll denigrate the whole, rich spectrum of sables by reducing them to the name of a crayon.
And so it goes right now, with this pandemic we’re waiting out. Yes, it’s a pain in the rectum. Yes, things are looking dark. But squint real hard and you might just make out, at the end of the tunnel, the light-extinguishing singularity that is climate change.
Nobody really wants to be killed by the new coronavirus. If it happens it happens, but let’s be honest: back in first grade, when Ms Strzlecki asked us what we wanted to die of when we grew up, how many of us said COVID-19?
Life has to end sometime so we can experience other things. But we’d rather be a little older when it happens, wouldn’t we? And we want it to be from climate. In our own house, a house we’ve paid off, a house echoing with the screams of children, the pitter-patter of tiny rats’ feet and the lamentations of the women.
There’s no social distancing in extremis. What keeps us living today is the promise of dying in the arms of our loved ones tomorrow—embalmed by fire, acid-etched by ocean, fused together in confusion, welded in holy matrimony. Flesh made lime, stone made incorruptible.
White or olive or Asian or female of color, we all return to black in this fantasy: black and charred like the burghers of Pompeii, the black from which you can never go back.
That’s the family thanatograph you carry in your mind’s wallet like the sepia icons of saints, next to your ass at all times.
(Have you ever wondered why we keep our valuables as close as possible to our centre of mass? The Aztecs must have known, because—with an understanding of both anatomy and Spanish that was centuries ahead of its time—they called the human pelvis la calavera mayor: the larger of two skulls.)
We’ve all made peace with our mortality by now. We know we’re going to die—a Guardian subscription and a couple of SPMs will do that. But it wasn’t meant to happen for another ten years, maybe 12 if the world gets serious about carbon austerity. Life owes us that much. The science owes us. Understandings were exchanged; elbows were shaken.
When an immediate threat like COVID-19 comes along, we start to question everything. At our lowest ebb we even lash out at the people who least deserve it: the climate scientists. Why didn’t they warn us?, we cry, shaking our fists at the atmosphere.
Then, as suddenly as it came over us, the rage recedes, leaving only a deep shame at our own ingratitude. Where do we get off taking every scholarly body of national or international standing for granted? What about everything they did predict—and I don’t mean the actual trends, which any farm-boy with a ruler and a Farmer’s Almanac could have extrapolated. I’m talking the thousands of extra things they’ve told us about, most of which won’t even come true!
And here we are ensconced in our homes, the opulence of which the first Emperor of China could never have imagined, bitching about a single false negative? Shame on us for taking out our wounded entitlement on the very people who’ve devoted their lives to giving us paper after paper after paper full of false positives. Once we turn on each other, the virus wins. The scientists might be smarter than us. They might fly Premium Business to tropical science conferences while we grow malnourished and deconditioned in our fraidy-holes. But at the end of the day we’re all in this together.
Viruses don’t last forever, unless ‘under the Siberian permafrost’ counts, and anyway, studies show that in a few years’ time kids aren’t going to know what Siberia is.
Life will find a way. It will return to the New Normal of weather death, diffuse disseminated ecolysis, climate acidification and cosmological anomie. Together we can make it through this vale of shadows and into the Black Hole of Carkoon that lies beyond. And all you have to do is everything Climate Nuremberg tells you.
Tomorrow we’ll summarize the world’s 2,500 leading Knows and Known’ts of COVID-19. Read them uncritically and I guarantee: one day we’re going to look back on all this and laugh mirthlessly.