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Living with dystopia

  • 09 May 2019


Do you ever feel as though you are living in the early scenes of a dystopic film? I have to confess that I do.

In the background, the audience is being shown hints of the coming catastrophe. We hear the news radio mention increasing numbers of extreme weather events and related disasters. We see newspaper headlines declare, 'We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe' and '1 million species are facing extinction'. And yet our heroes appear to be carrying on with their lives normally.

As the film progresses, this apparent normality is punctuated by signs of anxiety, despair and resistance. Parents sit up late quietly discussing their fears about the future. Colleagues share a bleak joke about the upcoming apocalypse. Grandparents start becoming radical. School children walk out of school.

Soon it becomes clear that the looming disaster has already arrived, and people react in a range of predictable ways. There are, of course, those who continue to deny the problem — either because they benefit from the status quo or because it is just too confronting to face the truth.

Other people fall into despair, believing (or understanding?) that it is too late to avert collapse or that the structural change that would be needed is simply too difficult to achieve. This pessimism leads some to inaction, while others seek out distraction or the nihilistic pursuit of pleasure. In contrast, there are the more optimistic people who double-down on their individual or community efforts to reduce their ecological footprints by reducing, re-using, recycling, growing food, restoring local habitats, and building resilient communities.

And, finally, there are those who are motivated, angry and courageous enough to fight for structural change.

If this was a Hollywood film, our hero would fall into this final category. We would cheer her on as she confronts complacent world leaders and vested interests in her campaign for a new world order. She would encounter many setbacks, but ultimately, she would prevail.


"This state of paralysis is often mistaken for apathy, but many researchers have been keen to emphasise that while it looks like people don't care, the problem is that many actually care too much."


Unfortunately, I'm starting to feel like this might be a French film or something similar to On the Beach. In response, I find myself swinging wildly between despair, optimism and action. And, it turns out, I'm not alone.

I casually asked people on Twitter whether climate change