Sleepwalking Into Climate Nightmares, by Rivera Sun

Fort McMurray, Alberta - Operation Arctic Shadow

Image by kris krüg via Flickr

by Rivera Sun
Writer, Dandelion Salad
June 8, 2022

How can anyone sleep at night? My first nightmare about environmental crisis occurred in 1990. I was eight years old. In it, acid rain poured from the sky, scalding the skin of humans and stripping holes in the leaves of trees. On either side of a long, ashen-gray street, billowing plumes of smog chugged out of smokestacks. I was running, searching for sanctuary from the toxic waste. Nowhere was safe.

It’s 2022. I’m turning 40 this summer and my bad dreams are nothing compared to reality. The climate crisis is crashing down in cascades of disasters – forest fires, torrential floods, crop failures, ferocious hurricanes, heat domes … the stuff of nightmares.

And while I wrestle with existential dread and horrified insomnia, our political leaders are asleep at the wheel. They’re dreaming of midterm elections, business-as-usual, yet another war, and hoping to pass the buck on dealing with the non-negotiable need for a swift transition away from fossil fuels.

We’re running out of time.

When I was a teenager, the epic movie Titanic rolled through the movie theaters. Leonardo DiCaprio starred as a doomed, but handsome lower-class artist named Jack who fell in love with an upper-class woman played by Kate Winslet. The ship hit the iceberg. The band played on. The poor drowned in droves. The rich tossed children out of lifeboats to secure their own safety. It was the epic symbol of our times, a powerful metaphorical augury.

It would take DiCaprio 22 years to find a more apropos image. In Don’t Look Up, he stars as a freaked-out scientist warning of an inevitable collision with a massive, extinction-causing asteroid. In this film, he doesn’t survive either.

In 2003, Drew Dellinger wrote these haunting lines:

It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

The poem goes on to ask: what did you do, once you knew?

Some of us can’t sleep. We know it’s the eleventh hour. We know we’re 100 seconds to midnight on the Doomsday Clock. We know the ecological debts racked up by our parents and grandparents are coming due. We know the future is increasingly uncertain with every minute, every second spent spewing out more fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

We can’t sleep … and we need to use our insomnia to wake up those who are dozing in denial. In the halls of power and corporate boardrooms, on Wall Street and on governing boards, we need them to gasp awake and jerk us out of this devastating collision course with proverbial icebergs that are melting and collapsing in skyscraper-sized chunks.

All my life, I’ve had nightmares about the realities we’re living now. The poets and storytellers are hard at work, screaming for sanity and a swift transition. The activists are mobilizing and turning up the street heat as the climate crisis intensifies. The schoolchildren are walking out of school, demanding that we act. It’s time for the rich and powerful to do their part. We don’t have another decade. We don’t have another planet. We don’t have another life.


Author/Actress Rivera Sun syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and the sequels, The Roots of Resistance, Winds of Change, and Rise and Resist – Essays on Love, Courage, Politics and Resistance and other books. She is the editor of Nonviolence News and a nationwide trainer in strategy for nonviolent campaigns. Website: https://www.riverasun.com.

From the archives:

Pay Attention: Our Food System Is Broken, by Magnificent Mndebele

Abby Martin: The US Military: Planet Earth’s Greatest Enemy

Another Global Warming Worry: Parts of Earth Could Become Uninhabitable, by Pete Dolack + A Dire Warning About the End of Human Civilization

How Nonviolent Action Is Protecting the Earth, by Rivera Sun

4 Big Reasons Not To Go To War In Ukraine, by Rivera Sun

Seasonal Insomniacs In Times of Climate Chaos, by Rivera Sun

100 Seconds To Midnight: The Dissonance and Madness of Our Time, by Rainer Shea

Martin Sheen: The Twin Dangers Facing Humanity

Drew Dellinger: It’s 3:23 in the Morning

3 thoughts on “Sleepwalking Into Climate Nightmares, by Rivera Sun

  1. Pingback: Oil Barons, Pentagon Knowingly Wreck The Planet, by Scott Scheffer – Dandelion Salad

  2. How to sleep at night, and how to save life on Earth, are two very different questions. I’m sleeping at night just fine, but I had a head start: I started worrying about climate in 2006, and blogging about it in 2013 years ago (see my https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/runaway-warming/#sociology). Most people in our society started worrying much more recently.

    When I was around 10 years old, I got used to the fact of my own mortality — the fact that I personally will live to be less than 100. I got used to living for the future, living for the idea that perhaps things I did would have at least some tiny effect on a civilization that would continue after I was gone. Perhaps not my name in history books, but I might affect people who would affect other people, and so on. That’s a modest thing. But even that gets smashed if our species goes extinct.

    The fact that I’m sleeping okay does not mean I’m satisfied with the destruction of the world. But panic and anger are only useful for getting you started; after a while they can be transmuted into determination. And then saving the world becomes a job, a daily routine, part of daily life. Pace yourself. Do what you can, and don’t try to do more.

    For the last couple of months, the sign I’ve used in roadside vigils has been one that says “SAVE LIFE ON EARTH.” But today I made a new sign. It doesn’t have any words — it’s just a big picture of Earth, photographed from space, on a black background. My hope is to use the two signs together. There’s a woman I’ve got my eye on, and I’m hoping she’ll hold one sign while I hold the other. See, it’s part of daily life.

    “Don’t Look Up” might as well have been titled “Don’t Wake Up.” DiCaprio, McKay, et al., created that film in hope that it would wake up more people about the climate crisis. That’s what climate activists were hoping, too, after they saw the film.

    But we who are awake and properly worried are still far too few. The life we must live is a strange one: We see the world about to end, but we must walk among people who don’t see it — we must function in their world. We must live in two worlds, and it feels a little bit crazy. I actually find some comfort in apocalyptic films, because they give me a role model — they show me how to not be crazy even if the world might be about to end. For this purpose one of my favorites is the 2012 film “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”

    Still, I repeat: I have not yet given up. (See my earlier mention of my new sign.) If you meet anyone who is absolutely certain that we are doomed, try this bit of reasoning on them: Look around, and you’ll see that we still have at least a few more months, probably a few years. And we do not know, and CANNOT know, what we might discover in that remaining time that might still save us — what we might discover in climatology, or biology, or physics, or political sociology. Of course, if we give up, then we will discover nothing.

    Most of the climate activists still haven’t figured out some of the things I wrote in 2013. I’ll restate a little of it here: The apocalypse is coming even bigger and faster than the IPCC says, because they’ve been paying too little attention to tipping points and feedback loops. And for forty years the plutocrats have been ignoring the climatologists and actually accelerating the apocalypse for the sake of short-term private profits. It’s time to stop shouting “plutocrats, hear the climatologists” and start shouting “people, overthrow the plutocrats and the profit system.”

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