‘At a knife’s edge’

‘At a knife’s edge’

Shradhya Verma

“Shradhya, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be an astronaut!”

“Shradhya, Where do you see yourself in the future?”

“Future?”

How do we label the sense of imminent doom, the paralysis beneath our feet and the pulsing and thudding abyss within our chest?

What term encapsulates when the future becomes a fading fantasy slipping from our grasp and visualising a future, that 10, 20, 50 years from now is just a hesitant daydream?

No convoluted jargon is needed to explain today’s fundamental reality, the earth is teetering at a knife’s edge. And in this precarious balance, our inheritance from the generations above is Climate Anxiety.

It is an insidious fear, festering, transforming and manifesting into a colossal monster, threatening to eat alive our dreams and future. But unlike the monster under an eight-year-old’s bed, climate anxiety is a real palpable phenomenon that exists and looms above our heads like a dark shadow.

A person barely in her 20s, and I already feel the crushing weight of the world, too much but too little time.

Just two decades in, but the countdown to our existence looks like it is about to run out. Time is a ticking bomb and we are waiting with bated breath to see the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Each moment awaits the final offence that will shatter our world.

This form of living but not truly being alive is like a perpetual death sentence, a cruel fate we are forced to endure for the rest of our days – a reality defined by the grip of climate anxiety.

This complex phenomenon studied exhaustively by researchers, scientists and psychologists, is rooted in anxiety’s innate function as an ‘alerting’ emotion. It draws our attention to threats or dangers, compelling us to seek solutions. However, in the face of the climate crisis’s complexity and lack of clear solutions, anxiety can escalate to intense, overwhelming and even debilitating levels.

Climate anxiety harbours a fatalistic cornucopia of emotions – grief, anger, guilt, helplessness, fear – each one festers inside us, gnawing at our hope and chipping away any promises the future might hold. It’s a visceral experience, a coldness gripping our chests as it whispers tales of ruination and destruction. Every breath feels shallow and strained, an ominous reminder that breathing might become scarce too. The parchedness in our throats foretells of wars over dwindling resources like water.

And yet, you continue. I continue, with a tightness in my chest and a flower of worry blooming at the back of my mind. And I know, just as you do, that a part of us grieves for our planet and future.

We carry the burden of climate anxiety, each grappling with an uncertain tomorrow.

These feelings are not fleeting illusions; but rather a tangible reality, fuelled by the escalating threat of Climate Change.

Vera Povaiah, a recent high school graduate from Delhi, reflects on the unique burden faced by today’s youth. “As a teenager, I feel like I have enough standard things to worry about – exams, my career, my relationships – that teens have been worrying about for decades. However, one key difference between my parents’ generation and mine is that I’m constantly worried about the fate of the entire world … I know that there will be a day when our societies will crumble under the pressure that we’ve generated and we’ll have to face the consequences,” says Vera.

While it may be a mere concern for the average citizen in a developed metropolitan city, clouded by the disguise of safety, it becomes a vivid, raging hailstorm of anxiety and trepidation for marginalised communities who are already at risk of losing their livelihoods and their lives. Dubbed ‘the end of global warming and the start of global boiling’, this era in Earth’s history is marked by cataclysmic events like droughts, wildfires and extreme rainfall occurring at an alarming pace. Scientists warn of continued global temperatures for several decades that will lead to irreversible damage lasting the next hundreds to thousands of years.

Asees Sagoo, an International Relations student from the United Kingdom, offers a sobering perspective. “The basic possibilities when thinking about the apocalypse is climate change or war. Diplomacy can resolve war but climate change is not that simple. And that is what scares international relations scholars more than the future of war,” says Asees.

The avalanche of evidence, studies and research is unequivocal: We are rapidly running out of time to save ourselves and the earth. Any further delay in collective action will close the window of grace to protect human life against irreparable harm.

At this juncture, the threat exists beyond simply securing a liveable future for the next generation; it now imperils the present.

Never before have modern humans experienced such rapid and observable changes in the Earth’s climate. The focus has shifted from simply leaving a habitable planet for future generations to preventing irrevocable damage to Earth during our own lifetimes.

As a member of the ‘future generation’ for whom the world is trying to salvage a sustainable future, the outlook is grim.

In the face of paralysing and crippling realities, with each day bringing alerts of new threats and warnings through newspapers, phones and media channels, the prospect of looking forward to a future, to a life itself, grows increasingly daunting.

With the abundance of danger to our survival, is it any wonder that more and more people, especially the younger generation, are losing hope? Are we truly surprised when the youth hesitate to bring forth another generation, fearing that their babies may endure a life overshadowed by misery and fear far worse than our current reality?

In light of these circumstances, is it any question that climate anxiety is rising consistently in the younger demographic who will primarily face its consequences? Is it a surprise when we lose sleep over our survival when projections suggest that one billion children are poised to be at ‘extremely high risk’ due to climate change?

My generation was raised on a diet of dystopian tales – from stories of The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale to movies like Interstellar and Mad Max. We have even contributed to creating genres and subgenres within dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic media. Despite this fixation towards stories of societal collapse and environmental ruin, the world seems surprised when we advocate for saving ourselves from the dystopian futures predicted in these stories.

A sentiment shared by many – “I love dystopian novels as much as the next person, but I don’t think I want to live in a real-life nightmare anytime soon.”

Ironically, the fiction we consumed as hyperbolised entertainment now mirrors the reality unfolding before our eyes. And who can blame us if we are tempted to flee in the opposite direction, to escape this dystopian truth and never look back?

I fear that is the curse of knowledge – it arrives too late.

And those with knowledge, means and resources, often revel in their power in secrecy, sacrificing each day of our already short lives for empty revelries and fleeting races of the present. Much ado about nothing, they say to dismiss our concerns. But we know, we won’t forget. When the empires crumble, we will remember who pushed our heads down to the guillotine and who wielded the blade.

And yet, I fear there is another aspect of knowledge that many forget. It is power, raw and formidable. It consumes, compels and destroys with a passion that burns bright red, streaked with a potent fever to bring about change.

As long as there exists another mind and another heart, this power will ignite again and again until something meaningful emerges.

I believe this is why we persevere and cling to hope – because someday our knowledge will blaze bright enough to bring forth something truly transformative, that might mend our broken world.

I believe this is why we continue onward, why we keep living – because deep down we understand even when fear brings about another wave of despair, knowledge and action can reignite the flame and keep hope burning.

The weight of tomorrow presses heavily on our shoulders, threatening to stumble us to the ground on our knees with nothing but a feeble prayer. But this struggle is not one we face alone, it is a collective burden borne by a generation teetering on the brink of an uncertain and tumultuous future.

Yet amidst the desperation and uncertainty, there remains resilience and hope – a hope for collective action and a belief that the combined power of many may just be enough to safeguard us from losing it all.