In 1968 John Lennon and Yoko Ono embarked on a multipronged peace protest, one that included their infamous bed-in and Give Peace A Chance. The centerpiece of the protest was a series of simple, text-only, black and white billboards that they put up in 12 cities around the world. The text read:
War Is Over! (If You Want It)
Merry Christmas From John And Yoko
Every Christmas/New Year Yoko Ono still takes out a full page ad with the “War Is Over! (If You Want It)” slogan. Every year people look at it and roll their eyes, not quite getting the profundity of the simple message:
It has to start with you.
So it is with global warming. We have entered the end stage of this ongoing crisis, with the recent news that humanity has maybe 10 years to stop the Earth from becoming uninhabitable for our species and with this week’s announcement that global scientists have reached the ‘gold standard’ of belief that climate change is manmade and catastrophic.
Things, my friends, are bad.
And yet what are we doing? We’re watching The Masked Singer and we’re arguing over Green Book and we’re making memes and we’re freaking out about the Momo Challenge. We’re focusing on the little, distracting things because we have this belief that someone else will do something about the problem. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes forward with a Green New Deal and we go, “Oh good, somebody is working on it,” and then we just fight about the Green New Deal.
We have been trained to believe that we have no role in the world. We have been trained to believe that the decisions are being made away from us, without our direct input. We have been trained to believe that we are not connected to other people, and that what we do does not matter, that we are these discreet little islands of humanity and that our best efforts aren’t worth a hill of beans in this crazy world, to paraphrase Rick Blaine.
And on some level we like that. It’s comforting to know that it’s not our fault or our problem, that there’s nothing we can do about it and that we can just make the best of it in the moment. To cede responsibility – this is one of the most luxurious feelings in the world, and it’s something we are addicted to in this country, constantly telling ourselves stories of why we didn’t succeed, whose fault our lives are, what disorder is responsible for our behavior.
“War Is Over! (If You Want It)” is a rallying cry for responsibility, and a reminder that we are active participants in the world. How much do you want war – not just Vietnam, but all war altogether – to be over? What are you willing to do to end war? Not just externally, because marches and bed-ins are nice, but they don’t get the job fully done. The slogan is asking you to look within and see what you’re doing day-to-day to end war. How you’re bringing peace into your life. How you’re changing the way you relate to the world.
Imagine if tomorrow every person on Earth woke up and decided they didn’t want war anymore. If they threw a war and nobody came. Imagine if people stopped waiting for leaders to find peace and simply made peace on their own. It’s insane to think that way, but it’s only insane because of how we’ve been conditioned, how we’ve been told that we hold no power. It’s insane because of how we’ve been lied to.
Now imagine if tomorrow half the people on Earth woke up and decided they didn’t want to have the world become inhospitable to humans within the century. Or what if maybe 100 million Americans woke up tomorrow and decided they were done waiting for a Green New Deal or some deus ex machina carbon-cleaning tech from Elon Musk and that they were going to take matters into their own hands by taking individual actions as simple as no longer eating meat?
Imagine if tomorrow you woke up and decided to do that.
There was this guy, bald dude, walked everywhere. He said “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and it sort of sounds like a real bullshit aphorism, but it’s actually the wisest thing anybody has said maybe since “Do unto others as you would have the do unto you.” See, what Gandhi means is that you can’t wait for someone else to change the world, because that leads to everyone just waiting for someone else to change the world.
If you want the world to be different, you have to be different. You can’t wait. You can’t put it off. You can’t say it’ll happen later, or that someone else will do it. To quote another wise man, who was once the science advisor to a President, Otto Hasslein:
“Later, we’ll do something about pollution. Later, we’ll do something about the population explosion. Later, we’ll do something about the nuclear war! We think we’ve got all the time in the world!! How much time has the world got?!! Somebody has to begin to care!”
This is, of course, the premise of Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Is Ethan Hawke’s priest mad, or is madness the only rational response to the existential enormity of the climate crisis? I kind of think that madness is the only rational response, but it has to be a madness of hope and responsibility. It has to be a madness that looks at the one thing we can change – ourselves – and begins there.
Nobody is going to save us. The last two years have proven there are no adults in the room when it comes to government, and even the exciting new voices may have arrived too late. The truth is that we have to get ourselves out of this one. That means taking individual action.
Like I said, a good initial step is to stop eating meat, even just beef and pork. Animal agriculture is a huge polluter, it is a huge deforester, and it uses more food to feed the animals than is actually produced by the animals. Also, there’s no reason a sentient being has to suffer for our lunch anymore. Yeah, it’s inconvenient to go meatless and yeah, you love the taste of a good burger, but the reality is that within 20 years this planet will be a place we can’t live. If you’re reading this you might not die right away, but your standard of living is going to be so fucked, and things will be so bad, maybe you’ll wish you did.
Global warming is over, if you want it. How badly do you want it? What comfort or luxury will you sacrifice to keep the Earth habitable for humans? When will you stop waiting for someone else to take care of it and begin taking care of it in your own life?
We can save the world.