Sleeping in Light

One question that environmentalists get a lot is whether we plan on having children. I don’t, but that’s just because I hate children. The real question deals with whether or not there is any point in bringing children into a world that is so thoroughly fucked. The answer is yes. I don’t think that global warming is going to end human civilization. I don’t think it will lead to mass extinction. Humanity has weathered a great many storms before this one, and I think we can survive another.

As a sci-fi nerd, I have a fascination with post-apocalyptic scenarios. Some of my favorite books–The Road, A Canticle For Leibowitz, Earth Abides–deal with life after humanity has been wiped out by a plague, a war, or what have you. The Road, as unrelentingly dire as it is, concludes that even when you’re living on borrowed time, you can still pass on what you’ve learned. There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that addresses a similar issue. It’s called “The Inner Light”, and is to fans of TNG what “The City on the Edge of Forever” is to Original Series fans. That is, it’s the episode that is most often held up as proof that the show was not just for nerds, but great art. “The Inner Light” is, true to its reputation, a sad, devastating, beautiful hour of TV. In it, Captain Picard finds himself zapped by an alien probe that causes him to live out forty years of an alternate life on Kataan, a planet that, he gradually realizes, has been uninhabitable for 1,000 years. He has children, his children have children, and at the end of his alternate lifespan, he attends the launching of the probe that will one day find him so that the people of this dying planet can share with another lifeform the truth of their existence. When Picard returns to life aboard the Enterprise, he finds that the only solid memento of life on Kataan is a flute that he learned to play during his parallel life.

There is never a good time to stop living. There is never a good time to give up hope. The people of Kataan accept their impending doom and decide that they will bear a new generation for as long as there are resources enough to support them. One thing that I learned from watching Children of Men is that without children, civilization crumbles. I repeat: I hate children. But some people seem to like them. Some people think babies are the most magical creatures in the entire world. I think they’re vaguely humanoid creatures that cry and shit a lot. But really, anyone who wants to have children should do so. Just don’t expect me to raise them.

I used to have a dog. I didn’t like her very much. She was, even by the standards of a pet, not the most intelligent creature in the world. She might have been smarter than I gave credit for, however. After I was cruel to her once, she used my room for much the same purpose that she generally used the backyard, paying special attention to the pajama pants that I had lying on the floor. Fortunately, my father cleaned it up so that I didn’t have to. I’m grateful to him. Maybe she sensed that I didn’t like her very much, and so tried extra hard to earn my affection. Pets do that a lot around me. When I was in between apartments and sleeping on a friend’s floor just under a year ago, he remarked that he’d never seen his cat pay as much attention to anyone as he did to me. I’m slightly allergic to cats, which might explain why I don’t act very friendly around them.

While I’m talking about science fiction, I might as well say a few words about Babylon 5. That, for those who do not know, was a big hit TV show in the 90s, arguably one of the best genre series the small screen has ever seen. I’m a fan, although I did sometimes find it a bit pompous and dry. What was most remarkable about it was its dedication to long-form storytelling. Creator and head writer (and for much of the series, sole writer) J. Michael Straczynski had the series’ entire five-season arc planned out before shooting even began. The result is a show that has an epic sweep, thematic complexity, and a rich, novelistic feel. In an especially innovative touch, Straczynski ends the show with some plot threads left unresolved, showing that while the characters may be moving onto another stage in their lives, there are still battles to be fought. Why am I telling you this? Because I had to accept a long time ago that it takes quite a lot of work to eliminate something entirely. Very few of us are fortunate enough to lead conflict-free lives. Some of us wouldn’t want to. I would if I could, but I seem to carry conflict with me pretty much wherever I go.

Humanity will not be wiped out by global warming. I’ve said before that one of the greatest lies that people tell people about environmentalists is that we want to tell people how to live. If we refrained from having children because we were afraid of bringing them into this world, that would, in a sense, be no better than telling others not to have children because of the environmental impact that they might have. If you want to rule the world (and I do), you must do so first by example. If I didn’t do that, I’d have to spend all sorts of time disciplining people when I finally conquer the globe. Who wants that?

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