Coming out No. 6: Hi, my name is Tadzio, and I'm suffering from climate depression
"Every (depressed climate realist) must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie will be destroyed. And once you do, you will feel so much better." cf. Harvey Milk
Climate journalist Sara Schurmann recently tweetedthese sad and honest words: "It's been two years now that I became aware of what the climate catastrophe means and how close we are to environmental breakdown. Since then I feel like living a nightmare: I'm screaming for people to come for help - but they don't get what I mean. Or don't believe me."
Her words were retweeted, commented on, and taken up by many, because: we rarely deal honestly with what it actually doesto us to live in and through the reality of the climate catastrophe, and - in contrast to majority society's continuous sublimation- to be fully and permanently aware of this fact. The response to Schurmann's words highlights something that I'm realising more clearly every day: that all of us who know how fucked up and terrible shit truly is, that we should all do the same. Come out, so to speak, as climate realists: Hi, my name is Tadzio, and I'm pretty sure I suffer from climate depression.
Although I've been a climate activist since 2007, co-organised the climate and anti-racist camp in Hamburg in 2008, all the while teaching a one-year course on the climate crisis at the University of Kassel, I first approached the climate issue with the strategic view of an anti-capitalist not really interested in "eco-issues". But the real extent of the threat gradually became clear to me as I was dealing a lot with global climate justice movements: working with comrades from the Philippines or Bolivia, you realise quickly that this isn't a futureproblem, it's a nowproblem.
But: as a storyteller, as a "magical realist" of the climate justice movement, it was my job to tell hopeful stories in which the dea ex machina"movement" would somehow, at some point manage to fundamentally turn things around, towards a climate-just world without global environmental collapse. Unfortunately, this goddess too, like all other deities, was merely a figment of my imagination, an exaggeration of the real transformational power of a relatively scattered bunch of radical climate activists.
When did I actually realise that it was already too late to avert climate collapse? I think it was in spring 2018, when all of Berlin reeked of forest fires at the end of April. Forest fires, in northern Europe, in spring? That's when I realised that the escalation of climate crisis effects was happening so rapidly that we must already be in a state of progressive climate collapse, that the macro tipping point of the climate system had already been passed; that we were moving rapidly towards a hothouse earth, even an uninhabitable earth.
Since then, the anti-coal movement, to which I had basically devoted my entire adult life, was defeated by Team Coal in the "Coal Commission"; Fridays For Future, my next messiah, too, was defeated, this time by a cocktail of ignorance, cooptation and their own lack of radical courage.
Since then I have lost my job, not only, but also because my climate agitation became too loud and insistent for my Left Party-associated employer. Since then, my first boyfriend, my most important family member since I started living a gay life, in essence broke with me because he could no longer stand my constant, incessant criticisms of a normality in and from which he continues to live quite well. Since then, I have had less and less, now de facto almost no relationship at all, with my "blood family", because even there (in a politically centrist upper-class family) they can no longer really stand having to constantly listen to my climate-rants, and attacks on their "insane normality", or alternatively, because I simply can't stand their blasé ignorance of a terrifying reality that is all too obvious to me.
Since then I have fallen into a political depression, which in turn led me into an abusive relationship that lasted 2 years. On the one hand, so that I could forget the climate crisis in the loving submission under, and the for a while almost permanent druggy high with, a relatively apolitical liberal; on the other hand, because my "failure" in the fight against coal and German car capitalism, because my inability to avert the climate crisis meant that I no longer deserved to be loved or even treated decently (in my supremely ambitious bourgeois family, only those who achieve maximum performance are loved – anything below that is met with silence or disdain).
Put differently, I (almost?) let myself be reduced to an emotionally dependent and drug-addicted abused "mistress", because that was still preferable to engaging with this lousy world that could never be made fundamentally better, but which might at best only get worse more slowly. I remember moments with my ex, the bad man, where I begged him to get me so high, to fuck up me up so thoroughly, that I would never read a newspaper or watch the news again - because sometimes, I cry every morning and every evening when I read, hear and see once more how fast the world is hurtling towards the abyss.
These days, when I meet people - whether I know them already or not doesn't matter - one of my first questions is usually "how many 'good' years do you think we've got left?", and the answers vary from "don't wanna think about it", via 5-10, to 10-15 years. The largest cluster of answers lies in the middle, i.e. most people who think about the problem and with whom I talk about it believe that we have a maximum of "10 good years" left. And yet, every day, "normal" (that is to say: batshit crazy) life just goes on.
Sometimes I feel like a soldier with PTSD coming home after a war, incapable of understanding how the people around him just carry on as though nothing were happening, as if the world weren't crashing down around us. So I write this newsletter, where I occasionally share my grief, and, ideally, sometimes add to the movement's general knowledge; get into shouting matches on Twitter; talk to the press, try to write books & support activist groups. Lately, I've even taken to going back to demos & actions after for a long while experiencing them mostly as massive downers.
And yet, the world grows a little darker every day. Every withered blade of grass is a portent, every drop of sweat that runs down my forehead at half past eight in the morning is a reminder of a catastrophe that is not coming, but that is already here. Whenever I think of a relationship with – my romantic imaginary apparently entirely colonised by Hollywood's mythology of love - an impossibly perfect man, I no longer think of growing old togther, but of extracting the maximum amount of joy possible from the next 5-10 years, & then perhaps making a graceful exit together. Why live to be 70 in a hellscape?
Climate anxiety is ruining my emotional life, my professional life, destroying my financial security, adding hugely to my drug consumption, changing the way i look at the sky, the sun, the rain, and I can't properly talk to anyone who doesn't understand all of this.
The climate catastrophe is not going to destroy my life. In a very real sense, it already has, because the capacity to feel unbridled joy and hope that has defined my life for some 3 decades now, has almost disappeared from my life.
Is this climate depression? Or just climate realism? How do you experience it? And if you experience it even a little bit like I do, like Sara Schurmann does - then come out of the closet. Join us, you'll see: it might be hard at the beginning, but then it feels good.
Come out. Because we're right. Also, because we have cookies.