Dunkirk

I don’t often have the time (or bank account) to see movies in the theater. But I was pretty excited to be able to see an early 70mm screening of Christopher Nolan’s latest film Dunkirk. I would definitely see it in 70mm or even IMAX if you can. It’s visually stunning. Even more so, I came away feeling that Dunkirk is deeply resonant and thoughtful in its portrayal of war.

Every film about armed conflict and historical battles is a little different. They allow the director or writer to show off skills of historical accuracy, or tell a story that highlights heroes and national symbolism, or pop the hood on human nature and examine why people engage in violence at all.

Previous war films that I’ve seen have often been characterized by unapologetic gore and death, or the worship of self-sacrifice and patriotism, or a chess-like fixation on tactics and strategy. With Dunkirk, Nolan has done something more minimalist, more existential, more literal. Dunkirk is an up-close, personal account of the emptiness of war and the struggle to simply survive for another day.

(Spoilers Ahead)

By following three sets of characters, in a non-chronological weaving of their respective timelines, Dunkirk creates a feeling of disorientation in the audience like that of a shell-shocked soldier. Through the film’s nonlinear telling, a sense of time and order fades. You rarely know when a bullet, bomb, or torpedo is coming until it’s right on you. And Dunkirk not only shows it–it makes you feel it. It’s a rollercoaster of increasing intensity that is only occasionally alleviated for a fleeting moment. A simple piece of bread and jam after being pulled out of the water represents a brief taste of home, safety, and comfort. Until new bombardments ratchet up the danger and intensity again.

The sounds of the film are turned up to 11 and put you in the heart of the action. Every fly-by makes you want to duck. Every gunshot feels like it’s whizzing past your ear. Every tilting camera angle of a sinking ship nudges you to look for a way to get out and stay afloat. These are not moments for heroics. They’re for instinctual perseverance and leaning on the people around you to overcome the blasts and drowning depths.

Dunkirk is filled out and made even more felt by an excellently experimental Hans Zimmer score. With music as texture and just a few overt themes, Zimmer turns the intensity up and down in sync with the rising danger and brief moments of relief. A nearly constant stopwatch-like ticking conveys that time is always running out, while other instrumentals mimic the noises of fighter planes, ships, and munitions. A foundation of strings, synthesizers, and longing horns churn in the background. The melody of hope that appears late in the story is an intrusion of almost otherworldly warmth that washes over you like rays of purifying sun.

Dunkirk tightly fits it all together to depict the terror and disorientation of war. The primal strive to survive against ocean and machine. And the slight but tangible hope for escape and future comfort.

War is hell, as many have said. But Dunkirk perhaps depicts more of a purgatory–somewhere in-between heaven and hell. The Dunkirk beach is a stand-in for all of us trying to survive on this pale blue dot in a vast, dark universe. The twin forces of humans who’ve lost their humanity (the Nazis are symbolically faceless throughout the film) and an indifferent, wild planet constantly threaten to extinguish life and cause a permanent descent into darkness and meaninglessness.

But there is also the small glimmer of hope of making it out–making it home–if you can persevere. In Nolan’s worldview, it’s the industrious humanity of other people who come to the rescue rather than divine intervention. If we can make it another day together, maybe we will all eventually see the end of our existential desperation, and rest in the comfort of a heavenly home.

This Week in Upgrades: February 13

Hi! Happy Monday to you. I took a bit of a break last week, so I apologize if you were waiting for a weekly assortment of interesting things you may have missed. Obviously, that never happened. Sad face emoji.

Breaks and balance and rest are vital. I took my opportunity when I had it. I thrive on staying informed and browsing through all sorts of commentary about what’s going on in the world. But over the last couple weeks, I found myself mostly just getting frustrated at everything little dumb thing. I had to give my brain and emotions some time to recuperate. Have you ever been there? What do you like to do to feel like yourself again?

A recent study suggested that if you’re not getting good sleep you should go camping. Need to get back out in the woods soon.

Here’s what else caught my attention this week…

Do you like spicy food? How do you feel about a “heatless” habanero?

A number of teenage girls are experiencing major depression, with some saying they “get their ‘entire identity’ from their phone…constantly checking the number of ‘tags, likes, Instagram photos and Snapchat stories.'” Yikes.

It’s not just teenage girls. A majority of people will have at least one mental health struggle in their lifetime. What are we doing to support mental well-being?

Thank you, Kids Try…, for making me laugh out loud even in dark times.

The most remote place on Earth, the Mariana Trench, has an “extraordinary” amount of pollution. Humans literally impact every inch of the planet.

Here’s a remarkable look at the unpolluted ocean we should be protecting.

A reminder that much more automation is coming, so we better get ready.

Will this Chrome extension help get us out of our ideological bubbles?

A few books I’ve read recently that I definitely recommend: The Nordic Theory of EverythingInfinite DistractionThe Earth and I

Have a great week!

 

 

This Week in Upgrades: September 5

“So long as the laboring man can feel that he holds an honorable as well as a useful place in the body politic, so long will he be a loyal and faithful citizen.” Those words from an 1894 House of Representatives committee report pointed to the welcome arrival of Labor Day as a federal holiday. Whereas previously, work in America was often characterized by 12-hour or longer days, 7-day workweeks, child laborers, unregulated safety conditions, and appallingly low wages, the late 1800s saw mass unionization and strikes to improve working conditions for everyone.

There’s still a long way to go to achieving the common good–perhaps a total rethink and remaking of the American Dream, achieved through more unionizing, striking, or other collective effort. But I hope that, at least today, many of you are able to rest from your hard work and enjoy the day as you please.

Tons of interesting things in the world and on the web to delve into on this holiday…

Maybe enjoy the day with some oysters? They’re surprisingly great for the planet and for you.

Be careful out there: bad driving is the primary cause of traffic jams. Just another reminder that we all suck at driving.

Looking for something to kick back on the couch and watch? Chef’s Table: France is très bon.

As someone who doesn’t even use Snapchat, this interview with a 14-year-old on how high schoolers use photo- and video-based social media was super interesting. I feel so old.

This is not how the voter-candidate relationship is supposed to look. Money in politics is an ethics issue for both major parties and their candidates.

Life on Earth may have emerged much, much earlier than we thought. Absolutely fascinating.

Hooray for print books (#bibliophile)! Also, could we maybe get to 100% of Americans having read at least one book in the last year? Learning and new experiences make the world go ’round, and you’re talking about a page or less per day to read one book in a year.

Some overzealousness with Zika wiped out millions of bees. Bees can’t catch a break, and we need them to.

A National Institutes of Health review confirms that non-drug treatments like yoga and acupuncture are effective against common pain. +1 for yoga.

Fracking just caused the largest manmade earthquake in US history. I’d say we need to be asking some more questions about an energy extraction process that does this.

Speaking of energy extraction, the fast-tracked Dakota Access Pipeline construction is causing all sorts of destruction and desecration of Standing Rock Sioux land. Protesters were met with pepper spray and dogs. Complete WTF situation.

Here’s a brief history of stop-motion animation. Such a cool art form. Want to see Kubo and the Two Strings.

Hope you have the best week possible. Thanks for reading!

Humans and Nature: Safety Not Guaranteed

Marathon runner attacked by bear. Colorado woman rescues son from jaws of mountain lion. Alligator drowns child at Disney World.

These are just the most notable animal-human encounter headlines from the last few weeks. Google “hiker dies,” and you’ll find several more stories from recent days of people who tragically lost their lives in wild terrain.

Each of these stories is surprising and dismaying–difficult to comprehend. Things seem to be going just fine, and then suddenly nature strikes and someone’s life is in the balance. Social media and mainstream news bring these encounters front-and-center, and we collectively wonder how such a thing is possible in modern society.

Disney should have been patrolling the local waterways, relocating dangerous wildlife, monitoring children at the shore, and putting up signs everywhere warning guests about natural threats.

Lost in nearly all of the conversation about that particular incident is the fact that Disney has built a massive resort in the midst of a complex ecosystem that’s been present and evolving for countless years before humans artificially built their vacation village on top. Is it reasonable to think that with over a million alligators in Florida any human planning is going to be able to ensure a gator won’t be in a given area? When a business has already put up signage saying not to enter the water at the boundary of the resort, should they further have to explain that it’s because a predatory native species everyone should know about may be lurking there in the habitat it’s reigned in long before humans showed up?

Much of the world is now an artificial expanse of human civilization that blankets the existing wild environment. No one expects in suburban Colorado to find a mountain lion in their yard. No one expects to come across a bear and cub while running a marathon. No one expects a child wading into the resort lagoon to be pulled underwater by a gator.

No one expects these things because we believe that our modern society is one of total human domination, ingenuity, and control. We are the top predator, the hunter, the inventor, the architect. Wild predators and wild terrain are dangerous nuisances that should already be engineered out of our experience of the world.

There’s no question we are a dominant, controlling species today. We now alter the climate of the whole planet. We’ve caused many of the Earth’s animals to go extinct or become severely underpopulated. We explore high and low (and leave our mark with trash)–in the near space of our solar system and in the deepest depths of the ocean. No other animal on the planet has done or is doing this.

At the same time, things were not always this way for us. Before they went extinct, there were a number of animals that we were prey to–giant hyenas, cave bears and cave lions, snakes, saber-toothed cats, and others. We were not always at the top of everything, and no matter what we want to believe, we’re still not in control of everything. There remain predators and wild environmental features that can threaten, wound, and kill us.

So, yes, it is absolutely shocking and saddening when someone is severely hurt or even killed by the tooth and claw of nature. My heart breaks for anyone who’s lost a loved one to a violent storm, jagged terrain, or a deadly creature.

But the reason these stories are breaking news is the veil of civilization makes them less common and existential than they were for hundreds of thousands of years. Our faith in utter domination and control may one day be an all-encompassing reality as we continue to alter the planet: no more animal attacks, threatening storms, or fatal terrain. But for now, our existence is one of fragility and unpredictability. Our reality is that safety is not guaranteed. We are always wrestling with the elements and need to be vigilant–whether it’s at a resort or deep in the woods.

 

Humans and Nature: Time to Wake Up

Human beings have not always been around on this planet, and they were definitely not always in Australia. It was only about 45,000 years ago that a group of enterprising Homo sapiens–probably from the Indonesian archipelago–got in some kind of boat and rode the ocean until they happened upon the massive isolated continent of Australia. According to Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, they encountered a wild world of oversized kangaroos and koalas, a species of marsupial lion, birds twice the size of ostriches, “dragon-like” lizards and snakes, and the giant diprotodon–a two-and-a-half ton wombat. It was a vibrant ecosystem of striking creatures, with a long-evolved order and rhythm. It didn’t take long for the human arrival to disrupt it.

“Within a few thousand years, virtually all of these giants vanished. Of the twenty-four Australian animal species weighing 100 pounds or more, twenty-three became extinct. A large number of smaller species also disappeared. Food chains throughout the entire Australian ecosystem were broken and rearranged. It was the most important transformation of the Australian ecosystem for millions of years…The moment the first hunter-gatherers set foot on an Australian beach was the moment that Homo sapiens climbed to the top rung in the food chain on a particular landmass and thereafter became the deadliest species in the annals of planet Earth.”

Human beings’ emergence, migration, and gradual domination of nearly every inch of the planet have been reshaping the Earth since long before the Industrial Revolution and our current fossil-fueled era. Talking about human-caused environmental change and damage shouldn’t be anything radical or surprising. The only thing that is relatively new is the impact we have on the whole Earth–a comprehensive impact that dramatically alters the only planetary home humans have ever had. You may not care much about a few dozen strange species in Australia several thousand years ago, but you should be extremely concerned about the possibility that the Earth will no longer be pleasantly habitable for us in the not too distant future. This is a threat to our own existence.

Take a look at some of the news just from the last week:

Arctic Sea Ice Hit a Stunning New Low in May

This May Was The Hottest May on Record

Alaska 10 Degrees Hotter than Normal From March to May

First Mammal Goes Extinct Because of Climate Change

Earth’s Atmospheric CO2 Concentration Permanently Passes “Point of No Return” Level

If you haven’t been paying attention, this week wasn’t some sort of anomaly for disturbing environmental alarms. You can find similar headlines for every week over the last several months (and years, honestly). We’re wrecking the planet in unprecedentedly vast and swift ways.

It’s too late to deny or ignore. Too late to put climate change any lower than the top spot in global priorities. Too late to have a president that has to be urged by scientists not to allow more oil and gas exploration rather than simply knowing the state of the planet and saying absolutely not. Too late for an already insufficient international climate agreement to be undermined by the short-term interests of the most powerful economic institutions.

Ancient species extinction in Australia may not have been a change or threat that affected the early sapiens miles away in other continents. They probably had no idea it was even happening.

But today we can no longer be naive or pretend that drastic environmental shifts are only occurring far away from where we are in ways that don’t impact everyone. They’re happening in your backyard; they’re happening in my backyard. We cannot hit the snooze button and go back to dreaming everything will be fine. It’s time to wake up.

 

How to Adult: Dream in Years, Live in Days

As best as we can tell, the universe is almost fourteen billion years old. Earth, itself, is about four and a half billion years old. There is exposed rock in the Grand Canyon that is two billion years old. I can’t wait to see it myself later this year.

At up to 80 or 100 years, a human life is just a small sliver of time in comparison to the age of the planet we live on and the rest of the universe we find ourselves in the midst of. The writer of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible describes human life as fleeting as the mist out of a spray bottle–there and then floating invisibly into the next phase.

With just a vapor of time to work with, we owe it to ourselves to think about the course we want our life to take–to figure out how to “suck the marrow out of life,” as Thoreau once said.

No one can have the whole thing planned out at the beginning, of course. Many of us grow up dreaming of becoming a fireman or the president or an astronaut–only to end up doing something much different. Even within a year’s time a lot can change.

But I would argue that there is a way to think about how to live a life that might help you get the most out of it, and it’s pretty simple. Dream in years. Live in days.

The bigger moves and chapters of your life take time. Anyone who decides to go to college rarely chooses to do so on a whim. And college itself takes a handful of years to complete–let alone graduate school if you keep going. Despite its prevalence in film and television, most people don’t decide to get married on a whim either. There’s a slow, sometimes agonizing unfolding of dating, rejection, doubt, dating again, engagement, wedding planning, and then eventually, marriage.

So dream in years. Where would you like to be a few years from now? Another country? Married? In a tiny house you built?

Who would you like to be a few years from now? More compassionate? Less stressed? An artist?

Use your imagination to set a horizon to journey toward.

And live in days. Imagining your future–dreaming in years–will set the path of where you’re trying to go. Living life out, day by day, is how you’ll actually get there. No day can be taken for granted. Life is fragile and unpredictable. “The best-laid plans often go awry.” You have to suck the marrow out of today, not just days in the future. So do the things now that will help you get closer to what you’ve imagined for the years to come, but let the day also feel full and complete on its own. Save up to move if you’re dreaming of moving. Start the degree if you need the education. Take a cooking lesson so you can make more of your own food. Get drinks with that person that you’ve been meaning to get to know better. And laugh, sweat, rest, dance, eat, love, breathe, watch, reflect. Some of the best days can feel like a whole lifetime.

You don’t need a doctorate in philosophy to resonate with Socrates’ lesson that the unexamined life is not worth living. By dreaming in years and living in days, I’m confident you’ll be off to a good start writing chapters of your life that you’ll be truly grateful for. You’ll leave layers of your time in the universe as remarkable as the rock of the Grand Canyon.

 

This Week in Upgrades: December 19

Have you seen The Force Awakens? 10 burning questions from Episode VII (spoiler alert).

 

Why is English such a weird language?

 

We’re in the midst of peak beards. Is there an evolutionary explanation for male facial hair?

 

Google’s self-driving car will become a standalone company in 2016. Why we need these sooner than later.

 

Norway is the best country in the world for humans for the 12th year in a row. Scandinavians do things right.

 

Butter, sugar, flour, eggs. Why do these ingredients perfectly combine to make cookies?

 

What causes the end of the world in pop culture? The 10 types of fictional apocalypses.

 

Always be light on your feet.

 

Eating Well: Food Doctrine of the Mean

Scallops and Juniper
Photo Credit: Netflix

Food is the most universal language. In many places of the world, you can get by without knowing a word of Spanish, Mandarin, or French. They are widely spoken, but not wide enough to encompass all of humanity. No single, literal language does. But if you’re a human being anywhere, you cannot get by for more than a handful of days without consuming and digesting some kind of edible flora or fauna. The cultivation and intake of food are some of the most fundamental activities of being a person. We have to eat. As such, much of our civilization and culture has emerged around the things that constitute a meal and their sources. Over the course of the last few hundred years, many and varied branches of a thoroughgoing food industry have grown, and we now find ourselves high up in the canopy of the culinary tree without a view or an interest in the trunk and roots below that led to its growth.

We now watch food competitions on television and take smartphone pictures of food seemingly as much or more than we spend time eating it. We order out, drive through, and snack on the go while our pans and pantry collect dust at home. We readily recognize the sight of plastic-wrapped packages of meat in bulk without having any idea of how the animal was raised and butchered. We have kids who struggle to identify tomatoes and potatoes in their original, just-picked state. There are chefs and food industry experts who are nearly as popular and well known as Hollywood celebrities are for film.

We are enraptured by the consumption of food. There are two polar extremes. On the one hand, trying too hard: bombastic, absurdist gastronomy with excessive technique and uncomplementary ingredients forced together (which the average person will largely never be able to taste or learn to make anyway). On the other, indolence: processed junk with grotesque amounts of sugar, fat, and carbohydrates encouraging us to indulge in foods that undermine our well-being. In both, there is a lack of understanding true craft—knowing the essential interconnections in ecosystems where edible plants and animals grow, what constitutes quality, true skill, and approachability. Food is the universal language, but few of us are fluent anymore—even many chefs. We live in one of the two extremes. We’ve lost the meaning of a well-prepared meal and the proper amount of reverence it deserves.

In such a paltry conceptual environment, Netflix’s original series Chef’s Table could not have been released at a better time. It’s food television, to be sure, but it supersedes existing programs in a way that makes it more of an artistic philosophical reflection than pop entertainment. Chef’s Table compellingly presents a middle ground between the extremes of fetishized gastronomy and profane processed foods. Each of the chefs featured are struggling to break free from the status quo of the culinary world and provide people with a resonant, grounded food experience.

Massimo Bottura has established the third-best restaurant in the world by simply capturing the essence of traditional small-town Italian flavors and presenting them with the playfulness of a child sneaking tastes in a grandmother’s kitchen. Dan Barber is a prophet for understanding that the best flavors are inherent to the best ingredients, which is ultimately dependent on the health of the soil and the rhythms of nature. His literal farm-to-table restaurant at a barn in rural New York just won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant—the Best Picture Oscar of cuisine. Francis Mallmann is a revered chef with the utmost classical technique, who prefers to cook over open fire on a remote Patagonian island with the closest of companions—journeying through life as a sort of renegade band. Niki Nakayama uses the memory of past meals and personalization to every diner to imbue her cooking with additional layers of curated thoughtfulness and relatability. Ben Shewry shows that exceptional food need not be haughty or showy, that creativity often comes out of necessity, and that care of family and friends is just as important as aspiration for brilliance. And in the season finale, it becomes fully clear that eating well is not limited by place or expectations of how a restaurant and its kitchen should function. Magnus Nilsson prepares some of the most renowned food in the world by picking and preserving what arises in each season in remote Sweden—later preparing it in the intimacy of a 12-seat, tightly-staffed lodge.

Each chef narrates their journey of ambition and failure—of perseverance and gaining insight and originality. Like Aristotelian virtues, flourishing occurs in the balance or mean between the extremes. Culinary arts as a genuine art is about: humility in relation to the dirt that produces everything we take and use to eat; learning and sometimes failing at technique to be able to later freely play with it like a virtuoso instrumentalist; and connecting with other people by prioritizing simplicity and enjoyment over pride and recognition. Show creator David Gelb hopes people, “watch these films and then look at their own lives and the places where they eat and see how it changes their perspective.”

In The Unquiet Grave, Cyril Connolly writes, “The secret of happiness (and therefore of success) is to be in harmony with existence, to be always calm, always lucid, always willing, ‘to be joined to the universe without being more conscious of it than an idiot,’ to let each wave of life wash us a little farther up the shore.”

This kind of harmony—such moderation between trying too hard and indolence—is the way the chefs in Chef’s Table engage cooking, and the earth that brings about the bounty of what can be cooked, in preparation for the people who eat it. We, too, can find genuine happiness through food by coming to see the culinary mean between the extremes as we dine.

Space: The Necessary Frontier

Nothing lasts forever. Nothing we know of now, anyway. Our favorite athletes retire and move on from the sports stage they once starred on. Shows like Mad Men inevitably arrive at their series finale and conclude the stories they began years ago in their pilots. Jazzercise is no longer a trendy way to work out; the popularity of CrossFit today will likely fade in much the same way over the next decade or two. Young siblings grow up and move out—the days of everyone coming home from school and work every night for dinner together can never return. As difficult as it is to fathom the length of time, the universe is just under 14 billion years old, which means it hasn’t been around forever—and it won’t be around forever in the future. It’s hard to anticipate the forthcoming end of something when you’re right in the middle. It seems too far off, or too unlikely to happen. That’s just getting started. There are lots of seasons left. It’s cemented its place in society. That’s at least several years away. I just can’t ever see it changing from the way it is. Change of home is probably the hardest to process. You grow deep roots with the friends you make, the schools you attend, arts and cultural centers you frequent for entertainment, neighbors, favorite places to eat and drink, annual celebrations, the recognizable contours of local topography, seasonal transitions, and overall way of life—then uproot everything to go try to settle in elsewhere. Will the roots go as deep there? What do you do with the trauma of the severed, irreplaceable roots from where you left? Whether you’ve called a place home for one year or twenty, it’s difficult and disorienting to come to the end of something that was such a constituent part of who you are. The reality is that even if we’ve built a sturdy, comfortable home to pass on to our family for generations to come, one day home will have to change for all of us. Our planet, Earth, will no longer sustain the lives of people—whether we’re trying to live out of a cabin near one of the Poles, a hut close to the Equator, or anywhere in between. Eventually, our sun will run out hydrogen to burn and turn into a white dwarf. Before that, the sun will gradually get hotter and hotter as it turns into a red giant. In a little over a billion years, much of the earth will be completely uninhabitable: no plants, no animals, boiling bodies of water. This, of course, assumes that we won’t first completely wreck the planet through more anthropogenic climate change over the next several years. But whether we’re looking at 100 years or 1 billion, it’s become increasingly clear that Earth will not be our sustaining home forever. Space is not only the final frontier, as Star Trek has spiritedly suggested: it is the necessary frontier. We have to find somewhere else to journey to and make home. To do that, we obviously need a place to go and a means to get there. NBD. That colossal project is only in its infancy. We haven’t truly identified any proper earthlike planets. Mars is sort of a half-option: it’s in our own solar system, and with the right kind of engineering we could probably survive there in smaller colonies for a while. But even beyond the difficulties of radiation, bone loss, lack of indigenous oxygen, cramped living space, limited water sources, and the rest, it will succumb to the same fate as Earth with the decay and death of the sun. And though Mars is relatively close, we do not yet have an existing transportation structure to even make a one-way trip. SpaceX, the most innovative space technology company at the moment, recently had viewers around the world on a seat’s edge as they nearly landed a rocket stage for the first time, which would make it reusable—cheapening the costs of space travel and quickening the rate at which missions and innovation could take place. But comparably, that’s like someone being able to only mispronounce “bonjour” and “merci” in relation to free-flowing fluency of the entire French language. It’s stages prior to baby steps. Even infancy may be a bit of a stretch—cosmic exploration is prenatal right now. It’s all kind of a real life, race-against-time drama. Maybe we have several million years, but if we cannot reduce our negative impact on the planet and stabilize the global warming trends, maybe we only have a handful of decades. We can’t count on millions. Can we find a new home in time? Can we develop the complex, powerful technology to get to wherever that is and survive—even flourish—on it? The reality of this urgency and necessity is part of what made the underappreciated film Interstellar so compelling. It’s not merely fiction. Even if you have artistic critiques of Christopher Nolan’s film as a film, its story is solidly founded on one possible version of our future as human beings and the challenges we face to endure (as well as why we should endure). Whether it’s from blight, unmanageable global warming, the death of the sun, or something else that makes earth inhospitable in the end, we need to adventure well beyond the frontiers of the place we call home now if we want to ensure that our own story continues. Like all things, it will not be home forever.

Motion

Rain vis-a-vis ChildHuman beings treat most of life as if “the way things are” was inevitable, and that it can be expected to endure. When we go to sleep, we should be able to wake up the next day and take a long, hot shower, whip together a few organic items for breakfast, commute about town in a trendy vehicle filled with a tank of reasonably priced gas, pick up a quick, well-made latte on the way to work, and settle into our workplace–a climate-controlled environment replete with all sorts of technology we want to use to complete the tasks at hand. And that’s just the basics of everyday life.

Thanks to “progress,” we have a whole spectrum of innovations and comforts that have made our lives easier, faster, more convenient, and more predictable. The way things are now seem like the way they were alway meant to be, and tomorrow will bring more of the same–or better. We’re on the upslope to the (really) good life–thanks in large part to more “stuff” and more manipulation of the world around us to achieve the ends we desire. “We can drill way down into these shales for natural gas and be energy-independent!” “We can brew up great coffee at home on a Keurig, skip the coffeeshop, and save time and money!” “I can stream Game of Thrones on my smartphone way out here in the woods!” And all of that. It’s been a pretty great setup for a while, and feels exactly like the kind of pleasant, ideal path humans were meant to tread. I enjoy many of modern life’s great comforts myself: I’m typing this on a tablet, connected wirelessly to happenings across the world via WI-FI, and sipping great coffee recently shipped over from a country thousands of miles away.

The thing about the inevitability, and the expectation, and the comfort, and the predictability, is that as much as it feels like things are supposed to always be this way, it’s only been so for a relatively short amount of time. We, and our planet, have never known what it would be like for human beings to be able to explore, and dig, and reconfigure, and use just about anything, anywhere, for years and years of time. In recent decades, we’ve had our eyes focused a little more carefully, our ears to the ground, and some of the devices we’ve constructed out and about collecting data to try to understand how the world we are manipulating–which is also the environment in which we live–is changing in response to our dominion. We’re finding out, rather unsurprisingly, that its servitude has led it into a dilapidated state that’s in stark contrast to our perceived “progress.”

If you’ve followed the news in the past several weeks, you’ve likely heard about both the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the White House reports on the status of our planet and its climate, and watched the ensuing–often partisan–furor. The news wasn’t good. If you were open to the notion that the planet is changing in a dramatically negative way–particularly in ways less hospitable to people living on it–they were a fresh reminder that the hot shower-gasoline-Keurig-smartphone dream is actually taxing our world ecosystem in unsustainable ways. If you were unsure or doubtful about an (anthropogenic) changing climate–especially because those with political views you can’t get on board with won’t stop talking about it–these reports and the ensuing activism likely only exacerbated your doubt and irritation.

The problem is that those who actually research such things professionally have had near one-hundred percent unanimity about a human-caused changing climate, in a negative direction, for years now, while the opinion of the general public is that things are probably A-OK on the whole. Or if our opinions are otherwise, we’re tacitly accepting the unsustainable status quo the majority of the time with our action and inaction.

What will it take for us to be shaken out of our expectations-filled, denialist/avoidance slumber? What thing will be the splash of cold water that gets us to jump out of bed and alter the harsh dominion we have held? Will it be when good coffee disappears, potentially later this century, because the growing regions of the world no longer support the plant or climate-change-friendly fungus destroys everyone’s crop? Perhaps we’re willing to settle for much less delicious hybrid varietals of coffee bean, or some other drink altogether–thought tea and cocoa aren’t expected to fare well either.

Will it be a couple of decades straight of debilitating drought in places like California, where I live–resulting in overwhelming water shortages, intolerable heat, and the complete loss of one of the country’s major food-growing regions?

Why is it human nature to wait until it’s too late or too close to home before we actually do something about the challenges before us–especially when we’ve caused them in the first place?

The earth will likely go on just fine long after the planet no longer supports human life at all. It might take a new age or era of time to stabilize from the ways we’ve messed things up, but the world should go on clicking for millions or billions of years pleasantly without any people around. We are not inevitable.

It’s our own future as people who can live and flourish on this planet that is in the balance, and in our power to control toward either a sad end or a different kind of progressive future. And it’s not just the future of generations after us–it’s the future of how we will live, struggle to live, or be overcome as the earth continues to change in our own lifetimes. The most urgent change we need to make is with energy. Fossil fuels, which took hundreds of millions of years to develop, are being culled and combusted in a matter of decades–contributing to an exponential increase in the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is driving the changing climate. Natural gas, a recent darling, is an imposter of an alternative. A quick watch of Gasland, despite its rather propogandic ethos, makes that quite clear.

But before we can make large sweeps in energy policy, we have to get everyone to even agree that the climate is changing in troubling ways. Maybe it needs to be selfishly personal: coffee, maple syrup, drinking water, local air quality, whatever. Find something the skeptic and the complacent will be compelled by. And then, when the furor is a more united voice gaining volume and influence, we have to convince the economic powers in the energy sector to do what is, for them, unthinkable: leave the fuels in the ground. There’s more there to burn than can run out before it’s too late for the climate. But we’re culpable in that too.

Michael Pollan, professor of journalism at the University of California-Berkeley, has famously reiterated with regard to food that we get to place “a vote with our fork” of what we want the food industry and food policy to look like. If we stop buying certain things altogether then there will no longer be a market for those things that aren’t getting purchased. The less we all use anything powered or shipped by means of fossil fuel, the smaller the industry will be. It costs energy corporations $1.8 billion daily just to explore for new sources; it’s doubtful they’d continue if there is no longer a future for them.

While we pursue meaningful energy change on a worldwide scale, it’s up to us all locally to decide each and every day the kinds of things we want to support with our purchase, consumption, and use, and the kinds of things we wish and need to disappear. They will if we all stop supporting them. Life as we know it will disappear if we don’t.

“Because a thing is going strong now, it need not go on forever…This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won’t be a movement, because it will rest upon the earth.” (E.M. Forster, Howards End)