Green Battle Fatigue

You work in a “green field”. All those politicians talking about green collar jobs? That’s you.

You feel good about going to work. You feel like you’re making a difference, helping save the world in some way or another.

You worked your ass off in college, and you were involved in a lot of clubs and organized a lot of events: green job fairs, Earth Day, sustainability clubs, etc. You volunteered a ton.

Now you work really, really hard. You know the scope and scale of the world’s problems are enormous, but you know that a million people making a little bit of progress each adds up. You don’t mind working late. You often pull all nighters and spend sunny weekends indoors to meet a deadline even though the pay is, y’know, whatever.

The purpose of your work is compelling, and that’s why you’re passed out under your desk at 4AM drooling on industrial carpet, not really sleeping but not really awake either. Hyper-efficient green designs float around your mind’s eye, and tables of emissions numbers, energy projections and life-cycle analyses scroll across the inside of your eyelids like a cruel marquee.

Your reading list over the past decade is a trail of bread-crumbs leading up to this point in your life. Silent Spring, Natural Capitalism, World Made by Hand, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Monkey Wrench Gang, Cradle to Cradle, The Worldchanging Handbook, The Ecotechnic Future, Peak Oil, Guns, Germs, and Steel, The Collapse of Complex Societies, The Ecology of Freedom, Europe and the People Without History, The End of the Long Summer, The IPCC Report on Climate Change, 2004, 2007, 2011.

But things are starting to change in you, a little, subtly. You are more scared now. You have hope for the future – what choice do you have? – but sometimes, late at night or when you drink by yourself, you’re scared out of your mind. Sometimes your vision blurs a little bit and you miss when you go to pick something up off the table. Every once in a while, a random beautiful four year old will run giggling by and you’ll be overcome with vertigo and need to sit down, and you’ll look at the ground so people don’t see you crying. And you won’t really know why the tears are flowing, not exactly.

You go through intense periods of burn-out. You question whether or not anything you’re working on will make any damn bit of difference in the end. The responsibility you feel to accomplish things that actually matter is crushing, but the forces that thwart the real change you’re trying to implement seem indomitable. Even if you think what you’re doing is worth doing in the long run (you have doubts about that, too), you’re not sure it’ll even be allowed to exist. You’re not sure it won’t get commodified, subsumed, procured, ignored, torn down.

You go through periods where it’s difficult to focus on anything. These times can last days or weeks. Your stomach is often in a knot and you’re pretty sure your heart beats too fast most of the time. Maybe that’s just the gallons of shitty coffee you drink to make it through the day because you can’t fall asleep at night. You’ve been losing weight for years even though you aren’t trying to.

You have a sneaking suspicion that you are a paranoid delusional, but the things you’re scared about are the same things people like James Hansen are scared about. James Hansen isn’t a paranoid delusional, is he? You want desperately to be wrong. It actually feels better when people scoff at your fears. You hope they’re right.

You had a pleasant conversation over coffee with someone a lot smarter and more educated than you, and she mostly appeared to agree that your fears were legitimate. You hope she was just being polite. You hope you are in an ideological echo chamber, reinforcing extreme viewpoints that deviate over time from reality. You secretly hope that you are the type of person you routinely rail against.

What do you do?

What can you do?

You stop arguing with people who think everything is fine. They seem happy; leave them be. Maybe they know something you don’t instead of the other way around.

You push on. You keep fighting the good fight (you think) because the choices are clearly

  • A) Keep fighting or
  • B) Blow your mind out on obscenely irresponsible quantities of recreational drugs

You keep refining the purpose and aim of your work with the intent of working on things that can actually help other people. You become less tolerant of obvious bullshit. You call people out on their greenwash to their faces in crowded rooms. You can see in their eyes that to them this is more of the same money game we’ve all been playing and it makes you nauseous. This is not a game to you.

You are the fulcrum of fourteen generations.

Seven generations of your ancestors are screaming at you. This is the world we built. This is what we fought and bled and died for. This world is the culmination of our dreams and aspirations. We sacrificed everything to build this world and you are trying to destroy it. How dare you. How dare you.

Seven generations of your descendents are silently observing you. They do not speak, but their eyes say everything. They say that they want to live on a planet filled with life. They want to live in a rich, diverse world, like you did, with opportunity for peace and fulfillment.

By the time your descendents are alive there will be little choice left; theirs will be lives of adaptation and reflection. They will reflect on what those who had the knowledge and power to act actually did with their time and energy.



Be sure to catch the follow-up posts to this on not giving in to green burnout part I, part II, and part III.

4 Responses to Green Battle Fatigue

  1. xtna says:

    love this post (been awhile since I checked in), esp the fulcrum of 14 generations. !! i’m annoyed about being so busy, because it often feels like unproductive busy work. plenty of volume, not enough quality.

    • tylerjd says:

      Thank you. I hear you on being busy… oftentimes feel like if I just had a second to breathe and take a step back I’d be able to figure it out and refocus onto the critical path… uncertainty regarding what that path actually is the kicker though.

  2. Chris from Vancouver says:

    I just found this site from the Do The Math site and I’m through it now. Thank you for expressing your worries especially for the future of your children and down the generations. We need more people (7 billion of them I say!) that need to forward looking and worried like you.

    The Green Design vs. Green Tech was spot on. That page is now on my reference bookmark folder.

    • tylerjd says:

      Right on Chris, glad you found something that resonates here. Tom’s site is absolutely superb.

      Step A is be worried… step B is figure out what to do about it and do it. Still struggling with that one, but I’ll be working through my answers to that question here. Welcome!

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