The last time I was in LA, I hired a Dodge Charger and navigated the huge freeways meeting a client and then visiting a friend. I remember going for a fabled In-N-Out burger and seeing the sky turn orange due to Californian wildfires.
I took a photo, ate my burger, and got back in the car. It’s amazing how quickly we normalise quite extreme things in our lives. Since then, my understanding, awareness, and action around the climate emergency has changed dramatically. But that’s taken five years, and we haven’t got time for everyone to come to their own epiphany; the world is on fire.
The great irony of climate change is that, even though it is now occurring at an incomprehensibly rapid pace from a geologic perspective, it is still moving too slowly for humans to understand it as the crisis that it is. Few of us are geologists, and thinking like one is easier said than done.
I think this is why there haven’t been more successful films about climate change. We love movies about existential threats—mainly aliens—but in those stories individual characters make decisions to deal with the crisis within a couple of weeks. One of the few blockbuster films to deal directly with climate change, The Day After Tomorrow, imagined an Ice Age apocalypse that settles over Earth in a matter of days. Climate scientists rightfully criticized the movie, but I think it says something profound about the climate problem: Unless we unreasonably turn up the speed dial, we are incapable of fitting climate change into the kind of narrative that human beings are used to processing.
And yet, here we are, causing one of the fastest shifts the planet has ever experienced. The sheer pace of change playing out right now is making it harder for us to maintain our myth of a stable planet. The stability fantasy is beginning to crumble.