Forever Ours?

Michael Leunig illustration

On this, the shortest day of the year, the darkness is profound.

There's, of course, the staggering growth in new coronavirus cases -- more than 140,000 a day and more than 800,000 COVID deaths in this country alone.

There are also signs that the effects of the climate crisis are worsening -- together with its effects on the mass migration of refugees as economic, social and political pressures mount. And a growing threat of autocratic and totalitarian regimes as democratic institutions are attacked ... including in the United States.

Simply put, it's hard to find obvious signs of hope.

So when I sent off holiday greetings recently to friends and those I love, it was the "FOREVER" stamp in the corner of each envelope that screamed out at me.

Like Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, with its repeated line, "Forever, and ever, hallelujah! Hallelujah!" there seems a sudden hollowness in the word we barely question.

Is there still a forever? We may ask ourselves, as we tuck in our children for the night.

I'm reminded of the Doomsday Clock, which the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists adopted in 1947, in the aftermath of Hiroshima to "warn(s) the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet."

Beginning at 7 minutes to midnight, with the clock counting down to 3 minutes before midnight two years later, and 2 minutes before midnight by 1953, the prospect of global had cooled in 1960 with the help of disarmanent talks. Since 1991, when the clock was at 17 minutes to midnight, the danger level has crept up. For 2021, we've been at just 100 seconds until midnight.

"Social media, search engines, always-on mobile computing technologies, and other technology applications have exploited human cognitive propensities to be misled and enraged and to react impulsively, exacerbating political and ideological differences. Established institutions that have traditionally provided a trusted center that supports societal stability—government agencies, especially those related to public health and climate change, journalism, the judiciary, education—are under attack precisely because they have provided stability."

The Bulletin, which typically resets its clock at the start of each year, adds, "The widespread dysfunction in today’s information ecosystem is a threat multiplier that vastly complicates society’s ability to address major challenges. Pandemic responses in some countries, including the United States, have provided graphic demonstrations that such concerns are not merely theoretical ... with tragic results.

And yet, at Solstice, we're reminded that daylight returns anew. As with the start of the new year in some traditions, we see yet another chance to awaken our collective consciousness and our societal conscience to push back the darkness.

For those of us with children and grandchildren, there needs to be a forever. After two and a half million years -- or more -- of human evolution, it's inconceivable that we would allow nuclear annihilation or the effects of climate disaster and species extinction to erase life on our planet. If this sounds like hyperbole, it's because the reaction to the unimaginable crises we face NOW has been denial.

As our precious days begin to lengthen, we need greet them with gratitude. And a commitment to the difficult work ahead to brighten the future of coming generations.


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