Nothing Ever Ends

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief William Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

WORDS BY WILLIAM DEFEBAUGH

PHOTOGRAPH BY SARAH LLOYD

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“In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything changes.” —Antoine Lavoisier

 

On Wednesday evening, I decided to take a stroll through the streets of Brooklyn. After two days of staring incessantly at screens, scrolling through questions of when we might know what our future might look like, I decided to search the world outside for answers. I wasn’t expecting such a literal sign, but there it was, scrawled in graffiti on a wooden wall: “nothing ever ends.”

 

On the one hand, this message felt uncannily apt for this year in the context of a presidency, a pandemic, a poison, all seemingly without end. On the other hand, it served as a reminder both hopeful and harrowing: According to the laws of nature, nothing is created or destroyed, only transformed. For proof, look no further than the fungi that remold death into new life, or the lives we lost this year, which we saw transmuted into a worldwide movement before our very eyes.

 

With an election so close, it should be clear by now that Donald Trump is not the problem, he is an example and an exacerbator of it. Nearly half of the country voted for ecocide, racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and pretty much every other phobia you can think of. Those people are not going away just because he does.

 

Similarly, we must recognize that Joe Biden is not the sole solution and that we will have to hold him accountable when it comes to advancing climate policy. After all, when the presidential race began, he was one of the weaker candidates on climate. But we pushed him and he listened, which is perhaps the most valuable quality of any leader—and a good omen for the work we will likely be able to accomplish with him in the White House. Still, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it, “We’re not going back to brunch.”

Healing is walking your way forward until someday you realize you walked your way through it.

As climate activists, all of this signals an important reality: that we will likely never reach a point where we can all declare that the Earth is healed and humanity’s only home is saved, that our work here is done. As anyone who has healed a wound knows, healing is rarely some miraculous moment where everything is forever changed; most often, it can’t be marked. Healing is walking your way forward until someday you realize you walked your way through it.

 

I say this not to disparage you, dear reader, but to ask you this question: knowing that we are on a journey without a fixed destination, how might you approach it differently? For starters, you might examine where you are receiving your nourishment, rest, and joy—all of which are imperative not only for your own longevity, but others as well. You might ask yourself: looking beyond this election and this year, how do we integrate the level of activism we have seen into our everyday lives in a way that is sustainable?

 

As Antoine Lavoisier noted in his Law of Conservation of Mass, nothing ends, but everything changes. If we are to understand activists as harbingers of change, then are our very lives not statements of activism? We are activists by nature—agents of transformation, matter in motion, miracles of metamorphosis. What if activism isn’t only about action, but activation, that of humankind’s highest potential? Well, that sounds like work worthy of a lifetime.

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