What If?

words by Willow Defebaugh

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

“Is there a dimension where we didn’t poison our planet? Is there a dimension in which we acted as proper stewards for our environment, where we lived in concert with nature?”


It’s an intriguing question posed by Brit Marling in our interview for Atmos: Latitude. The actor and screenwriter is reflecting on the inspiration behind her most recent cult-hit, The OA, an exploration of parallel realities—and why the series struck such a cultural chord.


“One feels as one gets older that the choices you make really send you off on these forking paths,” she continues. “The farther you get out on a limb, you make one decision, and you go one way instead of the other—and then another way into another. Eventually you’re very far out on a quite fragile limb, and it’s hard to go back to the trunk of that tree.”


Toward the end of our conversation, I ask Marling whether or not she believes certain events are inevitable—like, for example, her meeting her co-creator of the show, Zal Batmanjali. While she wonders what the different iterations of their meeting might have looked like in other lives, Batmanjali says that he prefers to imagine the opposite.


“I like the version where we never meet. I like that because it suggests that this dimension in which we are storytellers together, it’s precious. It could have not happened—it is not inevitable that it would happen. I don’t know, there’s something more beautiful to me, more akin with the natural world. Sometimes it’s just the mixture of the rain and the sun and the position of a tree that produces a certain flower. And I like to think that we are buds on those trees. That it’s so arbitrary, and that arbitrariness is what makes it beautiful.”


It’s tempting to imagine a world where glaciers in the arctic aren’t disappearing, where the President of the United States isn’t withdrawing from progress, and where birds are facing mass extinction in parts of the world. But that would also ignore a world where individuals are willing to risk their lives for future generations, where artistry and imagination are being used to inspire change, and where the highest courts are determining that the companies responsible for the climate crisis should be held accountable by law.


Until science tells us otherwise, this is our only Earth. So, as the late Mary Oliver once wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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