Our civilization is sleepwalking its way toward near-certain doom thanks to global climate change. Most hours, that plays out in a dim drumbeat of disquieting, but manageable-feeling catastrophes: sneakily rising waters, shrinking water supplies, an increase in paralytic shellfish poisoning. Reading the news can be an exercise in studiously not connecting the dots, so as to not be consumed by a very necessary rage. We’re having to learn how to mourn a glacier, for God’s sake.
Sometimes this feeling of keyed-up helplessness hits closer to home—into our very beds, even. Take this pair of seemingly unrelated recent articles. The first is relatively straightforward: In 2017, a U.S. federal program called Energy Star recommended setting your thermostat to 78°F when you’re at home and awake, and a stifling 82°F while you’re sleeping, as Consumer Reports reiterated last month. As someone currently sweating through my shirt at 77°F, that seems…hot? Very hot? Is this the new normal?
Meanwhile, last week HuffPost asked why we sleep with blankets, “Even If It's Hot AF.” For a good night’s sleep, one of their experts recommends a bedroom in the mid-sixties. Or almost 20 degrees less than the Energy Star guidelines. How much guilt should one reasonably parcel out, then, if you’re just trying to sleep without sweating through the bedsheets?
As with so many things these days, even adjusting the thermostat feels like a heady stew of guilt, complicity, and the always-gnawing dread that your fate is already sealed. In this case, it’s attached to something as fundamental as sleep. I don’t need to, say, drive to the grocery store (emitting greenhouse gases) and buy a plastic bag (hiss!) full of plastic straws that I’m going to heave directly into the ocean. I can just not do those things. But I need to sleep—if only to awake refreshed and ready to do my part as a consumer under capitalism.
This is what it feels like to recognize the enormity of our situation—while realizing there’s virtually nothing you, individually, can do about it. In a way, this is the perfect metaphor: Human beings wanting to remain tucked in safe and sound—under blankets, even—while the world burns.
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