Note: My interview with Daniel Sherrell is up now at Conspirituality Podcast.
For me, reading Daniel Sherrell’s Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World was like getting caught in a summer downpour. Within a few pages I gave up on keeping dry, and checking my phone. I knew it would be over at some point, and it would be too soon. The rhythm — and, well, the warmth— allowed some kind of surrender. It let time stand still, and gave me the sense of being cleansed.
“Downpour”comes to mind because the book is beaded and episodic, recording Sherrell’s hours and days as a young climate activist coming to grips with all the feelings. But the drops cohere in sheets with clear contours. I’ll paraphrase some:
Climate reality is ungraspable. Of course we distract ourselves. But we really shouldn’t.
There are global terrors and local mysteries, and we have to attend to both.
We have to organize, but not numb ourselves with management.
We have to mourn, but not become paralyzed.
We have no right to project our terror or depression onto children.
Dystopian fantasies are understandable, but also cheap expressions of bad faith.
There will be no ending to this. It will get worse before it gets better. But this is no cause for despair. It is a call to understand broadly, and work sustainably, and love as best we can.
The literary conceit of Warmth is that of a father writing to a hypothetical future child, bound to face an unrecognizable — but utterly predictable — world of fires and floods. Along with unknown numbers of millennials and zoomers wondering if they should become parents, Sherrell is weighing a primal instinct against a 21st century anxiety. He does it through a 19th century form: a long letter.
A possible father writes into a future that on most days seems impossible, and yet will come. He wants to map out what he’s learned in his decade as a strategist. He wants connection…