Against Hope: What World in 2050

written in 2019

whiteness of the melting snow


        and we?
               until next christmas?
                     till monday?

tomek kowalski[1] (2005)

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make an beginning.
The end is where we start from. [...]
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

T.S. Elliot, Four Quarters (1943)

In one of the sociology classes I have taken last year we were asked for our final essay to describe our vision for the world in the year 2050 and how we imagine we get there. I have dreaded writing that essay for weeks. A fairly common case of student procrastination, one might say; but it is not. The dread goes deeper than that, and it touches profoundly upon the fear of facing the reality we find ourselves in.

Alone during my lifetime, the world I know have changed a lot and will soon change even more – to the point of unrecognisable. Current analyses suggest that the IPCC’s 2018 devastating report on climate crisis was, in fact, too optimistic; according to these prognoses, the year 2050 will mark the begin of global spiral into chaos that is likely to end humanity in a wink. It’s not a matter of maybe anymore: we will face numerous cataclysms and further destruction of ecosystems; wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and heatwaves ready to kill will soon be the new normal. Indeed, it is happening already – just check your news. Whether we realize it or not, we stand at the beginning of the final revelation of slow violence.[2]

[1] tomek is not a famous poet, but my friend, that happens to write amazing poetry. Our conversations inspired this essay greatly, for which I am very thankful. The original poems are in Polish, we collaborated on the translations to English.
Find tomek at

[2] Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.

In short, it seems that my generation is the one that will actually be able to make plans for the end of the world – and it’s scary. The news streaming in from all around the world is by no means good: as Derrick Jensen already some years back reported, “the most common words I hear spoken by any environmentalists anywhere are, We’re fucked.”

Oh yes we are. We can cry about it, throw tantrums, or fall into despair; it will not change much, because the things that could actually pardon our death sentence are damned to be too utopian, unrealistic, too big, too weird, too unreachable. But we don’t want to admit that. We fight back against the status-quo-lobbies, despite overwhelming helplessness. We organize and organize some more. We have minor successes. We face great failures. We scream into the upcoming void till we can no more and burn out trying to save the world. Never stop. Never rest. Crying from rage and frustration.

And this is why it’s so hard for me to write an essay on the year 2050: because being able to imagine a livable world in 2050 would mean I still insist on pretending to have hope and that I am not crushed under the weight of alarmingly apocalyptic climate reports and future visions of the inhabitable planet. Truth be told, I’m with Paul Kingsnorth on that “whenever I hear the word ‘hope’ these days, I reach for my whisky bottle”. I do too.[3] I get insufferably decadent, with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other – not believing that the civilization will survive long enough to see me getting a lung cancer.

[3] Well, I don’t drink whisky; but you get the idea.

As you may have noticed by now, this is not going to be a typical academic paper. The issue at hand is way too personal and emotionally exhausting to write in an orderly and detached manner: I’m convinced that in order to prepare for the end of our world, we need to get real, beyond best-case scenarios and wishful thinking. With the words of Chögyam Trungpa, my favourite wisdom-bringer of the twentieth century:

We must allow ourselves to be disappointed, which means the surrendering of me-ness, my achievement. We would like to watch ourselves attain enlightenment, watch our disciples celebrating […]. This never happens. […] We fall down and down and down, until we touch the ground, until we relate with the basic sanity of earth. We become the lowest of the low, the smallest of the small, a grain of sand, perfectly simple, no expectations.

When we are grounded, there is no room for dreaming or frivolous impulse, so our practice at last becomes workable. We begin to learn how to make a proper cup of tea, how to walk straight without tripping. Our whole approach to life becomes more simple and direct, and any teachings we might hear or books we might read become workable. They become confirmations, encouragements to work as a grain of sand, as we are, without expectations, without dreams.

CHögyam Trungpa, myth of freedom and the way of meditation

There is no need for despair in abandoning high hopes – the only thing it requires is a change of perspective. We didn’t panic with the first signs of bees disappearing; we did not shed a tear over polar bears dying of hunger either. The pattern, resembling the famous words of Martin Niemöller,[4] is an answer to the question why we call our times Anthropocene: we didn’t care about climate crisis until it had occurred to us that what follows is a total destruction of our own species. Now that we do care (well, at least some of us do), it might already be too late for redemption.

In some ways, however, I think we are missing the point here. The planet will be fine, eventually – and this is what lets me sleep at night despite the existential anxiety about my own tomorrow. The existence is, in fact, eternal.[5] Ecosystems, when freed of the causes of destruction and degeneration, will recover and build new thriving cycles of life and death: assuming otherwise is like believing that the world stops existing when we close our eyes.

We have to deal with our own unimportance. We must, with all honesty, imagine the end of us and go beyond the desperation to the point where there is no losing, no winning, and no hope:[6] that is, to a point of ultimate acceptance. It is the coming to terms with losing everything that puts us in a position to be honest about ourselves, our situation, our perspectives; a position from which we can truly act without fear or ambition. Only a candid embrace of reality holds a potential to let go of our survival obsession that makes us small and think clearly about what to do with the time we still have left.

[4] “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

[5] I must give Alan Watts credit for this point.

[6] I dare to refer to the wisdom of Buddhist Heart Sutra here. I do not claim to understand it. But it helps me get by anyway. If you’re up for it… Karl Brunnhölzl ‘The Heart Sutra Will Change You Forever’.

Is there room for hope there? Yet again I have to side with Kingsnorth: “giving up hope, to me, means giving up the illusion of control and accepting that the future is going to be improvised, messy, difficult….”. Or, in other words (whispered from the top of the Dark Mountain): “After we stop pretending… […] Whatever hope is worth having, it lies on the far side of despair, where the maps run out, at the margins or hidden in plain sight.”

Sometimes we cry
forgetting that it is
it should be...

- being the silence,
at least for a moment –
we have home everywhere...

And nowhere...

/tomek kowalski (2002)
we are living in impossible times. if it were fiction it would be critiqued as hyperbolic. if it were nightmares we would never sleep. […]
it feels like everything is broken. we must, each of us, fix our attention on the nearest wound, conjure within us the smallest parts of ourselves that are still whole, and be healers. heal with words and prayer and energy, heal with money, clean water, time and action.
there's enough destruction. there's enough nothingness swallowing the living world. don't add to it. there's enough.
our visions are ropes through the devastation. look further ahead, like our ancestors did, look further. extend, hold on, pull, evolve.

 / adrienne maree brown, ‘we are living in impossible times’

Talking to various knowledgeable people (and reading a bunch more) left me convinced that we do not have enough time and tangible enough strategy to change the system and stop the crisis in its tracks.[7] We can put our hands to work trying to build alternatives we consider palpable and hopeful, but in the end, nobody can tell what the world in 2050 will look like. Every alternative is met with resistance, not because of its (lack of) merits, but simply because “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”.[8] We can dream about de-grown, eco-social economies lived through local, truly democratic and resilient communities; these are worthy dreams that should not be forgotten. There are people among us and around the world already building crucial focal points of prefiguration of these dreams; they should be given all the help and support in nourishing the seeds of a different society.[9]

[7] If you know something I don’t, let me know. Seriously.

[8] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

[9] To mention a few: Zapatistas community in Chiapas, Rojava region in Syria, Kerala region in India, Eco Villages all around the world, solidarity- and commons-based economy and agriculture, indigenous Andean Buen Vivir… No matter what, these stories need to be told: for if there is a future in human history, we will absolutely need all those emergent strategies see also e.g. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy. Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.

However, in the meantime, we are driving towards a cliff with full speed, and the main issue at hand right now is to prepare for what’s coming: to be ready to the enter the global strife; to enter the dark night of humanity with a strong promise of social justice and an ocean of compassion. I do not believe any kind of different society is possible unless we collectively wake up – and as far as I got to know human nature, it will require more than a light push; probably something resembling a swing with a hammer to the head (or a global rise in temperatures of 2… 4… 6 degrees Celsius? How stubborn are we really?).

That is why it is imperative for our activism to be rooted in spirituality: because facing ourselves and the upcoming storm with radical honesty and compassionate heart will be the biggest challenge of our lives. We need to become warriors, in the Tibetan sense of the word pawo: “the one who is brave”.[10] Brave enough to not try to live up to the world we want to be but live down to the one we have. Face the truth. Become that grain of sand.


[10] Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.

the impact of all of the knowledge that has arisen… looking under the carpets, and in the closets and behind the scenes of spirituality, and of ourselves, and of our traditions, has forced us to abandon wishful thinking about being better people. We’re finally beginning to realise that the whole project of becoming somebody different and somebody better is bogus; it’s actually a lie. […] What we have to do is – instead of living up to the person that we think we could be – we have to live down to the person we are already. It’s down, down, down; down to the darkness of unconscious, down into the darkness of the earth, because that’s where the answers lie. That’s where the deepest self really lies and that’s where the sacredness of the universe is found.

reginald a. ray, spiritual path is down

For me, this comes before any attempt to save the world. Without honesty, we are just floating in our illusions. Truthfully, we can start from our inherent goodness to build strong communities, ready for the challenges of tomorrow. “A warrior knows that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and while he waits, he wants nothing and thus whatever little thing he gets is more than he can take”.[11] Thankful. Not hopeful.

[11] He or she. Or them.
Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality. Further Conversations with Don Juan.

Instead of imagining the world in 2050, I’d rather think about Now; without Now, we lack the ground, the basic sanity of earth. Every road has to start somewhere; that somewhere cannot be anywhere else. Hope “robs us of the present moment”; thus depriving us of the capability of doing.

Forget hope. Let’s put our hands together to rebel against the oppression, exploitation, and destruction, let’s be rebellious on every step of our daily life. Let’s organise. Build communities. Build movements. All without forgetting: we are going to die.[12]

Isaac Yuen, in response to Jensen radical stance on hope, writes: “in the end, I find myself unable to fully embrace his argument. His standards are too high, his stance too certain. I am not strong enough, not brave enough, and perhaps most importantly, not honest enough to reject hope in all its forms.”

[12] So much amazing things happen collectively as we speak… So many wonderful ideas. I’m actually in awe about that; to the point that I’m going to reference a book here that in its title alone goes against this essay – but I basically think it’s semantics and it doesn’t matter. I’m sure Joanna Macy would understand. So make sure to reach at some point for “Active Hope” – Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope. How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.

Let’s be brave enough. I know we can…

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

/ T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (1943)


I lost the key to
house and suddenly the world
became my home
like it’s home to all life

in one body and one soul
a friend grows with me

and my enemies are my friends
not knowing I take them for my teachers

the same sun that’s inside me
illuminates the whole earth
tears of rain revive life
with an open flesh of the heart
I throb the same rhythm as

/ tomek kowalski (2018)

Post Scriptum.

This essay had a soundtrack to it. You can listen to it here:  

All References

Ahmed, Nafeez (2019) ‘New Report Suggests “High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End” Starting in 2050’, VICE, 3 June.

brown, adrienne maree (2017) Emergent Strategy. Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. AK Press.

brown, adrienne maree (2017) ‘we are living in impossible times’, 2 October.

Brunnhölzl, Karl (2017) ‘The Heart Sutra Will Change You Forever’, Lion’s Roar, 29 September.

Castaneda, Carlos (1991) A Separate Reality. Further Conversations with Don Juan. Washington Square Press.

Chödrön, Pema (2011) ‘The Benefits of Hopelessness’, One Dharma Nashville, 9 January.

Eliot, T. S. (1943) Four Quartets.

Fisher, Mark (2009). Capitalist Realism – Is there no alternative? Zero Books.

Foran, John (2018) ‘The Varieties of Hope’, Resilience, 2 July.

Hine, Dougald (2019) ‘After We Stop Pretending’, Dark Mountain, 22 April.

Jensen, Derrick (2006) Beyond Hope, Orion Magazine.

Macy, Joanna and Johnstone, Chris (2012) Active Hope. How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. New World Library.

Nixon, Rob (2013) Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press.

Ray, Richard A. (2013) ‘The Spiritual Journey is Down’, Dharma Ocean.

Trungpa, Chögyam (2005) The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation. Shambhala Publications.

Trungpa, Chögyam (2007) Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Shambhala Publications.

Wallace-Wells, David (2017) ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, New York Magazine, 10 July.

Yuen, Isaac (2013) ‘Beyond Hope, by Derrick Jensen’, Ekostories, 5 September.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: