My work pays well but is bad for the world and the environment. I live in Oregon and after this heat wave, I don't think I can live with myself doing this job anymore. But if I quit I'll be unemployed and without prospects. If I stay, I'm worried I'll adjust and get comfortable again and forget how much I need a change. I don’t want to look back at my life and say I not only watched the world burn but spent my life throwing on gasoline. I also want success, food to eat, to easily pay my mortgage and the ability to take the occasional vacation. What do you suggest?
- Hot and Bothered
Dear Hot and Bothered,
Pull back your perspective all the way to space. See the green and blue globe. See it turn brown and spark red with forest fires that spew great black clouds of smoke. See the swirl of hurricanes and the expanding blue changing the map of the globe.
As you experienced this month in Oregon, global warming is here. It is dangerous to human beings. Looking at the world from that big perspective, the global economy looks like one more low lying coastline destined to sink in the coming calamities. Your desire to clear your conscience is natural and reasonable. You’d like to feel at peace with your life and the role you played here.
Until it does sink, you live in an economic system that has not caught up with that global picture. Other people will judge you and it sounds like you will also judge yourself on how well you succeed in the very economic system that created this mess of a heating planet. You want to do the right thing but risking any edge you have in a brutal capitalist world seems like too heavy a price to pay.
You are also smart enough to see that your single act of quitting a job is too small to meaningfully alter the course of global warming. You will be making your life harder while other people do not. And when the big crisis comes, the people with more money will likely have the advantage in fleeing the worst consequences. Taking a step back economically is dangerous now more than ever to you personally.
In short, every aspect of the economic system you currently have looks likely to penalize you for quitting your job, at least without a better prospect lined up. And the system you are in will continue to reward people who pollute the planet for money.
Let’s pull back again, but this time from your question: to quit or not to quit your job. It is too small a binary for the size of this crisis. Meeting the moral demands of this generational threat will take more creativity and ingenuity than a nicely worded resignation letter.
You have found a value. Write it down. You care about this planet you call home. Every day take five minutes to write down what you did to help it thrive. That journey of endeavoring to live by your values may indeed take you to new and better work opportunities, political movements, lifestyle changes, and so much more. But start today and if you can make some progress every day, your life will transform. Give it the proper amount of attention and when your last days come, you can look back at the part you played with the pride you have earned by pursuing excellence in service to your values first.
As death, I can only promise that you will die and so will everyone else. Making the world fit for living while you are here is your job. Neither quitting your job nor staying there answers this bigger question of how to live well on a planet that is starting to burn. But if you ask the question daily of how you can help, you just might figure out how to play your part well and make a difference working with others. And that is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Do you have questions for Death?
Send them to AskDeath@WeCroak.Com
It’s a practical philosophical exercise that is also an advice column :-)
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