There’s an interesting word in German that describe the restlessness of animals just before migration: Zugunruhe. It got me thinking—there’s probably a similar restlessness at other key transitionary moments. Like the moment just at the start of a wildfire: Lauffeuerunruhe. And the moment right before a storm: Sturmunruhe. This feels like where we are. The tense moment just before the storm or a fire. Or the moment where we feel compelled to move. Or maybe even all three. The pressure has dropped, the sky is darkening. Something is happening. The only thing missing is the ominous music (which surely will be added in the Hollywood version of this story).
Many people—though not all, as our instincts have been dulled from a whole lifetime (or even generations) suppressing our biological reality and focusing instead on our consumer reality—are starting to recognize that great changes are on the cusp. That the current normal was never really normal and will not stick around much longer.
The problem is that others in the herd have their heads down. They’re grazing peacefully or at least trying to—tails might be flickering but jaws are still chewing. Run too early and you risk getting eaten by a predator (or in our case being laughed at by the herd), wait too long and you’ll risk being struck by lightning or engulfed by wildfire. It’s a tense moment. And it’s hard to cry warning when everything seems fine, or at least people keep saying so.
Of course, many others have experienced that sturmunruhe in generations past—sometimes they were right, like those who warned their communities not to trust the European colonists that showed up on their shores, others not so much (a long list of millenarian religious movements could be placed here, from the Seventh Day Adventists—once known as the Millerites—to the more recent Heaven’s Gate, with some obviously more successful in adapting than others).
But the science negates the doubt in this moment of time. The melting of the Western Antarctic, of Greenland, and the world’s glaciers are all but inevitable now, locking in as many as 10 meters of sea level rise (that’s 33 feet!). There will be floods, droughts, lost cities, and an acidic ocean full of plastic and empty of fish. These are trends that are theoretically reversible but probably not in reality. Just as if all the animals of the forest got together and fought back the first flames—not impossible, but not in their nature. Their biology will prompt them to run, not work together.
Fortunately, we are not just products of our biology but our minds allow us to sometimes transcend our instincts and work together for the greater good, even sacrificing ourselves for our larger community. With this trait and with this knowledge—that the skies are already darkening and large storms and fires (of both the proverbial and literal types) are coming—it is up to us to use this energy and restlessness to organize and mobilize others.
To do what? To wake from their consumerism-induced stupors. To help heal Gaia. To prepare themselves and their children for the changes coming. To fight to slow down these ecological changes to give others time to understand what’s happening, to prepare, and to resist—whether that means local community engagement or national participation in efforts like Extinction Rebellion or the Strike for Climate movement. It is not clear if we’ll make it or how many will suffer—humans and other species, and it won’t be clear until we’ve gone through it (if we make it through at all). But on the other side of this transition, if we come out of it with a deeper reverence for Gaia and return to the fold of the Gaian community—not to transcend Gaia’s limits again, then the suffering may have been worth it.