Tomorrow will be my last day in Prague for the semester.
On my flight to Prague, I read a collection of essays called The Spirit of Prague by Ivan Klíma, a famous Czech writer whose work was illegal under the Soviet regime. The essay in the collection that I have found most memorable was published during that time—meaning, Klíma probably published the essay through samizdat, the underground network of publishing and distribution by private typewriter. Titled “The End of Civilization,” the 1975 essay is a contemplation on the future of the world in light of the climate crisis: Klíma imagines that groups within society will begin to take desperate actions (he mentions people blocking roads “with their own bodies,” as organizations such as Extinction Rebellion have been doing recently) to prevent global destruction, but that it will all be too little, too late, and that civilization will ultimately fall. He further muses upon what new societies in later centuries or millennia may value in place of civilization, and how they might reflect on the legends and legacies of our time, and on us.
The essay struck me deeply, and I carried its resonance through my entire semester. The climate crisis had always mattered to me, but I had yet to contextualize it with the potential imminent end of all that I’ve ever known and cared for. Thus, in my creative writing that followed, I could not shake motifs of dystopia, existentialism, and human apathy. I wrote circles around the questions with which Klíma’s essay had left me. I ultimately devoted my independent study project—which, as part of my program here, replaced my coursework for the last month of my semester—to the same field, and studied the motivations of emerging Czech environmental activist groups—such as Limity Jsme My (We are the Limit), Univerzity za Klima (Universities for Climate), and the Czech branch of Extinction Rebellion—to use direct action protest methods, such as blockades and sit ins. The study, which consisted primarily of interviews with activists, introduced me to a community of individuals who closely associated their climate goals with their social justice principles, integrating the climate movement with a comprehensive new vision for society.
Several of the activists asked me if I plan to enter the climate movement when I return to the United States. The short answer is yes, but I have yet to decide what that will look like. Upon exposure to so many people who believe in the importance of drastic action, I can no longer look at agitated activist Facebook posts as enough to qualify as advocacy. I’ve thought about what I can do with my writing, and with my own lifestyle, but it’s difficult to imagine my own musings and plastic-free shopping reaching too many other people. But perhaps this is where it begins: perhaps a reassessment of my personal interactions with culture and the world will lead the way to how I might change it, or experience a new motivation to save it.
Image: A sign outside an occupational strike by Universities for Climate. (Emily Jaster)