Baruch Blum

Breaking with Normalcy in Our Climate Emergency

Photo by USGS (United States Geological Survey) on Unsplash, free to use under the Unsplash License
Photo by USGS (United States Geological Survey) on Unsplash, free to use under the Unsplash License

I’m hoping that writing this blog will relieve me of some of the tension I feel in my day-to-day interactions. That is, the tension between the desire to carry on normal conversations and the nagging knowledge that we are not in normal times, that we are, according to a consensus of scientists, in desperately urgent times. And for any climate change deniers out there, I hope you stay with me here, even if it’s just to appreciate what to you might seem like the ramblings of a brainwashed mind. I myself entertain at times the possibility that it’s all some kind of folly or scam. The paradox is that becoming more of a climate change activist has actually at times heightened my level of questioning. I’m embarrassed to say, though I doubt I’m the only one, but the prospect of coming out looking like an idiot sometimes feels scarier than the prospect of global catastrophe. Which is why I sometimes find myself, while at a protest or having an argument, ridiculously worrying that maybe I’m the crazy one and maybe there isn’t any real climate change threat after all – when that alternative would actually be the best possible scenario. 

But the thing is, my own emotions about it all are trivial compared to the issue itself, of course, and I wouldn’t even be talking about them, were it not for the fact that a lot of the rhetoric I see leveled against climate activism seems to be directed at the mental and emotional states of the activists. There must be something wrong with me and my fellow protesters if we’re standing in the middle of the street blocking traffic crying out about a potential apocalypse. Are we not just another cult? And I do find myself asking that sometimes, until I take stock and realize, wait a minute, but most people actually agree with the basics of what we’re saying. That usually isn’t the case with cults. 

So what’s going on? How is it that so many people agree that we’re putting the entire planet at some level of existential risk, and yet at the same time blocking a road in protest is seen as an extreme act? I can’t help but get the feeling that there’s some sort of inverse cult of normalcy going on, whereby the threat of climate catastrophe is acknowledged but compartmentalized to an absurd degree in order to maintain the status quo. I’m thankful that I’m a bit of a weirdo anyway, so that I’m less susceptible to the draws of societal norms. But this is what I mean by the tension I feel in everyday interactions. When normalcy seems to be a driving force putting society on a pathway toward potentially immense levels of suffering and death, then playing along with the normal can feel like being complicit in that catastrophe. 

Of course, then when I do bring this up in the course of normal conversation, like around a Shabbos table with family, it can get messy. It’s hard not to come off as judgmental or arrogant or self-righteous when you’re telling people that they should change their ways. Not to mention whatever amount of hypocrisy there is given my own fossil-fueled flaws. Am I being a good person by forcing attention onto an urgent issue that we all have to act on immediately, or am I just being obnoxious? 

So, dear readers, my purpose in writing this blog is to hopefully inspire – if not your participation in the climate movement – then some sympathy toward us obnoxious ones emboldened or desperate enough to try to do something to change the world, despite the sometimes off-putting impressions some of our attempts might make. We are in for a difficult and, I’m afraid, terrifying ride. As the effects of climate change and the need for drastic action become clearer, more and more people will probably start exhibiting the behaviors of climate “alarmists”. Please be understanding. Who knows, tomorrow it might be you.

About the Author
Baruch Blum is a ''rebel'' with Extinction Rebellion NYC (, trying to convince people to treat the climate emergency as an emergency. He also teaches Yiddish at The Workers Circle (
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