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Roy Scranton's journalism, essays, and reviews have been published in Rolling Stone,, the New York TimesBoston Review, Los Angeles Review of BooksContemporary LiteratureThe Appendix, and elsewhere. He is one of the editors of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War (Da Capo, 2013). His book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene is forthcoming from City Lights in the fall of 2015.

10 November 2013

Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

Very satisfied to have this piece up on The Stone blog at the New York Times, on global climate change, death, and the future. The first few paragraphs follow below: 

Driving into Iraq just after the 2003 invasion felt like driving into the future. We convoyed all day, all night, past Army checkpoints and burned-out tanks, till in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: Flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories, and narrow ancient streets. 
I was a private in the United States Army. This strange, precarious world was my new home. If I survived.With “shock and awe,” our military had unleashed the end of the world on a city of six million — a city about the same size as Houston or Washington. The infrastructure was totaled: water, power, traffic, markets and security fell to anarchy and local rule. The city’s secular middle class was disappearing, squeezed out between gangsters, profiteers, fundamentalists and soldiers. The government was going down, walls were going up, tribal lines were being drawn, and brutal hierarchies savagely established. 
Two and a half years later, safe and lazy back in Fort Still, Okla., I thought I had made it out. Then I watched on television as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This time it was the weather that brought shock and awe, but I saw the same chaos and urban collapse I’d seen in Baghdad, the same failure of planning and the same tide of anarchy. The 82nd Airborne hit the ground, took over strategic points and patrolled streets now under de facto martial law. My unit was put on alert to prepare for riot control operations. The grim future I’d seen in Baghdad was coming home: not terrorism, not even W.M.D.’s, but a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.
And today, with recovery still going on more than a year after Sandy and many critics arguing that the Eastern seaboard is no more prepared for a huge weather event than we were last November, it’s clear that future’s not going away. (Read more...)


  1. Never heard of you until today. This is a wonderfully written piece -- it really brought home what you went through in Iraq, and beyond... thank you.

  2. I'm a 64 year old man thinking more frequently about my own death. Your article was for me very illuminating and open a possible path for me to meditate not only on my personal death but on civilization's as we know it. Losing the innate fear of dying is a gargantuan task, a fear I'm sure would not be easily assuaged or eliminated. But the difficulty of the task is the inspiration for change, since we can consciously accept the inevitable or be violent waken up for our self impose slumber.

  3. Anonymous16:34

    Great article, and the comments over at the nytimes were encouraging. Looking forward to making the time for your past and future writing.

  4. Anonymous21:18

    Interesting tht how things are verbally framed can serve to motivate in wildly divergent ways. Can't "live like every day is your last", because becoming what we want to be takes time and directed effort -- easy to become a deadbeat with this mindset. But if you "live like you're already dead", then maybe possible to make some real, good, other-directed change in this world. And then there is the Egyptian story of the boy who disobeyed this temple priest and asked this oracle what the meaning of life was, which he was told, and his life thereafter was unmotivated, unremarkable, and he died an early death. Words are important.

    I enjoy your writing a lot. Looking forward to reading more of it.

    -- A.M. Mathew

  5. Beautiful, Mr. Scranton. Just beautiful.

    My name is Nina Marie. I am a writer (among other things) from North Carolina. I'm 28.

    I, quite gratefully, stumbled upon your work above on my Facebook feed. I am impressed and inspired, and grateful (again) that you are putting this work into the world for those who are ready/willing to hear it. There are those of us who are; we may be few, but we are growing.

    I am glad that you have a website, as I wanted to share a quote with you from North Carolina's own Thomas Wolfe (from his novel, You Can't Go Home Again):

    "Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.


    All things belonging to the earth will never change--the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth--all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth--these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.

    The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change. Pain and death will always be the same. But under the pavements trembling like a pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time, under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will be something growing like a flower, something bursting from the earth again, forever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April.”

    "Only the earth endures, but it endures forever". I'd like to speak to Thomas Wolfe today, less than a century later, to see if he'd changed his tune. I found this quote yesterday, and when I read your NY Times blog piece, I thought of it immediately.

    Again, thank you very much. I look forward to reading more of your writing.


    Nina Marie Collins