Over the past two hundred or so years, this unstoppable need for mastery over our land, nature and its resources has resulted in the dire situation we now find ourselves in today. As such, nature remains one of the principal categories within the sublime, a force of terror, awe and stupefaction that culminates in either a complete sense of displacement and abandonment, best encapsulated by the emerging eco-anxiety of younger generations; or a potent and empowering sensation of activism, driven by the desire to act, change, stop the incessant ‘blah blah blah’ to galvanise action, as demonstrated by a new generation of eco-warriors.
Within the two natural sublimes I have highlighted, the stupefying, arresting sublime that materialises as eco-anxiety, carries the weight of all our failures to come to terms with our impact on nature. Our eco-anxiety, driven by today’s cynicism, exhibits itself via a nihilistic fear of impending environmental doom, worsened by the lack of health resources and the rising social inequalities within certain marginalised communities. Youngsters now go on virtual ‘Grand Tours’ of all the usurped landscapes, broken ecosystems and open-air dumpsters around the world, all from the destabilizing comfort of their own wi-fi enabled homes and, inevitably, feel powerless. A 2020 psychiatric study revealed the harrowing statistic that up to 57% of youngsters now feel distressed and anxious about the climate crisis, affecting their ability to think about their future and their place within a crumbling ecosystem. And so the grandeur which prompted the eighteenth-century teens to experience the fright of nature, now flattens into an inability to come up with viable solutions to the problems of climate change. Climate change has become a hyperobject, a thing so powerful and massive that humans can no longer comprehend or contain it. But the irony of climate change within the discourse of the sublime can be cast in the terrifying realisation that the longer climate change goes on, the more dramatic, unexpected and violent its outbursts will be, from Germany’s flash floods which killed 70 people, to the arctic heatwave which saw temperatures soar to over 35 degrees centigrade in polar Siberia. How close to danger must we get before the aesthetic sublime collapses into just the feeling of fear?