The Terror of an Unchanging Climate Conversation

Storm Clouds

image from cjohnson7, flickr:

Storm Clouds
image from cjohnson7, flickr:

March 20th was the UN Day of Happiness. March 21, the beginning of spring.

And the news?

Meanwhile, readings of CO2 at the Mauna Loa observatory just crossed 400 ppm, a concentration last seen well before the age of humans…

The changing climate doesn’t seem to change the climate of conversations, though. We continue to have utopian pronouncements of the coming age of abundance thanks to technology (nevermind the problem of their energy and raw material use in a world of 7 billion plus humans looking to live the standards of living they – we – think everyone should have because we saw them on TV) on the one hand, on the other hand, apocalyptic warnings about the coming collapse of civilization, if not the extinction of humanity, thanks to climate change, energy declines, overbearing consumption, or whatever your problem or combination of challenges of choice.

Rebecca Solnit wrote an excellent piece on the slow-moving catastrophe of climate change that drives home just why it is so difficult for many people even just to grasp the need for change:

We tend to think that sticking with something is a calmer and steadier way to go than jettisoning it, even though that rule obviously doesn’t apply to sinking ships. Sometimes, after the iceberg or the explosion, the lifeboat is safer than the luxury liner, though getting on it requires an urgent rearrangement of your body and your expectations.

Seems very true, and there is a lot of concern for talking about positives, when you look closely enough:

Our climate crisis requires us to evacuate our normal ways of doing things. That will not always be cheap or easy, but divestment can be done now with no loss, even possibly with an upside, say many financial analysts. In any case, it’s the only honorable and sane thing to do — for the young who will be alive in 2064, for the beauty and complexity of the world we have been given, including all the other living things on it, for the sake of the people who are already suffering and will suffer more because of the disruption of the elegant system that is the Earth we inherited.

Most of the writing, however, is just on the financial divestment from fossil fuel companies. That is all well and good since an article does need a single focus – but it follows the same-old game yet again.

For one, financial divestment is the focus even as the “radical response” we’ll need goes deeper to the roots. Fossil fuels are what currently drives by far most of our normal ways of living, after all. How do we “divest” from those?

Related to that, “radical” change is called for, but we’re again seeing only the problems. Problems of understanding the problem, problems in our reaction… but is there anything positive for us to turn to, not just the potential prevention of catastrophic problems in the future? It’s strange to say that, but apparently the threat of extinction and collapse doesn’t motivate us enough.

It’s just like the doctor warning that our ways of living are slowly killing us. We are eating too badly and getting metabolic syndrome from it, we smoke and drink too much and move too little – but we don’t want to hear it. We’re caught up in this comfortable way of doing things, we’re seeing people around us do the same thing, and we don’t see what to do instead and why. What’s the value in it, now? So, we don’t change.

Same problem in the recent “NASA-funded study” that is the latest to tell us that the chances for a collapse of civilization are pretty good:

Applying this lesson [of how elites are insulated from negative effects and profiting from business-as-usual to such an extent that they allow the collapse until it is too late] to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

It’s Solnit’s slow-moving catastrophe plus the blindness that comes with, to use Upton Sinclair’s bonmot, your salary depending on your not seeing the problem. But again, the focus is on describing the problem, the detail is on the metaphorical devil – but where’s the positive alternative? Sure, “[c]ollapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.” – but how on Earth does one achieve that? And whatever does that mean to an individual person’s way of life? Poverty for all?

In a follow-up, there is more good news, as “humanity faces an unprecedented opportunity to create a civilisational form that is in harmony with our environment, and ourselves”.

There are great ideas in there (many of them also found in these pages), but there are also great problems, with the article having something of a newly “techno happy” bend and a continuing focus on growth, if redefined, that is problematic. 

These are all cases where the terror is still seen as necessary to shake people awake, but like a dreaming person rudely shaken, we’re just trying to get the person shaking us to stop, unwilling to – and not aware of too many reasons why we should – awaken.

Indeed, it is time for us to focus less on the “thinking in global terms about everything we want to do for our own neck of the woods” and going on instead to “do something well, and make it happen, and [seeing if] it works where we are, [without a] need to strive to export it to all corners of the world.

Here with #ecohappy, it’s time to focus on the principles and practices that you can do, without falling into the trap of presenting only “50 little things you can do to save the planet” – or the opposite trap of only presenting the “global” that everyone would need to do in order to save the planet.

First recommendation: Step away from that computer, turn it off, and head outside. It’s spring (this hemisphere, anyways), it’s a new day, and the world’s still spinning. And hey, if you need greater arguments: spending time outdoors will give you new energy, help you understand the need for green spaces better, aid in clearer thinking – and if you just go for a walk, not a drive, and turn off your smartphone, you’ll be using less energy and emitting less carbon, too. Win-win.

Morning Sunrise


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