"The drama has taken on an air of inevitability, of a tragedy at the outset of its final scene — the tension so unbearable, and the weight of looming catastrophe so soul-crushing, that some people seek the release of final defeat rather than endless struggle in the face of hopeless odds. Working for change, or even hoping for it, has felt like a sucker’s game."That "seek the release of final defeat" bit makes me think of Freud's theory of a death drive:
"Our recognition that the ruling tendency of psychic life… is the struggle for reduction, keeping at a constant level, or removal of the inner stimulus tension – a struggle which comes to expression in the pleasure-principle – is indeed one of our strongest motives for believing in the existence of death-instincts."We long for finality, for completion, not just in our daily accomplishments, but in all things, in order to release ourselves of the tension of getting near the end. This is clearest, I think, when we feel great making a questionable decision because having finally decided feels so good, so final, even if it's a bad choice. This explains why so many stay on a wrong path and won't budge from it even when shown the error of their decision; it feels so good to have decided that we don't want to have to go back to that moment of choosing.
It's curious how much we say we want more freedom, hence more choices in life, and yet choices can be such a burden.
Anyway, we're clearly on the wrong path now. Are we really going to just watch it play itself out to the final end of humanity? Not according to this article,
"The technological and political underpinnings are at last in place to actually consummate the first global pact to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed. The game is not over. And the good guys are starting to win....The task before the world is best envisioned not as a singular event but as two distinct but interrelated revolutions, one in political willpower and the other in technological innovation."Why will it all come together now, suddenly? He points to signs like "the price of solar is fallen" - in some place it costs less to use solar or wind than coal or natural gas.
But I'm afraid that what Chait misses with this line of reasoning, is that it's not just the cost that drives the use, it's also the number of powerful people who stand to gain if we continue using fossil fuels. As Jeff Rubin points out in The End Of Growth, Canada's economy depends on money from gas-powered cars and from tar sands. Rubin thinks things will get better only when we can no longer afford to drive:
"...the simple unspoken truth is that a recession is the best possible way to tame runaway carbon emissions."Chait then suggests we're already using less energy because we have better technology for better lightbulbs: "everything from buildings to refrigerators is being designed anew to account for scientific reality." And these innovations happened because,
"governments disrupted [the energy market]; progress came not in spite of our government but because of it. The private sector developed LED bulbs because Washington required higher-efficiency lighting....The overall direction of American carbon use is no longer in doubt. American carbon emissions peaked in 2007 and have fallen since, with the main question now being how far and fast they will plummet."Good for Obama, but it's hard to be hopeful with Harper in power. Chait points to countries getting on board, but my concern are the many countries still not interested in this discussion. It's better than it was, but is this really the tipping point of a major transformation? He thinks that American policy will affect the rest of the world, and I hope he's right. He looks to China for proof of hope:
"It is hardly selfish for developing countries to refuse to force their impoverished people to shoulder the burden of averting climate change. (Even now, China burns less than half as much carbon per person than does the U.S.) The developing world has thus been presented with a brutal moral logic: The rich countries have burned through the world’s carbon budget, and there is almost nothing left. But in the past year, something amazing has taken place. In 2014, China’s coal production and its consumption both fell, and the drop appears to be continuing, or even accelerating, this year....The possibility has come into view that, just as the developing world is skipping landlines and moving straight into cellular communication, it will forgo the dirty-energy path and follow a clean one."He thinks people are losing hope because they're American, and "the new global consensus on climate change is least evident" in the U.S and Saudi Arabia. "The U.S. is the only democracy in which such a consensus [on climate change denial] can be found." Maybe he hasn't noticed us to the north as our government fights to run more pipelines, sell more oil, take away protection over waterways, remove scientific funding, etc. About a year and a half ago, Huffington Post reported,
Gerry Ritz, Canada's Minister for Agriculture, told the House of Commons last week that "this cold weather can't last forever. This global warming has to stop some time".....fellow Conservative Member of Parliament Gordon O'Connor spoke out..."I don't know what those words mean because they're a buzz phrase. Climate change. If we're talking about what is our preparedness for natural disasters, that's one thing, but climate change, if you want to talk about the climate, the climate always changes. It goes hot. It goes cold, etc....Last year, newly minted Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq stated that "there's always a debate around science and what's changing" and claimed that climate change was still "debatable.""I don't think you have to be American to be losing hope over this.
Chait recognizes the immensity of the problem we face, but thinks we are at least starting down a better path:
"Even if the world could eliminate all fossil-fuel use tomorrow, the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere will create, and is already creating, disruption, havoc, and death. Even if the world halted all greenhouse-gas emissions today, it would be, by the standard of perfection, too late. Besides, the target the world has set for measuring success — holding increased global temperature to no more than two degrees Celsius — is merely a guess at salvation.....Even if all the Paris talks do is simply eliminate the risk of the all-too-thinkable worst-case scenario, it would constitute a monumental achievement in the history of human civilization, like the development of modern medicine."But he ends equating denial of climate change with despair over the condition of the world as if they both blind us from this revolution taking place. I think we can see how bad things are and likely will be, as he does, yet also recognize there are some small gains happening here and there. It's not the same as railing against these gains because climate change doesn't exist. Not by a long shot. But it's still despair-worthy to consider how little the gains can be at this stage - as he points out:
"The limits agreed to at Paris will not be enough to spare the world mass devastation. But they are the beginning of a framework upon which progressively stronger requirements can be built over time. The willpower and innovation that have begun to work in tandem can continue to churn. Eventually the world will wean itself almost completely off carbon-based energy. There is, suddenly, hope."So, I'm also not entirely convinced that "the long-awaited green revolution has finally arrived." Some politicians are on board, but not nearly enough. And nothing is happening fast enough. The word "eventually" above doesn't help me believe it's getting so much better.
But most problematic, Chait misses an entire piece of the puzzle: the necessary involvement of big business (or significantly increased regulations). Until corporations stop draining aquifers, stop outsourcing to countries with lax pollution restrictions (exacerbated by trade deals supported by Obama), stop running business on a policy of planned obsolescence (so products have to be re-bought over and over), stop flying products around for pieces to be built and assembled in a selection of countries, and do more than superficial greenwashing, we're not going to be truly off this path of destruction. And it'll be quite the effort to convince people to stop practices that increase profits.
And yet, there is always hope.