Sunday, December 30, 2018

Courage Over Hope

This got a little out of control, so I added in pictures! But there is suddenly tons in the news about climate change, and many excellent videos to watch.

Jeremy Deaton wrote in the Huffington Post last week:
Ultimately, the idea that regular people can’t be told the full implications of climate change is condescending. Scientists, writers and advocates might consider that they go to work every day understanding the enormity of climate change, and yet they are able to do their jobs. The men and women who work on climate change are not made of tougher stuff, and they need not obscure the awful truth about the carbon crisis. People can take it. In fact, they’ll have to. Perhaps what makes it possible for advocates to continue their work is not a surplus of hope or an absence of fear, but a sense of duty. They respond to their grief with a righteous anger, to their panic with bravery, to their desolation with solidarity.

Deaton quotes climate scientist Kate Marvel's essay from last March (she was on NBC today):
“As a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end,” she said. “I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet.” In the face of climate change, she said, “We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”
I had a friend ask me how I think we should live after we accept there's nothing we can do to prevent the worst of climate change. And he raised the idea that undermining others' hope might 1) reduce their responsiveness, and the responsibility of their activities, and 2) be downright cruel, in the way that telling someone Santa isn't real is cruel.

My response: I think that hope can be a passive response that keeps us from reality, and agree with Kate Marvel that what we really need now is courage to face what's coming. But that's not to say that a dramatic change in policy and action can't, at the very least, slow the progress. And the act of doing something can help us feel part of the solution, which benefits our mental health as we face this tragedy. It's like adding a blanket to your mom's bed as she's taking her last breath. It a gesture that helps the bereaved more than the dying. So we still should do everything we can to prevent further pollution to the air and water, and to reduce the GHGs we produce, reducing consumption, changing what we eat, making wiser energy choices, etc. But most importantly, we have to foster an attitude of fierce compassion and generosity for one another, today and in the next generation, or things will be even more terrifying.

A recent study looking at the connection between different emotions and the willingness to make sacrifices, found that guilt and fear increases, but hope actually decreases, a willingness to make personal sacrifices to decelerate climate change. I think it's less like telling a believer the truth about Santa, and more like telling someone they have cancer and giving them all the honest options available to slow the progress of it. Even if it were my child, I'd want them to know the truth, and the options, and go from there.

I don't have hope that we can stop climate change, but I do have hope that we can make it a few more generations at least. The options aren't between denial and despair. The third and only viable option is courageously facing the difficult path before us. We need to accept that the worst is likely and continue, balls out, in a revolutionary stance to meet it head on.
Get a sticker here.

Ocasio-Cortez fronting the Green New Deal in the U.S. and Klein with the Leap Manifesto in Canada are possible paths forward. Data for Progress outlines the Green New Deal focusing on renewables, reforestation, protection of waterways, sustainable agriculture, and job creation. Ocasio-Cortez established a Select Committee to work on the GND, and expects to cut carbon emissions enough to reach Paris Agreement's most ambitious targets. The Sunrise Movement are activist in line with the GND.

Sweden's Greta Thunberg is rousing the youth towards petitioning politicians everywhere in a series of "Fridays for Future - Youth Climate Strike" actions that encourages students to walk out of classes on Friday afternoons and head straight for MPP, MP and Mayor offices, to sit outside their offices until they make climate action a top priority. January 11th is the first event in my neck of the woods. She demands we protest until our nation is on a pathway to below 2°C, which means thinking differently about aviation, shipping, imports, equity to poorer countries, all "within the planetary boundaries."

To Thunberg, climate change is more important than school:
Why should we be studying for a future that soon will be no more? What's the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our politicians.
She, now famously, told the UN secretary general that "Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago."
"The Thunbergs are descendants of Svante Arrhenius, the Nobel-prize-winning scientist who in 1896 first calculated the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Thunberg’s father was named after him, and said much of Arrhenius’s work has stood the test of time, but not everything. “He thought we’d be [at today’s levels of warming] in 2,000 years’ time,” said Svante Thunberg."
Adding to this, journalist Dahr Jamail's lecture from last March, "How Then Shall We Live," covers all these environmental issues, but then he shifts to outlining how we should be living through it all. More and more climate scientists and journalists are speaking more personally about how to cope. This is shift that can't go unnoticed. Jamail said all the usual facts and stats: the record heat levels, the decline in food growth and nutrition, water scarcity issues, groundwater depletion. Within 30 years, a third of the U.S. won't be able to sustain itself. He doesn't say it, but I can't see them staying put when there's a bounty of fresh water here. For decades, Maude Barlow has been saying that the next wars will be about water, and Canada will be the next Iraq.

Jamail went through many projections from the IPCC, Hadley Institute, the UN, the Copenhagen Diagnosis, and the International Energy Agency. Just ten years ago, they projected a 1°C increase by 2100, but the past few years have seen new projections of between 4 and 8°C by 2100. The International Energy Agency thinks we could hit 6°C by 2050. We won't survive if it passes 3.5°C, which will kill off plankton in the ocean and all plants on land.

When I was in grade 6, in 1976, my teacher, Ms. McKinley, told us about the concern with a 1°C increase in a hundred years and how bad that would be for our children. We're now over that marker only forty years later. Here's what a 1.5°C change will be like.

Then, at the 45 minute mark of that video, Jamail gets to the crushing depression he felt writing about glaciers that had disappeared in the decade from 96 to 06. He copes by finding others who are going through the grieving process. We can't do this alone; we need community: "confidentes with whom we can share all of this." This is unprecedented. We're all learning how to do this together. His stance is extremely hyper localized. We need to look around for issues where we live because the national and international stage is too overwhelming. We need to be in nature and walk softly on it, to unplug from electronics and the news at least one day a week so we're not all "plugged into the matrix, angry and half-dead already." And we need to find something we will protect at all costs. For him, it's the land where he lives. But, in the question period it came out that not everybody has the luxury of a 10-acre plot to build a solar powered homestead. He started to argue that he had worked for that for years, which isn't the way to go here. But he shifted gears with Roosevelt's words:

"If there were political will to deal with this crisis . . . we could do some serious mitigation. The beef industry alone could dramatically reduce GHGs. Agriculture practices produce almost as much as burning fossil fuels. . . . We need the type of response like in a sci-fi movie when the aliens invade. . . . Let's stop slashing and burning in the Amazon, all that kind of stuff. . . .  It's certainly possible. . . . Live closer to the planet, slow down . . . we already have the answers that we need; the only thing we lack is general political will on a broad scale."
Friday protests it is, then.

Extinction Rebellion has a similar video up that with Dr. Gail Bradbrook explaining that allowing GHGs to infiltrate our atmosphere at this rate is similar to sitting back to allow Hitler to gas people, excepts it will have an even greater effect. "It's planned. It's willful, and it will kill millions of people." We should be rising up to fight this together. Except, what's not mentioned, is that means fighting our own addictions to stuff and travel and more stuff and faster trips everywhere and tasty meat.

But that video says that it's not enough to march in the street or write our MP. Their ideas are more in line with Chris Hedges, who calls for a rebellion. Bradbrook says of these measures,
"They are not appropriate for issues that are existential and urgent. . . . In these cases a response requires high-stake, disruptive civil disobedience and non-violent sacrificial action. . . . The actions have to be disruptive; they have to disrupt major cities, which gets the attention of political decision-makers. You've got lots of examples of that in the past. A really good example is how the gay rights movement got the attention of everybody to change the way that AIDS was being researched and dealt with. And what they did was super disruptive, and basically when you're disruptive, people say, 'I agree with what you're saying, but I don't like how you're doing it.' And the point is they're talking about it. So the disruption is just unfortunate. It needs to be sacrificial. We've had people going on hunger strikes in our actions, and the willingness to go to jail is what makes observers sympathetic. So much in humanity is about emotion, it's not about what you say, how you persuade people with arguments; it's about how people feel. When they can see how serious you are about a cause then it wakes people up. . . . Non-violence is morally and materially functional . . . so non-violent civil disobedience has a strong grounding in history. . . . What I find is that people like it in the past, but they don't like it so much in the present." 
Their plan is to have disruptive actions happening that will get people arrested. It already started in Britain and plans to go international in March. Disruptive behaviour can shift the "Overton window" - what we see as acceptable to discuss - in order to get "the reality of ecological threat to be a mainstream discussion." We just need 3% of the population to "bring about massive social change." The group has had some successes in Britain already with a virtue ethics approach:
"It's always worth doing something if it's morally good and the right thing to do, no matter how successful it will be."   
Finally, David Suzuki recently jumped at an offer to be interviewed by one of the world's leading high-performance business leaders, Kerwin Rae. Suzuki started with a useful analogy to explain how to deal with the economics of climate change. In 1961, after the USSR sent a rocket to the moon,  Kennedy boldly declared that the U.S. was going to put a man on the moon in less than a decade even though they hadn't started preparing for such an event. But he poured money into science to make it happen, and they succeeded. We've made the commitment to slow climate change, and now we must live up to it. The following year Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring about the unexpected results of DDT, and was attacked by Monsanto. We also have to be careful of the side effects of any of our actions.

Roosevelt taxed corporations and the rich in order to pay for social services during the depression. At times of urgency, governments can find the money they need to do what they want. We need to make this something they want to do.

Suzuki used to call climate change a slow-motion catastrophe, until he went swimming in the Great Barrier Reef and came out of the ocean weeping, able to see the death of the reef in real time.

We have maybe a 5% chance of keeping global warming to below 2°C by 2100, but a 10% chance of being over 6°C by then. Even 2° is catastrophic. So this is urgent. Sir Martin Rees, a British astrophysicist, predicts a 50/50 chance of any humans left by 2100. We have to act now.
"If you're going to say it's too late, then go away. It's very very urgent, but if we have a chance of keeping it below 2°C, we've got to go all out, the way we did with the moon landing. . . . I believe nature has many many more surprises. I believe she will be more generous than we deserve." 
We're beyond ignorance when it comes to denial. This problem is pure economics. Fossil fuel companies should think of themselves as energy companies, not oil companies, and show they're looking ahead by shifting to solar, wind, and tidal power instead of digging their heels and head in the sand. If we want to beat the Russians to the moon, we can't argue about how much it will cost. Talking about economic growth at this point is a suicide path.
"What really upsets me is people who pay hundreds of dollars to buy blue-jeans that are already ripped. The statement is saying, 'I don't give a shit about the planet.' Clothing is something you bought because it's durable and that you use as long as you could. Now we buy and flaunt fashions to show that we don't care if it's durable. We don't even love our own children enough to act in the best interest of our children." 
So, what can we do as citizens?
"We all have to change our lives, but there are big decisions that are beyond us: whether or not to build pipelines and shut down the tar sands. Politicians think doing good for corporations is doing good for the country. We have to get out there and be part of a civil society that demand politicians focus on who they're looking out for. We have a 5% chance of keeping it down. This has to be the focus."
We need to keep 85% of reserves in the land, protect the Boreal forest, and ignite conversations about tech developments. But we have to be aware that we don't know enough to anticipate the problems caused by technology, so bio-mimicry is the better route - following how nature solves problems.
"It pisses me off that we still have an opportunity to do something for our grandchildren. Canada signed a treaty in Paris, now damn well live up to it! That means leaving the coal in the ground, harnessing solar energy, and re-greening the planet. . . . There is an entrepreneurial opportunity, but it must be driving with the understanding that it cannot come at the expense of our species. . . . The game being played by CEOs is rigged to ignore the most precious things we have. They can't go to shareholders and say we need to protect the air, water, and soil. Those are not in the game. So we have to change the rules of the game." 
Suzuki leaves us with three things we can do: 1) Use your voice to vote and protest; democracy is only as good as the people involved in it.  2) Live differently by eating and shopping locally and thinking hard whenever you spend money.  3) Work very hard to create community because that's what will bring us entertainment and joy in the future.

ETA something new: Also check out Kelly Hayes's article: "Let's Live Now"
"We must fight for the future, but how we live now matters, regardless of what’s to come. We must admit that to ourselves, and allow the possibility, and even the likelihood of oblivion to sink into our bones, and we have to make a conscious decision to do good in the world, regardless of what’s to come. . . . I am a fighter by nature, and I have no intention of surrendering the future, but I do think it’s worth considering the question: If this is humanity’s last century on Earth, who do you want to be as that story unfolds?"
ETA something old: MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
"You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation."

Now, more than ever, we need solidarity and compassion and courage. Lots of courage.


Anonymous said...

A great compendium. One thing I seldom see mentioned in climate change discussions and what to do about them is limiting population growth. I never had kids, so I could drive a Hummer (I don't) and eat steak three times a day (ditto) and still leave a smaller footprint on the planet than someone who's had even one child no matter how responsibly they live. True, you could say that having children would make people aware they have a vested interest in the future and then behave accordingly, but I certainly do my best to minimize my impact on the environment and I know many other childless people who also don't. I've heard people say they don't raise the issue because it's a non-started with too many, but isn't that the same thing as saying it's too late to do anything about it?

The Mound of Sound said...

I drove an old buddy's widow to the market yesterday. En route she became all bubbly about learning that her grandchildren are set to give her another three great-grandbabies in 2019. She was immensely proud of this. I bit my tongue.

This 82-year old recently confided that she had voted 'no' in the BC referendum on electoral reform. Her vote and many of the like-minded ensured that FPTP will be our shackle on democracy for the future. That guarantees we shall either have BC Liberal or NDP governments, either of which means little hope of any meaningful action on climate change. Our effort will focus more heavily on adaptation, particularly sea level rise, while governments continue to flood world markets with LNG, coal and bitumen. Her vote in that referendum was, unwittingly I'm sure, a vote against the future of her great-grandbabies.

After waxing joyous over the news of all these pregnancies, she asked me when I was going to become a grandfather. I told her I hoped never and she recoiled from my comment. How could I not want grandchildren? She pressed the point and I finally blurted out that I doubted her grandkids would be able to provide a safe future for those babies in the world they would have to face. I should have said nothing.

The widow, her children and her grandchildren obviously think this is a world in which they can raise another generation, to the extent they think at all. They are, after all, only perpetuating what has been customary for generations, centuries, millennia.

Here are a few comments I wrote this morning on Owen's blog:

I'm left with the nagging feeling that we're reaching a point of social consciousness about climate change that we needed to achieve perhaps 15 years ago. Let's say we go back to 2005 as the great epiphany. By that I mean the point at which the political caste realizes they have to act for their own parties' survival. If they swarmed the floors of the US Senate and House and of every other western parliament and legislature that morning, hell bent on doing whatever was required, at whatever cost, for as long as it might take to ensure the future of humanity, we might have had a reasonable shot at decarbonizing our economies and our societies.

Over those years, a) the challenge has grown significantly largely due to Asian industrialism and the rise of the new consumer class, and, b) the urgency of the threat would have been more manageable. Instead we now have a much bigger challenge, compounded by various natural feedback loops already underway, and a significantly narrowed window of opportunity to act.

Most of us, I think, recognized that the day would come when the public, having had a taste of the climate change lash, would demand action. Many of us had the darker realization that this mass enlightenment would be too little, too late.

What most people want today is adaptation, immensely costly measures to buffer the impacts they risk from climate change over the next decade or two. I've yet to hear much clamor for long-term solutions. Once again the future is at the mercy of the present and, in this hyper-consumer age, the present is often merciless.

Marie Snyder said...

I think environmentalists often talk about population, and Suzuki did in that video, but he ends with the hope that we'll find a way out besides severely restricting reproductive rights. I think it's vital to hold on to that goal to limit population despite the adverse reaction to that kind of limitation (I say more here. Not only is it a concern for humanity, but it's also a concern for the children being raised in a post 2°C world.

Marie Snyder said...

I do a lot of tongue-biting these days (this decade, really). Absolutely we're finally hitting that paradigm shift that would have been nice to see ages ago. I guess it's better than nothing, even if it's too late to be much good. Having been right all along is little comfort.

Have a very merry new year! This too shall pass.