Sunday, August 6, 2023

Hope or Doom: Can't it be Both?

There's a new type of minimizer article out about climate change: concern with it indicates a mental health disorder! It's the same tactic people use to get the public to ignore the ongoing Covid virus. 

Check out Monbiot's comments on this article.

And then there's the learn to live with it claim that we need to get used to the heat despite people in Arizona are getting third-degree burns from touching pavement and others dying from heat. They obviously didn't learn to prepare their body for the heat. 

Either did the cacti:

Climate activist and NASA scientist Peter Kalmus and author Rebecca Solnit both wrote about climate in The Guardian in back to back pieces with very different messages. 

Kalmus, who once chained himself to the JP Morgan Chase building in L.A., takes the more urgent tone,

"We've passed into a ferocious new phase of global heating with much worse to come. Biden must declare a climate emergency. I'm terrified by what's being done to our planet. I'm also fighting to stop it. You, too, should be afraid while also taking the strongest action you can take. . . . So long as we burn fossil fuels, far, far worse is on the way; and I take zero satisfaction in knowing that this will be proven right. . . . Fossil fuels are causing this damage. Therefore, the only way out of this heat nightmare is to end them. No amount of tree planting, recycling, carbon offsetting, or wishful carbon-capture thinking will ever change this. . . . Every speck of fossil fuel sold and burnt combusts into carbon dioxide, forcing the planet to heat. . . . 

Using executive orders and federal agency rules, and without needing to involve this failure of a Congress, Biden could end new drilling leases on federal lands and waters, block new pipelines and effectively ban fracking. He could unleash a historic education program to counter fossil fuel industry disinformation, . . . Biden had the last opportunity of any president to keep the world under 1.5°C of heating. Tragically, this opportunity has now almost certainly been squandered. . . . 

I have not given up, and I never will. I owe that to my children, to all the good people who don't deserve this, and to all the life on this gift of a planet. No matter how much we've lost, it will never be too late to fight."

By contrast, Solnit, a beautiful writer possibly most famous for her story about mansplaining, cautions against doom and gloom:

"The people putting out defeatist frameworks have more impact than outright deniers, not least because deniers are rightwingers and the right is already committed to climate inaction. Doomers discourage people who otherwise might act, so they're working toward the worst outcomes they claim to dread. . . . Many things that were were once true - that we didn't have adequate solutions, that the general public wasn't aware or engaged - no longer are. Outdated information is misinformation, and the climate situation has changed a lot in recent years. The physical condition of the planet . . . continued to get worse; the solutions have continued to get better; the public is far more engaged; the climate movement has grown, though of course it needs to grow far more; and there have been some significant victories as well as the incremental change of a shifting energy landscape.

Most positive climate news doesn't make very dramatic reading, and I usually find it in technical journals, tweets from scientists and policymakers, and climate-specific news services. . . . While it's obviously foolish to be certain we will win, somehow certainty we will lose isn't subject to the same judgments. That certainty seems to come in part from an assumption that change happens in predictable ways, so we can know the future, or that there are environmental but not social and technological tipping points. . . . Solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batters . . . each technology has declined in cost by over 90% in the past two decades. . . . Change is often not linear but exponential, or it's unpredictable, like an earthquake releasing centuries of tension. Big changes start small, and history is studded with surprises. . . . 

I respect despair as an emotion, but not as an analysis. . . . You can have your feelings and can still chase down facts from reliable sources, and the facts tell us that the general public is not the problem; the fossil fuel industry and other vested interests are; that we have the solutions, that we know what to do, and that the obstacles are political; that when we fight we sometimes win; and that we are deciding the future now. . . .  Hope is not happiness or confidence or inner peace; it's a commitment to search for possibilities." 

Solnit is right that people are paying more attention now. Shortly before the pandemic, a colleague stopped me in the hallway to tell me she thinks I've been right, that all my harping about the climate is actually true! But it's not stopping their flight or meat-eating habits. They're not about to change how they live. And they're both right that we have the solutions, but our politicians won't move their personal investments (and their connections) out of the fossil fuel sector, so stand to lose too much if they make the switch.

I was so very hopeful for a very long time. I slid into doomerism when I saw how horribly the public and the elites both botched the Covid response. The average person really struggles with the idea of wearing a mask in a hospital to protect the lives of children since asymptomatic carrying and transmission of covid can mean any one of us can spread it without knowing it. And the hospital administration and presidents and prime ministers and every level of government here agrees that masks are too much trouble to just save a few people's lives and livelihoods. This has been the rhetoric of climate action for decades as well. Solnit's right: I can't accurately predict the future, and maybe something dramatic will change. But based on the behaviours of people in the recent and distant past, it seems far more likely that we won't do enough soon enough. 

That doesn't mean we should give up. But it does mean we need to temper our expectations of how long that fight will last. 

1 comment:

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Mound, I'll check them out!