I welcome David Lowe’s plea to Don’t give up in the face of the climate emergency. It’s a stirring reminder of some of the things we need to do and what has been achieved in the past. I also applaud David’s contribution to the very important community-building conversations that we need to have at this juncture.
That said, David’s commentary on how some of us are responding to the current crisis is based on an unfortunate, and ultimately unhelpful, binary; namely, ‘she’ll be right’ [ungrounded hope] vs ‘we’re all going to die’ [fatalism].
To counter this, he cites numerous historical examples of how heroic individuals, groups and movements have triumphed against the odds. Although deeply inspiring and vitally important to the pursuit of truth and justice, these actions are only part of a more generalised response story.
Conversations of the new normal needed
Given the rapidly worsening climate emergency/ecological crisis (see the recent UN Emissions Gap Report, and reports by World Meteorological Organisation and climate scientists in the journal Nature), it seems like folly to suggest that simply fighting back, protesting and calling for altered states will somehow get us out of this mess. If only! All the climate justice actions (which I have supported, body and mind); the global agreements and the harrowing science have failed to stem rising greenhouse gas emissions. Given global inaction over the past decade, we now have to make even bigger cuts than originally thought to meet even the most modest reductions targets. The prospects of meeting these targets are extremely remote.
Sure, we should all be guided by the moral imperative to ‘do the right thing’ and indeed, to carry on – and hopefully ratchet up – the urgent demands of the global climate justice movement. These actions are serving to foreground the true extent of the problems we face. Greta Thunberg’s castigations of world leaders, the protests by Extinction Rebellion and countless others are part of a necessary, morally virtuos struggle for global justice and planetary survival.
And yet, in recognising the nature and scale of what is before us we need more, much more if we are to respond purposefully to this real and present catastrophe.
David says, ‘no one knows what’s going to happen’. The sad fact is, however, that the disastrous effects of the crisis are happening right now on an unprecedented, horrific scale and they’re set to get very much worse via compounding feedback loops and multiplier effects.
So, I’d argue that a corrective to the binary of ungrounded hope vs fatalism is to begin the necessary conversations that can alert us fully to what is occurring and, vitally, how we might live in this radically altered context.
This point has hammered home by Dahr Jamail in his book, The End of Ice, and in extended essays by Catherine Ingram and James Bradley. Bradley argues that our hesitancy, even resistance, to discuss the prospects and full implications of ‘extinction’ or, at the very least, mass global destruction and displacement, reflect what has been referred to as ‘patterns of evasion’ or ‘concealment’ of unsayable or unthinkable concerns. Displacing such concerns with calls to hope and gritty determination will not buy us extra time. We are, Bradley suggests, too wrapped up in faith stories that assume things can be turned around through mass action, decarbonisation, science etc. But even if we made drastic reductions to greenhouse gas emissions today, the consequences of our abuse of the environment are locked in. We can keep talking up our prospects, wishing, hoping; all the time believing. But could this simply be what we want to hear? Are we transfixed by hope? Perhaps we can’t bear to face the full spectrum narrative of immanent chaos.
Meaningful dialogue needed
Bradley states that, ‘although we talk about the climate crisis, we don’t really talk about it. I’m not sure we even know how… This inability to discuss the question is the expression of a larger erasure, a desire not to engage with the conflagration that is already engulfing our world.’
The predictable response to what sounds to some like fatalism is dismissal, denial and angry denunciation. Its exponents are accused of indulging in despair and moral nihilism. Merely hinting at some impending, fundamentally life-altering scenario attracts opprobrium and character assassination.
Meanwhile, the opportunity for meaningful dialogue and purposeful reflection are consigned to the margins.
David Lowe is right, we don’t need to don ‘the end of the world is nigh’ sandwich boards, but we do need a thorough and honest appraisal of what is occurring, and the possibility that the world as we know will not endure. So, we need to talk about how communities can supply the fundamentals of life like food, water and shelter in acute crisis situations, whether some places are habitable, how we can build supportive, genuinely civic-minded communities, and how we can deal with all the emotional and spiritual challenges.
The global transformations necessary to turn things around – even if that were possible – are highly unlikely to occur in what is a rapidly truncated time scale.
This is a major problem that we simply can’t ignore. That’s why we need to talk about the future, now.