Living Confidently in Times of Climate Change

An old pal of mine, HWPTRA, wrote the article:

How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have?
5 December 2015
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/12/05/how-dangerous-is-climate-change-how-much-time-do-we-have/

in which he sought to estimate when human extinction might occur as a result of too-drastic-for-us climate change. To ponder this imponderable, he gathered the best scientifically-based information available about changing climate and environments, and about evolutionary biology and Life-on-Earth.

The resulting article is a fascinating description about Life-on-Earth over “deep time,” and about the many geophysical (climate related) processes and phenomena that have suddenly (within the last century or so) lurched into rapid transitions to very different and as yet unknown new conditions of stability. The problematic uncertainty for humanity is that the eventual climatic “new stability” may mean a world uninhabitable by our kind.

So much for the facts, now what do we — individually — do about them? That question was put to me best in a letter:

I’m in my seventies and have been feeling such sadness for the beautiful youth all around me. How do you address this? Do we share this ‘reality’ with people in their twenties with babies? Do we tell the teens? Will that destroy their desire to live at all, or will they burn more brightly?

Some people want to know, others, like my son and his wife, prefer to live in the more peaceful fantasy that everything’s gonna be OK. Too painful and scary to think otherwise. Some are living more extravagantly because the game’s over anyway. Some are getting tiny houses on wheels in the belief that they can motor to where it’s safer. Many others are pretty much frozen in place. Interesting to observe these responses sometimes in myself as well. I’d love to hear your perspectives.

This essay is my response to the gentle letter-writer I quoted above.

I can think of three types of responses to the reality of implacable climate change: denial, quietism, and activism.

DENIAL

Block out awareness of reality: live in your private feel-good bubble of happy-talk and entertainment; join in with the strident deniers of climate change; retreat into religious fantasy (“God will save me”). This is a popular mentally unhealthy response; not recommended.

QUIETISM

Do your best to enjoy life and take care of your family without allowing “the problems of the world” and “things beyond my ability to fix” to darken your remaining days and extended family circle. Don’t waste precious time and life-energy on political activism. Be a calm and peaceful presence in the here-and-now, and for those you love. In being a stillpoint of peace despite changing conditions, you contribute to the common good by not being a source of fear, but instead being a reliable source of comfort and strength. This is an absorptive awareness.

ACTIVISM

Become a political activist to counter climate change; this is a reactive awareness. Activism will bring you into companionship with other like-minded people, who will all feel psychological uplift as a result of experiencing an outburst of energetic altruism collectively. To enjoy this, you can’t allow the objective realization of the ultimate futility of such activism to overcome your motivation to remain involved. Any of your acts and activism that improves living conditions for others — however few the people, and however small and temporary the improvements — is a benefit to the common good, and an accomplishment that can make your life more fulfilling. It can be difficult to be both realistic and optimistic in order to remain an activist, and to accept that often tedious work can at best only result in modest and slow improvements, if any at all. But, the collapse of grandiose dreams of triumphal altruistic activism can fall into the deepest pit of disappointing burn-out.

The following article by Alfredo Acedo describes climate change activism in response (and protest) to the ineffectiveness of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), in Paris, to review the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (http://www.cop21paris.org/about/cop21). The title of Acedo’s article has a hint of collapsing illusions.

The Paris Climate Accords Will Cause the Planet to Burn
10 December 2015
Alfredo Acedo
http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/10/the-paris-climate-accords-will-cause-the-planet-to-burn/

THE RIGHT RESPONSE

The right type of healthy response (between quietism and activism) for any individual is a matter of their personal circumstances. What suits your particular type of personality? What fits within your range of abilities, and limits to opportunities? What is best for your physical and mental well-being, and what type of response would give you a more fulfilling life? All the right answers are unique.

I think all the right answers boil down to living consciously, and making an effort to be aware of reality; to be a thinking person appreciative of fact, logic and science; to be a tolerant person appreciative of cultural diversity; to be moral person proud of a concern to maintain good character; to be able to love without possession; and to be a comedian without unkindness.

People who expand themselves along all those dimensions will naturally help to better the human societies they are part of regardless of what geophysical changes — climate changes — occur.

The ideal response of humanity to the realization of implacable and probably fatal climate change within one to two centuries would be a revolution of personal character — “everybody” choosing to pursue the ideals of personal development just described. If such a fantasy were ever to be realized then humanity would be able to cooperate and share, to relieve the deepest forms of poverty and oppression that rob billions of meaningful lives. Then, as a cooperative and socialist (and ideally atheist) species — “we’re all in this together,” “all for one, and one for all” — we could plan for an equitable extinction, a “death with dignity” for our species, if it came to facing an implacable doom. Such a premature doom could be from climate change we brought upon ourselves, or from some other impulsive natural disaster like a solar super-flare, or the impact on Earth of a gigantic meteor.

On this idea of a planned equitable extinction (death with dignity for a human species that is terminally out-of-sync with the geophysical processes of the Earth), I will plagiarize myself from an earlier article (slightly edited).

The difficulty for most people is that we have to keep up our roles in the system (capitalism) in order to survive on a daily basis, but the system as a whole is toxic. So given a choice between voluntary immediate social suicide of the individual, and a gradual slide to the distant extinction of our whole species, perhaps past our own lifetimes, the natural choice is: I’ll burn fuel to live as I like and climb the social ladder now, and let everybody else die all together later.

I referred to the collapse of the ancient city-building Maya civilization (1000 years ago) to make the point that if the individual has the option to move out of the society — drop out, leave the rat race — and that option gives him/her a BETTER chance of preserving and propagating his/her family, as opposed to doing so within the organized social-economic system, then individuals will gladly move to “simpler” lifestyles.

Our problem is that we have not found, or been able to imagine, such individual “simplicity” options (http://www.radicalsimplicity.org/radical_simplicity.html) for ourselves that would be able to function independently despite the omnipresence of the existing industrial paradigm. That is, as individuals we can’t see how it is possible to “leave” the system; there are no isolated islands or planets for us to become Pacific Island or Star Trek pioneers. We are on a global Titanic without any lifeboats, and jammed at full-speed-ahead, with icebergs at every heading (and despite Anthropogenic Global Warming the icebergs in this metaphor won’t melt in time to save the ship).

If seeking a worldwide consensus for abandoning fossil fuels quickly and radically conserving energy to significantly reduce CO2 production does not advance, then it might be better to urge people to seek international agreement to quell political disturbances and equalize economic/human development (as measured by the Human Development Index, http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/hdi/) worldwide by liberally applying the world’s fossil fuel resources for social betterment, so we can enter the end-times in as homogeneous a socio-economic condition as possible, so that our species’ extinction is minimally fraught with strife.

In other words, plan for our extinction by equalizing its experience. There were people trapped by fires in the upper stories of the doomed World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001, who jumped to their deaths holding hands. I suppose if we can’t be disciplined enough to individually and collectively change our energy-use behaviors permanently, to rein in carbon dioxide production and share out energy resources with equitable frugality, then the next best option would be to share a big bonfire of an industrialized world economy to make everybody as comfortable as possible for a while, and then hold hands all around when our time is up and it’s “lights out.”

Not being an optimist, I suspect humanity will be obdurate in sticking with the “not sharing” option, and that regardless of the specific sequence and distribution of economic developments, political entanglements and natural catastrophes, that humanity will ensure for itself the most painful, lingering and inequitable demise possible given the resources.

Gloomy. Better drink more wine tomorrow, and read Mad Magazine, to cheer up.

AGW and Malthusian End Times
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2014/01/13/agw-and-malthusian-end-times/

CONCLUSION

To my dear friend who asked me “How do you address this?” I say that my personal mantra for facing my ever-expanding awareness of reality is: Enjoy!, and Be Kind.

Being an imperfect human being, I do not always live up to my ideals, but I do try. When I learn more and get better answers, I’ll write you. But for now: enjoy!, and be kind.

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One thought on “Living Confidently in Times of Climate Change

  1. That letter provoked tears. I have worked with teens and remain close friends with some, and I’ve hit the point I don’t know what to say to them anymore.

    Just for kicks… is there another category? Satisfaction? A gleeful embrace of selfish instinct: Good! When I die I won’t have to miss out on the future. I won’t miss out on medical technologies expanding life-spans into near-immortality! I won’t miss out on living on a moon of Jupiter, agog at a complex skyscape! I won’t miss out on an evolving human consciousness raising us out of our beastly instincts! I won’t miss out on the thrilling potentials of artificial intelligence or the discovery of extraterrestrial life! I won’t miss out on anything because there is no future. Well good then.

    Unfortunately though, I think and feel very much the way you do, and I have too much empathy to fully embrace such a perspective, though it might have been nice.

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