When it rains it pours, as they say, and this week that metaphor was even more apropos, as three articles conspired to give us, in my estimation, a great look at (and critique of) our view on climate change and its role in environmental organizing efforts.
First, we have this article (“The Coming ‘Instant Planetary Emergency'”) in The Nation, effectively describing the impending clusterfuck. The article quotes Guy McPherson (one of my favorite people to link to on this blog), among other scientists:
“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”
That’s a best-case scenario. To borrow from one of the subheadings of the article: “Things are looking really dire.”
Then we have two articles when, taken together, summarize why no one has or will really give a shit about these scenarios, let alone the mountain of evidence supporting their increasing likelihood. (As an acquaintance commented on one of the articles yesterday:
A conversation that took place in London over xmas:
Seasoned climate activist: Have you read any of the latest IPCC report?
Him: Me neither. Just can’t be bothered.
The first article is from Mother Jones: “Global-Warming Denial Hits a 6-Year High“. Almost a quarter of Americans think climate change isn’t happening. 68% of Americans say they will not change their mind about climate change.
Add in this Newsweek article, “You’re Only Human. That’s the Problem,” about how humans cannot comprehend very large patterns—especially ones that take a very long time to materialize—and you get a pretty clear picture: humans, but especially Americans, some of the most energy-wasting and ideologically stubborn humans, will not even accept that climate change is happening, let alone change their lives in any way (recall that Sun Chips had to recall their biodegradable bags because Americans thought they were too loud) in the name of even the slightest mitigation of its many interconnected ramifications.
Let that sink in: Americans will not accept that climate change is happening, and will do nothing about it. At least, not enough Americans to make any kind of difference. Yes, you might quickly point out, the graphs also show that more than 60% of Americans believe climate change is happening. However, not only is that number down from previous years’ data, but for the most part that 60% has no decision-making power whatsoever in this country (or, are you still under the impression that we live in a Democracy™?), and even if they did, time and time again it has been shown that climate change is not a motivating factor even for personal decisions like whether or not to recycle.
What has been shown—time and time again—as a motivating factor is economics. This fact should be plainly obvious, since economics are what drive almost every personal and political decision, as any Marxist off the street will tell you. This is why we environmentalists, nature lovers, ecosystem protectors, and/or people who just give a shit about fellow beings living on this earth need to shelve climate change and talk about immediate ecological problems—mostly in terms of how they affect local economies.
That kind of messaging needs to be primary now, even though I myself cringe at the fact (but it is a fact) that mentioning the 200 species that went extinct today is not motivating people. I don’t write to make myself or others sad. I write to try to motivate myself and others to actually do something (recycle that bottle, vote for that green candidate, plant that garden, not have that second kid, etc.), and I have seen the writing on the wall.
We can wring our hands about the corporate media all we want—and it is atrocious—but simply resigning ourselves to “oh, well Fox News is just horrible,” or “we need CNN to do a better job educating people” is not getting the job done. Dolphins are being born in the Gulf of Mexico without eyes. People in West Virginia don’t have water. There’s dioxin in breast milk. Currently. Right now. No statistical models needed. No long-term trends needed. No analysis needed, other than taking a look around.
Bill McKibben has done great work, but it’s not enough, and there’s no time to waste. I don’t sit around thinking about 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—do you? I think about losing my job, water not coming out of the tap, not having enough seeds or soil to feed myself, fellow humans without water, fracking earthquakes, tar balls and plastic in the seafood I’d like to eat, and so on. I simply contend we should concentrate on the things that people actually think about and base their decisions on.
And no, we will not have a revolution here in America, akin to Greece or even Spain. So the simultaneous strategies should be creating communities of support where skills can be collected, shared, and honed; and scaling back empire—some of which will happen naturally (as anyone who has played the computer game Civilization can attest: it’s hard to have troops across the globe or to hold on to far-flung positions for very long, especially after peak oil production), but most of which we need to direct, by having less kids (which means fighting for education about and access to safe contraception and abortion).
“In the future, whatever people are left after the crash will be huddled near the poles.” That’s a fascinating (and ever more likely) scenario. But it’s not a motivational vision around which to organize or resist.