Sometimes you feel like it is time to give up. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 400ppm for the first time; our hope of staying under the “safe” 2C rise depends on increasingly urgent policy changes and on international action which seems ever-distant; the UK government seems to be turning away from renewable energy. This piece from Rob Hopkins sums up some of the gloom:
Certainly as we hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence, with not even a plan to avoid 600 ppm, 800 ppm, and then 1000 — not even a national discussion or an outcry by the so-called intelligentsia – it is worth asking, why?
and he goes on to note a UN source who has told him that
that it was her sense from talking to people she knows in the UN and other organisations, that there seems to be a consensus to give it another 18 months, 2 years at most, and then the funding and political effort will shift from mitigation and into adaptation and defence….
The consensus will shift to the assumption being that it is now too late.
Meanwhile, our species is spending around 1% of global GDP on trying to locate and exploit new oil reserves, twice the investment on renewable energy. But we need to keep the oil flowing or else the economy will collapse, or at least the oil companies’ value will be drastically reduced, taking down our pension funds and everyone else who invests in them. And so on…
Few seem to see these issues as priorities, and a small but loud minority try to convince others they aren’t true or worth bothering with at all: engaging with such people seldom does anything except use up valuable time.
It’s no wonder that hope is in short supply in some quarters, particularly for those who think we’ve already passed the tipping point into inevitable and serious climate change effects. I’ve previously written about the Dark Mountain Project; the latest trend doing the rounds is Near-Term Extinction (NTE), sparked off by a long essay, The irreconcilable acceptance of near-term extinction by Daniel Drumright. On his reading of the evidence, we are now committed to the destruction of a large proportion of the life on Earth in the next few decades, and mass famine for humanity before that.
Amongst the questions he poses is how we respond to this personally and emotionally. How do we face the future when we have no future? For him, the answer may be suicide: a rational choice “to avoid needless suffering”, but he recognises others’ answers may be different.
Even if you aren’t as pessimistic as Drumright and only believe that humanity is in decline, or perceived decline, or just faces great instability and uncertainty this is a reasonable question to be asking. You can look around at what humanity is doing, and see its greed, lack of care for future generations and just sheer stupidity. You can look back at the dream of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 70s and see how much of their hopes were fulfilled. John Michael Greer writes on this topic
Back in the heady days of its early successes, … environmental protection [was seen] as the next step forward in the same trajectory of social progress that included the civil rights movement and second wave feminism… That hope is dead. If there was ever a chance to achieve it, it went whistling down the wind decades ago, and at this point the jaws of resource depletion and environmental degradation are tightening around the collective throat of the world’s industrial societies, in exactly the fashion predicted in detail forty years ago in the pages of The Limits to Growth. Even if the green technologies promoted by an increasingly frantic minority of environmentalists could support something like today’s rates of energy use, which they can’t, we can no longer afford the sort of massive buildout of those technologies that would be necessary to supplant even a significant part of our current fossil fuel consumption.
With the realistic chance of a smooth transformation to a sustainable future almost certainly well gone now, we’re facing a difficult future even if, by some miracle, we start make wiser choices, and even the ideal way forward is extremely unclear. Somehow we need to cut the Gordian knot of our overentangled unsustainable existence without the whole thing falling apart completely.
So it’s temping to think (in the words of the Internet meme) “I don’t want to live on this planet any more”. Or, moving from Futurama to St Paul, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). If it were possible to precipitate the second coming and let God sort the mess out, I’m sure many Christian environmentalists would be tempted to do so.
What do we do and how do we respond to this situation? How do we keep going? Reflecting on these issues, I’ve found a few things helpful, which I’ll describe in part 2 of this post next week.