A friend was reading my latest posting and linked an article about Greta Thurnberg. Like a lot of the world, I’ve been watching videos and reading stories about Greta’s recent appearance at the United Nations. Agree with her or not, she’s pretty amazing. Imagine yourself at 16 traveling across the ocean (by sailboat) and then addressing the U.N. I certainly didn’t have the wherewithal or courage of my convictions to do anything close to that. Yet another “friend,” (I’m using quotes because unlike the first friend I don’t really know this second friend well and judging by a lot of his postings on Facebook don’t really want to) suggested it was all some sort of conspiracy, even suggesting that Greta was being used, “Using children to push your agenda is exactly what the Nazi’s did to push theirs.”
Now, my first friend (who I really don’t see enough) and I really like each other. We always have a good time talking, engage with each other frequently on social media, and he makes concerted efforts when he comes to town for us to get together (and he lives in Australia while I live in New Mexico). What we don’t agree on is Climate Change. Now this is not to say that he’s a denier because I don’t think he is nor do I see any evidence that he doesn’t believe that this latest round of Climate Change is largely caused by us (industrialization), yet he does share views that I am seeing more frequently. The view is basically, “Yes, Climate Change is happening, and yes, it is man-made, but the alarmist and catastrophizing around it is doing a huge disservice. We are not going to go extinct any time soon. Yes there will be a lot of species extinction, but a wholesale scrapping and reorganization of human civilization is not warranted.”
Strangely, this is sort of the point of my other “friend.” In essence we are raising a generation of kids to be absolutely terrified and overly anxious about our future as a species. The point is actually pretty nuanced, but I can’t help but see it as a sort of trick, a shifting of the goalposts if you will.
In the early 2000s, it was Climate Change doesn’t exist. Then when more evidence mounted and more people started believing based on their own lived experiences it became Climate Change exists but do we really know if we are causing it or is it just a part of geo-historical cycle? This seems to have dissipated and now we have the latest goalpost, which states that the catastrophic effects of Climate Change are overstated.
That may indeed be true. We’re a pretty resilient species, and I certainly don’t think that overnight we’ll be thrust into some dystopian future where the very fate of humanity hangs in the balance. Yet I do think the changes that a warming planet will spawn should give us some pause as to the course we are on. I also think that exercising a little caution (okay a lot of caution) should be the rule. For example, I continue to brush my teeth twice a day even though I haven’t had a cavity in the last 10 years. Should I stop brushing my teeth? Likewise, in high school I was thrown through the front window of my friend’s car in an accident. As a result, I started wearing my seat belt even though it was not required by law (this was the ’80s) and have not been in accident since. Should I stop wearing my seat belt because I am now a much better driver and ride with people who are much better drivers? I think the sensible answer to both those questions would be, “No.” Yet, there are certainly a lot of people who don’t think the catastrophic scenario will play out so why are we adding to future generations the burden and anxiety needlessly?
As a pragmatic solution, I don’t even address Climate Change in a lot of my environmentalism. As evidenced by the Deep Water Horizon and the Iraq War, fossil fuel extraction is largely bad for the environment and humanity so to not take steps to reduce our dependence on oil seems like a prudent step. So let’s create incentives to make cars as fuel efficient as possible and encourage the development of sturdy, dependable, and cost effective hybrids or electric vehicles? Let’s take steps to make sure our energy grid is as efficient as possible so that we aren’t losing a lot of energy through resistance and actually encourage more end-point solar. Let’s take steps to create energy using renewable sources that factor in the damage to the environment and maintain existing habitats. Let’s take steps to support a healthy ecosystem in the ocean so that we can continue to eat fish. Having dead zones and fisheries dying off while at the same time dumping pollutants into the ocean so that the fish are laced with Mercury and can’t even be safely consumed seems a little short sighted. In addition, increasing the use of pesticides so that there are massive die offs of helpful insects that also impact the vitality of the bird species seems a bit short sighted as well. So, let’s create a system that decreases our dependence on pesticides and herbicides because the benefits although expensive now may be a better long term strategy.
Finally the shifting goal post doesn’t address what I find the most alarming of all. Let’s not call it an existential threat but a sort of spiritual threat. People are unhappy and lead unfulfilled lives. Some people call it “the meaning crisis,” and I largely think that is the most pressing concern of all. Life as it is currently structured in the West doesn’t address the spiritual dimension to being a whole human. We’re miserable. We work too much at jobs that are largely unsatisfying or not challenging. We don’t feel rooted in our communities and spend too much time under harsh fluorescent lights and not enough time enjoying the natural world that we are continually degrading. We argue and name call on line and then have to wait in long lines to see movies that are, many times, just so-so.
So forgive me if I’m not particularly sympathetic to calls that suggest making some sort of radical change in the name of climate change is a bad thing. Do we really want to preserve this? I mean there are people who work ungodly numbers of hours in barely tolerable conditions so that I can text yet another friend on my phone about what time his play is this weekend. And when he answers I add it to my calendar so that my free time is scheduled as if just having free time is a bad thing, as if not making love to my wife or enjoying long walks with my dog or even writing this is really what I want my life to look like and yet that is becoming harder and harder to manifest. I, like a lot of the youth, am worried. And I can’t help but wonder if not being alarmed enough is really the problem. I can’t help but wonder if not being connected to the world, trying to stay calm in the face of species dying off in record numbers, is just another form of hubris. We are not the only life form that calls this place home, and it seems like maybe we should just be a little bit more community minded in how we live in this shared space because for all we know this may be all that we have.
September 26, 2019