Presumably, within a week, over 2 million of us read the NY Magazine article by David Wallace-Wells entitled “The Uninhabitable Earth: Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change you wreak – sooner than you think,” an important attempt to wake people the fuck up to the urgency and existential seriousness of the disasteroid our species is hurling at planet Earth. Now, you might think that 2 million people reading ANY article that tries to paint a realistic picture of the dystopian movie we are in the process of producing for other species and our own progeny – that is, for all life on Earth – would be a cause for sober celebration. Curiously, however, the immediate response from the scientific community, which itself has already been forced out of its ivory towers into the public square by the criminal negligence of politicians, was tantamount to “OH NO! This seems alarmist!”
Consider Eric Holthaus – a meteorologist who works for Slate and frequently writes about the impacts of global climate chaos. He went so far as to tweet in empathetic distress apparently, that “[t]here are people who say they are now considering not having kids, partly because of this [article]. People are losing sleep, reevaluating their lives” and feeling “deep anxiety.”
OH NO! We can’t have that!!! Please people, keep having babies! Never mind the rest of us who decided decades ago to sacrifice our fertility for the sake of the cause. We did it for you! And please, don’t feel like you need to “reevaluate” your lives! That’s what causes people to lose sleep, you know…
Hello? “Earth to Eric! WTF?!”
This is reminiscent of George Bush’s patronizing command to us after 9-11, at a time when so many were so willing, ready and able to make a real sacrifice to restore some kind of sense to the world: “Americans must shop!” Oh yes, by George – we will win this war against Islam by running up enough consumer debt on top of the trillions we spend on bringing democracy to the people we kill to crash the economy right when a black man is taking over the White House! Take that, Osama!
These are the kinds of things that fill me with despair – much moreso than the kinds of prospective calamities Wallace-Wells wrote about. The climate crisis is not actually a crisis of the climate, you see – the climate will do just what climates do when you fundamentally change nature. The crisis is one of human responsibility and, more to the point, respondability.
And guess what? We’re still not responding. Greenhouse Gas emissions are still rising, after all these years of international talks and accords, as is the average global temperature. And nearly everyone knows this heat we’re hiding out from, with just about every month now breaking the all time record set last year for this month, these fires we cannot seem to put out anymore, these more frequent and extreme floods and tidal events, these droughts, those waves of refugees, these dying coral reefs and killer storms — “why, it just ain’t normal, it’s not.”
And, of course, the inconvenient truth nobody seems to want to mention ever, which is why I’m determined to mention it in everything I write and to everyone I speak to about the heart-attack seriousness of the “respondability crisis” – what we’re experiencing now is the cultural karma created by all the emissions of the Industrial Age up to 1977, and while it has yet to be taken up by the climate system, we have emitted that much more AGAIN in the last 40 years. Which means, if you’re following this complicated scientific argument, that whenever we get around to actually reducing emissions of Greenhouse Gas globally – it won’t have any effect for another 40 years. We have enough Greenhouse Gas locked up in the bank vault of the global atmosphere (and oceans) to keep things unraveling at an ever accelerating rate of chaotic planetary mayhem till at least 2060 or so.
Nothing to lose sleep over, in other words. And don’t tell the kiddies until they have degrees and are living in your flooded basements with sump-pumps and virtual reality games that, by then, will likely mimic beautiful natural landscapes they’ll never experience, populated by amazing wildlife they’ll never be able to observe again.
Okay, now you have to check this out. In August of 2015, one Eric Holthaus – who I have to presume is the same Eric Holthaus described above – himself published an article in Rolling Stone entitled: “The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here / The worst predicted impacts of climate change are starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected.”
Now seriously, WTF? Apparently, some memo went out in the climate activist community since then that I completed missed. Eric, who is obviously a fine writer and knows what’s what around meteorology instruments, begins his record-hot August of 2015 article with the line: “Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan.” So what, then – the problem is that David Wallace-Wells is not a respected historian yet? Then Eric quotes the Godfather of Climate Chaos himself, Dr. James Hansen and colleague’s depiction of what was in store for us in 2060:
“We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”
Wait – there’s more. Holthaus then goes on to cite other studies that
“could have even more dire implications for our future. The rapid changes [these scientists] are observing have shocked some of their fellow scientists into thinking that yes, actually, we’re heading toward the worst-case scenario. Unlike a prediction of massive sea-level rise just decades away, the warming and acidifying oceans represent a problem that seems to have kick-started a mass extinction on the same time scale.”
After going blah blah blah about dead zones and disintegrating sea life etc., Holthaus then rather glibly points out that “having tickets to the front row of a global environmental catastrophe is taking an increasingly emotional toll on scientists, and in some cases pushing them toward advocacy. Of the two dozen or so scientists I interviewed for this piece, virtually all drifted into apocalyptic language at some point.”
SO…. Eric… did any of your fertile friends read your Rolling Stone article in the last couple of years, perhaps? I don’t want to misrepresent Eric’s twitter feed on this or anything – I encourage you look at it for yourself. His point seems to be a rather elitist, I must say, insistence on “beautiful climate journalism that is grounded in fact” – as if there is just one set of agreed-upon facts with 99% of the climate scientists in the world granting permission for it to be accessed. There’s not. Climate science has lots of moving parts, and lots of complicated synergies and variables that do not necessarily get accounted for in the accepted models (you know, the ones they admit are too conservative?). But my point is not to quibble about one or two minor points from a widely read and deeply disturbing piece of journalism. My point is people NEED to be disturbed! Our fucking HOUSE is on fire! And NO – it’s NOT okay to finish your video games before running out into the streets!! DON’T YOU HEAR THE FIRE TRUCKS OUTSIDE YOUR DOOR???
Oh, excuse me. I’m not sure that was beautiful climate journalism or unnecessary alarmism. I’ve only been working on climate issues professionally for 3 decades. I obviously need to learn to be more patient. As lawyer-advocates go, I’m known as a bit of a firetruck chaser.
Actually, I’m being facetious for a purpose here. You see, while I do happen to think we could use some more “sarcastic climate journalism grounded in theory” – like theories about the psychology of a culture that is too traumatized to respond rationally to the clear and present danger with the 40-year lag time!? – I agree up to a point that climate journalists, activists, and even scientists need to remind people that worst case climate scenarios are not devoid of hope for humanity. But as Climate Psychiatrist Margaret Klein Salamon pointed out to Holthaus and other guardians of beautiful climate journalism and human procreation, “the feelings involved in processing the climate crisis—fear, grief, anger, guilt, and helplessness—can be overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean we should try to avoid ‘making’ people feel such things. Experiencing them is a normal, healthy, necessary part of coming to terms with the climate crisis.”
Well played, Dr. Salamon. And here’s the deal. Here’s what’s really going on. The thing about the climate crisis is that denialism is a universal thing – even with those of us like Eric and Bill (okay, maybe not Dr. Hansen) have complicated defense mechanisms. And what Eric is really struggling with is that the hope we can give to others is nothing like the kind of hope that was given to us by our parents. The idea that we can just keep having babies till we hit 10 billion or so is a common delusion, a false form of hope, because there are already 65 million or so climate refugees in the world – and that’s just the first wave. There are already population sinks of dying humans in hellish realms on the front burner of the climate stove, places like Yemen and Syria, Pakistan and Senegal, the oceans are already dying – with over 90% of all big fish gone – and will be devoid of life by 2048 at our current pace. And according to the Food & Agricultural Office of the United Nations, the very soil under our feet will be incapable of supporting crops within 60 years – if Monsanto, ADM, Cargill and the others continue to rule the planet with money.
People enter hospice only after they have lost hope of recovery, seeking a peaceful way to die. The first thing they are asked to do is re-define their hopes, which often means giving voice to their long-suppressed fears. We are entering a period of planetary hospice, which is not to say that all is lost and the human species is itself winking out. Instead, it means that life as we have always known it is coming to an end, and what is on the other side of that is unknowable at this point, and kinda scary. We are not passing on the rich world we inherited from our parents to our children. And at the same time, it has become imperative that we redefine hope – both for ourselves and our species – because whether we like it or not, we are daily creating the world that will exist in 2057, profoundly affecting all future generations and species. And by awakening collectively to this alarmist view, we can really start to have a positive influence on that brave new world. We can decide to not have babies – YES WE CAN! We can boycott the Monsantos of the world with our food choices every day – YES WE CAN!! And there is so much more we can do when we’re awake and aware, such as engaging in the talking cure for the climate crisis.
How can we NOT re-evaluate our lives at this pivotal time?!
And for all of us who feel like we are already doing what we can, especially those of us who are most active in pursuing the kinds of social transformations that are needed for a future to be possible, we can ask ourselves what form our own climate denial takes. If you don’t believe we are all in denial submerged in the insanity of this culture, then you are definitely in denial! As Wallace-Wells put it, “no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough.”
It is time for us to talk about our unnatural way of life. It is time to remember who we are, and decide what we want the world to look like in this, the Anthropocene – The Human Age. We have broken the world. Now is the time to begin focusing on healing it – beginning with ourselves.
2 million is a good start! If you haven’t already read Uninhabitable Earth, please take the time to read it and ponder. And if you have, please continue to share it within your spheres of influence, and to discuss your own responses and feelings about it.
Because its already too late. And that’s okay…