Meditations on a Runaway Crisis

I make it a practice here of giving you three linked articles at the outset that reflect, to some degree, my opinions. It’s part of the tradition of argument to bolster one’s opinions with evidence. So maybe it’s time for my opinions unfiltered.

Climate has become an imponderable, a cloud that never dispenses rain, a storm that never breaks. By that I mean the more we understand the depths of climate change, the more stymied we are in doing something about it. Most of us who aren’t deniers recognize the enormity of the problem but despair of moving the political forces that are needed to attack it. We are immobilized.

As the heat, storms, floods and droughts become increasingly common, more and more people report instances of “climate grief,” high anxiety and depression about what they see ahead. It seems like “a massive government conspiracy to kill us all,” with people increasingly reporting feelings of despair and panic.

I’m not there yet, still too much of a rationalist to give in to despair, still looking to implement answers that are staring us in the face. I ask, what causes this immobility in the face of disaster? Are we like the fools who went to New Zealand’s White Island to watch the volcano explode and got killed in the process?

Climate is like impeachment—the perfect disaster for the Trump era. We all stand by watching a process unfold that we can’t affect while Republicans blow smoke and defend the indefensible. As the climate outlook gets grimmer, with shocking UN reports and more detailed studies, we learn that the oceans are far worse off than we thought, that permafrost thawing in the Arctic will blow holes in our predictions of CO2 in the atmosphere, that the time to apply any fix gets shorter and shorter.

Some offer up palliatives like the Green New Deal when they should be pursuing more achievable first steps like a carbon tax. Some seem to wallow in their grief when they should be out marching in protest. Others look to a false savior like Trump or Boris. All seem to fear for the future.

I have no simple answers but one: get out of yourself and do something that will have political impact. You don’t need therapy, you need action. Politics is the key to all reform efforts and it must be the first response to climate change. Immediately, let’s vote out the Republicans, who are simply “unreachable” on climate. It’s a time for taking sides. The second step is to unify the unwieldy Democrats behind an achievable, staged program of amelioration. The right is always motivated by fear; let the left be motivated by solidarity and action.

David Roberts of Vox put it well here:

To motivate people to action, you have to give them meaningful changes to fight for, people to fight alongside, and, just as importantly, enemies to fight against. You can’t stay on the sidelines, welcoming everyone to the table. You have to pick a side.

Finally, grieving over climate is like grieving over Trump: it gets you nowhere. Pick a side and get to work. Accept the fact that, whether you like it or not, climate will be a political battle.

3 Replies to “Meditations on a Runaway Crisis”

  1. One large quibble. What we need are not choices, but all of the above. We need a green new deal and a carbon tax and high tech solutions and less people on the earth and anti-capitalist consumption and politicians who think of us not them. Something like a climatic Pearl Harbor to rally us on this, but given what happened after 9-11 (rallied us to attack the wrong place), I worry about what I wish for.

  2. Well, sure, we would love to have all of the above. But what I was trying to say is that the political choice is crucial and obvious. And most important.

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