The Climate Movement and the Liabilities of Hope
The inner fire of hope propels perseverance and, occasionally in the face of overwhelming odds, breathtaking resolve.
In all those contexts, hope was the seed of collective heroism.
Sometimes it is only when we relinquish hope that we can fully understand our situation and accurately pursue the course of action it requires.
Hope excited us with the potential of digital technology. Computers, we were told, would do the work of millions of people. That hope blinded us to the need for a social policy to distribute the profits from the tsunami of computer-generated accomplishments – and to accommodate the millions of people who have lost their jobs to machines.
Hope can blind.
Of course, we need quickly to rewire the world with non-carbon energy sources. The principle of any new energy infrastructure is simple: burn nothing. But the speed with which we reduce our burning of coal and oil is no longer directly linked to the speed with which changes in the natural world
will proceed. We have already triggered an array of feedbacks many of which we have barely begun to understand, and many which we have yet to discover.
Nature operates according to her own internal timetable. She is not waiting for us humans to achieve a cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions.
Regardless of how many coal plants are replaced by wind farms, we will still see a progression of crop failures, water shortages, uncontrolled migrations of people whose lands become uninhabitable, and national budgets strained to their breaking points by successions of increasingly destructive extreme weather events.
Were they to do so, they would see that there is a far more immediate and pressing challenge.
In the face of breakdowns, it is not hard to imagine governments resorting to states of emergency – nor is it hard to imagine states of emergency morphing into permanent states of siege.
Environmentalists should be mobilizing other activist groups, business leaders and civil society proponents around the world to work with governments to prepare to manage the coming crash.
The failure to do so will inevitably lead to increased international conflict and domestic repression.
The climate crisis offers is an opportunity to begin to reshape civilization based on our highest common aspirations and powered by our unprecedented technological capabilities. But it requires a strong dose of intellectual honesty.
Unfortunately activists today continue to funnel virtually all their time and energy into defeating the carbon lobby.
The longer they cling to that misleading hope, the less likely we are to prepare to manage -- as effectively and humanely as possible – the period of coming chaos.
Honest hope comes from looking a hard reality in the eye.
-- Ross Gelbspan © 2015
-- Ross Gelbspan © 2015