When it comes to climate instability and global environmental challenges, I sense a paralyzed panic setting in for many people. It’s an attitude I remember from the Cold War. Plenty of people were quite certain that human destiny was to throw nuclear warheads at one another until we had bombed collective civilization into oblivion. Why else would Sting have sung that he hoped ‘the Russians love their children too‘?
I used to harbor that silver-lining kind of hope that each new climate disaster would usher in a new era of climate change awareness, and more importantly, a plan of action. Or that some of the climate disaster movies – The Day After Tomorrow, for example – would inspire everyone to lobby for less dependence on fossil fuels, to throw their collective weight behind renewable energy and sustainable development.
But what I’ve noticed over the years is that what these events and books and films inspire is either a flight in to denial or into fatalistic fear. Some of the storms – Katrina, Sandy, and so on – are large and destructive and heavily covered in the media, but like any horrible accident or event (even war), they are breathlessly watched until they pass, perhaps another week or two after that, and then something new comes along.
It gives the impression that the danger has passed, and however much damage occurred, what remains is simply clean-up. Nothing to see here, move along, this was probably a fluke. So many are focused on just getting by that they don’t see what they could possibly contribute.
Whether or not you adhere to the argument that climate change is being caused by human activity or not shouldn’t necessarily matter in terms of response. Indifference, panic or inactivity to the challenges are just as effective as persistent denial of the scientific consensus behind climate change in maintaining the current trajectory.
Even if climate change denial is used to persist in business as usual – as I quoted Exxon CEO at the beginning of the week, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” – there is no reason not to try and take advantage of the massive opportunities available to use to change our behavior to improve energy efficiency and to expand sustainability.
We accept the argument that modern technologies, connectivity and the economics of 21st-century media and business dictate news cycles that have a lifetime shorter than that of the average mayfly. This sells more advertising and allows some in business and politics to assume collective amnesia and information resignation.
It doesn’t help that many media outlets have cut or eliminated their environmental desks, and the reporters who could help the public connect the dots between political action, business strategies and environmental impact.
I think we can work to extend the accepted models of media and business thinking and attention from the current week-to-week, or quarterly assessments to annual, five-year and ten-year horizons. The challenges that face us shouldn’t be what are used to divide political parties and their constituencies.
I don’t agree with Exxon’s CEO, that climate change is just ‘risk management’ – this implies that we will have some sort of lottery jackpot solution, a sudden windfall of engineering genius that will cast pixie dust in the clouds and fix everything with a few brilliant technological tweaks.
In response to the thudding of events that are frightening, we need a positive drumbeat of words, activity, events and developments to increase our adaptability and demonstrate positive rather than negative impacts. It’s not one solution that will work – it’s all the small, medium and large solutions put together. From community gardens to a refusal to support massive oil dependency any longer to an acknowledgment that the environmental security might be just as important as security from terrorism.
There were those who thought the Iron Curtain would last forever. Now it is a receding memory. There are still so many tools and opportunities at our disposal for this challenge, too. We need a steady and constant stream of silver linings, large and small.
I’m not sure where the short-term thinkers of fossil fuel dependency and unsustainable development plan on living in the future. Maybe they have a Plan B.
Otherwise, all I can say is this: I hope they love their children, too.
Apologies for the extremely long post, but in case you want more here’s –
Climate Progress article – 99 One-Liners Rebutting Denier Talking Points — With Links To The Full Climate Science by Joe Romm
Salon.com article – Media indifference enables global warming by Marty Kaplan
Pavan Sukhdev essay -Will 2013 bring a new, sustainable world?
Salon.com article – From global warming to fluoride: Why do people deny science? by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower
HuffingtonPost.com article – TransCanada Whistleblower Warns Of Shoddy Pipeline Practices by Lynne Peeples
Ernst & Young article – Crunching the numbers on carbon
Yahoo.com article – Still True, Still Inconvenient: What We’ve Learned Since 2006