Sorry for the long silence blogosphere, I’ve been consumed by sustainability activities with the Rotary Auction this past couple months and am only now unpacking myself from that exhaustion!
This week, I found myself staring into some pretty despairing depths of a new article confronting us with the critical possibilities of what a world might look like under climate change absent of our action. Spoiler alert: its not good.
The recent article in New York Magazine by David Wallace-Wells paints a grim possible outlook for our society and planet if we do not seriously reckon with climate change. It’s pretty much as bad as you can imagine. It’s really nothing we don’t already know in terms of possibilities that have been outlined in climate forecasting, but it does distill some of the worse scenarios into a compelling and distressing picture of what life could look like if we continue on our fossil fuel pathway unabated. His article, and many excellent analyses of the original including brilliant responses from David Roberts and Susan Matthews, perform an important service in articulating exactly how critical this issue is. If you have not had an opportunity to read these articles, I highly recommend them.
Unfortunately, in addition to some of the thoughtful responses mentioned above, there’s also been a backlash from many in the media who have misunderstood this article, or who pooh-pooh it as sensationalist and overly dramatic, “overstating risk” of something very unlikely to happen. Or its missing the point which is somehow racism and geopolitical inequity but not climate change (I can’t even follow that argument, but feel free to check it out) or who worry extensively that the last thing we should be doing is depressing people into paralysis or throwing in the towel.
Maybe I’m feeling particularly pragmatic at this point in time. Maybe I’ve read so much of this “climate doomsday narrative” that I’ve pushed past the feeling of hopelessness that can accompnay it. Or maybe I’ll feel that way in six months but not now. I’m not sure- human emotions are a funny thing, and I can’t say I wake up every day feeling like this fight is winnable. But at this point in time, in reading this article, my primary response was “good on you, laying out the crucial reality of what we need to avoid. Let’s do that.” Folks, Wallace-Wells was not, as Roberts correctly points out, aiming to show us a “realistic” scenario. He was aiming to point out what is a possible, horrifying, and at all costs to be avoided, outcome of large-scale human failure to act. This is not, as Samenow‘s response suggests, a misrepresentation of risk; this is a recognition that this risk may be small but it is also so incredibly dangerous that it is very deserving of our analysis. It should not be “don’t scare us”, it should be that a clear-eyed view of the possibility of climate catastrophe is, pardon my french, fucking scary, and that, as Matthews says, is an ok way to feel.
It’s what you do with those feelings that matters. The response to this should be along the lines of “you bet, that sucks, let’s not go there, let’s look at what we are already doing right and do a lot more of that”. I chose to use it as an opportunity to gather my thoughts, and write another round of letters to my representatives, telling them that the federal government has no leeway to abdicate their responsibilities simply because their executive branch has its head too far into the tar sands to admit the reality of what needs to be done. I keep circling back around to this drumbeat, but I’m going to say it again: the needle moves when we make climate change part of the national conversation and when our leadership hears loudly and consistently that this is something its constituency cares deeply about. Wallace-Wells’ article reminds us what it is we stand to lose: let’s fight for it.