Today in Environmental Ethics we begin Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, led by two epigraphs.
The first, from a past director of the Rainforest Action Network, insists that climate change is but the tip of an iceberg. “What we’re really talking about… is transforming everything about the way we live on this planet.” That’s a lot more change than most of us want to believe in, and Klein acknowledges that until recently she was herself a kind of Denialist – not the Drumpf kind, drumming up conspiracy theories and anti-science absurdities, confusing occasional cool spells (like Monday’s here) with a cooling climate. She was the kind who just couldn’t bear to look hard at the full implications of our situation because they threaten everything about our way of life.
One of the more common forms of denial, with “one eye tightly shut,” is to look at the big picture but then to look away and “focus on ourselves.” It’s understandable, and self-therapeutics is not a bad place to start. Consciousness-raising, locavore eating, biking and pooling instead of driving are all good. Just not good enough, if we’re to get to the root of the problem. Part of us would rather just forget about it.
So why do we engage in ecological amnesia? “We deny because we fear…” In class last time someone said fear was the problem, but maybe it’s the canary in the coal mine. Maybe we fear the truth, and the truth will set us free.
Or if not the truth per se, then a mass movement of regular people who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take politicians’ pusillanimous procrastination any more.
The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference pledged (only verbally) to accept a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F.) We’re on track for catastrophically more. Last month was the hottest yet. We’re facing “an existential crisis for the human species.”
Or we could think of it as a last-ditch opportunity. But it will only be that if we can shake our “fetish of centrism” and give up the illusion that we can compromise with the profiteers who want to haul every last ounce of carbon out of the earth and burn it up. That means a shift from corporations to communities, not just in quaint isolated communities like Ashton Hayes but all over.
The other opening epigraph is from Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the ecotopian Pacific Edge who says “comprehensively changing capitalism” is more difficult to imagine than just about anything. Is that a challenge and an opportunity, or just a big raspberry to us all?
When I told my son about the Clock of the Long Now, he listened very carefully, and we looked at the pictures on the Long Now Foundation’s website. “Will there really be people then, Dad?” he said. “Yes,” I told him without hesitation, “there will.” I don’t know if that’s true, any more than do Danny Hillis and his colleagues, with the beating clocks of their hopefulness and the orreries of their imaginations. But in having children—in engendering them, in loving them, in teaching them to love and care about the world—parents are betting, whether they know it or not, on the Clock of the Long Now. They are betting on their children, and their children after them, and theirs beyond them, all the way down the line from now to 12,006. If you don’t believe in the Future, unreservedly and dreamingly, if you aren’t willing to bet that somebody will be there to cry when the Clock finally, ten thousand years from now, runs down, then I don’t see how you can have children. If you have children, I don’t see how you can fail to do everything in your power to ensure that you win your bet, and that they, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren, will inherit a world whose perfection can never be accomplished by creatures whose imagination for perfecting it is limitless and free. And I don’t see how anybody can force me to pay up on my bet if I turn out, in the end, to be wrong.
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