A lot of people are reacting to the news of the inevitable Antarctic glacier melt, and the inevitable sea-level rise (10 feet in this century) with calls for action, the creation of seawalls, a carbon tax, solar and wind power--the usual litany of fixes for climate change.
But the word inevitable means "certain to happen, unavoidable". It means, "not preventable." While this may seem unreal or far off, the residents of island nations like the Maldives are already contemplating the certainty of the destruction of their homeland, the need to relocate their entire culture and people (where?). In our own privileged world, we face loss of many coastal cities, and major destruction to others; millions, perhaps billions, of refugees trying to relocate inland. This, on top of all the other horrors of climate change that are upon us. Inevitable.
I am not proposing that we lie down and die. But I want to see some acknowledgment of the horror of this moment, when we should be realizing how thoroughly we've broken the planet. There should be grieving, wailing, and self-scrutiny. After that comes the resolution to continue, somehow--hopefully, very differently.
I respect the reaction that demands action, rapid attention to the gravity of the problem. But another way is to see that we skip too quickly over our despair, our complicity and our guilt, to demanding fixes from science and technology. This is a terminal diagnosis for our civilization as it now exists. If it's not going to be a terminal diagnosis for our species (and most others), we do have to pause long enough to find our grown up selves and figure out how to change radically in order to survive this.
Please debate me if you find this analysis flawed, but I see in the climate movement, and even in the scientific community, a failure to use basic logic to connect the dots. I believe it’s based on a fear of looking at the totality of the horror we face. Yet anyone who follows climate science even the way I do--as an educated non-scientist--ought to be able to make these connections.
Here’s an example: We now know that a temperature rise of 2C is inevitable, probably inside this century. And we were just informed that critical glaciers in Antarctica are doomed to melt away entirely. We also know the loss of the Albedo Effect, which is when white ice reflects heat back into space, causes significantly more warming (James Lovelock says it will be as great an effect as the sum total of human emissions). When you put these things together, you should be able to use simple logic to conclude that “runaway climate change”--i.e. unstoppable warming--is the result.
Add what is known about methane release from melting permafrost (methane is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2), and you can loop back and see that 2C is a very, very conservative estimate of how much warming we face. Add the warnings from the International Energy Association, the World Bank and the IPCC that 4C of warming represents a world to which humans may well be unable to adapt.
If you dare to look at all these pieces (and there are a great deal more!), you find yourself on the edge of a cliff fighting vertigo. Human extinction is by no means an apocalyptic fantasy. The urge to throw yourself over is real and present. You realize you will have to watch, and then suffer, all that is now inevitable.
If the climate movement were to tell us the truth about climate, there would be no climate movement. This paradox tortures me, and has stopped me in my tracks, as an activist.
But I am not a “defeatist”. This term is being thrown at people who are speaking plain about what climate science is showing us. Many of them are scientists (James Lovelock, James Hansen), some are science writers (Ross Gelbspan), and some are activists (Carolyn Baker, Paul Kingsnorth). Major teachers on a variety of spiritual paths are coming to the same realization (Thich Nhat Hanh and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee). Unfamous existential thinkers everywhere are quietly reaching the same conclusion.
A new kind of activism is quietly developing among these desperate souls. It’s the activism of those who have to work from a place of truth, and of those who recognize this very grave and primary truth: There are powers greater than us.