Despair versus Hope (and does it matter?)
I’ve been struggling with how to write about the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. My short summary: “We told you so and its worse than we thought.” I’ll let others expand on the sobering details–my dilemma is a personal one: If one gives up hope, what is the purpose of continued struggle?
We now know for certain that there will be catastrophic and horrible disasters coming our way despite our best efforts to change the future. Millions will die from heat waves, violent storms and rising seas, a process already begun and accelerating. We’ve shot well past the limit determined by ex-NASA Climate Scientist James Hansen as the maximum level of CO2 we could have in the atmosphere and avert this dire future. (His limit was 350 parts per million. We are now at 400 ppm and rising.)
I’ve been somehow involved in environmental activism since I was a 12 year-old Boy Scout growing up in Des Moines, Iowa. I’ve always been hopeful because I’ve seen the results of people getting outraged and motivated to fix environmental problems. For example, the Raccoon River I paddled as a boy was outrageously polluted, with human waste and poison dumped from stockyards and factories turning it into a stinky soup. The same with the Willamette River running through my hometown of Portland. Just yesterday, as I rode my bike across the Hawthorne Bridge, the river was full of salmon fishermen. I swim there on hot summer days.
But now I’m not so sure. The seemingly one-way track to disaster hurts me deep inside. And its not just climate change. It’s the destruction of life (I couldn’t finish Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, The Sixth Extinction, as it relentlessly catalogs the disappearance of those critters and plants that entranced me as a child and still do today). The destruction of farming land. The destruction of rain forests. The destruction of the Canadian boreal forest for dirty, dirty shale oil. The pollution of last remaining clean water sources. The hunting out of the last large fish in the sea and the pursuit of the smallest krill (for dog food) on which all the ocean depends.
Then I read in this Sunday’s (4/20/14) NY Times Magazine of a man named Paul Kingsnorth of England. Author and activist, he now says he has given up on hope. He is moving to rural Ireland to raise his children with the skills they need to survive the coming collapse of our all-consuming civilization. I think he is right. And this makes me afraid.What kind of world will my children, your children, everyone’s children inherit from us?
Is it possible to continue to struggle if we are convinced that our chances of success are rapidly approaching zero? How do you deal with this knowledge?