I wonder what might happen if, instead of denying reality, we told ourselves the truth

The utter destruction of the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian may finally convince many of the most intractable climate skeptics.

Many people are still in denial (written in 2017) about the severity of the problem of global warming, the accumulation of dangers and their progression.

Once they do get the message, though, there’s a risk of over-reaction edging into panic. This may result in people buying up all the food they can get hold of, trying to get their hands on weapons, etc. Unscrupulous companies may exploit the situation by deliberately creating scarcity of medicines, etc..

This is another reason to be open about these concerns and to come up with planning that makes sense.

Ten Dangers of Global Warming, Sam Carana, Artic News, March 7, 2017 [This article is a good explanation of the dangers of global warming]

Yesterday I liberally quoted the first part of the article, “What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped? The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it” Cultural Comment by Jonathan Franzen, The New Yorker, Sept. 8, 2019. More from that article follows.

And so I wonder what might happen if, instead of denying reality, we told ourselves the truth.

First of all, even if we can no longer hope to be saved from two degrees of warming, there’s still a strong practical and ethical case for reducing carbon emissions. In the long run, it probably makes no difference how badly we overshoot two degrees; once the point of no return is passed, the world will become self-transforming. In the shorter term, however, half measures are better than no measures. Halfway cutting our emissions would make the immediate effects of warming somewhat less severe, and it would somewhat postpone the point of no return. The most terrifying thing about climate change is the speed at which it’s advancing, the almost monthly shattering of temperature records. If collective action resulted in just one fewer devastating hurricane, just a few extra years of relative stability, it would be a goal worth pursuing.

In fact, it would be worth pursuing even if it had no effect at all. To fail to conserve a finite resource when conservation measures are available, to needlessly add carbon to the atmosphere when we know very well what carbon is doing to it, is simply wrong. Although the actions of one individual have zero effect on the climate, this doesn’t mean that they’re meaningless. Each of us has an ethical choice to make.

More than that, a false hope of salvation can be actively harmful. If you persist in believing that catastrophe can be averted, you commit yourself to tackling a problem so immense that it needs to be everyone’s overriding priority forever. One result, weirdly, is a kind of complacency: by voting for green candidates, riding a bicycle to work, avoiding air travel, you might feel that you’ve done everything you can for the only thing worth doing. Whereas, if you accept the reality that the planet will soon overheat to the point of threatening civilization, there’s a whole lot more you should be doing.

What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped? by Jonathan Franzen

If you accept the reality that the planet will soon overheat to the point of threatening civilization, there’s a whole lot more you should be doing.” My plan is for that to be the topic for the next post.

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2 Responses to I wonder what might happen if, instead of denying reality, we told ourselves the truth

  1. karen putney says:

    I really appreciated the reflection by Jonathan Frazen. He went where we have to go to dispel our magical thinking and then comes round to facing the truth of what part we can …and are rather obligated…to play. I was actually relieved to see the truth so clearly spelled out, perhaps opening way for a more practical and honest path to travel together as best we can.

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