Thursday, December 14, 2017
How We Cope With the Unbearable
A friend recently mentioned a book she had read about how so many intelligent, educated people actively ignore the reality of climate change. Apparently many of them are aware of the science, even accept it, but isolate it and keep it out of their lives.
I confessed that I have that same syndrome or something closely resembling it. I read the science, almost daily, and I file blog posts on what I've read simply to keep readers informed, a bit more up to date. It's sheer drudgery and worse.
I recoil, almost instinctively, at much of what I read. That's especially true when the information suggests or confirms that we may be at a point of no return. I don't want to believe it but science is not as flimsy as belief. It's not a religion or an ideology. Science is based on a construct of knowledge and fact.
There's an old line about how the more you know the more you realize how little you know. We thought we had global warming figured out ten years ago. We issued dire warnings about how we had to keep warming under 2C because, if we didn't, the Arctic might be ice free by 2100. Now we realize our projections were about 70 years out. Events that I once believed might not even occur in my children's lifetimes will now, it seems, probably come to pass in my own.
Some take refuge in the idea that we'll come up with something to sort this all out. We'll find some fix. That's a belief-based idea bordering on magical thinking. Maybe aliens will land and hand us some suitcase-sized machine that will solve all our problems. Maybe.
The idea that we've been swept up in a mass extinction event of our very own making, humanity's doing, is almost unbearable. How could we do something as monstrously nihilistic? What have we allowed ourselves to become? What's on NetFlix? Neville Shute's "On the Beach"? No, not that. Anything but that.
My guess is that, as a society, we'll probably adopt something akin to Andean fatalism, a cultural feature of the mountain tribes who grow to accept the prospect of death by sudden landslides, driving off treacherous roads, etc. It's a somewhat higher odds version of the "when your number's up" coping device. You sort of give up fantasizing about a rosy tomorrow. How better to cope with the unbearable?
(When I wrote this I thought it so dark I wasn't sure I wanted to post it. Finally I realized that, while it's grim, these are grim times we are in. Ignoring reality, succumbing to Andean fatalism, won't help in any way. Yes, it's possible we've already gone too far to tame this beast but that cannot be our rationale for approaching the future. We have to shake free of this torpor. We have to realize that, while we may not be able to avert a darker tomorrow, our complacency can ensure that tomorrow will be far worse for those who follow us than it need be. We today can make their future harder, more perilous. And that's the path we and our government are on.)