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.)


Anonymous said...

One of the most horrifying movies I saw on TV when I was a kid was 0n the Beach, where Burt Lancaster takes a sub from Aus to California to track down an empty coke bottle caught in blind and tapping out random dots and dashes on a telegraph key. And I can envision the final search by my great grandkids generation for the last working twitter feed that leads to a bot account backed up by off line generators running a bitcoin mine.

Lorne said...

Your post addresses a lot about how I feel these days, Mound. The climate die is cast, and no amount of tinkering is likely to change what appears to be inevitable. Perhaps, as in contemplating our own death, we see the extinction of life as we know it in an almost clinical way. Just as we know at some point in the future we as individuals will be gone, the rapidly approaching impending doom of our collective selves always seems still somehow far off.

We humans have a remarkable capacity for rationalization, denial and magical thinking, don't we?

Anonymous said...

The behaviour exemplified by our collective reluctance to address issue of global warming is built into our genome.
A mirror anyone?

The Mound of Sound said...

There's a theory that holds all intelligent life is self-extinguishing. That, the theory holds, is why we're not surrounded by alien visitors.