Tuesday, May 01, 2018

I Have Never Struggled With a Post As Much As This One.

I read the report a week ago in The Guardian. I was going to write a post on it and then I thought, nah, this is just too dark. I feared that circulating this story further might encourage an already growing sense of fatalism that seems to be spreading.

A friend emailed me about it yesterday and I responded with the same views above. Then I found the story in other papers, finally in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

This morning I realized that perhaps it is time we had this conversation, unpleasant as it may be.

The Guardian story concerns an elderly social scientist from London, 86-year old Mayer Hillman.

We’re doomed,” says Mayer Hillman with such a beaming smile that it takes a moment for the words to sink in. “The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.”
Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute, does say so. His bleak forecast of the consequence of runaway climate change, he says without fanfare, is his “last will and testament”. His last intervention in public life. “I’m not going to write anymore because there’s nothing more that can be said,” he says when I first hear him speak to a stunned audience at the University of East Anglia late last year.
I agree with Hillman. I think it's likely - not yet certain, but likely - that the die is cast. A few years ago I joined the Dark Mountain project after reading their  manifesto. It's a group of environmental activists and writers who are tired of the lies civilization tells itself to cope with the reality that we are now living in an age of disintegration, a time of ongoing loss.

A year ago (less one day) I wrote this:
The thing about Dark Mountain is that it's not an act of capitulation as Naomi Klein maintains. It's not some nihilistic cult. It's about continuing to fight the good fight but from a somewhat better place, liberated from anxious but wholly unrealistic hope and delusion.

It is also liberation from partisan political pandering. It is a place from which one can put the nation and its people above political parties. After all, somebody has to stand up for our society, for our young people and generations yet unborn. Our politicians won't. Stephen Harper didn't. Justin Trudeau isn't.

Edmund Burke wrote of man's fundamental duty to leave the world a better place for his children. Teddy Roosevelt echoed this in his Square Deal speech. Today we have broken that fundamental law and largely with neither guilt nor shame. The world we leave is a far worse place than the world we inherited from our parents and grandparents. We trashed the place like a Vandal horde but not all of it, not yet.
As I told my friend yesterday, I'm still fighting for the margins. That's the spread between the difficult world our children will inherit if we start doing the right things and the far more hellish world we may bequeath to them if we don't. We cannot give them the world as we knew it in the 60s but we can give them a world much worse than need be if we continue to allow this disgusting petro-state,  Stephen Harper's Canada and Justin Trudeau's Canada to be our Canada.

Mayer Hillman shares this concern for our next generations.
Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100. “This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to climate change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical.” 
Global emissions were static in 2016 but the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was confirmed as beyond 400 parts per million, the highest level for at least three million years (when sea levels were up to 20m higher than now). Concentrations can only drop if we emit no carbon dioxide whatsoever, says Hillman. “Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return.”
...the world’s population must globally move to zero emissions across agriculture, air travel, shipping, heating homes – every aspect of our economy – and reduce our human population too. Can it be done without a collapse of civilisation? “I don’t think so,” says Hillman. “Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”
Hillman doubts that human ingenuity can find a fix and says there is no evidence that greenhouse gases can be safely buried. But if we adapt to a future with less – focusing on Hillman’s love and music – it might be good for us. “And who is ‘we’?” asks Hillman with a typically impish smile. “Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown.”
The last fight is the battle for the margins.
Hillman accuses all kinds of leaders – from religious leaders to scientists to politicians – of failing to honestly discuss what we must do to move to zero-carbon emissions. “I don’t think they can because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels.” 
Without hope, goes the truism, we will give up. And yet optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman. He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives.
Can civilisation prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”
The fight for the margins is a worthwhile fight. You know what you're fighting for - our grandkids and their future - and you know just who you're up against. Call them out, face them down, push back.


Anonymous said...

My youngest daughter works for a Conservation Authority here in Ontario. She read the recent Opinion piece in The Tyee by Jeanne Mikita (her letter to PM P.Trudeau and the response received) and she moaned that they are still dealing with exactly the same issues today that were a problem in to '70's. No progress at all.


The Mound of Sound said...

That means we have to push back even harder, UU.

Scott in Montreal said...

Dreary indeed! And I'll go one drearier: mightn't we be lucky enough ducks that a nuclear winter could cancel out the effects of runaway climate change?


Unfortunately, things haven't improved since Gwynne Dyer updated his epic clear-eyed novel, Climate Wars in 2012. Our best hope lies in crazy ideas like macro-engineering climate change with massive atmospheric dumps of sulphuric acid. But we will still have far too many humans on the planet. Mars anyone? Ice9?

Toby said...

We are doing to ourselves what we did to the mountain caribou: limiting habitat. Some humans will probably survive but in small isolated groups.

This post falls in with your post on Media Malpractice.

Lorne said...

it would seem, Mound, that we have neither the wisdom nor the selflessness to think beyond our own comforts and conveniences. I no longer hold any hope of a political solution; from our smiling prime minister to the leaders of so-called progressive societies, all we get are bromides that do nothing except save political hides and fill the populace with a false sense of security.

I agree that we have to fight the good fight anyway, as you suggest, so that not all of us will be equally culpable in the eyes of future generations.

All of this does beg a question, however: has our species essentially forfeited its place in the natural order, and will it be such a great loss if we ultimately drive ourselves to extinction? The collateral damage of that drive, however, is what I can't put out of my mind.

the salamander said...

.. all battles start at the margins
the scouts (that be us) engage

Deacon Jester said...

The last couple of comments reveal just how difficult, nigh on impossible and painful as hell it is to accept the doom we have accomplished.

Marie Snyder said...

I read that a couple days ago and immediately thought of you. I talked to my class about it, and a few are fighting hard to believe that the science is somehow wrong or that technology will save the day. I'm waiting for the day I get removed for upsetting my students. They're okay with the holocaust, because that's all over, and we were the good guys. This is a different kettle of fish. We've met the enemy, and it is us. This has to be faced head on if we expect to do enough to hope to slow it down a little. I tell them to look at some of the dates of feedback loops the IPCC predicts, and get them to consider the implications and imagine the world their children will live in. It has no effect on their "goal" to make enough money to travel every year on vacation. It's too horrific for them to believe. And fighting against the corporations and politicians perpetuating the problem is fighting against their very dreams. From the trends I see in classes, we had a little window where it was close enough and real enough to affect people, but now it's TOO close and they're back in a fortified state of denial.

The Mound of Sound said...

Marie, you add a far more difficult and complex dimension to this "conversation" I reluctantly chose to have. It is daunting enough trying to discuss this issue with adults, or whatever passes for adult these days. It is an order of magnitude beyond that to raise this with young people of your students' age.

My daughter and son-in-law are keen to have a child. (Bryan, a Chicago boy, became a Canadian citizen this very day to my great delight) I really struggled with what I was going to say to them given that they know my views on climate change.

I finally told them that, while they knew I had no confidence in a survivable future, the issue of procreation is a powerful thing that must remain between the man and the woman and it was certainly not my place to intercede. Who am I, on such an important matter, to tell them what is going to happen and by when or that some miracle solution won't be found?

I settled on telling them that I would support their decision on procreation provided that they made the effort to inform themselves of the latest and best information on what that child might have to cope with 20, 30, 40 years hence. The other condition I stipulated was that they agree to live their lives in the awareness that their child may be facing a particularly difficult future and that,therefore, they conduct themselves accordingly - living frugally, saving rather than spending - that, in the event the future unfolds as some warn us, they have the greatest possible means and the willingness to then sacrifice that resource to the wellbeing of their child, my grandchild.

This would have been a bizarre conversation to be having just a decade ago. But, like it or not (and no sane person should), here we are.

Should that grandchild arrive in a few years, imagine how, by then, they'll be treating this issue in her/his classroom. You and Lorne and Owen are/were teachers. If the curriculum hasn't moved on to a "we're fucked" consensus by then, how much damage could it inflict on young people for refusing to come to grips with this very real peril?

Marie Snyder said...

I'm lucky that this is right in my curriculum documents: "D3.3 identify environmental changes that have
resulted from the unchecked exploitation of fossil-fuel resources (e.g., environmental degradation,
climate change), and assess the impact of these changes on the well-being of Canadians Teacher prompts: 'In what ways are the negative effects of climate change experienced more by disenfranchised groups than by those in positions of power?' 'Why have some activists argued that climate change is a human rights issue?'"
- so thanks to the Minister of Education for that, because in some areas it's still taught as a myth or fake news.

I've had "the talk" with my own children, and two of three are very sure they don't want kids of their own. It's a much bigger responsibility now, and they need to know that going in.

Scott in Montreal said...

Poppycock! Find me one person who is sorry they were born, no matter the challenges they face, and I'll show you a malcontent who was destined for a life of misery in any event.

Two loving parents bringing up a good, loving human being will never go out of style. Don't let fear of a difficult future stop you. The Hasids in my neighbourhood gleefully bear as many children as they possibly can. We need fewer humans, to be sure, but each individual must decide for themselves their own choices, of course. Until the whole world wakes up to a one-child per couple policy like China did for a time, we can't eash shoulder the burden of over-population ourselves. Too much hand-wringing. Dark humour of my above comment aside, we mustn't throw our hands up in the air on the entire project of humanity, as bleak as the future we conjure in our darkest forecasts may look.

Northern PoV said...

A good article (one that I commented on and you replied to a few days back, btw).

But why treat this as something new? Bizarre concepts only ten years ago?
I think not.

Certainly Lovelock published his 'final warning' in 2008. That sparked lots of conversations in my circles. It covers much of the same ground as Mr. Hillman.

So, we have LOST the climate change war. The temp. rise and the rest of the ugly scenario is happening now. We are quite possibly already at the tipping point. (Hence my focus on the KM tanker issue, as the bigger issues are settled and we can get more people riled up over oil spills if we don't divert that debate into climate change.)

As a modern consumer I usually make the best choices I can. My biggest indulgence is air travel, now about one long return trip per year.
When Lovelock was challenged on his air travel, he pushed back.
And sounded much like Hillman (despite his personal commitment to reducing carbon emissions) "he is now scornful of individual action which he describes as “as good as futile”."

I'd be happy to vote to ban most air travel but as long as the world is partying, I ain't wearing a hairshirt!

Our biggest challenge, as we face the biggest human crisis ever, is ...
will it be a Mad-Max capitalist free-for-all race to the bottom or a socialist share-what-is-left survival scenario?

Owen Gray said...

No one will label us "The Greatest Generation."

Scott in Montreal said...

The Least Appreciative Generation

ffibs said...

Apparently we are just here for a good time, not a long time, after all.

Anonymous said...

Boomers had a chance to change things, but they won't. Their kids seem smarter about this, but get accused of 'killing businesses' because they choose bikes, veggies or avoid plastic. How to move forward when the media sustains this idiocy?

Marie Snyder said...

@Scott Re: "Two loving parents bringing up a good, loving human being will never go out of style. Don't let fear of a difficult future stop you....we can't eash shoulder the burden of over-population ourselves. Too much hand-wringing."

It's not about fashion or taking on the responsibility of population control, nor is it the fear of a difficult future stopping my children from procreating, it's fear of no survivable future. My children moved back home after being unable to find jobs that could cover the costs of a tiny apartment. Their children would be looking for work in about 2050 - 15 years after we're predicted to hit the feedback loops that will make for runaway climate change (according to the IPCC). It's painful to watch your children struggle to find gainful employment, but I can't imagine the pain of watching them struggle to find food, and clean water, and breath the air. I don't see enough movement to the contrary to expect things will get better suddenly.

Anonymous said...

The downfall of Roman took place in 756 BC due to too many people and not enough food to feed them and unfit water to drink among other things. We are killing ourselves off from our unwillingness to admit to the problems we have mastered at the near destruction of humanity. To honour the earth we must from the realms of the human world, the sky dwellers, the water beings, forest creatures and all other forms of life, the beautiful Mother Earth gives birth to, nurtures and sustains all life. Mother Earth provides us with our food and clean water sources. She bestows us with materials for our homes, clothes and tools. She provides all life with raw materials for our industry, ingenuity and progress. She is the basis of who we are as “real human beings” that include our languages, our cultures, our knowledge and wisdom to know how to conduct ourselves in a good way. If we listen from the place of connection to the Spirit That Lives in All Things, Mother Earth teaches what we need to know to take care of her and all her children. All are provided by our mother, the Earth. Shall we organize a march upon Ottawa and when we get there, instruct the Government they need to pull their ideas out of the black hole of the 70's and advance into the 21st century in order to survive as a species? Anyong

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, you almost lost me with the notion that the fall of Rome happened in 756 BC. It was about 1,200 years later. You might remember that Pontius Pilate was running the show when Jesus was crucified. Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and he spawned an entire dynasty of emperors that followed.

As for Mother Earth you're probably right but I'm afraid we don't listen to her these days and it's probably much too late to reconnect.

Marie Snyder said...

And now we've crossed another threshold.

Anonymous said...

"In 476 C.E. Romulus, the last of the Roman emperors in the west, was overthrown by the Germanic leader Odoacer, who became the first Barbarian to rule in Rome. The order that the Roman Empire had brought to western Europe for 1000 years was no more." That was the first time and you are correct with your comment....that was the second time. Anyong

Anonymous said...

The Oil Industry Was Warned About Climate Change in 1968. I am not a baby Boomer and I remember reading "Organic Magazine" with many articles on Climate Change as well in the 70's. When I tried to talk to my mother about this her comment was."that is a bunch of Scientist trying to make a name for themselves". I also remember this......https://news.vice.com/.../the-oil-industry-was-warned-about-climate-change-in-1968. I have been a supporter of a clean environment since that time which didn't make me very old. I am older than you Mound so perhaps you could give me a little leeway when I make things short in order to get to the meat and no I am not a robot......Anyong