It’s easy to jeer at the climate deniers for their obtuseness and fantastic theories.
But aren’t we all, by one means or another, denying the reality of a warming world?
Even a very optimistic set of assumptions about when global emissions will reach a peak and the rate at which they will then decline will see the world warm by around 4°C by the 2070s. That will make the Earth hotter than at any time for the last 15 million years. And of course the temperature will not stabilise at that level because feedback effects will have taken control of the Earth’s climate out of our hands.
The conditions of life on Earth will be wholly transformed, ecosystems will be remade, and humans will be retreating to the poles, with those already occupying the higher latitudes resisting the influx. All this will occur within the life-times of children born today.
Yet almost everyone, even those very concerned about warming, is going about daily life as though the future will be a gradually improving version of the present. ::continue::
In Requiem for a Species I describe the “maladaptive coping strategies” we all use to avoid facing up to the facts of climate change or to blunt the emotional force of what the scientists are telling us. We reinterpret the threat, engage in pleasure-seeking, shift blame and cling to unfounded hopes.
One of the more pervasive forms of avoidance is the belief that engaging in individual actions, like changing one’s light-bulbs, is an effective response. Some green groups base their strategy explicitly on this delusion—“Ten things you can do to save the planet”—unaware that they are reinforcing the individualistic thinking and political passivity that consumerism has so diligently cultivated.
The transformation of citizens into consumers is a strategy beloved of the big polluters and reluctant governments, as it shifts responsibility from their shoulders onto those of “all of us”.
But we cannot consume our way out of the climate crisis; only mass political action has any chance of forcing governments to legislate for fast and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet here we come up against a democratic system corrupted by professionalisation, careerism, spin and money politics.
It is a system that must be recaptured, cleaned out and reinvigorated. At the best of times, system changes like that take many years, years the climate scientists say we do not have. So we need a circuit breaker. In Requiem I argue that civil disobedience is necessary and justified. Will it work? Who knows.
Clive Hamilton is the author of Requiem for a Species, published by Earthscan.
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