I heard a pretty good radio show on KMUD this week. A local volunteer programmer failed to show up for his time slot, so they threw on an episode of Radio Ecoshock, which usually runs at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night. The show looked at why no one wants to talk about (or read about, presumably) Global Warming or Global Climate Change. The show featured guest George Marshall who has just written a new book called Don’t Even Think About It, about why it is so hard to get people to talk about Global Climate Change.
I haven’t read the book, but I can relate. In the ’90s I worked as a canvasser for Greenpeace. The science behind Global Warming was pretty solid even back then, and Greenpeace had an active campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It had something to do with “the Montreal Protocol,” but I don’t remember much more than that. We had pretty good campaign literature and everyone could easily understand the issue. Compared to endocrine disrupting chlorinated hydrocarbons, bio-accumulation of persistent toxins, or even the dirty side of nuclear power, Global Warming seemed like an easy sell.
Most of the people who worked in that office lived “car free” already. We knew vehicle exhaust was destroying the planet. We immediately understood the importance of the issue, and we all developed raps to explain Greenpeace’s strategy to stop Global Warming. We immediately recognized Global Warming as “the ubber-issue”, the issue that supersedes all current issues and spawns all future issues. We knew that Global Warming would define our lives, so we worked that campaign enthusiastically.
Unfortunately, Global Warming turned out to be a really tough sell when talking to the general public. When we told them that the Japanese were still hunting minke whales, it incensed them and made them angry. They were happy to give us money to stop them. When we told them that DuPont made carcinogenic plastics, pesticides and ozone destroying chemicals, as well as medical equipment and chemotherapy drugs, they said “go get ’em” and wrote a check. When we explained that fossil fuels caused global warming through the greenhouse effect, and that we must, on a global scale, reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn, or face catastrophic consequences, they just got depressed.
They got it. That was the problem. They believed that Greenpeace could stop Japanese whaling ships. They believed that Greenpeace could pressure DuPont into phasing out CFCs. They believed Greenpeace could close down nuclear power plants. They knew that global warming meant something else entirely. Global warming meant we lost the war.
By the early 1990’s we had lost a lot of environmental battles. Those were not the best of times for the environmental movement. We were used to not getting what we wanted. We were used to setbacks, but people still believed we were relevant. We still believed we were relevant. Global Warming meant we had failed. We could no longer claim we were swimming towards a distant shore. We had clearly been sucked out to sea.
With other issues, we can fix a problem, without challenging our underlying way of life. Saving whales or banning CFCs were little things we could do to fine-tune civilization, to make it more civilized. Global warming indicts civilization itself. Global Warming is the altimeter that tells us that we are plummeting, rather than flying. Global warming is not a problem, Global Warming is an indication of failure.
Global Warming isn’t the only indicator of failure, by the way, here’s a short list, in case you haven’t been paying attention:
2. Mass extinction and global wildlife population decline
3. Ocean acidification
4. Peak Oil
5. Peak Water
These “meta-crises” indict more than an industry, or a class of chemicals, or a technology, they indict our whole way of life.
If you think solar panels and electric cars will solve this crisis, you are dreaming. If you think there is a political solution, you’re delusional. We’ve blown it. We will not have a soft landing. I’m not saying that there’s nothing to be done; I’m saying that we’re doing everything wrong. Grassroots organizing isn’t working because democracy doesn’t work. Technology isn’t helping because capitalism doesn’t work. We cannot even conceive of what to do next because our culture doesn’t work.
We need to have that realization. We need to realize that what we are doing here, as a global culture, does not work. Every man, woman and child, in all of civilization needs to know that they have been betrayed. Everybody needs to know that everything we know is wrong. If we don’t stop doing what we are doing, and what we’ve been doing for longer than anyone can remember, we will lose everything.
That’s why people don’t want to think about Global Warming. That’s why people deny that Global Climate Change is real. That’s why even people who know that climate change is real, try to pretend that it’s really not that big of a problem.
Nobody at a bar wants to hear about Alcoholics Anonymous.
This is the only way of life any of us have ever known, and a lot of us like it, but it simply does not work. It never has, and it never will. As long as civilization persists, it’s appetite for energy guarantees that the effects of Global Warming will intensify still further, and persist far longer, with catastrophic consequences.
Scientifically, we can expect the consequences of Global Climate Change to intensify as long as the levels of greenhouse gasses in the environment continue to rise. The question now becomes, how long will civilization persist in the face of Global Climate Change.
Do we get smart and bail-out early, in hopes of surviving as a species, or do we plunder forth in the face of certain destruction, to join countless other species that have disappeared into extinction at our hands? From an environmental perspective, the sooner we abandon this crazy, dysfunctional, unsustainable global culture, the better.