When Climate Change ultimately becomes accepted by the mainstream culture, which is a point we’re rapidly nearing, those of us who have been talking about it for the past ten years, or twenty years, or fifty years, will be likely forgotten.
This is the way change happens.
Soon talk of climate change and global warming will be something that has traveled from the fringes, to the academic world where it’s been batted about for decades, through the intellectual circles and is now penetrating some of the outer layers of the hard, skeptical center of America. Terms will eventually become commonplace as the culture will absorb key climate change topics into its discourse. Pioneers like Bill McKibben may remain of note, but for the rest of us who have been long thinking about a possible future with shrinking ice bergs, coastal flooding, mass migration and food shortages, we’re going to be just like everybody else.
And what does it matter? Isn’t the point of all of this the future of the earth and our children and grandchildren’s inheritance? It’s not whether or not we get any come-uppance for our foresight.
But it would be nice to say, “I told you so,” wouldn’t it? You have to admit, that in many ways, talking about climate change amongst ourselves hasn’t been just about the weather. Very few of us are actual climatologists. A lot of us are intuitive types, people who look around and see things the mainstream doesn’t seem to pick up on with its rose-tinted glasses. Talking about climate change is linked to many different ideas. It ties into the 99%, part of the culture of haves and have-nots. It is related to the concept of entitlement (not to be confused with entitlement programs, but, rather, a state of mind saying “I deserve to get whatever I can and take whatever I want.”) Climate change is wrapped up in the whole idea of limitless progress, of an endless one-sided equation where we extract from the earth what we need to feed, fuel, and fabricate without a thought for putting anything back.
We’ve been stealing from the giant’s castle for far too long, and the giant has started to take notice. But for those of us who were warning everybody of the dangers as they climbed up the beanstalk without so much as a care in the world for anyone but themselves, to now point fingers and saying, “Told you” as they run screaming from the giant is not going to help or accomplish anything.
It just would be nice.
There are and will still be holdouts who sneer at the idea of climate change. As Michael Ruppert puts it in the 2009 documentary “Collapse,” it’s like the Titanic. You have three types of people – those who know how to assemble the lifeboats, those who panic or are inert, and those who refuse to believe the ship can be sunk. Ruppert asks, “Who are you going to help?”
The thing is, Climate Change is linked to something else, too. It touches a huge nerve very central to the human condition: the repressed knowledge of our mortality. To live without considering the repercussions for our actions is often a way we quest for immortality. To deny climate change, or anything which challenges the way we live, is to shrug off the very grave considerations of our human vulnerability.
Ruppert also says in “Collapse,” that he doesn’t debate any more. That the time to debate has passed. So if we’re not debating anymore, what are we doing? We’re building the life boats. People who have been talking about climate change for these many years are now responsible for setting the example. It’s not about “I told you so,” it’s about innovation and proactive solutions. We may not be able to reverse the major effects of global warming at this late date, but we can be crafting the ways to reduce future stress on the earth and to adapt to a different life on our planet.
I remember cringing when, in 1999, there was a World Trade Organization protest in Seattle. People flew in from thousands of miles away to stand and decry the effects of climate change in a world of global trade which includes transoceanic liners that drag invasive species around the planet, for one thing, and yet here everyone was flying in on airplanes using tons of jet fuel to get to the protest.
Now is the time to work within the community and with one’s own family, seeking alternative ways to eat and stay warm on the planet without draining the last of the earth’s resources. For all the lauding of becoming “energy independent” in the US, or the applause over natural gas, we need to remember that this is still more of the same. The shift that is needed is a personal, internal shift. The individual must realize that the system which supports him or her with his car and his home and his job is not an infallible infrastructure, but the result of ideas based on information (or a lack thereof) which are now in dire need of revision.
There are bound to still be people who stand with their arms folded and say “What, me worry?” until the very end. And these same people are likely to say, “See, I told you it would be okay” when and if, fifty years from now, we are still sitting in our well-lit, warm homes, watching our favorite TV show and eating a pizza. The reason we will have these comforts, if we do, will be because of the men and women who have instigated reform and innovated the more sustainable ways of living which will grow from “alternative” to “mainstream.” Once more, it will be a thankless task, just as trying to enlighten people to the effects of climate change has been since the 1970s. The reward will be intrinsic.
Finally, a note: The other day I was thinking how the revolutionary ideas of the 1960s had their own soundtrack. “Street Fighting Man” came over the radio and I wondered aloud, “Why don’t we have music like this to accompany the movements of today?” I was thinking of Occupy Wall Street, about conversations, particularly since 2008, about the 99% and the 1%. I was thinking about the people who have been trying to raise awareness about global warming, population growth, air and water pollution, and all of the anomie of the industrial age. My partner said to me, “That’s because in the sixties you had a counterculture. But in order to have a counterculture, you have to have a mainstream. Today everything is so varied – it’s hard to say what mainstream is.” I took her words to heart and thought they sounded right.
Later, though, I was still thinking about it, and decided to make an amendment to what she was saying. In the 60s there may have been a greater distinction about what was mainstream, and what was counter to it. Today we live in a more complex world where many issues get more attention due to our enhanced media of the internet and communications. But, you can still draw a line between mainstream and alternative culture. The mainstream will always be about protecting the more libertarian view of “It’s my right to live how I want to,” which aims to mollify the fear of death in the individual. The countercultural view will always be about humanity as a group, which, in its own way, addresses mortality, too.
Either way, I don’t like to follow the herd. I don’t have all of the data at my fingertips, and I would never say I know, without a doubt, exactly what climate change is and where it comes from. I’m always interested in differing views, and the chance to learn something which will add to my understanding of the situation. Where I react, emotionally, intellectually, and take a stand, is when I feel a person has taken their stance for selfish reasons. That they refuse to admit climate change is possible thanks to human excess in order to keep getting what they feel they deserve – an unbridled use of the earth’s resources. By the same token, I have to be careful that when I go around talking about climate change that I’m not acting selfish, too, and just trying to be right about something. It would be selfish to think, now that more and more people are considering the possible realities of climate change, that I’ve been right all along, and aren’t I so great for being that smart.
There are people who came long before I had any awareness. There are people who will come after. And that’s the point. When you’re part of something truly worthwhile, it’s not about the acknowledgement, it’s not about the ego. It’s about the absolute truth within yourself, the measure of who you are as a person. Are you building the life boats? Are you standing around in a daze? Are you crossing your arms and wrinkling your nose in defiance?
Whatever you’re doing, we’re all on the same ship.