Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:
Sorry for going a week without a post. I am at the deadline for a big project, which I will tell you about soon, and have had trouble keeping up with the site. And while that is still true today, this news that came by way of Facebook compels me to share it, fume about it, get all scared and worried, and to struggle with what this project claims to be about: ecological hope.
Here’s the bad news: a new study shows that it is about to get hot – very, very hot. Like next year and the next, like imminently. You know that scary 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have harped on here because it doesn’t seem to be having the appropriate impact on human behavior? Well, new information tells us that:
The world faces record-breaking temperatures as the sun’s activity increases, leading the planet to heat up significantly faster than scientists had predicted for the next five years, according to a study…
As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ["World will warm faster than predicted," The Guardian UK, July 27]
You see why I’m a bit down today. I won’t go into how we knew this was going to happen, oh, some four decades or so ago. I won’t go into the intrinsically moral evil of trying to hold this information at bay, rebut it with fake science, or pretend it’s no big deal in order to shield our affluent population and corporate bottom lines from the truth (the moral content being on a par with tobacco companies hiding the truth about smoking and lung cancer).
We are all responsible for this, all of us who have participated in the growth economy of the capitalist world, who bought SUVs and who fly off all over the world and eat packaged foods and industrially produced meat and drink liquids from plastic bottles and who insist on buying broccoli in February and living out in the suburbs so we can drive long distances to work every day and then oppose taxes for mass transit.
I guess around here, southeastern Wisconsin, where we have been basking in a deliciously cool, dry July (after the new annual rite of deluges and floods in late spring), we should see this as a time to rest up for what’s coming.
Several factors are leading to this sudden intense warming. The sun has been relatively quiet in recent years, while we have also been experiencing a cooling La Nina cycle. Both are about to change, adding to the drivers in the atmosphere from the vast amount of carbon dioxide that humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the past century or so. The sun is about to become more active, and a strong El Nino appears to be forming over the Pacific Ocean. These two phenomena mean we would be entering a period of warmer temperatures in any case. But as this article points out, the baseline temperatures from which these cycles build is rising steadily with the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – not only CO2, but also methane (in large part from our beef consumption) and nitrous oxide, another byproduct of fossil-fuel-burning and our industrial agriculture practices.
In other words, it is about to get plenty hot around here.
Remember the more than 600 people who died in just 5 days in Chicago during the 1995 heat wave? Did you see those images of people in Seattle bathing in city fountains trying to cool down the other day? Remember the great northeast blackout of 2003 when a sagging line in Ohio brushed against tree branches causing a series of failures that cascaded through a system stretched to the limits by human demand for power? Don’t count on your air conditioners to get you through…
Maybe ‘ecological’ hope is not the right word, because hope does not reside in a concept like ecology. To get us through this difficult period in human history, when we bring so many of the ecosystems we rely on to the brink of collapse, hope is going to have to be of the human variety — because if humans are not prepared yet to radically alter how we live on this planet, things will only get worse from here — and then from the new ‘here,’ the new baseline after these next 5 years of predicted big heat.
Resting our hope on the human, on the hope that humans will change en masse and in a hurry, that humans will fall in love with their planet and their children in time to wake up from denial, lethargy, and fear of change.
Instead, we want desperately to believe that somehow a technology or quick fix or some policy in Congress or the United Nations or at Copenhagen in December will save us from ourselves. We think we don’t need to get uncomfortable, inconvenienced, or to change our expectations about how we intend to live (should we have the affluence to have such expectations). How many NGOs will send people to Copenhagen to join the thousands and thousands of official delegations who will add their measure of CO2 by gathering there — and to what end? Can a strong climate change agreement be reached without this waste of energy and resources? Of course it can — with a new model of organizing that takes into consideration the human impact of our activities on our precious, increasingly toxic, atmosphere.
Are the environmental and religious groups ready to model this new global path, or must we insist on the old models? We know where this is headed, unless we get up some courage and start altering our models of how we make change come about. We’re not starting from scratch here. There are grassroots and indigenous groups all around the world that are creating these new models.
But more than that, since we speak from the vantage point of this country — are we going to try to get out of the economic crisis by returning to the very same industrial and post-industrial model that has made us the world’s biggest culprit in the creation of this climate crisis? Is that how we will get people back to work again, by reaffirming the same economic model that brought us to the brink?
We will have to become brave in crisis, because we did not become prophetic in preemption. We will have to build the ‘new creation’ in the midst of crisis. Let’s hope that this will be one of those times that brings out the best in the human, not the worst. What I can tell you is that we need all your best creative skills — writers and artists, spiritual seekers, grassroots organizers, pastoral workers, ecologically minded economists and other professionals, organic farmers, etc. — to begin this new creation, to put in place the new way of life — that will be a better one in any case than this one, that has produced so much wreckage and poverty all across the planet.