Climate change: Apocalypse by 1000 cuts

Not since the Reagan era cold war with Russia has apocalyptic awareness been so forefront in the public’s mind. Disturbing incidents ranging from nuclear football Facebook selfies to alarming North Korean military activity now accrue weekly. Sometimes hourly. What can one do besides scroll through Twitter before bedtime and let the news populate our nightmares?

The distractions and details are addictive: political murders via improv and a spray bottle, daily revelations of Russian infiltration in US elections and government, and today the president is yelling at Sweden. Tomorrow it might be Ireland. Who knows. We watch the global breakup like helpless children realizing that mom and dad are really getting a divorce. Right now, the sitting US president is not even welcome in the British Parliament, but he regularly tweets flattering sentiments to Russia. But there is a larger story that needs telling--and action.

Lost in the noise was the recent breakage of a mile-long stretch of West Antarctica, due to warmer ocean water. It was part of one of the largest glaciers within the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which scientists predict will collapse in the next 100 years. NASA caught the images of the event earlier in the week, but the story broke just as Scott Pruitt was confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency--making it seem as if the Earth did the planetary version of a spit take at the news. Timing aside, it was a big deal.

In the distraction of every new development, tweet, or outrage, it’s hard to get a bird’s eye view of what the hell is going on in the literal world. Luckily, Laurie Penny of The Baffler has done that for us, in a brilliant new article that should be required reading for the human race: The Slow Confiscation of Everything: How to think about climate apocalypse. Referencing the daily outrages, legislative battles, and civil division, she writes:

“Racist laws can eventually be overthrown, and even a cultural backslide toward bigotry and nationalism can be slowly, painfully reversed. We don’t get a do-over on climate change. The vested interests agitating to strip the planet for parts know that, too—and they plan to profit from this particular apocalypse as hard as they can.”

In the piece, she eloquently demonstrates that it is no longer the failure of diplomatic relations that is likely to kill us. It’s the man-made weapon that’s already been unleashed in global warming. That missile has already been launched. The point becomes clear: climate change is no longer an environmental issue. It’s a human rights issue--the right to live, and the right to have our children’s children live, too. It is not liberal alarmist drama. It's about life as we know it, and we need to adjust accordingly, or we will soon not recognize it at all.

“Climate change is species collapse by a thousand cuts. There will be no definite moment we can say that yes, today we are fucked, and yesterday we were unfucked. Instead the fuckery increases incrementally year on year, until this is the way the world ends: not with a bang, not with a bonfire, but with the slow and savage confiscation of every little thing that made you human, starting with hope.”

Echoing the storyline of her outstanding dystopian novel, Everything Belongs to the Future, she outlines where we are, how we got here, and shows us the (decreasing) options before us. Importantly, government policy choices are part of what determines which path the human race is really on. The voice of the people and their ability to understand this fatally overlooked reality--and then do something about it, is the ray of hope here. But it’s an attitude adjustment that needs to happen soon. We’re looking at incremental, but preventable, human extinction. We’re all drafted for this war, and really, we’re all ultimately on the same side. The challenge is, can we stop the bleeding in time?

“It is hard to outline the contours of a future you have never been allowed to imagine—one that is both different from today but accessible from it, too. The best we have been permitted to hope for is that the status quo be scraped to the edges of the present for as long as it lasts—a vote to run the knife around the empty jar of neoliberal aspiration and hope there’s enough to cover our asses. If people cannot imagine a future for themselves, all they can measure is what they’ve lost. Those who believe in the future are left, as they always were, with the responsibility of creating it, and that begins with an act of faith—not just that the future will be survivable, but that it might, somehow, maybe, be an exciting place to live.”

Notable Replies

  1. “Racist laws can eventually be overthrown, and even a cultural backslide toward bigotry and nationalism can be slowly, painfully reversed. We don’t get a do-over on climate change. The vested interests agitating to strip the planet for parts know that, too—and they plan to profit from this particular apocalypse as hard as they can.”

    AMEN!

  2. Liam1 says:

    Climate change is so depressing. I grew up with the constant worry of a nuclear holocaust. It was a big scary "what if". Now that fear has abated, maybe not in reality but in my mind, only to replaced by this slow steam-roller of global warming that isn't a "what if" but is happening right now.

    I give money to environmental groups. I try to vote for greener candidates, and reduce my own carbon foot print. But it all seems so fruitless. Half the US doesn't even believe it is happening. I almost envy them (but maybe they just have panic attacks about other things like Obama being the devil.) Even if we had a green president I don't even know if that would be enough to stop the steam roller. At this point some kind of global revolution will be needed.

    I guess such a revolutionary change will start happening when stuff really starts getting bad. I suppose the profiteers who know what is happening think they will be safe in their survival fortresses. I don't know. I just don't know what to do. I wish I could just stop caring.

  3. I wish I had something good to say. I really do. But all seems lost

    Big Oil is firmly in control of our government. It cannot be denied. The head of the EPA is a longtime enemy of the EPA. The head of the Dept. of Energy not-so-long-ago advocated the abolition of the Dept. of Energy. REX TILLERSON is our Secretary of State. Rex Tillerson, of course, not only sounds like an oil exec. - he is. Add it up, y'all.

  4. If you're not supporting nuclear power, you're not serious about climate change. All of the people in the developing world want to, and expect to, and WILL move up to a western middle class standard of living and that takes a LOT of energy. They WILL get it one way or another. It better be nuclear or it will be fossil fuels.

  5. No energy technology is substantially carbon neutral to construct.

    Depending on how you figure time available, no new energy regime can be effectively scaled in time. The bottleneck is partly in expertise, but also in parts, new grid management techniques, and just plain old fashioned fabrication. Late is bad, but better than never.

    Any realistic carbon neutral future is a portfolio of energy options, and nuclear energy has fairly robust support among scientists for a reason. Hell, even the Union of Concerned Scientists acknowledge it's an option. I have no idea why people lose all sense of proportion when it comes to nuclear power. Coal fired plants outkill nuclear by orders of magnitude since they release hazardous waste with very little containment. They killed more people last year than Fukushima will ever kill.

    We can save ourselves 80-240 Gigatonnes of CO2 by 2050. Wind and solar should be built, but are not enough. And realistically, it makes climate change mitigation more politically and economically palatable--which means that getting everyone on the same page becomes more realistic. Climate change doesn't get solved with our personal choices, but at the higher policy levels, and failing to understand that you must pay a political price to literally survive (well, your kids anyway), or worse--understanding it and whining about it, is supreme folly. Climate change and greed are real, and greed isn't going anywhere fast. Narrowing the economic options unnecessarily helps no one. I've seen people rule out wind turbines because they fucking kill birds. There is no perfect energy source that will be 100% environmentally friendly. They all have benefits and drawbacks, and I reiterate: The benefits of one must be pitted against the drawbacks of the other in a complex and diverse energy portfolio.

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