“We haven’t the money, so we’ve got to think.”
While I’m off exploring Wisconsin’s thumb, John Ingham has kindly agreed to step in and pick up some of the slack. As usual, he’s asking big, important questions few people think or dare to ask. John’s post is another fine addition to Climate Chronicle’s Inner Climate file. Submit your comments and I’ll make sure they’re shared with other thoughtful readers.
The human race — or that portion of it which is paying attention — has suffered a profound shock. Until very recently, our past was much shorter than our future. Our past may stretch back thousands or millions of years, depending on how you count. But we’ve generally considered our future to be limitless. We thought we would pass our family keepsakes on for countless generations. We’d overcome disease and aging. We’d travel among the stars, and meet with sports leagues from other galaxies. Like Energizer Bunnies, we’d just keep on going. Didn’t the size of the universe implicitly symbolize the size of our future?
Now we’re getting irrefutable first-hand evidence that the climate is beginning to rip apart our relatively pastoral world, making it much less hospitable to human life. How rapidly this will devolve and how bad things will get is impossible to pinpoint, and still depends in part on our behavior, but it’s looking as though life as we’ve known it — nurtured by a generous and generally predictable “mother nature” — is about at an end.
What do we do?
Some people have begun to do things to “combat” climate change, from buying low-energy light bulbs to choosing lifestyle options that reduce use of fossil fuels. Some people are learning (or teaching) survival skills. Others are organizing communities around self-sustaining models. Businesses everywhere are developing eco-friendly products, or at least re-casting their wares as “green.”
My own life has changed in this regard. Instead of ambling through a leisurely retirement, I’m trying to learn how to grow as much of our food as I can. I’m making new connections among my neighbors in the expectation that we will all need to help each other in the years ahead. I am trying to cultivate special skills that might be useful to a small, local community.
Whether any of this will make a difference, I have no idea. The next tornado or flood that comes through our township (and we have been visited by both in recent years) could whisk us away to neverland.
I imagine I’m not alone in feeling distraught, trying to figure things out by myself. If we had not allowed our society to disintegrate so shockingly, we might be getting some informed guidance from our educational institutions and our government. But our schools are fighting just to keep the doors open, and our morally bankrupt government is busy bombing innocent people in irrelevant wars.
What do we think?
While we have a panoply of “action items” to keep us occupied, we have had little or no guidance in what to think about our grave situation. There has been a dearth of public discussion about how to incorporate the looming specter of global warming into our thinking; no attempt to contextualize it and make it fit in our lives. But it seems to me that how we think about global warming can determine how intelligently and effectively we deal with it.
Like the three blind men trying to describe an elephant, we have been dealing with fragments and misconceptions. If we could accurately describe the beast in its entirety, we might organize a concerted and informed plan of action.
First, think; then do. Sound sensible?
Lots of people apparently don’t think about global warming at all. They’re flying to Vegas. They’re building more ATV trails. They’re finding new ways to extravagantly pursue leisure.
Perhaps they’re in the first stage of Doctor Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous five stages of grief, the process by which people deal with death and other tragedy: first denial, then anger, typically followed by bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.
A fairly new online journal, Ecopsychology, explores the environment’s effect on people’s psychological well-being, and suggests that many people are depressed, if not by the climate situation in general, then by discrete climate events, such as Hurricane Katrina and its effects. One paper’s finding maintains that people who are engaged in ecologically sustainable activities are happier than those who aren’t.
I have been solidly depressed by global warming for a long time. When I initially talked with my doctor about it, I asked him if he was seeing other patients who were depressed as a result of the climate news. “You’re the first,” he told me.
“Will you let me know when you start getting some cases?” I asked. Eight years later, no new complaints. Meanwhile, though still depressed, I have moved on to acceptance of the situation, and am definitely engaged in “ecologically sustainable activities.” Which perhaps makes me less depressed than I would otherwise be.
When I find the opportunity, I ask people what they think about climate change. One friend, on the cusp of retirement, asked, “Do you think it’ll get here before we check out?” I think a lot of older people just want to outrun it.
Another friend, who runs a university program for beginning farmers, rolled his eyes but had not a word to say. Most people claim they have no opinion. A few, like Wisconsin candidate for U.S. Senate Ron Johnson, claim that climate change is just sunspots.
When I do get an intelligent reply, it’s usually from someone who works closely with the land. They can see the changes, and it scares them.
I have been curious about what churchgoers think, and about what “official” positions churches might take on global warming. So I asked my long-time friend, a recently retired Lutheran pastor, Dr. John Krueger, beloved shepherd of flocks in California and Arizona, what was up in his bailiwick. He thought that his parishioners weren’t much concerned
about climate change per se, but shared a belief that the Second Coming of Jesus was imminent because of the increasing evil, decadence and tribulation in the world.
Would the worthies be raptured, as in the Left Behind book series? Baptists and many others believe in a rapture followed by a second coming for the also-rans, John told me. Lutherans (and many others) believe in a one-shot return, wherein all people would proceed directly to Judgment Day.
John even polled his colleagues: “I asked some pastors about this. Neither the conservative nor the liberal nor the middle-of-the-road pastor indicated that his/her denomination has said much of anything about global warming. Neither has the LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod).”
My conclusion: Christians seem to be leaving things to God to figure out.
What do you think? What will you do?
What and how should we think about global warming? Will invention and technical innovation save us? Is it the end of civilization, or a whole new planet, as Bill McKibben maintains in his newest book, Eaarth? Is it God’s work — or a human problem? Does it go away when you ignore it? What do your children think?
We need to talk about it. We need public discussion in order to develop a coherent view of global warming, and a concerted approach to deal with it.
What about you, dear reader? What’s your take on global warming, and how does it affect your life? What are you doing about it, and what do you think we should do as a society?
Thanks in advance for your opinions and insights. They may make all the difference in the world.