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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 12/17/18

Hope Springs Eternal

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In the case of climate disruption, hope for what?

As the phenomenon of global warming became slightly more salient, when not simply denied, people in touch with reality came to see "hope" as a dangerous concept. Lulled by international conferences and other signs of apparent progress, even most people who believed in the scientific consensus could nonetheless put the issue low on their list of priorities. They had hope: surely our leaders would not allow disaster to occur.

If you bothered to learn facts about the issue, you might feel that we'd go straight from negligence ("not an immediate problem") to panic ("oh my god, we'd better do massive geo-engineering"). Emission of greenhouse gases has actually increased. The most recent international conference on the issue, most recent in a series going back to 1992, was held in the heart of Poland's coal country, in a country that generates 80% of its electricity from black chunks that produce not only soot bur also carbon dioxide.

Attitudes toward global warming range from the denial mentioned above to the argument that it's already too late, that the matter is out of human control as "self-reinforcing feedback loop s" take over, as of methane from Arctic shallows and from melting tundra. In a paper called "Deep Adaptation," a British expert called Jem Bendell last summer called for us to develop resilience (not to be confused with "development" or "progress"), to decide what can not be saved ("relinquishment"), and to devote ourselves to what needs to be restored. Resilience, relinquishment, restoration.

Recent science confirms the argument that if we proceed in a straight line (even without any of those "feedback loops,"), very bad outcomes will occur in the lifetimes of many of us. The only comfort is that, as any student of history knows, humans have often been surprised. However, even if the surprises are positive, and without unintended side-effects, they may not be enough to avoid serious trouble.

The degree of ignorance among voters is profound. Many do not grasp that some regions are especially cold at times because the Arctic is heating fast and air that belongs there has been pushed south. They do not understand that greenhouse gases emitted now take full effect only in 25-50 years, so that what we are experiencing now is based on gas emitted as long ago as, say, President Reagan. Many voters do not understand that what matters is not the annual emissions of greenhouse gases but their accumulation, so even if we somehow cut back drastically, past emissions would continue to hurt us. They have not noticed that the official predictions of harm, even at times the "worst-case scenarios," have almost always been exceeded, both because of the professional caution inculcated in scientific training and because of factors simply left out of the calculations.

Meanwhile, they hope.

Some observers, especially with training in psychology, argue that the only realistic course is grief-work, which helps people accept the situation and to live consciously, intensely, even joyfully. Of course grief-work would be valuable even in the absence of global warming. It means facing up, not giving up.

Reactions to global warming have often been posed in terms of extremes: either you deny (it's a "Chinese hoax" or at worst a low priority) or you accept impending disaster and just try to make the best of it. But real life will present many other challenges, such as developing the social forms and values that will help us through social difficulties potentially worse than those of the Great Depression followed by World War Two.

In a review of Barbara Finamore's book, Will China Save the Planet?, I spoke of the feckless and foolish hope that some of the British establishment and voters had about Hitler until Winston Churchill became Prime Minister just before the desperate evacuation from Dunkirk and the prolonged bombing of London. The review contrasted this with the hope aroused by the decision of the Chinese government, for whatever reasons, to acknowledge the reality of global warming and at least to start an energy transition. It's a beginning.

Will we ever be led by a Churchill? If so, will we respond in time to an appeal for the moral equivalent of "toil, tears, and sweat"? We haven't had troops chased off a continent; and we haven't had our capitol bombed. The danger isn't apparent. We need to respond to a peril we can't see.

Just After the Beginning
Just After the Beginning
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Craig K. Comstock Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Author of three recent books, Better Ways to Live: Honoring Social Inventors, Exploring New Challenges (2017); Enlarging Our Comfort Zones: A Life of Unexpected Destinations (2016); and Gift of Darkness:Growing Up[ in Occupied Amsterdam (more...)

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