Sunday, July 22, 2012

Quote of the Day: Of Despair and Climate Change

Taken from a pair of comments in this comment thread from Making Light. The comment thread really springs to life with the first of these comments, so my advice (if you're interested) is to read the post, and then skip to this comment and proceed from there.

The general topic is a bad move by Greenpeace (see the post for details). But it's PNH's broader point I want to highlight here. Patrick Nielsen Hayden:
I do think that what [Greenpeace's bad move] springs from isn't arrogance but despair. If there was ever an issue in human history that could conceivably justify people deciding that the time for conventional tidy morality is past, the oncoming juggernaut of global climate change is probably it. It's going to kill hundreds of millions of us and leave the rest with significantly degraded lives, and it's clear that our wonderful political systems and our "meritocratic" elites are powerless to do a thing about it.

Bruce Sterling observed years ago that there will be purges, show trials, and public executions once the next level of climate calamity kicks in. I see no reason to think he was wrong. One can only hope that the set of victims will have some overlap with the guilty, but that's probably unwarranted optimism. (And yes, it does occur to me that I and everyone I know could defensibly be classed with "the guilty.")

I'm not saying any of this in order to argue with Abi's post or with anyone in this thread. And certainly not to justify Greenpeace. But I have a lot of sympathy with them. They're right. The threats they've been trying to point out are real. Nothing they try, nothing anyone tries, seems to work. This is the kind of situation in which people go crazy, lose their moorings, turn on one another, and start disregarding the copybook virtues. It's called "desperation" and the rest of our lives will see much more extreme versions of it.
Then, a few comments down, PNH continues:

What I should have said is that it's clear that our wonderful political systems (you know, our Freedoms, the ones the Terrorists Hate Us For) and our "meritocratic" elites have no intention of doing anything about it. I don't actually think they're powerless. I think they just don't care. They'll ride it out. Their lives will be okay. (Not for nothing is Cory Doctorow's "Chicken Little" one of my favorite SF stories of the last decade, because it's all about this: we live in the era during which the 1% are pulling up the ladders. They'll be fine. Many of the rest of us will be fucked.)

I'm not "despairing". I think something resembling human civilization will survive. It's just that a lot of actual, you know, people won't survive to enjoy it. For them, it is the end of the world. We've decided that's an acceptable cost. Those decisions are made now.

Arguments about "despair" are bullshit. Thousands of us turned out in the streets to say no to invading Iraq. The US and its tributary states invaded anyway. Lots of people said "don't despair." Who are we talking to when we say that? The tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians we butchered? Do they get a pass on the "don't despair" stuff? Oh, wait, it doesn't matter, they're dead.

I've never advocated giving up. But for God's sake can't we look our losses in the face and recognize that this much loss leaves some of us broken. That's really all I was trying to say. Greenpeace did a stupid thing here, and I've (actually) felt for a long time that Greenpeace is kind of stupid in its messaging and methods. But holy crap I can sympathize with the kind of despair that can lead to mistakes on this order. So go ahead and repeat to me how despair is a sin. I refuse to believe that imagination is one.

As I said in a comment I myself (just now) added to the thread (wherein I linked to and quoted from this post by Dave Roberts; see also here), I don't know if despair is a sin, although it certainly seems self-defeating. At the same time, I don't see how to avoid it. At this point, turning a political corner on this looks less likely than, say, benevolent Vulcans arriving to pull our fat out of the fire.

On this issue, despair hits me and I squirm to try to avoid it, but usually can't. Any suggestion for any positive action that has a less than vanishingly small chance of actually doing anything commensurate with the scope of the problem would be greatly appreciated.

1 comment:

Mishalak said...

Miracles happen the same messy way that my garden grows. Less than half of what I planned has apparently turned into anything. That has so far exceeded even my ability to eat vegetables that I may not have to by any until sometime in September.

That is why I do not despair. Or one of them. The other is beer.