Climate denial comes in many colors and shapes. It is usually defined as not believing it is even happening or the refusal to accept the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. Simplistic thinking leads some to think that warm is good and warmer is better.
What we are doing right now is riding a very steep learning curve. We are just beginning to understand how delicately balanced the forces are that make our climate, how the very nature of our economy is driving the crisis, and how our homocentric view of the world keeps us from seeing that our extravagant lifestyle is driving a mass extinction.
Our first strategy, limiting CO2, flies in the face of all that we are and do. We see our transportation and energy capacity as non-negotiable. We know we need to switch to renewables, but are not totally at one with the idea that they will not produce the amount of energy we are used to.
Our world-view is based on the Judeo-Christian tradition. For ten thousand years, our civilization has been buttressed by an unwavering belief that all of creation was given to us by God for our exclusive use—all the animals, plants, rocks, water, air, sun, planets— the universe. As a result, we still tend to view everything in terms of what they can do for us. We learn just enough about how nature works so we can coopt it to do our bidding. Anything we see as not directly related to our welfare is expendable. The ideas that everything in nature is essential to our survival and that the rest of nature has equal rights to ours are ideas that we are beginning to embrace, but only when there is no great cost to us.
This brings up the denial of addiction. An addict knows inside that continuing as they are will mean that they will lose their family, their job, their home, and eventually their life, but somehow, can’t seem to stop. We are addicted to human hubris and a high lifestyle that our planet can’t afford.
The presidential race is a pretty good indicator of the priorities in our country. The climate crisis seems to be in a solid third place behind health care and the economy.
This not only indicates that most of us still see nature as subordinate to humanity, but that we fail to see that our societal economic behavior is itself driving the climate crisis. The fact that some see action on climate as unaffordable is particularly galling.
So the idea that nature seems to have a mind of its own and that it is overruling our plans, is quite a comedown. This is the more pervasive form of denial and the one that I believe most of us are struggling with. Even though we understand our dilemma intellectually, we can’t grasp how fundamentally our way of life is at fault. It’s a lot like racism in that our behavior is so pervasive and our ways of thinking so inculcated, we are only just now beginning to grasp the extent of harm done. We are not the rulers of the universe. We have to obey certain rules or risk extinction. Nature has given up on life experiments that have lasted a thousand times longer than ours.
The result is that we know we are in an emergency, but can’t seem to act. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen that is at the forefront of the children’s crusade, with the unique insight of a person with Asperger Syndrome, said this, “ It is like we are in a house that is burning, and you say to me, ‘What are you wearing today?’
We are faced with the fact that our Orcas and even our salmon are headed for extinction. We are furiously taking steps to save them, but the causes are so deeply embedded in the way we live, we will have to change ourselves radically in order to save them and ourselves. What is killing them is our lifestyle. It is the waste from our cities — oil, chemicals, plastics, and feces in such quantities that a real mitigation requires us to just stop. It is the daily and ceaseless going to and fro to work, shopping, and entertainment. It is freighter and ferry traffic that makes it impossible for Orcas to hunt or communicate. It is prioritizing too much water for human use. We are indeed in a great emergency, and we have the wherewithal to turn it around, but we fail to imagine the scope of the misperception that is the basis of our civilization.
We can get out of this mess. It won’t be easy, but it can be joyful. We can do it by transforming ourselves in ways that make life more meaningful, just, and secure.
Let’s read and educate ourselves. Become aware of all the others that live in the room that we thought was only ours. Join the Vashon Climate Action Group, join our kids in the climate strike walk this Friday from 204th St on the highway to town. Find your own place in the Whole Vashon Project where you can use your particular creative impulses to make all of us more aware of the beautiful world we can help make together. Above all, let’s wake up!