But then, something changed.
Look, I know there’s a lot of people like me out there. We know what climate change is, and we know we’re causing it with carbon dioxide emissions, but the only way it manifests in our daily lives is at most a vague feeling of helplessness and a generous extra helping of MEDC guilt. But that’s alright because our elected leaders know about the problem, so let’s leave it with them and get on with our lives. It’s up to them to deal with it. Everything’s going to be ok.
But after 30 years of believing that, it abruptly dawned on me that everything kinda probably won’t be ok at all.
What woke me up from this gentle dream was being drenched with this bucket of cold reality-water. In case this blog post is the only article you planned to read today (my humble thanks for that honour), Randy Malamud in The Huffington Post has drawn a connection between what is, let’s face it, a routine and uninspiring bit of climate change news in the New York Times (another article? Wow, sorry) and a scene from The Newsroom on HBO. In this scene, a live interview with a climate scientist gets progressively more awkward as he flatly declares that it’s too late to stop global warming, and humanity is basically done for.
Arguably my Damascene moment should have come either from the news piece or the TV show, but I hadn’t seen either of those things before. And even if I had I still think it would have taken Malamud’s advance to pierce my climate-proof carapace. I’d seen fictional climate dystopia stories before, and I’d seen so many negative climate change news stories that it had long since become a background hum I could no longer hear. But the simple thing Malamud did differently from anything I’d come across was to take the climate dystopia idea and apply it to modern day reality; declaring the end of the world, right here and right now.
For a while it made sense […] to cling to a thread of hope in order to motivate reform and prevent people from descending into a paralyzing sense of helplessness. But now it’s time to accept our impending demise. Those are profoundly difficult words to write, but they are necessary: Our times demand a new rhetorical honesty. It is deceitful and irrelevant to sustain the charade that things may improve. Instead, it’s time to start talking about how we will die.”
Christ son that there’s some grim tidings. Is “malamud” Greek for “despair” or something?
My wife – who reads – was the one who found that article and sent it to me. It was powerfully timed: my 30th birthday had just passed, and my son’s first birthday was just around the corner. Both of these are reflective times in a man’s life, plus the latter milestone also marked the end of that notoriously impossible first year of parenthood. My wife and I were just about ready to stick our heads a bit above the parapet and find out what was happening in the world outside our little bubble.
Upon reading the article my initial reaction was, I guess, one of unreasonable anger at the columnist:
I mean, I said some other stuff as well. Largely along the lines of acknowledging he may be right, but even if he is, throwing in the towel like that is really unhelpful. Broadly speaking I stand by the comments I made at the time, but for me personally it turns out that the angle he took was incredibly motivating.
I’ve seen it argued that one of the reasons so many of us don’t engage with climate change as an issue is because those who are trying to engage us keep doing so in the same way. To me it looks like this: campaigners present facts and a warning of a bleak future, some people are converted and begin to engage with the problem. But it’s not enough, so campaigners present more facts, more warnings, all the same stuff that worked for them. But we’ve heard it all before and so it falls on deaf ears.
The failure then of the environmental campaigners is not to change tactic. They keep saying the same stuff, over and over, while us plebs unconsciously get better and better at ignoring them. It’s like trying to get out of quicksand by struggling harder.
So the secret to getting people to engage with climate change is talking about it in a different way. In lots of different ways. Try something new so it isn’t ignored, and try a range of different things because nothing works on everyone.
Apparently what works for me in terms of getting me to give a shit about climate change is other people giving up and proclaiming the end of the world. So well done, Malamud! But I still think you’re an asshole.
My revelation left me with two resolutions. One, that after 30 years of deliberate ignorance I was going to look this issue square in the face and find out exactly how right or wrong Malamud was. Two, that I was finally going to step up and try to do my small part to address climate change. However bad the situation really is, it’s bad enough. And I have my son’s future to think of.
So I did some research and the consensus seems to be this. At our current emissions rate, and the rate it’s decidedly not decreasing, we’re basically screwed. CO2 levels are going too high, too fast, and not enough is being done to stop this. There’s a certain minimum amount of climate change that we now can’t get out of, so expect plenty of storms, desertification and rising seas in the future. This is already well underway (oops that’s a whole lotta articles right there, it’s like I can’t help myself).
But the good news is that all is not yet lost, despite Malamud’s malefic musings. If everybody who’s as apathetic about climate change as I was starts paying more attention to it, we still have a good chance of minimising the disaster and avoiding the worst of it. This is a bloody relief, because “the worst” is pretty hideous by all accounts.
Here’s the thing. There are no superheroes, nobody who’s gonna drop out of the sky to fix this problem for us. Big companies who contribute the most CO2 only care about the money they get out of us, and our governments only care about what wins them votes. That means that far from being helpless, not only do we have all the control but all of the obligation. If we care about climate change, they will be forced to. So if we want this thing to get better, we’ll have to get off our arses and make it happen.
And if we fail, well, those of us who tried can at least feel like it isn’t our fault as the temperatures ascend through the rest of the century.
So in real terms, what can us layabouts really do about all this? That’s where it gets more complicated and something tells me that 90% of the posts I write for this blog will be attempts to answer that question. Hopefully we’ll figure it out as we go. Stay tuned.