This is one of those things where I feel like everybody quietly knows it but we have this sort of tacit agreement not to say it openly in order to preserve some sort of illusion about what our society is and who we are. But, I mean, come on – we’re not fixing climate change. Nobody thinks we are, not really. Everyone’s putting on a brave face, everyone’s maintaining the pretense on behalf of the kids of whatever. But come on. Let us be adults here. We are not, as a species, going to do the things necessary to arrest or meaningfully slow the heating of the planet and thus will be exposed to all of the ruinous consequences of failing to do so.
Look, here’s what fighting climate change entails.
- Observing slow and gradual change; apprehending the severity of a problem when there is no one clear crisis point or moment of no return.
- Thinking long term; prioritizing conditions in the future above conditions in the present.
- Being selfless; sacrificing our own personal needs and desires to secure the needs of others.
- Acting strategically; working in a coordinated way towards a complex goal even when the connection between those means and goals seems remote.
- Behaving parsimoniously; using less, consuming less, not acting as though the we are entitled to have more tomorrow than we had yesterday.
I could go on. And all of this requires cooperation across social, political, and national borders of a kind that as not existed at anything like this scale in the history of the world. Does that all sound likely to you?
I’m not telling people to give up, and I’m not telling people to despair. Of course we have to fight this thing, just like you fight to save your life even when it’s impossible. This is not in any sense denialism; it’s real, it’s coming, and the changes are utterly devastating. And though I recognize it would be easy to think this, I say this without a shred of glee, smugness, or superiority. I just feel like everyone privately knows that this is a fight we’re going to lose. Turn off every emotional part of your brain and do the pure, brutal actuarial calculus and find out what you really believe.
For all of my side quests I have always been a fairly orthodox communist, was raised that way and remained it. But I do admit that somewhere along the way, I lost the necessary belief in the inevitability of the worldwide worker revolution, even as I know that only that will produce a moral world. It is difficult to say what, exactly, pushed me over the edge, especially considering that even the experience of growing up in the 90s – the height of neoliberal consensus, the boom times of Clintonism and the two party consensus – did not. Perhaps the internet has simply given me too much access to other people’s minds and what lies within them, I don’t know.
But this will do. Climate change as both the death of capitalism and of the dream for a better world will do. Climate change is unique in its intellectual promiscuity, its indifference to ideology; it will both crush your enemies and your dreams as you like. There will still be humans, in the future, but they will live in a world thrown out of the exquisitely sensitive conditions that enabled us to flourish. What they will build I cannot say. I only wish I was there to see it. I am young enough to live to see the collapse, but too old to ever see what rises from the ashes. These days my most persistent fantasy is of my self, sitting on a throne of junk, collecting old clocks that still spin for no reason, sweeping the edge of the desert….