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View Diary: James Hansen: Less than 10 Years Left to Reduce CO2 (243 comments)

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  •  My greatest fear with all of this (28+ / 0-)

    Is not merely that humanity is about to have its collective ass handed to it like it has never experienced before, nor that the Earth's sixth great extinction event has already begun and will likely scour most of all life from the planet, nor even the prospect that a century or two hence, the best we can realistically hope for is that we've only been reduced to preindustrial population levels following widespread famine, wars over remaining oil and fresh water supplies, and general inability of the Earth's systems to support our numbers or our civilization to cope with the instabilities we've set into motion.

    All of these things I've already accepted as basically unavoidable, given where we are compared with where we need to be, and the relative motion between the two points.  It was rough, let me tell you, to admit that we're in Dante's shoes, looking down the road to hell, knowing that the only way out is through.  I wish that we had chosen differently, back when it would have made a difference.  I think McKibben's Eaarth strikes closest to the mark.  In addition to doing what we can to mitigate this unfolding catastrophe, the time has come to determine the kind of communities that will best weather the storm, and start building them now.

    But I digress.  The thing that I most fear out of all of this is that much of the progress our species has made over the past few centuries will be lost.  That the human suffering to come will send us back into the thrall of apocalyptic superstition and repressive theologies.  There is a very strong possibility, with the challenges nation-states will face, that secular power will fail and we'll lose the core of reason that lies at the center of Enlightenment thought.  That just when we need that kind of clarity the most, we'll end up flinching from lightning and terrified of the imaginary hobgoblins that religion has always used to ensnare the minds of humanity.

    When I hear people like Inhofe dismissing scientific understanding by quoting scripture in the halls of Congress, that is the rough beast I see slouching towards Washington to be born.

    •  Well said. It's not as though (6+ / 0-)

      a huge portion of humanity isn't still laboring under the oppression of superstitions and backward-looking/acting religions already.

      The scientists will (continue to) be the ones whom the religious leaders will blame for natural disasters; the secular, rational people will be sacrificed to try to placate the murderous god(s)  and their agents who in our day hate women, hate rationality, hate humanity generally.

      Lovely.

    •  I'm afraid you're right. (4+ / 0-)

      As far as superstitious theologies go, let's start with climate change denial itself. I was struck by James Hansen's concluding statement: "So now you know what I know, that is leading me to sound this alarm. Clearly I haven't got this message across."

      In 1989, my high-school class on "Science and Society" had the opportunity to submit a question to a climate change expert (I forget who; I was a snot-nosed teenager at the time), carried live over C-SPAN. We winnowed down the question by committee, and then posed it to the panelist. And it was something like, "how do you go about persuading skeptics of climate change that there is a need for action?"

      His response? "That's a very good question."

      So we put that question to C-SPAN guy almost twenty-three years ago, and both the question and its answer remain exactly the same. You could imagine Hansen's answer: "That's a very good question -- in fact, it's clear that I haven't got this message across."

      Back in 1989, the thorniness of this issue, the failure to convince skeptics, just seemed like garden-variety inertia. No doubt, there were lobbyists freaking out behind the scenes, working overtime to keep the question from being answered properly. But on the surface, at least, the problem still seemed to present itself in the way that such problems do in Hollywood films: plucky hero has to convince panel of crusty curmudgeons that an asteroid is hurtling towards earth. Curmudgeons are stubbornly adhering to age-old assumptions, but by and by, they will come around.

      Now, of course, the picture is much more clear: vested interests are throwing anything against the wall that will stick. Ridicule environmentalists every time we get a heavy snowfall! (Even though heavy precipitation is itself of climate change!) Point to unseasonably cool weather as evidence that things are not changing! (Even though no one promised that global warming would result in simultaneous, across-the-board rises in local temperature!) Throw up distractions! Change the subject!

      The ideological transparency of the climate change deniers has never been more clear. But we are farther away from convincing people of climate change than we have been since Hansen, Gore, and others started drawing attention to this issue.

      It depresses the hell out of me that the answer to our class's 1989 question is still, "that's a good question." The convincing bit should have been over 10 years ago, so that we could all move on to rolling up our sleeves and getting things done.

      Nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of non-thought. -- Milan Kundera

      by Dale on Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 09:44:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, the constant problem with this slow-motion (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dale, mightymouse

        crisis is:

        So we put that question to C-SPAN guy almost twenty-three years ago, and both the question and its answer remain exactly the same. You could imagine Hansen's answer: "That's a very good question -- in fact, it's clear that I haven't got this message across."
        Democracies are notoriously poor at addressing invisible or slow-motion crises.   Yes, we jumped into action for things like WWII, but that was a clear, present and IMMEDIATE danger.

        Most people are slumming on their sofas, enjoying tonight's HBO or whatever, and not really interested in something that doesn't have a gun to their temples.

        Convincing masses of Americans, let alone the rest of the world, is crucial, but no one has yet found a way to do so.  

        As you mention, over 20 years ago, we knew this was a huge problem and it has not yet been solved:  What do we do to convince people that change is urgent?

        What a Police State Looks Like: "On one side: soft human flesh, unprotected human skulls, cardboard signs, slogans they chant, armed with belief in 1st Amendment rights. On the other: helmets, body armor, guns, batons, chemical weapons." -- JanetRhodes

        by YucatanMan on Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 10:14:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  change WAS urgent (0+ / 0-)

          back in 1989, and earlier than that, really. Now you really might as well kick back and watch HBO, cause nothing is going to make any difference anymore.

          •  TIME magazine had a cover story on the urgency (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            PatriciaVa

            of climate change in the late 1980s.  I saved that for years, thinking that we'd suddenly wake up and do something about it.  But no one ever did.

            Not Clinton (never expected Reagan or Bush to do anything) and not Obama.  My optimism about 'change' is at a pretty low point right now.

            What a Police State Looks Like: "On one side: soft human flesh, unprotected human skulls, cardboard signs, slogans they chant, armed with belief in 1st Amendment rights. On the other: helmets, body armor, guns, batons, chemical weapons." -- JanetRhodes

            by YucatanMan on Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 10:45:20 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Not sure I can run with that (0+ / 0-)

            What we can do to make a difference is, as I indicated above, to identify the qualities in ourselves and our communities that will be most useful in weathering the storms to come and start cultivating them now.  As it stands, not only have we set this beast loose upon the world, but we are breathtakingly unprepared to face it.  We may not be able to do anything about the first thing, but we can still address the second.

            It is obvious by now that our political and economic institutions are holding on tooth and nail to a doomed status quo, but we don't have to.  Nor do we have to waste our strength attacking a failing system that is still powerful, but which will collapse on its own given time.  We may have to just go full Gandhi on this one, become the change we wish to see, plant the seeds of the culture that will endure in ourselves and those around us.  It may be that our reach will always be local, but that may be enough.  I have a friend who has been devoting herself to gardening, specifically urban and community, based on her conviction that mastery of small scale agriculture in developed areas will be a vital survival skill as these events move forward.  Like a martial art, mastery of gardening takes time under the best of conditions, and she's starting now because she knows that we will not have the best conditions in the years to come.  She knows she won't live to see it get really bad, but the gardens she plants and the people to whom she passes these skills may.  When I think of survivalist militia types stockpiling guns and canned food, but not thinking beyond when that food runs out, how much wiser this quiet woman seems by comparison.

            She can't write national energy policy, but she can learn how to coax life from the ground, and pass love of the same to the children in her neighborhood.  People like this give me hope that maybe, we'll make it through this yet.

            •  I'm inspired by your outlook, really (0+ / 0-)

              Unfortunately I'm much more pessimistic - I don't think change is possible anymore and not just because it will prove completely impossible to orchestrate 7 billion people on the same mission while keeping all their needs satisfied (just the inertia on that is a puzzle that no one can even fathom: how? how do you keep a viable economy and feed everyone that currently expects regular feeding without falling into complete chaos when you alter that economy?) But my premise, sadly (and for which I get a fair amount of criticism) is that the horses/cows etc. have left the barn a long, long time ago on the coming future & climate change: the mere concept of "changing it" is, in my view, not a possibility. I'm amazed when people post diaries like this that point out the absurdity of our situation and everyone reverts to "well let's just try really hard to make the world better" in the comments: it's like trying to dodge a bullet that has been shot at the back of your head at point blank range: no matter how much you want to think that you're not going to take a bullet you still are: you can't put this genie back in the bottle. I garden too, but in no way do I think it makes a drop of difference in the coming shit storm.

              •  Oh, I'm a pessimist, too. (0+ / 0-)

                A military pessimist, no less.  I'm well aware that the human species will be much smaller in a century or two, and that arriving at this new equilibrium will not be at all pleasant.  I agree that our inescapable reality is that humanity's demands have long since exceeded the planet's capacity, and that we will consequently be culled in numbers heretofore unimaginable.  Malthus is well positioned to have the last laugh, and it’s sure to be a hearty one.

                Short answer, I do not propose we orchestrate seven billion people on the same mission while keeping their needs satisfied; that would not be possible under the best of circumstances.  No, I’m afraid most of those people will likely die at the hands of a veritable potpourri of fell horsemen accompanying this beast we’ve loosed.

                But not all of us will.  In the history of our species, there are stories of great civilizations who wove the pattern of their own undoing much as we have done, though their numbers were much smaller and their technology more primitive.  We’ve sifted their bones through our fingers and unearthed their silent ruins.  And then there are other stories, of people seeing clearly the direction in which survival lay and charting their course by these new stars, often discarding generations of culture, economic tradition and religious dogma all demanding to be maintained.  Most people admittedly don’t have the stomach for this kind of thing, and would prefer death to change (though they’d never admit that in so many words).  I would not presume to sway those people, because I’ve seen how skilled they are at building intellectual walls, and I don’t have the time or strength for siegecraft on that scale.

                What interests me far more these days are the intrepid souls determining the ways in which humans must adapt, and then making themselves a living laboratory for the testing of these skills.  It is clear to me now that these adaptations will never be imposed from above, and most people would resist them tooth and nail in any event.  That’s what I meant when I talked about going full Gandhi.  What we can do, first and foremost, is to make those adaptations ourselves, even if we're alone in the effort, and teach others by example how much more they’re capable of.  It’s not much, but there are many intelligent people who can at least infer the kind of qualities one would need as the global ecosystem unravels, and many of them have a fair grasp of words and fully functioning bodies.  That doesn’t guarantee success by any means, but it beats despair, and if enough people do likewise, we may have the beginning of a new human paradigm that can survive the trials we face.  Plant the seed, and see in a hundred years what kind of tree grows from it.  A hundred years should be just when we need it to bear fruit.

                Catastrophe has a way of bringing out both the worst and the best of human qualities.  I am personally determined to embrace the latter, and support others who do likewise.  It may well be that it will come to nothing, and that humanity will join its lost Neanderthal cousins in the long dark of extinction.  But maybe we can at least face the end on our feet, still fighting for a future worth having even knowing that we will never see it ourselves.

                Amor fati and all that Latin rot.  :-)

    •  I couldn't agree with you more. History has (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PatriciaVa

      shown that massive crisis leads to a loss of reason and an embracing of "religion" or theocracy in the midst of chaos.

      Many great civilizations, with substantial scientific, mathematical and written knowledge have existed before us.  And they have lost it all.  Fortunately, we rediscovered much of that knowledge, but there is much we do not still know about past civilizations.

      The Enlightenment was only a short time ago, as far as human civilization goes. We could easily lose that progress and fall back into superstition, "survivalist" style politics and hateful splinter groups in substantial numbers.

      Civilization itself is at stake, as well as the survival of so many species (many of which we still have not discovered), and the survival of billions of people.

      Humans will likely continue to exist in some numbers, but in a vastly remade world that is a lot harsher and unforgiving.

      What a Police State Looks Like: "On one side: soft human flesh, unprotected human skulls, cardboard signs, slogans they chant, armed with belief in 1st Amendment rights. On the other: helmets, body armor, guns, batons, chemical weapons." -- JanetRhodes

      by YucatanMan on Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 10:10:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I fear you're correct (0+ / 0-)

        Nevertheless, I try to keep a small little garden of hopesprouts potted in my soul (next to the birdhouse).  One reason why is the woman I mention above in my reply to radv005.

        We may make it yet, even when it's clear the system as a whole is paralyzed.

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