Quote of the day

“Cycling home from work on a sweltering summer evening in August, I started to think about my scientific hero Richard Feynman and his reaction to the terrifying dawn of the nuclear era. Feynman had worked on the Manhattan Project, and when he returned to New York City to teach shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he began imagining the effect of the Hiroshima bomb on the island of Manhattan. Everywhere he looked, he saw rubble. He began to pity the people around him building bridges, skyscrapers, roads, and other monuments to an imagined future, as if we had a future worth imagining or building toward. He could now see only the smashed remains left by what he felt was inevitable—nuclear annihilation. The insanity of going on with ordinary life in the face of what he believed to be the closing chapter of humanity gnawed at him, left him possessed by dread.”

– Jonathan Golob, It’s Time to Freak Out About Climate Change.

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10 thoughts on “Quote of the day

      • I think that for those interested in climate change, the evidence definitely seems to point to “EVERYTHING IS FUTILE. WE HAVE ALREADY KILLED THE WORLD.” Which is a very understandable viewpoint, but I don’t think it’s true. I think that on a personal level it is kind of a scary, worrysome thing to believe. So – thumbs up! Carry on!

          • OMG, my feelings are really fucking rambly, so… I’m just going to ramble. Well, I’m not going to, like, talk you out of discomfort/upsetness climate change! Like I said, I think it’s a good upset to have.

            Like when someone on Tumblr complains that seeing homeless people sleeping rough makes them feel upset and uncomfortable? Those feelings are actually the feelings that you’re SUPPOSED to have when you see inequality and compare it to your own life.

            But nothing that we do is futile; even feelings like fear or shock in the face of climate change are useful feelings, the correct feelings to have.

            But futility… futility is the mind-killer, to paraphrase CA paraphrasing Dune.

            On a personal level, it makes me very upset to see friends feeling like their work or interests are futile (possibly because I experience depressive episodes that try to convince me that what I love is futile. Possibly because I believe so strongly in things like Science that the concept of anything being ‘futile’ seems dangerous and alien, like an evil virus that crawls into your skin and takes you over.)

            There are some other perspectives that I bring to bear. I know that NERC – the big UK/European funding body that is dealing with these things – has stopped funding climate change research.

            Why?

            Because it’s happening. It’s true; the scientists believe it. The UK doesn’t need to spend any more of its research money on modeling climate prediction software, or on funding research groups who are totally going to PROVE or DISPROVE climate change. NERC has decided that funding this research is no longer necessary, and that the money will be better spent researching food biosecurity and ocean acidification (and hopefully, the life and times of Dr Glass. Cross your fingers, we’ll hear in 2 weeks!). Meanwhile, America – a richer and more powerful nation – is slinging all the media and money it can at CLIMATE CHANGE DOUBTERS in the hopes that people will keep quiet for just a bit longer. America needs to move, and it is not moving, and it is 20 years hidebound and would see us all dead. Activism: it really is that fucking important! So keep at it & thank you for what you do.

            I hang out with people who work on climate change who are not too bothered by climate change – they’re concerned, and working hard, and trying their best, but they’re not covering themselves in ashes and crying who will think of our children. Part of it is that there is very real work that can be done and they are doing some of it. Part of it is the second half of that cry of despair: “WE HAVE ALREADY KILLED THE WHOLE WORLD.” Well, without undermining the very real emotions and feelings that are part of that statement, it simply isn’t true. The world will continue. It will endure in its geology – which if you talk to some people, is all that matters. It will endure in its life, which if you talk to others, is the most important thing in the universe. The world will endure in its life and the universe will endure in its life, and life strives. The world will endure in its flora and fauna – they can’t wait to take the place over again. The world will endure in its evolution and its fossils and in the glints in the eyes of small valuable creatures. Sometimes mass extinctions happen. The world gets over it.

            The world will endure in its people. Again, I am not trying to undermine the very real feelings and the very important despair: but there are people in the world whose lives will change irreversibly because of climate change, and they will endure. We are an adaptable species, made out of ice and fire, and this is an adaptable Earth. If someone were to say, “But Elodie, what if the Worst Things were true, and the-world-as-we-know-her rises by 10 degrees and the ice caps melt? The food supply chain to the Northeastern US will collapse and so will the weather – the economy will die – we’ll be homeless and hungry and have no air conditioning and social collapse, YOUR whole family will be crippled and helpless and my life will be completely changed!” I would agree, and it would be very bad and something I would like to prevent. But ice-caps-melting and climate-rising-by-10-degrees will be reasonably manageable problems for nomadic folks in, say, Mongolia, and some regions of the Global South, and other places that have already weathered worse. Some people on this earth still live as they did in the Ice Age. Although we like to forget them, and pretend that they were imaginary or extinct, their lifeways survived worse than this and can survive climate prediction models. The Worst Case Scenario would be a terrible thing, and the First World will be irrevocably gutted, yes, but The Discomforting Downfall and Continuing Inconvenience of the Global North =/= The End of Days.

            That’s something we don’t talk about much because most people need to hear that CLIMATE CHANGE IS COMING FOR EVERYBODY AND ~~*~*~YOUR~*~*~* LIFE WILL END AND THE WORLD WILL BE OVER AND YOUR DOG WILL DIE before they are motivated to act. That’s how we understand action, that’s the only kind of crisis our stories ever tell. When Doctor Who saves “the world” again and again, he is usually only saving London and five thin pretty white British people, standing in for THE WHOLE WORLD. And sometimes the Doctor says things like “If you press that big red button, it will destroy ALL OF HUMANITY AND THIS PLANET!” to really underscore that the entire world is at stake. In every disaster movie or sci-fi or fantasy piece ever made, the only way to generate drama/conflict/action is to insist that London and five thin white British people (or New York and five thin white Americans) equal the entire planet and all that is in it and all that is of value and worth saving for ever and ever. There are a lot of things worth saving (the world and all who sail on her, for one) BUT some of those valuable things are not the first things that we think of. Sometimes things do get Saved, but the things that get saved are not you-and-those-who-look-and-live-like-you. Perhaps this knowledge will help you and sustain you, too. I hope so. It does for me. If we have destroyed our lives, and then we failed to save our lives, and we tried our very best but we lost those lives, then that is all. And that is okay. Our lives are not all lives. We can shut down the power plants (the only real terrible thing that the Global North can do on its way out is to let the power plants explode and kill LITERALLY everything – and Japan has already demonstrated exactly what to do in this situation) and turn off the lights on our way out.

            And if you want to hear about my own rambly weird piece of theology on how I believe the world works, it’s that there’s entropy – the heat death of the universe, the end of things, the return of chaos and the dark, the abyss, futility and all who love her. And then there’s evolution: life, complexity, the reasons we keep going, the impulse to save-life and revere-life. Of course, physics exists and Entropy will win in the end, but Evolution (or Energy) plays the game by fighting Entropy for as long as possible. The joke is that there is no time limit or agreed-upon End to the game – it ends when Entropy wins.

            Entropy would quite like the world to end, and entropy sends you fear and depression and anxiety. Entropy tells you this is futile there’s nothing you can do you are futile you are nothing so why don’t you just take the world down with you maybe. Entropy would be pleased, for example, if people listened to it so much that they killed themselves, or killed others, or started to believe that other people are not valuable. Entropy likes to get into your head. You can see it everywhere, when you look – in the faces of people who pass by pain in the street, in politicians who claim climate change isn’t real, in men who lock children in houses to be abused, in people who want to give you many reasons why they should keep hurting you. Many societies are sadly entropic, which is understandable, because it is so much easier.

            Evolution, or Energy, is therefore the fighter of Entropy. Evolution says ok Entropy, you got the First World humans and their airconditioners and their coastlines, but I HAVE EVOLVED A RACE OF SUPERINTELLIGENT DOLPHINS TO TAKE THEIR PLACE SO HAHAHA FUCK OFF. But usually Evolution says nice things to you like oh go on give that money to that stranger, awww aren’t baby animals precious and full of life, here is a new friend for you, here is a piece of cake. You can see Evolution everywhere, too, in the faces of people who burn brightly, knowing that to burn brightly means using up their own fuel. In the actions of poor black men who save women from houses where they have been locked up. In NERC (especially if they give money to Dr Glass.)

            So what do we do? We work. We strive. Perhaps we, I don’t know, obtain a master’s degree in climate change and start leveling up our activism with an eye towards becoming influential politicians. Perhaps we go for a PhD in biodiversity and biosecurity. Perhaps we become survivalists, or we research/plan/form sustainable communities that will endure any predicted climate model with solar power and heirloom vegetables. Perhaps, for the moment, we feel tired and overwhelmed, so we’re just educating ourselves and reading about the science. Perhaps we are voting with our dollars. Perhaps we are just casting in our lot with Evolution and seeing how that changes our lives. There’s a lot to do, a hell of a lot of work, and the most annoying thing in the world is to see someone actually convinced of the reality of climate change going “Ehhh, I think I’ll go with Entropy.”

            SO please don’t do that.

            end longest comment in the world. *embarrassed cough*

            • Ok, now I am ready to engage with the substance of your awesome comment! Thanks again for taking the time to write this all out (and I don’t mind getting the longest comment in the world–in fact, if you’d be interested in turning parts of it into a guest post, I’d love to publish it).

              My thoughts are rambly as well, so here goes:

              1.) Hell yes for superintelligent dolphins! …I kind of hope this actually happens.

              2.) Don’t worry, I am definitely not giving up/planning to stop doing work on climate change. it’s just that the work I’ve been doing feels so small sometimes compared to the scale of the problem, and that’s scary. I feel like the world should be mobilizing to fight this threat, and it’s not, and trying to live everyday life and then do activism with whatever energy I have leftover feels…weird and wrong. I feel like we should all be in crisis mode, saving and rationing and planting victory gardens like in WWII, and instead the best I can do is…go to a few meetings and rallies, vote for politicians who oppose KXL, write blog posts?

              3.) And I’m at that life-building stage of life where I’m in a wonderful relationship that I can imagine spending my life in (!!), and I’ve been struggling for years with job stuff and finally found a temp job I like that might have potential to go permanent…and just generally being a young person with a long future ahead of me. Dealing with everyday putting-together-a-life stuff while knowing how very shitty the future might be–and how few steps the powers that be are taking to prevent that–is…I don’t even know the word for it. Dissonant? Jarring? A total mindfuck?

              4.) I’m crossing my fingers for Dr. Glass! And I’m glad the NERC is researching food biosecurity and ocean acidification. I’m glad someone is doing it. I’m glad Europe has its head slightly less up its ass than the US (and also Germany is AWESOMESAUCE for all the solar power it’s been using. Go Germany!).

              5.) You’re welcome, and I will definitely keep at the activism, even though it feels painfully slow.

              6.) I really like your theology about Entropy and Evolution.

              7.) I also really like this: The world will continue. It will endure in its geology – which if you talk to some people, is all that matters. It will endure in its life, which if you talk to others, is the most important thing in the universe. The world will endure in its life and the universe will endure in its life, and life strives. The world will endure in its flora and fauna – they can’t wait to take the place over again. The world will endure in its evolution and its fossils and in the glints in the eyes of small valuable creatures. Sometimes mass extinctions happen. The world gets over it.

              8.) I agree that our lives are not all lives (and that Doctor Who is always using five white British people as a stand-in for all of humanity! uggh). But it's not the Global North that will be hit the worst by climate change. The Global South is already bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change, despite doing the least to cause it. And from everything I’ve read, climate change will continue hitting the Global South the hardest.

              After all, it’s not here in the Global North where entire island nations like Kiribati and the Maldives are facing being wiped off the map. It’s not here where thousands of climate change refugees are fleeing their homes.

              So to me, global warming is as much a social justice issue as a save-my-own-ass-and-people-like-me issue. I don’t see the threat of climate change as The Discomforting Downfall and Continuing Inconvenience of the Global North, so much as the Global North Fucking Shit Up For the Rest of the World…As Always, But Catastrophically This Time.

              And of course as a citizen of the Global North, I feel pretty fucking guilty about that. Which adds a whole other layer onto the powerlessness that I feel. Especially now that my boyfriend is planning to get a car, which, even here in the city, will make our lives easier and give us new opportunities to do cool stuff. He’ll be the one paying for and driving it, but I’ll be benefiting from it just as much as he will. It’s *really* fucking hard to break out of the system, the fossil-fuel-sucking way the US is set up, and I hate that.

              9.) This is really interesting: On a personal level, it makes me very upset to see friends feeling like their work or interests are futile (possibly because I experience depressive episodes that try to convince me that what I love is futile. Possibly because I believe so strongly in things like Science that the concept of anything being ‘futile’ seems dangerous and alien, like an evil virus that crawls into your skin and takes you over.) To me, the concept of futility feels somehow natural, although obviously not good. I don’t know quite how to explain it.

              10.) I do want to fight it, though. But I also want the space to acknowledge that this shit is big and scary and sometimes overwhelming.

              I think I’ve addressed the bulk of your comment…I hope! I’m glad we can have these kinds of conversations.

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