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Climate-change fatigue: May the end come soon

September 14, 2011

I am climate-change fatigued.

Seriously.

So, yesterday yet another ominous report was published:
Europe’s oceans changing at unprecedented rate

The day before we heard that:
Earth’s Coral Reefs May Be Wiped Out Entirely By The End Of The Century

A few days before we were told that:
Arctic ice set to match all-time record low – Satellite measurements reveal that volumes have fallen consistently over past 30 years

And the week before:
Scientist left speechless as vast glacier turns to water

These articles were all published within the last two weeks – but it’s not as if they are new news.

For several years there have been numerous reports predicting the scenario ahead:

  • sea-level rise affecting coastal communities;
  • ocean acidification destroying coral reefs as well as numerous other species that we depend upon for food;
  • accelerated melting of glaciers and ice caps;
  • extreme weather events – flooding, tornadoes, droughts, heat waves – many of which are likely attributable to climate change;
  • and more…

And then of course there was that letter written nearly 20 years ago, addressed to humanity and signed by 1700 of the world’s top scientists, warning us that “If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

We have all this knowledge, and we’ve had it for some time now. Those warnings of nearly two decades ago are coming true – with many of the predicted changes startling the scientists, because they are happening even more quickly than had been foreseen.

But what I don’t get is how we can hear all this, yet not take action. I have talked to several of my friends about it: they know how concerned I am about the future of our planet, and for all life on the planet. (Obviously, the planet itself will be fine, continuing to hurtle through space with or without us. It is our knowing destruction of the lives upon it, including our own, that disturbs me).

And a lot of what I get back from people is that they don’t like to think about such unpleasant things.

Well, as Noam Chomsky wrote last week, “The existence of flat earthers does not change the fact that, uncontroversially, the earth is not flat.” (Chomsky stated this in a different context, writing on a different subject – but the quote applies equally well here).

Pretending that these grave changes to our planet are not happening: going on with our daily “normal” lives; looking on the bright side; and choosing not to think about climate change and what we need to do about it (or, more precisely, what we should have done about it a few decades ago) is not going to make it go away.

I can’t help but be the kind of person who wants to be informed about things. As I have written here before, sometimes I wish I didn’t know the things I know. But I think it is my responsibility to know. And I also think that, if I see something bad that is going to happen, that I can prevent, it is my duty to take action to prevent that thing. For there is no point in having the knowledge if you are not going to use it. We have a responsibility to take action. (Even more so, if you have kids who you claim to love).

But really, I am just tired of it all now. We have set our path. Climate scientists know what is coming, and how the momentum of our society (still, even today, pushing for economic growth as if it will be the saviour of all things!) is probably too great to change now. It’s already happening – and there is a part of me that just wants the rest to come quickly, get it over with, so I can stop reading about it.

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
Rush, from their song Freewill

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2011 8:31 pm

    Some people are doing stuff about it. Over a thousand got arrested in Washington last month. I know a few (myself included) who refuse to fly in airplanes anymore, for work or fun; who have consciously decided not to own a car, or to live a life requiring high-mileage transportation; who grow much of their own food; who purchase with a selective eye to carbon; and who offset what carbon they cannot avoid emitting. Almost everybody i know is at least conscious of climate change, and many are trying to push our growth-pushing political system into make appropriate changes.

    The problem isn’t people, in my books, so much as it is the imaginary, immortal, almost uncontrollable artificial intelligences we have inadvertently created. They don’t have physical bodies so they live in a different ecosystem than flesh-and-blood beings, which need clean air and water and good food. These uber-beings need resources and profit and unfettered freedom; their food is imaginary numbers on a computer screen, which can multiply infinitely, and they have the hive intelligence and the financial clout to lever things their way worldwide. I see bringing corporations to heel as the defining struggle of the century.

    I also see it as mischevious fun — fucking with the system, fighting against the odds, a David-and-Goliath match with actual meaning. Yeah, bring it on!

    • September 15, 2011 8:30 am

      Thanks Greg. I, also, can say that “Almost everybody I know is at least conscious of climate change…” But that is a far cry from doing something about it (that is why I go on about the “knowledge vs. action” stuff). And I agree that “some” people are doing something about it.

      But the point is that most people who are doing “something” are actually doing very little on the big picture. They are “conscious” of climate-change (how could you not be, these days?) but they do not know the details of the magnitue of it, the pace of it, and the inevitability of it given that our global society functions upon the principle of Growth.

      I think people are marketed to far too much (and they let themselves be!), and they also take the easier route. If marketing tells them that signing a few Avaaz petitions, and bringing back their plastic grocery bags to be recycled, and buying a few BS carbon-credits that means trees were planted somewhere so they can still go driving/flying/boating, means they are doing their bit for the environment, they accept that. Rather than face the reality that we cannot keep living the way we currently do, and face some hard decisions about difficult, real, changes that they woul dhave to make to their lives.

      I agree that the corporations are an evil driving force in this. However, corporations are doubly driven by people: by the people who run them (most of whom have families themselves, but seem to believe that they are so rich that they will be able to buy their own survival in the coming disasters) and by the people who support them, consciously or not, by buying the products.

      It is great that you and a few other people live lives of extreme non-consumption. But, in a way, you are living in a bit of a sheltered environment out there. I don’t mean to put down how you live – I really respect it. I just mean that it is not remotely reflective of how the majority of our 30 or whatever million Canadians live, or 300 or whatever million Americans live, or of how billions of Chinese and Indians and South Americans aspire to live.

      And I guess that is why I am so pessimistic. For the most part, I live pretty extremely low-impact (although I totally acknowledge that my occasional international plane trips totally negate the low-impact living I do for most of my year). But a handful of people living extremely low-impact lives makes no meaningful difference in the midst of the millions (or billions) of under-informed people who aspire only for growth and increased affluence.

  2. Jacqueline Fletcher permalink
    September 15, 2011 2:39 am

    Dear Name-sake, Your story is very familiar to me personally and I know how frustrating and even hurtful it can be. Have you heard of the transition town and permaculture initiatives? The transition network gives me hope and you could get some neighbours and friends together in your own town to start the transition from oil dependency to sustainable living. In fact, given your background, I think you could make a considerable contribution. See http://www.transitionnetwork.org. This is the UK site (the first transition town was started by Rob Hopkins in Totnes, Devon, UK, five years ago) but it’s now worldwide (389 initiatives I think). I’m fed up of only hearing the bad news too, especially having been involved in the environmental movement since 1975, and seeing things get worse instead of better, so I think those of us who are aware just have to start doing something about it. You’d be surprised how many people want to get on board with you once you start ‘doing’ something.

    Take care,
    Jacqueline Fletcher

    • September 15, 2011 8:42 am

      Hi Jacqueline, thanks for your encouraging note – and for the reminder about transition towns.

      I recently moved from Tofino to Port Alberni (reasons why in my blog post: http://jacquelinewindh.com/2011/05/25/breaking-a-connection-goodbye-tofino/). Tofino is one of Canada’s hugest tourist destinations, marketing itself as this green and environmental venue – when really that is all image. It is a poorly planned community, with all decisions ultimately driven by profit-oriented developers, it wastes its natural resources, it pumps its raw shit directly into the ocean… I could go on…

      Port Alberni is considered to be a redneck town, formerly prosperous due to natural resource extraction (loggin and fishing), but undergoing a bit of a slump right now. However, it does at least have a stable community, which means that there seems to be some actual thought for the future in the planning going on here. And, now that you remind me, I seem to remember hearing that Port Alberni has signed on to being a transition town. So thank you for reminding me about that – I will look into it.

      But I think my main thing is that I really don’t feel like trying at these things any more. I am at the stage where I recognize that I (we) are fighting a losing battle. (Strange to call it a battle, when the combatants from the “other” side are mostly ignorant of the issue, so unaware that they are battling…)

      So, once one recognizes that they are doomed to lose the battle, what should one do? Continue to fight, on principle, knowing that it won’t affect the outcome? Or just say “screw it, I might as well just go enjoy the time I have left, driving and using resources and flitting around the globe?”

      That’s kinda where I am at.

  3. klem permalink
    September 15, 2011 5:21 am

    I agree, the whole world is suffering from catastrophic anthropogenic climate change fatigue. The public is saturated, the public is not interested. Even at the last G8 meeting, the subject was never even brought up, it makes no political sense to discuss it anymore. These politicians know its politicaly damaging to do so now, the subject is a non starter, the topic is just so 2009.

    And all of the newest scare studies have no meaning, people don’t even hear them, they don’t scare anyone anymore. The public has put CACC behind them, the world has moved on.

    Face it the deniers have won. And none too soon.

    cheers.

    • September 15, 2011 8:45 am

      Thanks for the comment, klem.

      What can I say? Yup…

      Seems the most pressing issue in most countries now is “jobs” which means they need to stimulate “growth”…. which is the opposite of sustainibility and equilibrium. Like their leaders can’t (or won’t) see that the environment is greater than the economy and all that… it is not a competing issue, it is the greater over-riding thing that supports all life.

  4. September 16, 2011 1:45 am

    if things were happinging like they claim, the ‘day after tomorrow’ would have been about 15-20 years ago. the irony in this whole matter is that carbon dioxide is absolutely essential to plant life, and as a consequence, absolutely essential to our own survival. plants and animals form a symbiotic circle, our waste is their air, and vice verca. it is terrifying that there are so many convinced that we must stamp out carbon dioxide, it must be labeled a pollutant. it must be taxed and banned… it is absurd! is there no one that finds it funny that all the ‘solutions’ to the ‘problem’ of carbon involve elements of 1984? global cooling becomes global warming becomes global climate change. temperature recording stations in cooler areas shut down and go without repair while others are situated next to heating vents and parking lots… data is tinkered with, secondary methods substituted for real data, blended and mixed together creating hockey sticks… you do know that the same people that were pushing cap and trade in the us had invested fortunes in the trading regimes. why were some so mad? because they lost fortunes when the schemes were killed in congress. i have no problem with good stewardship of the earth, but some one who professes to know much telling me everytime i exhale I’m destroying the planet… i just don’t buy that one, and apparently, more and more of my fellow citizens aren’t buying it either.

    • September 16, 2011 9:24 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Americana83.

      It is really sad that you and your fellow citizens aren’t “buying it”. Unfortunately, American citizens are so heavily marketed to, and so heavily lobbied by corporate and government interests, that I know it is really hard for you and your fellow citizens to get hard facts and unbiased information. (Not just about climate change, but about scores of other global issues). Which is why the USA is the main exception in the developed world regarding understanding of anthropogenic climate change.
      e.g.
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/11/americans-climate-change-threat
      and
      http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/02/climate_change
      (I don’t think that there is really any other country in the world that thinks there is any “debate” about climate change any more).

      Sadly, the USA is such a TV-driven, sound-byte oriented society now that you just need one high-profile celebrity or politican to spout off something, and people go around repeating it as if it were fact. (Michelle Bachmann’s big screw-up this week is a classic example, spouting crap about something she later admitted she has “no idea” about – but by then the damage is done, millions of Americans heard her spout off this “fact” on national TV, and didn’t stick around to hear the aftermath: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/bachmann-no-idea-hpv-vaccine-causes-mental-retardation-175201246.html).

      I am not sure how much of a science background you have – but I’d really suggest that you get to a university library and read scientific journals. Not magazine articles by writers who are trying to say something about (whether for or against) climate change – but the actual technical articles published in respected international journals. Because that is where the data are.

      Most everything else – what you read in the newspaper, or see on TV, or hear a politician say or a company CEO or spokesperson say – is not facts. It is someone with some ulterior motive, selectively using (or misusing) parts of the data to convince the public of whatever message they are trying to push. But if you go to the scientific journals – then you will see the data, the facts – and, instead of repeating a message that someone has told you, you can come up with your own conclusions, based upon facts, and not upon hearsay.

      I know you guys think you’re all land of the free and all of that… and I know that it is hard to see a point of view from the outside, when most Americans never even leave their own country (only 30% of Americans even have a passport!) and so never get exposed to anything other than the rhetoric fed through the whole American marketing/political system. But the more you can try to get out of that, try to get access to information, facts, data – and not just opinions being thrust at you, I think the more it can only benefit you guys, both as individuals and as a nation.

      In any case, as I noted in this post, I think it’s pretty unlikely we can actually do anything about it at this point. But I still think that going to the source of the info, to primary scientific data, is really important for anyone who is going to venture an opinion.

  5. Mark Dohle permalink
    September 21, 2011 5:40 pm

    Hi Jacqueline,

    Good article. Funny, your blog was advertised on my wordpress page as a blog that wrote about similar topics. I also write about global warming/climate change, but my investigation has brought me to a vastly different conclusion. Regardless, I like your attitude, “I think it is my responsibility to know. And I also think that, if I see something bad that is going to happen, that I can prevent, it is my duty to take action to prevent that thing. ” I think it is very fulfilling to learn everything we can about the world and share it with other people.

    In my opinion, climate change fatigue has indeed set in, but I think it is because the problem is not as big as it once was thought. On top of that, there were a few high profile climate scientists doing shady things. I think that also turned a lot of people off. I have not followed the climate debate for some time now.

    Mark

  6. October 25, 2011 4:05 am

    As climate change fatigued as I may be, I still had to read your post; and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks.

    I also fear we’ve reached that point where all of the news just falls on deaf ears. Even catastrophic events that could be – and probably are – climate change related don’t seem to have much of an impact anymore (denial perhaps?).

    It’s very hard not to get despondent in the face of such apathy, don’t you think?

    On that subject though, keep up the good work. Nice blog.

    Gareth

    • October 25, 2011 4:42 pm

      Thanks Gareth -

      I took a look at your blog, some very good posts there too. Seems we see a lot of things eye-to-eye.

      And yes, that does really make me feel despondent. It is denial, and it is apathy. Just going to the grocery stores and seeing that the majority of people cannot even trouble themselves to bring a reusable bag with them (or, if only a few items, carry them out in their hands) makes me feel very down. If people are too apathetic to make the effort for something that is that easy, that simple… how can we ever hope to deal with the bigger problems, the ones for which the actions required are much more complicated, or more challenging?

      Jackie

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