In 2009, I believe it was, Clay Shirky wrote these words which have even deeper meaning today:
When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to. There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.
He was talking about newspapers, but towards the end of his blog post, he wrote the following words:
When we shift our attention from ‘save newspapers’ to ‘save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.
So let’s replace ‘save newspapers’ with ‘save the environment’ and possibly ‘save the lives of our children’ or more broadly, ‘save the lives of future generations’.
I know everyone wants to be told it is going to be alright, pretty much like Shirky pointed out in 2009. I absolutely get that. We want to be assured that we will auto-magically find a solution which will make global warming go away, which will restore the eco-systems we have so willingly destroyed, or at least maintain the few that are left. We all like polar bears, we don’t want to destroy their habitat and kill them all.
But of course reality really doesn’t work that way, no matter what Donald Trump or any other politician says. Power does not mean you get to change reality. You may change perception, you may sway opinion, but reality is, you know, real.
And as it comes to climate change and it’s impact, I know lots of people would like to believe in the magic faeries as well, but, let’s be very honest right now, they don’t exist either.
So you want to save the polar bears, or the next generation, or your children? Well, it is not up to someone else to do that while you maintain your current, often quite oppulent lifestyle. And while we are looking at them for guidance, it is not up to the government, which, in Belgium at least, is not capable of even responding coherently to the issue because the relevant responsibilities have been devided between regions and federal government. Other governments are not doing enough either.
This is where I’m going to quote not an old expert, but a future victim. Here I am quoting Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist, from her TEDx Stockholm talk:
Now we’re almost at the end of my talk and this is where people usually start talking about hope. Solar panels, wind power, circular economy, and so on. But I’m not going to do that. We’ve had 30 years of pep talking and selling positive ideas. And I’m sorry but it doesn’t work because if it would have, the emissions would have gone down by now. They haven’t. And yes, we do need hope. Of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then and only then, hope will come today.
I do agree with her that action will result in change which will create some hope. But action requires a full realisation that the time is now. Not tomorrow, but now.
So, before we start talking about possible answers, we need to first and foremost acknowledge that we are in deep, deep trouble and it is not going to be okay. No one else is going to solve this for us. Only we can. Now. While we still have the chance.
I have read and heard the “climate realists”, also referred to as the “techno-optimists” or the “cornucopianists”, those adhering to the view that science and technology, when properly applied, can help us produce our way out of this predicament. Followers of Norman Borlaug. And while I would love to see them right, like Thunberg I am becoming more convinced by the minute that Wiliam Vogt’s “apocalyptic environmentalism” – the belief that unless humankind drastically reduces consumption, its growing numbers and appetite will overwhelm the planet’s ecosystems – is currently not only the most cautious position, but also the most adhering to what really is going on.
Of course, here in the Western World, we don’t really feel it, other than summers that are very hot and especially in the US much harsher winters. But in other countries, in other continents, it is becoming more and more apparent that our behaviour is pushing our planet out of the goldilock’s zone where we have been living and prospering for the past thousands of years, as a species.
I would love to talk about solutions, but we are not there yet. Because in order to be able to fully commit to such solutions, which will require multiple lines of attack and which will still likely result in a significant change of the way we are living today, we need to fully realise that:
It. Is. NOT. Going. To. Be. Okay.
Right, got that. Let’s say that again, together.
It. Is. NOT. Going. To. Be. Okay.
Let’s start to realise that first. Then we will take it from there. Because I do believe there is hope, but only if we all fully understand what a world of hurt we will be in if we do not act now.