Anything that looks like good news is appreciated. Yuval Noah Harari who made the statement highlighted to the side, is a self defined optimist... and we need to see that there is hope. Without hope, we just give up but with some glimmer of hope on the horizon, we can struggle for solutions right up until our problem is solved (or not solved ??)
Otherwise, we give up too soon and a possible solution that was right in front of us goes unobserved and untried because we had already given up.
"humanity still looks like it could be on track for a happy ending... I think the human race will rise to meet these challenges."
We live in a culture of denial, especially about the grim reality of climate change... but we can’t solve a problem we can’t face.
In the cataclysmic summer of 2010, I experienced what environmentalists call the "'Oh shit!' moment." At that time, the earth was experiencing its warmest decade, its warmest year, and the warmest April, May, and June on record. In 2010, Pakistan hit its record high (129 degrees), as did Russia (111 degrees). For the first time in memory, lightning ignited fires in the peat bogs of Russia, and these fires spread to the wheat fields further south. As doctors from Moscow rode to the rescue of heat and smoke victims, they fainted in their non-air-conditioned ambulances. In July, the heat index in my town, Lincoln, Nebraska, reached 115 degrees for several days in a row. Our planet and all living beings seemed to be gasping for breath.
That same month, I read Bill McKibben's Eaarth, in which he argues that our familiar Earth has vanished and that we now live on a new planet, Eaarth, with a rapidly changing ecology. He writes that without immediate action, our accustomed ways of life will disappear, not in our grandchildren's adulthoods, but in the lifetimes of middle-aged people alive today. We don't have 50 years to save our environment; we have the next decade.
Nothing I'd previously read about the environment could quite prepare me for the bleakness of Eaarth. I couldn't stop reading, and, when I finished it, I felt shell-shocked. For a few days, all I could experience was despair. Everything felt so hopeless and so finite.
During this time, my grandchildren came to visit. As we picked raspberries, I thought about all the care we lavished on the children in our family. We made sure they ate healthy foods and brushed their teeth with safe toothpastes. We examined and treated every little bug bite or scratch. And yet, we--and I mean all the grandparents in the world, including myself--hadn't worked to secure them a future with clean air and water and diverse, healthy ecosystems.
Had we been in a trance? That summer, when I listened to friends talking about mundane details of life, I wanted to shout at them, "Wake up! Please wake up! Our old future is gone. Matters are urgent. We have to do something now."
One night, my daughter and her family came for dinner during a record-breaking rainfall. After the baby went to sleep, we watched the wind whip through the pines and listened to the torrents of rain hammer our windows. Sara asked if my husband and I thought the rain was related to global climate change. Jim and I stared at each other, too confused to speak.
My wonderful daughter had the dreams all mothers have for their children. She was already doing her best. I couldn't bear to inflict any pain on her. However, Sara was persistent in her curiosity. In the most positive, calm way that I could, I told her what I'd recently learned.
Sara was devastated. She and John quickly bundled up the baby and said good night. I could see her weeping as she tucked Coltrane into his car seat. I felt anguished, and I wasn't sure I'd done the right thing. Yet Sara was 33 years old. Could I really shield her from what scientific experts were telling us? Would I want to be "protected" from the truth? Wasn't it better if we faced these things together?
That next week, I couldn't enjoy anything. My conversations with my husband quickly fell into what we call "the dumper." I was afraid to be around friends for fear I'd infect them with my gloominess.
I knew I had to find a way out of my state of mind. I couldn't survive with all that awareness every minute of my day. I wanted to be happy again, to be able to laugh, and to snuggle with my grandchildren without worrying about their futures. But I couldn't forget what I now understood.
George Orwell argued that pessimism is reactionary because it makes the very idea of improving the world impossible. I found that whether or not we believe we can change the world, even in a small way, acting as if we can is the healthiest emotional stance to take in the face of injustice and destruction.
I know too much about deforestation, nuclear power plants, our tainted food supply, and our collapsing fisheries. Sometimes I wish I didn't know all these things. But if we adults don't face and come to grips with our current reality, who will?
There are no simple problems anymore.
In addition to the problems that we can describe and label, we have new problems that we can barely name. Writers are coining words to try to describe a new set of emotions.
We experience our own pain, but also the pain of the earth and of people and animals suffering all over the world. Environmentalist Joanna Macy calls this pain "planetary anguish." We want to help, but we all feel that we have enough on our plates without taking on the melting polar ice caps or the dying oceans.
...a state of knowing and not knowing that arises in ongoing traumatic situations. This "willful ignorance" occurs when information can't be totally denied, but can't be processed either. That's the state I think we're in now when we try to deal with global climate change.
We live in a culture of denial. A Pew Research Center poll in September 2011 revealed that, in spite of increasing evidence, belief in climate change was at its lowest level since 1997. In fact, belief had decreased from 71 percent to 57 percent in the previous 18 months.
Even the manner in which we discuss climate change is odd. We don't talk about "believing in" the laws of aerodynamics, the DNA code, or faraway galaxies. By now the evidence for global climate change is solid and the scientific community is united. So why do we speak of believing in it as if we were speaking of belief in extraterrestrials?
Partly these poll numbers reflect a well-funded and orchestrated misinformation campaign by the fossil-fuel industry. Robert Proctor at Stanford University coined another new word, agnotology, for the study of ignorance or doubt that's deliberately manufactured or politically generated.
The poll results also can be explained by what Renee Lertzman called "The Myth of Apathy." She interviewed people about global climate change and found that they actually care intensely about the environment, but that their emotions are so tangled up and they're so beset by internal conflicts that they can't act adaptively. They aren't apathetic, but rather shut down psychologically.
Social and environmental studies professor Kari Norgaard writes, "The denial of global warming is socially constructed. In America it is almost as if relevant information about our climate crisis is classified. Our national policy towards the devastation we face is, 'Don't ask. Don't tell.'"
Once we face the hard truths about our environmental collapse, we can begin a process of transformation that I call the "alchemy of healing." Despair is often a crucible for growth. As we expand ourselves to deal with our new normal, we can feel more vibrant and engaged with the world as it is.
We're all community educators whether we know it or not. Everything we say and do is potentially a teachable moment for someone. So appoint yourself a change agent, engage in participatory democracy, and help yourself, your country, and your world. Belief often follows action. The harder we work, the likelier we are to experience hope and to improve our situation.
The next great rights battle will be a fight to rescue our beleaguered planet. It'll be about air, plants, animals, water, energy, and dirt. We have a right to a sustainable planet and a future for our grandchildren.
We're in a race between human consciousness and the physics and chemistry of the earth. We can equivocate, but the earth will brook no compromises.
In our great hominid journey, no one really knows what time it is. We could be at its end, or we could be at the beginning of a great and glorious turning toward reconnection and wholeness.
We who are alive today share what Martin Luther King, Jr., called "the inescapable network of mutuality." We aren't without resources. We have our intelligence, humor, and compassion, our families and friends, and our ancestry of resilient hominid survivors. We can be restored.
Since the beginning of human time, how many people have loved and cared for each other in order for us to be alive today? How many fathers have hunted and fished, fought off predators, and planted grain so that we could breathe at this moment? How many mothers have nursed babies and carried water so that we could savor our small slice of time?
We can never know the significance of our individual actions, but we can act as if our actions are significant. That will create only good on earth. Besides, what's our alternative?
As U.S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin said, "On my last day on Earth, I'd like to plant a tree."
So let's save and savor the world together.
I wish you well on your journey.
Mary Pipher, Ph.D., is the author of the bestseller Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Her other books include The Middle of Everywhere and Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World. Her latest isThe Green Boat: Writing to Change the World.
Showing How Fast Humans Are Wrecking Earth
Our future appears set for a classic apocalypse blockbuster.
By Robin Scher / AlterNet
Mankind is rapidly destroying the Earth, and now there's a mathematical equation to show just how fast we're doing it.
It is impossible to predict the future. What we can do is extrapolate a vision from our current body of scientific knowledge, mixed with a bit of good old-fashioned imagination. The result is a sort of trailer, which offers us a glimpse of what may be in store.
At the moment, our future appears set for a classic apocalypse blockbuster. Thanks to a new mathematical formula that charts the rate of humanity’s environmental impact, we may even have a rough idea of when to expect it at the cinema (and for that matter, everywhere else on the globe).
Named the Anthropocene equation, the formula was created by Will Steffen, a climate research professor at the Australian National University, and Owen Gaffney, a science journalist and communications consultant at the sustainability research firm Future Earth. According to their formula, recently published in The Anthropocene Review, human activity is altering the environment 170 times faster than under normal circumstances.
What do the authors mean by normal circumstances? Up until the Anthropocene age—our current geological age, during which human activity has exerted a dominant influence on the planetary ecosystem—Earth’s environment was shaped by three main determinants: astronomical forces (A), which affect insolation and mostly relate to the “gravitational effects of the sun and other planets”; geophysical forces (G), which include “volcanic activity, weathering and tectonic movement”; and internal dynamics (I), which pertain to the natural course of biological activity taking place on the planet.
But within the last century, the authors argue, these forces have largely paled in comparison to the overwhelming effects of human activity (H). Given this fact, Steffen and Gaffney were able to model their equation, which essentially suggests that due to massive population growth, consumption and technology, the (H) factor has become the sole force shaping the trajectory of Earth’s environmental system. The authors demonstrated this point using the rate of global temperature change over the past 7,000 years.
Until 45 years ago, this figure has decreased at 32°F per century. However, since our current age of industrialization, that rate has drastically reversed, with the figure now reflecting an increase of 35°F per century, which translates to a rate 170 times higher than the 7,000-year average.
This figure, Gaffney explained to New Scientist, reflects the fact that “far from living on a deeply resilient planet, we live on a planet with hair triggers.” The problem is that we have been “lulled into a false sense of security by the deceptive stability of the Holocene”—the previous geological era that spanned the last 11,700 years.
“Remarkably and accidentally,” Gaffney continued, “we have ejected the Earth system from the interglacial envelope and are heading into uncharted waters.”
Humanity has reached a tipping point. How our leaders decide to act now and in the next decade will drastically determine what direction our future takes. The authors themselves described their study as “an unequivocal statement of the risks industrialised societies are taking at a time when action is vital.”
If no drastic changes takes place, it could “trigger societal collapse.”
We face two very distinct possible realities. In one future, thanks to the greed of a small handful of global elites, humans will become extinct. How might we react to such an outcome? According to a recent psychology study by the University of Buffalo, the answer is—peacefully. Reported on iflscience.com, the study created its observational conditions by using the open world of a multiplayer online role-playing game called ArcheAge. A separate server was created for the study and all 270 million participants were told that in around 11 weeks, all their progress made in the game would be deleted. As the deadline approached, rather than grow more violent or greedy, players actually tended to become less aggressive and more cooperative.
Taken with a large pinch of salt, the study highlights an altruistic streak in human nature. But why wait until it’s too late to demonstrate it?
Enter the second possible future, forged through global unity, instead of division. It’s difficult to picture what form such unity should take, which makes it a challenge. What we do know, as the New Scientist article points out, is that instead of our current “dominant neoliberal economic systems [which] still assume Holocene-like boundary conditions,” what we need is “a ‘biosphere positive’ Anthropocene economics.”
Yuval Noah Harari is a historian and author of the book Sapiens, which provides a sprawling and incisive historical account of our species. His new book, Homo Deus, offers a similar expansive view of our future. In a recent TED Dialogue, Harari explored the need for a change in both our political and our economic thinking.
“The old 20th-century political model of left versus right is now largely irrelevant,” Harari said. “The real divide today is between global and national, global or local.” He noted that we now have a global ecology and economy, but a national politics, which makes our “current political system ineffective, because it has no control over the forces that shape our life.”
Like our two possible futures, Harari believes human society has two possible solutions: “Either de-globalize the economy and turn it back into a national economy, or globalize the political system.” The latter suggestion might sound a bit unrealistic at the present moment, but if humanity wants to avoid near-certain doom, it is probably the direction we will need to take.
Fortunately, in Harari’s view, humanity still looks like it could be on track for a happy ending. “I am an optimist,” he said. “I think the human race will rise to meet these challenges.”
Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He tweets infrequently @RobScherHimself.