Monday, 17 July 2017

Sitting on a Landfill (Waiting for the End to Come)

This cartoon by Joel Pett appeared in USA Today in December of 2009, the week before the now infamous Copenhagen Climate Summit.  It became what we have come to call a meme: shared and liked and re-shared and parodied on social media, taking on a life of its own quite independent of its unassuming creator.  With good reason: it expertly crystallises the many ironies of climate change in our culture.  What if - somehow - in the face overwhelming evidence, the so-called "sceptics" are right, and the pleas of the scientific community, the enlightened masses, and even some politicians (of all people!) to take drastic action on a global scale to avoid catastrophe, are nothing more than sensationalism?  What if we're being asked to overreact to a problem that, while certainly real (very few of the "deniers" are even denying that any more) is entirely manageable, at great cost and with no corresponding gain?

These are reasonable questions, even though those who make a habit of asking them publicly are not reasonable people.  In the USA, the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide and largest emitter per capita on earth (its population is four times smaller than the global leader, China) the Trump-appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of State have all openly denied demonstrable reality on numerous occasions both before and after assuming their current positions of power.  (The President himself, on this and so many other subjects, seems barely able to articulate a coherent thought at all).

All of this, though, goes on way outside the control of you or I.  For all the protests we might attend, all our shares and retweets, for all our gestures big or small - going vegan, going plastic free, cycling and recycling, perhaps not breeding quite so much - the possibility persists that it might not be enough.  There might be no "enough".  Scientist, nihilist and all-round contrarian Guy McPherson argues, more convincingly than I am personally equipped to rebut, that the human race will be extinct by 2026.  Nine years from now.  That's it: game, set and match.  Naturally, not everyone agrees, and perhaps McPherson walks the line between objectivity and conspiracism a little too recklessly - but nevertheless, genuinely alarming trends do appear to be accelerating us towards disaster.  Since 1975, average global temperatures have increased by 0.15-0.2% per decade.  The annual average surface temperature of the planet in 2016 was 0.99 degrees centigrade warmer, relative to 1951-1980 temperatures (i.e. about the time that global warming began to accelerate).  Remember that the current "magic number" - the level of warming we can't possibly allow if we really are to avert disaster, perhaps total extinction, is 2 degrees.  We're half way there, in other words, and it didn't take long to get here.  The end, very plausibly indeed, is nigh.

Alrighty then.  Let us eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die?  Well that's certainly one option.  Despair is another; and in a sense the hedonistic impulse is only an expression of despair, so the two are one and the same: but I wonder still if there is a path to steer between the two.

Rage, rage against the dying of
A few months ago I posted about my habit of stuffing my used plastic packaging and other junk into my beanbag sofa.  It's something I had cause to do again the other day.  As I said at the time, and as is still the case, I aspire to a truly "zero waste" lifestyle, but I'm not there yet.  This, despite my more recent efforts to take the plunge and just do it anyway, no matter how inconvenient it may be.  Once again, and though my plastic consumption has certainly dropped since then, it feels like an appropriate metaphor.  Sitting on a landfill.  Much like the human race is doing to the only planet it has to live on.  With all my mistakes, my laziness, my false starts and my doubts, it's still one small, pretentious, and possibly meaningless gesture that despite all that still says, I care.  I care even if it doesn't matter.  The existentialist in me wants to say I care because it doesn't matter.  

Do what you can, even if it'll never be enough.  Our species has a curious, some would even say miraculous, history of survival against all odds.  Our over-evolved and maladjusted brains keep throwing up crazy ideas that somehow, often quite unintentionally save the world.  It's happened before: perhaps it can happen again.  Stick around.  Think, and do.  Thinking is doing, and doing is thinking. In this my hope consists.

Related posts

Composting Your Own Hair
Thoughts from an empty room
Failure, hope and potatoes
Life Flows On Within You and Without You


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