I think we’re doomed. No, really. In the good old-fashioned apocalyptic sense. Not in the normal existential sense that death is a natural part of life. In the sense that we have taken this beautiful home and trashed it and soon it will all be gone.
I am talking about climate change. Sure, there are plenty of other sources of apocalypse—water depletion, pollution, peak oil, population—but climate change is the spectre that hangs over them all.
And I have struggled, and am struggling, with how to articulate this. I am, of course, not a scientist; so I want to avoid giving second-hand, inferior accounts of the facts. If you are wondering why I think this is so serious, when the mainstream media coverage hardly mentions the real problems, I cannot recommend a better article that Joe Rohm’s An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces. Read it, please. This is one of the few articles I have seen that unflinchingly looks at the actual scientific predictions, and considers the overall impact of runaway climate change. It is a little outdated now; but safe to say, things have not got better.
One of the knowledges the Buddha claimed to possess was that he could see “where all paths lead”. It doesn’t take any special powers to see that the path we are on leads to the end of civilization. We simply cannot survive in any meaningful way a temperature rise of 4 or 6 degrees, together with the myriad of other calamities wreaked by climate change. Civilizations collapse. It is normal. And they collapse because they overuse their resources. The difference is that we are doing it on a global scale.
So what are we to do? I have been involved in speaking out in conventional ways on this for a long time. But politics has failed us. Just recently I was part of an ARRCC interfaith delegation to Canberra where we spoke with Greg Hunt and a range of other politicians. It was depressing, as you might expect. Not a single one of the politicians, so far as I could see, was prepared to face the facts. I spoke to a series of them about this specific issue, saying that the course we are on leads to the end of civilization. Nobody said I was wrong on the facts, or too extreme. They were just unable to process the information. Even those most active on the issues, like Mark Dreyfus for example, simply had no intention to talk about making the kinds of changes that are really needed, like, say, leaving the coal in the ground. Many of those in the Government have simply no interest in or grasp of the basic science. We were told by a sitting member of the Liberal party that there has been no conversation on climate change in the party since 2010.
Our current government has launched what is probably the most single-minded, vicious attack on the environment and science of any Australian government in history. Yet we elected them.
The plain reality is that all of the activism that has been done for decades is a complete failure. No matter how many solar panels we put up, or how efficient our light bulbs become, the carbon in the atmosphere keeps going up, as fast or faster. Now we are at 402 ppm, higher than anytime in the past 800,000 years, at least. And so who cares? Who is actually prepared to change anything?
The IPCC claims that making the necessary changes would be incredibly cheap: the median annual growth of consumption over this century would decline by a mere 0.06%. Yet even this trifling sum is too much. To avoid paying it we have toppled governments and generated a whole new industry of denialism.
I simply don’t think that we will make the necessary changes. Of course, we can: that is not the issue. And perhaps we will. But I am an empiricist. I look at the evidence and try to make a reasonable extrapolation. And to extrapolate a survivable future, we have to assume a massive change in behaviour and values, and there is simply no evidence of this.
To forestall objections, I am not suggesting that we should do nothing. On the contrary, we should do much more. But I just don’t see any reason to think it will really make any difference, except that we get to make some good kamma. Which is reason enough, but is not the feelgood message that a good activist should be sending. So I’m not very interested in conventional activism, although I still do it. I think that we need to step back and look at the big picture, to realign our values.
In future articles I will go into details more. But here I want to just broach the basic issue. Regardless of what we think is the most likely outcome, there is at least a distinct possibility that we are headed towards the global collapse of civilization in our lifetime, or our children’s lifetime. We need to find a way to talk about this, to accept it as a reality. To ask: “What are our values, our lives, if this is where we are headed?”
And these are, at their heart, spiritual questions. I hope that we can have a sane conversation about this. And I hope that we can begin to find acceptance.