Monday, March 12, 2012


The necessary deeds of our times--the global recognition of the Climate Crisis, its urgency and the moral importance of addressing it, and then the urgently deployed efforts to slow down and stop what's causing it--have not been done. So far, as a society, and particularly as Americans, we have failed. 

We all share in this failure, that goes back more than 20 years.  The environmental community, with its inability to articulate, organize and act.  Political leaders who did not lead.  Citizens who indulged our fears and wallowed in denial. Communicators who for any number of reasons failed to effectively communicate the reality.  An economic structure that allows the greed of the few to trump the needs of the many, and of the future itself.  In this country, a reactionary political culture that discarded any more complex understanding in favor of shocking bigotry and sad fundamentalism, in a new Dark Ages of self-inflicted ignorance in the happy smog of smart phones.  Together we focus on the dazzle of the sometimes incrementally important events and issues that wind up distracting from the vitally important.

More broadly, it amounts to the failure of humanity to meet its greatest challenge.  Lots of generations through history have failed--let us count the wars, the piously murdered.  But just as our capabilities today are the largest, our failure is likely to be the most consequential.

One measure of our failure is our eagerness to blame everybody else.  But the evidence is there, despite the ebb and flow of polls on whether "global warming is real."  In particular, environmentalists who want to blame politicians etc. need to look in the mirror, because they too have blown it.  Their organizations remain fractured.  The leading online climate information and advocacy site is yet another exercise in egotism and Washington self-hypnosis.  The vocabulary deployed by environmentalists is pitifully inadequate, and their efforts to make a political difference may be valiant, but so far they are not up to the challenge.

For example, Bill McKibben, a hero in this fight along with a few others,  is struggling to retain some optimism.  He hailed the recent U.S. Senate vote to deny the Republican's cynical attempt to demand the Keystone Pipeline be built to carry tar sands oil down from Canada, over the President's objections.  He said it was a victory over the oil companies and the Senators they have in their pockets.

But this victory was not gained for the reasons that McKibben opposes the pipeline.  The environmental objections have to do with possible pollution and other such matters along the proposed pipeline route.  The climate crisis argument simply has not sunk in.  Even liberals now assume that once the pipeline is re-routed to respond to these other objections, it will be built.  That in itself is proof that the climate crisis argument hasn't even been heard.

And so the pipeline will be built, and the fracking will go on, victimizing those too poor to get themselves out of harm's way.  Just as the poor and the powerless pay the biggest price for the toxic effects of the piled up waste and pollution of our economy and society.  It is the second law of capitalism.  The first is that capitalism cannot exist without slavery, because it never has.  The second is that the costs of capitalism are paid in the health and lives of the 99% and the planet.  Capitalism alone cannot distinguish between use and exploitation, between creation and destruction.  The cynical rich are banking on their ability to weather the Climate Crisis, protected by their wealth, while the poor as usual bear the brunt--in this case, are snuffed out by the billions.  It ultimately is not a good gamble, at least not for their descendants.

Of course, the responsibility is not evenly distributed.  Fossil fuel billionaires and their witting and unwitting political, lobbying, PR, fundamentalist Christian zealot allies are first in line, by a long, long ways.  But though we do not share responsibility equally, we have all failed.  Of those who know and acknowledge the Climate Crisis reality, part of that failure is in misplaced blame.

President Obama has had to fight bitterly for even small incentives to encourage green energy, against oil-blooded GOPers.  But he has also approved more oil and natural gas production, which from an economic and energy point of view, is his governing responsibility.  He's not even getting much in the way of political credit for it so far.  Republicans claim he is stifling oil production when he is not.  So in a political sense, he may as well not encourage oil production.  But from a practical point of view, given the political context we all have created, he is engaged in the art of the possible.  As everyone else is.

But to save humanity from suffering and destructive change, and to save life on the planet from destructive change that will ultimately redound on us, we have failed.  It may be that the coming wave of the Climate Crisis has been in the cards since before more than a handful of scientists suspected the Climate Crisis future.  But what we've been doing in the past 20 years,and what we're doing now, is making the future worse, making the effects deeper and longer, and threatening civilization and life on the planet as we know it. 

As a global civilization, we may have 35 years to become carbon neutral, and thereafter carbon negative, in order to save the far future of humanity and life on the planet.  Or we may not. But it may be the difference perhaps between losing 2 or 3 billion people and losing all but some millions, or thousands.  It's the difference between losing virtually all the primates and many species of animals and plants, and losing almost all of the planet's life except a few small species. 

In the meantime, we have to also deal with the effects of what's inevitably coming much sooner, what's already begun.  To say we have failed so far is not to say we haven't tried.  Many of us have tried, so there's no sense getting defensive about it.  We just have to face the fact that so far, we have failed.  And we have to figure out how not to continue to fail.

We must not give up. We still must do our best, but we must also redefine what we do, if necessary.  And in general, it's necessary.  Because what we have been doing has not worked and is not working.  That's not even a reason to abandon everything we're doing--some efforts won't pay off for years, perhaps not in our lifetimes, we may never know how successful they've been.   But we have to reexamine. We have to reimagine. And stop blaming everybody but ourselves.

As I write this I realize that those who are most likely to read these words and take them to heart are the least responsible.  I am asking most of all that the people who are making this their business admit their failure and reexamine what they are doing, and not waste their time and ours by blaming others.  I am asking that those in position to influence public perception take this more seriously, and work harder to communicate this reality.

Our lives may be honorable.  We may have done great things--to me, raising and educating children is a great thing; creating something that has a future is a great thing.  But this is work for that future.  Admitting failure is not to admit hopelessness.  Hope is not a feeling.  Hope is an action.  Hope is (among other actions) a thought expressed, an expression communicated.  It is effort aimed at the human horizon, at the soul of the future.

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