Monday, February 9, 2009

Warning: Extremely Cranky Post Ahead

Dude, I need to stop going to seminars on climate change, because once again, I am depressed. 

It's not just the starkness of the science, though, come on, most of us have seen the numbers and they are not pretty.

But what really depresses me? Is the politics.

Because you go to these seminars, and you look at the scientists neat little predictions about TEOTWAWKI, and then everyone gets depressed, and then there's some talk about renewable energy and how it's awesome, and how other scientists (the ones who aren't working on carbon emission bell curves) are working on these new! technologies! for green energy! and everyone feels a little better. But then you remember that so much green technology ALREADY EXISTS, and that we're just not using it, and you get all depressed all over again.

What I'm saying is, the thing that depresses me most about climate change is not that we don't know what to do or that we don't have many options. What depresses me is that we do know what to do, we have lots of options and yet we're not doing it. 

The Germans know how to build passive homes that provide plenty of heat, but don't require a furnace. 36% of Copenhagen residents bike to work every morning. In Bogota and even in Los Angeles, they know how to build rapid transit bus systems that people actually ride.

We know what to do, and we know how to do it, and we HAVE done it. But mostly we have done it in blips, in drips, in drabs, in small pockets of the world. 

We keep on relying on technology to save us, but if we're not even making full use of the technology we currently have available to us, what makes us think we'll use this future technology?

As far as I can tell, and as far as most people can tell, climate change of 2 degrees Celsius is completely unavoidable. And even 4 and 6 degrees might be wishful thinking. Meanwhile, politicians are busy propping up banks and throwing money at dysfunctional car companies.

And meanwhile, many of us are going against society, often going against our friends and family, and sometimes going against our own personal comfort just so we can feel like we're doing SOMETHING. ANYTHING. 

About a year ago, Sharon and I got into a discussion around this, and her point as I understood it was basically that sometimes, the most important thing is to live your life with integrity. So basically, the act of trying can be enough.

But the truth is? Today? I don't give a crap about integrity. This, to me, is not about the fact that at least when the Earth was going to hell, at least I gave a rat's ass. Trying is not enough. Because if in twenty years from now, if the worst predictions are coming true, do you think I'm going to be sitting there, thinking, "Oh well, I'm glad I froze my buns off and used a god damn rice-filled old sock to keep me warm in the winter?"

No. I'm not. 

I believe in the power of people. I believe in the power of the snowball effect, or the butterfly effect or whatever the hell you want to call it. I believe that even my small actions make a difference.

But it isn't enough. Not by a long shot. And we don't got time to let a butterfly's wing flapping cool the planet. Because, yes, society can produce change, but it usually does it over long periods of time. We need to produce a lot of change within five years. And the change that we need to produce is not necessarily conducive to individual action because it requires systemic change. We can't expect people to take the bus to work if it comes once an hour and takes a whole another hour, when the car ride is only 15 minutes. We may want people to use less heating oil, but if their home isn't properly weatherized, and they can't afford the fixes, what are they to do? We may think people should consume less stuff, but when people are bombarded with signals constantly that they should consume more, what do we think will happen?

I try very hard to maintain a sense of optimism for many reasons, but mostly because I believe in humanity. I believe in our goodness, and in our ingenuity. And that's the thing. We CAN reduce emissions. We can even do it and retain a relatively affluent lifestyle, in my opinion. 

But we're not. 

And it's hard to find much to be optimistic about that.


Sam said...

What really helps me is reading history. The Decline and Fall by Gibbon will keep you busy for several months. Reading that stuff really reassures me that no matter how badly things are, it somehow works out in some odd way. Not necessarily to anyone's satisfaction, but it works out. You need to activate your nerdy history button and watch some documentaries and read some books while you're at it.

belinda said...


I have to say what you are expressing here is pretty close to the funk I have been fighting since around Nov last year.

Personally I am not actually angry at the politics I am angry at us.. all of us. The government is a reactive institution, see financial crisis, and the fact they are not acting says that the community are not willing to sacrifice or re prioritise to make this happen.

Why is my government going to the next climate conference with a pitiful 5% reduction target?
Because the Australian population are telling them... if it is going to cost money to change we don't wanna.

My hope is to built community resilience where I can and try and find a way to communicate that with the crisis we are being handed an opportunity to change our world for the better.

Until the day that everyone stands up and says that "Human Survival" is more important than the "economy" I will continue to breath deep and plan for the worst hoping for the best.

Kind Regards

Stephanie said...

I just want to point out that I love the idea of the German Passive House. I dislike how heaters feel anyway, so not having one is awesome. Should we be trying to get more of these built in place of what people are building?

I guess there just needs to be more community organizing rather than individual actions going on. Or both at once. Arduous, are you going to be a community organizer after being a student? Is that what you're studying right now? (a bit tongue-in-cheek)

ruchi said...

I'm not studying to be a community organizer, no, though maybe I should be!

But right now I'm aiming more for policy analyst positions.

Stephanie said...

Seems like it'll amount to close to the same thing, depending on how you use what you learn. :) Sounds cool.

Anonymous said...

I feel exactly this way, and I have the added guilt of having a child - not only does the extra population make the global warming situation worse, but I brought him into a world I *know* is falling apart.

Nothing useful to offer, just sharing misery. It's really overwhelming and scary.