Friday, October 23, 2009

Sober Friday

Well, now that the Crazy Chicken has outed me as "that annoying Bill McKibben hanger-on," I figured I might as well produce photographic evidence of my hanging-on. And maybe my annoyingness, I don't know, a picture IS worth a thousand words, right?

So yes, I met Bill McKibben at a seminar the other day. It was supposed to be a jam-packed event, but then it wasn't, which sucks for the no shows but was awesome for me because I got to ask him a few different questions and then have a short little conversation with him.

I've read "Deep Economy," before, and I have to admit, I've been a little hesitant about Bill McKibben in the past. But I have to tell you that when I met him in person, I was deeply impressed by him.

But I was most impressed with his honesty. I mean I was also depressed by his honesty, so it was sort of a cycle of impressed!/depressed/impressed!/depressed. When I asked him about the critics who say that achieving 350 ppm would be so difficult and result in such rampant unemployment that we simply should not aim for 350, I expected McKibben to offer some false assurances that getting down to 350 would not rock the foundations of the economy. Instead he said that it was a fair criticism. But that he believed the alternative was worse. And that anyone who tells you that responding to climate change is not going to be extremely hard? Is just plain wrong.

And that got me thinking. There is a lot, a lot, a lot of talk on the blogosphere about how we should live simply because it will make us happier. Or that it doesn't really matter whether we believe in climate change because we all can find reasons to "clean up the Earth." Or that any small change can make a difference.

I get where all these bloggers are coming from, I truly do. And to a certain extent, I agree. Yes, I believe that I became happier when I snapped out of my consumeristic mentality. Yes, we can all find reasons to pollute less, consume less, etc. And yes, every small change does make a (small) difference.


I also think it's becoming increasingly obvious that responding to climate change is going to take more than turning your thermostat down a notch, or carpooling.

In fact, I can't think of a single solution to climate change that won't result in the devastation of certain sectors of the economy.

Let me provide you with an example that I have mentioned before. Britain is one of the few countries that will meet its Kyoto Protocol target. Why? Well, because Maggie Thatcher pretty much killed the coal industry.

Now, it's great that Britain is meeting its targets, no question. But the North of England is still not recovered from that devastation that occurred 20 years ago.

Yes, new renewable energy will provide new green jobs. But a coal miner can't become a solar engineer over night. Which means that unless we invest heavily in job-retraining programs and the like, we will be looking at mass unemployment in various sectors. Even if we do invest heavily in job-retraining, we may still be looking at mass unemployment.

I realize that this post is turning into one very depressing post, but I think we probably all need to face up to the fact that combatting climate change may mean massive unemployment. It might mean a serious scale-back in people's creature comforts in the Global North. It will mean that Northern governments will have to funnel a lot of money to the South for adaptation and technology transfer. None of these things are going to be fun for us in the North. Combatting climate change may very well make us less happy. It might involve way more sacrifices than we wanted to make.

Now, I'm not saying any of these things are certain. Of course they are not. It's possible that in 50 years time, I will look at this post and laugh at how bleak I was.

But I think we need to start confronting the possibility that we will have to entirely change our lives to combat climate change.


Sam said...

Why does he look like he trying to run away from you?

To me obviously, money is the root of it all. I wonder how many people really need that second job or even a full time job? I think that in about 4 years, I could work part time for life or work 12 years and retire for good. I just hate working, so this isn't something I want to do out of the kindness of my heart. But I wonder if everyone (in the U.S) did get off their consumer bandwagon and use that excess time to gain additional skills (can veggies, re-train to become a solar panel installer, become an advocate for downscaling, etc) what the numbers would look like.

I personally would like it if people would quit driving to the store to pick up a single item. And also quit driving around looking for that perfect spot.


McKibben also really depresses me. I'm afraid to read his new writings or watch anything with him in it because I'll become immobile with sad thoughts. On the other hand, I'm really with him on how outlook though.

Sam said...

I don't know why this surprises me but, "Just 57 percent think there is solid evidence the world is getting warmer, down 20 points in just three years, a new poll says. And the share of people who believe pollution caused by humans is causing temperatures to rise has also taken a dip, even as the U.S. and world forums gear up for possible action against climate change."

Chile said...

Ruchi, my fear is that in 20 years, you are going to look back on what you wrote and wonder how you could have been so optimistic. That's my fear; I hope I'm wrong!

Thank you for writing about this (and for not thinking I'm nuts).

Rosa said...

I love McKibben's work, always have, but I think the Pollyannas have their place, too - different things motivate different people.

What's taken out of the "it's gonna kill the economy to combat climate change" argument is that climate overproduction and deregulation are ALREADY killing sectors of the economy - overfishing is worse for fishing economies than protective legislation, pumping water for bottlers kills local agriculture, clearcutting wipes out logging jobs in a boom/bust cycle, letting coal slag spills kill off entire small towns is pretty bad for their economies.

The jobs vs environment fight is just fake. Change is happening. What we're trying to do is figure out how to cope with it.

ruchi said...

Rosa, very good point. And I agree with you that renewable energy is going to CREATE jobs. The challenge is to retrain people for the new economy, something we haven't been super good at in the past. Otherwise, the people who benefit from the job creation will not be the same ones who lose their jobs.

Green Bean said...

I have to say that more and more, I lose hope for the future - my boys' future. If we had a lot of time, I think we could let simple living and market forces do the work. The problem is that we are very rapidly running out of time. We need to make some really really hard choices and with fewer and fewer people believing in Climate Change, those choices become less and less likely.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I think simple living is important to get used to now, because in the future we won't have a choice.

We will have to raise/grow our own food or starve. Make our own clothes or we will have none. Live with less energy because there isn't any energy to use.

I can be very pessimistic if I want, and lose hope, but I try to remain hopeful and keep on living simply, rejoicing in my simple life and hoping it will always be a choice, not a necessity.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I don't think there's any way you're going to convince the majority of Americans to make major changes in their lives to combat climate change (especially if you tell them their lives are going to suck anyway) so if that's what it will take, I don't see much point in trying. I have to look at it from an optimistic point of view - that it will create jobs, make us happier, and make everyones lives better - or I get dragged down by the pessimism and start thinking, "Screw this."

Stephanie said...

Yup, I'm screwed.

Anonymous said...

Crap. I thought you were going to say you'd stopped drinking.

Just looking for company.


Rosa said...

We went to the 350 rally at the state capital yesterday, and it was so small - it's pretty depressing.

I think a big part of it was lack of effective PR - I *knew* something was going on, and it still took me a week to find out what/where. Nobody dropped flyers at Critical Mass or posted at the bike riders message board, etc.

But overall...there were more people at the pro-tax pro-stadium rallies. It's infuriating and really makes me feel just like this - nobody wants to change, they'd rather ruin everything than put a little effort in.

Melinda said...

Ruchi, you are right. We have a lot to do, and it's either too late or almost too late to turn back around and go in the right direction. That said, even if we can't turn it around as quickly as we need to, we still have to turn it around as soon as is physically possible... or things will get exponentially worse yet.

I live in a liberal city, surrounded by liberal activists. I have a proactive job and a proactive blog I focus on in my spare time. And I will tell you for the last 2 years I have been incredibly surprised that even the people who DO believe we are facing devastating results of climate change DON'T make the changes they need to make in their lifestyles. It's for a variety of reasons: they don't believe that their own personal changes make a big enough difference (I believe they are a NECESSITY), or they are too overwhelmed to even know where to start, or they just find it too inconvenient despite their beliefs.... or several other reasons.

So to those who aren't making changes because they don't know where to start, because they are too overwhelmed... HOW do you get them to start? HOW to you get them away from fear and toward action?

I personally do not believe you get them to act with MORE fear. Instead, you get them to concentrate on one thing at a time, one change at a time. THAT is what my post is trying to address: you don't need to do everything at once, just do SOMETHING, start somewhere. And then you do a little more, and so on.

That is what I did: I started with driving less, eating locally, gardening, sending letters, protesting at protest rallies. Then I went further, and then further still.

While I wish that people would stop what they are doing now and make an entire switch in their lifestyles, I have come to understand that this is not human nature. The only way that happens is if something devastating like Hurricane Katrina or 9-11 happens. But even then, unless you capture the momentum of that change and help people to continue on that new path, they will go back to the old way. Because it was easier and more comfortable.

So without a horrible, devastating instigator, the pressure to change isn't real enough and it's easy to ignore. Hell, Al Gore is a great example: speaking out about the scary realities, but not even making the important changes to his own lifestyle as an example.

(And when I say lifestyle I mean they way we live, work, vote, spend their spare time, etc.)

Starting somewhere is better than not starting at all. There are a lot of people talking about climate change but not really doing anything about it - and maybe feeling guilty that they aren't doing anything. Those are the people I was trying to reach with my post, and I believe No Impact Man also tries to reach those people on a regular basis.

If you have a better way to reach people who aren't yet doing anything to change their lifestyles, I would love to hear it! This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about, for my job and for my blog. There seem to be no easy answers. But I think it is an excellent topic for us all to continue discussing.

We know we need to move fast to get a lot of people to change the way they do things, and the way their governments and corporations do things. HOW DO WE DO THAT?

Lee said...

Yeah, but...

We had to change our lifestyle completely in order to create climate change, didn't we?

Change - any change - is scary. The powers behind the status quo don't like the thought of change and do anything to avoid it.

And the change we're facing now is especially scary because it needs to be swift, and we can't avoid it. There are some things - coal, oil, universal daily meat and dairy (e.g. cows) consumption - that have to go. And they're central to our way of life. We can't imagine life without them because we've never HAD life without them.

I don't know if it will make us happier. I'm pretty sure humanity is in for a rough time, and there are going to be some major losers - so to say it will make us happier is a bit of a nursery rhyme rubbish tale to me. But, as a species, we need to deal with the problems we've made or it is end game for all of us.

I think we need to start with the big changes first, actually. By changing the big things first, all change becomes much easier to bear. So the big losers need to be coal, oil and cows (associated agriculture) - the big three factors in climate change. Then deal with whether your undies are organic or not.

I'm not a McKibben fan. I thought his books were sloppily researched and not well written. They didn't do the job for me. But I'll get on board any movement for climate change action that seems to be gathering impetus, if it is ethically sound.

Anyway, I'm ranting. I'll shut up now.

Nice photo, BTW. You're definitely the better looking of the two!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I come from that devastated ex-coal mining region you mentioned. My grandfather on one side, plus all of my great-grandfathers, were miners. Many of my Dad's friends were, too. Thatcher will never be forgiven for what she did to that region. Especially as the English coal was of relatively high quality, unlike the cheaper, dirtier, sulphur-laden stuff they brought in from Venezuela to replace it.

BUT my hope is that other regions around the world will have learned from that experience, and can plan ahead to phase out the old industries while starting to re-train the people who depend on it.

The triumph of optimisim over experience, yet again...

Going Crunchy said...

Missed your blog lately! It seems like all I have time to do is a smatter on FB.

Anyway, I got into a fuss with a woman a couple of weeks ago (should write 'bout that) as we discussed climate while waiting in line for something. We were completely opposite in beliefs.

I stressed to her that it doesn't matter if we don't believe the exact same thing.

Shop local, keep jobs in America (and reduce transportation emissions, etc.) That produces more local jobs right smack here.

Green technology will bring more jobs as well.

I think the key point in resistance is that we've seen how much just even a little recession hurts the "spend spend" midset. The thought of more is indeed daunting.

Dunno, just think we have to figure out ways to make it good for us to encourage our leaders to sort it out.