This is a thought that I struggle with a lot. I set up this blog to inspire (myself and others) but also to deal with difficult feelings about climate change. If difficult feelings remain unaddressed they lead to feelings of hopelessness. This in turn leads to more avoidance and inaction and so ad infinitum. So let us try to deal with one of the most difficult feelings that I suffer from, and one which I am sure I am not alone in having.
What if we are heading for catastrophic warming and it is already too late for us to do anything about it? To examine this I will have to engage in a rather bleak analysis of our current situation which I hope you will forgive me for.
According to the IPCC there remains a certain amount of carbon, referred to as the “carbon budget” that we are able to emit without instigating dangerous levels of global warming. At our current rate of emissions that budget will be eaten up within 11 years. Our climate is on the brink. The problem with this target however is that it is based on 2 degrees of warming, a maximum set by politicians not scientists. Many scientists do not consider this degree of warming to be safe and would rather warming stayed well below 2 degrees.
In addition to this, recent observation of our climate shows it to be even more sensitive to warming than we previously thought. Recent conditions in the Arctic for example have shocked scientists who have described them as “beyond even the extreme”. Record low amounts of ice are being recorded. The Antarctic currently has the lowest amount of sea ice on record. Polar ice sheets play a vital role in stabilising our climate by reflecting heat back into space. There comes a point were the receding of ice caps can breach a tipping point, causing the earth to continue warming beyond our control. We still need to observe the polar ice caps over more years to ascertain whether the current conditions represent an acceleration in polar ice melt or just an anomaly.
I will be crossing my fingers for the latter but I am still plagued by the worrying thought that we have already missed our chance of a stable climate. The continued sluggishness of a global response to the crisis (and one of the largest emitting countries electing a climate change denier as its president) make me also worry that even if we do have time to turn things around, our current political and economic system just isn’t capable of doing what is necessary to stabilise our climate in time.
How do we deal with these sorts of feelings? They are after all based on a frank assessment of things as they stand. I can’t confess to have any answers but I think one of the first things we need to do is to begin to talk openly about them. I think there is often a well meaning tendency to avoid openly addressing these fears in the environmental movement so as not to put people off. I think it is probably fair to say I have been guilty of this at times in this blog. I think this is a mistake however. Not addressing the elephant in the room can come across as disingenuous. People have an uncanny knack of picking up on dishonesty (well-intentioned or not) and are turned off by it.
Difficult though it is I believe we have to start preparing for the possibility of the scenario I have described. I think there is a fear that openly doing so will cause people to simply throw their hands up and stop fighting for our climate and for justice for the millions of people who are suffering due to climate change today and in the future. I would like to challenge this nihilistic way of thinking. If it really is the case that we are heading for dramatic and destructive climate change then that is all the more reason to double down and start treating our environment with the respect it has deserved all along. After all, nature as we know it may not be around for much longer. Some reports say one in six species face extinction. Let’s appreciate what we have while we still can, and lets extend that appreciation and respect to every person on this planet. We won’t do that by continuing the reckless and destructive smash-and-grab economy that lays to waste our planet and many of the most vulnerable people on it. Let’s create the zero carbon society that will take back control from the vested interests of fossil fuel companies; that will bring autonomy and respect to some of the worlds poorest and most powerless and help the fight against inequality and injustice. Let’s do it while we still have the chance, and who knows, we may just bring the climate back from the brink in the process.