The climate change mountaintop

Climbers on Mt. Blanc

Photo: bortescristian/Flickr.

These days I tend to beat myself up for screwing around; my biggest time sinks are video games (I never did quite kick my Civilization 5 habit) and television (my beloved Boston Celtics are kind of out in the wilderness). The reason, I think, is that I’ve internalized the threat of climate change. I feel it in my guts, hanging over me, demanding a response…so naturally any leisure time I afford myself ends up feels like a betrayal.

LeBron James meme

LeBron is a useful distraction from climate change.

It’s not healthy of course. We all need time to decompress and set our minds right, and often enough the best ideas and breakthroughs come when we’re doing something else entirely. Yet it’s still hard to rationalize taking the time to pilot Napoleon through the Industrial Age or scream obscenities at LeBron James when you see a hard stop to human civilization looming. Time now feels precious.

By “internalizing the threat” of climate change, I’m basically talking about acceptance. Acceptance is one of the five stages of grief, and unsurprisingly dealing with climate change tends to mirror the grief process.

  • Denial — Koch BrothersHeartland Institute…too easy.
  • Anger — Reform our energy system? You can’t be serious, you expect us to pay how much to avoid human extinction??!!
  • Bargaining — Well maybe if buy a Prius I can just ride out the storm without making any other serious changes.
  • Depression — How did we fuck this up so badly?
  • Acceptance — The world you grew up with is gone, and it’s not coming back. There is pain and hardship on the horizon, but with it comes opportunity for a better world.
In 2009 the island nation of Maldives, knowing they will be erased by sea level increases due to climate change, held an underwater Cabinet meeting to urge world leaders to reduce C02 emissions. The chief export of Maldives is subtlety.

In 2009 the island nation of Maldives, knowing they will be erased by sea level increases due to climate change, held an underwater Cabinet meeting to urge world leaders to reduce C02 emissions. The chief export of Maldives is subtlety.

Acceptance is the hardest step of all, which is why I think most of the world is still stuck in bargaining. World nations certainly understand the threat of climate change, yet continue to make only the most limp-wristed attempts to address it. With notable exceptions like Tuvalu or the Maldives which face complete annihilation in the near term, every single one is still wearing rose-tinted glasses. Leaders persistently ignore worst-case scenarios and instead assume the best case scenarios…even as best case scenarios gets downgraded with each passing year. None are reacting to real data and real timelines; we’re all stuck in a fairy tale that stubbornly refuses to match what’s happening all around us. Collectively we think of climate change as a political agenda, instead of a fact of the physical world.

But nature doesn’t play politics, and it doesn’t care about human timelines. We can bargain with it no more than we can bargain our way out of a sunrise or sunset.

Difficult though it may be, acceptance is actually an amazing place to be. I admit, it’s not fun thinking about the suffering the world is now certain to endure. But once you accept that it’s all going to be different, you become motivated to dictate that different. You become eager to shape the world to come, to minimize suffering, and to build a sustainable economic model to underpin it all. Acceptance gives you the perspective of one standing on a mountaintop: even as you tremble for fear of falling, the breath is snatched from you by the beauty of the landscape ahead.

Yet from this mountaintop we must now retreat. It will not be easy, certainly…but the treacherous path before us remains far better than the alternative, and we have many wonderful activists and thinkers like Bill McKibben, Paul Gilding, and Charles Eisenstein to help guide and brace us in our descent. They too bear the scars of grief, but from that mountaintop they see what we see: a way forward.

— Eric Krasnauskas, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    It is such a relief to hear a rational voice. Yes, not only are the days of sunshine and meadows gone, but those were actually the days of childhood living subconsciously. There was never a garden of eden, and fighting climate change is really just fighting one’s own mortality. Cheers

  2. James R. Martin says

    ” … and fighting climate change is really just fighting one’s own mortality.”

    Firstly, not everyone who is trying to avert worst case climate catastrophe scenarios is “fighting climate change.” Is it really a “fight” to use a bicycle or feet for transportation, or to retrofit a house for passive solar gain, etc…? Is it a “fight” to transform one’s local economy so that it’s actually much more local? Is growing one’s own food in one’s yard a “fight”?

    Secondly, my efforts to address the climate crisis are not “figthing [my] mortality.” I accept my mortality. It is the destruction of the biosphere that I’m seeking to address. If I step in to prevent the murder of a friend, is that the same as “fighting [my] mortality”?

    Why would you believe that all human activity is entirely self-oriented and self-directed? Do you doubt that anyone actually cares about others?

  3. Pam Jones says

    Nice blog, Eric. The emotional part is so important. We have to remain emotionally healthy in order to do the work. On a constructive criticism note, I would encourage you in future to help people distinguish between accepting the damage that’s already been done and preventing even worse damage. Bill McKibben et al are focused on the latter, more than in helping us navigate the future effects that are already locked in. Both are crucial aspects of the work ahead, but preventing 4 degrees or 6 degrees Celsius is where I’m putting my efforts. I work with Citizens Climate Lobby, which is focused ton creating the political will to pass a carbon tax. A carbon tax is the best way to reduce emissions enough, and in time, to prevent 4 or 6. And there are strong reasons why a U.S. carbon tax will motivate China and India. AND there is a really significant increase just this year in talk of, and support for, a carbon tax, including prominent conservatives like Gregory Mankiw, George Schultz, and Art Laffer. I hope you’ll check out CCL and consider joining in this work.

  4. Lee Samelson says

    It seems like the stages occur in reverse order for climate hawks

    Climate hawks or climate activists are already at the acceptance stage of trusting the science. The implications of trusting the science and putting naturally result in going into the depression stage. The depression stage is when the dread of what lies ahead and worst case scenarios sink in.
    Here is how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The trajectory of our emissions path is dire, we have the technology to pre-empt the grim outcome and it has not yet been applied because of the stall efforts of the bankrolled deniers and delayers.

    The only way out of the despair cul-de-sac for climate hawks is to go into the bargaining stage as far as what they can personally or politically do to stop the catastrophe.

    This in turn begs the need for convincing statements of bold but rational solutions to the climate crisis in order to intercept immobilization by despair. Examples of solutions to get excited about include a public works solar energy program, soil restorative sustainable agriculture, anearobic digestion of organic waste, high efficiency vehicle engine retrofits, plant-based diets, home energy efficiency upgrades, full recycling service industries, etc.

    While this bargaining is a productive antidote to despair, it is a set up for going into the anger stage; coming face to face with raw frustration with the mainsteam media, deniers in positions of political power, and the cartels bankrolling professional disinformers.

    The antidote to being burned up alive through anger and frustration is, ironically enough, a form of denial! The denial stage for climate hawks is much different than that of climate contrarians.
    One form of denial is the Red Scare of climate beware and the other form of denial is the Green Glare of climate despair.

    Denial in the latter form is a desire for some type of soothing reassurances that really it’s not as bad as they say it is and that we still have time.
    It is denial that the worst case catastrophe could really happen. It is denial that our species can not possibly be so stupid and wishful insistence that we will have to pull through somehow.

    Elizabeth Kolbert at the end of her book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, writes:
    “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.
    It is impossible to believe. I myself can’t believe it.”

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