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.
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 Brothers, Heartland 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.
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