Every person I know who has faced the reality of our climate crisis battles with feelings of despair, some or all of the time. When you pull the pieces together and take what the scientists are saying and combine it with our foreseeable political reality, it is hard not to believe we are doomed.
Meaning, the collapse of civilization and a massive dieback of humanity is inevitable, and the only question is when.
But wait, there’s worse. The more you look into it, the more you realize this collapse and dieback will certainly affect you personally quite negatively, and is likely to happen sooner than later. And you also see such powerful vested interests who have corrupted our economic and political systems to their short-term benefit standing in the way of change, that you really cannot see the needed change as possible.
From James Lovelock saying it’s all over but the crying and dying, to James Hansen saying we are already over the safe threshold and have 5 years to get our carbon under control; or John Holdren saying we are now dealing with climate change and what we are fighting to avoid is catastrophic climate change, to mainstream scientific views that climate change is happening more quickly than they thought…well, it can lead to despair.
Despair can come with the realization that we have no hope of saving the current beauty and wonder of the planet, or saving humanity and the ongoing quest for civilization, or the very real possibility that this climate catastrophe will occur in your lifetime and take your family. I can now say this without worrying about the age of most readers. Look around you: If you’re in a crowd, at least half will likely die from this disaster. If there are two of you, one of you isn’t going to make it. And if it’s just you: 50/50. Good luck.
Let’s take one small facet of the crisis: rising sea levels. Let’s not concern ourselves with desertification, the collapse of the fisheries, ocean dead zones, ocean acidification, the collapse of the marine food chain, stronger and longer storms and fires, the spread of plagues and pests, or any other climate change-related disaster. Sea levels are predicted to rise over 1 metre (3’3”) by 2100. That will displace approximately 100 million people. (A more recent report suggests one billion people will become climate refugees by 2050.) More accurately, it will drive 100 million people onto already crowded and claimed land, and conflict will ensue. Many of those people will be very angry at the countries primarily responsible both for causing their dispossession and for stalling action on it, primarily Canada and the United States. A few may become terrorists. Many more may call for sanctions, reparations, an end to global capitalism, war, that sort of thing.
But…2100, you think. That’s far enough away yet not to worry now. Well, think about that. First, that’s still 25 million climate refugees by 2030ish. From Shanghai to Vancouver, people will be flooded out of homes and businesses; where are they going? Who is paying to give them new land, homes, livelihoods? 2030 is not so far away – only 20 years now.
And second, awareness of their impending fate will come to many people well before then. And then all hell will break loose, because there will be panic and rage. There are already calls from nations that are scheduled to be drowned for a new territory. The President of Maldives has said his people “will not die quietly.” Who is going to give up a chunk of their country to provide a new one for these climate refugees? China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and other countries will have to relocate millions into already crowded areas. It would seem fair that the countries that caused the problem accept many of these millions, but…will Canada, population 34M, accept 17M climate refugees from Bangladesh? Unlikely.
Mass awareness may come at any time before 2030; it is a social tipping point. Another Katrina might do it, for example. Or charging deniers with crimes against humanity, or ‘leaders’ with treason. Or simply the constantly rising tide of reality which is slowly but surely showing that the deniers can’t swim.
However, even if things totter along without major catastrophe until 2030, I must say I was hoping for a longer life and leaving a better one for my children and grandchildren. The thought of leaving them a world in the middle of the collapse of our civilization and a massive dieback of humanity – of living in this world myself – is dread-inducing. This is not just death, it is the death of life as we know it. The fact that I can’t do anything about it causes despair. ecoDespair™.
There are various ways to cope with this loss of hope. Alcohol and drugs, for example. Writing letters to the editor. Joining rallies. Everything is temporary. Once you know, you cannot unknow. Ultimately, I have to think it will lead to violence. Not everyone is going to go gently, especially when those who caused and concealed the problem are getting a plush ride. Knowing that the world is going to hell is going to cause moral values to regress in some people.
During a collapse, there will be many people with nothing left to lose. Much of their family wiped out, their remaining childrens’ future a bleak and short hell, their own life consisting of scraping to get by…some people are going to seek revenge. Others will simply try to get by however necessary, and if that means stealing and murdering, they will do so.
Maybe me at some point. I don’t think anyone knows until they are at that point. I still have things to live for and hope that we can still make it. We have to get radical, but I do think we still have a chance to save ourselves. Failing that, and so far we are failing badly, I’m simply hoping to save myself and my family for as long as possible.
The only cure for despair is the knowledge that the obstacles are political, and therefore can be overcome very quickly if the people so will it. So far, there is very little progress, and near-zero acceptance of climate reality. But that does not mean that it will not happen; tipping points are visible only in hindsight – and there is a groundswell building.