Why can’t we fix climate change and dependence on fossil fuels? Well, maybe we can, but why have we mostly stuck our heads in the sand, paralyzed?
The problem is the problem, which is to say, people run from bad things. It is difficult to speak about huge ticking time-bombs such as, say, climate change, in a realistic, practical way, because the vision of the potential future allows for terrifying and horrific scenarios. To look away may be no good, but to look at it is also no good! The truth of it is like the sun - it can burn you, blind you, dehydrate you…and yet to hide from it is starve, or at least burn your candle at both ends.
So is a little exposure, the middle path, the answer? This is, of course, where the sun metaphor breaks down. It is work and sacrifice and extra humility to respond positively to shards of bad news in a meaningful way. So when push comes to shove, few will act, because the apparent situation in front of you is what takes priority.
I don’t know what the answer is exactly, but I know that, for me, to simply reach an adequate understanding of the near-term material dangers for humanity was a long process. A process of taking in some sobering facts in the form of difficult-to-deny metrics and mechanics, and then of trying to understand what these material things meant in real, human, and sometimes, philosophical, terms.
The problem with this approach is that this was also emotionally paralyzing and not the least bit inspiring to anyone I knew whom I discussed it with. And with good reason: Tell the average person that we will soon not be able to feed 3 billion people, let alone 7 billion or 9 billion, and it sounds necessarily alarmist. Well, it should sound alarmist anyway - if it’s true, it’s alarming! The problem is that it sounds almost ludicrous - surely it can’t be true, it’s too intractable, how could we have allowed it? How could the people who constructed such a nightmare not have seen it coming, or not have cared to prevent it?
Over time, I have come to see that there are multiple “shockers” in a realization such as this. It’s not just that we’ve mismanaged our economy, our food supply, our population, and our environment - though these alone are hard realizations to swallow. It’s also that we sense an immense moral abdication by large groups of people who perhaps should have known better - in some cases a real, pernicious, self-serving elitism; in others, a focus on immediacy to the exclusion of long-term priorities; but more likely just a complete lack of will to understand the significance of our actions.
And it’s also the unsettling feeling that we must consider the possibility that so much of the success of our modern advances lies in a series of almost uncontrollable indulgences and urges - urges to reproduce, to control more people, to luxuriate in more things, to live longer and better and faster than is really possible for everyone. In short, that we are, much more than we care to consider, not in control of ourselves, and simply growing, like an algae bloom in a pond, or bacteria in a petri dish, at an exponential rate.
And it all comes back home to one’s self and one’s lifestyle, possibly. And this is what I struggle with now. Not whether there is a crisis, nor whether something can be done, nor whether I can be the one to do some of it, but whether I, as an American of economic privilege, can actually feel clean of conscience, ever again.
But perhaps I am too severe.