With an array of approaches ranging from political and corporate greenwashing to going it alone with a small community of others, is there a best option for dealing with a world of drought, heat, fire, and floods?
[Note to Readers: This is a long essay that is best read on something other than a cell phone. We’re all making essential decisions by default today when it comes to the immediate future of our species and the planet. This essay takes a critical look at the variety of approaches to dealing with the climate crisis. Approaches are important to examine because they’re systems of thought and action that carry within them values and assumptions that do or don’t match our own. They also have a predetermined trajectory that’s taking us somewhere we may or may not want to go. Once we’ve determined where we need to investigate further, we’re each on the path to conviction about what we think must be done. Then we know what approaches to advocate for and what actions to take to help bring about the future we are anxious to work toward.]
When I speak with people about the climate crisis, these good climate-concerned folks often gently push back with some comment about not being able to take any more “doom and gloom.” I truly do get that. I understand that they feel a desperate need to stay hopeful about their future and the future of their children and grandchildren. Most of us also feel that way about the future of our species.
But I admit that I wonder how they’re able to NOT see the “doom and gloom” every day. It’s in our own backyards. A couple of weeks ago I saw with my own eyes the Rio Grande completely dried up at a spot it never has been in recorded history. That’s minutes away from my home. All spring I watched the tremendous smoke plume through my bedroom window as it arose from the largest fire in state history only 20 miles away. And then there is what we can’t miss on the news: Massive wildfires on every continent, extreme flooding from Kentucky to Bangladesh to Pakistan to South Korea, melting glaciers near both poles, rising sea waters, drought from England and the European continent to Africa, China, and the American Southwest, crop failures and food shortages around the world, choking air pollution and record-setting heat waves. All the hallmarks of the climate crisis are a mirror for us, for our species. Can we bear to look into that mirror of relentless “doom and gloom”?
Recently, Al Gore made the Sunday morning news shows circuit. Amid his own carefully calibrated doom and gloom, he made the point that addressing the climate crisis is about political will but also personal will. To this end, he quoted Lincoln saying that with public sentiment, everything is possible.
It seems clear from most perspectives that the radical change to our institutional, corporate, and cultural systems required to stop the rapid heating up of our world must be a large-scale government-led effort. In the US, by June of this year it had become clear that this effort was once again not going to happen.
As early (or some might say 70 years too late) as 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen was the first to warn the U.S. Congress about “global warming.” Thirty-four years later, Congress had still not been able to pass climate legislation that heeded Hansen’s warning. And then suddenly it appeared that the tides had turned and big government was going to do its part to redirect the future through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). At least part of Congress has agreed to take action on that warning as they passed the first climate law in the history of the United States.
But even from those most concerned about the climate crisis, the bill is being simultaneously hailed as historic and deeply flawed. Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii spoke to the “essential” aspect of the bill’s passage when he declared, “This is a planetary emergency, and this is the first time that the federal government has taken action that is worthy of the moment.” Not everyone agreed that the moment had been met.
Given the way it played out with the Senate’s foremost fossil fuel ally and advocate calling the final shots, it should come as no surprise that the IRA turns out to have the real possibility of bringing about even more dire climate ramifications than if nothing at all had been done. Either way, the consequences are world-wide. In a summer of such dramatic heatwaves, drought, wildfire, melting ice, and flooding around the planet, it is clear that while the causes of the climate crisis are often local, the effects are not. It also brings to the forefront the question of what exactly will be done about the global planetary crisis. The IRA puts forth a number of initiatives, some of which have been tried (both successfully and unsuccessfully), others which are being discussed more and more openly, and some that still barely make it to the table except as lip service.
What is agreed to by most people concerned about climate disasters is that what we have been doing is not working. That approach can be best described as pretty much status quo. For example, when the July 25 to 30 rainfall of more than four inches per hour led to catastrophic flooding again in Eastern Kentucky, the state’s Democratic governor professed not to understand why this was happening “where people who may not have that much. . . continue to get hit and lose everything.” And while the more progressive commentators associated the flooding with climate change, scientists have been pointing out for years that the coal industry’s extraction process of mountaintop removal — using explosives to remove forests and soil to gain ready access to the coal seams beneath — was warping the land in a way that was likely to cause greater flooding due to dramatically increased runoff. While it’s true that the increase in rainfall is a consequence of the hotter temperatures related to our changing climate, it is the denuded landscapes from coal mining that have so compounded the effect. And of course this is the same effect of mining damage and flood risk in similar landscapes elsewhere. To the extent that we either don’t understand or don’t acknowledge this fact, we are maintaining a status quo approach.
In thinking through the proposed approaches to the climate crisis, I’ve conceptualized a continuum as a way to explore the current alternatives. Most people will find most of these approaches unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons. But we are at a fork in the road and we will be taking a path together, whether we consciously come to consensus on one or not, because whatever we do relative to climate disruption, the consequences of these efforts are planetary.
This Climate Approach Continuum begins with the Status Quo approach discussed thus far.
Approach: Status Quo
“The most decisive actions of life are most often unconsidered actions.” — Andre Gide
Status quo is maintained as we continue to craft, pass, and celebrate measures that do not make things better relative to global climate disruption. We say that it doesn’t matter how wealthy or how poor you are, or what your culture is or your race, the disasters of the climate crisis will impact us all. But this really isn’t the full truth. It’s just the kind of thing we always say and probably believe, particularly if we aren’t disadvantaged or disenfranchised. In the United States, the truth is that Black, Indigenous, Latino, and poor white communities are much more pervasively subjected to excessive industrial pollution, particularly from fossil fuel-related operations. Through practices like redlining, these communities have long been exposed to detrimental health outcomes and other negative consequences. Little is being done to significantly impact these facts. The situation in the United States is just one example of the worldwide disparity between who suffers the worse effects of the climate crisis. This too is not changing under a Status Quo approach.
Forward thinking ideas and solutions are not valued in a Status Quo approach. Rather, they’re ridiculed or generally rejected out of hand. To that end, it’s not a lack of climate action that is so problematic in the Status Quo approach. It’s that there is climate action taken that is in fact detrimental to addressing the climate crisis. Status Quo solutions don’t change anything within our current way of doing things so the problems persist essentially unabated. Our systems aren’t designed to cope with real-world catastrophes that cross planetary boundaries. Much deeper systemic changes are required so that the solutions can come out of a paradigm that understands global impacts and connections within environmental ecosystems. But the narratives coming out of the Status Quo approach sound completely reasonable to our indoctrinated ears and we don’t critically question the fact that we aren’t seeing the promised results from these status quo efforts.
Despite the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement/Accords, and, most recently, Glasgow’s Cop 26 commitments to not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in heating the planet, projections for our current state are at 3.2 degrees Celsius. That will be three times what we’re living with today and the summer of 2022 has provided ample evidence of how painful things can be even at this level of global heating. Status Quo includes no plan at all for bringing our existing fossil fuel industries to an end, and in fact we now have plans to enlarge these industries.
Further examples of the Status Quo approach can be seen in geo-political responses to current events and unanticipated changes in circumstances. When events arc in unexpectedly and throw us off our own prescribed path, we often revert readily to what we know. While Ukraine continues to fight its way through an unprovoked attack by Russia, the rest of Europe has had to wrestle with the withdrawal of the critical fossil fuels it depends on from Russia. Countries that were working toward a more robust transition from coal and oil and gas to renewable energy for heating, transportation, and production now are working to rapidly bring their previously shut down coal plants back on line. Germany alone is restarting or prolonging the life of 21 coal plants for at least the next two winters. Coal for processing in these plants will come (at high emissions costs for transport) from mines in Australia, Colombia, and South Africa even as those countries are working to reduce their own burning of coal.
Conversion to renewables has been underway as Germany worked to meet its climate goals. Still, the withdrawal of natural gas from Russia makes concessions about coal imperative today. The hope is this move will be temporary and the country can still meet its 2030 climate goals to end coal usage. Even so, an additional 20 to 30 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually from these re-opened or prolonged plants will still have to be factored into what will be an increased atmospheric aggregate.
And of course it’s not just Germany that’s off track toward their emissions goals. For another example, Greece too has been working hard to move away from coal. In fact, last year Greece was confidently moving toward the closure of all extant coal-burning plants by 2023. Since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the goal has had to be pushed back to 2025, and more realistically, to at least 2028. In the meantime Greece will be increasing its coal mining by 50% to cover the withdrawal of natural gas from Russia. And the raging wildfires across Greece’s countryside and islands are not unrelated. The greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal have fed intense heat waves that fuel the fires on dry wind-swept land. As elsewhere, the government has promised this return to coal is temporary, but the many former coal workers who changed their lives and locations only a few years ago to start new businesses or learn new skills once again must decide whether to change industries and go back to working with coal. People are becoming skeptical of real change regarding fossil fuels.
Last year was a record year for coal-burning around the world. This year is projected to also break records despite global commitments to significantly bring down emissions. Status Quo is not working.
Approach: Green Capitalism
“What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered growth . . .” — Naomi Klein
In light of its vision of aligning profit goals with environmental goals, “green growth” or “green capitalism” has ended up being a highly profitable venture that has failed dramatically on the environmental end. It was never a real possibility that these mutually exclusive interests could be brought together in service to each other. Corporations would never subordinate profits to the environmental goals and corporate profits are inherently detrimental to the environment.
The proof in the pudding for the incompatibility between the power of markets and environmental concerns can be seen in current profiteering by the fossil fuel industry. For example, BP has posted its largest profit levels in 14 years ($8.4 billion for the second quarter of 2022). That’s three times higher than the second quarter of 2021 and $2 billion more than the previous quarter of this year.
Many environmentalists see the Green Capitalism approach as at its core an attempt to sidestep actually changing the way humans exist within the environment of which they are an integral component. As we move beyond so much climate denial, we move more and more into a realm of “non-solutions” marketed as urgent answers to the agreed-upon crisis. Thus it’s no stretch to see that there are aspects of Green Capitalism (and also of the Full-Tech Solutions approach below) that are already a part of the Status Quo approach. This hints at issues with both the Green Capitalism and the Full-Tech Solutions approaches.
The underpinning message of Green Capitalism is that this existential crisis is too big to be handled by government alone and the most appropriate assistance in handling it should come from those corporations who really understand best how the world works anyway. But wait . . . wasn’t the existential crisis caused in large part by capitalism and corporate greed in the first place? Further, the legal and regulatory systems have been key colluders in the creation of this crisis over the last 170 years. This is true at the national and the international levels. In no meaningful way are “the people” protected. And in developing countries, “the people” as the consuming people have also been part of the problem.
Those who support Green Capitalism generally support carbon taxes being added into the cost of products and services, thus causing people to use less emissions-producing manufacturing and delivery methods. They maintain that companies using less energy and raw materials reap greater profits while they are doing good for the planet. In part this comes from them being a preferred provider based on their “green” practices.
Green Capitalism marketing uses words like green, sustainable, natural, and environment-friendly to help promote a sense that something new and better is being offered. And most of us want to hear that and thus are quick to believe it’s true. More often than not though, these claims can’t be readily verified by the average consumer.
Another reason it can be relatively easy to be seduced by the messages coming from the Green Capitalism approach is because more often than not the true costs of it are impacting the people and the environments of the Global South while the rich countries to the north are reaping the purported benefits. Green Capitalism schemes like “carbon offsets” function between countries as if we aren’t all going down together. Only in a profit-oriented fantasy can we imagine that the unused allotments of greenhouse gas emissions in one undeveloped country can be “purchased” by an over-emitting developed country and somehow we’ve saved the world.
The simple truth is that two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions since the start of the Industrial Age have been produced by a total of 90 corporations. Imagine if the leadership teams of those organizations suddenly saw the light and agreed to a program of swiftly reducing their carbon contribution. It wouldn’t happen because their shareholders would not support the process. This is still the world we live in and in that world, Green Capitalism is still a strategy that most of us fall for.
Major stakeholders in the Green Capitalism approach (like the fossil fuel industries) have advocates in the legislature (like Joe Manchin in the U.S. Senate) to make sure that their interests are built into every law put into place. Subsidizing asset substitution (as we saw in the IRA relative to fossil fuel leases being offered prior to any leases for renewable industries being allowed), offering massive subsidies for technology proven over and over to be an abject failure (as is the case with carbon capture and sequestration — CSS), or “side deals” that trade some other minor accommodation for assurances written into law that permit travesties against the environment and adjacent communities like completion of the Mountain Valley Gas Pipeline through West Virginia, which will annually produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as that put out by 26 coal-fired power plants.
A primary greenwashing program for the Green Capitalism approach is ESG — programs that purport to provide transparency through disclosure relative to environmental, social, and governance criteria. The reality of most ESG corporate programs and financial funds is that they appear to show responsibility but there is no meaningful accountability for what is reported or promised.
Another example concerns the climate advocates’ contention that ruminants raised for consumption are a prime contributor of methane in the atmosphere, deforestation, and land and soil degradation often leading to desertification. The answer for these advocates is reduced meat consumption. Green Capitalists see an opportunity to profit but also address the climate concerns through lab-grown meats, whose overall health impacts are still in question.
Environmentalists’ greatest concern with Green Capitalism is that it continues to waste time the species and the planet do not have with hedging strategies that keep people believing we can avoid real change.
Approach: Full-Tech Solutions
“Man has to realize that he is an integral part of nature… that he is just as much a natural form as a seagull or a wave, or a mountain. And if he doesn’t recognize that, he uses his technical powers to destroy his environment … to foul his own nest.” — Alan Watts
The promises of a Full-Tech Solutions approach sum to a world in which we won’t have to give up anything — we can continue to have it all through the genius of technological innovation. The reality is that this approach has a nearly impossible task to deliver upon. Not only must all of our current systems be converted to renewable and non-destructive ones, but this approach must also deliver on the absolute need to pull back the greenhouse gases we have already emitted into the atmosphere. Still, for many, the brilliance of our prowess in technical innovation is irresistible as the complete answer to all of our climate mitigation needs.
The pull towards this approach is certainly understandable, especially for young- to middle-aged adults whose worlds are fully digitized, whose smart homes communicate with them through their smart phones while they’re in their fully blue-tooth and GPS-directed cars. Ever-advancing technology is what they’ve grown up with and the ever-increasing convenience that has come with it has created a life that few are interested in giving up. They want this same world for their children and there is too much at stake for them to even imagine this could not be possible without significant change in their lifestyle.
To be clear, the picture just painted is a world that exists only for a certain group in affluent countries and much of it happens at the expense of those not included in that group. For this other group, technological innovations will often be limited, at most, to cell phones — and generally not the newest, smartest models. And for many in this “other” group, the essential resources for much of the rest of the technological advances will come at the expense of their health, the health of their children, and the destruction of the formerly pristine environments in which they live.
Much has been written about the human rights violations and environmental harm done around the world in mining for the lithium and cobalt needed for batteries that run digital devices, electric vehicles and so much more in the Full-Tech Solutions world. A less frequently told story is about another essential mineral for electric vehicle batteries — nickel, and the mining of it in Indonesia where nearly a third of the world’s nickel comes from. The hills on some of the remote islands in this archipelago have been decimated by open-pit mines that cause dangerous landslides and pollute the air and drinking water as well as the waters along the coastline. Formerly idyllic fishing villages are now bereft of that way of life as the inhabitants have only the nickel mines for employment since the whole area has become an industrialized zone. The villages now have the “convenience” of electricity but nearly 25% of the people have acute respiratory infections (ARI), their drinking water is contaminated with high levels of Cr6 (hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical famously fought by Erin Brockovich), their pristine white beaches are now covered in red mud, and the fish that remain are contaminated — all for the “solution” of electric vehicles for people in affluent countries a world away.
The situation with nickel for EV batteries is but one example of the plethora of problems with almost all of the mass-produced, green-capitalism, technical solutions arrived at for meeting the climate crisis. Some of these problems will be addressed over-time through additional technical innovations and others will bring more problems we are not even aware of yet. Still others won’t be addressed at all and the damage done will be as bad or worse as our current non-green products and processes fueling the climate crisis.
An example of this latter type is found within the electrical industry where most of the planned technical innovations are to reside as they “fix” our downward spiraling world. It involves the most powerful greenhouse gas — sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Its global heating potential is 26,000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, and it remains in the atmosphere heating up the planet for more than 3,000 years. The widespread use of SF6 in the electrical industry is in the prevention of short circuits, fires, and other electrical accidents, but the leaks of SF6 amount to their own disastrous “accident.” In the EU alone in 2017, leaks of SF6 summed to the equivalent of having an additional 1.3 million cars in operation on EU roadways.
As we move toward the Full-Tech Solutions approach of an “all-electric” world, escalating levels of SF6 are turning out to be a serious unintended consequence. This colorless, odorless gas is widely used to insulate medium- and high-voltage electrical systems. Used in everything from large power stations to individual wind turbines, a Full-Tech Solution world will be connecting everything to the electric grid, and each time that happens, there will be additional switches and circuit breakers (safety devices called switchgear) and almost all of these use SF6 to tamp down arcs and short circuits. Reliable and low maintenance, SF6 is a key component in our transition to renewables. With leaks in the electrical systems as high as 15%, the amount of SF6 being emitted into the atmosphere is compounding annually with the installed base of SF6 expected to increase by 75% by the end of this decade.
While the widespread use of SF6 in wind turbines is recently coming to the world’s attention, issues with solar panels, including the difficulty in recycling them and the toxic materials contained within them are well-known. The same is true of EV batteries when it comes to their recycling and disposal. The number of electric vehicles being purchased is escalating rapidly, but we still have no answers for the problems with the Full-Tech Solutions approach. The examples of unresolved problems with technical solutions that are actually contributing to the climate crisis are seemingly endless so here’s one last one: Land Life, a carbon offsetting firm that plants trees to ostensibly “offset” the carbon emissions of industries still adding to our polluted atmosphere, uses new technology to prepare the soil for planting these trees. In a one month period this summer, sparks from this technology started two separate forest fires in Spain, a region already struggling with massive climate-related fires. In just one of the Land Life fires, 35,000 acres were burned and 2,000 people in five nearby towns had to be evacuated. Remember, this was while using a technical “solution” to help in fighting the climate crisis by planting more trees.
Even if all of these environmentally detrimental issues within the Full-Tech Solutions approach were resolved, there still are the approach’s infrastructure dependencies calling out for immediate problem-solving and investment. Wind and solar farms as well as charging stations for electric transportation require sufficient power lines for customer connectivity. (I won’t mention here how many record-setting wildfires have been started by the existing power lines and how time-consuming and expensive it is to run underground lines.) And even if carbon capture and clean hydrogen are finally successful, their actual implementation will require an extensive pipeline system. Business and residential property owners will need enough technicians trained to install and maintain heat pumps. Drivers of EVs will need adequate charging stations built and maintained (in the U.S. currently, there are approximately 6,500 charging stations versus approximately 145,000 gas stations). Local and national governments will need bipartisan approval for regulatory processes and licensing for a majority of these processes and projects.
But perhaps most concerning of all is that a Full-Tech Solutions approach relies upon solutions that do not currently exist, nor are some even fully imagined yet. Meanwhile, our world is already on fire (and under water). Putting all our eggs in the Full-Tech Solutions basket means crossing a Rubicon of tried and true solutions that we can be pretty certain will not only help but will also not make things worse.
Without question, there is a need for technical solutions. Renewables for energy consumption require new technology. Alternative modes of transportation require new technology. But high-tech proponents will need to keep looking for approaches that add to rather than subtract from nature before they can call it a win. We know, for example, that electric vehicles are fraught with environmental, health, and human rights issues. So let’s look to people like the 17-year-old inventor from Florida, Robert Sansone, who has come up with a model for a synchronous reluctance motor that has greater efficiency and torque than existing EV motors and doesn’t use rare earth minerals at all so it supports a more sustainable alternative transportation solution. (This model won Sansone first prize and $75,000 at the 2022 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair.) Let’s also have him come with a solution for the EV battery issues as well. And let’s do check that new motor and whatever he comes up with for a break-through battery in terms of undesirable consequences to people and the environment.
Conventional answers from corporate R&D departments can’t be where we start and stop in looking for answers to new technical solutions to climate problems. We need innovation, and we need it with due diligence on its consequences and without attachment to the same old purse strings. Technology for technology’s sake should not be a foregone conclusion. In May of 2021, a paper in Nature maintained that the idea of reducing the economy “should be as widely and thoroughly considered and debated as are completely risky technology-driven pathways.”
Suppose that we have risen to the moment and we have created a world that operates on 100 percent clean energy. Despite the grandeur of this accomplishment, it still isn’t enough because a Full-Tech Solutions approach does not address the fact that if our economy and our consumption habits stay exactly the same but are now fed by clean energy, we will still be taking from the earth and producing through factories at the same endlessly growing rate because we did not change our social, cultural, political, and economic philosophies, behaviors, or accountabilities. We may reduce emissions to a certain extent, but our forests will still be at risk, our soil lacking in nutrition, our rivers empty and still polluted, our oceans toxic, our landfills and desert dumps overflowing, our urban areas covered in hard surfaces that don’t absorb water, and our bio-diversity still dramatically declining. We moved from fossil fuels to clean energy (no small thing!) but because we didn’t change how we got here, what we did was not big enough.
Approach: Climate Defeatism
“We have the choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place–or not to bother.” — Jane Goodall
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor Frankl
Less an approach and more of a psychological state that serves as a kind of coping mechanism, Climate Defeatism is also referred to as “doomerism.” It holds its place on the continuum of approaches to the climate crisis because for many individuals, and even for some institutions, it’s a very real (though immobilizing) response to what is happening on a global scale.
The lack of a fleshed out vision for the future that is observably and effectively being worked toward underpins Climate Defeatism. The lack of transparency but also overt duplicity of the Green Capitalist approach on the one hand, and equally apparent Status Quo actions relative to the climate crisis on the other, feed feelings of hopelessness and despondency. This effect is further exacerbated when astronomical profits are broadly announced for the same mega-corporations holding captive the pocketbooks and lives of the average persons needing to fill their tanks and heat their homes with the same products that made these industries so grossly over-compensated.
The narratives of the powerful and the wealthy are designed to lull people into a sense of safety and security but the environment of economic and political chaos while the environment around us is so clearly caving in leads to the opposite effect. The effect is instead one of a deep sense that all is not well, that we are not safe and secure, that in fact we are being lied to and unfairly exploited on most fronts of our lives. There is less and less stable ground under our feet — especially as the rivers flow up to our doorsteps, wildfires sweep through suburban neighborhoods, and we watch the trees dying all around us from the combined effect of excessive heat and drought. Cynicism, skepticism, and defeatism are easy to understand as responses to this state of affairs.
And then we’re told to recycle more, take shorter showers, drive less, change to LED lightbulbs, and reuse our baggies as if our personal individual actions can turn things around. But of course we know that won’t be enough. Certainly we should all do these things, but what’s really required is collective action toward large-scale systems change. It’s in the face of this truth that Climate Defeatism really kicks in for many people. They see that those big systems aren’t transforming, they see that the big corporations aren’t making authentic alterations but just greenwashing. They may go to buy an electric vehicle and find they won’t be able to get one for another year, and even then they learn that it will be too expensive for them because the new tax incentive they counted on does not apply to most of the electric vehicles available to them. They’ve also just learned that the recycling they’ve been doing so diligently at home was a scam dreamed up by a marketing firm for a big consumer products corporation and in fact all but maybe 9% of what’s recycled ends up in landfills, the ocean, or the air (through incineration). Climate Defeatism has fully kicked in as they realize there is no hope for the future getting any better given these seemingly unchanging realities.
Discernment and questioning about the facts behind conventional narratives and direct research into the actual science of what’s happening within the environment can lead to an empowering sense that begins to mitigate Climate Defeatism. A number of scientists now argue that we’ve passed the point of being able to avoid a pervasive climate breakdown. Other climate experts still maintain there’s a sliver of light left for us to squeeze through if we can immediately get to net zero in greenhouse gas emissions. Given everything described above and what we know about our world today, that “if” seems more and more improbable. Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, has coined the phrase “climate appeasement” to represent when experts say one thing in public to avoid frightening people but then acknowledge a much more truthful and terrifying reality in private. McGuire believes climate appeasement makes things worse. Without the truth, we continue to avoid the hard work of really tackling this truly existential threat. No matter how bad the situation actually is, there is much we must do to keep it from getting worse.
Approach: Limits to Growth
“The history of the whole world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.” — G.W.F. Hegel
There’s debate within the climate movement about whether the very nature of democracy takes more time to arrive at conclusive action than the climate crisis now affords. Supposing this is true, what is the alternative? For some people this is an argument for some form of Status Quo. For others it is a call for some form of benevolent dictatorship that puts us quickly and squarely on a path that saves the species and the environment as we know it. Either option is a tough pill to swallow for most people seriously concerned about the current and coming catastrophes. An egalitarian centralized approach to planning and implementation for wide-spread systemic change is the preferred approach for many but it’s also seen as utopian by others.
The Limits to Growth approach has at its foundation a belief that perpetual economic growth is environmentally unsustainable. In the intensely capitalist “developed” world, this approach is politically unacceptable to many people. First, there’s an assumption that capitalism is an inherent aspect of human nature. In fact, only the last five centuries have had a capitalist foundation and history shows that the ideology was superimposed upon the masses by those the system serves, i.e., those at the very top of the economic pyramid. Still, it certainly feels like the water we swim in to most people in the developed world, and also to some people in the developing world. Many no longer see the unjustness of a system that exploits people and their labor, the land and overall environment, and basically everything that can be taken from the natural world.
Second, there’s an equally entrenched assumption that a Limits to Growth approach is synonymous with a significant reduction in the standard of living for the person of modestly prosperous means. It’s true that there’s a “less is more” aspect to the Limits to Growth approach, but that generally implies a trade-off of less consumerism for a higher quality of life. Remember that all approaches on the continuum have an ostensible goal of saving the human (and other) species from extinction and the planet from long-term and/or irreparable damage. The Limits to Growth approach has as a first principle that the planet can’t accommodate the current or projected number of humans on Earth nor can it sustain the current or projected levels of production for unnecessary consumables.
Often referred to as a “degrowth strategy,” the Limits to Growth approach is believed to be unsellable to consumers in countries with rich economies. More accurately, it is a dauntingly difficult strategy to sell to the very wealthy in these countries. Most people below that degree of income understand at a core level that we can’t continue to needlessly consume at our current rate and still save ourselves and the kind of environment in which so many of us grew up. Show these people the very real trade-offs of more quality time with friends and family, less hours in a work week, and less financial stress and strain, and most people are willing to forego fast fashion, more convenient transportation, and over-sized houses to heat and light up. (Most very wealthy people already get the benefits mentioned here so they won’t be as willing to give up the other things as they won’t perceive themselves to be receiving a trade-off.)
The Limits to Growth approach is not about slowing a growth-dependent economy. Rather, it is about creating and maintaining a completely different kind of economy. On the one hand, environmentally destructive production that is not necessary for a sustainable life (i.e., advertising, over-sized vehicles, fast fashion, devices with intentionally built-in obsolescence, and six-hour commercial trips to space) are reduced, and on the other, more sustaining sectors like renewable energy, health care, and education are increased.
Those most impacted by a Limits to Growth approach are the very wealthy. It’s completely unrealistic to imagine that most of these wealthy people are going to voluntarily sign-up for an approach to save the species and our world that requires their relinquishing of the special privilege they’ve been occupying up to this point. The actual policies that would fall under this approach have long been popular with the masses in democratic countries. The issue is that the masses are not the ones deciding which policies will be implemented. Any individual can enhance the conditions of their own life with a Limits to Growth approach, but to really change systems in time to affect impending climate catastrophes via this approach will require a massive and concerted collective effort. Is the participation of the wealthy one percent needed for success? The issue is that the wealthy one percent became that way through the exploitation of a capitalist economic system. A different kind of system by definition changes their condition. Are they likely to take that sitting down?
But here’s the rub, regardless of how the wealthy feel about the Limits to Growth approach: By agreement of experts in all relevant fields, we have a vanishingly small window of time in which to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis, which means we must hold our global temperature below the 1.5C threshold of global heating, and in order to do this we must transition as rapidly as possible to renewable energy in lieu of fossil fuels. Perhaps most importantly, the requirement for change in order to make these transitions falls first and foremost on the richest countries and on the richest within those countries as they are the greatest contributors to the crisis (including having off-shored manufacturing of their consumables to less affluent countries).
At the end of the section on the Full-Tech Solutions approach I said that even if we were able to transition to 100 percent clean energy, we still wouldn’t have fixed the problem. How can that be? Wouldn’t bringing down emissions from burning fossil fuels for energy reverse the damage we’ve done? Wouldn’t the earth start cooling and ultimately go back to the way it was? I don’t want to downplay what an achievement that would truly be. But given the paragraphs above, you might have already figured out that it is our lifestyles, our consumption, the greed and exploitation of the economically poorer nations by the wealthier ones, that have underpinned what we did with fossil fuels. Make no mistake, doing the same thing with an all-electric world will still have many of the same consequences because the average person in a high-income nation will still be consuming 28 tons of material goods per year. Economic anthropologist and staunch degrowth advocate Jason Hickel points out that if we change that, then we start letting up the pressure we have put on the natural world. We stop chopping down forests, destroying habitats and the wildlife that lived there, we stop tearing up environments with open-pit mines for minerals needed to have more and more material things. We stop exploiting land and people who don’t benefit at all and are generally not consuming these material things. We leave more land for healthier food grown with better soil rather than what happens when we are consistently mono-cropping for cotton for fast fashion we don’t need made by people who are often indentured. If we really stop thinking we need so much of this material stuff and we change our behaviors accordingly, the intense production will cut back and then less energy will be used. With less energy used, we need fewer wind turbines and solar panels and batteries and charging stations for transporting these material goods. And we need fewer landfills and incinerators and ways to dispose of this year’s goods so we can start consuming our share of next year’s stuff.
And then there’s the population problem. For the last 300,000 years of humanity’s existence on Earth, the worldwide population is estimated to have been no more than around five million people. Humans traversed the planet, discovering new areas and consuming the available local food. If and when those resources were depleted, the people moved on. Over thousands of years of this pattern, specific groups of humans throughout the world existed and then went extinct. Climate change, war, and famine were all a part of the ongoing human narrative.
Even after population expansion following the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic Era around 12,000 years ago, the worldwide human population didn’t reach half a billion until around 200 years ago. As we approach eight billion people in the world today, and as a result of the Industrial Revolution occurring since around 1850, two percent of the world’s population are farmers feeding the other 98 percent of us. The magnanimous combination of a relatively stable global climate and the seemingly endless supply of cheap fossil fuels made this possible, but it is no longer the case. Hundreds of millions of people have already become climate refugees and food shortages around the world are increasing exponentially. The growth of the food supply is directly correlated with the growth of the population (for any animal, including humans). And the same is so for decline as it is for growth. What played out locally millennia ago, is now a global phenomenon. The decline in food must have as a corollary a decline of global population. This is nature’s own inherent limit to growth.
As is the case with food, we are seeing many of the great rivers of the world drying up due to the combination of extreme drought and heat waves. The ancient River Po in Italy, France’s longest river — the Loire, as well as the Rhine and the Danube, the mighty Colorado River and the Rio Grande in the United States, the second longest river in South America — the Parana, the great Yangtze and Yellow rivers in China, Central Asia’s longest river — the Amu Darya, and the largest river in Australia — the Murray River, are all drying up before our eyes. Images evoked of India may still be of Shalimar gardens on the shoreline of shimmering Dal Lake, but the reality is that the Indus River running through this same area of Jammu and Kashmir has dropped by 50 percent in its flow through Pakistan, and the Teesta River wending through India and Bangladesh is going dry. Only 36 of every 100 drops of rain that reach land make it to lakes and rivers and aquifers (that is, the water used by humans and other animals). The rest goes into the soil. But as temperatures rise, moisture leaves the soil so it works to absorb more with the next rainfall. This means less water makes it to where it can be stored, i.e., in the lakes and rivers and aquifers. In a cruel twist, flooding from extreme rainfall and melting glaciers simply washes over dried soil or the concreted areas of cities. (Pakistan is experiencing this brutal phenomenon as I write this.) The nonprofit World Resources Institute projects that by 2030 — barely more than 7 years from now — global demand for water will exceed supply by 56%. Just as with food shortages, the age-old response by nature to the decline in water as a resource is the associated decline in the consuming population — that is, humans and other animals.
The same applies to the Limits to Growth approach as for all the other approaches on the continuum. We can pretend these massive changes to our world are not happening, but that doesn’t make things better. It makes them worse. We can, instead, decide to stop such flagrant consumption, start paying attention to and caring for our environment, and work to live within the levels of food and water available to us. In 2019, an open letter was signed by more than 11,000 scientists. The letter called for a “shift from G.D.P. growth” to “sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being.” To do so though requires more than just changing our own consumption habits. It also requires putting an end to the unprecedented levels of greed among the mega-wealthy and the corporations behind so many of them. After years and years of small efforts toward change that have amounted to nothing compared to what is required, extreme measures and massive change are considered by many to be our only hope.
Approach: A Radical Arm
“Destruction is difficult. It is as difficult as creation.” — Antonio Gramsci
In the 1980s through the early 2000s, the environmental movement had a radical arm that sometimes engaged in eco-sabotage and was considered by many to be detrimental to the movement overall. The point of its destruction was often obscured and its effectiveness never proven. This has played a defining role in the very assertive pacifist nature of the climate movement in the last couple of decades.
Some people are now wondering if that extreme pacifism no longer fully serves the urgency of the issues and the times. As frustration with government’s unwillingness to hold big polluters accountable and its overall impotence regarding the climate crisis, there are calls for better organizing, more forming of alliances, and any other approaches that will result in a greater critical mass and a much more specific call to action in order to get the attention of government and big business. But there are also more and more calls for nonviolent civil disobedience from climate groups, and even an acceptance among some for an inclusion of violence to property by a separate radical arm of the movement.
This Radical Arm approach is relatively new for the climate movement. The initial milestone event happened in 2018 when Extinction Rebellion blockaded five bridges on the Thames. That was the beginning of a few groups experimenting with non-violent actions that drew attention to their demands as they began to take a bolder stand. One example is Just Stop Oil, a coalition of groups that have demanded the government in the UK stop all new fossil fuel leases, projects, and production. The groups work to paralyze the supply chain with non-violent direct action applied to the infrastructure for oil and gas. The effect can be, at the very least, inconvenient for people, businesses, and government in the UK as Just Stop Oil is gaining in critical mass and therefore can effect larger-scale and more frequent blockade actions.
Some of those actions include blocking roads, bridges, and fuel stations (or decommissioning their pumps). The question is whether people who fully support the need to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy will continue to be supportive if they’re unable to get to where they’re going or fill their tanks with gas that day. In an attempt to build a community of civil resistance, can the climate activists also avoid alienation? Civil resistance is a move from calling out the government to actively stopping the government from wrong actions relative to the climate crisis. For people in sympathy with the cause but not yet understanding the existential nature of it for all of us, these actions of civil resistance can sometimes come across as more of a nuisance than an effective strategy to address the crisis. Those enacting the resistance hope people will consider that while they don’t have to be the ones forming the blockades, etc., their part can be to tolerate the inconvenience in solidarity with the resisters.
In a more direct attack on the oil companies’ projects, a UK activist recently struck an aviation fuel pipeline using angle grinders and interfered with installation equipment on the project. The fossil fuel company Esso sought an injunction against the actions and the activist. The judge acknowledged the “legitimate public interest in the changes to the climate” and was considering it relative to the injunction. The outcome will be settled on September 7. It’s not surprising that the oil company is fighting back using laws that support their commercial efforts. It is surprising that the judge acknowledged the background against which these actions are being taken.
But why is the Radical Arm approach in this position on the continuum? First, there’s a definite connection between the Limits to Growth approach and the Radical Arm approach. The Limits to Growth approach emphasizes the urgent need to stop — stop emitting, stop mass-producing, stop over-consuming, stop over-populating, stop destroying the environment, stop recklessly overlooking the impact on people in the Global South by people in the Global North, stop thinking we can have it all at no expense to the species or the planet. The Radical Arm approach takes making sure this is happening as its mission. Second, the Radical Arm approach is a further breaking away from all the convention that is our world today. The Radical Arm is setting itself apart as the outsiders that will do what not everyone can do or wants to do in service to what they understand as the urgent demands of the climate crisis. The people that go outside of the sanctioned norm take on physical, emotional, and legal risks to themselves and their families on behalf of the rest of us. It is this move toward the outside that also puts the Radical Arm approach in this position on the continuum as the approaches before and after it so as well.
It’s clear to most people concerned about the climate crisis that government will not enforce the needed actions, nor will the private sector do what’s necessary. In the U.S., there have been a handful of successful efforts to resist new extractions, pipelines, and power plants. Despite differences in circumstances, strategies, and demographics of those involved, all had in common the salient feature of non-violence. A fair assessment overall would have to be that even these valiant efforts had little to no effect on the continued emissions and utter lack of accountability.
It’s against this tireless commitment to a course of non-violence in the existential struggle of the climate crisis that human ecologist Andreas Malm enters and gives forceful voice to the argument that physically dismantling the infrastructure of the fossil fuel industrial complex is a noble cause grounded in history and the only strategic move left to play at this dire moment in time. Malm maintains that our collective rage is the only appropriate equivalent to the scale of planetary destruction being wrought. He juxtaposes fatalism and sabotage and makes a plea for the more dynamic of the two.
Malm’s critique of the climate movement compared to other social change movements shows that despite the pacifist revisionism applied to these other efforts, they almost universally had non-pacifist components that were considered necessary to reach their goal. He contends that fundamental to these non-pacifist components, or “radical arms,” was a belief that violence toward property is wholly different than violence toward humans. This applied to the abolitionist movement, the suffragette movement, uprisings in Ireland and Algeria, the civil rights movement, and the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
Strong civil resistance (sometimes in the form of violence against property) is not a gratuitous move. But it is a move that in struggles of profound importance can be deemed necessary. The premise behind the Radical Arm approach is that the change required on this existential issue is greater than anything humanity has confronted, but the result we are facing if we are unsuccessful is also greater than anything ever faced by our species. How can we not fight like hell against the forces of corporate greed, our everyday over-consumption, and the inequality and injustice that is embedded in our willingness to overlook that economically-advantaged nations are still harming those less fortunate elsewhere (and sometimes even in their own nation)? The Radical Arm approach holds firmly to the conviction that our politicians are useless on this front and they have to be gone around, directly to the people and the organizations destroying everything. In a new article published in the journal Nature Climate Change, a half-dozen scientists call on their colleagues to take a stand against the inaction regarding the climate crisis through active civil disobedience. In response to concerns that this might undermine the integrity of science, the authors point out that while the separation of science and politics is grounded in historical precedent, these inherited norms are not up to the crisis we are facing. They maintain that “the widespread notion that sober presentation of evidence by an ‘honest broker’ to those with power will accomplish the best interests of populations is itself not a neutral perspective on the world; it is instead conveniently unthreatening to the status quo and often rather naive.” Their call for civil disobedience in this arena has been greeted favorably by many other scientists around the world.
Most arguments against the Radical Arm approach come from the capitalist perspective that destroying property harms people, whether through the loss of their jobs, part of their income, or even their business as a whole. Another argument stems from a lack of clarity about exactly who is being harmed and precisely how they are helped by the kind of actions taken by a Radical Arm approach. Where this approach has been implemented more relative to climate concerns is in defense of the land and water in Latin America. While these are more environmental activists than climate activists (a distinction that is beginning to make less of a difference), there are many more activists killed in these struggles than in any other area. In the Middle East and Africa, there is a long history of pipeline destruction. Here too “climate change” is not the only concern. They are primarily concerned with damage to the environment and the human impacts that follow.
As more people begin to grasp all that is at stake if we go beyond the 1.5C threshold, they begin to understand the complexity and nearly impossible challenge of continuing to fight for what else they care about — things like democracy, equality, the stability of nations, environmental preservation and that of endangered animal species, not to mention the availability of food and water and housing and jobs as more and more people are forced to migrate even within their own country. This is what it means when people say the climate crisis is an existential crisis. It hits every aspect of our existence and we haven’t really begun to understand the depth of that. Such existential realities as these bring home the level of crisis in a way that abstractions like the amount of carbon in the atmosphere or the seemingly minute degrees celsius of warming do not.
There’s still time to fight against pure hell and permanent destruction and it’s the dawning realities of these dire effects in every person’s hometown that galvanize and mobilize the masses. And that will take marches, and books, and blockades and other disruptions. And it will probably also require a Radical Arm of that same people’s movement. Every other successful movement had a benign body and then there was a more vigorous arm making sure that effects were being felt. To a very great extent, the story of dissent and social movements has been watered down to where we don’t really understand that at least some of the people had to actually use destruction to bring about change. Particularly when there is so little time left to fight.
The real uprisings have never been grand in scale. They don’t need to be. The voice of the people needs to be heard on a grand scale, but a much smaller group can make the people with money feel the effect of their heinous investments. (Malm also proposes other actions, like Climate Camps, that are much less passive than the current state of the movement and can have a very disruptive goal and outcome but without being violent to property — the point here also is about making the people with money feel the effects.) None of this happens except by intention. Without a radical arm, pacifism may just be a metaphor for passivity.
Approach: Gaian Enclaves
“The one who merely flees is not yet free. In fleeing he is still conditioned by that from which he flees.” — G.W.F. Hegel
For so many years of more, bigger, better, faster, people in affluent countries believed in this as a permanent state. Now, as it slowly sinks in that we can no longer continue this way, a different mood is taking over within these affluent societies. For some there’s a sense of things unraveling or coming apart. For others there’s a strong conviction that things need to be taken apart. The common sentiment is one of failure on the part of our systems and institutions. These people are looking for another way — a constructive way to live within the limits we can no longer work around.
For people seeking to live within nature’s limits, the answer to what they’re seeing break down around them lies in taking a path of dignity that stems from exercising their agency. They want to be the maker of their own outcomes and to a certain extent this means moving away from where they see society headed. They understand their future and the future of their loved ones to be in their own hands. And for those least optimistic about the future of the species, they may even hope that a Gaian Enclave approach will preserve small pockets of humans for the dawn of a new epoch.
When people blame the environment — there’s too much rain, there’s too much heat and drought, the soil’s no good anymore — they don’t see their own responsibility for the problems or for the solutions. The Gaian Enclave approach is a way to learn how to live with nature as one takes refuge from climate catastrophes. An underpinning assumption for this approach is that government agencies everywhere will be under-resourced and unprepared in every other way for the kind of extreme events that will be normal life going forward. The approach assumes it will be up to each of us to protect ourselves and our loved ones, to provide ourselves with shelter, food and water, and maybe most importantly, to have situated ourselves in a location that’s most conducive to sustainability. This is that big question so many of us are pushing to the back of our minds because it seems so impossible to answer — where to go? There are ways to answer this question once we’re open to a new approach.
It’s a long-standing practice, certainly here in the United States but also in many other parts of the world, to give lip service to a reverence for the wisdom of Indigenous peoples. And we talk about that relative to the climate crisis too, pointing out that the native peoples know best how to treat the land, how to grow crops so the land doesn’t become arid, how to manage the forests so that the wildfires don’t get so big, how to just take enough game at the right time so that none of the species go extinct, how to waterscape the garden areas in a way that works with rain, etc. But even as we proclaim this in such urgent times, we still aren’t paying attention. I’ve observed tribes all over the U.S. living on the worst land we could give them and making that land into something sustainable for themselves. They are the model of endurance and resilience, but also of sacrifice. And that is the part we least want to look at — what they’ve been okay with giving up in order to still have the relationship with nature that is so vital to their existence. Some of the most highly-awarded weavers living on the Navajo reservation still live in hogans with no running water and no electricity. Those that mind these conditions leave to make their way like white culture here does. But many don’t leave — they are accepting of the sacrifices because of the trade-offs it provides to them. They live well in the way that they know. Less is more for them. And they are not causing the climate crisis, but they will be living and dying with it thanks to us. That’s not so new for Indigenous peoples around the world. My point is, we don’t want to learn from them because we can’t imagine what the goodness is in that life.
The Gaian Enclave approach requires a sympathy with and respect for the kind of wisdom, values, and lifestyle that Indigenous communities have continued to demonstrate in their long-standing respect for and valuing of nature and the specific environment in which they live. They have a trusting relationship with the rivers and the mountains and the deserts and care for them when these places are sick from society’s abuses. To really live with a place, to stay there and learn it like you know your own family, is the beginning of knowing how to help the environment around us to heal. To restore a place and rebuild its abundance also requires joining hands with the people who have lived in the area and cared about it for longer than we have. In the Gaian Enclave approach, people aren’t trying to replicate a life that they left behind. They aren’t trying to recreate a smaller version of a society that they felt was too broken and unhealthy to remain with.
Land is crucial in reversing the climate crisis. The Gaian Enclave approach is an effort to heal and bring back to its fullest potential the land on which people live while they also benefit from its abundance. The “Gaian” part of the approach stems from the thinking behind chemist James Lovelock’s and biologist Lynn Margulis’ 1970 concept of the earth as a living entity that self-regulates its elements in a way that sustains life. Centuries before Lovelock and Margulis, the ancient Greeks embodied this same notion in the mythological figure from whom the scientists took the name. Gaia was the goddess of raw maternal power and in becoming the Earth, she gave birth to all of the planet’s land features as well as it plants and animals. Ancient Chinese systems of thought and those of Indigenous peoples have also carried this concept of Earth as a living being. And then the enclave notion of this approach is derived from the literal definition of the word: a distinct territorial, cultural, or social unit enclosed within or as if within foreign territory.
A Gaian Enclave approach has at its heart an ideological commitment to living alone or in a small community in which the land and nature are treated with reverence, an emphasis is placed on the care and optimization of that land, and the lifestyle within the enclave is one of less is more. Health for the people as well as the land is a priority and this includes mental and emotional health as well as physical well-being. A reduced ecological footprint maintains a position of not contributing to the climate crisis while stewardship of the land and its natural inhabitants helps to mitigate the effects of the crisis. The dignity and agency inherent in the Gaian Enclave approach comes in through the connection to nature and the conscious choice being enacted daily in this kind of independent setting.
There are various models of a Gaian Enclave approach. One of the oldest is on the eastern savannas of Colombia. Los Llanos is one of the most harsh environments on Earth but it is here that Paolo Lugari decided to make the infertile land livable in the late 1960s. More than fifty years later, the village of Gaviotas is one of the world’s best examples of sustainable living. The energy for the remote village is all renewable and the previously non-existent 20,000 acre rain forest that now springs up improbably from the acidic savanna soil is so successfully maintained that the village lives off of its renewable products. Here is a place where the innovative technology for renewable energy is not made from petroleum products, does not kill birds, does not produce dangerous EMFs, does not use critical minerals or hurt other humans in any way, nor does it do any damage at all to the environment. Here is a place no one thought could be self-sustaining and it has thrived since the late 1960s. And here is a place where the inhabitants understood that they needed musicians and a way to engage with the incredible acoustics of the forest they had created out of nowhere in order to keep their soul in community with the environment. It’s a spell-binding real place and a vision for a possible future if we are willing to stop our insatiable consumption.
Another example of the Gaian Enclave approach is the family farm of famed photographer Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado and his wife Lélia. Needing a respite after covering the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, he found that the land in Brazil was as depleted as he was. Salgado and his wife healed themselves by reforesting and thus healing a part of the Brazilian rainforest. They began a project of planting two million trees and 28 years later those seedlings have grown into a lush forest. The land was down to .5 percent tree-covered and now the 1,754-acre forest is a thriving ecosystem for hundreds of species of plants and wildlife. It has even regenerated its naturally-flowing springs. The Salgados credit listening to the Earth and the people who have always lived in the area with bringing back to life what was once lost.
Another form of the Gaian Enclave approach are the ecovillages found on every populated continent today. There are over 10,000 of them that align with the Global Ecovillage Network, which means they fit the network’s broad definition: “Being rooted in local participatory processes; integrating social, cultural, economic and ecological dimensions in a whole systems approach to sustainability; and actively restoring and regenerating their social and natural environments.”
When we stop worrying about how we’ll have enough energy and begin to focus on what we need it for, we’ll create very different lifestyles and living situations. Much of what we use energy for today does not actually serve us well and it certainly doesn’t serve the rest of nature well. Having renewable sources of energy doesn’t change that. A Gaian Enclave approach recognizes the need for a much more fundamental shift in how we live on the Earth. If we go back to the practices of Indigenous peoples we see that there is a give and take exchange in their relationship with the environment (versus the pure extraction approach we take in the industrialized world today). When we’re taking too much, the ecosystem lets us know, just as it’s doing today. How can we reduce the pressure? It takes a whole new way of living differently to do so.
At the beginning of this essay I wrote about seeing the signs of the “doom and gloom” of the climate crisis all around us, right in our own backyards as well as in the news from around the world. But in my backyard I also see impressive new growth on conifers I planted just last fall. In my perennial garden I still have fanciful butterfly visitors, though no more monarchs. Despite the dramatic changes we see, clear signs remain that our world wants to continue to thrive and with some support is still able to do so.
Another look at the continuum of approaches to the climate crisis shows that we can go in one direction and rely more and more heavily on technology. Or we can make the choice to go in the other direction and align ourselves more closely with nature.
I mentioned Al Gore making the point that addressing the climate crisis is about political will but also personal will. There’s a corollary component here of the will not to know. Our species and the rich natural world of which we are an integral part, is dependent upon our overcoming the will not to know. We need to look directly at the doom and gloom, see clearly the precipice upon which we stand, and take bold “all-in” action to address what’s before us. No doubt our actions and approaches will come from several points on the continuum I’ve laid out. Hegel reminded us that the owl of Minerva takes wing only at dusk. One day we’ll know what approaches truly worked and what didn’t. In the meantime, we must be all-in and apply all of our personal and collective resources in the fight to turn this crisis around. We each have important decisions to make in what we do and don’t buy, how much and by what mode we travel, how we dress, who we vote for, what food we consume, what we plant, where we bank or invest our money, who we do business with, the conversations we have with our friends and family members, and how hard we work for the approach with which we’ve aligned ourselves. We’ll end up with the climate we deserve. The one we have today is the one we created without much conscious intention, with a will not to know. Let’s make sure we’ve done our homework and applied ourselves fully so the climate we’ll be living in for years to come — the one we’ll deserve — is the one we intended.
Thank you for reading Principles of Being. Please feel free to share this post if you found it interesting. Subscribe below to automatically receive notifications of future posts.
One thought on “A Continuum of Approaches to the Climate Crisis”
This is an extremely important post and I hope everyone takes the times to read it thoroughly. It made me view this crisis and approaches to it in a different way and now I think of it every single day. We need to rethink so many of our accepted climate change solutions! I’m ready to become an eco warrior- who will join me? We are running out of time!