No More Time to Kid Ourselves: The Climate Emergency is Now

Brian Tokar has written an excellent synopsis of the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report (AR6) on the state of Earth’s climate. The latest findings of climate science clearly delineate the worsening conditions that are forcing us into today’s generally unacknowledged deep human predicament.

The report just released is the first of three parts. The IPCC has scheduled the other two parts for release in February and March 2022. They focus on the impacts of the climate chaos we have already begun to experience and the potential methods for mitigating the worst of things to come.  The findings of AR6 clearly demonstrate the severity of the state of climate chaos that ever more precise climate science has found. The report represents the consensus of climate scientists from all over the world.

Even before the IPCC releases the reports of the impact and mitigation studies, it is abundantly clear that any viable human response to the catastrophic convergence of climate and ecological destabilization must be as extreme as the chaotic conditions we face. I cannot imagine reducing fossil fuel extraction, use, and pollution to zero (which we must do) without comprehensive socio-political “creative destruction” of the corporate global political economy of growth.

The Pessimist Illusion

As pessimist Norman Pagett commented (in absolutist terms) on Brian Tokar’s essay, “we will not…do this voluntarily.” Well, yes, most people in the industrialized nations are fully engaged in the consumer culture and do not want to give it up based on “some theory.” However, most folks are beginning to recognize the new intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. But they will not act decisively or in any coordinated way, at least until someone shows them a path that seems a viable alternative to the other outcome they have not yet fully recognized: accelerated Earth-System chaos, societal collapse, and possible extinction of the human species amid societal as well as climate collapse.

Continuing the “business as usual” scenario that continues amid false “commitments” to reduce carbon emissions, is both untenable and very hard to escape. All of us remain entangled in various degrees with the corporate economy of consumption and growth. It is our source of a livelihood and nobody wants to give that up without a viable alternative vision.

On the other hand, as recent social network science has shown, “change agents” can achieve even extreme changes in behavior and beliefs when a social movement strategically influences the complex web of social relations. The kind of change needed to counter extreme climate chaos will cause great disruption to many lives. But continuing on our path to both climate and societal collapse guarantees a far worse outcome. To achieve the necessary level of change would certainly be a historically unprecedented societal transformation, which, in any case, is exactly what we need.

The Optimist Illusion

Ecomodernists, who are usually unmitigated optimists, promote geoengineering to leave the global corporate-controlled political economy intact. Pessimists, who would prefer to stand in a puddle of hopelessness, conveniently relieve themselves of any responsibility to act in the extremely unconventional ways that are now necessary.  Both live in denial of the new great transformation of the Earth System that we caused, do not understand, and are blind to its implications for social change.

Hopeful Realism

Whether we try to direct it for our survival by transforming our economic and therefore social relations—a New Great Transformation of society itself is already occurring. It is now a matter of whether humanity will work to shape it in our own survival interests. Our job is to 1) not wallow in self-pity or luxuriate in denial, and 2) take action to form the social movements necessary to redirect the great transformation of the Earth System by embarking on a New Great Transformation of humanity itself.

I understand that what humans must do at this point is unfamiliar, extremely difficult, and clearly a longshot. However, as a boy hiding in a classroom closet at Highland Ranch STEM school in Colorado, in May 2019, said, clutching a baseball bat as an ‘active shooter’ approached, “If I’m going down, I’d rather go down fighting.”


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