What does “Climate Action Now” require of us? Much more than you think.

More and more people are moving closer to an “climate action now” mode today. They realize that the climate crisis really is an emergency. That, after all, is what emergencies are all about—action that people must take now or all is lost.

Recognition is the important first step, but it is only the beginning. Many of us find it very difficult to know what we can do that could make a difference for the climate emergency. We know that is it a problem so big that individual action seems almost meaningless. Some of us dutifully sort our recyclables knowing that it is a much larger problem than reducing the flow of waste into overloaded landfills.

Surviving a Life-Threatening Emergency

I recently read some books on what distinguishes survivors from those who don’t survive life-threatening emergencies. The differences between survivors and victims are clear, although an airplane crash may be very different from being lost at sea.

The key to survival in an extreme emergency is that the survivor more readily turns from her/his mental map of everyday reality to a new paradigm that abandons conventional thinking. Some call that situational awareness.

Mapping the reality s/he faces now in its own terms, enables the survivor to accept the new data that reflects the extraordinary parameters of the emergency. The new data usually conflicts with the familiar patterns of everyday life. Once a person stops mentally mapping the situation based on the images of ordinary reality and begin to observe the non-ordinary reality of the emergency on its own terms, the odds of that person surviving go way up. Certainly that principle applies to societies too.

The Climate Emergency and the Survival Response

The climate emergency requires that we experience a major paradigm shift if we are to muster a viable survival response. That, I think, is the situation most of us, not just environmentalists and climate activists, or government officials and corporate executives, find ourselves in today.

Most have not made that paradigm shift to the new reality of the global climate emergency. Even many fully informed people continue to view the new existential threat to human survival through the lens of everyday reality. They have not shifted to mapping the new reality—the climate emergency—on its own terms.

Business as usual lies gasping for air on its deathbed, in obstinate denial. Beliefs and behavior have not fully caught up with reality, even for many who understand the gravity of destabilizing the Earth System. The best scientific evidence indicates that if industrial nations do not make massive reductions in carbon emissions in the next eight to ten years, we will have reached several tipping points in climate factors that will propel the entire Earth System into chaos. That will force the collapse of civilization itself.

Setting “targets” for reducing emissions by 2050 to stay below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels or any of the other empty pledges made by governments and corporations, remain completely within the paradigm of business as usual as we rush headlong deeper into the Anthropocene epoch we have created.

We have an extremely short time before crashing into multiple overlapping tipping points, some of which are already here. Yet, as societies, we are completely unprepared for the extremity of the emergency we have failed to face on its own terms.

Now, we must focus all our attention on how to mobilize masses of people very quickly to act in concerted ways to restore/repair ecosystems, while at the same time to force large institutions to stop their carbon emissions now. What a daunting task!

Without stopping the immediate threat, none of our thinking about ideal new economies based on human need instead of profit and greed, on social justice or anything else, will matter. Survival is the prerequisite to building a good society, or to sustaining any society. And to survive, we must shift to an emergency paradigm to face the non-ordinary reality before us.


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