Some thoughts from a trip just concluded to Spain, and thinking also of the devastating fires in Australia. (The picture left is of storm clouds over Ronda, which we visited – yes, EasyJet CO2 – in Southern Spain last week, which is seeing the heaviest and longest-lasting rainfall in a very long time. Very odd, the locals are saying.)
Thinking further about Mary-Jayne’s optimism below, I’ve become aware how humankind won’t respond fully to climate change as a matter of choice – nothing suggests to me so far that we are capable of doing that. We will, rather, respond only when we no longer have a choice – by which time I am conclusively convinced it will be too late to avert catastrophe.
We have to get real about what is happening – but as we’re seeing with today’s news coverage of the Australian fires (easier to blame arsonists) or with governmental response to the current financial meltdown (using the old tools of spend and growth that got us into this mess in the first place), as a species we are not yet getting the plot.
I’ve been thinking back to a meeting I chaired in Brussels last autumn of European business leaders, where almost the entire focus, despite my brief and entirely ineffectual chairman’s opening remarks about the extreme urgency of understanding climate change, was on business competitiveness. Not on survival in the face of extreme threat, which is the true underlying narrative.
Another illustration: consider how the exceptionally alarming meltdown of the Arctic ice cap, decades faster than predicted until recently in even worst-case scenarios, is being understood less as the most urgent of wake-up calls to humanity to stop emitting even more CO2, but as an opportunity to secure and, with military support, exploit even more reserves of fossil fuels.
Our species is, sadly, not equipped to adapt. The survival centres of our collective psyche – our shared amygdala – haven’t yet registered the threat in sufficient measure to take the necessary action. Which would would mean a coordinated, peaceful, phased abandonment of most of what we have come to take for granted over the past 200, and especially 100 years. The right to bear children. The right to medical treatment for all. The right to be fed and educated. The right to education for all. The universal right, indeed, to life.
We continue to behave like an algal bloom, like yeast in fermenting beer – consuming everything we can lay our hands and mouths on, multiplying way beyond sustainability. The ultimate swarm, and unlike any life form this planet has experienced in 4.5 billion years.
If the planet can sustain only 100 million people, as ecologist Arnie Naess once said, either we will manage that reduction, or the planet will do it for us. Guess which will happen. Yes, we are doomed as a species. But we can manage our death/demise well. Will we?