Commentary Extreme Weather Global Warming News Op-Ed

Doomerism and Incrementalism: Responding to a Brave New World

A wildfire rages in the hills behind a coastal town.

Welcome to summer in the northern hemisphere.

The northern hemisphere is burning, the water is disappearing in some places, and the oceans and flood waters are rising in others. We’ve squandered one opportunity after another, and now climate change has us in its grip. 

After many years of hand-wringing and aspirational accords, we continue as before, yet here we are. Incrementalism won’t cut it. Nor will doomerism, paralysis, or denial. It’s all been tried, but the climate keeps changing. Faster than we remember, more unpredictable, more intense.  

In an op-ed in The Guardian, George Monbiot writes that the record-shattering heat waves across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the US “eviscerates” the idea that “small changes can tackle extreme weather.” 

In a world obsessed with pundits ranting about the latest existential threat to a particular way of life, climate change is down the page, subsumed into the relentless churn of breaking news. “It is an active silence,” writes Monbiot, “a fierce commitment to distraction and irrelevance in the face of an existential crisis. It is a void assiduously filled with trivia and amusement, gossip and spectacle. Talk about anything, but not about this.”

Angry and frustrated

Monbiot is angry and frustrated. Understandably so. 

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s West Virginia v. EPA ruling and the congressional back-and-forth hopes-be-dashed, then hope guarded again, I’m frustrated, too. 

I’m frustrated at the fumbling efforts of nearly every national government unable to meet inadequate commitments. 

Angered by politicians cynically usurping  climate change as a cudgel in their culture war crusade against anything perceived as “woke.” It borders on the ridiculous if it isn’t, in fact, absurd. Planetary systems regulating climate lay outside human belief systems. God wants you to know that. She wants us to stop wasting so much time and money on destructive nonsense. 

I am irate at the decades of denial, delay, and distraction by the fossil fuel industry, which knew what was coming long ago and chose easy profit over finding solutions. Exxon and the industry it leads have us somewhat by the balls (if such a thing is ever “somewhat”). Even with a growing divestment movement, we remain fully enmeshed in a fossil fuel-driven world. 

Annoyed by naive, uninformed notions of an easy technical fix. Elon Musk won’t save us (and if he could, would we want him to?) 

I am disappointed in my own ongoing culpability in the whole mess. Sad to witness, with each passing season, a more destabilized climate. 

Taken in whole, it reveals a world unprepared and unable to grasp the chaotic reality unfolding and accelerating before us in real-time. We’re moving into a new climate regime unknown to our species. 

Niggling around the edges wasn’t an option 20 or 30 years ago. As Monbiot points out, it certainly isn’t now. 

Doomerism

Sugar-coating the mess we’re in is delusional. Doomerism is an option. It’s understandable. I am a chronic doomer. It may offer an odd feeling of consolation but doomerism offers no solutions. Sure, it’s a rough road ahead, but “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” begins an article in Yale Climate Connections countering the doomer psychology. 

On the other hand, as Monbiot so eloquently articulates, remaining positive is challenging. 

There is a fine line between doomerism and realism, hope and wishful thinking

It feels like a fool’s errand to say, year after year, that we can still “avoid the worst of climate change” if we do this or implement that. But you have to ask yourself, how bad does it have to get? Clinging to a way of life we’ve known for centuries is human nature. The other side of that coin is human progress, facing existential challenges.

Science helps us understand, quantify, and project climate change. Nonetheless, it is almost impossible for humans to fully comprehend those changes until their consequences fall within human time scales of perception. We must accept where we are, embrace transformation—as frightening as that is—and imagine life in a new equilibrium. 

Welcome to a brave new world. 

 


Photo by Mike Newbry on Unsplash

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