Over the last 10 years, I've been asked one question more than any other: Is there any hope? Or are we just f*cked?
Regular readers could be forgiven for concluding that we are, indeed, f*cked. On one side, we have the brutal logic of climate change, about which I wrote:
If there is to be any hope of avoiding civilization-threatening climate disruption, the U.S. and other nations must act immediately and aggressively on an unprecedented scale.
On the other side, we have the many forces that retard or prevent change. Cognitively, we suffer from status quo bias and loss aversion. Psychologically and physiologically, we are designed to heed immediate threats with teeth and eyes, not long-term, incremental, invisible dangers. Socioeconomically, power is concentrated in the hands of wealthy incumbents who benefit from the carbon-intensive status quo: fossil fuel companies, the sprawl industry (roads, real estate), Big Ag, airlines, heavy manufacturers, and so on. Politically, we are gripped by polarization, dysfunction, and paralysis. Individually and collectively, we are extremely poor judges of risk, particularly the sort of risk posed by climate change. That makes social change, what Weber called the "slow boring of hard boards," halting and painful at best.
And so we are stuck, as I said at the end of my TEDx talk, "between the impossible and the unthinkable."
It's difficult to see a way out of this dilemma that doesn't involve considerable suffering. Limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the widely agreed-upon threshold beyond which climate impacts are expected to become severe and irreversible, is likely off the table. Widespread adaptive measures are slow in coming, far more expensive than mitigation would have been, and subject to enormous inequality of impact based on wealth and class.
So, in this grim situation, do I have hope? It's complicated.