Existential threats are a bummer
Following the letters to Grist complaining about a declining humor quotient and the posts wondering if we’re just focusing too darn much on the climate crisis, it occurred to me that there’s precedent for what we’re going through.
Just like people in the USA and USSR had to get used to the idea of annihilation — and still go about their daily lives — we are watching people struggle with the problem of living their lives while knowing that the chances that their kids will be able to live nearly as well are declining rapidly.
Thus, the paradox: knowledge is no longer power. Instead, the better informed you are, the more likely you are to feel existential despair.
The Bush junta has evolved a sophisticated strategy for dealing with all of this: it puts its fingers in its ears, closes its eyes, and shouts "I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!" and it avoids anything that might breach the walls of the denial castle:
The Federal District Court in the Northern District of California has just issued a decision, in Center for Biological Diversity v. Brennan, on the Global Change Research Act. The court granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on their claims that the federal government had not prepared a new and revised climate change research plan and scientific assessment within the time frames specified by the act. The court also issued an injunction to the federal government to issue a revised research plan and scientific assessment in accordance with the act. The federal government’s climate change research program is widely understood as a strength in the overall U.S. response to climate change. The court also decided that the plaintiffs have standing.
Here is a link to the opinion.
There is a school of thought that one of the reasons for the collapse of the indigenous culture in Hawaii after colonization was that they lost their gods and there was nothing to replace them — that the whole society, in essence, became terrifically depressed.
What happens to us when the gods of markets and capitalism turn out to be false gods, whose blessings turn out to be curses? Do we turn to ever bigger TV sets, pointless entertainments that seem almost calculated to squander the most resources and operate in denial of the most serious threats (NASCAR), and attempt to force down our angst through Prozac and its ilk?
We survived the Cold War period, or at least so far we have survived it. Not a complete surprise, though — after all, unleashing thermonuclear destruction is something only a few of us have the capability of doing, and it’s not exactly an evolved behavior, so it’s controllable.
But how much harder is it going to be to deal with our behaviors when they are the cause of the existential threat to our existence? The put-down that often greets environmentalists in discussions about the climate crisis ("Ok, why don’t you just stop breathing, then?") suggests that a lot of people have a problem imagining a better future, or any productive response to the climate crisis.
Meanwhile, greenhouse-gas emissions continue to emit at an increasing rate.