The Emerson quote recently shared in Hang With Friends comments raises conflict for me.
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
A year ago I would have agreed. I thought in terms of extreme sensitivity to initial conditions and deep time. Small differences now, such as an act of generosity to a stranger, could have ever greater effects as time passed, in the way that the path of a chaos pendulum magnifies its initial position’s quantum uncertainty. I thought in terms of infinite future possibilities, of every act or inaction making one future more probable than another. I thought in terms of a Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, wherein the world we share has infinite future possibilities, so that even small acts of kindness impacted probabilities and split off other scenarios.
I no longer bask in the anticipation of deep time for humanity. Since climate destabilization news keeps getting more dire, business as usual in the suicide fossil fuel economy seems more and more likely to trigger a runaway greenhouse effect within a century or two. The worst case models keep matching our path.
I now see Emerson’s view of success as a human being as out of touch with today’s reality. In a planetary emergency, everything changes. A moral valence has shifted so that the acts which matter are those aimed at saving our future, like joining 350.org, protesting the Keystone Pipeline, or participating in climatememe. Your garden patch will wither in the heat and drought within a decade. Social progress painfully won will be wiped away as climate emergencies pile up. Healthy children will grow up to face a world where life keeps getting harder and harder and harder.
I no longer compartmentalize climate change into an isolated area of life, just one concern on a long list of problems like world peace, hunger, AIDS, and prostitution which seem far removed from my own life’s success.
If your foot were trapped in the rails with a train approaching on the horizon, all of your life’s meaningful stuff would change in a millisecond. Planning for college, repairing your relationships, improving your math skills - every former meaningful goal and value is instantly drained of relevance. The only value is removing your foot before that train reaches your position. Everything else is an empty shadow.
Climate Destabilization challenges us to reevaluate everything, right now.
Yes, I can feel the same with you - I do, but I don't want to forget this: the moment I'll have removed my foot from the rails, all the former goals and values instantly spring back into position. Remove your foot and think what you'll do next...
We are here to go. I just hope we do not take our stupidity with us.
Things like having a "successful" career, buying a house, having a high-paying job that I hate just to pay for the house...these things are not important to me anymore, not just b/c they're emotionally unsatisfying but because they're environmentally destructive.
It amazes me the silly hangups people still have, like getting upset about clotheslines even in the era of global warming.
A foot trapped in a rail is real and immediate to the one trapped, as is the train bearing down on the person who owns that foot. It doesn't take education or an understanding of meteorology or global climate dynamics to grasp the exigency of the situation. If last summer was a touch hotter than the one before or the winter milder or odder in its patterns, then that's all it is to the average person. They don't much mind a degree or two difference and don't see its impact. You can talk about the snows of Kilimanjaro or the ice cap at the Arctic Circle, but that's THERE, not here. If you want to mention the tornadoes which tore across the south or hurricanes which damage and deluge the Gulf Coast or the eastern seaboard, you're as likely to hear more about god's will than global warming in response.
People are in denial or they don't want to hear about it, or they don't want to be bothered. They're lives are tracking pretty much the way they want them to and change at that fundamental a level is not something they want to entertain. Mostly, they don't see the train or the tracks because neither one is real to them. Worse, many of them see such events as god's will and beyond man's ability or right to alter and therefore not worth acting on. It takes more than education and connecting the dots to move such people: it takes a willingness to shed the naivete and the indifference, move out of their comfort zone, and acknowledge the train, the tracks, the stuck foot, and the overall impact represented, and in that regard, the situation isn't much difference from atheists trying to get believers to see the problems created by their belief. Oh, and one more thing, perhaps the worst thing that such people would have to admit: that their unconsidered actions are causative and that they are culpable for the results we're seeing, and that they have to CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR to properly deal with the situation as a result.
What we have is a small minority of people with understanding of a complex and not intuitively obvious issue trying to convince a disengaged majority who are disinterested and unmoved by data they either dismiss or disinterested in. It's the effective equivalent of trying to turn an aircraft carrier using a rowboat as a tug. In the immortal words of Roy Scheider:
We're gonna need a bigger boat.
... perhaps the worst thing that such people would have to admit: that their unconsidered actions are causative and that they are culpable for the results we're seeing, and that they have to CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR to properly deal with the situation as a result.
Your articulate summary hits home, Loren. Aye! That's the rub.