Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What's Past is Prologue (?)

Dear Friends,

While we feel may feel vulnerable to Trump Derangement Syndrome for many reasons, it is important to keep our eyes upon the main event, a crucial chapter of which is laid out in this solidly written piece of historical reporting from the Times.

It is important because it is an accurate picture of who we are as a species in this era: short-sighted, deluded by a privileged sense of invulnerability, prone to denial and obstruction of truth, stubborn, indifferent if we are not directly affected, reluctant to consider the fate of fellow suffering humans, let alone our own progeny both in the near future and in the distant, almost unimaginable far future—and utterly dependent upon the special courage and heroism of a very small number of people, like the climate scientist James Hansen, who refused to be muffled or sidetracked. It is hard to look at ourselves in this picture, but necessary if we are going to act effectively, without giving in to the passivity of despair after decades of drifting in the passivity of indifference.

Though the article does not cover this, the issue of climate is inseparable from the issue of war, and the opportunity cost of expending vast funds on military equipment needed for the very mitigation of negative climate effects that will cause more wars.

The future foretold in this article has arrived. Along with fury at the criminal stupidity of pulling out of the Paris Accords, I also cannot help feeling uneasily complicit—can you?— in the fate of hundreds of millions of fellow humans who are drowning in the floods of Bangladesh, succumbing to heatstroke in the streets of Mumbai, or losing everything in the fires in California or Greece. The relationship between their fates and our own choices has become inescapable.

I recall a seminar, one which included climate in its themes, I attended some decades ago during the time of the events recounted in the article, where a participant, a man in his thirties, suddenly burst into tears. When asked by seminar leader Don Fitton what was troubling him, he sobbed, "The trees! What will happen to the trees!"  I remember thinking he was annoyingly over the top, a bit of a self-dramatist. Now I think his response was prophetic and deeply sane, at least in comparison to my own smug condescension. In fact, the trees are probably going to be fine, as they flourish on increased concentrations of carbon dioxide. Too many of our fellow humans, let alone our children and grandchildren, maybe not so much . . .

There is enormous solace and promise in the scientific story of the universe and distant past history of Earth, in which still-mysterious powers are guiding the direction of a further surprising unfolding. Life has come through so much, even if the changes were accompanied by cataclysmic destruction in such meta-events as the five major mass extinctions. We are in the midst of the sixth—20,000 species a year ghosting into nevermore. Industrial society has given us many boons, but we must now apply our immense mammalian creativity, our deep innate capacity to care, to figuring out what our role might be as humans in the total system, beyond consumerism—not only to stop degrading our only home but to bring forth the restorative powers that are already rooted in the gorgeous intelligence of the natural world, waiting to nourish us if we can work with and not against them. As Paul Hawken has pointed out, millions of committed people are participating in organizations whose mission aligns with those powers.

I urge you to send this link to the Times article to as many people as possible.

In hope,