We have so many causes in our world, so many voices, so many injustices and so many opportunities. But in the end, it all might come to nothing, for the one great challenge overriding all others continues to remain an outlier.
The world has known of the coming climate apocalypse for decades and warnings have been publicized from every major venue on the planet, and yet so little has actually been accomplished for all the promises that have been made. All those causes mentioned earlier are fighting for the world’s attention, yet they refuse to come together and cooperate on that one issue that transcends their efforts and their outcomes. Every cause is important, but only one cause supersedes all the others. We’ve known that. We’ve prevaricated. We’ve stalled. Governments have refused to challenge their own populaces because, well, harsh actions for sustainability don’t win elections. And the rest of us have just gone on shopping, wasting, and waiting for others to do something.
And yet the recently released report on impending climate change disaster by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is rightfully alarming us all. There’s no need to comb through the language or statistics because we’ve heard it all before, for years – flooding coastal cities, collapse of rain forests and coral reefs, extreme temperatures, the rise of catastrophic events like major hurricanes and the likelihood of millions of climate change refugees about to roam the earth in the next two decades. Nations and their politics have spent so much time examining its cause or who to blame, even refusing to affirm the problem, but refused to tackle the reality that it really is happening and, as the UN report claims, we have only 30 years to get our total carbon emissions down to 0%.
Supposedly, the world has never been more intelligent. The availability of online data for education was undreamed of following World War Two, but now most people have powerful tiny computers in their pockets. The technological revolution has permitted researchers to dig and acquire information in ways almost unimaginable. For the first time in history, slightly over half the planet is now classified in the middle-class category. More people are traveling than ever before. How then could it be that a generation so advantaged do nothing about the train wreck that is coming?
Take away all the debates, the partisan blindness, the blithe unawareness of citizens everywhere, the impending devastation is still here and it is real. And let’s be clear: the world will never be again what it was only a generation ago. Coral reefs are dying at alarming rates, the poles are melting, hundreds of species go extinct every month, and even human languages have died out – thousands of them.
We are about to be a generation undone, despite our massive advantages in information and communication. As futurist Alex Steffan has observed: “Climate defeatism is absolutely a form of denialism.” In other words, by ignoring the problem we are able to deny the actions necessary to maintain our survival as a species, and perhaps as a planet. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.
Can we do it? Can we make the changes required by 2050? And how will it happen when people around the world are electing populist and enraged leaders bent on climate denial? We can be angered by this all we want, but even in our own supposedly cosmopolitan and intelligent nation we are opting for leaders determined to undermine the destruction of the worldwide consensus for environmental action.
And that’s what it comes to – us. We know this to be true – know it in our guts and in our heads and yet we are so taken up by other agendas that we have ignored the most vital one of all – the very source of life itself. Perhaps this is one of the great dangers that will eventually strip democracy of its power. If the people of every country rose en mass to demand change it would surely come. Instead, we are pressing for political leadership that looks out only for our own interests. There will literally be no future in this, should we continue down this road.
But we will watch the hurricanes destroy communities, see refugees flood across borders, watch the ice melt and the species die – all in real time, in high def and stereo. For all of democracy’s greatest challenges, nothing matches its need to raise citizen action and consensus higher than it has ever been before on the issue of saving the planet and ourselves in the process. We have shown ability to fight for our way of life, but not our environment. The future of humanity and our politics must be based on our understanding that it is only the latter than can save the former.