As the Earth’s ecological systems upon which we depend accelerate in their slouch towards catastrophe, our Society faces an existential crisis. The effects of climate change are far direr than we initially expected. The two degrees of warming that is the final major threshold before permanent, large-scale climatic shifts leading to ecological collapse, is no longer some far-off possibility, but an imminent reality.
The future we face in this new Earth is marked ever more frequent and intense fire and flooding, famine and disease, droughts and storms, decreasing habitat availability from deforestation, overfishing, and resource overuse. Climatic shifts are already being accompanied by staggering and consistent losses in biodiversity.
It is all too easy to become overwhelmed and unable to make a decision on how to proceed given the enormity of the problem and the lateness of the hour. Global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss have been called hyperobjects which Humans can not comprehend despite their pervasive effects that are and will be experienced by everyone in some way.
We have been taught to be hopeful in the face of adversity. Some argue that we only need to make simple changes in our personal lives that collectively will suffice to halt current trends of environmental degradation; we just need to give up eating meat, stop flying, or stop using disposable cutlery. Ethical consumerism promises that we can minimize our environmental impact by buying the right product.
These small lifestyle changes have become moral imperatives that are increasingly being written into law. Others tout that we are on the verge of technological breakthroughs, such as fission power, electric cars, carbon capture, or any number of geoengineering solutions, that will address the problems we face. This article may briefly raise your hope that we still have an exit strategy without substantive changes to our lifestyle.
First off, placing the onus of responsibility of solving this colossal mess on individuals rather than on the economic and political actors who created it to further their own gains, actively undermines efforts aimed at achieving necessary systemic changes which can not be fulfilled on a collective individual level.
Our ability to deal with these problems has not been limited by a lack of personal action. These are not problems that can be solved by the economic and political systems that created it. This is not to dissuade anyone from changing their behavior and consumption patterns, but their collective impact would be dwarfed by the negative impact of corporations and industries over which we have no control, whose responsibility is to their shareholders rather than humanity.
By propagating the fairy tale that we bear a responsibility to clean up their mess and have the capacity to do so, these very groups have delayed the necessary and systematic changes that would make a difference, precisely because such a shift would undermine their power and profit.
Second, the touted solutions are often unlikely to be effective. We have reached the point where the environmentalism will not suffice. Many technological solutions are unlikely to be achieved soon enough to avert the worst of climate change and environmental degradation. Furthermore, most have their own set of socioeconomic and environmental problems that undermine their sustainability.
Similarly, even if a substantive proportion of individuals were convinced to make personal lifestyle changes to minimize their environmental impact, which is highly questionable, feedback loops in environmental processes will result in continued climatic changes even if we were to cease all anthropogenic carbon emissions immediately.
We may be less prone to falling into despair and inaction if we embraced the absurdity of this situation rather than depend on hope of emerging from it victorious. This is not to capitulate to the fatalistic laziness of nihilism or denial. In fact, what we do matters very much. None of this is to say that we should not recycle, subscribe to renewable energy suppliers, or take public transport to work rather than drive.
The systematic changes that are necessary will be difficult and frightening. Accepting the sacrifices that must be made will be a bitter pill to swallow. They are likely more difficult and less comfortable than making small changes that are ultimately of little consequence. We must accept that this is ultimately apostolic work for which we will likely pay a high price in the short term without any guarantee of seeing the long-term results.
The challenge that lies before us seems difficult at best and insurmountable at worst. Though the hour may be late, it is never too late to express the goodness that is within each of us. Even if this World is failing, we can still plant the seeds of a new one in the shell of the old because it is the only thing we can do and because it will be more fun that way, if nothing else.
Let us live up to the standards we set for each other and forgive one another when we fail. Let us cultivate new relationships with one another and the land that honor the dignity of both. Let us take it easy, but take it.
Abandon all Hope, Ye who enter here.
You never, never can get out.
That means you can’t retrace your steps. There is a way out, however.
But you have to go down to the bottom, to where Satan himself is encased in ice. Brooding over a huge, vast field of ice, and gnawing on Judas and Brutus (the great traitors). There he is, utterly malignant … and every now and again his great bat-like wings close together and open, close together and open.
Those wings are the symbol of the active door. The active door which comes through in all mythologies in some way or another. The gate, in which passing through, you go through the critical moment of initiation. To get through the active door, you’ve got to go without hesitation.
Because if you hesitate you’re too late … it crushes you.
It means you can’t go back, you can only go on.
There is no way out, but through.