Eco-radicals would have struggled to miss the recent article by David Wallace-Wells – The Uninhabitable Earth. In this piece Wallace-Wells depicts a future many dark-green environmentalist eco-pessimists fear will be here sooner rather than later.
This piece goes into great detail and draws from a great many sources to justify its predictions and Wallace-Wells ends the lengthy piece with this paragraph, stating –
“It is not easy to know how much to be reassured by that bleak certainty, and how much to wonder whether it is another form of delusion; for global warming to work as parable, of course, someone needs to survive to tell the story. The scientists know that to even meet the Paris goals, by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry, which are still rising, will have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, cow farts, etc.) will have to zero out; and we will need to have invented technologies to extract, annually, twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the entire planet’s plants now do. Nevertheless, by and large, the scientists have an enormous confidence in the ingenuity of humans — a confidence perhaps bolstered by their appreciation for climate change, which is, after all, a human invention, too. They point to the Apollo project, the hole in the ozone we patched in the 1980s, the passing of the fear of mutually assured destruction. Now we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another. The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.”
Meteorologist and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Michael Mann published in response to this piece a short criticism, with the basic message being summed up in the first section of the title – Fear Won’t Save Us. He doesn’t attempt to refute much of Wallace-Well’s piece, but basically just says “he’s wrong and we need to keep hopeful” (though perhaps more eloquently than I am paraphrasing). Mann, with his institutional position, is very much a proponent of bright and light green approaches to ecological issues.
Philosopher of climate change at Lancaster University Nicholas Beuret published this piece, arguably taking a mid-position between, as he describes, arguments of climate apocalypse and those of liberal utopianism. Beirut’s main criticism of climate apocalypse arguments is that they are overly fatalistic and encourage passivity. His criticisms of liberal utopianism come down to the effectiveness of governments as means of addressing ecological issues. This piece was written as a response to both Mann and Wallace-Wells articles.
I myself believe that what is real is probably somewhere between Beuret’s anti-fatalism and Wallace-Well’s eco-pessimism, and I think it is important that eco-radicals embrace an anti-fatalistic eco-pessimism. Hopelessness isn’t a call for defeat, but a call to take power from those who don’t deserve our trust and to fight for what we desire – a liveable future for the bioregion of this planet.
When we are aware that scientists have lied about the dangers of global warming, do we trust those scientists like Mann, with their roles in governmental agencies?
Palaeontologist Peter Ward argues that the evidence from his area of study reveals that most of the scientific models, models Mann will be using in his work, are too conservative, and states that the arguments of neo-colonialist scientists like Stephen Hawkins, who call for space travel as a means of responding to climate change, are “inane”. I share Ward’s position of finding these (and other) techno-utopian arguments inane and, as bright-green salvationist ideals, far too fatalistic and defeatist, as they presuppose that civilisation cannot be stopped or will not collapse.
I believe that the collapse is unfolding and that we are witnessing it and that the role of eco-radicals is to be allies to the collapse. Anti-fatalistic dark-green eco-pessimism might not be “nice”, but, no matter what Mann wants, no one is going to “save us” and, as Beuret argues, it is utopian to put our faith in institutional means like governments.