is this our doom?

In 2019, I wrote a little article about how, when the media talk about climate change they try to balance things, the good with the bad. But as I pointed out, too often in such articles:

bad things are facts; good things are fantasies

Things are not getting better. See this recent article in the Guardian.

It’s full of sober experts from august institutions saying things like this:

“The situation is serious and bleak,” said Prof Simon Lewis, at University College London. “Shell has made £26bn profit this year, carbon emissions are back at pre-pandemic levels, while 53,000 people died of heat stress in Europe in the summer, and floods have displaced millions from Nigeria to Pakistan.”

The bad things are facts.

But on the positive side:

Prof Michael Mann, at the University of Pennsylvania in the US, said it was important to note that progress was being made: “More work clearly needs to be done if warming is to be kept below 1.5C, but nobody foresaw the major policy progress in recent months in both Australia and the US. It is estimated that the US legislation will lower national emissions by 40% this decade. With US leadership, we can expect other major emitters to now come to the table at Cop27.”

“Policy progress”, “estimated”, “will lower”, “we can expect”, “come to the table”.

The good things are fantasies. None of them change anything about what matters: global atmospheric CO2.

February 2023:420.30 ppm
February 2024:424.55 ppm

Is this, then, to be our doom?

As the stresses of climate breakdown make themselves felt, the rich squeeze harder while the poor drown. Fear grows, stoked by the “strong men” who promise to fix it all. Democracy decays and fascism rises, and with it its instruments whose names are war, plague, poverty, fire, and flood.

Fascists have no interest in stopping climate change. They are riding it to victory, reveling in the chaos. They are weaponizing the apocalypse.

Do not be distracted. Do not get so caught up in winning battles that you fail to notice the war. Their most terrible weapon is not guns or nukes but the movement of people. It is the movement of people that is the tip of the spear. It is bringing nations to their knees.

They look to the millions of refugees who came out of Syria and they see how people reacted in Hungary, in Italy, in the UK, and they salivate. Climate breakdown will bring tens of millions of refugees, hundreds of millions. In that they see not tragedy but opportunity. They hunger for more and they set their engineers to the task. The collapse, not of nations, but of the idea of the nation state, and the return of rule by the world’s once and forever kings: big men with guns.

Their dreams are our nightmares. Their victories are ashes and dust. Their currencies are rape and murder.

For those of us who live in peaceful democracies, we see eroding rights, creeping illiberalism, and worst of all, the rusting of our moral compass. We, the polite and pleasant who tick on surveys that we are “somewhat concerned” with climate change. We will change the locks on our doors. We will cower beneath the ruins of hope as we gradually transform into something else, something loathsome. Until the last illusion cracks altogether and we are no more than slaves or cannon meat for oligarchs and thugs and bullies. Until we are the refugees, wandering lost and homeless over the wilderness, praying that somewhere, someone will not lock their doors against us.

And then will come the aftertimes, when people look back at the rule by oligarchs and thugs and bullies and think of it with sentimental fondness.

Is this to be our fate?

It is folly to think we can stop climate change. It is our past, our present, and our future. There is no scenario depicted by the IPCC that is not vastly worse than what we see today. This, now, our pleasures and delusions and indulgences, this is what we sow, and so shall we reap.

Are we then to despair? Do not fear despair. It is a normal, healthy, and proportional response to the future we have made. If you have not despaired, don’t worry, it will come. If you have despaired, you have already learned that it need not master you. If you are despairing, know that it is impermanent and you will emerge stronger than ever. It was not until he knew true despair that Siddhattha set out on his noble quest.

Do not let them tell you who you are. You are not defined by your times. Not by your body. Not by your desires. Not by what is expected of you. Not by how you are treated.

We define ourselves in our actions. We make ourselves in every choice. We are, now, the person formed by our past choices, and we are, now, becoming the person formed by our present choices.

This is our kamma.

Do not live under the illusion that you can change the world. Live in the knowledge that in every moment and every day, you made the best choice you could, for yourself, for those you love, for the whole world. Become what you choose. Choose with wisdom, choose with kindness, choose with love. Live and die knowing that you lived clear-eyed and full of goodness.