Hot and Bothered

I was grazing my favorite climate change and peak oil sites yesterday, and particularly appreciated this measured “rant” by Bill McKibben. In it, he uses his usual eloquence to remind us that first and foremost what deserves our energy is addressing the massive shift in climate the earth is being forced into by human activity — or more pointedly, by our massive resource burn-off. He cites a 10 year figure for how long we have to try to get in front of it to a sufficient degree to prevent disaster. This is remembering that we cannot stop what has begun. We can maybe draw it back a bit, maybe enough to keep the earth from becoming an unprecedented hothouse.

I think about this all of the time (though especially when I lie awake in the night), wondering how to communicate this to — well, to everyone. It seems to me that either peak oil or climate change, and more likely, and more disastrously, both at once, are going to change everything about life as we have come to expect it. The behaviors that have brought us to this dual precipice (can you have a dual precipice?) are daily changing life as human beings knew it for most of our species’ existence. It’s just that people are adept at adapting and then forgetting that things were ever any different. But people didn’t always drug themselves into a stupor to avoid their pain and frustration and control their anger. We didn’t used to drug our children. People didn’t used to spend their time boxed into cars, or working alone at desks in grey-walled cubes, communicating only with virtual others. The landscape was not paved over, and our streams, rivers, and oceans, our bodies were not filled with chemical toxins.

McKibben wants us to remember that without some massive collective effort none of our other battles matter. On the high-minded end, it won’t matter if we prevent oil drilling in Alaska, or get more funding for our flagging public schools. On a more pedestrian level, it won’t matter if our careers advance, or we get that mortgage. If we can’t find a better way to live on this planet, if we don’t turn off the giant carbon-emitting engine our “civilization” has become, the few of our children and children’s children who survive the next 100 years are going to be living unimaginably diminished existences, mucking out the messes we are making today. And though many people seem to feel that they will not live to pay the piper (and how did leaving a legacy for our children become so bastardized?), the giant system that is the world’s weather can turn on a dime — it will probably turn out that human society has a lot more inertia than the climate.

We’ve got to change the way we live. Each. and. every. one. of. us.

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