04 February 2012

Learning to Think the Unthinkable

Had an interesting back-and-forth on Facebook today with someone who knows someone I know. (The "instant intimacy" created by social media is fodder for someone else's blog.)

This started out as a post about fracking (a method of extracting oil and gas using high pressure hydraulic fracturing of rock) in my province here in Canada. One thing led to another. I chimed in about getting to zero carbon.
The fastest way to get to a zero-carbon economy would be for governments to stop giving hundreds of billions of dollars in direct subsidies (our tax money) every year to the fossil fuel industries around the world (up to $ trillion per year if we count indirect subsidies, like the externalization of social and environmental costs). If governments immediately switched those direct subsidies to perpetual (non burning) renewable energy technologies, and stop allowing fossil fuel corporations to hand off environmental and social costs to society (indirect subsidies), we would see an overnight change in investments. Green jobs would become the high paying jobs — and we might have a fighting chance to stave off the most catastrophic climate change impacts. Tragically, the fossil fuel lobby will fight any movement in this direction to the bitter end.
The comment thread ended up with a rather angst-ridden admission by this person of a younger generation that he can't seriously consider green solutions as long as he's worried about how to pay the mortgage, as long as people his age have to make a living and pay the bills. To which I responded:
I feel for your generation. I cry for the children's generation. It's why I do the work I do. But we still seem to be coming at these problems and solutions as if nothing has changed — as if Big Money hasn't proven itself evil, as if the climate feedbacks haven't kicked in already in the Arctic, as if our food security isn't *really* threatened. I don't want a calamitous Russian Summer of 2010 to happen here in order for people to get what's at stake, but how do we get people to understand the threats otherwise? Unless we're creating community and learning how to grow food together in an unstable climate, we might not be resilient enough to withstand what's coming when the Arctic summer sea ice disappears and takes our northern hemisphere "air conditioning" with it.
And it got me thinking ... people just aren't thinking the unthinkable. They just aren't picturing the scariest thing that humans can picture: us not being here, our species gone (and much of life gone with us). Maybe we're just not capable of visualizing that kind of "annihilism" — which is dangerous given that we (especially in the EuroAmerican culture) are quite capable of annihilation.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?