Thursday, November 18, 2010

The point of no return was passed some time ago

"I believe we will see increasing nihilism. I think also there is a very big chance that if the science starts telling us we are beyond the point of no return, I think we could open up the box for a whole range of utterly aberrant responses. Some of which might be utter despair and a kind of last minute self-seeking behaviour. Some of which might go in who knows what direction in terms of aggressive scapegoating, projection, pushing this onto to other people, other issues that have nothing to do with climate change."

- George Marshall, "The Ingenious Ways We Avoid Believing in Climate Change".

This whole lecture (in three parts: one, two, three) is worth watching for many insights into the psychology of responding to the threat of climate change. These comments come towards the end of the presentation and concern the situation that I am particularly interested in: the perception that we are "too late" to avoid some really horrible outcomes. For many people, such a scenario may well lead to the kinds of reactions that Marshall mentions, and things could turn very ugly. The 2006 film Children of Men depicted a world a in 2027 where hope for the future has been lost and the social backdrop is not a pretty one.

The point of no return in terms of avoiding some seriously bad outcomes was passed some time ago. That doesn't justify inaction or "let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die", since (a) negative effects won't hit all at once tomorrow, or even The Day After Tomorrow, but will build over years, decades and centuries, (b) our current actions can still avoid even worse outcomes than are already "in the pipeline" and (c) because of the resurrection, in the Lord our labour is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15.58). No act of love, however apparently futile, is wasted, since love is the future.


Jon said...

Thanks for this Byron - I've really been "enjoying" your blog since I found it a few months ago - in inverted commas because reading about impending global crisis is not really fun, but necessary.

I think the psychological aspect of it doesn't get enough attention. I know that after I read stuff about climate change or loss of biodiversity I feel depressed and despairing, because the global scale of the issues and the cultural and political paralysis shown at events like Copenhagen make it feel like we're trapped in front of the headlights on an oncoming train. In our culture, there's a lot of ways to distract ourselves from this problem compared to very few ways to actually influence events on a global scale.

byron smith said...

Ah, if only we were trapped in the headlights of an oncoming train, since then we could snap out of it and step off the tracks. I suspect we might be in a tunnel without clearance (perhaps even without an exit at all) and things could get quite messy.

Yes, distraction is indeed much easier than responsible action. My own distraction of choice is often to just keep reading more. Sustaining the possibility of actions that witness to the faithfulness of God even amidst the gloom is difficult and is a task to be taken one day at a time. In my experience, despair has to be fought (i.e. embraced and overcome by love) time and time again.

byron smith said...

SkSci: Graphic of various policy-relevant tipping points. Those with question marks are particularly uncertain. Experts agree that the likelihood of any tipping point being passed increases as global temperatures rise, but there is little certainty about where those points like.