Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to flight climate change? Let's try honesty.

This is blog action day, and we're all supposed to be blogging about climate change. Which, one way or another, is what I generally blog about.

My suspicion, though, is that the blogosphere is going to give us, today, a great deal of just what - in my view, at least - we don't need. Which is terror, gloom and doom.

Granted, it's hard to avoid. The situation is grim, and the prospects for the kind of dramatic global action that will address the issue look pretty flimsy. But I think one reason they do look flimsy is that we have spent so much time and energy on the grim prospects. If, in fact, there is little hope that we can avert the worst effects of climate change, why bother? And especially why bother when averting those effects would involve economic peril and enormous (and unwelcome) changes in our lifestyle?

It's not that the press, as well as organizations fighting global warming haven't noticed this. And they are making furious efforts to convince the world's citizens that they really can do something to combat global warming. The problem is that the changes we really need to make sound so terrifying that they're scared to be honest about them.

So instead we are encouraged to believe, by well-meaning folk - including the UN itself, with its glitzy, ad-agency designed, Facebook-oriented Hopenhagen website - that washing your clothes in cold water and installing fluorescent lightbulbs will make a significant contribution to the problem. It won't. As Bill McKibben said last spring at a showing of a film about the (small-scale) efforts religious groups were making to address global warming: those are all good things, but it's too late for them. (One indication of the essential frivolity of the project: one of its partners is Coca-Cola. Another: so far, the petition's garnered less than 80,000 signatures. Stop Animal Cruelty has 4.5 million.)

Meanwhile, stunts (or, as Elizabeth Kolbert calls them in a wonderful New Yorker critique, eco-stunts) proliferate. My current favorite is Dirty for Swain. That's Christopher Swain, who, backed by Timberland, is swimming from Massachusetts to DC to publicize ocean pollution and encouraging his followers to support him with their own get-dirty stunts and then publicize the stunts on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

We don't need this kind of nonsense. We need truth. We need a global discussion about the real costs and consequences of addressing climate change. How can we, as a society, figure out what changes we are willing to make if we don't talk honestly about our options?

Because guess what? Once we get past the scare tactics of politicisnas and corporations who insist the steps we need to take will destroy a) their business, b) their consituents and c) the global economy (conveniently not mentioning that they've said exactly the same thing about every new environmental regulation passed in the last 30 years), we may discover that the changes we need to make will actually lead us not to the cold, dark, uncomfortable future we all, on some level, dread, but to a way of life that is more resilient, more sustaining, and just plain more fun.

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