That is the real choice we have before us when it comes to the kind of world we inherited and will leave behind for our grandchildren in turn
“Everyone is aware of the difficult and menacing situation in which human society—shrunk into one community with a common fate—now finds itself, but only a few act accordingly. Most people go on living their everyday life: half frightened, half indifferent, they behold the ghostly tragicomedy which is being performed on the international stage before the eyes and ears of the world. But on that stage, on which the actors under the floodlights play their ordained parts, our fate of tomorrow, life or death of the nations, is being decided.”
—Albert Einstein, 1950
A few years ago, did you hope the global warming “theory” would someday finally get the front page it deserves in the big papers? Now it’s there almost daily, and while we see real discussion and awareness growing, we also see people glancing at those headlines in vague apprehension, only to return to their SUVs and continue on with their day. Should we be less surprised?
Ours is a culture of addictions and distractions. Cigarettes come in gruesomely labelled cartons but are still consumed widely, mp3 players are cranked to hearing-damaging levels, and processed crap is a staple when most everyone knows better. Con-sequences be damned—who wants to think about the future when there can be enjoyment and comfort now?
What, me worry?
The main obstacle is no longer convincing people that global warming is happening and serious, but that we should wake up and give a damn. Things are undoubtedly going to be worse for our children, but right now we have the opportunity to either make their future terrible or to make it unbearable.
There is a kind of magical thinking at play, as though we somehow believe that if the damage one’s lifestyle causes is not acknowledged, it won’t be as bad. Denial can be a very comfortable place. Why quit smoking when it could lead to all those other lifestyle improve-ments you just don’t have time for?
Everyone I know is hypocritical in some obvious ways, but, of course, avoiding thinking about big problems or failing to express an opinion about them does not absolve one of the responsibility of being an adult and dealing with them. We cannot bargain the problem of global warming away with corn-based plastic and go-mugs, and we’re not going to solve anything by hiding in depression. We must accept that the Earth as we know it will be changed, for the most part, detrimentally, and to prevent the worst consequences, we must sacrifice some comforts.
If this is so, the question then becomes: what is one to do when all of it seems so damned overwhelming?
I think it all starts with communicating with others. Begin conversations with people and get them to express anger—not about some banal pop star or sports stat, but about how our resources and freedoms are being bargained away. Let them know they’re not alone in feeling this is wrong, because, believe me, there are quite a lot of other people equally upset about it.
Get into politics. Don’t have time for that? Look into what your local candidates are all about, preferably before election time! Encourage others to do the same. And then, vote! I’ve lost count of how many friendly, well-meaning people I know who just don’t vote. Sam Sullivan was elected mayor by a margin of only 3,647—less than one person per city block.
If you already attend rallies, don’t stop at signing a petition: write those in power about what you’ve learned, and what bothers you. Biking to work makes only the smallest of differences if most around you don’t change their lifestyle too. Even if everyone who commutes to work stopped driving, businesses left un-restrained will still create an awful lot of carbon output.
And, speaking of rallies, this Saturday, April 14, there is a gathering at the Vancouver Art Gallery from 11 am to 2 pm as part of an action initiated in the US to let governments know carbon emissions must be cut, and that there is public support for this. (See stepitup2007.org and endtheheat.org). There are over 1,300 events planned on this day across the US alone.
Above all, do not despair. Do not slip into that uneasy but comfortably distracted and apathetic state. Consider what you may lose if you try, versus what you will lose if you do nothing. And, hey, you just might change the world.