Copenhagen Won't Be Enough -- Only a 'Human Movement' Can Save Civilization from the Climate Crisis
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Somewhere, somehow, someplace, forces have suddenly been unleashed which we do not fully understand. Humans have never faced the possibility that they could so degrade the biosphere as to make Earth uninhabitable for them. Our inner psychology has thus far been unable to even absorb this possibility, let alone mobilize to avoid it. Like children, we live in a world we cannot control, as we helplessly face existential questions which none before have even had to ask, let alone answer.
Although we know intellectually we will die, we largely live denying the painful feelings this knowledge evokes. Now, however, our individual denials of painful death feelings have for the first time coalesced into a trancelike societal denial of the death of all civilization looming over our children's future.
People have faced local "environmental" problems before. But none even imagined the possibility of actually destroying the complex biospheric conditions upon which all humanity depends for life itself. The "environment," "planet Earth," "Mother Nature" will continue whatever we do, though somewhat hotter. It is we, not the planet, who are at risk. We do not really face a "climate crisis," but rather a "human climate crisis" that threatens the continuation of human civilization.
Elie Wiesel began Night by describing how his neighbor Moishe the Beadle saw the Germans killing Jews, how the villagers shunned him when he warned them of the need to mobilize, and how they were eventually sent to Auschwitz. "Most people thought that we could remain in the ghetto until the end of the war. Everything would be as before. The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion," Wiesel explained. The lesson is clear: delusion--and denial--can kill, and have throughout history.
It may be too much to expect each of us to say, "I am threatening my children unless I push our leaders to end the human climate crisis." But ending our denial of the threat we pose to our offspring is a necessary first step to accepting the short-term sacrifice and societal shifts necessary for them to survive.
Right now the ideas of "nurturing our children" and "solving the climate crisis" exist in separate compartments of our brain. We care deeply about our kids. The "climate crisis" seems far more abstract. A new "human movement" would seek to collapse the walls between the two, helping us see that nurturing our children requires doing whatever is necessary to avert our human climate crisis.
The environmental movement and world's climate scientists have done a magnificent job in bringing the world to Copenhagen. But its likely failure to produce a viable treaty speaks for itself. Only if their work is supplemented by a "human movement" can we hope for civilization to survive.
Towards a 'human movement'
[Man] is capable of the highest generosity and self-sacrifice. But he has to feel and believe that what he is doing is truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful.
--Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
Some years ago, I took a taxi to the airport and was surprised to note that the cab driver was in his late 70s. "Why do you drive a cab?" I asked. I will never forget the joy in his voice and look of love in his eyes: "My granddaughter!" he exclaimed. "I use the money I get cabbing to buy her things. Right now, I am saving to buy her a computer!" He spent the rest of the ride lovingly describing his granddaughter, showing me pictures of her, telling me about the various purchases he had made for her.