The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

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Feeling Overwhelmed?

Earlier this week I opened up my Facebook account only to see that the western black rhino is now extinct. Below that was somebody’s post about their (yes, very cute) cats, several posts about various people’s dietary struggles, a post about melting permafrost releasing a “carbon bomb” of methane, another one about oceanic currently slowing down because of melting ice, and then some more cat memes.

What the hell, people.

I quote the novelist, Ursula K. LeGuin, speaking here in the voice of the Archmage, Sparrowhawk:

There is a weakening of power. There is a want of resolution. There is a dimming of the sun. I feel, my lords—I feel as if we who sit here talking, were all wounded mortally, and while we talk and talk our blood runs softly from our veins.

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but that does seem to be where we are at. Like the Archmage, I would be “up and doing,” but like him it is far from clear to me what to do. There is a sadness and a great fear…and with no clear direction to turn to address the problem, there are bills to pay and emails to answer and cute internet cat videos to watch.

No, as far as I know, the extinction of the western black rhino is not directly related to climate change, but there is a strong connection between global warming and species extinction in general, as I have discussed before. The planet as a whole is wounded by our unsustainable behavior and climate change is one major symptom of that wound. Biodiversity loss is another. The seriousness of the situation is overwhelming and yet most people, most of the time, seem utterly ignorant of it.

“Seem” is the operative word. I do not mean to speculate about what’s actually on other people’s minds. I’ve been known to share cat videos myself.

I can’t help but assume that my emotional reaction is not unique. I think a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed these days. So while yes, I do mean to sound a clarion (get moving!) I also recognize that confusion, despair, and the logistics of day to day life are all legitimate distractions.

So, how do we get un-distracted?

How do we face reality without getting overwhelmed? How do we keep the heat on politically? How do we plot effective strategies by which we can make our caring mean something?

Because the people who stand to gain from furthering climate change, the fossil fuel industry leaders, are not flailing about, feeling overwhelmed. They are raising money and drafting their strategies as we speak. And if they win the next national election, they will win the whole game.