It’s a big problem that mainstream discourse about the climate crisis fails to point to the huge gap between renewables & fossil fuel energy, or that the aerosol masking effect from pollution will go away as we transition, warming the planet more. Degrowth is the only way out.
And yet, even knowing what I know, there is a massive cognitive dissonance around taking the necessary action. It’s just so much more massive than our individual effort, and it can’t work unless we unite the majority of the people on earth behind it. Is that even possible?
Think about what degrowth actually means. Whole industries need to be shut down, and not just fossil fuel extraction. All of us, everyone on the planet, needs to re-direct their time and energy away from consumption and consumerism and into repairing the damage, and soon.
We need to retrain and redirect our attention to reforestation, adaptive farming, and ecosystem triage. And yes – even with all that we probably need some form of “carbon removal” tech to stave off the worst impacts of 1.5º and even 2º which is already baked in.
How do we do that? Even jobs that aren’t overtly destructive generate CO2. My company creates products from plastics made from fossil fuels and other materials mined from the earth. Do I shut down my company? How do I survive and provide for my family?
What about my employees and their families? What about all the businesses who purchase my products and their families and employees?
Ok, then what about mitigation? It’s imperfect, it’s not a solution, but what can I do working from the inside to transition my company into a more sustainable direction? Can I fix some of the problem and hope others will follow?
We’ve tried. Many of the technologies that exist are at a fraction of the scale needed, and most don’t exist at all. How do you make a guitar cable that has no ecological impact? You can’t. And even if you could the business still relies on consumerist capitalism to thrive. I only make money if I keep producing more and more stuff. And I am just a subset of the larger music industry. My business relies on the continued production of musical instruments that make my products necessary. All of these businesses need to shut down. And this is just one, tiny, insignificant “niche” industry.
What about all the others? We need a fundamental reimagining of human civilization. We need to rethink how we engage with the planet and each other, one that puts our fragile ecosystems at the center. Can we even have the will to entertain that discussion?
Seriously, can we? We can barely agree with each other on objective facts anymore. Elites are concentrating power and fueling disinformation. People are refusing vaccines in the midst of a deadly pandemic that has killed more than a million people.
No, unfortunately, it appears that this system of mutual self-annihilation is entrenched. It rewards greed and self-interest above all, it pays us when we exacerbate the problem. It punishes us for opting out, and choosing collective commons over individual gain.
Even those of us who see what’s coming are generally powerless to stop it. Think about the overwhelming majority who either don’t understand the scale of the problem or from their position of privilege don’t think it will impact them. And let’s not forget those who simply don’t care, and those actively trying to profit from destruction.
It’s hard to imagine that scale of cooperation when so many are still in denial that there is a climate crisis.
This isn’t a problem that we can solve without aggressive, concerted, global effort. And the pre-requisite to aggressive, concerted effort, is to tell the truth. To accept the harsh reality of our predicament. Because despite what many think, we aren’t going to just “tech”our way out of this. Our leadership has failed us, and they need to stop building their own lifeboats and be honest. It is the only way we can start to undo any of the damage.
Yes – we have to willingly give up much of who we think we are. We have to step forward and decide that humanity is more important, that saving our species (and others) from extinction is worth giving up the widgets, the entertainments, the leisure travel, all of it.
We have to decide that living things and living systems are more important. Because that is what we have to do if we want to survive.
The alternative, of course is that we just continue to let the car drive us off the cliff. A few of us might survive, maybe. Regardless of our choice, earth will enact its own version of “degrowth” whether we like it or not.
We need to have these hard conversations about the seriousness of the climate crisis, if we are to save some of what remains. The only alternative is human extinction.