I might have mentioned that I’ve been working, with a co-author called James Whitmore, on a personal handbook to help people survive climate change. It’s with the publisher now and should be out later this year.
Last night I was part of a panel with Alice Robinson and James Bradley, along with moderator Tony Birch, discussing climate change as the new dystopia. Talking about climate change is hard. I really, really believe everyone needs to personally care about it, but I’m also very aware that nagging them to do so is completely pointless. I feel a huge responsibility to openly and honestly say what I believe to be true – that the world is in terrible trouble, that anything we do now can only reduce and not stop climate change – but I’m also overwhelmed by the pointlessness of doing so, and by my embarrassment at expressing strong feelings. So mostly I say a couple of little things then cover up the discomfort with jokes.
Our book is about what individuals and small groups of people can do to live with and survive the extreme weather, food shortages, social disruptions and despair that come with climate change. It’s about personal adaptation. Some people hate the idea of talking about adaptation – they think it’s giving up. I reckon it’s part of living as though we believe climate change is real. I think it’s part of the package of harassing politicians to do something about emissions, getting your own money out of fossil fuels, holding the media to account and all the rest of trying to reduce the nastiness of climate change. We have to do all of it because we’re now stuck with at least 2 degrees of warming and probably a fair bit more, and because no one seems to be doing anything much to protect us from the effects that will bring.
Does accepting that we need to prepare ourselves for climate change mean I’ve given up hope? I don’t even know. Sometimes I feel cheeriest when I think about how the world had had five major extinction events in its history, and after each of them life has eventually bounced back in a wild tumult of diversity. That’ll probably happen again. We might go. Tigers, elephants and just about every other species you’ve ever had a crush on (unless you’re a huge algae fan) definitely will. And then new things will come along. Elizabeth Kolbert’s book, The Sixth Extinction, is very good on this.
On the other hand, I feel pretty hopeless when I try to think of any scenario in which Australia might seriously do the things that are required to significantly reduce our emissions. Neither of the major parties want to do it, no one in big business wants to do it, and between them they seemed to have convinced the rest of the country we don’t want to do it either. Even if we did, we’re signing up to things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which are taking away our power to do anything about it.
There are many studies on how hope or despair about climate change affects the way we act. Clive Hamilton has researched this topic and found we come up with the best strategies when we feel everything there is to feel about climate change, including despair and hope.
I am reading the 15th book of my TBR20 challenge: Vasily Grossman’s Life and fate. Set in the siege of Stalingrad in World War 2, Grossman’s epic is about the ideologies that take over our life, the ‘isms’. He is most concerned with Fascism and Communism, with the total violence of the totalitarian state and with our willingness to submit to it in the name of our beliefs. And this is what he has to say about hope:
A man cannot believe that he is about to be destroyed. The optimism of people standing on the edge of the grave is astounding. The soil of hope – a hope that was senseless and sometimes dishonest and despicable – gave birth to a pathetic obedience that was often equally despicable.
The Warsaw Rising, the uprisings at Treblinka and Sobibor, the various mutinies of brenners, were all born of hopelessness. But then utter hopelessness engenders not only resistance and uprisings but also a yearning to be executed as quickly as possible.
People argued over their place in the queue beside the blood-filled ditch while a mad, almost exultant voice shouted out: ‘Don’t be afraid, Jews. It’s nothing terrible. Five minutes and it will all be over.’
Everything gave rise to obedience – both hope and hopelessness.