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Nils Thiessen – Climate Catharsis

(Note: This article was written before the coronavirus changed everyday patterns of behavior for billions of people around the world.)

Currently, the climate crisis seems to be pushing humanity towards serious problems, if not outright disaster. The emotions this can result in should be the seed for activism, not result in paralysis.

Never in its entire existence has humanity lived further from how it can. We are loading up a spring every day we live like this – at some point the spring will tear and we will feel the pressure we have put into it. This is a day I fear. Awareness of the incredible, irreversible damage that our everyday behavior is currently doing, coupled with the absolute lack of care most people show towards it is truly something that makes your bones shiver. Most of us run through our lives with credit cards as our blinkers, blind to the destruction we leave behind.

Now, to understand why I am so revulsed by the way we currently live and consume, I should mention that I am rather pessimistic about the outlook of our world. This does not flow from or translate into a personal pessimism – it is just that I find way too few positive developments to feel a need to alter these opinions. Let me elaborate a bit on some things that we will see in our lifetimes, which I believe are sufficient to make our current economy and “global society” or “civilization” as most of us conceive of, collapse. Our supply chains operate with incredibly short residues, to enable maximum efficiency, while we have political systems that are clearly unable to handle serious problems in a competent way. Britain was quite close to a collapse of food supply-chains during 2008, and that was a crisis rather small compared to the ones we are currently working towards. 1,9 billion people in Asia are going to have uncertainty with their water supplies in around 50 years. Agricultural yields are already decreasing due to shifting weather patterns and increasing temperatures, which hits countries the worst that already struggle with food security or other kinds of instability. We will not be able to live in peace if a billion people run out of water.

Now all these points above can be dismissed as panic-making, attacked on their scientific grounds and so on, but you can replace each of these with two others and keep going for rounds. The central idea will remain standing: Instability will increase everywhere, and it at least currently seems like a stretch that most governments could deal with this in a peaceful way, while keeping states and inter-state relations remotely like we currently imagine them.

All this leads you to a question: How do you deal with it?

Currently there seem to be two overall approaches, with a clear winner. There is the green-new-deal, and the eco-nationalist ideas, with the ideas of the latter currently in the lead.

Let me define what I mean for a second: With green-new-deal approaches I mean policies advocating massive government intervention, which strive to transform societal behavior and the economy into a sustainable system as quickly as possible. Such policies also often advocate for external and internal solidarity, by helping other countries, especially less wealthy ones, in their transformation, and by ensuring less affluent members of society are not left behind by such transformations. The other approach, which I here call eco-nationalism, is as different as can be. This approach believes that we are not going to be able to work internationally to ensure significant changes, or that we at least should not try. Climate action is only functioning on an international stage, and because that will not be possible, attempting it is a waste of time. Because the problems will still come, we will need to be prepared. We go first. This means working towards increasing economic independence and fortifying our borders. We cannot afford solidarity with other countries – they need to sort this out on their own, while we do our best to survive in our fortress. As an illustration, look at the current European reaction to migrants.

With us heading towards a future which is growing less and less stable by the minute due to our own actions, while acting on the ideas of policies that aim to adapt to, not work against the problems, our outlook is not all too incredible, id say.

These thoughts are not novel in any way. Articles proclaiming impending apocalypse are probably as old as articles get. But I believe these ones deserve some attention.

However, one has to be very careful of the attention given to such articles. Many people get overwhelmed by such frankly horrible news, and fall into a state of paralysis. However, I believe the catharsis for these feelings lies in the solution to the problem. That we are on the wrong course at the moment does not mean that we should ever stop fighting for a future that we can live in – these feelings should be the spark that lights you up, that makes you stand up and fight for what you believe in. While we may currently be set on the path to a dim future, there will never be a better time to change course than at this very moment.


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