Looking into an abyss, finding hope?

Caspar Henderson

Extinction Rebellion has ended two weeks of civil disobedience. (There is trenchant but constructive criticism of it here). Britain is now caught up in a general election campaign likely to be dominated by Brexit. But climate change is not off the agenda, with two thirds of voters reportedly agree that climate is biggest issue facing humankind (Climate crisis affects how majority will vote in UK election – poll).

A reminder of the stakes comes thanks to Wen Stephenson, who recently tweeted a link to a year old piece by David Wallace Wells (UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That). “It may well be the single best and most concise articulation of what last year’s IPCC report meant,” Stephenson wrote. “Benumbed as I’ve become to climate horrors, it’s still hard to read.”

Here’s part of what Wallace Wells wrote:

Stalling warming below four degrees [Centigrade] is better than surpassing it, keeping temperatures below three is better still, and the closer we get to two degrees the more miraculous. That is because climate change isn’t binary, and doesn’t just kick in, full force, at any particular temperature level; it’s a function that gets worse over time as long as we produce greenhouse gases. How long we continue to is, really, up to us, which is to say it will be determined in the province of politics, which is to say public panic like that produced by the IPCC report can be a very productive form of policy pressure.

Stephenson continued his own thread:

“I’m just grateful that I’m able to spend a few hours tonight with friends who are as resolved to meet this crisis head-on, and to act, as I am. We can’t do this alone. We’re stronger in every way when we face this together, not in isolation… Last night we talked about that David Wallace Wells piece, and it brought up this personal essay (Learning to Live in the Dark: Reading Arendt in the Time of Climate Change) in which I forced myself to look into the abyss. Don’t know if I’d still be here doing this work if not for what [Hannah Arendt] taught me.

A touchstone for me is this old line from Raymond Williams, with which I prefaced a post last year:

To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.

Image via Extra.ie

One comment

  1. Thanks for this encouraging perspective. Contrary to much despairing commentary, there is still everything to play for. In addition to reducing carbon per person and carbon per unit of economic output, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the key driver of future carbon levels is population. It isn’t racist to be concerned about population growth in Africa.


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