The intersecting crises of anthropogenic climate change and destruction to biodiversity and ecological systems have ushered in an age of acute anxiety in which people are beginning to seriously question whether life on Earth, in its current form, can be sustained.
There’s an increasing sense that the planet and everything on it are in serious trouble. So, here we are, having to face up to a significant body of credible scientific knowledge that suggests some kind of end, or at least a radical reconfiguration of life as we know it.
12 years to change
The time has surely come to revisit our assumptive stories, and perhaps to create new ones to enable us to face up to this new reality. The irony is that our uncertain future gives us the opportunity to reinvest in the things that should have always mattered, in particular: building resilient, ethical, regenerative, life-affirming communities that can sustain us even without the anchor of certainty.
In the latest IPCC report published in October 2018 – a conservative and highly politicised document – we’re told that we have twelve years to radically transform how our societies are organised to avoid a runaway climate catastrophe.
Many other scientists, particularly those witnessing the rapid escalation of the climate emergency, give us considerably less time. Some are now talking openly about the possibility of human extinction, others about systemic chaos and collapse.
Living off the toxic fruits of coal and oil
What’s sucking the oxygen of hope from these forecasters is the ugly reality that greenhouse gas emissions are rising rapidly, and that too many governments and corporations are still investing in and subsidising industries and lifestyles that are based on fossil fuels – the very things that have helped create this almighty mess.
Coal-fired power stations remain a major source of energy supply (over 600 are under construction across the globe), and oil and gas are still pivotal to industrial and commercial needs. Sadly, most of us are happy to live off the toxic fruits of these industries.
Despite a burgeoning clean-energy sector, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is at record levels, well in excess of what’s needed to make the planet habitable.
In Australia, obdurate and cynical attitudes among our political and economic elites have served to deliver an energy policy that remains heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels.
The chasm between what people want in terms of action on climate change and government policies could not be wider, especially in the US, Australia, and now Brazil, where barrel-chested leaders either reject the climate science outright or they pretend to be doing what’s necessary, while at the same time encouraging fossil-fuel production.
It’s telling that Australian mining companies are investing heavily in coal extraction in Africa, adding significantly to carbon emissions and running against the grain of public opinion back home. This extravagant cynicism is contributing to the global crisis we now face.
Flood and fire
And yet, the climactic events of January 2019 were a game changer. No-one, not even the most dedicated denialist, could ignore what was occurring here and around the world.
Unprecedented floods, widespread droughts, cyclones, storms, and rampant bushfires featured prominently. Numerous temperature records were broken. In Australia, it was the hottest January on record, outdoing previous records set over the past decade. A small hamlet, Noona in western NSW, recorded the highest night-time temperature ever, with thermometer refusing to dip below a staggering 35.90C.
Not surprisingly, this madness has given rise to a new discourse that recognises the tragic trajectory we’re on, and that the time to fix this wicked problem has probably run out.
This ‘dark knowledge’, as Catherine Ingram observes, has led us to think differently about the future. Writers like Ingram, Dahr Jamail, and Jem Bendell assert that what is needed now is a considered dialogue around how we can create the resilient communities necessary to enable us to live with some dignity and meaning as time goes on. When the collapse comes, they argue, civil society will no longer be so civil as food shortages take hold and populations compete for increasingly scarce resources.
We need an ethical form of survival that enables people and communities to face what’s coming in a way that prevents or reduces violence and mayhem. It means ensuring our survival alongside and inclusive of others, as opposed to against others.
It also means thinking creatively about access to shelter, food, and fresh water. None of this will be easy of course, and the ravages of neoliberalism have ensured the erosion of social infrastructure.
Resilient communities and supportive, collaborative relationships will have to be rebuilt, somehow, and urgently. What is required now, we believe – in addition to our ongoing activism – is to face up to the questions we are seeking to avoid, most notably how we should live when faced with the possibility of ecological, political, economic and social collapse.
To repeat, given what’s coming, we might reinvest in the things that should have always mattered to us: respect for the earth, love, connection, caring, compassion, cooperation, security, presence, joy, beauty, and laughter. This does not mean retreating into some kind of self-referential nirvana, but engaging in a conversation that recognises what is unfolding before us and how we might live on an increasingly disrupted planet.
(this post was originally published here: