Backing into Eden: Chapter 3 – The Hopeless Voice
A woman came up to me after I gave a talk about the future and said “It’s nice that you say positive things to make us feel better, but you know there isn’t any hope, right?” I’ve heard similar things after almost every talk. Usually from one person, sometimes a few more. Crushed words. Sadness. Wistfulness. Sometimes a deep sense of loss permeates these total strangers. This is not most of my friends or most of my conversations, but it’s a thread nonetheless. Some days, I can even hear the same voice inside of me. A still, small version of the hopeless voice, but a real one nonetheless.
It seemed like a good idea to just get this off of our chests. If you don’t want to think about your fears, skip this entry and wait for the next one. But if you need or want a chance to vent out the still small voice inside of you, feel free to let go in comments, or in your journal…
I have my own fears, and I’ll list my three biggest ones at the end of this entry. But I decided to start by asking others. At dinner recently, I asked the household sixteen year old what she fears about the future and the natural world. One thing she said is that she’s afraid we will stay selfish – that we’ll think about immediate gratification instead of the long term, and that we’ll leave all of this for her generation or her children to solve. Another fear was losing sustainability in a long list of things from animals in general to water to polar bears. My partner expressed a fear of toxins. “Whatever we leave behind could be ruined, could be contaminated.” She had just heard about small nuclear reactors that were portable and is worried about spills.
I asked on Facebook, and people talked about how we’re poisoning the sea and compounding the damage by strewing it with plastic waste. They talked about excess trash and water, and the dangers of big food. The front cover of The Futurist magazine sports the headline “From Land Grabs to Resource Wars? What the global competition for food, fuel, water, and other resources could mean for future security.” Almost every day a weather-related tragedy somewhere makes headlines, and often kills people. We are surrounded by bad news about our present that fills our view of the future with fear.
Here are my top three:
Nuclear War: Perhaps this a product of the pointless climb under your desks, grab your ankles, and kiss you life goodbye drills I suffered as a child. That was the 60’s. Fifty years later, we’re still worrying. Israel is rumored to be contemplating nuke-tossing at Iran, which may be on the verge of nuclear capability. North Korea is outright claiming to be targeting the part of the US where I live. I am not – perhaps oddly – afraid of nuclear energy. But I can vividly imagine a scenario where a small country in the Middle East or Africa tosses a bomb in a fit of anger, and then another one, and then another one….
Runaway Climate Change: We don’t know where the tipping points are. Over and over again, the wild world – the actual climate – is reacting faster than our models predict. Sea ice is melting quicker than expected. Methane is poised to outgas from the Arctic tundra or under the sea or both. Probably both. Yet we’re busy digging as much shale oil as possible out of the ground and burning it just because we can, and even though we know we shouldn’t. I feel a bit like the proverbial frog sitting in a pot of cool water while the heat is on, unable to feel the slow and inexorable rise in temperature. Unlike the frog in the pot, if we keep the heat on long enough – do enough damage to the climate – we may no longer be able to help simply by turning off the heat.
Political Freeze: We have it here in the United States in spades. Climate change is getting very little ink other than as a threat. Solutions are pilloried. Global corporations appear to be doing more damage than good via lobbying here and outright control in other places. Financial gain for the top trumps livability for the masses. All can be sacrificed. The Arab Spring is a messy, messy process with an uncertain outcome. Mexico is almost a failed state, at least near the borders with the US and many major ports. What we need is a world governance group that can broker global issues about toxins and overfishing and carbon; what we have is a sea captain chasing Japanese whalers, a few very rich men and women working across political boundaries (think Gates and Branson and others like them), and a multitude of environmental groups doing great work, but sometimes with more faith than science and far less data and money than they need. In America at least, we’re making decisions inside the long shadow of a huge mistrust of science. Maybe one of the worst tipping points we already passed is when we elected George Bush and should have elected Al Gore.
So that’s what scares me. Feel free to talk about the things that scare you or make you hear that still small voice of despair. In the next post, we’ll talk more ways we may be able to make our responsibility for the Earth we live on work out a little better.
Note: There are no specific links for places I researched this entry. There would have had to be too many, and much of it is the accumulation of essays and blog posts and articles over time, of books I’ve read and lectures I’ve attended. Eventually I will do a post that lists the books. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to what people have to say in blog comments or where more discussion happens – on FaceBook or Twitter. I can be followed on twitter @brendacooper and on FaceBook at BrendaJCooper.