Michele Wucker, pictured above, has written a new book, You Are What You Risk. Wucker's book was recently reviewed by Grist, an online site that provides commentary and analysis related to our global warming crisis. "The World Is Getting Scarier" is how Grist titles its review of Wucker's book:
Wucker wants to break down misconceptions about climate change, starting with the common idea that it’s a slow-moving threat. “It’s actually not,” Wucker said. “It’s fast-moving, and it’s getting faster and faster.”
I was pleased to see this point stressed by Wucker and by Grist. As I have noted in recent postings to this blog, human beings actually react pretty well when they find themselves facing a genuine disaster. Just like rhesus monkeys in Puerto Rico, after a hurricane, when a disaster strikes we quickly establish broader and more tolerant social networks, and by working together we respond faster and with greater success than might ever have been predicted. I understand that Rebecca Solnit's book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, pretty much says the same.
The problem, of course, in the case of global warming, is that many of us seem to think that there will be a disaster, coming in the future, instead of noticing that we're right in the middle of the disaster right now. Global warming is definitely not a "slow moving threat." It is an ongoing and present disaster, and it is rapidly outpacing both our understanding and our response. The time for our reaction is NOW, not after more floods, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires.
I also like Wucker's suggestion about what we should do about the global warming crisis:
Wucker recommends behavioral change — like eating less meat or ditching your SUV for public transit — as a response to a situation that otherwise feels totally out of control. It gives people a sense of agency. “The more each one of us feels that we can contribute to reducing the risks from climate change, the more likely we are to do something about it,” she said. “It creates a virtuous circle.”
I believe that this is an important insight. While we absolutely need collective action by way of governmentally-mandated programs, we need every individual to take individual action, as well. Why? Because if we think that someone else is going to solve the problem - "the government," or "industry," or "international agreements" - we won't realize that it's our problem. That "sense of agency" that Wucker references is conjoined with a sense of responsibility.
We consume way too much - as individuals and collectively. We waste way too much - as individuals and collectively. The disaster in which we find ourselves (largely unrecognized though it may be) demands an "all hands on deck" response, and that means we must all be personally involved in doing everything we can, right now, to help reduce the emissions that constitute our present disaster.
Small, individual actions do add up, but even more importantly, those people who are, every day, taking whatever small and individual actions they can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be much more demanding that the big actions be taken, too.
If you give up eating meat, or if you walk to the grocery store rather than drive, or if you do anything else that will be a personal inconvenience but will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you will be more motivated than otherwise to demand that your elected representatives vote to require the oil companies operating in California to shut down their oil production now, and that every factory that emits greenhouse gases be made to eliminate those emissions at the earliest possible time, and that every structure that can generate solar power be required to do so.
This is just a very partial list of necessary "larger" actions. In fact, collectively, we need to do everything that is technologically possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to "draw down" carbon from the atmosphere, and to do both those things as quickly as we can. Immediate and effective action is necessary, if human civilization is going to survive our current disaster.
I think that Wucker is correct that we will be more motivated to make such demands of others when we are individually doing everything we can, too.
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