Features » July 25, 2011
To Despair or Not to Despair?
In These Times readers respond to Sandra Steingraber’s call to combat climate change.
We need united action that results in political change commensurate with the enormity of the problem. We are talking about a revolution.
We asked and you answered. In our June issue’s cover story, “Despair Not,” Sandra Steingraber argued that humans must confront “well-informed futility syndrome” if we are to overcome our fossil fuel addiction and confront the dangers of global warming. In These Times asked readers, “Is confronting climate change the moral issue of our time? Or should we make like a polar bear and adapt?” What follows are some of your responses.
More important than the bottom line
I am trapped like the greenhouse gases accumulating above me. There are times I feel like screaming because the madness of the political discourse regarding climate change–or the lack of political discourse–makes me angrier. I feel so alone sometimes. My co-workers never speak of climate change; they congregate in their churches and they speak of their children, but they have no clue what is happening. Our tornado-ravaged land became pummeled humanity, but the evening news showed only surviving neighbors rejoicing in how they are blessed. A meteorologist was asked by a news anchor if he thought the pure energy of the monster storms that leaped all over our state was perhaps in part attributable to climate change. … The meteorologist would not answer the question; instead, he described how a funnel cloud operates.
And so I agonize over what I believe is nothing more than pure human stupidity. We march on as our planet is ravaged by profiteers who care nothing about the wastelands they create. While the seas rise around India, the Indians build a great wall to keep out the Bangladeshis who will be threatened by rising seas. Such are the answers provided in these, our last good years. Ours is not a mission for seeking change but a mission in making change. Surely this is more important than the bottom line.
–Daniel Del Caro, Hokes Bluff, Ala.
A veteran’s lament
I am an 87-year-old WWII veteran, who retired from the Air Force at the age of 20 as a 1st Lt., with one eye blown out and holder of the Silver Star, Purple Heart and the Air Medal. I helped found the Wyoming Outdoor Council. As a trained biologist, I could foresee many of the problems we now have and worked diligently to pass legislation on clean air, clean water, strip mining, clearcut timbering and all of the other environmental issues. Republicans are now trying to dismantle many of these. Their policies are ecocidal. There are days when I could just sit down and cry at what I see coming down the road toward my grandchildren.
–Tom Bell, Lander, Wyo.
Talkin’ bout a revolution
“The way we protect our kids from terrible knowledge,” Steingraber writes, “is not to hide the terrible knowledge, or change the subject, or even create an age-appropriate story about the terrible knowledge, but to let them watch us rise up in the face of the terrible knowledge and do something. … Stop acting like a Good German around your kids and let them see that you are a member of the French Resistance.”
Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, a hero of the French Resistance, said the ability to resist under the horrible circumstances of the war required that women “create an atmosphere of moral and material solidarity; to create an organization which gave the impression to each that she was not alone, that others shared her suffering, and this made the burden less heavy.” Where is our atmosphere of solidarity? Why does our resistance feel so lonely?
We need united action that results in political change commensurate with the enormity of the problem. We are talking about a revolution: in thinking, in action and in politics. Perhaps Sandra Steingraber’s Raising Elijah and Che Guevara’s On Guerrilla Warfare should be read together.
–Laura Orlando, Boston, Mass.
Our basic betrayal
Five percent of our present human population continues, as it has for thousands of generations, to respond to the miracle of evolution. These are the native peoples that are still mainly tribal, intimately connected to their environment, which is their main moral guide. They relish and depend upon each other. They are not consumers of this planet’s finite resources nor polluters of their environment. Only through their way of life is our survival as a species possible. But native peoples are being exterminated.
The mesmerizing qualities of technology have dazzled us to the point of blinding us to the fact that all technology pollutes and depletes. Contrary to its promises, it is not the answer–it is the problem. The confusion of religion, the “End Days” etc., further lulls us into lassitude and a pervasive despair that is emerging, despite frantic drug use, mindless entertainment and endless consumerism–all poor substitutes for the contentment that comes with being at one with each other and the world around us. We should humbly bow in awe to the evolution that we have betrayed.
–Peter Powel, Beverly Hills, Calif.
The essential public good
Steingraber endorses the ”a thousand molehills really do a mountain make” approach, but individual action is essentially false hope when it comes to global warming. Martin Luther King realized that individual action (or the Booker T. Washington approach) didn’t really improve Civil Rights. Individual action will not significantly reduce global warming, which is a much greater problem. We need political (life of the community) action, and we could start with state or city initiatives. Nor will technology solve global warming, as Al Gore and others have found out with their endorsement of corn ethanol. Nor will a market approach. Markets don’t work well in “public goods” and the global atmospheric commons is the essential public good for life on Earth.
–Roland James, Seguin, Texas
The moral issue of our time
Confronting climate change is not the moral issue of our time. It is a moral issue; but, I believe, it is a byproduct of the moral issue of our time, which is the failure of capitalism.
–Donald Chesters, Sterling Heights, Mich.
Socialist economy=sustainable economy
Yes, we need to drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and toxic chemicals. But that will not happen under capitalism, which requires a never-ending drive for more production and profits. Therefore, we must fight for a socialist, sustainable economy.
–Richard Rabin, Arlington, Mass.
Don’t despair—do no harm
What is the purpose or intention of despairing? Why would any of us who happen to be alive at this moment want to despair? What purpose would it serve? With that series of questions asked, I would have to say that there is plenty to be despondent about, but again, what purpose does it serve to be so? We will either adapt or die. To despair is a waste of energy, and we know that energy is not something we should waste.
I realize that we all–humans, but more important, all life that inhabits our earth at this moment–are experiencing very difficult and stressed times, especially in regards to our environment and ecological sphere.
With regards to the “well-informed futility syndrome,” I am at times afflicted with it. However, it is temporary, because fixation on the problems does nothing to solve or ameliorate them. In many ways we all are blessed to live “in these times” because there are so many challenges facing us, and with challenges come change and with change we all get the opportunity to evolve, emerge and ultimately experience our own chrysalis. So despair not: Help where you can, and do no harm.
–Larry Coonradt, Murrieta, Calif.
The antidotes to despair
Climate change is not the only moral issue of our time, but it has become one of the most important ones. We tend not to be moved to recognize that because it is a new issue–but then, human slavery once was a “new issue” in the sense that millennia had passed without much of an outcry against it. Now we need to move quickly to a deep recognition of the problems and to action. It will take us time, time that we may not have.
Several things precede action as an antidote to despair. One is a willingness to see that we are not separated in this struggle by such lines as race and national boundary. We all are in it together–there is only one world. Also, at its root, hope is an ethical and spiritual orientation to one another and our world. We must learn to reject leadership that divides us and thereby stands in the way of action, for such leadership helps to foster despair.
–Barry N. Bishop, Lewisburg, Pa.
One word: Overpopulation
Having read Sandra Steingraber’s article, I came to the conclusion that she ignored the fundamental issue. We are trading all those bees, birds and bears for people (and probably bugs). There would be enough resources and we could use them nicely if there were about a tenth as many of us. Instead we are pushing the population to 10 billion (that’s with 10 zeros folks), which is where the right-to-lifers want us to be. That will certainly provide enough cheap labor.
I do despair, because all of the efforts to conserve, or otherwise solve our environmental problems will come to naught at the hands (heads) of the most ignorant parts of our world community.
–Judy Stabler, West Linn, Ore.
Climate change tastes like chicken
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.
–Jonathan Macy, via e-mail
Not even the rich would survive
Is confronting climate change the moral issue of our time? Yes. No other issue on the political agenda matters if the human species disappears along with the others. Wealth must be invested now to save us. Even the rich in the future would not be able to live on a burning planet.
–Garry Weisman, Houston, Texas
1) Despair is never a constructive end point. If everyone despairs and stops organizing for change, then the slide toward destruction is guaranteed to happen. This is a simple point of logic that Noam Chomsky makes. I try to continue working for change and not worry about how things may or may not turn out. Socially engaged Buddhists have a helpful attitude about this.
2) Climate change is not the moral issue of our time: War is. The damage done by war and the excessive preparation for war is far more serious than climate change. The world is drifting toward nuclear weapons proliferation, which inevitably means a nuclear exchange someday, given the folly of politicians.
3) If there is a futility syndrome around the issue of climate change, the syndrome is even more active and pronounced around the issues of abolishing nuclear weapons and war. Hardly anyone I know even wants to think about these issues, even for 60 seconds. Humanity is in deep psychological denial about war and nuclear weapons, and unless we can awaken people and somehow induce them to face the issues and think about solutions, we will keep drifting toward a nuclear exchange that wipes out the human race.
4) The same societal and political changes that might enable us to solve the climate change problem also help us solve the problem of war.
5) I am working to build the Green Party. I believe our central message is pro-environment, pro-diversity, pro-working people and pro-peace. Our main opponent is the military-industrial-financial complex that owns and controls the USA.
–Geoff Young, via e-mail
Like what you’ve read? Subscribe to In These Times magazine, or make a tax-deductible donation to fund this reporting.