One of the reasons I don’t blog much about the environment, is because I personally believe that guilt is capable of destroying the planet, or at least altering the surface of the planet beyond a point where it is hospitable for human life. Really. Guilt, as opposed to greed or laziness, is the cornerstone of public resistance to expert messages on climate change. And yet it is quite difficult to talk about this stuff without inspiring that dreaded emotion.
The most profound and easiest response to our guilt is denial. Denial can take many forms, sometimes the more absolute this is not happening as well as this change is not man-made through to this is someone else’s problem and nothing I can do will make a difference. Most of the people I talk to about climate change come up with a variation on one of these. But it is a defensive move, what they are really saying is, “Don’t talk to me about this. I don't want to feel bad about this. It is not my fault.”
And truthfully, it isn’t.
It is not your fault that climate change is happening! Were you present, powerful and in possession of all the facts, two hundred years ago when we started using fossil fuels in our technologies on a massive scale? I thought not. Therefore it is not your doing.
No living organism can exist without making some impact on the environment around it. Some things are pretty much condemned to causing harm to other things whenever their prosper; parasites as well as certain bacteria, viruses and fungi, for example. As someone born in the twentieth century, you were born into a world where we were already dependent on all sorts of unsustainable resources and practices. We were already using fossil fuels, which are by definition, a finite resource. Even if there is no climate change at all, this stuff will run out and before it does, there is likely to be a great deal more conflict and suffering over it.
Meanwhile, unless the vast majority of scientists, who we regard as intelligent, good and conscientious on most other matters, have either made a horrible mistake or are attempting to purposely mislead us over a sustained period of time (in which case, we might as well start entertaining Creationism and Flat Earth Theory), this is also bringing about a dramatic change in our weather systems, one which is likely to become extremely dangerous to human life at some point – when and in what way remaining areas of genuine controversy.
You and I were born into a crisis situation, a crisis which people didn’t foresee and one that has only become glaringly obvious in the last few decades. It’s okay. Your conscience is clear. And indeed, if it all goes to pot, if the human species is overwhelmed by floods, hurricanes, famine and disease within tens or a few hundreds of years, it shan’t have been your fault either.
In fact, this isn’t about you and your conscience at all. To chose to act on Climate Change is a positive choice to make a meaningful contribution to everyone else around the world for many generations to come. Many of us who are alive today are not going to see many of the negative effects of Climate Change, not the real horrorshow stuff. But I believe we can fix this. We must.
On which subject, please listen to this years Reith Lectures with Prof. Jeffrey Sachs; this guy rocks, is optimistic about our ability to sort this mess out and won't make you feel guilty, I promise.