Comments on: Whose History? Which Future? http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/ Sharon Astyk's Ruminations on an Ambiguous Future Fri, 04 Sep 2009 02:45:33 +0000 #?v=2.3.2 By: wimbi http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24305 wimbi Sat, 29 Aug 2009 01:11:04 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24305 Sharon. Always like your work. I am an engineer, an old one. I spend my time inventing things, and a lot of them work. I have founded two companies that employ a lot of people to do good things that have never been done before, and are not being done now by anyone else. I don't like to hear any of my people say "Hey, you can't do that!" Usually, Hey, I have already done it- at home, on my own time. I like one of my highly educated engineers' characterization of me -"You are not qualified to do what you have done". Right. "Sometimes nothin' is a mighty cool hand." So what? Here's what to do. 1) recognize we are in a hell of a mess and need to do something NOW. 2)realize we can't whimp around with standard procedures. We gotta do something BIG and QUICK. 3) quit doing all the wasteful, energy- burning suicidal stuff we do now that does nobody any good, and the world a lot of harm- SUV is the current metaphor for that sort of thing. This never-should-have-been-done stuff is about 73.5% of everythingl we do, according to my guy on the supercomputer. 4) Take that money, talent, time, organizations, saved by quitting those stupid things, and use it right now to put the right slope on all those curves- population, CO2, carbon use, etc. We know how to do it. 5) Live happily ever after, or a good approximation thereunto. Of course-- I know, I know -- "You can't do that!" I have heard it many times. Shalom. PS. Fact is I AM too old to do that. But- heh, heh-you aren't. Sharon. Always like your work.

I am an engineer, an old one. I spend my time inventing things, and a lot of them work.

I have founded two companies that employ a lot of people to do good things that have never been done before, and are not being done now by anyone else.

I don’t like to hear any of my people say “Hey, you can’t do that!”

Usually, Hey, I have already done it- at home, on my own time.

I like one of my highly educated engineers’ characterization of me -”You are not qualified to do what you have done”. Right.

“Sometimes nothin’ is a mighty cool hand.”

So what?

Here’s what to do.

1) recognize we are in a hell of a mess and need to do something NOW.

2)realize we can’t whimp around with standard procedures. We gotta do something BIG and QUICK.

3) quit doing all the wasteful, energy- burning suicidal stuff we do now that does nobody any good, and the world a lot of harm- SUV is the current metaphor for that sort of thing. This never-should-have-been-done stuff is about 73.5% of everythingl we do, according to my guy on the supercomputer.

4) Take that money, talent, time, organizations, saved by quitting those stupid things, and use it right now to put the right slope on all those curves- population, CO2, carbon use, etc. We know how to do it.

5) Live happily ever after, or a good approximation thereunto.

Of course– I know, I know — “You can’t do that!” I have heard it many times.

Shalom.

PS. Fact is I AM too old to do that. But- heh, heh-you aren’t.

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By: Guy McPherson http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24296 Guy McPherson Fri, 28 Aug 2009 15:07:45 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24296 I appreciate your work, Sharon. I'm commenting for the first time. I've studied global climate change for two decades. I concluded nearly ten years ago that there is no politically viable solution. That leaves energy decline and the associated collapse of the industrial economy as the only hope for a planet habitable by humans. And, if the latest projections are anywhere close to accurate, the collapse better happen very quickly. In other words, I largely agree with Peter Kingsnorth on this issue. We're headed for far fewer humans on the planet, and it's much more humane -- for every culture and species on the planet, and ultimately for our own species -- if we get there quickly vs. slowly. A slow decline kills the living planet, and takes our species into the abyss. So, much as I appreciate George Monbiot's efforts, I cannot imagine a "steady-state" or "slow-decline" scenario that allows the persistence of our species beyond 2050 or so. I'm optimistic enough to believe we can bring down the industrial economy and therefore leave a few fragments of the living planet for the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren. The associated economic collapse will be painful for most industrial humans, and it might cause many of them to die. And I'll almost certainly be part of that group. Such are the consequences of ecological overshoot. I appreciate your work, Sharon. I’m commenting for the first time.

I’ve studied global climate change for two decades. I concluded nearly ten years ago that there is no politically viable solution. That leaves energy decline and the associated collapse of the industrial economy as the only hope for a planet habitable by humans. And, if the latest projections are anywhere close to accurate, the collapse better happen very quickly.

In other words, I largely agree with Peter Kingsnorth on this issue. We’re headed for far fewer humans on the planet, and it’s much more humane — for every culture and species on the planet, and ultimately for our own species — if we get there quickly vs. slowly. A slow decline kills the living planet, and takes our species into the abyss. So, much as I appreciate George Monbiot’s efforts, I cannot imagine a “steady-state” or “slow-decline” scenario that allows the persistence of our species beyond 2050 or so.

I’m optimistic enough to believe we can bring down the industrial economy and therefore leave a few fragments of the living planet for the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren. The associated economic collapse will be painful for most industrial humans, and it might cause many of them to die. And I’ll almost certainly be part of that group. Such are the consequences of ecological overshoot.

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By: Dean Robertson http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24293 Dean Robertson Fri, 28 Aug 2009 13:45:09 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24293 Sharon, There is a Way, ... to build a Future of PAHS Communities, that produce more, rather than consume more, energy in all of it's forms, eliminating Fossil Fuels, and the need for them. That Way, will provide employment for all, and result in, a much healthier population of all ages, eliminating the need of Insurance paid Health Care, and the Plethora of Doctors and Staff we do not need. Do you know of a way to reach President Barack Obama, to set up a Meeting to explain these Solutions ? Sharon,

There is a Way, … to build a Future of PAHS Communities, that produce more, rather than consume more, energy in all of it’s forms, eliminating Fossil Fuels, and the need for them.

That Way, will provide employment for all, and result in, a much healthier population of all ages, eliminating the need of Insurance paid Health Care, and the Plethora of Doctors and Staff we do not need.

Do you know of a way to reach President Barack Obama, to set up a Meeting to explain these Solutions ?

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By: Kassil http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24279 Kassil Thu, 27 Aug 2009 17:50:41 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24279 Sharon - you have pointed out here, in a different form, something that is a vital point of my philosophy: any set of data will look different depending on the grid you use to order it. It is why there are people who see no evidence of climate change, or resource depletion. It is why there are so many who see nothing of the countless millions who die of contaminated water but panic at the mention of each new wave of flu. It is why we have created a nation of incredible, if false, affluence, while being utterly bankrupt in so many ways - including in terms of genuine wealth. Reality is a naturally chaotic phenomenon. As has been observed by many, JMG being one of the more lucid to point it out, we tell ourselves stories to make sense out of the chaos. These two opposing lenses are just that - stories told to make sense of the chaotic mess of the world in which we dwell. That we all too often fail to recognize our stories for the tools that they are is one of our great failings as a species that claims to be sapient. The only way to make sense of it, in a way that will prepare us for the future that looks ever more likely, is to learn to use all the stories we have available to us. Monbiot's lens is vital to us because it reminds us of the very real tragedy that faces us, and impels us to wish to act, to step forward and face a struggle that may be unwinnable. Kingsnorth's lens is important, because it tells us we can both look back and forward to other times of trial; times when, despite the immense personal cost to individual people, humanity as a whole has persevered and survived odds much, much worse than our own; we have endured, as a species, events as monumental as the Toba supervolcano detonating. We are a survivor species. Even in the most dire of straits, we do not succumb. And there is a third lens, the one that I personally see in the narratives provided by Greer: the lens that shows us that the actions of individuals can impact the grand sweep of history. Consider his short string of stories, published a few years ago, about the lives of three people, in succession, who live through the fall of industrial civilization. True, these character don't save the world from sweeping climate change - but they do struggle through it, and endure, and bolster the lives of those around them, ensuring that people can still be there when the world they know slowly falls apart. Ensuring that there will be someone there to see tomorrow, for better or worse. There are many other lenses to be looked through, all of them useful in their own way; to communicate with a person, you need to understand the lens they use to perceive the world, or else - as is all too often the case at many debates these days - you will end up talking past each other, hearing the words but not the meanings behind them. That, I think, is the true downfall of Monbiot and Kingsnorth; neither understands the grid the other uses to order the chaos of the world, and so each of them sees discord where the other sees order. Sharon - you have pointed out here, in a different form, something that is a vital point of my philosophy: any set of data will look different depending on the grid you use to order it. It is why there are people who see no evidence of climate change, or resource depletion. It is why there are so many who see nothing of the countless millions who die of contaminated water but panic at the mention of each new wave of flu. It is why we have created a nation of incredible, if false, affluence, while being utterly bankrupt in so many ways - including in terms of genuine wealth.

Reality is a naturally chaotic phenomenon. As has been observed by many, JMG being one of the more lucid to point it out, we tell ourselves stories to make sense out of the chaos. These two opposing lenses are just that - stories told to make sense of the chaotic mess of the world in which we dwell. That we all too often fail to recognize our stories for the tools that they are is one of our great failings as a species that claims to be sapient.

The only way to make sense of it, in a way that will prepare us for the future that looks ever more likely, is to learn to use all the stories we have available to us. Monbiot’s lens is vital to us because it reminds us of the very real tragedy that faces us, and impels us to wish to act, to step forward and face a struggle that may be unwinnable.

Kingsnorth’s lens is important, because it tells us we can both look back and forward to other times of trial; times when, despite the immense personal cost to individual people, humanity as a whole has persevered and survived odds much, much worse than our own; we have endured, as a species, events as monumental as the Toba supervolcano detonating. We are a survivor species. Even in the most dire of straits, we do not succumb.

And there is a third lens, the one that I personally see in the narratives provided by Greer: the lens that shows us that the actions of individuals can impact the grand sweep of history. Consider his short string of stories, published a few years ago, about the lives of three people, in succession, who live through the fall of industrial civilization. True, these character don’t save the world from sweeping climate change - but they do struggle through it, and endure, and bolster the lives of those around them, ensuring that people can still be there when the world they know slowly falls apart. Ensuring that there will be someone there to see tomorrow, for better or worse.

There are many other lenses to be looked through, all of them useful in their own way; to communicate with a person, you need to understand the lens they use to perceive the world, or else - as is all too often the case at many debates these days - you will end up talking past each other, hearing the words but not the meanings behind them. That, I think, is the true downfall of Monbiot and Kingsnorth; neither understands the grid the other uses to order the chaos of the world, and so each of them sees discord where the other sees order.

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By: Jason http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24261 Jason Thu, 27 Aug 2009 08:58:34 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24261 Of course Greer understands what the Long Descent will mean to individuals, for goodness' sake. What are we all talking about here? What are we pussyfooting around, what's the elephant in the room? No-one will pay attention to me perched on the end of the thread here, so I will just say what I really think: I can't understand this conversation at all. How obvious can you get? It's all in what <b>Sharon</b> is saying: <i>There’s an old Jewish saying that one isn’t obligated to complete the work (of tikkun olam, the repair of the world) oneself, but neither is one free not to attempt it.</i> There's nothing more to say! What did people think they were doing here? Getting some kind of reward? Getting a 'better world'? Did people really think they were going to see a 'solution'? (As Greer says, predicaments don't have solutions.) <i>Why</i> did they think this, for heavens' sake? The most surprising people have the strangest ideas. Do what seems best, but the result is not known. Hope may fail or hope may not, but what option is there? Between what and what? Everyone has more than enough to do, just get on with it as best you can! There's no such thing as 'it turned out alright', there is only ever the next challenge. One must avoid what the Hermetics call 'lust of result'. You ruin everything by hedging your bets. Personally, as a Stoic, I think everyone should read Marcus Aurelius on things like this. But you can take your pick of sources. Now is the time when you see if you really had a religion, a spirituality, a philosophy. I guarantee, your favourite books have this in them somewhere. I grew up on fantasy authors, how about the mouse Reepicheep from C.S.Lewis' 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader', who is determined to reach the country of his god, Aslan -- <i>"While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise."</i> Are we all going to be outdone in our humanity by a mere talking mouse? It's not about what we get, it's about what we do. If there's no wonderful new society to be had, whatever the next best thing is which is morally possible, that is what we go for. Whatever <i>might</i> work, will it dispense with communities? No, we need communities. So <b>Sharon</b>'s idea of community action will be useful. Will it be 'enough'? Enough for what exactly? I don't get it, I really don't. As if a world coming 'swiftly to the brink of chaos' were any different from any other world as a basis for action! The moral imperative, the task of survival, and the necessity to proceed, remain as they are. The game hasn't changed in any way, 'doom' or no 'doom'. We don't know what will happen, but we know what we must do. It's not a lie to tell people, you're going to need to work as a community to grow your own food. It's true whether they will be killed by a hurricane tomorrow or not; it's as true as 2+2=4. Death happens; some consider it a disaster, and although I do not, I'm hardly hankering after being burned or starved in my final moments -- or weeks. But misery and illness will be upon us, as they have been throughout history. There are more of us now, more mistakes, and more misery. I don't see what that changes. The only way you couldn't see this is if you really believe the adverts are true -- the kind of commercial crap in <b>Sharon</b>'s latest post. But nobody still believes that do they? I often wonder why it's necessary to continue hating on that kind of thing, it's just the death throes of a monster, poor tired thing, let it die. Meanwhile, we have stuff to do. Of course Greer understands what the Long Descent will mean to individuals, for goodness’ sake. What are we all talking about here? What are we pussyfooting around, what’s the elephant in the room?

No-one will pay attention to me perched on the end of the thread here, so I will just say what I really think: I can’t understand this conversation at all.

How obvious can you get? It’s all in what Sharon is saying:

There’s an old Jewish saying that one isn’t obligated to complete the work (of tikkun olam, the repair of the world) oneself, but neither is one free not to attempt it.

There’s nothing more to say!

What did people think they were doing here? Getting some kind of reward? Getting a ‘better world’? Did people really think they were going to see a ’solution’? (As Greer says, predicaments don’t have solutions.) Why did they think this, for heavens’ sake? The most surprising people have the strangest ideas.

Do what seems best, but the result is not known. Hope may fail or hope may not, but what option is there? Between what and what? Everyone has more than enough to do, just get on with it as best you can! There’s no such thing as ‘it turned out alright’, there is only ever the next challenge. One must avoid what the Hermetics call ‘lust of result’. You ruin everything by hedging your bets.

Personally, as a Stoic, I think everyone should read Marcus Aurelius on things like this. But you can take your pick of sources. Now is the time when you see if you really had a religion, a spirituality, a philosophy. I guarantee, your favourite books have this in them somewhere.

I grew up on fantasy authors, how about the mouse Reepicheep from C.S.Lewis’ ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, who is determined to reach the country of his god, Aslan –

“While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

Are we all going to be outdone in our humanity by a mere talking mouse? It’s not about what we get, it’s about what we do.

If there’s no wonderful new society to be had, whatever the next best thing is which is morally possible, that is what we go for. Whatever might work, will it dispense with communities? No, we need communities. So Sharon’s idea of community action will be useful. Will it be ‘enough’? Enough for what exactly?

I don’t get it, I really don’t. As if a world coming ’swiftly to the brink of chaos’ were any different from any other world as a basis for action! The moral imperative, the task of survival, and the necessity to proceed, remain as they are. The game hasn’t changed in any way, ‘doom’ or no ‘doom’. We don’t know what will happen, but we know what we must do.

It’s not a lie to tell people, you’re going to need to work as a community to grow your own food. It’s true whether they will be killed by a hurricane tomorrow or not; it’s as true as 2+2=4. Death happens; some consider it a disaster, and although I do not, I’m hardly hankering after being burned or starved in my final moments — or weeks. But misery and illness will be upon us, as they have been throughout history. There are more of us now, more mistakes, and more misery. I don’t see what that changes.

The only way you couldn’t see this is if you really believe the adverts are true — the kind of commercial crap in Sharon’s latest post. But nobody still believes that do they?

I often wonder why it’s necessary to continue hating on that kind of thing, it’s just the death throes of a monster, poor tired thing, let it die. Meanwhile, we have stuff to do.

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By: Paul Kingsnorth http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24259 Paul Kingsnorth Thu, 27 Aug 2009 08:26:18 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24259 Thanks Sharon. I think there is actually a lot of agreement. I know George well, and our basic disagreement is about whether to 'fight' to keep the machine going or not; but even he doesn't see much hope in that. Rather, because he sees the alternative as 'giving up' and allowing mass death, he sees it as a moral imperative, even though it is likely to fail. I think this is common amongst greens - as you say, we have to lie to ourselves, because the alternative seems to be despair. How do we talk about this, you ask? It is a good question and I don't have the answer yet, but my new initiative, the Dark Mountain Project, is predicated on trying to work this out. I do think the first step is to stop lying to ourselves - to let go, because then we can be much more honest about where we really stand. And then the illusions fall away, and we can get busy; which is what you're doing, and I think your approach is impressive and right. But it all has to start with honesty. Thanks Sharon. I think there is actually a lot of agreement. I know George well, and our basic disagreement is about whether to ‘fight’ to keep the machine going or not; but even he doesn’t see much hope in that. Rather, because he sees the alternative as ‘giving up’ and allowing mass death, he sees it as a moral imperative, even though it is likely to fail.

I think this is common amongst greens - as you say, we have to lie to ourselves, because the alternative seems to be despair. How do we talk about this, you ask? It is a good question and I don’t have the answer yet, but my new initiative, the Dark Mountain Project, is predicated on trying to work this out. I do think the first step is to stop lying to ourselves - to let go, because then we can be much more honest about where we really stand. And then the illusions fall away, and we can get busy; which is what you’re doing, and I think your approach is impressive and right. But it all has to start with honesty.

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By: RudolfC http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24242 RudolfC Wed, 26 Aug 2009 19:22:24 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24242 A parenthesis: here's John Michael Greer from the comments to his latest post "Betting on the Rust Belt." "The fall of a civilization is like a forest fire; it plays no favorites, and the fact that the forest may be healthier afterwards is probably not much consolation to those who get burnt to death." So I think he understands what the Long Descent looks like from an individual perspective. A parenthesis: here’s John Michael Greer from the comments to his latest post “Betting on the Rust Belt.” “The fall of a civilization is like a forest fire; it plays no favorites, and the fact that the forest may be healthier afterwards is probably not much consolation to those who get burnt to death.” So I think he understands what the Long Descent looks like from an individual perspective.

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By: dewey http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24240 dewey Wed, 26 Aug 2009 19:00:52 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24240 Sharon - it's been noted we could get to 1 billion population in 100 yrs w/ no higher death rates if everyone had only 1 child. Yet if you predict much less admit to wishing for that number, you'll be accused of wanting 5.5 billion bodies in the streets. Impossible to know whether you're talking about apocalypse, paradise, or just incremental change unless you make up some demographic stats as shared hypothetical frame of reference. Brad K - It's true that basic public health does the most for life expectancy - however, death rates in post-Soviet Russia did go way up. A lot more men drank themselves to death, for one thing. Sharon - it’s been noted we could get to 1 billion population in 100 yrs w/ no higher death rates if everyone had only 1 child. Yet if you predict much less admit to wishing for that number, you’ll be accused of wanting 5.5 billion bodies in the streets. Impossible to know whether you’re talking about apocalypse, paradise, or just incremental change unless you make up some demographic stats as shared hypothetical frame of reference.

Brad K - It’s true that basic public health does the most for life expectancy - however, death rates in post-Soviet Russia did go way up. A lot more men drank themselves to death, for one thing.

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By: Russ http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24231 Russ Wed, 26 Aug 2009 16:36:46 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24231 Sharon says: <i>For some years, for example, I’ve been arguing that climate activists need to get over the idea that dealing with climate change wouldn’t hurt our economy - that that’s a lie, almost always based on figures that don’t even approach what needs doing. I take a fair bit of heat for this - and usually with the tacit acknowledgment that I’m almost certainly right, but we can’t *say* it. I keep saying we can, that we can talk sacrifice and cost for future benefits, but I’ve yet to persuade much of anyone ;-), and I know why they say no. So what is your proposition for how to talk about this, and still get the coal plants shut down? </i> I'm no green cornucopian myself, and I've long believed that even if real carbon mitigation and green transformation projects were/are possible on paper, that they simply will not be done as a political matter. So although I've only recently encountered Paul's ideas, from what I've read it looks like we're in concord. (I just recently read the Dark Mountain Manifesto, having been attracted by the shared love of Robinson Jeffers, long my favorite poet. I found the manifesto to express many of the same things I've long thought about.) But if you believe this kind of political action can still be taken, I confess I don't understand your objection to what looks to me to be a normal political argument. If I recall correctly, you didn't make <i>moral</i> objections to political action, saying that climate activists have to fight with one hand tied behind their backs because they're supposed to be better than the obstructionists in every imaginable way. Rather, yours was a practical objection that climate activists would be politically punished if promises about green jobs or whatever never panned out. I guess I just fail to see how there's any kind of penalty in American politics for this kind of thing. (And although I agree with you that any kind of green cornucopian outcome is highly unlikely, I suppose it's not <i>impossible</i>. If one believes in the political possiblity of any real Change on this, then it's not so much of a stretch to believe in the physical possibility as well. So it wouldn't even be a lie, in case anybody did have moral scruples about it.) Though like I said, my own inclination is to find the spirit and aesthetic in a more spartan ideal, so I'm not the target audience for all this business about keeping "growth" going anyway. Sharon says:

For some years, for example, I’ve been arguing that climate activists need to get over the idea that dealing with climate change wouldn’t hurt our economy - that that’s a lie, almost always based on figures that don’t even approach what needs doing. I take a fair bit of heat for this - and usually with the tacit acknowledgment that I’m almost certainly right, but we can’t *say* it. I keep saying we can, that we can talk sacrifice and cost for future benefits, but I’ve yet to persuade much of anyone ;-), and I know why they say no. So what is your proposition for how to talk about this, and still get the coal plants shut down?

I’m no green cornucopian myself, and I’ve long believed that even if real carbon mitigation and green transformation projects were/are possible on paper, that they simply will not be done as a political matter.

So although I’ve only recently encountered Paul’s ideas, from what I’ve read it looks like we’re in concord. (I just recently read the Dark Mountain Manifesto, having been attracted by the shared love of Robinson Jeffers, long my favorite poet. I found the manifesto to express many of the same things I’ve long thought about.)

But if you believe this kind of political action can still be taken, I confess I don’t understand your objection to what looks to me to be a normal political argument.

If I recall correctly, you didn’t make moral objections to political action, saying that climate activists have to fight with one hand tied behind their backs because they’re supposed to be better than the obstructionists in every imaginable way.

Rather, yours was a practical objection that climate activists would be politically punished if promises about green jobs or whatever never panned out.

I guess I just fail to see how there’s any kind of penalty in American politics for this kind of thing.

(And although I agree with you that any kind of green cornucopian outcome is highly unlikely, I suppose it’s not impossible. If one believes in the political possiblity of any real Change on this, then it’s not so much of a stretch to believe in the physical possibility as well. So it wouldn’t even be a lie, in case anybody did have moral scruples about it.)

Though like I said, my own inclination is to find the spirit and aesthetic in a more spartan ideal, so I’m not the target audience for all this business about keeping “growth” going anyway.

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By: Sharon http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24229 Sharon Wed, 26 Aug 2009 15:50:32 +0000 http://sharonastyk.com/2009/08/25/superheroes-to-the-rescue/#comment-24229 Paul, thanks so much for commenting - I'm enormously flattered by your taking the time. I am, of course, an admirer of your work, but despite my quibbling here, that sort of goes without saying. I'm really glad you and George had this conversation. I think I would distinguish slightly (or perhaps this isn't fair, it can be so hard to get down to actual attitudes in analysis) between "truth and optimism" and "professional optimism" - this isn't to imply that Monbiot is lying, I don't think he is - all of us come to different conclusions about the viability of solutions, and I feel like Monbiot's attempt at making viable his solution - so acutely, brilliantly and numerically problematically (I suspect I've just fallen into some kind of grammar wormhole with that last sentence, but I'll leave it ;-)) is one of the most heroic things I've seen. I also think it fails even at 450 ppm. I think the problem with professional optimism is that if you do it truthfully, there are things you can't say even to yourself. Now I have no idea what Monbiot's inner life is like -there are too many other opaque things in the universe for me to worry about it much, nor do I want to over-personalize this; but I can say it was personally very trying for me to get to the point of talking the kind of truth you seem fairly ok about (and that's not an implied attack, lest it seem so). Being a professional optimist and not a liar is a hard job - and there are things you can't permit yourself to think. Or maybe I'm wrong, and it is possible, just very difficult, and with little evidence. I'm still working out in my head what I want to say about the middle ground - because of course, in the worst scenarios of climate change (and I do not mean to imply here that they are inevitable, merely that they are disturbingly possible), there really isn't any middle ground - that is, billions die no matter what we do. It may be, as you observe, that this is outside the category of things we can do anything about, but it strikes me that if there is anything that can be done about it, we're pretty much obligated to try, above all other projects. Even if we fail. There's an old Jewish saying that one isn't obligated to complete the work (of tikkun olam, the repair of the world) oneself, but neither is one free not to attempt it. I guess what I didn't see in your exchange is how to talk about this - yes, I agree that maybe the language of giving up is wrong - but what language do you propose? I find myself constantly dancing with the dangers of acknowledging even truth in ways that seem to free up the opposition - how do we balance the political realities? For some years, for example, I've been arguing that climate activists need to get over the idea that dealing with climate change wouldn't hurt our economy - that that's a lie, almost always based on figures that don't even approach what needs doing. I take a fair bit of heat for this - and usually with the tacit acknowledgment that I'm almost certainly right, but we can't *say* it. I keep saying we can, that we can talk sacrifice and cost for future benefits, but I've yet to persuade much of anyone ;-), and I know why they say no. So what is your proposition for how to talk about this, and still get the coal plants shut down? My own body of work, of course, takes the approach that there is a middle thing (a la Kevin Kline in _A Fish Called Wanda_), but I'm not sure I think it is an easy or viable one - that is, instead of Monbiot's project of trying to find a way to keep the world going defanged, or simply getting ready for the apocali ;-), perhaps it is possible to find a way of life that has a chance at preventing the worst outcomes and also works if we're all screwed. I tend to think it may even be possible to aestheticize and attract a substantial population to the idea on grounds different than the ones either of you propose in this, obviously, very short exchange. But I am, as they say, not holding my breath. I guess I'd have to say that we probably agree much more than this essay suggests - and my guess is that if we could get a beer somewhere, we'd find that Monbiot agrees mostly with both of us. In fact, I don't know a single person who does this work who mostly doesn't have the same perspective - we're probably seriously fucked, things are going to change radically whether we like it or not, and we probably aren't going to do enough in time. So acknowledging that, we need to figure out what to say and do, and how. More on this soon, but thank you again for replying - I really appreciate it. Sharon Paul, thanks so much for commenting - I’m enormously flattered by your taking the time. I am, of course, an admirer of your work, but despite my quibbling here, that sort of goes without saying. I’m really glad you and George had this conversation.

I think I would distinguish slightly (or perhaps this isn’t fair, it can be so hard to get down to actual attitudes in analysis) between “truth and optimism” and “professional optimism” - this isn’t to imply that Monbiot is lying, I don’t think he is - all of us come to different conclusions about the viability of solutions, and I feel like Monbiot’s attempt at making viable his solution - so acutely, brilliantly and numerically problematically (I suspect I’ve just fallen into some kind of grammar wormhole with that last sentence, but I’ll leave it ;-)) is one of the most heroic things I’ve seen. I also think it fails even at 450 ppm. I think the problem with professional optimism is that if you do it truthfully, there are things you can’t say even to yourself. Now I have no idea what Monbiot’s inner life is like -there are too many other opaque things in the universe for me to worry about it much, nor do I want to over-personalize this; but I can say it was personally very trying for me to get to the point of talking the kind of truth you seem fairly ok about (and that’s not an implied attack, lest it seem so). Being a professional optimist and not a liar is a hard job - and there are things you can’t permit yourself to think. Or maybe I’m wrong, and it is possible, just very difficult, and with little evidence.

I’m still working out in my head what I want to say about the middle ground - because of course, in the worst scenarios of climate change (and I do not mean to imply here that they are inevitable, merely that they are disturbingly possible), there really isn’t any middle ground - that is, billions die no matter what we do. It may be, as you observe, that this is outside the category of things we can do anything about, but it strikes me that if there is anything that can be done about it, we’re pretty much obligated to try, above all other projects. Even if we fail. There’s an old Jewish saying that one isn’t obligated to complete the work (of tikkun olam, the repair of the world) oneself, but neither is one free not to attempt it.

I guess what I didn’t see in your exchange is how to talk about this - yes, I agree that maybe the language of giving up is wrong - but what language do you propose? I find myself constantly dancing with the dangers of acknowledging even truth in ways that seem to free up the opposition - how do we balance the political realities? For some years, for example, I’ve been arguing that climate activists need to get over the idea that dealing with climate change wouldn’t hurt our economy - that that’s a lie, almost always based on figures that don’t even approach what needs doing. I take a fair bit of heat for this - and usually with the tacit acknowledgment that I’m almost certainly right, but we can’t *say* it. I keep saying we can, that we can talk sacrifice and cost for future benefits, but I’ve yet to persuade much of anyone ;-), and I know why they say no. So what is your proposition for how to talk about this, and still get the coal plants shut down?

My own body of work, of course, takes the approach that there is a middle thing (a la Kevin Kline in _A Fish Called Wanda_), but I’m not sure I think it is an easy or viable one - that is, instead of Monbiot’s project of trying to find a way to keep the world going defanged, or simply getting ready for the apocali ;-), perhaps it is possible to find a way of life that has a chance at preventing the worst outcomes and also works if we’re all screwed. I tend to think it may even be possible to aestheticize and attract a substantial population to the idea on grounds different than the ones either of you propose in this, obviously, very short exchange. But I am, as they say, not holding my breath.

I guess I’d have to say that we probably agree much more than this essay suggests - and my guess is that if we could get a beer somewhere, we’d find that Monbiot agrees mostly with both of us. In fact, I don’t know a single person who does this work who mostly doesn’t have the same perspective - we’re probably seriously fucked, things are going to change radically whether we like it or not, and we probably aren’t going to do enough in time. So acknowledging that, we need to figure out what to say and do, and how.

More on this soon, but thank you again for replying - I really appreciate it.

Sharon

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