Hoping From Ignorance

People vary greatly in their beliefs about the ongoing destruction of the ecosystem and the future of our species.

Optimists point out that humans are extremely adaptable, and have managed to live in a wide variety of climates; from this the optimists conclude that a few people will survive no matter what. The “mainstream” news focuses on flooded coastal cities in the year 2100, but that suggests we still have plenty of time to move inland.

Pessimists talk about the tipping points, feedback loops, and cascading failures, which are about to speed up the destruction enormously. (That’s understated in the “mainstream” news.) Some predictions include food shortages by 2023 and human extinction by 2026. Guy McPherson, one of the most famous pessimists, preaches a philosophy of hospice: As we’re all about to die, let’s try to be nice to one another; hug your kids.

Uncertainty lies between the extremes, and it is necessary for action. After all, if you’re quite certain that we’re going to survive or quite certain that we’re not going to survive, then you needn’t bother to try to affect the outcome. You might as well just sit in the bleachers, eat popcorn, and watch as events unfold. But if you’re uncertain, then you might believe that your efforts might make a difference.

The word “hope” has taken on two entirely different, nearly opposite meanings:

  • Anti-hope people define “hope” to be the belief that someone else will fix things somehow. This kind of hope is a justification for inaction. Therefore hope is the enemy; it must be abolished.
  • Pro-hope people define “hope” to be the belief that our efforts have some possibility of success, that we might be able to fix things somehow. This kind of hope is a justification for action. Therefore hope is something we need; it must be encouraged.

Personally, I am uncertain, but hopeful in the pro-hope sense of the word. I apply that to all of us. We are all called upon to act, to do what we can, to help out our species in this time of need.

I am a pessimist, though an uncertain one. I read about the tipping points, feedback loops, and cascading failures; our chances do not look good. Where do I find any hope? Ironically, I find it in our ignorance. Look around, and it’s clear that most of us probably will live at least a few more months, and possibly a few more years. And we do not know, and cannot know, what the biologists and engineers are about to discover in those few months or years. Perhaps they’ll discover a way to save us. Probably not, but it’s possible.

But most of us are not biologists or engineers. What is this “action” that we are “all called upon” to take? I would suggest three kinds of political actions:

1. Obviously, campaign for more research funding for the biologists and engineers.

2. Join one of the many organizations of climate activists. Campaign for the things they’ve been campaigning for. Phase out fossil fuels. Switch to a vegan diet. Stop repairing roads, and build mass transit instead. More mirrors and white paint. End the military, which has an enormous carbon footprint. And so on. Do not be fooled by greenwashing, i.e., corporate money-making schemes made to look like they will help sustainability.

3. We’ve been campaigning for decades, but it’s falling on deaf ears. Governments are consistently doing too little, too late. That’s because they keep taking bribes from the fossil fuel industry. The rich and powerful are quite mad: They cannot plan for the future, because they must compete against each other for the short-term private profits keeping them in power for another day. Gilens and Page proved statistically that, regardless of elections, government policies follow the wishes of the rich. Money finds its way through or around legislation as surely as water finds a path down a hill. We will only end rule by the wealthy class when we no longer have a wealthy class; that will require a different economic system. Thus, I am convinced that to save our species, we must END CAPITALISM, and to do that we must spread an understanding of the need to end capitalism.

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2022 Nov 18, version 3.03. (Original version July 2022.)







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