How to deal with impending climate disaster

I previously talked about how to not get too depressed about climate change. But there are other responses in the face of the coming ecopocalypse.

The climate emergency is not the first time in history that many people think the world will end soon. In 1954 a UFO cult around the Chigaco house wife Dorothy Martin expected to be saved by a flying saucer to escape the coming world-consuming flood. When the flood didn’t happen and the Aliens from the planet Clarion didn’t show up, Martin simply changed the message to the effect that their prayers had saved the planet from destruction.

The incredible story has been well-documented in the study “When prophecy fails”.
It’s a classic example of cognitive dissonance, the feeling of psychological stress, when two conflicting beliefs cannot be resolved.

The news = bad news

I basically stopped reading news for the last few years. This is a precaution for my mental health. If something really important happens, people will be talking about it, and I will hear about it.

One topic I have been avoiding especially is climate change. Apart from the research for this newsletter I have not stayed on top of the latest developments. After reading Bill McKibben’s 2012 article in the Rolling stone that 1.5°C warning is already too much and we should wage war against fossil fuel companies things started to get tense. The latest 2018 report of the IPCC clarified that we need to bring global emissions to zero by 2050 to get to 1.5°C was another very depressing development. Too bad our emissions are still rising.

The reality became a bit hard to bear.

Just switching all energy production to wind and solar is physically almost impossible. Michael Liebreich illustrated that in his Bloomberg column: “If your plan to deliver a 20% or 45% emission reduction in the electrical sector – targeting 2 degrees Celsius or 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming respectively – is via wind and solar alone, assuming some moderate level of economic growth, you would have to add two to four times as much capacity in the next decade as has been added in total in the last two decades.”

And then we are still not safe. Germany produced 50% of its electricity from renewables this year so far, but our emissions are still not going down fast enough.
The only thing that really brought emissions to a grinding halt happened between 1940-1945, and I am very sure we don’t want to go there again.

That’s also just the power generation part of the problem. There are plenty of other levers, where we are not doing nearly as much as in the power generation sector. Planting trees for example. Or are they bad for the climate?

What to do with that knowledge?

So however you like to spin it, it is very unlikely that we can get out of this mess without some really bad things happening. I will spare you all the possible scenarios, it’s best not to think about all the terrible stuff.

Or is it?

From what I can see there are a few ways to deal with the impending doom. And the human mind can be very creative, as we saw with the UFO cult. I have categorised them broadly into three categories.
They are informed by Jem Bendell’s article and my own explorations.

Do something

  • Activist – Protest and try to influence politics
  • Individual footprint – this goes all the way from becoming a hermit to eating no meat, to switching electricity providers
  • Career focus – change careers to work on “solutions”

Wait and prepare

  • The Prepper – spectrum from focussing on learning useful survival skills to “bunker in the forest”
  • Together we are strong – Establish or join a community of like-minded people

Do nothing

  • Blissful ignorance – focus on everyday problems and not look too far into the future
  • Emotional self-care – focus on individual mental health and support in the face of tragic ecological collapse
  • Enlightened ignorance – being fully aware of the necessity of change but deciding against it
  • Hedonistic overconsumption – focus on travel and consumption while it is still cheap and accessible: the “fuck the future” response
  • Discussion hell – talk about climate change with everyone still listening
  • Climate denier – actively deny it  (the cognitive dissonance response)

My own strategy

My personal impression of the majority is that most people are either in “Blissful ignorance” or “Enlightened ignorance” mode, either out of survival necessity or sheer panic at the scale of the problem and the lack of easy solutions. I don’t blame anyone. Not even my parents.

In the end, individual responses are different according to our circumstances and might even be a mix of the above.

My preference is to live in a way that, if all the doom predictions turn out not to be as horrible as we thought, I still learned new things and had a good time. And if they are worse than expected, well, we need adaptive solutions anyway because there is no single right way.

For the last couple of years I was a “gentle prepper”. Learning how to grow food and process it is never a bad investment of time. It is cultivating freedom. And if it helps me to reduce my footprint, that’s just brilliant.

I also changed my career to something less destructive and potentially beneficial for the environment. And of course I am trying to keep my individual footprint as small as possible. My main mode of transport is the bicycle, I never owned a car (not even an electric one), I try and take the train for all necessary long-distance travel, I eat no meat (have a read of my diet recommendations here), I buy used clothing, books and furniture.

I am also looking for a community to join forces with and maybe start something special together. Let me know if you are interested!

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