Thursday, July 18

A Happy Pessimist

This is the place I have chosen to watch the world end, and as far as I am concerned, it is not a bad choice.

Yes, I know that sounds more than a little melodramatic, but I’d like to think I’m being more of a realist instead.

In a nutshell, I know how lucky I am, though at the end of the day I don’t have much hope for the future.

Sure, I realize that up to this point the debate –if it can even be called that– surrounding the issue of climate change has been focused mostly on the question of whether or not the thing is real –it is– how much –or little– time we have left to turn this thing around, and whether or not the scientists that are desperately trying to sound the alarm are overreacting to the whole thing… if things are really as bad as they say they are. What you don’t hear much about, at least not in the mainstream media, is the possibility that the situation could actually be much worse than we think, that, if anything, those scientists may actually be underestimating the threat. What you don’t hear much about is the possibility that the time to act is not now, it was fifty years ago, and we have already sped past the edge of the cliff, it’s just that –like cartoon characters– we haven’t actually looked down, not yet.

I think most would agree that such an outlook would make me into a pessimist, and yet, as I mentioned above, I consider myself incredibly lucky.

Personally I am near the half-century mark. That puts me closer to my expiration date than to the date of manufacture, and I suspect mine is the last generation that, at least in some places, can look forward to dying peacefully in its own bed. That is not a luxury we can afford to take for granted, not any more. I have no children, and I have made my peace with what is to come. No, I’m not looking forward to it, nor am I indifferent to the world my generation is going to leave behind. I try to do my bit to minimize the damage –I don’t own a car, I eat locally grown food whenever possible, I try to generate as little waste as I can, and so on– but at the same time I refuse to obsess over it.

My father is fast approaching eighty. He lives half a world –to say nothing of an ocean– away, so yes, I do fly every now and then, and I do so without guilt. I am not a vegan or even a vegetarian, and I don’t intend to become one, not if I can possibly avoid it, but I do believe in treating livestock humanely for as long as it is on this earth. On the other hand, if I want a jar of Nutella, I get myself a jar of Nutella. Yes, I know it is an atrocious choice as far as the environment is concerned, that palm oil plantations are devastating our last few remaining rainforests, and the orangutans are dying, to say nothing of the carbon footprint required to get it to my local grocery store, or how bad the blasted thing is for both my health and my waistline. Believe me, I have heard it all before, but I am going to die anyway –we all are, with or without climate change– and while I am not indifferent to the orangutans’ plight, I am convinced they have even less time than we do, that enough feedback loops have already been triggered that the most we can do is prolong their agony. Whether it will be deforestation or climate change that does those rainforests in, it doesn’t really matter. One way or another, they are doomed, so why quibble about the details.

Is this a selfish attitude? Maybe, but I’m not too keen on burying my head in the sand, and I’m so done with virtue signaling anyway.

I don’t see the point in spending a fortune on an electric vehicle when less than 15% of electricity production in the United States comes from renewable sources. That means that all those highly touted –and ridiculously expensive– electric vehicles are doing is… pollute elsewhere, where you don’t see it, and where people are unlikely to be able to afford such luxuries. Think of what their batteries entail.

Now, I do realize that there is a growing pressure to change that, that the technology exists to solve at least part of the problem, and that we have to start somewhere, but a partial solution is not going to get us anywhere. To solve the problem we would have to freeze global inequality in place… and even if the technology did exist, there would be no way most third world countries would be able to afford it. But let me play the optimist here for once (not exactly my strong suit, see the title of this post if you don’t believe me), and pretend that the technological solutions have suddenly become available.

Even if the developed nations of the world were to decide that subsidizing the deployment of these solutions out of the kindness of their collective hearts –rather than using them to further bury their developing counterparts under a mountain of unpayable debt– was actually in their best interest, there is still the matter of the time it would take for those technological solutions to be deployed, and the fact that, in order to do that, you would need something remotely resembling a functioning state apparatus in place, but given the way things are going I suspect it won’t be long before governments begin failing in something akin to a chain reaction, a reaction that is likely to begin in the most vulnerable regions, and once that happens deploying those solutions would go from hard to downright impossible.

That’s why I say I am one of the lucky ones. I am old enough to have some hope of dying in my own bed, and even if I don’t, I’ve had a good run up to this point; I have no children to worry about (when it comes to this one, cats and dogs don’t count, you can thank their much shorter lifespans for that); when given a choice with regards to the question of where to live, I chose a place I think has more of a future than most; I am doing my best to enjoy the time I have left without inflicting too much damage on our planet; and I have made my peace with what I know is to come, but I also know that when it comes to doing that I am the exception rather than the rule.

Most people don’t have a choice. Most people grow where they are planted. They go through life clinging to the certainty that there will actually be a tomorrow because the alternative is unthinkable. They get up in the morning, go to work, come home, go to bed, and prepare to do it all over again the following day. Most people don’t want to confront the fact that it may already be too late, so they hang on to their optimism, to their habits and their routines, or they bury their heads in the sand, pretending that the bogeyman isn’t even real, that there is no monster lurking under their beds. They talk themselves into believing that if they give up this or that small comfort –be it Nutella or plastic straws– everything will be okay… that they can actually make a difference because, for all their pessimism, the scientists keep telling them that it’s not too late, that there is still time, that there is still something they can do, and that is an easier concept for them to wrap their minds around.

That is their prerogative.

As for me, I do my best to enjoy my life, simple as it is. I seek pleasure within reason, I try to do no harm, and then I go out and watch the sunset, rejoicing in the fact that I am still alive. It is enough.

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