Common humanity and universal responsibility link us. But much of the time we act as if this is not the case — we are in denial as individuals and societies. In the past, our denial harmed those whose plight we ignored. Today it harms everyone, which is why we, the deniers, can no longer afford it — if, indeed, we ever could.
Margaret Somerville, The Ethical Imagination, CBC Massey Lectures, 2006, p.1
And then there’s Germanwatch’s Climate Change Performance Index that currently places Canada 52nd out of the world’s 58 top CO2 emitting nations, in a ranking that evaluates and compares the climate protection performance for the nations that are collectively responsible for more than 90 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions…
…That puts us behind both China and the US, a somewhat ironic fact not lost on researchers with the Sustainability and Education Policy Network who’ve recently published their findings on climate change and Canadian post-secondary institutions…
In the representative sampling of 50 institutions, the key findings are telling: less than half (44 per cent) have climate change-specific policies in place; those policies focus most often upon the built-campus environment with “underdeveloped secondary responses” to research, curriculum, community outreach and governance policies; and the “overwhelming” response of modifying infrastructure and curbing energy consumption and pollution, while important, risks masking deeper social and cultural dynamics which require addressing.
From “The politics of climate change“, CAUT Bulletin, June 2017.
If ours is the Information Age, it is not the first. A “quantifying spirit” swept the educated classes of 18th century Europe, too, as they confronted the hyperabundance of data in an increasingly globalized world. Explorers were returning from distant lands with new bytes of information — logs, maps, specimens — while, back home, Europeans turned natural history into a leisure pursuit. Hobbyists combed the fields for flowers to press and butterflies to pin. Scientists and philosophers sought rational modes of description, classification, and analysis — in other words, systematicity.
That age belonged to Carl Linnaeus, whose methods we still use to name new species. (Swedish botanist, zoologist, physician: what box should we put him in?) Linnaean classification proved a “godsend to naturalists at sea in the quantity of their own discoveries,” but that was just the start; its “rationality and practicality gave it entrée everywhere.” Researchers applied its systematic logic to the study of everything from chemicals and diseases to machines and algebraic forms.
The craze reached its height, as ours does, with a most protean subject: clouds
Shannon Mattern, “Cloud and Field,” Places Journal, August 2016. Accessed 05 Sep 2016. <https://placesjournal.org/article/cloud-and-field/>
Alex Steffen—a futurist known for authoring Worldchanging among other sustainability work—is launching a documentary series called The Heroic Future. On the one hand, I am entirely on board with any exercise to imagine different futures, especially given the current paucity of positive scenarios that climate change presents us with. On the other hand, the language here gives me a great deal of pause. I don’t think anything resembling heroism is going to solve our problems or lead us into a new, sustainable future. If anything, we need healers not heroes, people who can adapt and evolve, who can assist others in need. Heroism is far too tainted by toxic masculinity and hubris to be of use to us now. If we’re going to imagine a better future, we’re going to have to start by imagining better models than the tragic hero.
Among the books I turn to again and again is The Comedy of Survival in which Joseph Meeker presents two modes for being in the world: the tragic mode, in which our hero tries to change the world in his (and it’s always his) own image, and the comic mode, in which a motley crew of men and women adapt to their environment, never quite succeeding in getting exactly what they want, but managing to get by nonetheless. Tragedies always end with the hero’s head carted off the stage; comedies end in weddings. Let’s imagine a comedic future instead of a heroic one.
from “The comedic future, 4.3 light years, never read the comments: A working letter” (Tiny Letter)
This spoke to me as I live in a city in which one of its leading environmentalist now is in charge of a golf course. You have to laugh if just to keep from crying.
The Comedy of Survival: Literary Ecology and a Play Ethic is OOP (out of print) and so I’m ordering it via Interlibrary Loan.
“What difference would it make” is at the core of his philosophy, which was practical, or pragmatic, in its concern for what the consequences of a belief are rather than what its truth is. That is to say, most philosophy is geared toward finding out the existing condition of things. James focused instead on how beliefs shape the world. Rather than ask whether or not God existed, James might try to ascertain what difference belief in God would make to how you live your life or how a society conducts itself. What is the consequence of the belief, rather than the truth of it? It is a deeply American approach, directed toward the malleability rather than the immutability of the world, toward what we make of it, rather than what it is made of. This aspect of Jame’s philosophy is sometimes misinterpreted as a kind of easy solipsism akin to the contemporary New Age motion that we each create our reality (a crass way of overlooking culture, politics, and economics — that is, realities are made, but by groups, movements, ideologies, religions, societies, economics, and more, as well as natural forces, over long stretches of time, not by individuals alone).
Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disasters, 2009