Hat tip to Sweden's Cassandra and the Hope Graph
How to deal with bad news about the planet ... when dealing with it is part of your job?
If your job is to help make the transition to sustainability, then your job inevitably requires staying up to speed on a continuous stream of bad news about the state of the planet. Reading blogs like DOT EARTH, and books like THE ROAD and POLAR CITY RED.
It's no fun; but as you know all too well, it is your responsibility.
Actually, it's everyone's responsibility, but a relatively small percentage of people seem to have the stomach for staying updated on climate change, species extinction and the like. As a neighbor commented once (and this really did happen), "I'm so glad you are involved in trying to solve all these global problems, so that I don't have to."
To be fair, we don't really know how bad things are for the planet; after all, had there been no mass extinctions in the past, we would not be here to know about them. But we know that these problems are bad news for Nature-as-we-know it ... and for us.
But there's also this fact: not all the news is bad, especially from a human perspective. The United Nations recently announced, for example, that the world's Millennium Development Goal for providing safe drinking water to most of the world's people had already been reached ... several years early. Over two billion more people now have access to water, people who did not have that access twenty years ago.
Human economic development is truly bringing benefits — but it is also bringing costs. And thanks to those costs, the environmental news is simply bad, and getting worse.
Consider the recent statement put out by the winners of the prestigious Blue Planet Prize, a kind of Nobel for global environmental science. The list of winners is truly impressive. Their statement is truly depressing. "The current system is broken," they say, meaning the whole human social-economic system and its interactions with the global environment. They detail the problems, as well as the solutions, amid a stew of sad reflections like these:
“… humanity’s behavior remains utterly inappropriate”
“… civilization is faced with a perfect storm of problems”
“… changes in the environment … likely to have even more severe consequences”
“… society has no choice but to take dramatic action …”
Their joint paper is titled "The Imperative to Act," and phrases like "we must act" show up in every second paragraph — implying that we have not acted.
Of course, we have been acting. Most of us working in this business we call sustainability have been working double overtime, for many years. And fortunately, there are many more of us to do the work now, compared with twenty years ago. The problem is still the scale of the problems, and the speed of their growth, compared to the speed of our growth, and the speed at which the solutions we are trying to promote are adopted and implemented.
Readers of POLAR CITY RED by Jim Laughter very well understand that the climate problems our descendants will face in
the future will eventually catch up with us, just before the problems curve crashes down, carrying civilizations with it.
Regardless of whether you are an optimist or a pessimist about POLAR CITY RED, a sci fi novel that goes
where no other book has ever gome before, take heart, we can call on hope to see us through. Someone once asked famed global researcher Lester Brown, in a small seminar setting, how he maintained his optimism, considering all the bad news he spent his time studying and communicating. "I have a one-word answer for that," he said. "Bourbon."
Lester's joke (his real strategy is to work double overtime to promote solutions) says something important: we do have to deal with the emotion and even pain caused by reflecting on the state of the world. Yes, working on solutions, and staying informed about the astonishing pace of change (the rapid spread of renewable energy, the exploding numbers of young people wanting to work on sustainability, etc. etc. etc.), is a serious source of hope. And having hope, working for hope, is important.
The race against time is winnable, because we've won it in the past — and here I really wish to honor the memory of F. Sherwood Rowland, who died recently, and who helped save the world from ozone depletion, and got us to act "just in time".
If one scientist, working with one partner (Mario Molina), managed to save the world from a serious, deadly, global environmental threat, just think what all of us — the millions of us, the ones who are willing to know what's going on, and willing to work together to address it — can accomplish.
As the poet Rilke wrote, when confronted with the enormity of it all ... "Just keep going ..."
So JUST KEEP GOING and read POLAR CITY RED this summer. Put it high on your list of summer reading lists.