I keep turning this problem — the problem of climate change — over and over in my head. The problem, for me specifically, is two-fold:
First, it’s so easy to fall into despair. The problem feels so big, and I am a single individual. My actions, on their own, make no perceptible difference one way or the other. Act or don’t act, and it will make no difference. It all feels very Kierkegaardian:
Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it; weep over them, you will also regret it; if you laugh at the world’s follies or if you weep over them, you will regret both; whether you laugh at the world’s follies or you weep over them, you will regret both.Either/Or
Second, I live in a place where people often find the rhetoric around climate change to be hogwash at best, and a government/liberal conspiracy to take away individual freedoms at worst. This means that the discussion quickly devolves from discussing the scientific consensus that the earth’s environment is changing to non-rational arguments that lead to increased polarization and anger.
What is the solution to this problem? I still think it’s simply this: a better story. We’re in an interesting time right now in the West. There are good, amazing things happening — poverty and violence and crime are all, in general, on the decline. We are also in a radical transition — no shared values, shared culture, shared maps of meaning. We need to find some way to gain a baseline together, and that baseline must have something to do with who we are, what the world is, and where we want to go. I have hope that such a thing is possible, but it requires us all to sort of “let go” of our need to be right in conversation with our neighbors, and a willingness to be charitable about where others are at and what they
Elaine is actually pretty far ahead of me on this. A few weeks ago, she and a friend were conversing when the topic of the environment came up. I’m paraphrasing here, but the conversation went something like this:
Friend: Wait, you’re not one of those people that believes in climate change, are you?
Elaine: Actually, I don’t view our decisions as being related to climate change at all. It’s not really about that for me, it’s about taking care of the world that we have been given, treating it like a gift, and being good stewards of creation.
Friend: …Huh. I never really thought of it that way
I can tell you this — my response would not have been as wise or calm as Elaine’s. Because I’m so heavily invested in the reality of what climate change could mean for our very near future, I’m rarely willing to give ground on this conversation. But the reality is, for people like our friend, they may never be interested in “saving the climate.” What may convince them instead is an expanded imagination about what our responsibility as humans towards this gift is.