Zoe Williams writes: When it looked like the news couldn’t get any worse, it did: worse in a way that dwarfed our petty elections and clueless, pendulum analyses, worse in a way that dusted the present with the irrelevance of history. In the journal Science Advances, five of the world’s most eminent climatologists warned of the possibility that warming may be significantly worse than we thought. Previous consensus was that the Earth’s average temperature would go up by between 2.6C – life-altering but manageable – and 4.8C – cataclysmic. Now, the range suggested by one projection goes up to 7.4C, which is “game over” by the 22nd century.
It relates to the US because their incoming president has promised actively, determinedly to bring about the worst-case scenario, acting on the now familiar, pre-enlightenment logic that because it’s beyond the limits of his intellect to comprehend it, climate change doesn’t exist. But it relates to, or rather clarifies, things on a deeper level.
Rational American citizens are, post-Trump, going through the same grief trajectory as many of us did after Brexit: the debate is all fierce conjecture about how they lost, whom they failed to listen to, whose anger had been ignored and by which people for how many decades. But underneath that is a profound crisis of civic engagement – a deep, agonising question: what is the point? If reason doesn’t matter, if truth doesn’t, if solidarity is for wimps, if experts are charlatans, what’s the point of getting involved in this circus?
Paul Krugman identifies it as a creed of quietism, conceding: “It’s definitely tempting to conclude that the world is going to hell, but that there’s nothing you can do about it, so why not just make your own garden grow?” Ultimately, he chooses engagement to save the soul: “I don’t see how you can hang on to your own self-respect unless you’re willing to stand up for the truth.” The American journalist Nancy LeTourneau took it one step further and tried to find a positive in the powerlessness, via Gandhi: “Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it.” [Continue reading…]