I wish to make this clear and concise. Carbon dioxide is entering our environment at a rate unprecedented in the past 66 million years. As a consequence, the ocean is acidifying at a pace unprecedented in hundreds of millions of years. The PETM, a mass extinction, took place when the rate of carbon dioxide entering our atmosphere was about ten percent of the current rate. Those are the facts we have to deal with. Recognizing this as a problem should have nothing to do with being progressive or conservative, in the same manner as not feeding battery acid to your children is not a political issue, it’s simply a matter of common sense. Anyone who takes a good clear look at the scientific evidence available to us will reach the conclusion that we are facing a huge problem.
A massive unprecedented assault on our atmosphere is taking place and the fact that it is not headline news on every television channel and every newspaper is a mystery to me, that can only be explained by our own irrational nature as human beings. To some degree, this has turned into a litmus test for me. If you understand this problem and especially if you understood it before most people did you’re probably worth paying attention to, if you start rambling about how the polar bears are actually doing fine compared to the 1960’s or how a volcano emits more CO2 than humans and the Rothschilds just want to implement a global carbon tax on white trash, then I don’t wish to get dragged into your swamp of disinformation.
How do you live out your life in the context of the ongoing catastrophic annihilation of four billion years of evolution? I remember years ago, when Americans were protesting in the streets during the great recession, that Jon Stewart proclaimed “these are bad times, not end times”. But how can we consider these to be anything other than end times? If these look like bad times to us, if this looks like a temporary dip, it’s because we don’t look far enough ahead and don’t understand the nature of the problem we face.
One thing I notice is that most people severely underestimate the severity of the crisis. The climate change reports at this point bear little semblance to reality. The feedback loops are not mentioned. In the IPCC universe, melting permafrost doesn’t increase methane in our atmosphere. The mass migration that results from climate change is not mentioned. In fact, the IPCC delivers our policymakers reports that keep suggesting they somehow have a method to still avert catastrophe, while relying on negative emission technologies to start drawing CO2 out of the air by 2100 even as nobody has a feasible method of delivering these technologies.
Here’s a funfact: The oil companies pushed out the old head of the IPCC back in 2002. Here’s another: Some former IPCC contributors are now known to be on the payroll of the Heartland Institute. Here’s yet another: The oil industry knew about the threat to their business model as early as the 1970’s. Don’t you think they’ve had plenty of time to sow disinformation across the Internet and bribe scientists? Considering everything we know of that they did to sow disinformation, how much do you think they pulled off that we don’t know about?
I find myself wondering: How many people genuinely comprehend the scope of this problem? Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, pointed out that under our current policies, we will end up with a carrying capacity on this planet of less than one billion by 2100. This is quite simply the condition you end up with on a planet where people have an extractive relationship to their environment. You burn through resources at a faster rate than they can regenerate themselves and as a consequence you ensure your future will be less prosperous than your present situation.
It’s difficult to distract yourself from big problems like these, but it’s necessary to live a semblance of a normal life. You need to pay rent, you need to avoid turning into an embarassment for your family and so you continue with activities that you consider profoundly useless. You sell people tickets to tropical destinations they shouldn’t go to, you advertise products people shouldn’t consume, you help people as they gamble with their savings on the stock market, you prepare children in your classroom for a future you don’t wish to live to see yourself.
It is as if you are sitting in a train that’s heading off a cliff and the conductor passes by and asks you to show your ticket. There’s a social expectation to uphold a sense of normality and so you go along. You show your ticket and avoid a disturbance, even though the rational response would probably be to figure out a way to escape from the train, to jump through the window, land on top of the rocks and hope you survive the fall without too many broken bones to have some quality of life left.
And because the pressure is so high to live a normal life, to step back in line, to pretend not to notice that the emperor has no clothes, you try to fool yourself. “I’m sure they’ll think of something. They’ve had thirty years of international conferences now without any genuine progress in solving the problem, but something’s going to change now, I’m sure of it.” We know the world will continue to change and so you fool yourself into assuming something big will show up that will somehow put a halt to this catastrophe. Perhaps we’ll feed everyone meat from test tubes. Perhaps we’ll harvest seaweed from the ocean and feed it to our cows. Perhaps we’ll start building our houses with carbon negative concrete. Perhaps all the problems and all the technologies line up perfectly and you will enter induced hibernation in the year 2200 as you travel to Alpha Centauri. But probably not. Shouldn’t we expect if our civilization is in terminal condition that we would put up a smokescreen for ourselves?
What amazes me most is people’s response as the problem begins to unfold all around them. Some people get their priorities straight and try to escape, or take one last desperate measure at addressing the catastrophe. In my experience, these people are often on the autism spectrum. People on the spectrum have a habit of offending their peers with their bleak sense of rationality. But most people’s response is the opposite. They stick their heads deeper into the sand.
Consider the peculiar case of the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a country where climate change denial is a growing movement. Yes, you heard that right, it is becoming more common and I have the statistics to prove it. In the Netherlands 23% of people disputed in 2018 that the Earth warms due to human influence. In 2019, this number went up to 31%. So, as the crisis gets worse and new records are broken, the number of people who think we are responsible for a genuine problem goes down. Consider another statistic about climate change in the Netherlands. In 2018, 32% supported reducing Dutch reliance on natural gas, citing climate change as their argument. By 2019, this number was down to around 17%. Even as the crisis continues to get worse, the number of people willing to address the problem actually goes down.
It’s not as if Dutch people are not facing the consequences of climate change. The Netherlands has now faced two summers with severe droughts in a row. As a consequence, many drought intolerant species, like many species of butterfly, are facing extinction in this country. The damage of these two consecutive droughts is considered irreversible by the experts. After the drought and forest fires, Germany’s forests now face ecological collapse too. And yet, we find that most people just genuinely don’t care. They don’t seem to comprehend that this crisis will eventually end up impacting them too, they don’t comprehend that humans are dependent on healthy thriving ecosystems. Coming thursday, we will face temperatures of up to 38 degree Celsius. This will likely break records across the country. The heatwave will be so severe that some people will die. Dutch society is simply not prepared for an event of such severity.
And yet, most people still don’t seem to be worried. For most people climate change is an after-thought, not the global crisis that will shape their lives. We rearrange the furniture on the Titanic. We are bipedal apes that control more than half the world’s terrestrial photosynthetic capacity and we spend the entirety of our lives in sterile cubicles working hard to buy our rightful share of land from those who die. You come into this world owning nothing, you spend your life working for companies that destroy our world, all just to earn a place to live. And for most of us, nothing you do seems to serve a purpose. You sell junk to people that they don’t need, not because you want to, but because it is the only thing available to you that will let you pay your rent.
“Yes, but what can you do about it? Nothing. Just enjoy the moment.” The cynic says. And yet the cynic doesn’t ask himself what the point to any of it even is. What is the point to spending your life gambling with others over a portion of a shrinking pie? How exactly are you supposed to enjoy that? How can you enjoy a life that’s spent operating the machinery that’s going to cause mass death? And yet, you have no alternative. If you’re lucky you can stand outside with a sign for a few years before you’ve burned up your savings and then you’re back to operating the machine.
But the cynic has an advantage that you and me don’t have. The cynic can dissociate. The cynic can practice cognitive dissonance. He enjoys the coral reef, even as he realizes his journey to see it signed its death certificate. The cynic can look at a Porsche and tell himself that it’s worth getting out of bed for at 7 AM in the morning. The cynic isn’t even a cynic, because even though he lives for himself, he still actually values the society he lives in. The “cynic” is an optimist with calluses on his skin.
I have a strange hobby. My company has problems with fake online brokers located in Cyprus who try to scam naive people out of their life savings by telling them they can get rich overnight. Sometimes I call these brokers. I tell them I saw their ads, ads that make false and slanderous claims. I claim I have a son with cancer, who needs to receive therapy abroad, me and my wife are trying to increase the money we received from donations. They don’t hesitate. They guide me through the motions, they continue their script on autopilot. I ask them who will genuinely advise me in trading. They don’t know. The more you don’t know, the easier you make your life.
The scary thing is that these are not some sort of psychopaths. These are normal people. They’re normal people, just like the people who operate a slaughter house, just like the people who sell cigarettes to sixteen year olds, just like the people who operated the concentration camps or the residential schools. We know that what we do is bad, that it merely makes society worse and yet we continue. We go through the motions without thinking, like a bucket full of crabs stepping on each others eyes in an effort to escape, because we can’t imagine an alternative.
Ultimately, the way our society operates is by virtue of the fact that normal people fail to notice a lot of things and actively choose not to notice a lot of things. You can take a normal person, someone who spent four years in college studying business administration and now works at an insurance company, show them the forest and they won’t notice something’s wrong. They don’t notice dying trees, they don’t notice dead grass. They can visit a tropical island and lay on the beach as the reward for their hard work, not noticing the absence of birds and insects. That’s not on their radar. It doesn’t mean anything to them, you have to put a number or ideally a price tag on it for it to have any sort of meaning to them.
When you notice problems you’re already weird. There’s already something broken. Most people, the normies, go blindly through the motions, society functions because they don’t understand what they’re doing, they merely understand what they need to be doing. If a meteor were visible in the sky and their colleagues were filing paperwork they would continue filing paperwork too. “That meteor? I must have been hallucinating, even though drugs are for losers and I never take them.” They would say.
And when you notice something’s wrong you marginalize yourself. You end up on welfare, spending your days standing somewhere in the street with a sign as people briefly glance at you and pull a disgusted face. You’re a man, you’re supposed to wear a suit at an office somewhere, bossing other people around and inventing pretentious titles for yourself in a vain effort to appear important, if you drop out of that you’re a loser. Yes, that is the reality of taking the red pill. Most people don’t end up like Greta Thunberg, to fully internalize the crisis is not a glamorous thing. Most people just marginalize themselves. You’re going along with the train that’s driving off a cliff, but now you’re carried along with a rope around your head, rather than having a first class seat.
This is what people don’t understand. You’re stuck in a type of hell so you expect the alternative you dream of must be better. You want to drop out and so you type into Google “how to drop out” and you find motivational writers who tell you that dropping out is going to be awesome, you’re going to have loads of fun, live in a cabin in the woods and you’re going to hunt deer and gather mushrooms in your local forest with your wife and your three young children. And yet that’s not what’s going to happen. When you drop out you’re going to look at your savings that took you years to build up dwindle overnight. Two years of being a dropout and the downpayment on a house you had gathered is gone. Can you go back to the normie life? Yes, you can, but now it’s guaranteed to be merely worse. You have a gap in your resume, HR ladies fresh from college don’t approve of weirdos so you can’t tell them why. Instead of a pointless cubicle job, you now get to injure your back in a warehouse somewhere.
So you can’t do it. You march along blindly, self-medicate and try to do the normie thing, as you try to keep your mouth shut: “Hey fellow bipedal apes. How did you enjoy your two consecutive days off? Did you happen to see how the guys from our local city’s team kicked the ball into the goal of some other town’s team? ERROR: CRITICAL MALFUNCTION Hey guys I just realized we’re getting scraps off the table from our bosses to market products people don’t need that don’t deliver them what they expect and dramatically reduce our planet’s carrying capacity while wasting scarce natural resources, but I merely go along because I’m a college dropout with no real alternatives and insufficient concentration skills to hurl myself through a four year degree, even though I deep down realize that this might be the last chance we still have to ensure something we value survives through the upcoming bottleneck and should probably spend my days spraying water on salamanders in the local forest”
How do we respond, when our future is a lie? Do you run? Where to? What kind of enjoyable future do you anticipate? “Hi I’m thirty years old and although overall normal and healthy I quit my job two years ago to live off welfare in anticipation of ecological breakdown, can I have your number?” Do you fight? Against whom? Do you hunt down the Koch brothers? Do you think that’s going to make a difference? Now you’re dead or stuck in jail for the rest of your life. Do you simply wish to take revenge? Make sure they live long enough to see it. Make sure they get to be around to sit through the heatwaves, as their balls start aching and their sweat leaves their backs stuck to the chairs. They used to say the best revenge is to live well. I’m starting to think the best revenge might be to stick around long enough to watch others choke in their own shit.
This post hurts, but I’m not vindictive. I was born in California, the air wasn’t good, it was golden but I remember grass. The dirt now cakes like a desert when I visit. My parents moved us to Washington when I was young, over the last decade in particular I have witnessed the biome change, it no longer feels like the fringe of a rainforest. Most of my cousins have talked for years about wanting to move for reasons I have felt decay.
I’m not sure if nostalgia affects memory of air pressure, but it strikes me as transcendentalism juxtaposed with reality. At least the air isn’t corrosive here, yet.
Take the Christ-pill.
I can’t believe someone would write a blogpost about ecological collapse in The Netherlands and then not mention the earthquakes due to their reliance on natural gas extraction.
Let us not despair! Push through for a few years, invest in skills and tools, then we’ll see what we can do.
Good writing, but I agree with the “Christ-pill” quip –> you cannot find happiness in the world through continued production of logical chains. There is a vast Unknown, and a transcendence that must be felt and experienced through. You must leap before you look.
Here, you see misery and illogic very clearly. You are not wrong! Good job on seeing this!
But to stop here is failure. You certainly can recognize that many of the predators of our world stopped there, and established themselves as overlords of systems of unaware people. So big deal that you see the writing on the wall.
To focus on it endlessly would “commodify” and harden your personality into that of a crank. 100% right, but living as wrong as can be, and such a shame.
Get religion. Call it what you want. Philosophy. “Non-duality.” But do it for real, not as an intellectual exercise. At some point you need to lock yourself into a room and face emptiness, or simply pray for help in understanding.
Whatever you do, all the best!
There is no need for religion in order to be fully present and aware in this life. To find fulfillment. I believe to do so simply invites distraction and delusion, robbing you of the opportunity to truly be present in the material world. Understandable though the impulse may be for some, looking for god or religion as an explanation for everything or anything is simply a natural inclination inherent to humans which has been generated by the process of natural selection. It’s natural for us to seek out meaning in everything, beneficial even (or else it would not have been selected for), but the universe does not have a meaning in the way we presuppose it does. It does not owe us answers. It’s a failure of our very language that one must personify “it” just to talk about it. There is no fundamental purpose. In this realization I personally find incredible wonderment, and a sense of responsibility to this planet and the people in it. We should cherish our existence not because it is a divine gift, but because it is an incredible consequence of the march of time, thermodynamics and natural selection. We are incredibly lucky to be aware in the way that we are. It is nothing short of astounding. I understand that these words (or this understanding) is not a comfort to others and instead creates a sense of nihilism, but to me I find comfort in the lack of inherent purpose. True freedom can be found in recognizing how lucky you are to be aware enough to seek out your own fulfillment.