Over the last 15 years that I’ve been an activist and organizer on the issue of human/system-caused climate disruption, I’ve many times discussed with others if there is any hope of avoiding the ultimate unraveling of the world’s ecosystems, given how deep a hole we are in. Put another way, can we overcome in enough time the power of the fossil fuel industry and their corporate and government collaborators?
Realistically, there isn’t enough time to prevent major human and ecological damage on a worldwide scale. It’s already happening, via extreme weather events taking place more often and more destructively in all parts of the world. These are going to get worse before, many years in the future, they happen at a scale and frequency that is more normal; that is, more like how and when they have happened in recent centuries.
Another example is the war in Syria, which has led to a half-million deaths, tremendous destruction, millions of refugees, and a rise in anti-immigrant, racist political groups, particularly in Europe. The war was caused in part by climate change via a horrific, many-years-long drought that exacerbated economic hardship and social and political instability.
How will we as individuals and humanity as a whole cope if/when rising temperatures and a disrupted climate lead to major crop failures and water scarcity on top of all of the other impacts from extreme weather events and unraveling ecological systems?
In 2007 I engaged in a climate emergency fast that ended up going 107 days. 25 days were on water-only; the rest were on fruit and vegetable liquids, with powdered protein and vitamin supplements in the last 50 days. On about the 100th day I was reached out to by a young Indigenous leader who wanted to meet with me. We did so, and we had a deep and substantive talk for several hours.
The one thing that has stayed with me about that conversation was when we discussed what could be coming down the road as the climate becomes increasingly unstable. This very grounded and very intelligent young man spoke about how he had considered that in some Indigenous communities it might be necessary for people to decide, literally, who should live and who should die, who, by continuing to live, was best able to help as many as possible to survive until things changed for the better.
Then there is the person who told me, in all seriousness, in a conversation about 20 years ago that he believed a half-billion people was about the right number of people for our planet. Who was he? Someone who had worked for decades in the Pentagon as a high-level assistant to top Pentagon leadership.
I am certain that this kind of discussion goes on among the corporate ruling elite who dominate the world’s governments. Some may feel some pangs of conscience about what they know is coming, absent a massive people’s uprising, but the primary concern of these people as a class is how to maintain the system as it is with them in control. If that means that billions of people die, so be it.
I am sure that for many of them, they have been so immersed in their corporate culture of white/male/heterosexual/elite privilege and power that they just can’t conceive that another world truly is possible, one which moves rapidly forward with a just and democratic transition to a fossil-fuel-free world.
But for the moment let’s assume the worst is going to happen, that the fossil fuel industry maintains enough of its power for many years to come so that the now very possible transition off fossil fuels to renewables, efficiency, conservation and a social ethic of creation care goes too slowly, and the unraveling process accelerates. Billions of people die, and a third or a half of existing animal and bird species disappear. Instead of the 7.6 billion people now alive, it’s more like 1-2 billion.
To live through this—or to try to do so—would be devastating. It’s something almost impossible to think about. And I don’t think we should, really, because this is a result which assumes the worst. It assumes that the growing, worldwide climate movement and the worldwide transition away from fossil fuels to renewables are going to stall, and I don’t see those things happening. It assumes that all of the human and social progress which we have made over the centuries can be easily wiped away, that masses of people will not fight to defend the rights of women, workers, people of color, lgbtq people, people with disabilities and children. It assumes that people like Donald Trump are the wave of the future. I don’t believe any of that.
A worldwide battle is going on right now between those of us who are fighting for the survival of the world’s ecosystems and the potential for positive change going forward on one side, and on the other, those addicted to obscene wealth and power at the top of a decaying system willing to devastate our beautiful mother earth to stay on top.
Because the hole we are in is so deep when it comes to climate disruption, in particular, as well as other environmental crises, I don’t think it is possible to predict who will win out on the climate fight, the people, awakened, or the Trumpian polluters; them or us. But if it is the case that we can’t stop them and turn things around in enough time to forestall worldwide climate catastrophe, it is still absolutely essential that we fight as hard as we can right now. The sooner we can make the turn, the less human and ecological damage there will ultimately be.
And as we fight we need to expand and deepen a movement which connects thousands and thousands of locally-based groups building healthy and authentic, love-based communities. We need to get better organized to help as many of us as possible survive this jarring and difficult period so that we come out on the other side, whenever that is, with a world culture and human society which has finally and fully learned to live in a qualitatively superior way with one another and the natural world.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick