Confronting denial

If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?
Naderev Saño, lead negotiator for the Philippines at the UN climate summit in Doha, Qatar

These questions were asked on the floor of the Qatar National Convention Centre, but could well be part of a dialogue held by millions of people around the world every day, with themselves. Faced with stark facts, devastating images (as in last week’s post), escalating damage and the inability of the world’s government to cope...  what do we individuals have to do with it?

This great first-person essay in The Guardian is a sort of coming-clean, about the ways the author reacts to, or rather exists with, a clear understanding of the facts of climate change. The author, Anne Karpf is not a denier, but an ignorer. “I now recycle everything possible, drive a hybrid car and turn down the heating,” she writes. “Yet somewhere in my marrow I know that this is just a vain attempt to exculpate myself – it wasn't me, guv.”

The essay is also part book review of Engaging with Climate Change, edited by Sally Weintrobe, and featuring writing by Stonehouse delegate Renée Lertzman. Karpf sees her own responses to climate change laid bare in the book: blame-shifting, technoptomism, hedonistic fatalism and environmental melancholia. This final reaction, as explained by Lertzman, is a form of extreme hopelessness, in which a person disengages with a place as if it is already dead.

Although the book seems to prescribe methods of overcoming the typical reactions to climate change (like mourning the damage previous generations, and our own, have done to the earth) “the uncomfortable truth is that, unless and until our lives are directly affected by climate change, most of us have ambivalent feelings about making significant personal changes to avert some future catastrophe.”

Philippine climate negotiator Nadrev Saño is among those directly affected. His country has faced the highest death-toll caused by weather-related disasters last year.

The number of people directly affected by climate change is increasing every day. As time passes, it will be harder and harder for those of us fortunate enough to find shelter from extreme weather events to hide behind a wall of despair. We will have to ask ourselves: why not me? and why not now? We will hit a tipping point where despair and pessimism will be ruled out as options, and carve a path of hope, and creative solutions.

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