Watching news about Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma enthralled and terrified viewers. Part of me felt safe and secure knowing I lived far away and my family wasn’t in the path of these dangerous, record setting storms. Part of me felt worried for those who were. Part of me felt disgusted by voyeurism of the media prying into people’s lives asking them “How do you feel about your home being destroyed, losing all your possessions?” It’s really sad to think that climate change only attracts our attention when it causes devastation, instead of discussing how to respond to this threat.
It has become apparent that even educated, environmentally conscious people who take climate change seriously are unwilling to make the kind of changes in their lifestyle that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use. Some educated but less affluent Americans express an interest in sustainable living but can’t afford to make the changes: i.e. buy the energy efficient home, add the solar panels, or purchase land on which to grow food. There are far too many people who deny climate change or deny that it is caused by humans.
Influential people that trust in the market want to “grow” the economy and maintain the status quo, because it benefits them financially to believe this. Even the recent damage caused by Hurricane Harvey has benefited the economy by boosting car sales. Unfortunately, the under-educated, underemployed Americans that believe fake news, voted for Trump, eat nutritionally poor food, and have terrible health problems will suffer the most from weather related disasters but have the least understanding about what is happening and how it will affect them. It seems that there are very few families educated, affluent, environmentally conscious, and willing to change their lifestyle; to be frugal, simple, and less carbon consuming/polluting.
I am reminded of the fable about the frog and the pot of water. Put a frog in a boiling pot of water and it will jump out. Put a frog in a cold pot of water, turn on the heat and the frog will sit in the pot until it boils to death. When it comes to the effects of our changing climate humans appear to be sitting in a cold pot of water and thinking there’s no need to jump out! If we are so smart, why aren’t we smart enough to see what is happening and act? Why don’t we act before the storms, floods, and wildfires threaten us?
Human history has seen great advancement. The development of agriculture led to human population expansion and urbanization. Urbanization led to the industrial revolution; intensive exploitation of resources due to the invention of machines powered by fossil fuels. The age of reason led to the age of science. Science, technology, and the multitude of follow on technical inventions led from the industrial revolution to the computer and information revolution. And here we are…rapidly developing self-driving cars, artificial intelligent machines, the network connected world of things, and cyber warfare. Will humanity survive the challenges we face? Can we survive the current era of extinction?
I think the reason people are unwilling to change their lifestyle to counter climate change is because of an inability to recognize our dependence on the culture we’ve created. Like an anteater that evolved a specialized nose making them totally dependent on eating ants (thus as the ants go so goes the anteater), humans have become adept at using and depending on fossil fuels and technology. Humans are increasingly moving into urban centers, dependent on importation of food, energy, and all the other resources needed for survival. We depend on jobs to acquire money to buy goods and services.
We are totally dependent on the culture we’ve created, and our culture is totally dependent on the technology and cheap energy that maintains it. We in the West, the humans who consume the most carbon, have lost the ability to make or fix the homes in which we live. We live in buildings that are climate controlled, drive about in climate controlled automobiles, and buy the food and supplies in climate controlled stores (or increasingly shop on line). Our lifestyle is supported by a system of which we have little understanding. Our culture and technology are making us less resilient, less able to recover from the disasters we are increasingly experiencing.
The problem is that we are losing touch with the natural world we depend upon and the dangers we face from climate change. We don’t understand how our food production system works, how food is grown, processed, and shipped from distant places. We don’t understand the connection between soil, water, organic matter, microbes, and long term food production. We don’t understand the connection between the food we eat and our health problems. We don’t understand how our furnace and air conditioner work. We don’t understand how or where the energy comes from to run our furnace or air conditioner. We have very little understanding of the limits in the resources our lives depend upon.
We don’t pay attention to how our political choices affect the government we get, one that is increasingly hostile to the less fortunate, the elderly, the sick, the displaced and downtrodden. Some of the people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, moved to Texas after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home. We are losing the ability and the desire to communicate across the political and economic chasms that divide us one from each other; the powerful vs powerless, the rich vs poor, black vs white, man vs woman, etc.
Science and technology has spawned an information industry that is profiting by selling us a constant barrage of electronic mental stimulus. We spend most of our time connected to others through electronic media that makes us less thoughtful and more reactionary. The information technology is collecting vast amounts of information about us in order to facilitate consumerism, while stripping away the very meaning of privacy. We are in danger of losing what it means to be humane.
Perhaps like the anteater our evolutionary path has led us down a dead end. Our neural networks, imagination, and need for social connections have turned into the path of hyper electronic connectivity, imaginary worlds, and fake or titillating news that will keep us enthralled and addicted 24/7 and unable to see the bus before it runs us over. Perhaps its time we change, before we face the wind that consumes us.
Featured image: U.S. Navy photo by Jim Brooks, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons