Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Conversation

| October 25, 2019 | Leave a Comment


Item Link: Access the Resource

Media Type: Article - Recent

Publication Info: Post Carbon Institute

Date of Publication: July 27, 2017

Author(s): Richard Heinberg


My most recent essay, in which I discussed a highly publicized controversy over the efficacy of plans for a comprehensive transition to an all-renewable energy future, garnered some strong responses. “If you are right,” one Facebook commenter opined, “we are doomed. Fortunately you are not right.” (The commenter didn’t explain why.) What had I said to provoke an expectation of cataclysmic oblivion? Simply that there is probably no technically and financially feasible energy pathway to enable those of us in highly industrialized countries to maintain current levels of energy usage very far into the future.

My piece happened to be published right around the same time New York Magazine released a controversial article titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” in which author David Wallace Wells portrayed a dire future if the most pessimistic climate change models turn to reality. “It is, I promise, worse than you think,” wrote Wells. “If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.” Wells’s article drew rebukes from—of all people—climate scientists, who pointed out a few factual errors, but also insisted that scaring the public just doesn’t help. “Importantly, fear does not motivate,” responded Michael Mann with Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles, “and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.”

It’s true: apocalyptic warnings don’t move most people. Or, rather, they move most people away from the source of discomfort, so they simply tune out. But it’s also true that people feel a sense of deep, unacknowledged unease when they are fed “solutions” that they instinctively know are false or insufficient.

Others came to Wells’s defense. Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the climate action group The Climate Mobilization, which advocates for starting a “World War II-scale” emergency mobilization to convert from fossil fuels, writes, “it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story. . . . [I]t’s the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.”

So: Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?

Read Richard’s full article here at the Post Carbon Institute.

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • Greeley Miklashek

    Excellent article and addressing the fundamental question relating to climate change action: how worried should we be NOW and what can we do about reversing the numerous scientifically irrefutable indicators of our deteriorating climate? The number one symptom my 25,000 psychiatry patients complained of over the 42 years of my clinical practice was “anxiety”, followed inevitably by “clinical depression”. Our brains are hard-wired with a set of “survival emotions” that provide the necessary level of arousal and energy release through our adrenal gland secretions and sympathetic nervous system discharge. Our bodies always know best and we have created a high stress lifestyle and physical environment filled with stressors. In my book, available as a free PDF, thanks to the MAHB e-library, I coined the umbrella term “population density stress” to encompass the many elements of modern phenomena contributing to our rapidly increasing levels of anxiety and depression and associated with massive human overpopulation.

    We are now 3,000 times more populous than were our pre-agricultural revolution Hunter-Gatherer ancestors living in their widely spaced migratory clans/bands and in a constant necessary balance with the sustainability of the natural environment. They had achieved that balance over many tens of thousands of years and through many natural calamities, two of which threatened them with near extinction. So, the question we need to face is why our depression rates have been DOUBLING every decade for half a century and why 1/3 entering college freshmen are currently taking anti-depressants when they enter college? Rather than waxing philosophical in endless speculations regarding the level of alarm we hould be feeling, if any, we need to face the cold hard facts: TOO MANY HUMANS are using too many natural resources (including oil), and producing too much pollution, heat, war, and civil unrest worldwide.

    Only a worldwide contraceptive movement focused on achieving one-child families worldwide can possibly save this planet and our surviving offspring. We are 99.9% genetically identical, so your child is carrying 99.9% of my genome, and vice versa. I am invested in the survival of as many of our children as the planet can feed and house by 2,100, which most scientists agree cannot be more than 2.5B, if we are all vegans. That is the number an immediate contraceptive worldwide movement can expect to produce by 2,100 if we average one child per family.

    Otherwise, in a Trumpian vision of our future, only the very wealthy survive but hidden behind their fortress walls and even then the population density stress will turn off their reproductive capacities by 2,100, as so vividly predicted in P.D. James novel and movie “The Children of Men”. All crowded animals studies done over the past 70 years end the same way, with total extinction of the entire population. Is this the future we want for our children, and their children, and the planet? We still have a choice but population density stress is killing us NOW through all of our “diseases of civilization” and we should be worried, very worried indeed. Stress R Us