Is the biggest hurdle on climate change outright denial? Or is it the sense that of being overwhelmed and too late, that there's nothing we can do? As K.C. Golden writes in an excerpt from my newly updated political hope anthology The Impossible Will Take a Little While, defeat is certain only if we accept it as such. What we often call preordained only becomes so through our resignation. So the only way to discover what's achievable is by taking action, trying new approaches, expanding the bounds of the possible.
Golden's group, Climate Solutions, does exactly that, mixing environmental advocacy on issues like coal exports with climate-change consulting for Pacific Northwest corporations, small businesses, and local governments. In a hopeful sign, sponsors of the group's annual breakfast recently included Boeing and Alaska Airlines, with which Climate Solutions is working to develop algae-based and other sustainable bio-fuels -- a partnership that would have been nearly unimaginable a short while ago.
The Inevitability Trap
By K.C. Golden
It's time to rally around an embattled concept: free will.
Having aligned myself against a battalion of seemingly irresistible forces over the years, I've become a student of "inevitability." How do environmentally destructive choices become inevitable? Near as I can tell, it starts when the people who will benefit from these choices simply begin to assert their inevitability. We're especially receptive to inevitability right now. We're comforted by the notion that amid all the uncertainty and confusion, from the economy to climate disruption -- some larger forces are at work toward pre-determined outcomes. We're sort of relieved to hear that something's inevitable, even if it's not necessarily something we like. It clarifies things. It's more pragmatic to be resigned to the inevitable than to chart a new course through the chaos. Plus, it spares us the disappointment of pinning false hopes on dysfunctional democratic institutions--or working to change them. So the myth of inevitability spreads and the prophecy fulfills itself. If the proponents of a particular course can get a critical mass of folks to believe that it's a foregone conclusion, pretty soon it will be.
Those who assert that conservation and renewables will never replace fossil fuels are using the only strategy available to them. They propound the myth of inevitability because they know that few of us would actually choose more waste, and eternal dependence on coal, oil, and gas extracted in ever-more risky and destructive ways. Having little chance of convincing people that these outcomes are desirable, they tell us we have no choice in the matter.
Think about the arguments that have blocked serious U.S. action on climate change. First, it wasn't happening. Then it was happening but it wasn't human-caused. (Damn those sun spots.) Now maybe it is human-caused but there's nothing we can do because China and India's emissions will swamp us anyway--never mind the American corporations whose manufacturing facilities get counted in their carbon impact. So we might as well shovel and ship their coal because otherwise they'll just burn someone else's. Responsibility is no one's. Resistance is futile.
But inevitably we do have choices to make. Failing to make them consciously isn't failing to make them at all; it's just falling for the inevitability trap. It's just giving ourselves an excuse for allowing the wrong choices to be made, and a feeble excuse at that. Among all the reasons for continuing to choose the path of evading responsibility for climate disruption, I think the least satisfying, the least noble, the hardest one to forgive ourselves for is: "It wasn't up to me."
Well, it's up to somebody. Who's it gonna be?
K.C. Golden is policy director of Climate Solutions, which promotes clean and efficient energy sources. He's former director of energy policy for the State of Washington.
From the wholly updated new edition of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times, edited by Paul Loeb (Basic Books $18.99, May 2014). Other contributors include Maya Angelou, Diane Ackerman, Marian Wright Edelman, Wael Ghonim, Václav Havel, Seamus Heaney, Jonathan Kozol, Tony Kushner, Audre Lorde, Nelson Mandela, Bill McKibben, Bill Moyers, Pablo Neruda, Mary Pipher, Arundhati Roy, Dan Savage, Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Cornel West, Terry Tempest Williams, and Howard Zinn.