Monday, August 13, 2012

Abandon Hope

This blog features a rare, getting uncomfortably close to reality, report by Rex Wyler on 50 years of hoping for sustainability, in which he suggests it's high time we move beyond hope

Below are short excepts I have edited, out of respect for the author, to remove all vestiges of hope. 

We have all been infected by the creeping emotional epidemic of environmental hope. 

Rex offers rare insight for us to ponder.  

First, I must recognize the 'forget hope' pioneer Derek Jensen, who alerted me to the insidious deadly danger of hope in his Orion 2006 article Beyond Hope. Read Jensen to exorcise your Hope demon. 

Jensen says we are hooked on Hope like an addict. It feels good. The world is fine really and of course so are we. Get a fix of hope and we can be happy not worry about the world that seems so bad. 

Rex quotes George Monbiot who lamented in The Guardian, that the "promise to save the world keeps us dangling, not mobilising... Hope is the rope on which we hang."  

Hope has hooked us, lured by all those consumer culture flashy toys and diversions from reality. 

Yes I know Hope is a great virtue in the New Testament, so is facing environmental Armageddon armed with Hope is the way of the Lord ? Sorry we can't hide behind Christian hope. It was a very different kind of hope compared to our hopeful avoidance of discomfort, fear, and action. 

The New Testament kind of hope, I am told, is what lead the early Christians to give up everything and put their lives on the line to make the reign of righteousness a reality, of which they had total confidence. Hope was a revolutionary 'change the corrupt world' kind of thing by giving Life everything.     

Derek Jensen says that our is quite the opposite to a virtue: Hope is, in fact, a curse, a bane. I say this not only because of the lovely Buddhist saying “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails,” not only because hope leads us away from the present, away from who and where we are right now and toward some imaginary future state. I say this because of what hope is.

Jensen calls on us to give up on hope because it is a contagion of paralysis for the many growing dangers we face, that make the odds for our survival very much worse. 

Hope allows us to carry on what we have been doing for at least 25 years- defer the dangers of planetary catastrophe to some one else some time in the future. When we say things look grim but we must be hopefully positive who are we talking to? Who are we kidding? The hidden message is to our kids, that we are not going to do anything right now- but we hope that they can can. 

My wife agreed with Derek Jensen immediately - 'Hope is not an action verb'.

In Fifty years of 'environmentalism' Rex Wyler observes we're less sustainable and asks so what do we do now?

Did Earth rumble after the Rio+20 climate conference? Or was that the roar of a billion citizens letting go the expectation that polite dialogue and political process would restore Earth's ecological balance?

Fifty years ago, in 1961, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, launching a new public discourse about ecology that reached an early zenith in 1972 at the first U.N. ecology conference in Stockholm. Today, we have armies of environment groups, swarms of ecology PhD graduates, environment ministers, conferences, science summits, green products, green travel, banners and blockades. But we are less sustainable than we were in 1961.

After 50 years of environmental efforts, the most troubling trends -- Earth's temperature, species diversity, soil health, toxic dumps, shrinking forest, expanding deserts -- appear worse. The testimony of our collective failure blows around us like a chilling polar wind. It is too late to save the 25,000 species that blinked from existence, or the 300,000 people who perished from climate-change impact, last year, and will again this year. We have not yet turned the empires of humanity back toward the paradise from which they were born.

Moving beyond hope
After Rio, a collective "gulp" rose among ecological scientists, journalists, bloggers, and commentators. Maybe we can't stop global heating or bee colony collapse. Maybe the systems feedbacks are more complex than our engineering can fathom. 

The new mood arises from many events -- BP, Fukushima, Occupy, Arab Spring, Rio+20, and so forth -- but Rio signaled a tipping point for believers in the political process. U.K.'s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg pronounced the agreements "Insipid." Former Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, called the results "a failure of leadership." Ecology groups walked out. Indigenous leaders held their own meetings and called the official Rio "green economy" plan "a new wave of colonialism."

Writer/farmer Sharon Astyk wrote in Scienceblog, "Most of these events are about feeling good about pretending... [The] fundamental policy changes that would be necessary... aren't even on the table...

University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen went even farther in Counterpunch: "to be a hope-peddler today is... laziness... We have to believe in something beyond hope."

After Rio, ecology writer Chris Hedges wrote "Time to get crazy" warning that "Civilizations in the final stages of decay are dominated by elites out of touch with reality... [The] failure to impose limits cannibalizes natural resources and human communities... It all will come down like a house of cards."

"When will ordinary people rise up?" asks Share the World's Resources, a U.N. consultation group. "Leaders and policymakers [are] paying merely lip service." They now advocate "public uprisings and mass occupations."

Gulp! Fifty years of "environmentalism" and we are less sustainable. So what do we do now?

Make fun, make trouble
Accepting bad news honestly appears part of the new mood. In the U.S., Justin Ritche and Seth Moser-Katz post the Extraenvironmentalists podcast, which they call "Doom without the Gloom," the tough love news with a sense of irony. "Is sustainability a farce," they ask, "when associated with a way of life that is out of touch with reality?

Twenty-four-year-old singer Cold Speck from Etobicoke, Canada writes "doom soul" music, realism with rhythm. "We fall from a dying tree," she sings in Winter Solstice.  The youth feel it instinctively. Witness 11-year old Ta'kaiya Blaney warn "if we do nothing, it will all be gone," from "Shallow Waters" a song she wrote and sang in the indigenous camp at Rio.

This year, Nature published "Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere" by 22 international scientists led by bio-paleoecologist Anthony Barnosky from the University of California. The team warned that human activity is likely forcing a planetary-scale transition, far beyond simple global heating, "with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience." Averting a planetary ecological crisis, they warn, now requires unprecedented human effort. "In a nutshell," said Canadian co-author, biologist Arne Mooers, "humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst. My colleagues... are terrified."

Whatever the environment community does at the next "summit," it might as well be new and creative. Joining the charade won't likely help. Perhaps it is time for a boycott or a counter-summit in a separate location, guided by indigenous leaders.

1 comment:

  1. It's kind of ironic that "hope" is turning out to be our nemesis, our excuse for inaction. Hope allows us to make it through the day with the falsehood that everything will turn out all right. It has in the past and will continue in the future. Right? Wrong, very, very wrong.

    This is a very timely article which introduces the emotion of fear in the climate change debate as I did also in a recent post on

    Thanks for this post.