Can we at least age gracefully?
Reflections from the reading from Robert Jensen, “We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting.”
(Note: This paper was written in the first half of 2021 as part of a Sustainable development discourse course)
A few weeks ago, I was in conversation with a friend. My friend is very reasonable and sensible but straddles the fence regarding the impacts of climate change. As a stress management strategy, he lives his life and lets wicked systemic problems and other issues like this be. At some point, the conversation veered into environmental protection and issues of sustainable developments, the importance of clean energy, and how we all need to be responsible consumers. Of course, I was taking the lead on this portion of the exchange. My friend was neither trying to debunk my line of reasoning, nor was he overwhelmed by the discussion. My friend’s response was calm but came out of a place of fatality. He opined that because we do not have all the answers and there are so many forces at play that make a transition to an alternate status quo almost impossible, we might as well live with the status quo as our present, unchanging reality and potential future reality. My friend said to me, “It matters little what we do or do not do, just as our natural bodies age and we die, the world is aging, and death is the inevitable end.” A similar question as the one posed in the Jensen article, “what if our species is an evolutionary dead end?” (Jensen, 2013).
I agreed with my friend about his assertion and was grateful for the inroad this provided me. Although our natural bodies age, many individuals do all they can to exercise, eat healthy meals, take multivitamins, go for periodic medical check-ups, and do what their doctors tell them to do so as to be able to live a long healthy life and have more pleasant memories with their friends and family. For other individuals who cannot afford high-end health management and disease prevention strategies, they are innovative and look within their environment for affordable healthy options and possibilities. Humans as a common species can choose to slow down this aging process and allow the earth to at least age gracefully. We can all choose to be responsible at individual, national, and global levels. We have the intellectual capacities and scientific advancements to think and solve the problem of environmental degradation and global warming. Is this current lethargy due largely to poverty of mind or a self-selected blindness of capitalism?
Sometimes, I am like my friend. I am worried about the line of reasoning of climate change denialists. Yet, I have questions about some of the solutions proposed by environmental protection advocates. While the use of fossil fuels is associated with carbon emissions and global warming, the resources and infrastructure needed for hydroelectric power (HEP), windmills, and other clean energy sources are not without their challenges. HEP projects flood vegetation and lead to the release of methane gases. Although less persistent in the atmosphere, it is a green-house gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (UNECE). Batteries for windmills and solar panels use minerals that result in environmental degradation in areas where they are mined (Lee et al., 2020). There are other questions. Can we really stop the destruction of old forests, sequesters of carbon, to make room for “development” projects? Yet, population control measures are given near derogatory names such as Malthusian and paternalistic.
While climate change denialists and extreme capitalists are vehement in their views and unyielding and I wonder if we can negotiate with terrorists or how and what an effective dialogue will be like. Revolutions rarely happen without a fight. Is this a revolution? Can the old and the new exist and an equilibrium where there the earth and its occupants are safe attainable? Would the fire-by-fire approach by environmental protection advocates only lead to more talk and no action? I recognize that I do not have all the answers. I do not think environmental protection advocates have all the answers. I do not think it is a realistic proposal for some environmental protection advocates to shame and jut out climate change denialists. If this approach could work, it would have worked ever since. A compromise is needed, but the intricacies of the mechanism for that compromise and how we can use effective and constructive dialogue to get to that point is what my mind hopes we can collectively arrive at soon.
Without commitment mechanisms and everyone on board, we may just keep rehashing old conversations. In our collective irresponsibility, we are accelerating the aging process. How can or can dialogue help in identifying what we can realistically do to halt and undo the damage to earth (Jensen, 2013)? Can we as human species persevere in the quest for justice and sustainability even if we have good reasons to believe that both projects will ultimately fail? (Jensen, 2013). Can we ponder and yet still commit ourselves to loving action towards others and the non-human world? (Jensen, 2013). It is part of being a responsible human being to care for one’s health as it is to care for the planetary health, “taking our lives seriously and taking Life more serious” (Jensen, 2013).
Jensen, R. (2013). We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 1st Edition.
Lee J. et al., (2020). Responsible or reckless? A critical review of the environmental and climate assessments of mineral supply chains. Environmental Research Letters Volume 15 Number 10.
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Methane management. Retrieved from: https://unece.org/challenge