The (IN)Sanity of Climate Change

Last year a friend of mine and her husband set out with their three children on a trek from Missouri to the boreal forests of central Canada to raise awareness about climate change. She read Bill McKibben's article "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" and, just like that, dropped everything to walk a thousand miles with her family accompanied only by their home-built "Conestoga" wagon.

Here's the thing: My friend is NOT insane. She digested McKibben's measured words, backed by the painstaking research of highly trained scientists, and came to this conclusion: "This is indeed terrifying and as a human who cares about myself, as a mother who cares about my children and, as a planetary being that cares about my fellow life beings, I have to do something, I can't just sit on my ass watching from the sidelines."

Here's another other thing: If you have taken the time to learn about climate change and feel afraid, angry or sad, if you feel an urge to take action, then you are not insane either. It is really that simple. If a human being with intact faculties learns of a preventable situation that is causing suffering and wants to do something about it, this is a deeply sane response.

Here's one more thing: If you have taken the time to learn about climate change and do NOT feel afraid, angry or sad, do not feel compelled to do something about it then... you are insane. Yes, insane. Not in the clinical sense of the definition, but in the "street sense," where we know -- or at least a deeper part of us knows -- that something is wrong, that something is threatening ourselves, our loved ones or our fellow beings (or all three) and we simply choose to pretend that it isn't happening.

For example, a friend tells you that she was walking down the street with her children when a full-grown tiger appeared at the other end of the block. She studied the situation and then decided, "I'm just gonna keep on with my stroll, it being such a beautiful day and all." You would undoubtedly rejoin, "But that's insane!" Exactly.

I am writing to tell you that you are sane if you feel compelled to do something about climate change because I know that so many of us are NOT doing so much and so many more are actually denigrating those who are. It can feel quite strange -- and quite lonely -- to read about the tiger walking down the street or, in this case, the thickening carbon blanket cooking our planet, and to be surrounded by folks and politicians and economic leaders who seem to be serenely continuing with their strolls.

And I don't want you to feel strange and lonely because... that feels yucky.

Some reading this article do not believe that climate change is happening or, if it is, then it is either not that bad or not caused by human actions (or both). They will take umbrage at my argument that their behavior is, in the "street sense", insane. That is fine, that is their right. It does not however make their responses any less insane.

There were folks all along the course of slavery who felt that the situation was no big deal, even that it was right and good. Some believed this up to the very day of emancipation and beyond. They cited all sorts of arguments, from the "scientific" to the religious to the "that's just the way it is" to support their beliefs and behaviors. None of this, of course, made their beliefs and behaviors any less insane.

Conversely, emancipators must have doubted themselves, labeled "arrogant" and "misguided" by folks who criticized them or, more insidiously, told them not to worry so much because, "What can you do about it anyway?" Though many died before seeing the final fruition of their work, their actions smacked of the deepest sanity.

I am NOT comparing the morality of those who practiced, condoned or remained apathetic to slavery to those who deny or remain apathetic in the face of our inexorably worsening emergency. These kinds of comparisons are neither useful nor accurate.

I am, however, comparing the "flavor" of these behaviors. Deeply embedded in the culture, slavery endured for centuries; some profited directly, many more indirectly. Arguments and beliefs that today seem ludicrous and even reprehensible were accepted or, at least, accommodated in the name of the status quo. Finally, the tides of history swept away the status quo to reveal the arguments and beliefs for what they were: Insane.

Today, we inherit the stunning bounty (for good and for ill) of Post Enlightenment scientific method. Almost every facet of modern civilization stems from the development of scientifically applied rationalism. This cannot be overstated.

Those who champion the continuing proliferation of fossil fuel exploitation are acting in direct opposition to scientific discourse. It's as simple as that. There are, of course, many ideological, religious and "that's just the way it is" justifications put forth in the name of such denial and accommodation. The most basic of these is to deny that a scientific consensus around climate change exists at all. It does exist -- simple as that.

Our scientists -- so many of them -- are not wrong. They are (within scientifically established degrees of uncertainty) right. To the extent that we continue to act in opposition to their findings, our suffering will continue and deepen. Eventually, as circumstances worsen, we will hopefully adjust our behaviors and many who now deny or accommodate will adjust as well. The tides of history will invariably bear this out.

The labeling of climate denial/accommodation as insane is NOT meant to denigrate. Aside from a (possibly sociopathic) few who knowingly exploit the situation for their own gains, most folks are simply reacting to an overwhelming, bewildering and challenging situation in the best way they are able.

In the meantime, to you who may feel lonely or strange, who may be labeled as "arrogant" and "misguided" as you respond with anger, grief and determination to our climate crisis, know this: You are acting in the name of yourself. You are acting in the names of your loved ones. You are acting in the names of your fellow life beings. And, above all, you are sane -- deeply, deeply sane.