Talk of doom and gloom can be both inspiring and dangerous.
As wildfires, heatwaves, and floods increasingly become the norm, a question arises: What do we do when it is too late to act on climate change?
Talk of doom and gloom can be both inspiring and dangerous. It can motivate us to engage in urgent action. Yet it can also dispirit us, leading us to conclude that despite our best efforts we might fail. How will we respond to failure? Will pushing harder and going faster help us? And will questionable solutions like climate engineering be able to help us?
In a new article in WIRES Climate Change, Susane Moser addresses some of those concerns. An expert in climate communications, Moser has spent over 30 years looking into human-environment relations. Her new piece is part of the issue addressing human recognition of crossing natural thresholds.
The history of climate countdown clocks spans decades into the past, with many previous deadlines effectively forgotten. Yet the type of thinking has never been as vivid as today. According to the new IPCC report, we might reach 1.5°C warming by 2030. As a result, every action after this threshold has been crossed will have come too late to prevent dangerous climate change.
Moser documents the recent shift of scientific and public discourse towards “the territory beyond limits,” which has been or is just about to be crossed. Once we reach the point when it is too late to act on climate, what’s next? How do we live in a world that is much hotter, unstable and unpredictable in every way? Why do scientists and the public enter the places previously reserved for religion and fiction?
A number of answers come to the forefront, from ending the Anthropocene as soon as possible to ecomodernist hopes for technologically refashioning an engineered Earth. However, a merely intellectual perspective on climate change has revealed its own limits. Climate anxiety and grief are increasingly vivid among scientists and the public. It is hard not to notice them.
Moser argues that balancing the tension between despair and hope can help us enter an uncertain future better prepared. Neither doomsday rhetoric nor bravado-style denial will help us get through it. Deep inner work is required to generate actionable emotional responses to climate challenges. And if we are ready to embark upon a road towards solution, we might find ourselves creating futures we have never imagined possible.
Even if it might be too late to prevent all the suffering and damage climate change is going to cause, it is never too late to do something about this. And it will never be too late to make this planet more inhabitable, no matter what lies ahead. Hope lies in going beyond calculating risks, beyond trying to gain control over what we can.