Believe it or not, this is a global warming post of sorts. Inevitably, when someone new finds out what I do for a living, the question eventually gets asked, “So, is that global warming stuff really as bad as they say?” Never mind that I’ve always worked on water issues. But of course, I couldn’t help but have an opinion – most environmental scientists do. It’s pretty much our job to convince everyone that yes, it really is as bad as they say, possibly a lot worse. Anyone who works in the field knows this by now; the evidence is overwhelming and more is coming in all the time.
Of course, by the time you get through explaining this, people aren’t necessarily that comfortable with you anymore. And it’s not just dinner dates. I’ve had this conversation with my broker, my dentist, taxi drivers, airplane seatmates, family members, etc. They’re not uncomfortable with me because I’m unusually rabid about it. It’s more that I really know how bad it is and the certainty of that is unsettling. I can cite any number of examples of things that can go wrong, any one of which will cause major disruptions of life as we currently live it. Environmental scientists live with this stuff all the time, and its a hard time to live in because of that. It’s very difficult to have any real long-term plans (such as making plans for retirement) and there is a renewed sense of urgency about living life well now.
Environmental scientists often wonder why the public (never mind the government) doesn’t take this as seriously as it should. Psychologists are actually beginning to study this, and it has to do with something I’ve suspected for a while. People just feel overwhelmed by it. It carries the potential for life as we know it to change so drastically that many of us may not live through it. In the face of that, most people just can’t bring themselves to think about it. They feel helpless, and do nothing. Or do little things sort of generally in service to the environment, which doesn’t come close to what is actually needed. There’s a kind of denial deeply rooted in fear that just couldn’t exist if people were willing to look in an unbiased way at what we know.
I understand that it’s hard to accept that their kids may not have the opportunity to live in the world they’ve known, especially in affluent countries like the USA, where we cannot continue to consume what we do and still solve this problem. The despair of a truth like that would be untenable. In my ungracious moments, I think some others just don’t care and live high now because they know they’ll be dead before this really hits the fan. For all these reasons, I have come to doubt very much that any actions that rely on the government or the public will be effective enough to make a difference.
People in these conversations sometimes seem curious as to how I can live with this apparent truth and not be consumed by hopelessness. In my case at least, I feel very lucky to have had the life I’ve had. I live each day as best I can, try to make what contributions I can, and enjoy my life – I know all too well that it may not always be this enjoyable, whether for environmental or health reasons. I don’t see why we can’t live with our eyes open, and make each moment more precious because of it.
And if some brilliant entrepreneur saves us all from our folly, wonderful. I have no idea whether that will happen or not; it’s one of the many unpredictable factors in this whole situation. Part of me thinks it would be better if we could just learn to control ourselves, but IMO, the chances of that happening in time are slim to none. Which is NOT a good reason not to try.
And in the meantime, points to anyone who asks me that and makes it through the ensuing conversation with their comfort level intact. I’ll start with my broker, who actually got that it changed my investment strategy and went with that. Now if only my dates could do the same :)