Jonathan Franzen, the great American novelist, wrote an article for the New Yorker Magazine published on 9 September with the title above. His answer is convincingly honest and critical of the widespread claims that there is a solution to the now inevitable and irreparable climate catastrophe that will lead to gradual breakdown of order. However, he encourages the strengthening of communities and social justice and continuing efforts to slow down the rush to disaster. Here are a few extracts:
Today, the scientific evidence verges on irrefutable. If you’re younger than sixty, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilization of life on earth—massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you’re under thirty, you’re all but guaranteed to witness it….
Overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans, need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar life styles without revolting. They must accept the reality of climate change and have faith in the extreme measures taken to combat it. They can’t dismiss news they dislike as fake. They have to set aside nationalism and class and racial resentments. They have to make sacrifices for distant threatened nations and distant future generations. They have to be permanently terrified by hotter summers and more frequent natural disasters, rather than just getting used to them. Every day, instead of thinking about breakfast, they have to think about death.
Although the actions of one individual have zero effect on the climate, this doesn’t mean that they’re meaningless. Each of us has an ethical choice to make. I can respect the planet, and care about the people with whom I share it, without believing that it will save me. … any movement toward a more just and civil society can now be considered a meaningful climate action. Securing fair elections is a climate action. Combating extreme wealth inequality is a climate action. Shutting down the hate machines on social media is a climate action. Instituting humane immigration policy, advocating for racial and gender equality, promoting respect for laws and their enforcement, supporting a free and independent press, ridding the country of assault weapons—these are all meaningful climate actions. To survive rising temperatures, every system, whether of the natural world or of the human world, will need to be as strong and healthy as we can make it
Franzen’s article has stimulated considerable criticism as this short Guardian piece exemplifies.
Naomi Klein’s passionate new book”On fire” is reviewed here.