The climate conversation we need to get to, and beyond - Fast.

4 Jan 2018


An adapted version of a conversation I just had with a climate crisis policy colleague of mine:


There was this scene in The Matrix (my all-time favourite movie, due in part to ancient empowering philosophical messages deliberately built into the storyline) where the Oracle (in a detached and almost overly-casual way) tells Neo three things:


1. The ‘bad’ news: “You’re not ‘The One’.” Of course, Neo’s kinda relieved NOT to have that big responsibility heaped on him;


2. A prediction: Neo will inescapably still be faced with a life/death choice: whether to sacrifice his own life to save his beloved friend and mentor, Morpheus; and


3. A reminder: regardless of what she’s told him, Neo’s destiny is his own. Life isn’t ‘fated’.


Shortly after, a series of events occurs in which, paradoxically, Neo BECOMES his potential (as ‘The One’) partly through acting on his belief that he’s actually not The One, but yet he still believes in his own power of agency to make a difference for the Greater Good.


That’s essentially the message of experts like Prof. Guy McPherson.


Guy’s among a growing number of expert realists (rather than uninformed sensationalists) who are brave enough to speak what they believe to be the truth. But like many hard truths, there’s no way to break the climate truth in a happy way (unlike the Matrix, there’s no “cookie” to make you feel better, as this is real Life, not a metaphoric movie). It’s like a doctor telling a patient that the patient has a terminal illness. Sharing her expert M.D. opinion with her patient would be deemed a responsible act, and hiding the truth irresponsible.

My understanding: Guy’s position is often misunderstood.  He does believe more in individual actions to build whatever resilience one can while living the most excellent, potential-filled life one can under our climate crisis world constraints. It’s as optimistically realistic as one can be, without bleeding into climate “hopium” (which isn’t helpful either). Within that framework, there is absolutely room for collaborating with others to build kāinga (community) resilience. That’s not defeatism. That’s calling on people to find their courage in the face of annihilation.
And let’s face it: that we’re mortal isn’t exactly “news”. We knew from the day we were old enough to cognitively understand that were were ‘doomed’ to die. And you might also be familiar with cultures and faiths that encourage people to reflect on death every day – not in a fearful, obsessively morbid way, but in a way that empowers people to treasure every living moment they have, thereby overall enhancing their Life.


Guy’s timeline predictions aside (I believe focusing on specific dates is a distraction: to know we’re screwed in our or our children’s life-time should be sufficient to act urgently now, whatever the timeline), his grim outlook is consistent with many of his expert peer group including:


1. The November 2017 climate tracker report which shows we’re on track for a 3.4-4.7OC average temp rise by 2030 and/or a 90% chance of reaching a 4.9 OC temp by 2100 (depending who which experts you talk to);


2. We know IPCC reports are conservative, so it’s worse than we’re being told. Significantly worse. A December Carnegie Institution for Science report indicates that the IPCC reports are off by 15% - “the world could wind up 15% warmer than the previous high estimate”; and


3. 15,000+ scientists who recognize, horrifically and alarmingly, that humanity’s in a 6th mass extinction event already, and "This is not something we can fix. If we lose 50 to 75 per cent of the species on the planet in this century — which is what scientists are telling us what will occur if we continue to operate as business-as-usual — if this happens, this cannot be fixed."


But more than what the scientific modelling is telling us, Guy integrates his knowledge about:


a. Non-linear tipping points concerning the destruction of life-giving habitats (both terrestrial and marine) necessary for human survival (i.e. biodiversity loss tends to accelerate more sharply with every increase in temperature, and humans need habitat to survive, so…);


b. The best climate mitigation scenarios which, due to climate recovery time lags, would still see increases in average global temperature (and therefore continued increases in associated catastrophic biospheric damage and human suffering years beyond when our best actions are implemented); and


c. Human psychology and collective consciousness - e.g. people’s illogical nature even to the point of insanely acting against our own interests, like our resistance to change and our seeming inability to mobilize quickly enough, even if our own species’ survival depends on it.


Perhaps we need to ask ourselves (a) who we’re talking to and (b) how honest we’re prepared to be with those people about our climate predicament (as opposed to our climate problem – the latter being something there’s actually a solution for). Put another way, it’s a question about how to strike the right balance in terms of honest messaging. I get that we want to avoid driving folks into overwhelm (and the truth can be overwhelming). However, the truth:


  • Is something we need to speak, because suppressing it has so far led to complacency which contributed to this climate mess, so we can’t afford to be complacent anymore; and

  • Will become evident in the very near future in any event, despite attempts to suppress it. That’s because internet access is ubiquitous, and also because the signs are popping up throughout society and our environment now. You’d have to be willfully blind to deny it.


Messaging ‘balance’ can be struck in several ways. One is to tailor messages for different audiences: e.g. (1) give the hard truth in a contained presentation environment to just our so-called 'leaders', then (2) give a more 'compassionate' version for the masses. But, someone influential at the ‘top’ of the policy ‘machine’ needs to know the truth so that there’s always that impulse and drive to urgently design and implement radical policies and actions. I know it’s not a burden we wish to place on our leadership, but like the Prime Ministers and Presidents of nation States, they have an obligation to be fully informed and as their technical advisors we are obliged to give them the full range of advice, not just cherry pick data. That’s arguably a responsible course of action to take. Then as leaders, they have the choice to direct what level of ‘truth’ will be given to the people at large (despite the fact that the full truth will, in time, inevitably find its way to the people, one way or another).


It’s time to bring out ‘the big guns’: in terms of messaging for our societies and communities, the imperative to respond meaningfully to climate crisis is the biggest “call to action” they’ve ever heard and will ever hear.

And while it’s partly about salvaging as much of our physical world as we can bringing all our physical attributes and ‘assets’ to bear, there is a more significant, profound message: how we can mitigate suffering by remembering and believing in our Selves fundamentally as Wairua (metaphysical, spiritual Beings), and then acting with all due haste in an informed, intelligent and wise way from that Belief. 


That’s the conversation which brings both science and spirituality together. That’s the conversation we really need to get to - and beyond.  Fast.


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