“We have few opportunities to positively influence the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mass Extinction Event, and abrupt, irreversible climate change. None of these opportunities, even if pursued with rigorous passion by each of us, will allow us to avoid the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing Mass Extinction Event, and abrupt, irreversible climate change. However, we have daily opportunities to improve the lives of the people around us, notably including our family and friends. Perhaps we can henceforth apply our focus where it matters, rather than where it does not.”—Dr. Guy McPherson
By Dr. Guy McPherson
“This life takes a lot more courage than I ever gave it credit for. When I was growing up around here, I was always fantasizing heroic shit without realizing that what was shaping up was going to be the greatest heroic adventure of them all: trying to live and be a decent human being. That shit takes more courage than I ever had.”—Junot Díaz
“It’s never the changes we want that change everything.”―Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
MAITLAND Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—1 June 2020— “There is always an answer.” I heard it growing up. I hear it still. Every problem, no matter how thorny, has a solution. If we apply enough knowledge, creativity, and hard work, we can do anything.
This idea is false, of course. Some challenges cannot be overcome. The cost, monetary and otherwise, is too great to solve some problems. No expenditure of money will preserve human life without air, water, and food. No expenditure of money or cleverness will undo thousands of years of adding too many people to an overpopulated planet. Every proposed solution must adhere to the Laws of Thermodynamics. In short, the self-proclaimed wise ape known as Homo sapiens is among the other animals on Earth constrained by physical laws. Consider, for example, the various means by which humans can go extinct, notably including the McPherson Paradox: increasing industrial activity warms the planet, and decreasing industrial activity warms it even faster.
I had a mentor when I began my tenure-track career at the University of Arizona. Pete gently informed me about unstated expectations while encouraging my creativity. A knee-jerk skeptic in the best of all possible ways, Pete accepts virtually nothing at first glance. He remains an academic scholar after more than 86 years into a life lived well.
Pete was, and is, an engineer. Problem-solving is his forte. First, though, he was a forester. He still is, and his relevant background contributes to his desire to implement environmental protections.
When I was spending my days on campus, I was impressed by Pete’s never-ending approach to solving problems. I will long remember his propensity for analyzing equations during meetings and seminars. Based on my short history attending faculty meetings at which Pete was quietly studying calculus, solving mathematical problems is certainly a wise use of time. Taking a page from Pete’s playbook, I rarely attended faculty meetings after I earned tenure.
Pete “fit in” quite well. A generation younger than Pete, I expended little effort at “going along to get along” with the people “above” me on the organizational chart. Not surprisingly, my career was shorter than that of my friend and mentor.
My professorial career lasted only 21 years as a result of my radicalism. As with most other contemporary institutions, colleges and universities tend toward societal norms. Radical approaches —going to the root of issues—are not always welcome. My propensity for pointing out the disadvantages of civilization were discouraged on campus. More recently, in light of my increased understanding of the full impact of the aerosol masking effect, I have been proclaiming the advantages of industrial civilization. Such was not the case while I was on campus, however.
The aerosol masking effect is a major component of abrupt, irreversible climate change. The aerosol masking effect explains why simply reducing industrial activity will not improve the climate-change situation. Instead, reducing industrial activity will quickly accelerate the overheating of Earth. As a result, we face a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” predicament.
Because of the predicament we face, there is no societal “answer” to climate change. Electric cars will not solve this issue. Neither will solar panels and wind turbines. In other words, responses to abrupt, irreversible climate change can be found only within each of us. How we respond to abrupt, irreversible climate change, along with the ongoing pandemic and the ongoing Mass Extinction Event, is personal. We have few opportunities to positively influence the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mass Extinction Event, and abrupt, irreversible climate change. None of these opportunities, even if pursued with rigorous passion by each of us, will allow us to avoid the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing Mass Extinction Event, and abrupt, irreversible climate change. However, we have daily opportunities to improve the lives of the people around us, notably including our family and friends. Perhaps we can henceforth apply our focus where it matters, rather than where it does not.
As I have pointed out repeatedly in this space, we might have control over our own actions, and that’s about the extent of our ability to control anything. As Dominican-American writer and MIT creative writing professor Junot Díaz points out, “the only way out is in.” My own spin on this idea: At the edge of extinction, only love remains.
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