Why bother? Why indeed . . .

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Meet the Futilitarians

Who are the Futilitarians? They are the majority of us, from silent to noisy, who acknowledge that global warming is a problem and want to do something about it. But they can’t bring themselves to believe – let alone act on – the demands of climate reality and the consequences of the general chaos delivered by our relentless exponential growth (more next time on exponentiation, i.e., the wonders of multiplication by two).

The Futilitarians are those whom I regularly and duly malign (although they have my sympathies), who expect material “progress” to proceed apace regardless of the limitations of the natural world. I converse with them frequently, and the typical exchange goes something like this:

Me: Things are getting serious, we’ve got to make urgent changes now!

S/He: Yes, but – we can’t scare people or they’ll shut down, and they won’t do anything. At least we can convince them to reduce their carbon footprints by using energy-saving devices or buying a Prius.

Me: But ecosystems worldwide are unraveling fast and the positive feedback loops that are already spinning out of our control means that those things are of little consequence.

S/He: Yes, but we’ve got to be practical, and it’s better than doing nothing! Oh, by the way, could you please pass that twirly lightbulb?

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OK, I admit to a modicum of blogger license, but that’s essentially how the conversation goes. It ends there, and the decision has been made not to tell the truth, to the public or perhaps even more importantly, to ourselves.

But the question has been begged: Is doing something inconsequential truly better than doing nothing?

Well, perhaps it makes us feel better in the moment, but is that a good thing? We’ll just pretend everything’s cool while the world falls apart, until we can pretend no more. But is it true that knowing what’s coming down the pike fills people with such despair that all we can do is burrow into the wonderful worlds of TV, beer and Prozac?

Meet the Trutilitarians

It’s curious to me that the people most involved in studying climate and working to mobilize for the survival of civilization are anything but paralyzed into inaction. Scientists, activists, writers, cities and towns (1) – many are facing the future head-on, bouts of despair notwithstanding (2). Let me introduce you to one remarkable group that I am coming to know.

Rising Tide, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, was founded in the Netherlands in 2000 in an ultimately failed effort to support a substantive Kyoto Protocol. It is “a grassroots network of groups and individuals who take direct action to confront the root causes of climate change and promote local, community-based solutions to the climate crisis” (3). There are local Rising Tide organizations in Europe, Australia and the U.S.

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Rising Tide is one of the few climate activism organizations that understands the connections between greenhouse gases, globalization, racism, and unsustainable scale, and that actively strives to be multi-racial and multicultural. In the U.S., groups affiliated with Rising Tide have sponsored climate convergences. These are weeklong camps where people can learn about climate, sustainability, local self-sufficiency and organizing in their communities. I attended a recent meeting in Albany, New York to plan for what they are calling the Northeast Climate Confluence, to take place at the end of July 2008 (4) – it was one of the best-run, democratic and productive organizing meetings I’ve ever attended. And they were mostly in their twenties.

These young people are facing the ominous climate in their future honestly and without flinching, with determination and passion that is absent in what passes for climate action in most activist circles and in the general political arena. They are determined to turn it around, and their clarity and focus are extraordinary. These Trutilitarians inspire hope in ways the Futilitarians can barely imagine. They put their elders to shame.

Calling All Concerned with Global Warming
That Means Everybody!

I urge all climate thought leaders and thought followers, and anyone who wants to be serious in addressing global warming in all its global dimensions (for anything less simply will not work): listen up, these young people are with the program. They are changing the way they live, and have decided not to march off the cliff with the Futilitarian majority – we would all do well to follow their lead.

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Next time: Exponentiation Exuberance.

Copyright 2007 by Adam D. Sacks, all rights reserved.

1. Keene, New Hampshire, a member of the international program Cities for Climate Protection (http://www.iclei.org/index.php?id=800), is part of a pilot project called “Climate Resilient Cities,” where adaptation to inevitable climate changes is of primary concern. See Keene’s reports at www.ci.keene.nh.us/planning/climatekeene.htm.

2. I recommended Derrick Jensen’s remarkable piece, “Beyond Hope,” in the November 15, 2007 post, “Climate, the Casual Emergency.” I’m recommending it again just in case you haven’t read it yet: Orion, May/June 2006, http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/170/.
3. http://www.risingtidenorthamerica.org/wordpress/what-is-rising-tide/.

4. The Northeast Climate Confluence website is currently under construction. Once it’s up, I’ll post a link on the Climate Chronicles home page under “Links.” In the meanwhile, if you’d like to get involved send an e-mail to northeast@climateconvergence.org.