10.08.18 | Climate Change Reckoning

Well, here it comes. On September 10, 2015 a group of twenty-five youths filed a landmark climate lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon alleging the federal government has violated the constitutional rights of the youngest generation to life, liberty, and property through its promotion of fossil fuels. Juliana v. U.S. is winding its way through the courts, having survived a number of challenges by the fossil fuel industry and others, with trial scheduled to finally begin later this (October) month. Plaintiffs seek a national plan to address carbon dioxide levels.

Good grief, maybe this generation of the future is aiming way too low. Recall, first, last year's Member Monday (7/17/17) session on the long-form article The Uninhabitable Earth (David Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine, link: 

The Uninhabitable Earth - NYMag). Our next Member Monday (10/8/18) is about the status of the globe fifteen months later given the suggestion back then the article may have gone "a little too far" in its warnings. First item of note, we're already behind the cited temperature target (World 'nowhere near on track' to avoid warming ... - The Guardian).  Second, demographic patterns are starting to shift defensively in response to this dawning reality (Climate gentrification: the rich can afford to move ... - The Guardian). The wolf is frisking at the door.

Climate change deniers have their story, of course -- the Koch brothers alone have reportedly contributed more than $100 million to tell theirs. Fair enough. Fair, too, then would be a look at the facts through a less-conflicted lens. Enter the new two-volume book Carbon Ideologies by William  T. Vollmann  (reviewed here: Carbon Ideologies, William T. Vollmann.pdf). Regard the underlying massive (1,268-page) work as a thought experiment, though one based on extensive research and exhaustive on-the-ground observations e.g. Fukushima (nuclear), West Virginia (coal), Colorado (natural gas) and the United Arab Emirates (oil).

Be forewarned. His account has been called one of the most honest books ever written on climate change, the vanguard of a coming second wave of climate literature, books written not to diagnose or solve the problem, but to grapple with its moral consequences. Vollmann's "letter to the future" does not offer solutions as he does not believe any are possible. So viewed, the Complaint in Juliana v. U.S. might just as well be amended to read: Plaintiffs, the entirety of the young and unborn; Defendants, all the rest of us; Damages, the trashing of the planet. How does one put a price on that? For everything else there's Mastercard.

Member Monday (10/8/18) is dedicated to the proposition that the truth lies somewhere between the vision of Vollmann and that of the Kochs. There must be something between the two as either extreme leads to inaction -- one side because there's no hope and the other side because there's no problem. So, where do we (you) stand right now given the uncertainty of what we (you) know today? Pretend we (you) are writing a time-capsule "letter to the future." There must be something more uplifting and inspiring than Vollmann's suicide note which seeks, not intervention, but forgiveness on the part of future generations for our moral failings.

We'll then file it as an amicus brief to the Oregon action.


Once in a great while comes a piece so compelling that it demands supplemental inclusion in a Member Monday introduction. Highland club member Parker Johnson, in his review of the book Environmental Melancholia: Psychoanalytic Dimensions of Engagement, by Renee Lertzman, addresses the role of the individual and collective unconscious to perhaps break through the ultimate tragedy of the commons we call climate change.

by Parker Johnson (his Amazon book review):       
"I believe it was Nietzsche who said some crises are so great that only the initiated can speak of them. This book is a masterpiece aimed at further enlightening the initiated into a larger, grand perspective on the individual and collective unconscious at work relating to humanity's inability to address Climate Change with the focus, maturity and collective political will it requires. Standing on the shoulders of giants, Lertzman has tapped into a complex web of psychoanalytic theories to construct a thesis which strikes at the core of our wounded, patriarchal culture. She has in fact used cogent, cognitive, linear scientific research to support and explain something many sovereign and spiritual elders across various traditions have offered from a perspective of heart-centered awareness (and non-scientific intuition).

The punch line being that we are all in this together - and until we can openly and unapologetically name, own and mourn our despair and fears of loss over our environmental crisis, we are stuck - and we can't get real with one another and get on with the necessary work of adopting the universal political will to confront and transcend the unintended consequences of what our fossil fuel economy has wrought. Moreover, she offers that most environmental advocacy campaigns are working to either put a happy face on sustainability or scare people into action. Yet such threats evoke the most primitive psychotic anxieties about annihilation, and mobilize the most primitive defenses - and yet, even these primitive defenses can serve as an initial impulse leading us into truly feeling and expressing our outrage - not only anger, but genuine outrage. And from our appropriate expression of outrage we can find the courage necessary to feel into our pain. She goes on to offer that "mourning our reality fosters the process of 'working through' ambivalence and fear, rather than using fear incentives and cajoling a socially constructed apathetic audience to action."

This is big stuff - and these are huge revelations towards deepening the conversation and navigating a path of reparation and reconciliation with not only our own split and splintered psyches, but with authentically transmuting our despair and apathy into right action. This book is not light or easy reading. It is a dense and deep academic probe into the unconscious mind - and in bringing these shadows into the light, perhaps there is hope for us to pivot our collective efforts towards owning our pain, confronting the possibilities of our loss, and generating the will to create and innovate a sustainable future."

Steve SmithComment