Waiting for a Savior

In Chapter 8, Claire puts her hope in one man who she believes can put things right.

Religion may be the only solution to the climate crisis. It’s also the surest path to destruction. We can tap into a transcendent morality and act on it, or we can say “it’s in the hands of God” and wait for a savior.

To preserve the ice cap and the age-old jet stream patterns that agriculture depends on requires quick and dramatic reductions in fossil fuels. That will cause huge economic dislocations, even if we simultaneously create a lot of jobs maximizing efficiency and renewable power. Fossil fuels are the predicate of our economy right down to fertilizer, which is made mostly from natural gas. Rapidly shifting away from fossil fuels will just as rapidly make us poorer and less comfortable. Unemployment will spike. Food will become much more expensive and, in certain parts of the country, harder to get, especially in winter.

In other words, it will require sacrifice.

Some climate action advocates will hate that statement. But holding out hope that it can be otherwise is a form of denial, and denial is what got us so deep into this hole in the first place.

Nobody is going to give up fossil fuels without believing it’s for the greater good and believing that others believe it, too. It’s a matter of faith and trust. They’re certainly not going to do it if they think they’re being played for suckers.

That’s why our best hope might be a collective moral realization that we can’t let the ice cap collapse, despite any uncertainty about what the specific consequences will be. Who better to persuade people of this than religious leaders?

An existential crisis at the planetary scale transcends rational argumentation. No sane person can be “for” or “against” the disintegration of the ice cap, and there’s no reasonable way to debate whether it’s going to happen. The future is uncertain even when circumstances are local and well-understood.  Holding a pencil above the floor, we know it will fall if we drop it. But beyond such a simple case,  multiple possible outcomes abound.

If I run a stop sign at 50 miles per hour, I could collide with another car and kill both the other driver and myself, or one or the other. Or we  could both be unharmed. Or I could sail untouched through the intersection and arrive at my destination 30 seconds sooner than I would have otherwise.

But even in this case, the range of possible outcomes is personally comprehensible. There’s enough data and experience to understand it’s a very bad and immoral risk to take.

Not so with the climate. To say that losing the ice cap would be unprecedented in human history wouldn’t even rise to the level of gross understatement. The word “unprecedented” implies some context in which the consequences are personally comprehensible. It implies adaptation and recovery. But if the ice cap goes, every component of the planetary ecosystem will be upset. Earth without its ice cap is not a planet humans have ever inhabited. While particular outcomes can’t be put forward with certainty, anyone with the least moral imagination instinctively knows that destroying the ice cap is simply wrong.

Based on this gut feeling, we may agree to act. Otherwise, we’re left with Insha’Allah, God willing. We’re left waiting for divine intervention. A savior.

Who will step into this vacuum? A saint? Or a demagogue? A Lincoln? Or a Hitler?


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