The American elections: a suicide note from human civilization?


Stephen Gardiner, in his book A Perfect Moral Storm, says that climate change produces moral corruption. The worst effects of carbon pollution are many years to come; responsibility is diffused over hundreds of governments, thousands of corporations, billions of individuals, and many generations; and, we are not well practiced or intellectually equipped for making decisions about problems of this sort. So it is hard not to make up stories, to fool ourselves, to tell ourselves that what we do now doesn’t matter, and carry on as before. That is moral corruption. It leaves us with a good chance that action will not be taken soon enough to avert catastrophe.

Americans voted yesterday for more moral corruption, choosing to boost the power of a party that is wedded to the propositions that we can’t have a good life without plenty of fossil fuels, and that the best scientific advice should be ignored. Pollsters tell us that most Americans don’t agree with what Republicans say about climate change; the polls tell us that most have chosen not to care.

Madeleine Thomas writes of Climate Depression – psychological harm suffered from knowing how bad the situation is, and then seeing how ill-prepared others are to face the facts; climate scientists, she says, are hit by it particularly hard.

It’s not surprising, given the choice, to see a vote for moral corruption over depression. But while depression can lead to an individual’s suicide, moral corruption in this instance is collective suicide. Perhaps we should say, in the words of Walt Kelly, we have met the enemy, and they are us. Yet that universal irony fails to capture the vital and terrifying particular of this situation, namely that “we” encompasses both the living and our descendents – and their whole biosphere. We are edging towards a planetary Jonestown with our generation holding the guns while our unseen great-grandchildren drink the kool-aid.

Which is a grim image, but if I didn’t sound depressed I might be suspected of moral corruption.

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