THE HEIR TO RACHEL CARSON’S SILENT SPRING

August 12th, 2015

I first wrote about Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate on 14 March, at the beginning of my consideration of The Guardian’s Keep Carbon In The Ground campaign. I ordered a copy of Klein’s book from the library and waited nearly five months for my request to be filled.

That was a huge mistake. I ought to have bought a copy—an error I have since corrected—that day.

What follows are my notes from the introduction of the book (pp. 1-28) as compiled in My Electronic Chapbook. More will follow in the coming days. Don’t wait for my notes, however, buy the book today. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring galvanized my own environmental awareness in 1969 when I was a high school freshman. I’ve read many books on ecology and the environment since, but none come close to the clarity and call to action as Klein’s.

She is an amazing, focused and clear writer with a vital message to share. My fervent wish is that what she has done here will have the same effect on people as did Carson’s descriptions of those silent robins.

Slavery wasn’t a crisis for British and American elites until abolitionism turned it into one. Racial discrimination wasn’t a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one. Apartheid wasn’t a crisis until the anti-apartheid movement turned it into one.

In the very same way, if enough of us stop looking away and decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of Marshall Plan levels of response, then it will become one, and the political class will have to respond, both by making resources available and by bending the free market rules that have proven so pliable when elite interests are in peril. p. 6

So my mind keeps coming back to the question: what’s wrong with us? What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that is threatening to burn down our collective house?

I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe—and would benefit the vast majority—are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process and most of our major media outlets. That problem might not have been insurmountable had it presented itself at another point in history. But it is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made the decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when those elites were enjoying more unfettered political, cultural and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s. Indeed, governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988—the exact year that marked the dawning of what we call globalization, with the signing of the agreement representing the world’s largest bilateral trade relationship between Canada and the United States, later to be expanded into the North American Free Trade Agreement with the inclusion of Mexico. p. 18-9.

[Free trade] was always about using these sweeping deals, as well as a range of other tools, to lock in a global policy framework that provided maximum freedom to multinational corporations to produce goods as cheaply as possible and sell them with as few regulations as possible—while paying as little taxes as possible. Granting this corporate wishlist, we were told, would fuel economic growth, which could trickle down to the rest of us, eventually. The trade deals mattered only in so far as they stood in for, and plainly articulated, this broader agenda.

The three pillars of this new era are familiar to us all: privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector and lower corporate taxation, paid for with cuts to public spending. p. 19

The bottom line is what matters here: our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. p. 21

Because, underneath all of this is the real truth we have been avoiding: climate change isn’t an issue to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve. p. 25

When fear like that used to creep through my armor of climate change denial, I would do my utmost to stuff it away, change the channel, click past it. Now I try to feel it. It seems to me that I owe it to my son, just as we all owe to ourselves and one another.

But what should we do with this fear that comes from living on a planet that is dying, made less alive every day? First, accept that it won’t go away. That it is a fully rational response to the unbearable reality that we are living in a dying world, a world that a great many of us are helping to kill, by doing things like making tea and driving to the grocery store and yes, okay, having kids.

Next, use it. Fear is a survival response. Fear makes us run, it makes us leap, it can make us act superhuman. But we need somewhere to run to. Without that, the fear is only paralyzing. So the real trick, the only hope, really, is to allow the terror of an unlivable future to be balanced and soothed by the prospect of building something much better than many of us have previously dared hope.

Yes, there will be things we will lose, luxuries some of us have to give up, whole industries that will disappear. And it’s too late to stop climate change from coming; it is already here, and increasingly brutal disasters are headed our way no matter what we do. But it’s not too late to avert the worst, and there is still time to change ourselves so that we are far less brutal to one another when those disasters strike. And that, it seems to me, is worth a great deal. p. 28

This last awakened me like a plunge through ice. In the past week I have turned off my radio because of stories concerning animal deaths from Global Warming. This is why I chose to put the end of the Rite of Spring clip from Fantasia at the top of this post. Watching this video makes my heart hurt in ways that the images did not when I first saw the movie more than a half-century ago.

As I’ve grown older I have found myself increasingly affected by stories and videos involving injury to animals. This is perhaps driven by my own very deep relationship with a mutt named Buster.

I, we all, must heed Klein’s call-to-arms, to not turn away, to use the fear while we can yet save the only home we have: Earth.

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