The Case for Hope and the Burden of the Long Twilight Struggle
March 30, 2023
Last week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the final pages of its periodic report about the state of the climate’s present and future. Known as AR6, it is grim stuff. It shows that humanity is entering a permanently different world; a world that will never return to the one we grew up in, regardless of our choices.
When I speak with people that are beginning their climate journey and coming to grips with our climate future and their individual impact upon it, they often lean towards despondency. That the effects of their individual choices are swept away in a sea of others who seem not to care. What does it matter if you take the bus if your neighbor is rolling coal? The enormity of the problem and the consequences of failing to collectively act paint vivid pictures of the cataclysm. Opening the Pandora’s box of climate knowledge sweeps away the ignorance of the problem to overwhelm one with the great and unexpected troubles we all face.
But at the bottom of Pandora’s box was the word Hope. And, having taken the emotional journey of climate and walked through my own period of despondency, I remain hopeful. And I think you should be, too.
Since I started my journey, beginning as a teenager and in earnest in 2014, I have seen a lot of change in how we engage the problem. Instead of watching annual climate-related emissions climb ever higher, we see signs of them flattening out. Though AR6 did not receive the media attention it deserved, shocks of environmental calamity and political upheaval have shaken the complacent into action and denialists mostly into silence. And most exciting to me is that the rising Climate Generation of Millennials and Gen-Z have forced climate action into the forefront of the domestic and international conversation.
But I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna. It isn’t enough to be just hopeful. Hope is the start, not the end. We must act.
In President Kennedy’s famous inaugural address, he proclaimed,
…the trumpet summons us… to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
We are now in that period of twilight, having failed to fully subdue our “common enemies” and adding to them the greatest enemy of all: climate change. To defeat this uber-enemy of our shared future, we also need to address the cruel use of political power, income inequality at home and abroad, lack of access to basic human necessities, and the right of safety and security for every human being. The trumpet summons us all to this struggle.
If that seems like a tall order, it is. The tallest ever ordered. If it seems an effort to remake the world, it is, but one borne of necessity. If this feels simultaneously depressing and a bit grandiloquent, my apologies, but the scale of the problem drives it. We together must simultaneously reduce emissions to zero and restore the capacity of natural systems to begin removing what has accumulated in our atmosphere.
I’ll leave you with something more modest. A previous report of the IPCC in 2018 said that “Every bit of warming matters, every year matters, every choice matters.” That remains even more true today. It is the animus of why Aclymate came to be – to empower the rest of us to make the right decisions on the innumerable climate choices we all face daily. To enlist everyone in the fight against climate change and to make a mighty army out of many individuals. Because the final thing to take away from AR6 is that we are not consigned nor guaranteed any particular future. It is ours to choose through action or inaction. But the future is coming, and we all each bear responsibility for what it will be with every choice.