A moment for hopeful radicals and radical hope
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
By almost all accounts and on almost all metrics, we are failing at meeting the challenges and needs associated with climate change and biodiversity loss created by the environmental demands of our interconnected neoliberal societies. The warnings coming from our scientific communities about the impeding environmental crises have become dire, diverse, and evermore pressing for humanity. One billion people are projected to be displaced by climate change by 2050 from a myriad of horrifying environmental disasters. 1.8 billion people will be malnourished by 2050. Agricultural land is projected to decrease by 10-25%. Fishing is projected to decrease by 40%. There will be a net calorie shortfall for food production globally, meaning that for the first time in human history there will not be enough food for everyone on a global scale. Hurricane intensity and destruction is projected to increase with warmer ocean temperatures. Wildfires are expected to increase due to increased temperatures and shifts in rainfall patterns. Tropical diseases are expected to migrate into new areas as global temperatures rise. And these are only a few examples of the legion of problems created from climate change and biodiversity loss.
In this moment, it is easy to feel hopeless around a future dominated by climate change and biodiversity loss. Moreover, it’s logical. It makes sense – humans have never faced such globally pervasive and threatening challenges to our continued flourishing while living in a world that seems evermore fragmented. We have certainly encountered and survived regional environmental catastrophes with varying levels of success (we have witnessed multiple robust societies collapse from environmental disasters), but these challenges did not fundamentally alter the basic assumptions about the continued existence of human life in the ways that climate change and biodiversity loss currently threaten our species. And, we have never witnessed the multicultural, multi-national, and multi-societal cooperation needed to address these truly global and multifaceted challenges.
Yet, while hopelessness or a passive resignation to an impending environmental catastrophe are completely logical, they only guarantee a disastrous outcome for humanity. Humanity is driving itself into an environmental collapse which will be characterized by all the horrors that have been witnessed when societies break under the weight of environmental pressures – violence, starvation, desperation, isolation, death. And our hopelessness is leading to resignation and inactivity, the same place as outright denial. Death.
At the same time, blind and naïve environmental optimism is ungrounded from the difficult truths that shape the realities of climate change. As a species, we cannot afford to wear the rose-colored glasses of technological solutions available to wealthy individuals and nations which so often neglect to see the suffering of disenfranchised and voiceless communities, including the non-human. We have built a world full of economic slaves who have no choice but to continue the processes of exchanging the environmental health of their communities (and the world) for no more than subsistence. As long as poor individuals are forced to degrade their environment in order to exist, there will not be substantial progress on climate change. Advancements in photovoltaic cells or grid technologies cannot address an underlying reality that for many humans the technological advancements lauded in the fight against carbon dioxide production are inaccessible and often the cause of localized environmental suffering.
Humans have already altered the climate of the planet beyond the point where we can avoid all the horrors of environmental degradation. We are already witnessing hellish wildfires that are so large and powerful that they are darkening out the skies across entire continents and hurricanes that are so intense that they are erasing entire island nations. We have moved beyond the point where humanity can afford to ignore the consequences of climate change while we struggle to address its root causes.
But, despite all of the horrors that are happening and that will happen, there are very real reasons to have hope in this moment for a better future. Because climate change and biodiversity loss intersect with so many other unjust systems (racism, classism, sexism, heteronormism, patriarchy, ableism, etc.), humanity cannot address the climate and biodiversity crises without addressing other forms of inequity and injustice in the world. As someone who yearns to see a more just and equitable world, I am heartened by the difficult reality that successful solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss must include a vision of the world that is foundationally more equal than the existence we have currently created. And we can work together to solve these problems. We must.
Reinhold Niebuhr famously wrote in a prayer, asking God to “give us the courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and insight to know one from another.” In this time, we must accept that we cannot stop all of the suffering caused by climate change, but we can change the future to be more equitable and just. We can build a world that works with the realities of environmental degradation to make sure that all needs are being met. In that world, there can be no place for the injustices we see today.
I can see that future and I know, if we work together in courage and hope, we can create a world that works together for the benefit of all living things, instead of a world that thrives on competition. We can create a world where people do not starve, structural injustices seem like antiquated and backwards concepts, and humans live in harmony with their environment and each other.
I hope you join me in building that world because that world is coming, and soon.
 Scott A. Kulp and Benjamin H. Strauss, “New Elevation Data Triple Estimates of Global Vulnerability to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Flooding,” Nature Communications 10, no. 1 (December 1, 2019).  “Goal 2: Zero Hunger - United Nations Sustainable Development,” accessed December 9, 2019, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/.  “Climate Change and Your Food: Ten Facts,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2020, http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/356770/icode/.  “IPCC Report Global Warming of 1.5 C: Summary for Policymakers” (Switzerland, 2018).  H. M. Cullen et al., “Climate Change and the Collapse of the Akkadian Empire: Evidence from the Deep Sea,” Geology 28, no. 4 (April 1, 2000): 379,; Gerald H Haug et al., “Climate and the Collapse of Maya Civilization.,” Science (New York, N.Y.) 299, no. 5613 (March 14, 2003): 1731–35.