Why We’re Failing The Climate Test

The finals hall at McGill University, where I actually failed a few

Ever since I took my first test, I vowed to just study earlier next time. I have been studiously breaking this vow ever since. Most people are like me and unfortunately ‘most people’ constitute a society. We’re just not good at balancing short-term annoyance with long-term catastrophe. And so we fail.

Humanity faces a climate test, and we have to act early, really decades ago. White people have been dimly aware that lighting shit on fire makes it hot since the 1970s and the people they colonized have been telling them for centuries. But people just want to get gas in the tank and go to work today, and their bosses just want to make money this quarter. And so we fail. This time on a planetary scale.

I don’t mean to say that it’s your fault, or that we’re psychologically doomed to this fate. The truth is that we had more balanced civilizations before, we had communist revolutions last century, other paths have always been possible. It’s just not where we ended up.

The great triumph of capitalism has been its amputation of the imagination. We can’t imagine anything else. Not everybody, but most people and, you know, that’s enough. As Zizek said, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

Any actual solutions to the huge problem we face are viewed as crazy. Degrowth is impossible, revolution would be disastrous, planning a balanced economy is insane. Big changes to our concept of democracy, of nation states, of wealth, of power, these are just off the table, that would be too much change.

But we have to understand that what they call climate ‘change’ is fundamentally about balance. Either we change a lot or the climate does. Since we’re only making little changes, we’re getting a huge collapse. That’s just the nature of scales.

The truth is that the scale of change required would suck in the long-term. Rich people would simply lose their investments in fossil fuels and car companies and over-consumption, everything propping up their portfolios right now. We’d be talking about the destruction of the futures market so the planet could have a future. This of course wouldn’t be restricted to them, entire economies would collapse.

Then people would revolt (likely for access to fossil fuels back) and you’d see waves of violence across the world. This could go fascist, it could go communist, it could go unknown. We’d have to have Shiva-level destruction in order to even get to a place where the creation of a new society is possible.

Then we’d have to reconstruct new, likely disconnected societies without a unipolar currency or military power, and with an almost religious ban on even the concept of capitalist growth. It’d have to be recognized as the planetary cancer it is, and culturally taboo and controlled.

If this sounds impossible today, it is, no country or people are going to do this to themselves, but nonetheless it will be done. As I said, either we change or the climate does, and the climate is certainly changing.

The world will be so changed that much more than investments in fossil fuels will be lost, almost everything will be decimated. We’re talking about trillions in value erased, everything from agriculture to natural resources to physical land just going underwater. Forget Wall Street going under, the physical street itself will flood. The truth is that the only choice we have is between controlled demolition and uncontrolled demolition. Shit is getting demolished either way.

The impacts on food, energy, and water will be so much that revolutions will spread across the globe anyways, with much more desperate people involved. The ruling class can only delay their reckoning for a while, but given that most of them are in their 70s and 80s, they don’t give a fuck. That’s why most pledges are for 2050. They’ll be comfortably dead by then, and you can’t guillotine a corpse.

Finally, new, disconnected societies will have to reassemble, because however fucked the planet is, this isn’t an extinction level event for us. Like I’ve said, humans are cockroaches with guns. But these new societies will simply have been through much more trauma and have much less Earth left, because we waited too long.

I look at this fate and we can’t avoid it. It’s like me before every test I took. I knowthe feeling of fucked when you haven’t studied enough, but that’s in the future. In that moment when I should be studying, watching TV just felt so good. It’s like our brains are just not well-equipped for long-term vs short-term thinking, and colonialism decimated the cultures that could.

It feels like the night before an exam, looking at all the stuff you didn’t do, and thinking it’s somehow possible. And then still taking a bong hit and falling asleep because you just want to close your eyes for a minute. Then waking up when it’s far too late, and rushing to just not get zero.

I’m not saying everyone is like this, but most people are. We know everything we need to do, we know who we need to overthrow, we have all the books to study if we want. We just don’t wanna. And so we fail.