It’s not “the end of the world,” just the end of the world as we know it… and maybe that’s a good thing
Atmospheric carbon levels have hit what some scientists have called “the point of no return” – the point at which no amount of cutbacks on greenhouse gas emissions will save us from potentially catastrophic global warming.
March marked the first time atmospheric carbon levels remained at 400 ppm or higher for a month straight, and as of the end of September (when carbon levels usually take a dip), Scripps Institute of Oceanography is predicting we won’t be seeing a monthly average below 400 ppm anytime this year or perhaps “ever again for the indefinite future.”
The last time CO2 levels were this high – at least 4 million years ago – humans did not exist, warns an international environmental organization called 350.org, which claims CO2 levels higher than 350 ppm are unsustainable long-term.
While it’s unclear how high carbon levels can get before humans again cease to exist, scientists have long been warning of the coming 400 ppm figure as an “ominous sign” of the times.
“It’s a banner week for the end of the world, because we’ve officially pushed atmospheric carbon levels past their dreaded 400 parts per million – permanently,” Sarah Emerson wrote in an article for Vice last week titled “Goodbye World: We’ve Passed the Carbon Tipping Point For Good.”
After listing some of the dire consequences of our new CO2 benchmark – unprecedented rate of species extinction, food-chain disruptions, rising sea levels, monster storms, ocean acidification and coral bleaching – Emerson offers a “silver lining” – that this new high could be the “rock bottom” that spurs people to action.
She isn’t wrong – in our culture’s history of rampant destruction of the living world, this is a particularly sobering moment – but I take issue with her use of the word “permanent” and her suggestion that the world is ending.
She’s not the only one saying it. There are plenty of headlines – here, here and here – claiming we’ve passed the “point of no return,” but nobody is saying what it is we can’t return to. Of course we can’t return to the lifestyle we’ve been living for the last 200 years, or maybe even the last 10,000 years, but just because civilization is on its way out, doesn’t mean Earth, and maybe even a few humans, won’t go on without it.
It feels only honest to acknowledge the bleakness of our current situation. The entire nihilist-anarchist phenomena – which more and more of us within the “radical” milieu are finding we identify with – is based upon the utter disaster that is civilization, especially industrial civilization. Leftists, right-wingers, environmentalists, liberals, feminists, pacifists, you name it – all these groups have let daily acts of environmental destruction go relatively unchallenged. They’ve fought for minor, temporary victories that have served to pacify us about permanent losses.
But perhaps admitting the grimness of our future is the first step to changing it. Derrick Jensen argues “when hope dies, action begins.”
“A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that giving up on hope didn’t kill you. It didn’t even make you less effective. In fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or something else to solve your problems — you ceased hoping your problems would somehow get solved through the magical assistance of God, the Great Mother, the Sierra Club, valiant tree-sitters, brave salmon, or even the Earth itself — and you just began doing whatever it takes to solve those problems yourself.”
“Civilization is failing on every level, in every sphere, and its failure equates so largely with the failure of technology itself … the global system shows itself to have no answers at all,” John Zeran writes in his book – Why Hope?
It is increasingly likely that by 2030 the world economy will have collapsed, taking down with it the institutions contributing to impending environmental collapse (if we’re lucky).
If we accept the arguments of paleontologists (which I personally do), Earth has faced five mass-extinction events like the one we’re living through now. Throughout each of them, countless struggling life-forms fought against and overcame the “impossible” conditions they faced, not caring about the “indefiniteness” of their futures. They strived for life and to live as much as they possibly could. Why should we do any different? As Situationists say – “be realistic, demand the impossible!”
If we abandon hope in powers outside ourselves and start to take real action, we can finally put an end to this death culture as it thrashes out on its last leg, and maybe even create a world where life is about thriving rather than surviving.
Whether through groups like the Niger Delta Avengers, Wild Reaction, Earth First, Hunt Sabs, individual acts of resistance, permaculture or rewilding, there are countless ways we can support the economic collapse and protect what is left of the environment. Our imaginations need not be restricted by history, as we exist within the present. The future has not yet been determined. We don’t need to say goodbye to the world, nor should we.
Written by Julian Langer. Langer is a radical environmentalist, grassroots activist, eco-anarchist writer and member of Deep Green Resistance. He has a BA in psychology and philosophy.