Hope Amid Climate Chaos: A Conversation with Rebecca Solnit

Yves here. As many of you no doubt know, Rebecca Solnit, among other things, wrote a seminal book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Per Wikipedia:

In a conversation with filmmaker Astra Taylor for BOMB magazine, Solnit summarized the radical theme of A Paradise Built in Hell: “What happens in disasters demonstrates everything an anarchist ever wanted to believe about the triumph of civil society and the failure of institutional authority.”

While Solnit’s study of how people pull together at times of localized but very severe crises is insightful, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about her focusing on hope as a critical element in fighting climate change.

Yours truly is not big on hope in general, and particularly in dealing with systemic crises. Some readings of the Pandora’s Box myth depict Hope emerging last, after all the other evils have been loosed upon mankind, as not a form of relief but yet another curse.

Notice the preoccupation among climate activists in presenting green energy as a magic bullet solution, and not calling for conservation and changes in habits and consumption? One gets the impression that they are loath to discuss the need for sacrifice to try to forestall more severe hardships not that much further down the road.

Unfortunately, America’s consumerist and now tech-overstimulated culture is big on short term gratification. For the overwhelming majority of people, climate change is not the sort of immediate and overwhelming threat that (per Solnit) produces dedication and cooperation. Fighting climate change is more like signing up for a marathon. Hope is unlikely to be a strong enough fuel to maintain commitment in the face of the likelihood of failure. Duty may be a better basis for instilling the needed stamina: duty to your family and friends, your children, and others who come after you.

A big problem I have not seen addressed is that the mechanisms we use to deny the inevitability of our death are very likely in play in pretending that climate change is a big human civilization (and perhaps even human existence) ending event bearing down on us.

I’ve often recounted this tale:

In the Indian epic Mahabharata, Yudhisthira goes looking for his missing brothers, who went searching for water. He finds them all dead next to a pond. In despair, but still parched, he is about to drink, but a crane tells him he must answer some questions first.

The last and most difficult: “What is the greatest wonder of the world?” Yudhisthira answers, “Day after day, hour after hour, countless people die, yet the living believe they will live forever.” The crane reveals himself to be the Lord of Death and, after some further discussion, revives the brothers.

How we overcome this fundamental psychological protection mechanism is well over my pay grade, but tackling it may be necessary for our collective survival.

By Stella Levantesi, an Italian climate journalist, photographer, and author. She is the author of the Gaslit series on DeSmog. Her main areas of expertise are climate disinformation, climate litigation, and corporate responsibility on the climate crisis. Her book “I bugiardi del clima” (Climate Liars) was published in Italy with Laterza, and her work has featured in The New Republic and Nature Italy. You can follow her on Twitter @StellaLevantesi. Originally published at DeSmogBlog

Author, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit. Credit: Trent Davis Bailey

From throwing soup against paintings, to blocking roads, to striking for the climate, to stopping private jets from taking off, activists worldwide are pushing harder than ever for action to address global warming. And they are delivering a clear and consistent message: What has long been accepted as the status quo — expanding fossil fuels, investing in polluting industries, oil and gas propaganda, greenwashing, climate change denial, governmental delay in climate action — is simply not acceptable anymore. The climate movement is working incessantly to make this clear to everyone.

When we talk about any movement, including the push for climate action, we’re talking about a “zeitgeist, a change in the air,” writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit writes in her essay-turned-book Hope in the Dark, which focuses on the intersection of activism, social change, and hope. It’s this last element, hope, that can become “an electrifying force in the present,” Solnit writes, “a sense that there might be a door at some point, some way out of the problems of the present moment even before it is found or followed.”

As activists and others work towards this door, they do so with the belief that there is still time to act and that the climate is worth fighting for. These same convictions are at the core of Solnit’s and storyteller Thelma Young Lutunatabua’s most recent project, Not Too Late, which offers perspectives, resources, and “good paths forward” for those who care about the climate. The pair are also transforming the project into a book, coming April 2023, with contributions by activists, authors, experts, journalists, and others from around the globe.

I published the first Gaslit column a year ago this month. To celebrate its one-year anniversary, I wanted to depart from the usual format to focus on the essential role of activism and hope in combating the forces of delay and denial. I spoke with Solnit about hope and the future of climate action in the face of intensifying impacts from global warming, oil and gas industry propaganda and greenwashing, violence against activists, and inaction by political leaders. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


In Hope in the Dark you wrote that hope requires imagination and clarity, and in your latest essay published by the Guardian you said that every crisis is a storytelling crisis. The Indian writer Amitav Ghosh also said that the climate crisis is a cultural crisis, and thus a crisis of imagination. ​​If we cannot imagine it, tell it, be culturally immersed in it, how can we face it? How do we reconcile these three dimensions: the climate crisis, imagination, and hope? And if we succeed in reconciling them what can that lead to?


I always feel it’s very important to clear up the distinction between hope and optimism. For me, optimism is a form of certainty: everything will be fine, therefore, nothing is required of us, which is really the same as cynicism and pessimism and despair. Hope, for me, is just recognizing that the future is being decided to some extent in the present, and what we do matters because of that reality.

I think the fundamental role of imagination and hope is just the ability to imagine a world that’s different from what it is now. [Writer] Adrienne Maree Brown once said that all organizing is science fiction because you’re imagining something that doesn’t exist yet. But of course, it’s like, what is it that you’re imagining? I find that so many people around me are very good at imagining everything falling apart, everything getting worse; they’re good at dystopia, they’re bad at utopia.

There’s a lot of reasons why people find dystopia very credible and utopia or improvements hard to comprehend. I think some of that comes from amnesia. If you don’t know how much the world has been changed, to some extent for the better, how much the climate movement has achieved, then you don’t really have a picture of how change works either.


Various people, including the theologian Walter Brueggemann and the climate activist and lawyer Julian Aguon, talk about memory as crucial to hope. And I share their belief. If you don’t understand the past, you don’t understand that people have faced the end of their world. Things change powerfully and profoundly over and over again — change is the one constant — and then you can narrow in and focus on the fact that grassroots movements, citizens organizations, NGOs, activists — people who are often considered to be powerless, irrelevant, marginal — have changed the world over and over again.


In Hope in the Dark you’ve emphasized how activism can bring about change in a non-linear way, how sometimes it is subtle and slow but how, within it, we must recognize the importance of victories. What are the most significant victories of today’s climate movement?


I think the biggest one of all happened in the last couple of years, but it’s a matter of consciousness rather than legislation or divestment or one of the practical things we aim for: We have captured the public imagination.

Five years ago, 10 years ago, a lot of people weren’t worried about the climate. They didn’t care about it, they didn’t think about it, they didn’t see it as urgent, they weren’t engaged with it, nor were they supportive of the need to pursue the solutions. That’s really different now.

There was surely a point where we were more or less starting from nothing, but we’ve built strong movements, we’ve achieved a lot of victories. The fossil fuel industry is very aware of our power and is fighting it with everything they’ve got. A lot of energy transitions are underway. The Paris [Agreement] is a huge victory. And in our forthcoming book, Not Too Late, [we’re] changing the climate story from despair to possibility. The divestment movement has gotten [nearly] $41 trillion divested.

Each thing I talk about has indirect consequences. The [fight against the Keystone] XL pipeline educated so many of us, including me, about the Alberta tar sands and the role of pipelines in the fossil fuel industry and the volatility of pipelines as a pressure point. The divestment movement helped a lot of people recognize this particular form of complicity; a lot of us have [recognized] what our money is doing, or what our church’s money or university’s money or government’s money is doing. We also portrayed the fossil fuel industry the way we portrayed apartheid regimes and other things as morally reprehensible.

You’re always making indirect change, even with the most direct change you pursue — and sometimes direct change doesn’t yield consequences.


Repression from governments and police today against climate activists in movements such as Just Stop Oil in the UK or “Last Generation” in Italy to some extent parallels the fossil fuel industry’s lies, and the climate deniers and delayers targeting activists through propaganda and attacks. What does this violence say to you?


The first takeaway that I think is really important and often lost is this proves that they’re scared of us. They think we’re powerful, they think we’re going to have an impact, because they’re desperate to stop it. You don’t use violence unless you are really concerned. Propaganda and lies haven’t been good enough.

Violence, I think, is also very clarifying. That is, in a way, almost easier to deal with than the other thing that’s happened — decades of denying, trivializing the climate crisis, all the greenwashing, the pretending that they are doing what the climate requires. When it comes to a lot of fossil fuel–related entities and beneficiaries of the industry, we see delay, distraction, false promises, which are almost harder to fight than violence.

Environmentalists have been attacked [for a long time]. I once read a lot of the book reviews of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, and to see the industry and the mansplainers and the corporate shills attack her credibility, her right to speak, her sanity, the facts of the situation, to see how many environmentalists, particularly in the global south, have been murdered for speaking up since Chico Mendes and Ken Saro-Wiwa in the ’80s and ’90s, is to know [that] when there’s huge amounts of money and power at stake, the game can be very dangerous — and it always has been.


A common strategy of political leaders, as well as the fossil fuel industry, is to deny the need for change, sometimes by delaying it and stating that another world is impossible, but sometimes, as you call it, by promoting “false hope.” Can you tell us about how “false hope” works and whether it involves the use of fear?


On the one side, I think there’s what I call “naïve hope” which is really optimism, the idea that things are going to be fine, that it will all work out, et cetera. But “false hope” is usually cynicism pursuing a corrupt agenda, because these people don’t actually hope the solutions will work. They hope that you’ll believe — the public will believe — these solutions will work. They can’t imagine that the world could just be very, profoundly different in day-to-day life — how we consume, what our values are. False hopes to me are just marketing by people who are cynical. And then you see people believing it.

I was really frustrated when the nuclear fusion came out of Lawrence Livermore [National Laboratory]. To see the mainstream media jump on it, like, “We’re going to have this amazing new energy source” not only gave people the false hope that fusion, which has been “just around the corner” for decades, is now really, truly just around the corner, but it also framed it as though to address the climate we need a solution that doesn’t exist. [This] is stupid and dishonest when we already have the solutions.


Change is often framed through sacrifice. This idea that to stop fossil fuel production and transition to clean energy is to renounce something, to sacrifice something — what’s behind this? Has the fossil fuel industry succeeded in forcing the perception that oil and gas are necessary to the way we live? Are we unable to imagine a different world? What is it? And how can we overcome it?


I can’t speak globally, but I know that a lot of comfortable people in the U.S. perceive most changes as loss. It’s been fascinating looking at the recent controversies — of course fueled by the [political] right and the fossil gas industry — over gas stoves. They’re downplaying the real health hazards of having methane inside your home, and they’re also downplaying how well induction cooking works. And so many people are kind of like, “If we change this thing, my life will get worse.” A lot of it is propaganda, but there is also a lot of fear that change is always loss.

I also think the whole climate story, since the Al Gore era, has been told as a kind of renunciation story and in fact, I am working on a piece [about this] right now. What if we invert that? What if we see all the ways our lives are poor now — poor in hope, poor in social solidarity, poor in mental and emotional wellbeing and confidence in the future, poor in social connectedness, poor in relationship to nature. What if we imagine the abundance of doing right the things we’ve done wrong, of a world in which [nearly] 9 million people a year don’t die from breathing fossil fuel emissions, in which childhood asthma is not epidemic in the places where fossil fuels are refined, in which the fossil fuel industry doesn’t corrupt global politics. What if renunciation was in fact renouncing poison, corruption, deprivation, uncertainty, a dismal future, miserable health?


One of your chapters in Hope in the Dark is called “Everything’s Coming Together While Everything Falls Apart,” which is something activist and Fossil Free Media’s Director Jamie Henn said to you during a conversation in 2014. Do you feel like everything’s coming together while everything falls apart today?  


I do. It often feels like we’re in a race. Can the things that are coming together — which, of course, for me would be the positive things, the climate movement and the changes we’re trying to make — outrun the negative things, which are both climate change and its catastrophes and destruction?

The forces trying to prevent the measures we need to address the crisis have increased greatly. In 2014, people still talked about climate change largely as something that was going to happen. Now it’s so in the present tense and the climate movement has become so much bigger, more powerful. It’s won a lot when you look at how much progress there has been around legislation, the buildout of renewables, and the technological breakthroughs.

A lot of times you look at something and it doesn’t look better than last week or sometimes last year. But you look at where we were 10 years or 40 years ago and you see a lot. The long trajectory is part of what makes me hopeful.

This article was co-published with Alta.

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  1. GramSci

    We’ll know the tipping point has been reached when Germans emigrate to Russia so they can send remittances home.

  2. Lexx

    ‘What makes something a crisis?
    Definition of a Crisis: A disruption or breakdown in a person’s or family’s normal or usual pattern of functioning. A crisis cannot be resolved by a person’s customary problem-solving resources/skills. A crisis may be different from a problem or an emergency.’

    That’s when the phone would ring. The caller was tapped out of money and/or coping skills within themselves or their ‘tribe’. They needed help, usually a voucher for shelter, food or gas money to get from Point A to Point B because they were stranded. Sometimes we had vouchers to give but usually not. Mostly we asked questions because training and experience taught us that we didn’t have the answers to other people’s problems. Only the callers have the answers and together we might find a few of them by asking better questions. Same problem, different POV with an objectivity that individuals and tribes don’t always have.

    Problem-solving is learned and what is learned can be changed. (Last week I learned that I can still have my bite corrected even at age 65. Old bones can still be moved (although more slowly) and old dogs can learn new tricks.)

    First question: ‘What have you tried so far?’ Callers were rarely without a list of their attempts to solve their own problems. I found some of them with a little encouragement could be creative at near genius level. Maybe it worked… I’ll never know, but I hope that it did.

    I’ve been doing Quordle lately, working four Wordles simultaneously. The ‘hits and misses’ of one puzzle inform the puzzler of the answers to the others. When I get to the last one there’s enough letters to arrange into something word-like, completed by the remaining letters of the alphabet where I’ll find the one that’s missing. To paraphrase Holmes, ‘“When you have eliminated all which is possible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the word.’ The game is bound by the parameters of 26 letters. People are not but they can think they are. We have to find ‘meaning’ by looking outside the parameters of our own thinking. It’s why psychedelics are effective in breaking negative feedback loops, as former perceptions of the boundaries fall before chemistry.

    BTW, I read Solnit’s book last year and liked it.

  3. JME

    At least in my municipality, twin cities of MN, the majority of new dwelling units are in the form of 4-6 story condo/apartment type with 50-100 units. The efficiency of such is in theory dramatically better than the 1920-50s housing stock that is predominant elsewhere in the city. But on the fringes, giant 3000 sqft mcmansions are still going up full tilton what used to be corn. If we can turn the idea of conservation from a worsening of life to a duty or simplification that yields quality of life improvement and somehow incentivise it then I can see hope. But for now it’s still full steam ahead for the American dream here.

    1. JBird4049

      “full steam ahead for the American dream here.”

      Back when they started building detached houses in large numbers, they were not the ginormous baronial mansions of today. Reasonably sized houses for small families. Aside from usually being incredibly ugly, lacking anything like plan, but more of everything, why would anyone build or buy the mansion?

      Maybe, if I had fifty relatives, but even then, sheer waste and soul killing tacky is not what I would want built. Choose a style you want from many choices, hire a decent architect, and spend a little more for quality. I would think that living in a place from one to fifty years would make a person want to live in a beautiful place.

      When did McMansion hellpits become so popular?

  4. spud

    not one word about free trade. its simply amazing how the so-called left is completely blind to this. in fact, many embrace free trade because of their own stupidity believing the garbage economics that it helps the poor.

    so if the go gooders want to really do something that will not only help fight the climate change, they can also help fight free trade which is devastating the world and its peoples. its a twofer, and millions and millions more people will be on their side.

    put steve keen in charge.


    “If you look at just the shipping involved in international trade, it’s something of the order of 20%, I think, of our carbon production comes out of the entire mechanics of shipping goods around the planet. And we realize we’ve massively overshot the capacity of the biosphere to support our industrial sedentary civilization. So, one way to reduce that is by reducing international trade.”

    1. Tommy S

      The left is not against free trade? I assume you mean Neo liberalization of economies, capital and corporations able to swoop in and destroy ….. under so called ‘free trade pacts’. Did you miss Seattle 1999? The shutdown was organized by the ‘real left’. And then the often violent summit meetings for years after that? David Graebers Direct Action book would be a good start, if you’re willing. We did that. Not the liberals, Who are NOT ‘left’.

      1. spud

        as i said, the so-called left. and i remember seattle like it was yesterday. but that was and is the real left. as MLK said about do gooders applies to this also.

  5. Henry Moon Pie

    I agree with you, Yves, about “hope.” Absent a deadly virus that wipes out the billionaires and 75% of the PMC, we’re going to be manipulated and pitched and hustled right up until the point where the shortcomings of the system during the worst of Covid–shortages, closings because everybody’s sick and further social breakdown–will look like the “good old days.”

    Necessity is the driver now. As things continue to break down, it will be tougher and tougher to buy ourselves out of problems. I have a friend who just retired from the military. He bought a beautiful house in the Hudson Valley with all the trimmings, including a propane-powered generator capable of supplying the needs of this large house. That’s great when there’s a power outage, but what about when the propane is no longer delivered?

    The American solution for every problem is, “Buy your way out of it.” That “answer” depends completely on the ability of this system to produce and distribute the pills, the generators, the vehicle with tough enough suspension to take our deteriorating, pothole-filled roads. We’re getting a glimpse of what happens when the system can’t manage to produce and distribute all the “fixes” people need to get from one week to the next.

    When the realization hits that you can’t buy your way out of problems-something the poor always live with–then the choices are to look for people to work with or go all Dennis Hopper. Solnit has seen how self-organization made things better in Sandy’s wake. That does have the potential to make things better locally and for a time. Ultimately though, if any significant level of civilization is to survive, something will need to pull together such small groups into larger and geographically broader coalitions. This is the much-needed worldview shift that more and more people are discussing.

    As for the difficulty of imagining a new world, Le Guin’s Dispossessedis a good discussion starter. She deals with issues in self-organized societies in as thorough, honest and imaginative way as possible. I wish she had spent some time fleshing out the substance of Odonianism, the glue that held their society together as Octavia Butler did with Earthseed in the Parable series. My guess is that paying close attention to her efforts at producing her own rendition of the Tao te Ching would give us a clue. For example, in a note to chapter #13, Le Guin writes, “No wonder anarchists and Taoists make good friends.”

    Blessed be the anarchists because one day self-organization will be our only option. (almost wrote “hope” ;) )

  6. Anton Yashin

    Any solution to climate issues should consists of two parts: capital expenses that you uphold forever and world wide agreements that you uphold forever. If first is technically possible: after you limit CO2 and other bad stuff there many years should pass to stop warming and ever more years should pass to back to status quo. But there second part where mankind going to uphold an agreements. Dead by arrival. But this is good opportunity to grab some money.

  7. Susan the other

    It is strange that we do not think in the present. We think in the near future or the past. The present is both too fleeting and also crushingly oppressive. I think the “present” is the stuff of meditation but I can’t imagine living that intensively, aware of every heartbeat. It’s almost like the present is death and we are happy to escape it. Whatever mess we make today we’ll just fix tomorrow. And over time our debt to the environment has become massive. But since we operate this way, always in debt to the environment, it might be useful to do a bankruptcy on humanity. At least until the environment can heal. Rationing sounds awful but it is a good place to start along with a planet-wide, warp-speed, effort to clean up all the pollution. Our most dangerous delusion is that we can do this gradually. We really need to start now.

  8. Gulag

    “A big problem I have not addressed is the mechanisms we use to deny the inevitability of our death are very likely in play in pretending that climate change is a big human civilization(and perhaps even human existential) ending event bearing down on us.”

    Dougald Hine ends his new book “At Work in the Ruins: Finding Our Place in the Time of Science Climate Change Pandemics and all the other Emergencies,” with these words:

    “we live within stories whose ending lies beyond the horizon of our lifetimes. We will never know how all of this turns out.”

  9. bojang bugami

    Perhaps we could say that people who support radical conservation are radical conservationists. I gather we have some radical conservationists here in America.

    We also have some radical anti-conservationists here in America. The final endpoint of radical anti-conservation is radical destruction and we have some radical destructionists here in America.

    The radical anti-conservationists and the radical destructionists will never permit any radical conservation to happen until they themselves have been deleted from functional existence. That means the radical conservationists would have to wage and win a civil war against the radical anti-conservationists and the radical destructionists in order to be able to cram radical conservation right straight down its opponents’ throat.

    Maybe that civil war will be a cold war, maybe a culture war, maybe a hot war. But the radical conservationists won’t be able to apply the least little bit of radical conservation until they have defeated and deleted their radical anti-conservationist and radical destructionist enemies in a civil war of one kind or another first.

    Assuming that will never happen, perhaps the “friends of radical conservation” should make plans and take actions starting now to survive in place or find more survival-possible places to move to and make their survival preparations including what little radical conservation they and like minded persons in groups can pursue in the shadow of a radical anti-conservationist radical destructionist society and civilization.

  10. Tommy S

    Yves’ introduction is valid. But also too nice. Yes she is a great writer, but she uses that expertise, and knowledge of history, by cherry picking, to manipulate her followers. Which are very many. She is followed by 200,000 people on FB alone. People just don’t read her Guardian columns I guess. Since the 2016 primary, she has repeated every lie about Russia gate stuff, and still to this day, even posted that Luke Harding article about Assange. She was vicious against Sanders’ supporters, of course calling them all white boys etc..(when his supporters were majority non white and female per capita!) .And even claimed that Clinton, (with her odd disingenuous disclaimers always “I don’t support many of her policies” as she did with Biden, claiming him the most ‘green president’ ..) a stabilizing force in the Mideast. She also recently did a column with a typical PMC talking down to us infantile stupids, about some metaphor between the mayfly (burns bright in one day, then dies!) while the tortoise gets things done. She even lumped MLK jr into the tortoise category still. He was happy to wait….yeah…right. Despite her columns, writing, etc extolling bottom up resistance and revolutionary change, read to the last couple of paragraphs, as she reels people back in to trusting the leaders. A major theme for years also is that democracy is ‘leaky’ and very hard for the regular person to understand. Like I said, she is extremely dishonest and very manipulative. And contrary to her recent auto bio, she was never working class. Everyone from the 80’s and 90’s here in SF, know that her and her brother have been rich from day one. To me, that would be a good thing, then to devote your rich life to helping people. But why. lie about it?

  11. ChrisPacific

    It looks like Solnit shares the concern about hope that Yves raised:

    On the one side, I think there’s what I call “naïve hope” which is really optimism, the idea that things are going to be fine, that it will all work out, et cetera. But “false hope” is usually cynicism pursuing a corrupt agenda, because these people don’t actually hope the solutions will work. They hope that you’ll believe — the public will believe — these solutions will work. They can’t imagine that the world could just be very, profoundly different in day-to-day life — how we consume, what our values are. False hopes to me are just marketing by people who are cynical. And then you see people believing it.

    Her definition of hope is somewhat different (I think) than most people’s. I’d say there is a continuum of views from:

    1. Climate change is inevitable, there is nothing we can do, so we might as well not try (climate fatalism)
    2. Climate change can be prevented or mitigated but only if we change what we are doing
    3. Climate change will be prevented by [insert techno utopian fantasy du jour] and we don’t need to do anything differently for it to happen

    #3 sounds like what Yves is calling hope and Solnit is calling false hope. #1 (climate fatalism) is arguably just as damaging since it results in nothing being done. Solnit is advocating for #2, which is really just not 1 or 3. ‘Hope’ is a loaded term for it though, as she mentions.

  12. David in Santa Cruz

    I’m with Yves. Solnit is a lyrical writer but a complete Pollyanna. I loved reading Orwell’s Roses but at the end of the day Eric Blair lived a miserable and short life, leaving us with an oeuvre dedicated to the description of suffering. Solnit made an escapist idyll out of this. I heard her speak at an artsy-fartsy function and came to this realization.

    Jonestown was the only truly “Green” community of our times.

  13. John Wright

    As I read this, I thought that Solnit doesn’t spend much time with the “hoi polloi”.

    I frequently visit Los Angeles, and am always impressed by the consumerist attitudes of so many people as witnessed by the crowded Costco parking lots and full shopping carts.

    Then there is the car culture of LA in which everyone drives everywhere.

    LA is somewhat representative of the global consumerist world as it is asserted that 224 languages are spoken in Los Angeles county, and almost everything (water, food, energy, manufactured goods) is brought into LA.

    The Biden Administration made a political climate change statement when it drew down the strategic petroleum reserve to bring down the gasoline pump price, as higher pump prices should have decreased consumption and helped with climate change.

    As others have stated, climate change is only one dimension of the numerous resource shortages that humans (and other lifeforms) face.

    I see no reason for the hope Solnit posits, I suggest a fairly small percentage of Americans are concerned about climate change and only small percentage of these are willing to fundamentally change their behaviors.

  14. Peter Dorman

    I’m sorry, but attempts to turn climate activism into a matter of psychology and emotive narrative leave me cold. It’s a political problem. There are immediate steps that governments can take to limit the risk of catastrophe, and they follow immediately from climate science. They will be costly but overwhelmingly worth it. Unfortunately, they will be especially costly for a large swath of the world’s wealth holders, and our political systems are so completely in thrall to them that even mentioning the first step, announcing a carbon budget as a matter of policy, is entirely off the table. I think I explain the how’s and why’s of this in great detail in my book.

    Alas, the left in most countries has responded to its long-term decline by substituting change in personal consciousness for the material change that requires political power. As far as I can tell, Solnit is a part of this trend. At this point in the game, I don’t think it makes much difference whether one hopes, grieves, imagines alternative worlds or whatever; we need rapid organization and mobilization around a very specific program of putting a fixed lid on carbon emissions. Is it possible? Well, let’s give it an actual try and see what happens.

  15. Gulag

    Peter states that “I am sorry but attempts to turn climate activism into a matter of psychology and emotional narrative leave me cold. It’s a political problem.”

    I would use the words of Dougald Hine in response: “…that what seems to be more and more clear is that the way we talk about this trouble is making everything worse. The mobilizations of fear and the language of emergency, the elevation of science into an article of faith and an overriding source of political authority–even when the intentions are good, even when the sense of emergency is sincere and well-founded, these moves push forward the project of making this living planet and its inhabitants into an object of technological management and control”– more of a fish bowl and not a flowing river.

    “The fish-tank mindset is only an extension of a logic that goes deep into the history of modernity, an approach to the world as a mechanism to be optimized for particular human ends.”

  16. davejustdave

    Last week I read the 2014 book The Collapse of Western Civilization, by Oreskes and Conway. The blurb goes

    The year is 2393, and the world is almost unrecognizable. Clear warnings of climate catastrophe went ignored for decades, leading to soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, widespread drought and–finally–the disaster now known as the Great Collapse of 2093, when the disintegration of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet led to mass migration and a complete reshuffling of the global order. Writing from the Second People’s Republic of China on the 300th anniversary of the Great Collapse, a senior scholar presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment–the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies–failed to act, and so brought about the collapse of Western civilization.

    Will there be a global civilization at the end of the 24th century, to write and read such books, even if Australia and Africa are entirely depopulated? One hopes so, and maybe it will happen that way. Our 21st century authors are, of course, hoping that their analysis of why the looming disaster was not avoided might actually result in a somewhat less grim few centuries – and that might happen too.

    The authors have a new book out – The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market.

    I think of lines from an anthemic Todd Rundgren song, “Just One Victory”:

    We may feel about to fall but we go down fighting
    You will hear the call if you only listen
    Underneath it all we are here together

    May it be so.

  17. Jeremy Grimm

    I do not understand how — “…we use to deny the inevitability of our death are very likely in play in pretending that climate change is a big human civilization (and perhaps even human existence) ending event bearing down on us.” Is it a pretense to believe that climate change, along with several other features of the so-called multi-crisis could result in the end of the world as we know it? “Death twitches at my ear…” and stands too near for me to deny or ignore. My children and hope for the future world had been my solace for meeting the inevitability of my death … continuity for a future after I am gone and long forgotten. The Collapse I see coming offers no solace.

    I am not sure how to respond to the content of this post. I can distill little hope from Solnit’s words and thoughts. Based on very limited knowledge, I appraise her as someone gifted at surfing various swells and waves of public opinion — more cheerleader than leader.

  18. podcastkid

    Alas, the left in most countries has responded to its long-term decline by substituting change in personal consciousness for the material change that requires political power.

    I can forgive them in theory, and I hope in practice. Too much prolefeed and doubleplusgood reporting malarky twist’n everyones’ heads around.

    As I read this, I thought that Solnit doesn’t spend much time with the “hoi polloi”. [John Wright]

    Years and years ago she seemed like the perfect conversationalist; but years and years more and it came to seem all her efforts might be better directed if she did spend more time with us.

    When you can’t buy your way out, then come the Sisyphean challenges. IMO it would be optimum if as many as possible could get to know what they are…I mean to look around. I believe narcissism prevents individuals from knowing them. It could be a coworker’s problems, and you don’t wanna know’em.

    Solnit had a half decent remark on fusion, but missed the best critique. It’s not that we have other means; it’s that it won’t work [you could just start with the delicateness of the reactions, but then there’s the complexity of the support/conditions required]. That knowledge of mine (sorry to sound narcissistic) is an example, to me, of what can give hope…technology leads you to the end of itself [hard enough to finally get this message]. What could Vandana Shiva say about all her topics, if knowledge obtained from within the system didn’t ground it?

    The personal consciousness movement to me just got sidetracked. There’s no predestination AFAIC that’ll prevent it from get’n back on track. Yeah, like another era “looks like it’s die’n but it’s hardly been born.” At the same time to know the Sisyphean challenges you gotta get out there and connect. Like MSF. Like AOC before she got in the House. All this art put up on fb is indeed tasteful, but to me it’s try’n to pull in a solution that’s just a little too pleasant.

    Everywhere we are confronted by limits right about now…I mean in terms of what we thought we could discover vs what it’s likely we will discover. The only natural conclusion seems to be what we wanted to know remains hidden (because there is some kind of lack we seek constantly, is there not?). And laws/equations won’t do. The natural conclusion [if we want natural] as far as I can see is that it’s an entity, not laws. Possibly there are metaphors for this entity all over the place (of course a metaphor won’t do). Consider “the cloud.” It’s purported to be some big answer. The thing in reality is no answer, but what about the subliminal meaning/nature advertisers attempt to attach to it? The cloud of unknowing, are we ready to go there?

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