What Does It Mean To Be Climatized?

Bart Shteinman

When a debate rages furiously and endlessly with no answer, it is time to challenge the very question being asked. Even as we burn in wildfires that cross entire continents, are drowned in flash floods that engulf entire cities, witness species going extinct at one hundred times the natural rate, we barely manage to shrug in response. If anything, we only hurtle ourselves ever further and further into the chasm that contains all of Earth’s hellish punishments for our tampering. We have emitted more carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere since the first UN climate talks three decades ago than the previous two centuries combined.

Yet, we are far less oblivious than our reactions suggest. We have understood the greenhouse effect of increased carbon dioxide levels since the nineteenth century, while the overwhelming consensus of scientists on anthropogenic climate change has existed for decades.

Nor are really so lacking in the tools to reverse this. The best analysis has shown that utilising all available and required methods for reducing emissions would cost less than one per cent of gross domestic product, half of what we spend on our militaries. Is it so impossible to imagine that clean air, protected nature, more liveable habitats and cruelty-free food would, in fact, enrich our lives rather than impoverish us?

So, while many, quite rightly, choose to skirmish in the intricate trenches of detail I am brought back again and again to the hillside view of this preposterous stalemate. With clear vision in our eyes and the full breadth of means in our hands, what is it we still lack?

The answer, as I hinted prior, is that we lack the right questions. Moreover, it is the right people to ask those questions. We have become paralysed in the banalities of science and economics, preoccupied in the present day of each middling conflict, and neglected our capacity for true imagination.

For me, the starting question is as simple as it is impossible, what is it to live without climate denial? Not without ignorance per se, but without all the daily mental smokescreens, rationalizations and diversions that allow us to continue our regular lives in the middle of an overwhelming catastrophe. Endlessly consuming and mindlessly wasting, flying about and lying still, the occasional ballot box and street protest is only ever a minor interruption to a life lived in denial.

Yet the answer is not to be equally debilitated by anxiety for the planet, growing as that condition may be. Given the impossible choices we face each day, our only escape is to boldly imagine the futures that lay before us. We have to truly confront the terrifying cataclysms set in motion by our fossil-fuel addicted and nature-destroying economies. But instead of averting our gaze or delegating to the supposedly more powerful and wiser, we have to imagine for ourselves a world that overcomes the sluggish inertia of our present predicament. We have to acclimatize our minds.

What lives could we hope to live in a climate-changed world? What triumphs can we find amidst its disasters? What vital friendships will we form, and what vain attachments shall we shed? From the restored wilderness to the Eco-topian city, we have to picture which fragment of the future we hope to both conserve or create in this unfolding carnage. We need what Indigenous Australians call the ‘Everywhen’, the ‘Eternal Present’ to dispel us of the illusions that trap us in a present-mindedness, disconnected from our fragile planet’s history and our place in it.

To look toward the earth’s impending trials is a special task for those generations that will be summoned for them. Thus, it is for us, first with our thoughts and then with our actions, to write the future we desire. There will be those still trapped in timeworn arguments of the past. Binaries of our own happiness pitted against that of the environment or future generations. The constant tempering to have ‘cool heads’ in a burning planet. To be ‘realistic’ as they ignore scientific reality.

Encased in the cocoon of a brittle and fragmenting status quo, we have to have the courage – so lacking in a cynical world – to believe in our own collective potential for transformation, regeneration and redemption. Being climatized requires more than believing in science. It demands you believe in humanity.

Written by Bart Shteinman

Barton is a current student at the University of Sydney doing a Bachelor of Arts and Economics. A self-described entrepreneurial socialist, Barton is gripped by the contradictions between capital, democracy and ecology that have generated the climate crisis, and how unifying them might regenerate our world.

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