Raquel Luna – As a mental exercise, let us take two assumptions and imagine they are seriously -no, better deadly- real :

Right now, (and to emphasize again) at this very moment, the actual ecosystems are, literally, collapsing. Life is dying : coral bleaching in the warming oceans, the poles are melting faster than the predictions from scientists; while we face the sixth mass extinction of species, the extreme weather and a long and terrifying etcetera.

Due to the ongoing process of the environmental collapse, our economic, social and political systems are collapsing as well.[1] This has been happening for a couple of decades in those countries most exposed to the climate crisis and most exploited by the markets. Now it is reaching home, the better off countries. People are reacting to the breakdown in different forms : mass migration, the rise of the extreme far right, youth strikes, gilets jeunes, Brexit, and a long list of social movements. The fear and anxiety is increasing and with it the unpredictability of the path these social movements are taking. We start to feel the heat and given the current status quo, it can only continue increasing.

Both assumptions above are facts.[2] The first one supported by the IPCC and the IPBES reports. The second is a logical consequence of the first one.

Here we are watching the simultaneous unfolding of multiple and complex crises that promise to end with our civilization and life as we know it by the end of the century. It is tangible.

The advice from both reports states we need worldwide transformative and unprecedented changes in the way we live and how we relate with the environment. The advice focuses on governments taking serious legislation to mitigate the crash… now.

Now as in « at this very moment ».

This is a climate emergency

You cannot stand idle in front of an uncontrollable and ever-expanding fire. As the fire alarm sounds, you immediately stop and take measures to either stop the fire or go to safety. Otherwise, you burn and die. That is the meaning of an emergency. It sets the priorities straight.

Scientists, the news and our senses are sounding the alarm. This is real. There is no waking up from a nightmare. Some places have seen the end of the world already.[3] It is not a far-fetched reality. Some regions in Mexico, for example, faced the ecological collapse (the depletion of resources and the toxic water, air and soils) which logically brings the eventual collapse of the weak political, economic and social systems. With it came the need of basic human survival. Among the different unchained phenomenons, a particular new reality was the rise of gruesome violence as the drug, human trafficking and kidnapping business (if we can call it business) grew. The social tissue broke with indescribable horror. The government, instead of addressing the root problems, rebranded and readdressed the issue as the war on drugs.[4]

The wealthy society in Mexico thought –naively- that they could pay their well-being and safety with printed paper. They could not. This collapse made no discrimination. Even though they paid for private security and constructed high walls, the daily bread, for them too, was kidnappings and killings. No amount of money could pay for their safety. Many left to live abroad.

These stories about Mexico and other third world countries are warning stories. When the planet collapses, no amount of money can provide safety.

Ultimately, in this fire, everyone is concerned. The emergency is sounding for every single person everywhere. We are reaching the point of it being unstoppable.

When should we being our efforts to stop the fire?

Where are we on the conversation?

Yes, for years we told ourselves it would happen. The science warned us. Basic logic warned us… but it remained only in a far-fetched unreachable future. This incapacity to recognize what is at stake prevents us still from deepening the conversation.

Despite the tangible evidence, we are surrounded by excuses not to act as in an actual emergency. « People are not prepared to change yet », « it is economically not viable », « we have to take it slow », « the market will solve it on its own» and « implementing regulation is politically not possible » are some of the many handy arguments to refrain from developing the conversation further.

As compelling as the arguments might seem, there is just one small detail: we are signing a definitive death sentence to life as we know it (and for sure, our children and our children’s children).

The question is not whether it is politically viable, financially convenient or sociologically demanding, the question is: are we, as individuals and organisations, understanding the implications of not stopping right now and attending the fire? Are we taking the existential threat seriously?

In other words, do our current shy actions -or inaction or usual actions- (as individuals and organisations) restrained by the risks of the negative effects of questioning the status quo justify our short term security?

When science points out, again and again, that in order to mitigate the effects of the coming climate catastrophe we need worldwide drastic and unprecedented changes, then we can frame the question: Are we, as individuals and organisations, able to communicate, negotiate and reach a common good (greater good) to respond to the crisis beyond our self-interest? As it is true that only through international joint efforts we can slow down or prevent the collapse.

The imminent climate catastrophe demands two things : moving beyond our comfort zones (farther from wherever that point was) and a capacity of building solidarity with one aim : changing the system.

Stories play a serious role in our perception of the crisis.

The stories we hear

It is important to understand that no technology can provide the key to continue pursuing eternal economic growth as the neoliberal capitalist economy demands. The laws of physics are very clear. It is time to let go of this delusional notion. Neither will a hero or rich competitive macho head out to save the world. These are just some of the remaining dreams of neoliberal capitalist ideology and we need to wake up.

In that same spirit, cute symbolic marketing measures by companies and governments that take non-binding and niche actions to address the coming catastrophe are not enough. So is the focus on our individual behaviour. Volunteer personal individual actions to stop climate catastrophe are not enough. They are feel good stories, but they are not solving the existential problem. At this point of time, the scale of the actual crisis makes these actions look ridiculous.

Beyond those stories we hear, the most pervasive notion of the current neoliberal cosmovision is our understanding of human nature as homo economicus. We are not purely egoistic, self-profiting rational entities. This notion of human nature limits ourselves and our understanding of others.[5] We appear as passive and helpless members of society. It actually prevents us from collaborating. That is not the case. Humans do care for each other. Humans are capable of solidarity and can work together for a common goal (with all its intrincated complications, of course).

Those are some of the external stories. There are also the stories we tell ourselves.

The stories we tell ourselves

Whether consciously or not, we are permanently narrating our own stories[6]… and our children’s.

For a while, I, personally found myself silently saying goodbye to things that my children would not see anymore as they grow up. Goodbye coral reefs, we should take a picture because you won’t exist soon anymore. Oh, the animals kept at zoos while they go extinct in the wild, another click. The fresh air and water. The predictable weather and the natural diversity. Farewell !

The real meaning of those goodbyes was : oh, dear children, you will have none. We killed all of it under our watch. Brace yourself. The world as we knew it is gone. We intoxicated and killed your future. You are, effectively, the no future generation. You, my dear, will face climate catastrophe. Sorry we did nothing. We let it pass by. Our short term comfort was more important than preserving a living planet for you.

Another bedtime story

Looking to a future of +2 C [7], with more frequent and stronger climate disasters and increased social instability, instead of reaffirming the self-defeating narrative above, I accept I cannot protect my children from this overwhelming reality, but I can help them cope with it. I bring myself to create alternative stories for my children. They meet environmental and human rights defenders who are real heroes. We support social movements. We engage in political, social and economic discussions beyond our comfort zone.

After the last march, my daughter wakes up sometimes singing wholeheartedly « on est plus chaud, plus chaud que le climat ». My four year old son talks constantly about a country named Luckembourg where there is no plastic pollution, people do not fight and children do not need to go to school to learn. These are their bedtime stories… so that, if they have the chance, they will have stories and tools to be able to create resilient and sharing communities.

Children are not the only ones needing alternative stories to cope with this reality in an active way and to cope with what is coming.

The way to go

In all, stories serve the purpose of redefining ourselves and our roles in this brave new world. They enable us to act. To take action to change our governments. Because what we need is binding and strict governmental regulations on the mass producers of pollution and destruction of the environment. This is the core role of the government : providing safety and justice. Those destructing the environment are breaking the social contract and should be punished.

Our globalized neoliberal capitalist economy will implode and we do not know the consequences of it. So is the globalized food production. So our social structures if we do not act. The borders are too close to ignore what brews on the other side. Here, more than in other places, we recognize our interdependencies with the rest of the world.

The personal appeal to collective action

But are we getting there? On an organisational level, how do we address the demands for hyperconsumption, eternal growth and the untireless competitiveness in which we are all embedded? We measure ourselves under those standards and we are all in that race afterall. Can we break from it? Are our pursuits, as we conceive them and perform them until now, self-defeating? Do our actual structures and scope need to be reframed?

Under the current climate emergency, can the current mission, vision, viability and work of our –environmental, human rights, development- organisations reach their objectives?

What about the bigger structures, our democracies? Are they equipped to address the current crises? How are we, consciously and unconsciously, trying to transform our societies -at all levels- beyond the actual paradigm?

We live in a brave new world that questions our existence to the core. It demands a conscious adaptation of society that can only bring itself to existence through honest dialogue and solidarity beyond our comfort zones.

Hence, the personal appeal to seriously approach the elephants in the room… for the room is a circus, the circus is on fire, and the show cannot go on.

[1] Unfortunately for neoliberal capitalism, our political, economic and social systems depend on the natural world.

[2] The elephants in the room.

[3] One infamous example is the story of the island of Nauru, once called Pleasant Island, in the Central Pacific Ocean.

[4] The war on drugs serves to criminalize anyone who is against the government. It justified the extreme use of force while ignoring the inability of large sectors of society to have a minimum living standard. Of course, it does not acknowledge the destruction of the environment as a cause of the desperation of some sectors of society.

[5] Our neoliberal capitalist societies call those who take any action for the common good of everyone as irrational. Irrational actually means weak and stupid. This is a powerful notion that restrains our natural impulse to help others.

[6] Some extremely disturbing stories are those of a small elite who strongly believe they can thrive and save themselves and their lineage at the cost of pushing environmental catastrophe. For them, the current process is just a cleansing of the Earth… or if Earth is uninhabitable, then they will just go on to colonize a nearby planet. No colony in Mars, no bunker in Kansas or corner in New Zealand, no exorbitant emergency insurance package, no amount of money will save them from losing the harmony and safety of a living planet.

[7] Not an unthinkable situation by 2036.