We can accept our fate with grace or we can rebel. I’m a huge fan of rebellion, and I’m rebellious by nature. I’m not the only one who believes rebellion is often virtuous and important.
I’ve concluded that rebellion, in the case of Extinction Rebellion (XR), is not obviously virtuous. However, this particular rebellion may have unseen virtues, especially with respect to transmission of information to the slumbering populace. As a result, I have mixed feelings that I will attempt to express with this essay.
The opening quote atop this essay comes from a long-deceased American socialist and six-time presidential candidate who clearly understood the merits of swimming against the societal current. Because nature always bats last and also because nature always gets her way, a human rebellion at this late date hasn’t got a chance at preventing or slowing human extinction. Even if we did have the means and fortitude to rebel, I don’t know how we can meaningfully rebel, and against what. After all, our several-thousand-year-old rebellion against nature, in the form of civilization, is precisely the route by which we’ve found ourselves peering into the abyss of extinction.
Upon initially learning of XR, I thought, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!?!” How does one person — or for that matter, every individual on Earth — rebel against a natural, ongoing process to which we’ve already committed? Lacking a time machine, how do we undo actions taken decades ago? Wouldn’t we be equally successful rebelling against setting of the sun or the rising of the moon?
And then I realized I was just being pessimistic, as I am sometimes accused. I turned my thoughts to the amazing record of human ingenuity. I began wishing, hoping, and praying to non-existent gods. And then, a few seconds later, my senses returned.
XR has a website. I’m often prone to disagreement, yet I found it difficult to disagree with anything I read on the XR blog. The science is presented clearly, albeit without mention of the aerosol masking effect, as I’ve come to expect. The impact of the aerosol masking effect has been greatly underestimated, as pointed out in a 17 January 2019 article in Science. As pointed out by the author of the paper in Science on 22 January 2019: “Global efforts to improve air quality by developing cleaner fuels and burning less coal could end up harming our planet by reducing the number of aerosols in the atmosphere, and by doing so, diminishing aerosols’ cooling ability to offset global warming.” Further research indicates loss of aerosols exacerbates heat waves. The crux of the XR movement is presented compellingly and clearly on its website.
Dr. Gail Bradbrook is a professor of molecular biophysics who co-founded the group Rising Up!, which is now helping organize the Extinction Rebellion. When asked what she is willing to risk with her actions for the Extinction Rebellion, Bradbrook replied, “everything.”. Nearly a decade after I gave up everything except my integrity, likely decades too late for substantive actions that could result in a positive outcome, Bradbrook and other activists are prepared to take radical actions. I’ve been pointing out the causes and consequences of our collective actions for decades, and explaining relevant individual responses along the way. Newcomers, welcome aboard the runaway train to the worst of the Six Mass Extinction events on Earth. Good luck with actions, radical and otherwise.
Gabriel Carlyle wrote a decent, skeptical overview of the Extinction Rebellion. It was posted online 1 November 2018. I largely agree with Carlyle’s article, although of course it fails to acknowledge the aerosol masking effect and it therefore proposes reduced industrial activity as a solution. Carlyle also points out that XR proposes beginning this reduction in industrial activity in 2025, which seems ridiculously optimistic in terms of maintaining this set of living arrangements. In other words, the article is simultaneously skeptical about XR and also not nearly skeptical enough.
With respect to the aerosol masking effect, I’ve concluded that the administration of President Donald Trump knows more than the world’s climate scientists are willing to admit. After all, the advice we often hear from the latter group is long on imposing shame, guilt, and blame while coming up short on facts. Bicycling and recycling won’t make a dent in the predicament known as abrupt climate change.
In my early days as a teacher, I’d tell students not to pursue projects I thought were impossible. They’d do it anyway, and prove me wrong. For the most part, I stopped telling students to pursue projects I thought were impossible. As with my students during the early part of my career, I think XR is attempting the impossible. I wish to be wrong, and I’m well beyond telling people what to do.
In the wake of Carlyle’s article, I spoke with one of the activists leading the rebellion, Roger Hallam. I found him sufficiently refreshing and interesting to invite onto Nature Bats Last on the radiotomorrow as a guest.
A few facts are relevant to this situation. The projected rate of climate change based on IPCC-style gradualism outstrips the adaptive response of vertebrates by a factor of 10,000 times. Humans are vertebrates. More recently, it has become clear that mammals cannot evolve fast enough to escape the current extinction crisis. Already, goats, sheep, and cattle are dying by the thousands because of rapid changes in temperature. These are mammals. Humans are mammals. Because Earth is headed for a new Cretaceous, humans are about to fall into the dustbin of cosmic history. I strongly suspect all vertebrates and all mammals will join the “dust to dust” party, along with most or all life on Earth. I recently covered all this material, and more, with a synopsis of the evidence.
I wish to be wrong, as I’ve pointed out many times. And I’m not. I also wish to remain useful while collating and synthesizing scientific evidence with accuracy.
And, again, I’m not promoting human extinction. I’m promulgating evidence. Please familiarize yourself with the English language before embarrassing yourself with an attack on the messenger.
The folks at XR seem genuine, and they understand most of the science of climate change. They are intelligent, hopeful, and they are attempting to inspire action for a better future. I’ve never believed it was my place to tell other people what to do, so I’ll not tell the XR people their task is impossible.
I’m not suggesting a rebellion is a bad idea. I’m generally in favor of steps taken outside the dominant paradigm. And I’m certainly not suggesting extinction is a good idea, even when it includes Homo sapiens. But I think XR falls short, perhaps because I don’t fully understand their mission. Thus the invitation to have a conversation on NBL radio.
Perhaps the abundant media attention focused on XR is intentionally distracting the masses. Now that is immoral, typical, and expected for the corporate media.
Catch Nature Bats Last on the radio with Kevin Hester and Guy McPherson. To listen live, tune in the first Tuesday of each month at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, or catch up in the archives here. If you prefer the iTunes version, including the option to subscribe, you can click here. We’re on Stitcher, too.
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Recently published: McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Revised Second edition of Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Revised Second edition of Going Dark. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
Pauline Panagiotou Schneider and Guy R. McPherson. 2018. Revised Second Edition of Ms. Ladybug and Mr. Honeybee: A Love Story at the End of Time. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
Mugs, tote bags, iPhone cases, tee shirts, and other pragmatic goods affiliated with the latter book are available here. I do not earn money from these items. Indeed, they have returned far less money than it cost to create and distribute them. I list them at the bottom of posts in this space in support of my artistically inclined partner, who created them.