Year 4, Month 6, Day 19: How Come I Never Do…What I’m S’posed to Do?

The LA Times runs a good piece by Greenpeace’s James Turner. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

A friend recently returned from a camping trip in the Sierra Nevada. His eyes shone as he described the opalescent sky, the vitality of wildlife in spring and the fun he’d had playing with his two young daughters during the mellow evenings. It had been a really good trip, an experience to treasure, he said.

I casually asked how long it took to get there. “Oh, it wasn’t too bad,” he said, and then caught himself, as if he’d said something wrong. “But we took the minivan this time, which I suppose means we weren’t so in tune with nature after all.”

I felt slightly hurt. I am an environmentalist — I work for Greenpeace. Did he think that makes me some moral arbiter of fun, sternly passing judgment on those who ignore the perils of climate change to enjoy a weekend in the mountains?

Of course, it wasn’t really about me. What my friend expressed was climate guilt, a feeling that many of us who care about environmental issues experience every day. I am not immune. We feel guilty about driving cars and watching TV and turning on lights, as if that makes us personally responsible for this gigantic threat that looms over us.

Philosophy. Nuremberg. June 3:

It’s certainly true that oppressive feelings of personal and collective guilt are a deep burden — and one which conscientious environmentalists often shoulder, as James Turner notes. Such responses are all too common in the struggle against global climate change, a planet-wide problem for which any who benefit from the accomplishments of industrialization must bear some blame.

Membership in a technologically advanced culture conveys many advantages, including access to vast quantities of information and knowledge. The first warnings of the climate crisis were sounded in the 1950s, but since that time successive generations of politicians and citizens have elected to postpone grappling with the issue. It is not we who will determine our collective guilt, but our descendants.

We can absolve ourselves only by assuming ever-greater levels of responsibility: for our lifestyle choices, for our readiness to engage in public discussion of climate, and for the political choices we make.

Warren Senders

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