There's a conversation that happens nearly every time I discuss climate change, or contemporary politics, or (as in the most recent case on my blog) the cultural chasm that divides privileged intellectuals from the rest of the population here in the United States. It goes something like this: Reader:
How can those of us who recognize the threat of climate change convince the rest of the American people to listen to us? Me:
You have to start by changing your own lifestyles. As Gandhi said, "you must be the change you seek to make in the world. Reader:
No, you don't understand. The problem's too big for that. Just having activists change their own lifestyles won't make enough difference to matter.Me:
I never said it would. The question you asked is how to get people to listen to you, and the answer is that you have to prove your sincerity and lead by example, by changing your own lifestyles, or nobody else will take you seriously. Reader:
But the situation's so desperate! We've got to convince everyone on the planet to stop using carbon or we're all doomed!Me:
You can't be part of the solution if your lifestyle is part of the problem. Why should anyone else take the problem seriously and stop using carbon if climate change activists themselves aren't willing to accept even modest cuts to their own carbon-fueled lifestyles? Reader: (Crickets...)
It's really quite simple. Imagine, dear reader, that instead of talking about stopping climate change, we were talking about stopping rape. Imagine that there were big organizations dedicated to stopping rape, and curiously enough, most of their membership consisted of serial rapists. Imagine, then, that people pointed out to the serial rapists that if they really wanted to stop rape, they ought to start by not committing any more rapes themselves -- and every time, the serial rapists responded by insisting that you can't stop rape by just having the members of anti-rape organizations give up raping people, that the problem's much bigger than that, and how can they find a way to communicate to everyone in the world that rape is wrong? The answer, of course, is that they can't, because nobody will take them seriously until they themselves stop committing rape.
Climate change activism these days is almost entirely a concern of middle- and upper middle-class people in the industrial world: people, that is, whose lifestyles are disproportionately responsible for the dumping of greenhouse gases; people who use much more fossil fuel energy, and many more of the products of fossil fuel energy, than the average human being. This fact isn't lost on anybody outside the climate change movement -- and the fact that climate change activists by and large insist on leading carbon-intensive lifestyles, while insisting that everyone else has to do something about climate change, has done more to scuttle the movement to stop climate change than any other factor I can think of. Unless something changes fast -- and by "something" I mean the attitudes of those who aren't willing to draw the obvious connection between the problems they think they're fighting and the lifestyles to which they think they're entitled -- the deindustrial future I described in my novel Star's Reach
is looking more likely every day.