In a recent comments thread at Nature Bats Last, I reopened the question (in a short-lived discussion) whether those of us convinced of the truth of climate change and the specter of Near-Term Extinction (NTE — always contingent upon events yet to occur but nonetheless foreseeable) should be raising awareness now that it’s too late to do anything meaningful about it. Specifically, Guy McPherson continues to travel around reporting the science and drawing conclusions, with epistemological and confidence-shaking effects on his audiences. Q&A sessions that often follow his presentations are problematical because participants, if they’re honest, find no refuge from the death sentence levied against humanity. Yet many of them, perhaps confronting the issue for the first time in earnest (it’s been out there at the fringes for decades), cling desperately to the faith and/or hope that something — anything — must be done to appeal, reverse, or forestall the inevitable. The mental gymnastics required to do so are obvious, and members of the public have plenty of company in ongoing media and political debate that has succeeded for decades in blocking responses to negative impacts of our own behaviors in favor of business as usual. So as evidence continues to mount and manifest before our eyes with, for example, habitat loss, collapsing animal populations, disappearing sea ice, and increased frequency and intensity of destructive weather events and trends, the expectation is that, on the heels of a presentation or revelation, someone will have a moment of severe existential crisis (waiting for all of us, frankly) and perhaps decide to kill the messenger.

A few days ago, I became aware (via Ugo Bardi’s blog Resource Crisis) of one such messenger: a fake expert being interviewed by a fake news anchor on a fake news show. I’ve embedded the fictional scene below.

Scripting and editing the interview rather than having participants speak extemporaneously gives the presentation an extra measure of cogency, and the off-camera crew of the news show reacts with clear surprise that such bald assertions can be made without the usual ameliorating antidotes. The fake expert says essentially that there is no 11th-hour rescue, no last-minute escape hatch, that we’re all soon to be victims of the delayed effects of our own planet-altering behaviors that spiked over the last 200 years or so. The interview ends without a silver lining or ray of hopeful sunshine, like a needle on the turntable being ripped from the groove. If an aftermath ensued, it is not shown on the clip and I’m not interested in watching more of the show to do the research. The fictional nature of the clip fairly guarantees that developments would be more about the fake news cycle than our political or environmental reality.

So in the spirit of the season, it occurred to me that breaking this particular news to someone is tantamount to an older sibling (or more likely, a friend’s older sibling) telling a 5-year-old that Santa Claus isn’t actually real, or more accurately, that climate change is real. For a 5-year-old’s entire life, all of Western culture channels him or her to believe what adults know to be patently untrue because, well, it’s charming to mislead children so we can enjoy their innocent wonder vicariously. But as the child grows in age and experience, truth asserts itself ever more irrefutably, scales fall from the eyes, and the hoax is revealed, initiating the child warmly into partial maturity. The initial betrayal is glossed over. And yet we still perpetuate the hoax on the youngest among us. (At this point, I might also argue that monotheistic faith is the equivalent of Santa Claus for adults, but that would derail the discussion, so I’ll move on.)

Also in the spirit of the season, I remembered the one of the quintessential reinforcements of the Santa Claus hoax was published in The Sun in 1897. I have modified it below in answer to a different question.

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no climate change. Papa says, “If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.” Please tell me the truth: is there really climate change?

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is climate change. It exists as certainly as pollution and emissions and diminishing resources exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest threat and foreshortening. Alas! how dreary will be the world as climate change progresses. It will be dreary partly because there will be no VIRGINIAS. There will be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world will be extinguished.

Not believe in climate change! You might as well not believe in gravity! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to watch heat and emissions escape into the atmosphere, but even if they did not see them, what would that prove? Nobody wants to see emissions, but that is no sign that there are no emissions. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see gravity pulling the atmosphere onto the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that it is not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil of rhetoric covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could pierce. Only honesty, integrity, asking the right questions, and respecting the answers can push aside that veil and distorted picture to view the reality and future beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else as real and abiding.

No climate change? It exists, and it will exist forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, it will continue to make make the world uninhabitable.

I haven’t answered my initial question whether the awful news of inevitable collapse should be reported. Scientists have mostly answered “yes”; politicians, cultural leaders, and media organs have mostly answered “no” or at least “not quite yet.” Considering the trigger has already been pulled, I still wonder about the wisdom of telling everyone that a slo-mo bullet has their name on it.

  1. […] Source: Yes, Virginia … […]

  2. leavergirl says:

    Trouble with all this is… y’all act as though you knew the future, as though you had it all figured out, as though your reasoning has no holes, as though Gaia has no say, as though the universe holds no surprises for you, as though there is nothing but data data data.

    To prophecy the end of the world is simply irresponsible, in my reality. And so is it telling the kids who have no perspective that it’s a done deal. But hey, if some kid commits suicide after hearing one of the NTE panic mongers, it’s not your problem, ey?!

    • Brutus says:

      The conclusion isn’t just dry piles of data or mere extrapolation of trends, though it’s those things, too. It’s also the most likely way things will play out given our political, social, and cultural limitations, all of which are circumscribed by biology and physics. At your blog, you disparaged NTE as the boringest scenario among several you can envision, but in my heart of hearts, I believe it’s the most likely by a large measure but still contingent, since it hasn’t yet happened. If you draw different conclusions and work toward realizing a better future, that’s fine by me.

      If you read what I wrote carefully, I question at the beginning and again at the end the wisdom of sharing this news with others. Personally, I will expend no extra energy trying to convince someone else that I’m right. What’s the point? Beside, the moment has not yet arrived, nor do I expect it ever will, when even a modest majority will admit the jig is up. That’s one of our limitations. But I will acknowledge the truth as I see it. So no, I’m not washing my hands of any panic-stricken responses. That’s sorta the point of the blog post, see?

      • leavergirl says:

        Brutus, my apologies for my crabby response. Yes, that was the meaning of the post, but I just had to swashbuckle in. Old habits die hard.

        Where we differ is that I am a possibilist. I am not interested in the most probable future based on odds and rational thought. I am interested in what is possible, even if the odds be poor. Because when many feed their energies into such an option, butterfly wings may flap and a shift in probabilities may occur. The universe is not as predictable as soothsayers like to pretend. (More on possibilism on my blog in the tab, About.)

        All the best for the new year, my friend.

  3. mike k says:

    You raise a real and important question Brutus. I think both you and leaver girl have good answers to it. A question like this has more than one answer. My own present position when I think of raising this weighty matter with someone is: how will this information be received by them? Almost always the answer has been that they will not be able to look at it as a probable reality. In that case it really will not matter if I speak of it or not. Only those who have dared for whatever reason to look deeply at our life in this world without flinching or pretending will be in any position to comprehend this awesome and tragic reality. I myself am still learning the depth and profound impact of this knowledge. The Truth can be a harsh mistress, but I would have no other. It is for others to make the decision to know the reality of this world if they choose. I am not responsible for putting anyone on that path.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am in agreement with you, especially about facing the truth (no capital, sorry). However, refusing responsibility as you have is put a little indelicately. I believe you mean that it’s not your job to shove the truth in anyone’s face, and I concur. I specifically said above that I’m not washing my hands of responsibility, but it’s hard for me to know just yet how that manifests.

      Thus far, I have no firsthand knowledge of someone despairing and ending it all, though examples may be starting to rise (e.g., Mike Ruppert). I also know no one firsthand who has gone off-grid. Everyone I know who has accepted what the evidence shows just shakes their head in disillusionment (what I do, mostly) or makes meaningless, incremental changes (as I have also done). It’s a no-win situation, and although I think we should act on our conscience, it’s still not clear to me how, which could just make matters worse.

      I noticed at NBL that Guy McPherson inaugurated a new feature: embedded videos called The Edge of Extinction where he continues to argue the science, ending with the tagline “only love remains.” That’s what his website is for, and few browse/wander there by accident. My greater concern is the road show. Until the masses do some catch-up, the advisability to evangelizing the truth to the unaware is questionable.

      • mike k says:

        Sorry for capitalizing truth. Just a confusing effort to indicate that in this world of counterfeit concocted “truths” there may be some really solid truths beyond all that. I realized that some would take my capitalization to indicate that I thought I had special access to some transcendent level of Truth such as some deluded spiritual types are wont to sling around. Not so. The simple truth that we are destroying ourselves is what I was trying to distinguish; a level of truth not available to the vast majority of our fellow humans.

        In fact that simple truth is very far from most of us, who so desperately need it. My pessimism with regard to enlightening others in this essential sense is based on my lived experience of many years trying through groups and personal encounters to help folks to wake up to the realities of our terminal illness. I realize now, in looking back on the long and difficult process of my own awakening, this cannot take place for anyone without their taking up this arduous and seemingly unrewarding path of disillusionment for themselves. Rare are those who will willingly look into the fiery pit of our colossal failure as a species. (Nietzsche)

        As to responsibility – it is for me to be the best and most loving person I can be. A sense of shame and guilt is only appropriate if it helps me to fulfill that prime directive.

  4. leavergirl says:

    “the advisability to evangelizing the truth to the unaware is questionable”

    The sound of both hands clapping. But, I don’t expect Guy will listen. His evangelizing is heavily mixed with self-aggrandizement and self-righteousness, IMO.

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