Hope for the best and plan for the worst, goes the old adage. But no one actually takes this to heart.
After all, who wants to heed warnings that “the end is nigh” when there’s so much fun stuff to do? And because people have been saying that same message of catastrophe for as long as people have been around, anyone spreading such doom and gloom comes off as a bit of a wingnut.
That’s why we scoff at reports like the one recently released by British-government funded Global Sustainability Institute, suggesting that without major policy changes civilization as we know it will collapse around 2040 because of food shortages.
That’s why we guffaw at climatologist Jason Box, the glum character whose research focuses on the disintegrating Greenland ice sheet and who warns that if even a small amount of polar methane is released “we’re fucked.”
That’s why no one listens to that frizzy-haired pessimist Margaret Atwood saying dystopia lurks around the corner, and that we better “hoard some dog food, because [we] may be needing it” if we are unable to rise to the challenge of transitioning to a new social order.
The same goes for former NASA scientist James Hansen, who warns that the planet has already passed a climate change tipping point and that sea level rise of 10 feet by 2065 may already be baked into the system; same goes for the Royal Society of London, who say it is increasingly likely human civilization will collapse in short order; same goes for Guy McPherson, professor emeritus in biological sciences, who argues that humans will likely be extinct in a few decades.
Who actually pays attention to this kind of claptrap?
But then a study comes along by Australian researchers showing that, in fact, the majority of people think the human emergency is spiraling out of control and catastrophe is on the horizon.
Here’s what they found:
This study of four developed nations — the US, UK, Canada and Australia — found that over a half (54%) of respondents rated the risk of our current way of life ending within a century at 50% or more; a quarter (24%) rated the risk of humanity becoming extinct within a century at the same level.
And if you believe that activism is the appropriate response to such possible catastrophe, the vast majority agree with you as well (~78%), that the best way to bring about some kind of liveable future is through organizing and agitating through mass social movements.
It’s really not what you’d expect.
Looking at how our federal and provincial governments operate and the business-as-usual way our major industries continue extracting every possible resource, and looking at how all of us just keep on going about our lives as usual — it doesn’t indicate any great urgency, and certainly doesn’t indicate a society that is keenly aware of its impending collapse.
If we take seriously the results from the Aussie researchers, that most people are worried about looming catastrophe, then we must admit the issue is not one of spreading awareness or getting information out there. People are well aware things are bleak and are presumably paying attention to the many possible end of days scenarios envisioned by scientists, writers, and visionaries.
The disconnect is between knowing and doing. So the question is what needs to happen for the 78 per cent of people who apparently think activism is the way, for us to get off our asses and do something.
Because if we all got together and became politically active, things would get done in short order. And if we don’t, well, things definitely won’t, and the most pessimistic of prophecies will be all that remains.