I don’t know if I have met anyone who is not, at some level, in a state of denial, including the guy I see in the mirror. Call it an essential human ‘coping mechanism’
Reflecting on my own “evolution” (without any implication that I am ‘improving’ or ‘progressing’ forward), I am now of the impression that many of us follow these stages, or get stuck in one of them.
Stage one: Ignorance. We don’t know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse, taking a lot of non-human species down with it.
Stage two: Knowledge: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse etc.
(b) we would feel morally remiss if we didn’t try to do “something”. At least re-arrange the deck chairs or leave our cabin room tidy. Case in point. I saw a young woman in the middle of a frigid alpine lake (Moraine Lake in the Rockies) cry for help after her canoe capsized. The lake was like an echo chamber. We could hear her screams and words as if she was ten feet away. But she was in fact 500 feet away. We knew that even if we could immediately grab a boat, we couldn’t get there in time. But a couple of us tried to do it anyway because we felt we had to do “something”. It wasn’t even a case of wilful optimism. It was an attempt to deal with our anxiety and horror. Of course, as we expected, this poor, unfortunate woman disappeared long before anyone got to her.
Imagine, though, if someone on the shoreline, someone like Chris Clugston, using math and physics, quickly proved what we at least subconsciously knew to be the case— that it would be impossible to save her? Suppose he handed us a sheet of paper that presented his iron-clad data. That truth-teller would be greeted with anger or outright denial. “If you really belief it’s hopeless, why are you bothering to write about it?” or “If people believe your message, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy….. We don’t need Cassandras, we need motivators, morale-boosters not truth-tellers….”
Jack Alpert has experienced this reaction. People see his video on “How much De-growth do we need”, but they simply dismiss his assessment of our scale of overshoot, even though they can’t challenge his math. Why? They want to believe, they need to believe, that the planet can carry many more people than he estimates because they think that they can’t “sell” their population reduction diet program if it calls for that amount of sacrifice. Better to cling to Eco-Footprinting Analysis. Better to focus on bio-capacity and ignore diminishing non-renewable resource stocks. Better to shop the WWF’s Living Planet report because it says we only need another 4 planets to carry on BAU, not get down to Alpert’s population level of 50 million. The message, after all, must be “marketable”. And like so many salesmen, they—to use Stephen Law’s words—come to “believe their own bullshit.” Bottom line, Cassandras are either dismissed or reviled, even if their conclusions are evidence-based.
That, my friends, is the position that people like Chris Clugston are in. People don’t want to hear the raw, brutal and complete truth. They want hope. They can only take a limited, even if heavy dose of reality. That’s why readers and publishers want manuscripts and books to end on a note of hope, however absurd. They want a happy Hollywood ending, even if it runs counter to all the evidence and arguments that lead up it. A non sequitur. A conclusion that doesn’t follow from the premises. Just like the way McKibben, Suzuki, et al argue. Like bible-punching preachers, they tell us that we’re going to hell, that things are very, very bad, but wait….there’s hope yet! The window is quickly closing but it’s not too late! There is still time to repent! So keep your love money rollin’ in , because my NGO (church) needs to pay the bills and pay its staff–I need you fund my crusade.”