What counts as success in the climate change crisis?


At 20:30 in this video, Charles Eisenstein talks about something that has also nagged me. He says that one of the problems with climate change discourse is the way it has been framed as a matter of survival. The point he is making is that survival isn’t our ultimate purpose. Not least because we’re all going to die. Our purpose, he says, is to live in service to and in gratitude for the gift of life.

What if we could find a way to live on a dead Earth, like in some sci-fi novel? Eisenstein asks if that would be considered a successful response to climate change. And we say no, of course. Because we know - or at least those of us who care about life know - that survival isn’t good enough. In such a future, Eisenstein says, we would have survived but we would be living in hell.

This is my fear about technological fixes to climate change. There may be ways to head off its worst effects: releasing substances into the atmosphere to reflect the sun away from Earth, strip mining mountains to find new sources of the minerals needed for efficient batteries, clearing forests to make more room for wind farms. Hell, we could even colonize Mars.

Would any of these be considered success though? In my opinion, no. These technological interventions would save us from the worst consequences of our actions - and continue the same pattern in imposing human will on the living Earth. That impulse - to dominate life in service to what are perceived to be human ends - is the fundamental error. Technological fixes that serve only to perpetuate that error may ensure human survival, but they fail to secure a livable future.