Diffusing the Ticking 1.5 Time Bomb
So much has been said about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Special Report on 1.5. There's talk of exacerbated food shortages, growing inequalities, receding territories, increased wildfires, coral reef damages and vector-borne diseases, and a man wondering who drew all this up. A quick search would land you to pages spouting fast facts that get even more depressing as you read along.
Anywhere you look, the same message of time-bound catastrophe awaits, and for good reason: according to the report, we must reduce carbon emissions by almost a half or else we are headed towards a 1.5 degree-warmer world between 2030 - 2052. That means hitting a tipping point where life as we know it would no longer be possible. Earth has this rising fever, and left unchecked we will all be responsible for the resulting delirium.
Truth be told, the report couldn't have come at a worse time. Published this Monday, in midst of news about unqualified populists running for office and what might be a state-sponsored death of a journalist, it came as yet another nail in the coffin of the world's increasingly uncertain future. While advocates welcomed its arrival and emphasized the urgency for world leaders to act, the disgruntled public rolled their eyes and swiped up on their devices for another, hopefully more uplifting, story.
So how do you combat this fatigue? In a world plagued by wars, diseases, political unrest, worsening poverty and fake news, how do you fight for sustained engagement in this "attention economy", going past clickbait headlines and the usual accompanying photo of a wildfire?
"The best science in the world will not by itself change the way people spend their incomes or heat their homes.", wrote William Nordhaus, co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics in his book Climate Casino. And indeed, the resulting listicles from said best science that enumerate the various ways nature is going to go berserk will not help much either.
Last January, climate scientist Michael Mann responded to an article from New York Magazine for "paint[ing] an overly bleak picture by overstating some of the science", saying that there is a danger in how it "presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness." In an essay for Poynter as part of a larger body of work on digital ethics, Danah Boyd notes that there is indeed "a fine line between creating an informed citizenry and creating a fearful citizenry", reminding us that "societies can be undermined and fragmented through fear."
Fear alone might hold readers hostage, but in combatting an issue as all-encompassing as climate change, the fifteen minutes of reading time we might get awarded through a catchy doomsday headline mean nothing if they're not followed by a raging desire to act. Indeed, moral outrage, "anger provoked by the perception that a moral standard—usually a standard of fairness or justice—has been violated", is one of the prosocial emotions that was analyzed in a paper called Transforming "Apathy into Movement", and was found to be "likely to precipitate strategies related to social and political action, strategies designed to subvert the unfair 'system'".
As advocates for this generation's biggest issue, our greatest hope for solving this crisis is not just an informed but an engaged citizenry that aims to correct the system that has for generations ascribed power to the fossil fuel industry and allowed it to have control over political systems and the media. We have to present them with clear ways that go beyond "responsible consumerism" and initiate pathways towards collective political action - campaigning to end fossil fuel subsidies, safeguarding renewable energy laws that allow for democratic and sustainable energy systems, holding these polluting industries accountable for billions of loss and damage through litigation and voting for people who believe in and translate climate science to policies.
And when asked why, the best answer is because there is still hope. The IPCC report is a forward-looking instrument not only because it projects what can happen if we continue to live in apathy, but inversely what we can avoid if we work together towards protecting the lives and livelihoods of all, including that of the most vulnerable groups for whom the findings are not just statistics but possible versions of the future. There is no greater incentive to acting now than correcting capitalism's biggest market failure and restoring justice and dignity into the way we live.