Reality denial in the Anthropocene epoch
Ever since the Russiagate saga flared up in the US, many have noted that the rise of Donald Trump has led to a widespread loss of capacity for critical thinking, especially among those who still allow their opinions to be molded by corporate media.
The two most obvious manifestations of this malady are Trump Derangement Syndrome (Trump is unique and to blame for everything) and its opposite number, Trump Denial Syndrome (Trump is unique and the savior of all).
There are numerous symptoms of these dysfunctions, the most harmful and potentially dangerous being neo-McCarthyism and warmongering. But there is also a remarkable inability to think things through logically, or to recall even recent history.
An example of the latter is the tendency, especially among so-called liberals, to accuse those who do not accept the allegations of the “intelligence community” on faith, with a total lack of evidence, as “treasonous.” It is as if the intelligence failures or, worse, manipulation that led up to the Iraq disaster occurred in ancient times, rather than a mere 15 years ago.
An example of the incapacity to think things through is the ongoing clamor for the removal of Trump from the White House, by impeachment of some other means. It is obvious, or should be even to Trump’s most heartfelt enemies, that waiting patiently outside the front door of the Oval Office is the frightening Mike Pence, who unlike Trump is shrewd, possessed of a calming veneer, and deeply dedicated to far-right evangelical ideology.
The real existential threat
However, as unsettling as the Trump era is, it will pass. The American Empire is in deep trouble, but the United States itself will survive in some form. Unless people like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos succeed in reinstating mass illiteracy, historians will still be around to write this chapter of the American story. As much as his fanatical enemies refuse to believe it, Donald Trump is not an existential threat to humanity (unless, of course, he actually presses that Big Button).
The same cannot be said of climate change. It is true that the ultra-reactionary Trump administration has adopted damaging policies on the environment, but this stupidity is merely salt in a wound that has been festering for decades. On this issue too, and again aggravated by the failures or actual malfeasance of corporate media, a dearth of critical thinking has pushed the entire planet into crisis.
While denial of reality by the anti-science crowd has liberals fretting, such navel-gazers are likely a dwindling minority by now. The disastrous impacts of climate change are no longer safely confined to the world’s poorer areas, in remote deserts or oceanside hovels rarely seen by the privileged. Once-pristine “First World” environments now are being devastated by drought or floods, and glistening cities like Vancouver are choking in forest-fire smoke.
No, the new reality most people are denying is that it’s too late. All the energy-saving light bulbs, ugly wind-power farms, Teslas and carbon taxes won’t turn back the clock, or push back the tide. The Anthropocene epoch is fully established, and unlike Donald Trump, we can’t make it go away just by blaming the Russians.
Instead, the action immediately required – and, therefore, the action that will not be taken until the situation is much worse – is to adapt.
Some progressives claim that wealthy people including fossil-fuel executives while pretending their actions are not irreversibly altering the climate are quietly moving to higher ground, knowing full well that rising sea levels will soon turn their swank seaside villas into septic swamps. In fact, there is little evidence for such claims thus far, but if the history of man-made disasters is a guide, it is very likely that the rich will be the last to suffer.
The difference this time, though, is that the climate crisis is not confined to one area, or a few. It is global. Nothing will be untouched. Already, arable land is being made useless by droughts, floods, landslides and other “natural” disasters. Changing ocean currents are disrupting fish supplies. At least one major war – in Syria – has been triggered at least in part by climate issues.
More wars over increasingly scarce food and clean water resources will inevitably create more conflict, and migration on a massive scale, at precisely the same time as places such as Europe and North America heretofore seen as refuges become less able to cope with the onslaught of the displaced, even if their residents wanted to – which we already know they won’t.
So, what can be done to mitigate this damage? Maybe nothing; maybe a new Dark Age is inevitable. Time will tell. Only one thing is certain at this point: Pretending the storm is not brewing will accomplish nothing.