André Alves/ Float ︎
Image: © Mackenzie Freemire/ DTS
Image: © Mackenzie Freemire/ DTS
The End of Sustainability?
if on the one hand sustainability has never seemed to be urgent, on the other hand, it seems an insufficient concept for the political games, chaotic scenarios, ethic and political dilemmas, narratives of division and conflicts with consumption that we will face in the next decade. for a long time, we believed that well-intentioned environmentalists, recycling, mondays without meat and responsible consumption would avoid a climate crisis. this time is gone, is over, enough, change.
in the next few years, humanity will be confronted with big dilemmas. on the one hand, increasingly frequent debates about geoengineering, large-scale interventions in the climate system to mitigate the effects of global warming - would the solution to the climate disaster be to intervene further in the environment? on the other hand, the projections of the climate consequences are getting more impactful, such as the probable 200 million climate migrants in 30 years (UNHCR). in this context, the only consensus is perhaps that the neoliberal fantasy of ready-to-wear sustainability has reached its limit ...
The climate dance
imagine feeling so hot that it becomes impossible to sleep and you have to take your mattress to the building’s terrace to try to sleep under the open sky. now imagine that your neighbors had the same idea; the terraces of your city are filled with mattresses, sweaty bodies and insomniacs. a heat wave that makes it impossible to walk under the sun; it would only be possible to move around under the shadows and at night.
the noise coming from air conditioners is nearly rowdy and cities become a big motor, trying to handle high temperatures. too many appliances, no power, and the ones who can afford, take their chances with diesel and gasoline generators. a nightmare to those who once dreamed of clean energy matrices.
the only solution seems to be to seek refreshment in rivers and beaches (overcrowded), but the water temperature becomes unbearable, capable of bowling human bodies, literally. it’s warm and there’s nowhere to go nor what to do. the scenario is so extreme that people die from the heat, more people die than the authorities are able to collect and bury. the streets are full of bodies of those who couldn't stand it. it's too hot.
scenes like these ones are part of the first chapter of Ministry of the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson’s book released in 2020, which quickly became one of the greatest exponents of cli-fi (a genre of fiction about the climate catastrophe). every page is a hard swallow, the infinite agony “we need to do something”. the scientific blur and the literary talent of Robinson, like many cli-fi authors, the tone about the climate cataclysm has changed - the question is no longer “what if?”, but when, how many and how we are going to deal with the consequences of these scenarios. how are we going to dance the climate dance?
the metaphor of the dance was amplified during the pandemic of the new coronavirus by the engineer and writer Tomas Pueyo. in this analogy, one of the worst parts of the pandemic of the COVID-19 is the forced dance with the virus - relieve and harden measures, close and reopen sectors of society as the number of cases increases and decreases. regardless of the level of denial and success in fighting the virus, all countries had to define their dance. a dance that we will continue to dance until we have managed to end the virus in all (!) corners of the world.
to many scientists and activists, the dance with the coronavirus was a big rehearsal for us to face the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity: the climate crisis. climate change is in place and, according to many experts, it is now a damage containment race. As we learned from the pandemic, the most difficult part is preparing for the shock events that interrupt the dance and force us to completely change the strategy.
just like a virus or new variants, fulminating heat waves, catastrophic storms and other events don’t come with a big warning. the planet will heat up. the question is: how many degrees can we “take”? many species will be extinct - how many will we manage to save? many large cities will become uninhabitable - what to do to relocate such populations?
as Ailton Krenak, author of great works such as Ideas to postpone the end of the world and Tomorrow is not for sale, wrote “students on campus are all wanting to know this story of postponing the end of the world. I replied: ‘me too’. ” We all are.
we know that as a society we are unprepared - the question is: how unprepared? and who will pay the price of such a flaw?
ecophobia: who is going to save us?
the scenes described in cli-fi pieces seem more and more plausible. just follow the news and you will see: blizzards in Texas, fires in the Pantanal, floods in China, heat waves from France to India, airplanes that cannot take off because the heat is too intense. images of environmental disasters remain, but these images do not seem to have the same effect on us. it's like hell is no longer a distant apocalypse, but another Instagram filter.
natural catastrophes were an imminent threat. today, they are the norm. according to Mark O'Connell at the Guardian, we are experiencing a cognitive dissonance between scientific evidence and immediate perceptions, as we are unable to connect the melting of the glaciers with a cold day in the middle of January. in this context, the preventive tone of environmentalism in the past decades has risen; it became more urgent, slightly desperate and even aggressive. ecology has become ECOPHOBIA.
ECOPHOBIA is the sensation that the world is in collapse, but in slow-motion. it’s the paradox of “where to start” VS “nothing I do will do any good”. ECOPHOBIA is 95% of the world's population breathing air that is considered dangerously polluted. it is also to be afraid of the future: if the planet is being destroyed, what are the consequences? at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, many appealed to the card “nature is healing”, but some also raised a darker hypothesis: what if nature is taking revenge?
“we are the virus” — over the past year, a narrative that puts in check the way in which a large part of humanity has been inhabiting the Earth has gained strength. as Ailton Krenak said in one of his prophetic interviews, “we took a trail of industrialization that became an addiction, it seems that we are fascinated with the speed of the invention of new devices, of new things, being that we do not need these things. (...) all this evolution went wrong in several ways, because the only thing that proliferates indefinitely, without any internal expectation of self-control, is the disease, it’s the cancer, it’s the virus”.
in this more dystopian perspective, the survivalist mentality is gaining strength, a global trend with echoes in Brasil in which individuals or groups (survivalists or preppers) are actively preparing for imminent emergencies, as if the zombie apocalypse was about to happen. Meanwhile, billionaires build luxury bunkers to escape when the chaos comes through, a particularly popular move in Silicon Valley. there is also a third path to a new space race, this time led by eccentric "innovators", whose goal is to find our next home planet - or a new host for parasitic humanity.
it’s as if World War Z, Snowpiercer and Interstellar were parallel narratives with a comum origin: the planet Earth as a hostile environment that gives us fear and challenges us to seek new ways of survival. interestingly, the 3 narratives also share models that replicate many of the current future inequalities in which not everyone fits. a ride to Mars may even be possible at some point (shine, Elon Musk), but let's face it, neither you nor I could afford to pay for the ticket.
climate war, climate catastrophe or climate evolution? the narrative war about climate change is problematic because it often prevents people from being able to see the real consequences of all this. a game that becomes even more complex with the fourth narrative: negationism.
the denial of global warming and its consequences is, according to many experts, like the scientist Michael E. Mann, the best financed and organized Public Relations campaign in history; an almost unbeatable link between the fossil fuel industry, conservative politicians and media outlets. on the balance sheet, while the culture tries to decide whether our savior will be Bill Gates, Greta Thunberg, Elon Musk or Ailton Krenak, figures like Ricardo Salles keep passing the cattle. and land in the middle of the Amazon rainforest continues to be sold via the Facebook marketplace.