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Abandon All Hope: Moving Toward an Existentialist Environmentalism

Abandon All Hope: Moving Toward an Existentialist Environmentalism 

As the Earth’s ecological systems upon which we depend accelerate in their slouch towards Bethlehem, our society faces an existential crisis.  The effects of climate change are far direr than we initially expected.  Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen to 415 ppm for the first time in over three million years.  The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C describes that we face an increase in global average temperatures of 1.5 degrees C as soon as 2040. Furthermore, the two degrees of warming that scientists widely argue is the final major threshold before permanent, large-scale climatic shifts leading to ecological collapse, is no longer some far-off possibility or hyperbolic fear-mongering, but an imminent reality.  The future we face in this new Earth is marked ever more frequent and intense fire and flooding, famine and disease, droughts and storms.

Similarly, compounded by decreasing habitat availability from deforestation, overfishing, and resource overuse, climatic shifts are already being accompanied by staggering and consistent losses in biodiversity.  Published last month, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ Global Assessment Report concluded that the second-fastest mass extinction event in planetary history is underway; the current rate of extinction is 100 to 1000 times greater than historical background rates.  Over one million species are at risk of extinction within the next few decades.

As they perceive the horsemen beginning to saddle up their mounts, many of my friends and colleagues in the environmental community have succumbed to anxiety, if not despondency.  It is all too easy to become overwhelmed and unable to make a decision on how to proceed given the enormity of the problem and the lateness of the hour.  Indeed, given their scale, global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss have been called hyperobjects which humans cannot comprehend despite their pervasive effects that are and will be experienced by everyone in some way.

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