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How ‘Death Anxiety’ Is Sparking the Shift in Consciousness We Need to Deal With the Global Climate Threat

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The following mention is from The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival, by Robert Jay Lifton (The New Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission.

Climate Swerve 1: From Experience to Ethics

What we am job the meridian snake is a matter of particular and common awareness. It is a state of mind and not in itself a form of action, but it can lead to action. Swerves are not orderly. This one seems quite rambling and, in almost all of its details, unpredictable. Yet we clarity that we are in the midst of something challenging and eventually hopeful. One thinks of Bob Dylan’s insistence that “Something’s happening here but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mister Jones?” With meridian swerve, we all spin Mister Jones in the uncertainties. But there are some observations that we can start to make.


The term “swerve” comes to us from Lucretius, the Roman producer and philosopher who lived during the first century BCE. Lucretius was referring to a transformation in the tiny particles he believed constituted the universe, a transformation that was an unexpected flaw from the ordinary.

The contemporary humanist Stephen Greenblatt argues that the liberation in the fifteenth century of Lucretius’s publishing (after it had languished in problematic libraries for some-more than a millennium) contributed to a opposite kind of swerve: the unusual change in human alertness compared with the Renaissance and the origination of the complicated world. Greenblatt himself seized on the word and used it as the pretension for his constrained book, which he subtitled, “How the World Became Modern.” But he was distant from the only author meddlesome in the Lucretian snake (or its Latin equivalent, “clinamen”): Jonathan Swift referred to it in 1704 in A Tale of a Tub; James Joyce alludes to it in the commencement difference of Finnegans Wake; it appears in the work of Jacques Lacan and Simone de Beauvoir. And Harold Bloom wrote of the “swerve” of poets from their predecessors in The Anxiety of Influence. Not surprisingly these writers have opposite views of the swerve, but they share a clarity of it as a significant, if not always judicious or clear, change in the way people knowledge their world.

Making Use of Death Anxiety

Greenblatt points out that Lucretius’s poem is “a surpassing healing imagining on the fear of death.” Lucretius insisted that “death is zero to us,” and only by usurpation its karma and its finish to all feeling can we grasp vitality and enjoy the pleasures of life. The meridian snake is concerned with death in a series of ways. It is partly a response to the fear of death, particular and collective, compared with modernized global warming. Until recently this fear has been suppressed and denied. The same has been loyal of the death stress compared with nuclear weapons, but in that case the descriptions and images of megadeaths could be some-more distinguished and lasting. we trust that the death stress of meridian change has changed some-more toward the surface as the snake has taken hold.

Beyond meridian and nuclear threats, death stress in ubiquitous tends to be biggest when there are surpassing psychohistorical dislocations—breakdowns in the social arrangements that usually anchor human lives. we have in mind the quarrelsome and changeable relations in the multitude with institutions having to do with family, religion, sexuality, birth and death, and above all with domestic management and governance. Such dislocations have characterized the time, and have been severely strong by both nuclear and meridian threats. A infamous round of augmenting death anxiety, termination and penetrating numbing, and bolster of meridian normality can result.

Yet something some-more constructive is also occurring. By opposed apocalyptic disaster and holding in the ensuing death anxiety, even the probable death of the species, we make the snake possible. And the snake itself has an unifying outcome that can, in turn, implement the increasingly unwavering death anxiety. That death anxiety, no longer avoided, becomes a impulse for a continual energetic of recognition and intensity action. In that way the snake creates a state of mind suitable to the threat. And death stress becomes an animating force that both enhances, and is kept in check by, the swerve.

The Evidence

The justification of the meridian snake has 3 elements: experience, economics, and ethics. People via the universe are increasingly experiencing the effects of meridian change and the ever some-more active stating of those effects in the media. None can entirely equivocate the drumbeat of disaster. Nor can they omit the systematic accord about global warming and the augmenting systematic justification that it plays an critical prejudiced in the astringency of hurricanes and tornadoes, extreme droughts and wildfires, feverishness waves, periodic moments of extreme cold, rising sea level, and extreme flooding. All this is prejudiced of the flourishing recognition that meridian risk encompasses the world and that we are all vulnerable.

There has been a quantum jump in media coverage, which we reliable by scrutinizing the articles about global warming in the New York Times during the years 2013, 2014, and 2015. There is not only larger coverage of meridian disasters in general, as compared to past years, but a much larger bent to lift questions about the role of global warming in causing or heightening them.

Public opinion polls and opinion studies show that augmenting numbers of people are apropos assured that the earth has been dangerously warming and that human change has been a essential factor. Even the treasonable avowal “I’m not a scientist” is apropos reduction useful as a domestic articulate point, yet it is infrequently transposed by “There has always been global warming,” which is a way of expressing doubt about human causation. Or a still some-more worldly evasiveness, as voiced by Scott Pruitt, who President Trump allocated to conduct the Environmental Protection Agency: “Science tells us the meridian is changing and human activity in some demeanour impacts that change. The ability to magnitude and pursue the grade and the border of that impact and what to do about it are theme to stability discuss and dialogue.”

Now human change is certified but there is still an insistence on ultimate doubt and doubt. Denial and forgery have by no means left (Pruitt has ignored the risk of CO dioxide emissions), and domestic antithesis has in some ways intensified. But the standard oppositional position has spin a multiple of partial, mostly unspoken, recognition of meridian change as an entity, and rejecting of meridian change as a poignant hazard requiring social and domestic action.

Such rejecting is required to means one’s temperament and worldview, including enmity to supervision regulations and, in many cases, to supervision and governance. Yet meridian rejecters are increasingly on the defensive and theme to the condemnation of the ubiquitous public. To be sure, their concentration on lost jobs and Third World growth can be politically compelling. And they can rightly indicate to technical problems in a large acclimatisation to renewable appetite sources. But in doing so they can't help divulgence the unusual technical and mercantile series that is holding place in the prolongation and function of those renewable sources and their intensity human benefits.

This paradoxical position of rejecters can lead to extreme actions, as in the function toward scientists by the Trump transition organisation in late 2016. The questionnaires they sent to the Department of Energy asking for the names of employees (scientists and staffers) and information about their assemblage at meridian change meetings suggested a McCarthyite magician hunt and intensity purge. Climate deniers and rejecters have prolonged voiced this antiscience stance, which is both anti-Enlightenment and antimodern. It is also a phenomenon of the kind of totalism we could observe in Chinese comrade suspicion reform: subsuming the law to a closed, falsified narrative, while seeking to control the media and other sources of information. Significantly, the questionnaires were cold in response to expressions of outrage that could be accepted as antithesis to totalistic magician hunts and, at slightest indirectly, as confirmation of the meridian swerve.

Risky Business and the Rockefeller Turn

One absolute mercantile denote of the snake was voiced in the presentation in 2014 of a organisation called Risky Business, which published a inhabitant report patrician “The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.” Leaders of the organisation embody two former secretaries of the book (Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin), a former secretary of state (George Shultz), and two distinguished American billionaires (Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer). What is important is that these financial tycoons concentration privately on the mercantile costs of meridian change. As done transparent in their goal statement: “The signature effects of human-induced  climate  change—rising seas, augmenting repairs from charge surge, some-more visit bouts of extreme heat—all have specific quantifiable impacts on the nation’s stream resources and ongoing mercantile activity.” Their summary is that the benefaction use of hoary fuels will shortly bring down the American economy. They are moneymen who are responding to the ever some-more dire meridian truths.


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