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January 25, 2021

By Peter Catapano


Here is a theory I learned growing up among world-class worriers:

1) Life! It’s unpredictable. It never does go exactly as we imagine.

2) Ergo, if we constantly imagine bad things happening (in excruciating detail, if possible), those things won’t happen.

3) By constantly worrying we will avoid grievous harm.

How did that work out for me? Well, despite the threats to our existence — Son of Sam, the Cold War, high cholesterol, disco — our tribe did survive. But over time I realized: The constant worrying and the not dying were not related. I rejiggered my worldview. Instead of worrying, I did statistical research on the odds of specific bad things happening. They became less scary. I put them in perspective. I was seeing things as they were, not as I believed them to be.

In an Op-Ed today, Roy Scranton looks the imminent dangers of our warming planet straight in the eye. But they are not less scary. Not at all.

Scranton, an Iraq War veteran, author and the director of the Notre Dame Environmental Humanities Initiative, reminds us that 2020 brought not just the pandemic but ravaging fires, melting Arctic ice, devastating hurricanes and the second hottest year on record. And the worst, he argues, is yet to come. The systems that bind global civilization will be disrupted or broken. We will have more hunger, drought, civil unrest. That “new normal” we so desperately long for nearly a year into the pandemic, “now means returning to a course that will destabilize the conditions for all human life, everywhere on earth.”
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You may ask: Are things really that dire? Isn’t President Biden rushing us back into the Paris climate agreement? Isn’t big business going green? What about solar power, electric cars? All good, Scranton argues, but too little, too late. Even hopeful environmentalists like Al Gore own up to this dispiriting fact: “The climate crisis is getting worse faster than we are deploying solutions,” he wrote in his December Op-Ed.

Scranton’s view is no doubt informed by war. In Iraq, he writes, “I saw what happens when the texture of the everyday is ripped apart.”

Is this doomsaying or truth-telling? Or are they one and the same?

When I wrote to ask Scranton more about this he wrote back: “I hope I don’t come across as saying I think there’s viable action to head things off: I don’t. My point is we need to give up on normal and start adapting.” The most dangerous response, he said, would be “just more optimism.”