By K.C. Golden
It’s time to rally around an embattled concept: free will.
Having aligned myself against a battalion of seemingly irresistible forces over the years, I’ve become a student of “inevitability.” How do environmentally destructive choices become inevitable? Near as I can tell, it starts when the people who will benefit from these choices simply begin to assert their inevitability. We’re especially receptive to inevitability right now.
Inevitability, the Wrong-Headed Clarifier
We’re comforted by the notion that amid all the uncertainty and confusion, from the economy to climate disruption — some larger forces are at work toward pre-determined outcomes. We’re sort of relieved to hear that something’s inevitable, even if it’s not necessarily something we like. It clarifies things. It’s more pragmatic to be resigned to the inevitable than to chart a new course through the chaos. Plus, it spares us the disappointment of pinning false hopes on dysfunctional democratic institutions–or working to change them. So the myth of inevitability spreads and the prophecy fulfills itself. If the proponents of a particular course can get a critical mass of folks to believe that it’s a foregone conclusion, pretty soon it will be.
Those who assert that conservation and renewables will never replace fossil fuels are using the only strategy available to them. They propound the myth of inevitability because they know that few of us would actually choose more waste, and eternal dependence on coal, oil, and gas extracted in ever-more risky and destructive ways. Having little chance of convincing people that these outcomes are desirable, they tell us we have no choice in the matter.
Inevitability, the Greatest Barrier to Responsibility and Resistance
Think about the arguments that have blocked serious U.S. action on climate change. First, it wasn’t happening. Then it was happening but it wasn’t human-caused. (Damn those sun spots.) Now maybe it is human-caused but there’s nothing we can do because China and India’s emissions will swamp us anyway–never mind the American corporations whose manufacturing facilities get counted in their carbon impact. So we might as well shovel and ship their coal because otherwise they’ll just burn someone else’s. Responsibility is no one’s. Resistance is futile.
But inevitably we do have choices to make. Failing to make them consciously isn’t failing to make them at all; it’s just falling for the inevitability trap. It’s just giving ourselves an excuse for allowing the wrong choices to be made, and a feeble excuse at that. Among all the reasons for continuing to choose the path of evading responsibility for climate disruption, I think the least satisfying, the least noble, the hardest one to forgive ourselves for is: “It wasn’t up to me.”
Well, it’s up to somebody. Who’s it gonna be?Φ
KC oversees Climate Solutions’ Climate Leadership program. From 1999 to 2002, KC was a special assistant to the Mayor of Seattle for clean energy and climate protection initiatives. In that capacity he helped to engineer Seattle City Light’s commitment to become the nation’s first climate neutral electric power utility and the City’s commitment to exceed the goals of the Kyoto protocol. KC was formerly Assistant Director of Washington’s Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, where he directed the Energy Division and the state’s energy policy office. From 1989 to 1995, he was Executive Director of the Northwest Energy Coalition, a regional alliance working for a clean, affordable energy future.