Rupert Read, Wolfgang Knorr – Stop saying ‘Climate emergency!’? (Until, collectively, we mean it?)

The real emergency is precisely that collectively we don’t treat this situation as remotely anything like an emergency

Rupert Read teaches Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, UK

Wolfgang Knorr is a Senior Research Scientist for Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science at Lund University

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Climate-Change-Golf.jpg

The IPCC’s two scariest-yet reports earlier this year made headlines worldwide…for about 24 hours. The world’s front pages screamed of our terrifying civilisational crisis, the likelihood of climate-driven collapse. For about 24 hours.

Then they flicked back to business-as-usual: Ukraine, cost-of-living (both of course actually deeply-climate stories), Will Smith punching someone…

Emergency? What emergency?

The usual response to this dire situation among climate activists and a gradually increasing number of scientists is to double down. To insist still more vocally that this is an emergency and so must be responded to as one.

In this piece, we ask some uncomfortable questions about this response. In the context of ongoing widespread media/political lack of serious ongoing engagement with the crisis — in the context for instance of Russia’s cashing in on fossil fuels more since its Ukraine invasion began); in the context of the doubling down by the Anglo-political world on fossil fuels in response to Putin; and in the context of the profound failure of most political leaders to offer any transformative initiatives whatsoever — we feel forced to drill down into the lack of any real sense of urgency, and to ask whether collectively we can credibly carry on loudly intoning “Climate Emergency!” while the world is still so very far, even after these dramatic ‘final’ warnings from the IPCC, from showing any congruence whatsoever with the very meaning of the word “emergency”. And we show how this lack of congruence springs in part from ways in which the current crisis is actually pretty deeply different from anything that has previously been accurately called an emergency.

Time of Reckoning

One of us [Read] wrote an article in the Guardian 14 years ago with the heading “Emergency talk“. The article called for the use of appropriately emotive terminology in relation to the more often blandly labelled phenomenon of “climate change”. It called for the actual nature of the situation to be recognised, by speaking of it as the climate emergency.

12 years later, this wish finally became reality. Climate emergency declarations have spread almost like wildfire around the world, most strikingly with the UK Parliament’s historic (albeit merely symbolic) declaration of a climate and environment emergency on May 1st 2019, immediately in the wake of the game-changing “Extinction Rebellion” of the previous month. Read had set up the Extinction Rebellion delegation to the UK Government on the previous day, which urged Michael Gove, then UK Environment Secretary, to support the motion. Gove and the government didn’t quite do that, but Gove “acknowledged” there was an emergency, and the Conservatives did not oppose the motion, allowing it to go through without any votes being cast against it.

So – are we happy now?

Maybe we should be. Aren’t we seeing emergency talk followed up by bold net-zero declarations around the globe? Isn’t the price of renewables falling fast, prompting the fossil-fuel industry to radically re-assess its business model? Isn’t the Ukraine invasion showing the peril of relying on fossil energy from petri-states? And hasn’t the pandemic shown us that we can react adequately to emergency situations?

Unfortunately, the story is not really such a happy one. Grand promises of going to net zero carbon emissions by…2050 – thus making the ‘emergency’ worse for the next…28 years – are not only unrealistic given that none of those making them will be around to be held to account at the self-proclaimed deadline. As a viral Conversation article by one of us [Knorr] made clear, the concept of “net zero” has actually been designed to circumvent having to act now on the science, making life much easier for policy makers and corporations – and consumers as well.

The United Nations’ own special report in 2018 laid out pathways to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the central goal of the Paris Agreement. The result of the assessment was unequivocal: it is imperative that emissions are cut radically and as soon as possible. What matters is what we do now, not what we aspire to 30 years from now or whenever a carbon cycle equilibrium is eventually met. This is in stark contrast to the various net-zero declarations, which by design have no bearing whatsoever on how much we emit between now and the proclaimed deadline. They have been designed not to require any difficult immediate action.

Now it is of next to no concern to us what happens with global CO2 emissions in 2050 or what ever point in time we get to net zero – which we will eventually. Either by wise action, or via reaching a new carbon-cycle equilibrium by the time a degraded nature has expelled human civilisation.

The key message is:

How we intend to reach the goal matters, and that intention is most clearly expressed by what we do now. And day by day it is becomes abundantly clear that collectively we are keen on making the most of the term “net” zero itself: by continuing our profligate lifestyle and offsetting emissions by so-called “negative emissions”. Such fancy technologies are a perfect excuse to do as little as possible now and leave it all to the last minute, for these technologies have never been proven to work at scale. And we already know what awaits us by the time we have missed the self-proclaimed net-zero goal: we will still allow ourselves to meet our goal retrospectively. This is the latest absurd truth-twisting manoeuvre in this game: positing that overshoot” is in order. Overshoot means that we allegedly meet our global temperature target by over-heating to above the target but promising to bring the temperature down later. Doubtless there will be more such post-truth manoeuvres in the coming years, whose likely jaw-dropping chutzpah we haven’t dreamt of yet.

In other words, responsible actors – in 2050, Joe Biden would be…108 – act irresponsibly by passing the buck on to future generations, escaping culpability in the present. (And yes, Biden IS acting irresponsibly: note for instance his extensive ongoing granting of fossil fuel exploration licenses.)

They do so extremely skilfully – by creating the illusion of a paradigm-busting change in our energy system, which in reality is far closer to business-as-usual than any of us would wish to believe. A future scenario recently published by McKinsey shows a reduction of CO2 emissions by a mere 25% by 2050 and an over-heating of 3.5 degrees Celsius by end-of-century, despite a massive build-out of wind and solar in that manner that is currently anticipated. The renewable energy that the world has, encouragingly, produced thus far appears, discouragingly, to add to rather than to replace fossil energy. And we leave aside here the important concern that the entrenched and developing industrial growth system for large-scale renewables has significant and hard-to-sustain impacts on resources and ecosystems more generally, as highlighted by the debate over the film ‘Planet of the Humans’. Crucial here too is how climate-deadly emissions have started to pick up again after the pandemic. Just 18% of “recovery” spending and a pitiful 2.5% of total spending in 2020 had “positive green characteristics”, according to a thorough Oxford University study. Collectively, we are in the process of missing the last chance offered by the post-Covid ‘reset’ for a thorough rapid systems-change.

A “Cure” worse than the Disease?

Some might argue that the illusion of taking control of the climate and ecological crisis has at least brought us renewed action towards a more climate-friendly society. That the dishonesty about the supposed shift away from fossil fuels does not matter; what counts is some relative improvement in the end result. But there are two worrying scenarios for the future that emanate from upholding the lie – a lie that became necessary only because we have waited too long and did nothing for decades to bend the emissions curve.

One is that the continued need to appear to be in control will justify all sorts of measures that appear necessary but could very well end up wreaking havoc in ecosystems or in especially-vulnerable communities. Now, having not even started bending the curve aside from the forced cuts caused by the pandemic, net zero policies are already leading to serious destruction of intact forest ecosystems, with almost no real climate benefits.

Meanwhile, the scale of those policies is miniscule compared to the kind of massive negative emissions needed in many future scenarios to meet our climate goals. We haven’t even started to think seriously about what it would mean if entire industrial sectors had to acquire land to off-set current emissions through bio-energy schemes, let alone the up-front carbon-debt from habitat clearance. Once the self-proclaimed net-zero deadline approaches, the need to prove that the promises were meant seriously could very well lead to a massive land rush for bioenergy crops and concomitant “negative emissions technologies”, such as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). BECCS uses fast growing plant species that are harvested regularly, burned for energy with the CO2 then stored underground. Land dedicated to BECCS will tend to turn into biodiversity deserts. BECCS is the main technology foreseen for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, but it can lead to biodiversity-destruction, displacement of populations, rising food prices, and hunger.

The other risk is that the lie will become so unsustainable, so unbearable, that someday it will collapse and make way for real, full-on, headless-chicken panic to set in. Then, what remains of our ability for a rapid but deliberate response to the crisis will evaporate and we may face either open conflict, or deployment of the most reckless geo-engineering “solutions”, or both.

In this scenario, the story of control might collapse under some massive climate disaster, or by the sheer weight of its internal contradictions. This might jolt humanity into action where there will finally be real “emergency” talk, but talk that will help the cause of geoengineering in the form of “solar radiation management”: most probably the dumping of chemical “solar shades” into the atmosphere to keep the Sun out. Then such geoengineering will “make sense” as an emergency response to prevent temperatures from continuing to rise, in such terrifying circumstances. But while rising temperatures are only part of the problem, they are the only one addressed by that kind of emergency response – changing rainfall regimes and circulation patterns or ocean acidification are also pressing, and could easily be worsened by ‘geoengineering’ interventions. The biodiversity and habitat-destruction crisis, liable to be significantly worsened by BECCS, is to many even worse than the climate crisis. Therefore, the harm done by such interventions, and indirectly by our prevarication over decades, risks becoming immeasurable and terminal.

So we are not happy. The declaration of a climate emergency, which looked like and probably was a game-changer two or three years ago, now runs the risk of backfiring due to the immensity of the gap between science and precaution on the one hand and rhetoric and socio-political reality on the other. The disconnect between the enthusiasm about “build back better” and the grossly inadequate scale and nature of the action underway risks being the opposite: a way in which societies and leaders can stay largely inactive, almost anaesthetised.

The only significant practical value of declarations of emergencies by institutions is that the language can be parroted back to them by activists trying to hold them to account for the next step. But the question we are asking is whether that advantage outweighs the significant downside that we are uncovering.

Emergency”, or what?

Consider this reasonable definition of emergency, as either “an unforeseen combination of circumstances […] that calls for immediate action”, or “an urgent need for assistance or relief”. We have seen the climate crisis coming for half a century, so the first definition does not apply. This leaves us with the second, of which urgency is the central and indispensable aspect. Urgency is partly an objective notion, referring to what a situation demands. But it is also, and ineradicably, partly a subjective notion, something we feel. It requires us to feel the need for action so strongly that we cannot resist it. If there is no genuine sense of urgency, then it is pretty senseless to talk of urgency.

It is time to admit that we, collectively, show no behaviour testifying to a sense of irresistible urgency so characteristic of real emergencies, that leave little or no room for second thoughts or prevarication. Collectively, we do not feel that the climate and ecological crisis is an emergency situation. For this is partly about what we feel; it calls into question the widely held view that there is an action-intention gap at the heart of our reluctance to act. If we do not feel the urgency, it is not credible even to state there is an intention for immediate and radical action. It is not a matter of courage – that we know deep down what to do but are unable to put this into action. Rather, we have not grasped the size and nature of the wicked, tragic “problem”.

There are, as we are fully aware, growing numbers who have been at least seeking to make the emergency real to us all, and we two have been part of their work: Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise movement, and the global school climate strikes provide testament enough to this. These millions of inspiring citizens and activists have struck a chord: public opinion has changed fairly dramatically in the last few years, now reliably indicating that the broad mass of the population recognise on some level that something is deeply amiss, and are even happy to call it an “emergency”, at least in answering questions put to them by a pollster. This is a remarkable achievement. But our worry here is that the achievement is not as deep as most activists or scientists desperately hope it to be (it is one thing to get the right answer on an issue-based opinion poll, another to influence actual election results or actual policy- or behaviour-change), such that it not only achieves very little in terms of substantive change that the atmosphere will notice, and such that it may even in a twisted way make us less prone to take the necessary action.

What we are faced with is a form of denial, albeit a “soft” and subtle variant. A form to which we ourselves confess some attraction – one where we tend to cling on to the false hope that things will turn out to be fine, that we will be saved in some way or other. A perhaps better term we propose to use is “disavowal“, the systematic burying of painful insights and the avoidance of any attempt to grasp the full scale of the tragic and unbelievable reality. What we are saying is that climate-emergency-talk that spins in the void risks direct complicity with and entrenchment of such disavowal.

There is a dissonance between the increasingly widespread proclaimed emergency-awareness and the ongoing actual lived priorities of individuals, communities, political parties, governments, societies.

One might go so far as to say this: the real emergency is precisely that collectively we don’t treat this situation as remotely anything like an emergency. In that sense, the emergency is that we feel no emergency. Call this the ‘meta-emergency’. There is a meta-emergency, whose core is that we act pretty consistently as if this is not an emergency. So long as that situation persists, we want to say, there is something misfiring about simply regarding what we are living as an emergency, like the pandemic was (is). It is at the least so much more layered and difficult and complex than that.

So perhaps doubling down and insisting more loudly that “We are in a climate emergency” is too simplistic a way of proceeding at this point.

At this point, no doubt, because we are questioning the now mainstream alleged way of tackling the crisis, as an emergency, we get accused by some of a kind of ‘doomism’ in our framing. But the accusation is itself an expression of the very disavowal we aim to reveal. In fact, being less blatant, disavowal can be more dangerous than outright denial. Saying “Emergency!” and not, collectively, acting accordingly devalues the term, and subtly undermines public belief. If one consistently only talks of emergency, all that is established is that it isn’t an emergency. For the suspicion spreads, implicitly or explicitly, that we don’t really mean it.

We, humanity, are addressing a (more-than-)“problem” – the magnitude of which we haven’t even fully grasped – by ever more ambitious intentions that in reality place an ever-greater emotional distance between us and the very same “problem”. With each warning about the inadequacy of even those distant promises, we become even more ambitious in our announcements, with the result that the emotional distance, the gap between our inner reality and the words uttered, only grows on balance bigger and bigger.

It is the undeclared – the disavowed – nature of our very disavowal that now creates the biggest threat to humanity. This double-disavowal requires direct address. It cannot be circumvented or overcome effectively merely through bringing climatic rhetoric to a climax.

Of course, such disavowal is hardly surprising. It takes sustained courage to face climate reality. It carries with it risks, including to one’s own mental health. Our experience has on balance been that ultimately we are the lucky ones, having the chance to go through this painful process before it gets forced upon us by brutal circumstance. We are invoking here the ecopsychological sense in which this mental pain makes sense, and is a (painful) gift.

A cognate way of looking at the issue is through the concept of incongruence. It is incongruent to more or less calmly announce potential apocalypse and then go back to work almost as if nothing has happened. It is incongruent to speak of some horrendous eco-catastrophe and not get emotional, or indeed political. Nothing is really going to change until minds are focussed far closer to the present. Until we ask what institutions are willing to change now. And until we ourselves act congruently, now.

Here is a mini-case-study in the concern that motivates our piece. A colleague drew this to our attention:

The city of x declared a climate emergency last year, as many municipalities have. But last fall the city council agreed to also declare a housing emergency, because the city is woefully short on affordable housing; the city in question is a classic case of a scenic zoom town with a university, good outdoor recreational access, and now in the wake of the pandemic a giant upsurge in immigrants from other cities who are able to relocate in large part because they can work remotely.

Only one city council member objected to the declaration of the housing emergency, on the basis that it cheapened the previous declaration of the climate emergency. So now they are facing both emergencies at the same time. Guess which emergency the city council now spends most of its time discussing? Housing, of course, since it is a matter for now, whereas climate change even in this well-educated community is still seen primarily as a matter for the future. What demarcates the city’s progressiveness is that the target date for municipal net zero emissions is 2030 rather than 2050. But this emergency still takes a back seat to more immediate concerns about housing, economic development, and so on.”

Exactly so. Unless and until this becomes about now, we’re nowhere.

Taking Stock

Scientists, like corporations and governments, tend to lean toward tech-fixes. Indeed, for those trained in thinking about ‘problems’, technologies are the most obvious kind of ‘solutions’; as opposed to ideas of living in a very different way, or valuing different things. Even environmental scientists typically talk as though the ‘challenge’ (sic) facing humanity that they have described in their work can be dealt with through often technology-centric reforms within the existing system, which would enable our way of life to continue essentially unchanged.

If this were an emergency, such reformism would be clearly misplaced.

In the end, perhaps a human trait is in play here: if there is a chance we can avoid change, we will hold on to our old ways. We wish to reassure ourselves that we have a firm eye on the matter and that nothing really bad will happen. So long as we hope that governments, companies or ‘the activists’ are on this, little will really change. Change can only come once scientists declare openly, in pain, that the system has. The recent Scientists Rebellion is a promising sign here.

Change can only come when parents too realise that no-one is riding to the rescue of their kids’ futures.

Change can only come once many more of us come to sense that collectively we are seriously vulnerable already to the climate-induced threat.

We need to stop trying to outsource this to anyone else. The buck stops with us, here and now; there is no “they” poised to ride to the rescue. Via “net zero” and the double-disavowal, we conceal that existential truth from ourselves.

It has been wonderful to see the grassroots pressure that has led to widespread climate and nature emergency declarations. And we’ve conceded the important truth that these declarations, once made, can potentially provide rhetorical ammunition for activists and others to hold governments and other actors to account.

But emergency talk, while it was probably worth a try, has probably now trapped climate communicators in a rhetorical dead-end. We therefore insist on the following points:

  1. Clarity on the unprecedented nature of the “emergency” is essential throughout. We mean: If this is an emergency then it is one of a completely unprecedented kind, a properly tragic, permanent feature now of our lives. It is a condition, a more-than-life-long marathon. Otherwise, there is bound to be burnout — and emergency-fatigue.

  2. If one is going to talk emergency then it is essential – not optional – to place strategies to enable the emergency to be perceived and felt as an emergency centrally in one’s activism, communications, etc. This means focally setting out the vulnerability in the short-to-medium term which our uncontrolled perturbation of the Earth’s natural systems places us in, of our food systems to climate disasters, for instance. Otherwise, one is rushing the emergency.

  3. Until the scale and unprecedented character of the crisis is widely felt and acknowledged, such that it becomes possible to at least intend collectively to get serious about tackling the crisis, which is really a new condition of our entire lives and of our entire civilisation, it risks being counter-productive to declare “emergency”.

  4. Any such declaration must only go hand in hand with commensurate intentions and at least some commensurate actions: taking adaptation seriously; discussing geoengineering, for one cannot avoid discussing it if this really is an emergency, even if, as we do, one concludes that it is largely a dangerous illusion; mobilisation of state-resources to make the emergency feel real to the public, including the Prime Minister making the kind of live declaration to the nation that was made at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown in the UK; etc.

In other words: point (iii) implies directly that we should not over-invest in emergency talk until the world has changed significantly. Until, that is, points (i) and (ii) get realized. And point (iv) implies directly that unless we can assemble “critical mass” for emergency talk and, together, draw and implement the kinds of consequences exemplified in (iv), then emergency declarations may do more harm than good. The purchase they provide for movements will not outweigh the incongruencies and disavowals they create.

We have reached these conclusions only with considerable reluctance. They involve a painful reassessment of campaigning methods, of assumptions fairly present among scientists on how change can be implemented, and indeed of our own earlier work, both theoretical and practical. But there will be far more pain if the downsides of incongruent emergency-talk are not recognised.

For only once we can see through the patterns that trap us in inaction, holding onto the desperate hope that some version of the status quo will continue, only then will we be able to start on a journey that could conceivably enable us to break the current deadlock.

We are now in a position to take stock of the nature of our central counter-intuitive point: the current hope and even enthusiasm, so ingenuously and movingly visible especially in our children’s uprising around the globe in recent years, and motivating or expressed in the momentum toward stirring declarations of intentions to reduce climate-deadly carbon emissions to “net zero”, is actually a kind of proof of us collectively not considering the climate and ecological emergency as an emergency. Otherwise, there would be much more fear, even some wise moments of panic among the elites as called for by Greta Thunberg, and of course much more action. (Once again, Greta is the authority here: “The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”) There would be much greater sobriety, less hope, or hope for different things, something like what Jonathan Lear calls “radical hope”: a new purpose that arises when one has been forced to own up to the abandonment of what one had previously hoped for. In an emergency, one seeks without hesitation and with determination to damage-limit, to triage, and of course to avoid making the situation worse. Tragically, that is clearly, still, not where we are.

On to a New Beginning

What is to be done to break the logjam? We have already hinted broadly at the answer. Scientists have a key role to play here. For, in our techno-scientistic society, scientists retain ‘ownership’ of the issue under discussion to a remarkable extent. Scientists must admit defeat. Not in their scientific work itself, but in their hopes for what doing that work would unleash by way of an urgent and commensurate precautionary response. Scientists need to admit that they have not succeeded in creating a sense of shared genuine urgency despite repeated warnings, and that just upping the ante of the warnings is not going to change that. They need to admit that the hopes that they cherished for the policy-making system to respond adequately, rationally to their warnings have proved vain. To be plain that it is time to ramp up efforts at adaptation drastically, with efforts at mitigation having almost entirely failed to work. To come clean that only a rising up orders of magnitude larger than that heroically undertaken by the youth and by the likes of Extinction Rebellion may now move the dial enough. To join that uprising. And meanwhile, to weep, openly; to break the cool rational facade that is incongruent with an “Emergency on planet Earth”.

To admit defeat would be a gesture of unparalleled power. Our age is one of paradox. The greatest power, the greatest agency, now lies by way of scientists and activists alike admitting our inefficacy thus far.

We of course do not mean by any of this to abandon ‘mitigation’ (i.e. emissions-reduction, prevention of worse harm); we mean it has to be wrapped in into a package with adaptation, and that adaptation has finally to be taken seriously – which includes acknowledging its limits. That requires transformative adaptation. It is fascinating to note how long it has taken the world to get even close to the point of taking the unavoidability of adaptation seriously. Our reading of this is again a psycho-philosophical one: the resistance to getting into adaptation, despite its self-evident benefits for practitioners as opposed to the largely long-termist altruistic gesture of “mitigation”, is largely down to the fact that once collectively we start to really talk and do adaptation then we are finally admitting that the crisis is all-too-real; and that is what most of us most of the time still, at root, do not want to do.

Imagine instead scientists themselves, in their thousands, no longer spectators, but instead congruent. Showing that they really mean what they say when they talk of a dire near future by being willing to join the citizens on the streets. Imagine not just Jim Hansen and Bill McKibben and some Extinction Rebellion Scientists but dozens, hundreds, thousands of scientists putting their bodies and careers on the line (after all, there are ‘no careers on a dead planet’). Once again: The recent Scientists Rebellionwas an inspiring harbinger of what might be to come. It needs to be sustained. So now imagine scientists – in collaboration with citizens and children – suing the Government, telling the truth in an unbridled way, telling their personal stories, emoting on live TV about how they feel about the information they have to impart, resolving to change and to help us all do the right thing. This would be an extraordinary game-changer. That would be congruence.

When confronted with our suggestion, many will baulk at this call for courage – and disguise it with literate scepticism, or name-calling. One thing they will say is: “But if we do as you say, and discard our neutrality, then the Fox News-es of the world will bear down at us even worse than they are already.” No doubt, but they are gunning for you pretty badly as it is. They treat you as systematically biased even when you are bending over backwards — far too much — not to be. It will no longer get much worse if you are simply truthful and congruent. But you will then also have the super-power discovered by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion in the public sphere: the super-power of authentic presence. Of what happens to you if you let your voice crack as you think of your nephews and nieces or of a beloved wilderness or whatever it is, when they ask you what is going to happen in the world, in your and their lifetimes.

In this piece, we have been implicitly somewhat critical of science as it is, science in a failing society, science insofar as it is not in rebellion. But we want to stress that we see scientists here principally as victims of the situation, a situation that their training has not equipped them for. Being academics ourselves and having fallen at times into the same trap, we have no desire whatsoever to castigate individuals. In the spirit of Extinction Rebellion, we come more from a place of love – another word which is very hard to mention in a piece like this without being warned that one is making a potentially career-destroying move. And this too is something that is wrong with science and with our society at large. We should and do seek not to blame, not to shame. Instead, let’s imagine a kind of truth and reconciliation process for the systemic failure which has resulted in generations now of climate science doing very little to help bend the curve, let alone crush it.

And that failure of course encompasses us too. As a climate-scientist and a climate-philosopher, writing this piece has been painful for us. It has required us to re-assess our own hopes and ways of talking that we’ve become accustomed to, a discourse that for many years we ourselves had been urging on the world. But it is of the nature of the desperate situation in which we all now find ourselves, if we are willing to face it, that it requires us radically to recalibrate what we can hope for – and to rework the ways of talking and thinking that might help us get there.

There’s a hegemonic story about how academic research and policy-relevance is supposed to work, by way of rationally informing policy-makers and the public. The story is not true. It is not working. Its recent culmination in widespread declarations of ‘climate emergency’, while an understandable gambit to try, has not worked either. We even argue that on balance it may have made things worse.

There is a possible alternative narrative, that we have sketched here. In this new narrative, let us radically deepen the dialogue about crisis, for a “crisis” is a point in which the old ways and recipes have lost their meaning, but a new narrative has not yet emerged. Admitting that we are currently without a compass, that our reason has come to an end and we are lost emotionally, this can be the starting of a new beginning. This is a story which might make it possible at some future point to say “Emergency!” without it backfiring.

If this new story is embraced, then we have at least a chance of avoiding the direst impacts. The new story seeks congruence throughout. It suggests that to cut through, we are going to have to show more than tell. To find ways of making the tragic failure evident, with regard to the climate threat, not just of representative democracy but of our own movements and our own discourse. On that basis of truthful confession, a new possibility of peoples, and then policy-makers, actually listening and acting, might start to open up.

We hope you will have the courage and goodwill to at least consider the new story. Perhaps, after having done so, we’ll see you ‘on the streets’.


Thanks much to Deepak Rughani, John Foster, Samuel Alexander, Peter Friederici, Adam Aron, Marc Lopatin, Jonathan Rowson and James Rumball for comments that have much improved the text. However, these colleagues should not be held responsible for the provocative framing of our piece.

Some of this material has appeared previously in a piece published by Emerge.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this article. It is true that we are lost and need to find a way of getting serious about the situation. I have just finished Weintrobe’s book on the Psychological Aspects which was very informative. Highly recommended too. Your intellectual work is so important in helping me and I’m sure others, in thinking this through. Thanks again.

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