December 14, 2017

No Time To Waste: Facing the Reality of Climate Breakdown | Editorial

The people of Texas and Louisiana are beginning to rebuild after Harvey, and the library community has stepped up to help. As we have seen in the aftermath of all too many disasters, the library infrastructure and network is critical. Not only do libraries provide refuge and expertise to put to work on relief efforts, but librarians consistently offer compassion and are ready to serve anyone in need.

Early reports on life after Harvey show a profession poised to help again. LJ’s Lisa Peet found members of the local library community, though themselves impacted, helping in their buildings and beyond, and the field as a whole activated to assist from afar. This is no small thing. It should be recognized as the major contribution it is, to the near-term recovery and the long haul ahead, and it makes my heart swell with pride.

However, there’s an even harder haul, of which Harvey—like Katrina, Rita, and Sandy before it—is only the visible tip of the melting iceberg. And about that, I feel heartbreak and fear for the future. Those emotions are quickly followed by a growing determination to address—in whatever way I can—the global climate problem and the steep hill we face as we reckon with this unsustainable course.

In the first week of the aftermath of Harvey, Guardian columnist George Monbiot reflected on the sort of self-censorship that often manifests with regard to the climate crisis, and our collective willingness to look away, to treat Harvey as a natural happenstance instead of one exacerbated by human-made climate change.

Monbiot calls out our dismal efforts at planning to address what he calls “climate breakdown,” referring to other terminology as “curiously bland.” I couldn’t agree more. The idea that this is a passive process—that the climate is changing, as opposed to being changed—and the illusion that the change is value-neutral falsely absolve us of agency in acknowledging the problem and fixing it.

We ignore climate reality at our peril. “Our current approach is like sitting next to a sandcastle, pretending we had no idea it was going to get swept away—only the sandcastle is civilization, and we know damn well that the waves are coming in,” writes Lauren Duca in Teen Vogue.

Monbiot charges that the powers that be, including the media, are irresponsible when they deny the link or aren’t explicit about the multiplicity of factors that make a storm like Harvey as destructive as it is. “To claim there is no link between climate breakdown and the severity of Hurricane Harvey is like claiming there is no link between the warm summer we have experienced and the end of the last ice age,” he writes. “While no weather event can be blamed solely on human-driven warming, none is unaffected by it.”

Houston, unfortunately, is only one place impacted by the global catastrophe we are already grappling with—and we are all affected, even if we choose to disregard the connections. Monbiot is basically describing a failure of will, one that is enabled by an information problem. Those of us committed to facts and access to information as power have a battle ahead.

As I’ve argued before, the global library network could be transformational for our communities in moving the needle on the civic response to climate breakdown—to adopt Monbiot’s language for our dark reality. There are many in the field who are creating thought leadership and organizational avenues for libraries that want to take the lead on community sustainability. A great example is the forthcoming Sustainable Libraries Certification Program in development by the New York Library Association Sustainability Initiative, which you’ll hear more about in a future column by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich. Still, we must do more. More libraries need to take that lead and not let ourselves be held back by inertia or a fear of appearing too political. Let this moment be a spur.

As much as I’d like it to be different, I refuse to look away from the dark reality. Instead, I will help to find a way to influence a future in which my children, and theirs, and all the generations to follow live in a society that is not just eking out survival but thriving in a vibrant ecosystem.

Save

Save

Save

This article was published in Library Journal's September 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

Share

Comments

  1. anonymous coward says:

    1) Monbiot is a fool.

    2) Really? I thought we were the profession of information literacy and we consistently follow ourselves to conclusions that are not proven by science, information, or data. Nasa- climate change not responsible for “recent skyrocketing cost of natural disasters”. NOAA- “It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.” The number and TOTAL force of Atlantic Hurricanes, according to the EPA, is trending DOWNWARD.

    It’s frustrating that op eds like this further the murky sciencism that gives a foothold to those who would deny climate change by claiming facts not in evidence.

    Things we know:
    The earth had gotten warmer. Humans contribute at some level. The level of warming has not matched predicted numbers- there had been a decade of a warming pause that is now over.

    Things we don’t know:
    IF we can do anything to stop it. If any money we spend on initiatives to stop it will save more lives later than they would save being spent on other programs today. If this warming has had any impact on the frequency or intensity of natural disasters such as storms.

    • NOAA reported research in 2015 that cast doubt on the existence of any such global warming hiatus. The UK Met Office study often quoted did not use temperatures from the Arctic, which are climbing at twice the rate as the rest of the planet.

      Given that it is no longer possible to get to the North Pole by dogsled because of the immense amount of Arctic ice that has melted, we have a very real problem.

  2. Thank you Rebecca Miller! Good to read “climate breakdown” in another forum devoted to librarianship. Here is my recent post in the blog-o-sphere on the topic http://plg-theblog.blogspot.com/2017/09/disrupting-denial-where-to-start.html#more

    As a school librarian, my involvement in our school garden is driven by my certainty that skills in growing food will be _the_ most important 21st century skill our children can develop. I do seed saving in the library with 6th graders the past three years.

    In the final chapter of my book _Whose Side Are You On? Seven social responsibility debates in American librarianship, 1990-2015_ (McFarland, 2016) I suggest that ALA follow precedent from WWII and cancel annual and midwinter conferences as the profession’s contribution to energy conservation. State and regional associations could meet locally instead. What humanity faces with climate change demands an end to business-as-usual on so many levels. ALA could lead the way amongst professions in acting in a way that fully recognizes the sort of changes needed immediately.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  4. Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media, per our Terms of Use.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*